Britta Culbertson, Big Fish Little Fish, Sept 15, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Britta Culbertson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4-19, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Walleye Pollock and Forage Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Saturday, September 15th, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind Speed: 11kts
Air Temperature: 12.2 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 87%
Barometric Pressure: 1010.7 mb
Latitude: 59 degrees 26.51″ N              Longitude: 149 degrees 47.53″ W

Science and Technology Log

Finally, as we near the end of the cruise, I’m ready to write about one of the major parts of the survey we are doing.  Until now, I’ve been trying to take it all in and learn about the science behind our surveys and observe the variety of organisms that we have been catching. In my last few entries, I explained the bongo net tow that we do at each station.  Immediately after we finish pulling in the bongo nets and preparing the samples, the boat repositions on the station and we begin a tow using an anchovy net.  It gets its name from the size of fish it is intended to capture, but it is not limited to catching anchovies and as you will see in the entry below, we catch much more than fish.

 Why are we collecting juvenile pollock?

We are interested in measuring the abundance of juvenile pollock off of East Kodiak Island and in the Semidi Bank vicinity.  We are not only focusing on the walleye pollock, we are also interested in the community structure and biomass of organisms that live with the pollock.  Other species that we are measuring include: capelin, eulachon, Pacific cod, arrowtooth flounder, sablefish, and rockfish.  As I described in the bongo entries, we catch zooplankton because those are prey for the juvenile pollock.

Pollock trio

On the top is an age 2+ pollock, below that an age 1 pollock, and then below that is an age zero pollock. (Photo credit: John Eiler)

The Gulf of Alaska juvenile walleye pollock study used to be conducted every year, using the same survey grid.  Now the Gulf of Alaska survey is conducted every other year with the Bering Sea surveyed in alternating years.  That way, scientists can understand how abundant the fish are and where they are located within the grid or study area.  With the data being collected every year (or every other year), scientists can establish a time series and are able to track changes in the population from year to year. The number of age 0 pollock that survive the winter ( to become age 1) are a good indicator of how many fish will be available for commercial fisheries. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will provide this data to the fisheries industry so that fishermen can predict how many fish will be available in years to come.  The abundance of age one pollock is a good estimate of fish that will survive and be available to be caught by fishermen later, when they reach age 3 and beyond, and can be legally fished.

The other part of our study concerns how the community as a whole responds to changes in the ecosystem (from climate, fishing, etc.).  That is why we also measure and record the zooplankton, jellyfish, shrimp, squids, and other fish that we catch.

How does it work?

The anchovy net (this particular design is also called a Stauffer trawl) is pretty small compared to those that are used by commercial fishermen.  The mesh is 5 millimeters compared to the 500 micrometer mesh that we used for the bongo.  The smallest organisms we get in the anchovy net are typically krill.

Trawl net

A picture of a generic trawling net. It’s very similar to the anchovy net that we are using.

Typically, we don’t catch large fish in the net, but there have been some exceptions.  You might wonder why larger fish do not get caught in the net. It’s because the mesh is smaller and it’s towed through the water very slowly.  Fish have a lateral line system where they can feel a change in pressure in the water.  The bow wave from the boat creates a large pressure differential that the fish can detect.  Larger fish are usually fast enough to avoid the net as it moves through the water, but small fish can’t get out of the way in time.  One night we caught several Pacific Ocean Perch, which are larger fish, but very slow moving.  They are equipped with large spines on their fins and are better adapted to hunkering down and defending themselves as opposed to other fish that are fast swimmers and great at maneuvering.

Pacific Ocean Perch

This is one of the Pacific Ocean Perch (rockfish) that got caught in our net.

When we pull in the trawl net, it is emptied into buckets and then the haul is sorted by species and age class.  The catch is then measured, weighed, and recorded on a data sheet.  After that, we return most of the fish to the sea and save 25 of the juvenile pollock, capelin, and eulachon to take back to Seattle for further investigation.  We also save some of the smaller flatfish and sablefish to send back to Seattle. Check out the gallery below to see the process from beginning to end.

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Where are the pollock in the food web?

Eulachon and capelin are zooplanktivores and compete with the juvenile pollock for food. Larger eulachon and capelin are not competitors (those over 150 mm).  Arrowtooth flounder and Pacific Cod are predators of the juvenile walleye pollock.  Cyanea and Chrysaora jellyfish are also zooplanktivores and could potentially compete with juvenile walleye pollock, so that is why we focus on these particular jellyfish in our study.

 What’s in that net?

When we pull in the trawl, we sort it into piles of different species and different age classes.  If we get a lot of juvenile pollock (age 0), we measure and weigh 100 and freeze 25 to take back to the lab so their stomach contents can be examined.  We do the same procedure for young capelin, eulachon, and flatfish.  Other organisms like jellyfish are counted and weighed and put back in the ocean.

Below is a list of different organisms we have found in the anchovy net during this cruise:

  • Walleye Pollock
  • Eulachon
  • Capelin
  • Shrimp
  • Larger zooplankton
  • Pink and Coho Salmon
  • Pacific Ocean Perch
  • Lanternfish
  • Prowfish
  • Arrowtooth Flounder
  • Cyanea Jellyfish
  • Chrysaora Jellyfish
  • Miscellaneous clear jellyfish (some moon jellyfish)
  • Ctenophores (comb jellyfish)
  • Spiny Lumpsucker
  • Toad Lumpsucker
  • Grenadier
  • Flathead sole
  • Pacific cod
  • Herring
  • Sablefish
  • Sand Fish
  • Octopus
  • Snail fish

Personal Log

As we wind down the cruise, I’m feeling a little sad that it’s ending.  I’m looking forward to going home and seeing my husband and our dog, but I’ll miss the friends I’ve made on the ship and I’ll certainly miss collecting data.  Even though it can be quite repetitive after awhile, I can’t think of a more beautiful place to do this work than the Gulf of Alaska.  The last few days we have had a couple of stations near the coastline around Seward, Alaska and we have ventured into both Harris Bay and Resurrection Bay.  There we caught sight of some amazing glaciers and small islands.  There was even an island that had bunkers from WWII on it.  Yesterday, 3 Dall’s Porpoises played in our bow wake as I stood on the bridge and watched.  It’s moments like this that all of the discomforts of being at sea fall away and I can reflect on what an incredible experience this has been!

Glacier

Beautiful scenery from Resurrection Bay.

Dall's Porpoise

Three Dall’s porpoises that were playing in our bow wake.

 

Did You Know?

Spiny lumpsuckers are tiny, cute, almost spherical fish that have a suction disk on their ventral (bottom) side.  The suction disk is actually a modified pelvic fin.  They use the suction disk to stick to kelp or rocks on the bottom of the ocean.

Their family name is Cyclopteridae (like the word Cyclops!).  It is Greek in origin.  “Kyklos” in Greek mean circle and “pteryx” means wing or fin.  This name is in reference to the circle-shaped pectoral fins that are possessed by fish in this family.

These lumpsuckers are well camouflaged from their predators and their suction disk helps them overcome their lack of an air bladder (this helps fish move up and down in the water).  Because lumpsuckers don’t have an air bladder, they are not great swimmers.

Spiny lumpsuckers are on average about 3 cm in length, but there are larger lumpsuckers that we have found, like the toad lumpsucker that you can see in the photo below.

You can read more about the spiny lumpsucker on the Aquarium of the Pacific’s website.

Britta Culbertson: The Beat of the Bongo (Part 2) – Catching Zooplankton, September 12, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Britta Culbertson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4-19, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Walley Pollock and Forage Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Wednesday, September 12th, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge (for Sept 12th, 2013 at 9:57 PM UTC):
Wind Speed: 23.05 kts
Air Temperature: 11.10 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 93%
Barometric Pressure: 1012.30 mb
Latitude: 58.73 N              Longitude: 151.13 W

Science and Technology Log

Humpback Whale

A humpback whale. (Photo credit: NOAA)

We have been seeing a lot of humpback whales lately on the cruise.  Humpback whales can weigh anywhere from 25-40 tons, are up to 60 feet in length, and consume tiny crustaceans, plankton, and small fish.  They can consume up to 3,000 pounds of these tiny creatures per day (Source: NOAA Fisheries).  Humpback whales are filter feeders and they filter these small organisms through baleen.  Baleen is made out of hard, flexible material and is rooted in the whale’s upper jaw.  The baleen is like a comb and allows the whale to filter plankton and small fish out of the water.

Baleen

This whale baleen is used for filter feeding. It’s like a small comb and helps to filter zooplankton out of the water. (Photo credit: NOAA)

I’ve always wondered how whales can eat that much plankton! Three thousand pounds is a lot of plankton.  I guess I felt that way because I had never seen plankton in real-life and I didn’t have a concept of how abundant plankton is in the ocean. Now that I’m exposed to zooplankton every day, I’m beginning to get a sense of the diversity and abundance of zooplantkon.

In my last blog entry I explained how we use the bongo nets to capture zooplankton.  In this entry, I’ll describe some of the species that we find when clean out the codends of the net.  As you will see, there are a wide variety of zooplankton and though the actual abundance of zooplankton will not be measured until later, it is interesting to see how much we capture with nets that have 20 cm and 60 cm mouths and are towed for only 5-10 minutes at each location.  Whales have much larger mouths and feed for much longer than 10 minutes a day!

Cleaning the codends is fairly simple; we spray them down with a saltwater hose in the wet lab and dump the contents through a sieve with the same mesh size as the bongo net where the codend was attached.  The only time that this proves challenging is if there is a lot of algae, which clogs up the mesh and makes it hard to rinse the sample.  Also, the crab larvae that we find tend to hook their little legs into the sieve and resist being washed out.  Below are two images of 500 micrometer sieves with zooplankton in them.

Zooplankton

A mix of zooplankton that we emptied out of the codend from the bongo.

Crab larvae

Crab larvae (megalopae) that we emptied out of the codend.

Some of the species of zooplankton we are finding include different types of:

  • Megalopae (crab larvae)
  • Amphipods
  • Euphausiid (krill)
  • Chaetognaths
  • Pteropods (shelled: Limasina and shell-less: Clione)
  • Copepods (Calanus spp., Neocalanus spp., and Metridea spp.)
  • Larval fish
  • Jellyfish
  • Ctenophores

The other day we had a sieve full of ctenophores, which are sometimes known as comb jellies because they possess rows of cilia down their sides.  The cilia are used to propel the ctenophores through the water.  Some ctenophores are bioluminescent.  Ctenophores are voracious predators, but lack stinging cells like jellyfish and corals. Instead they possess sticky cells that they use to trap predators (Source:  UC Berkeley).  Below is a picture of our 500 micrometer sieve full of ctenophores and below that is a close-up photo of a ctenophore.

Ctenophores

A sieve full of ctenophores or comb jellies.

Ctenophore

A type of ctenophore found in arctic waters. (Photo credit: Kevin Raskoff, MBARI, NOAA/OER)

It’s fun to compare what we find in the bongo nets to the type of organisms we find in the trawl at the same station.  We were curious about what some of the fish we were eating, so we dissected two of the Silver Salmon that we had found and in one of them, the stomach contents were entirely crab larvae! In another salmon that we dissected from a later haul, the stomach contents included a whole capelin fish.

Juvenile pollock are indiscriminate zooplanktivores.  That means that they will eat anything, but they prefer copepods and euphausiids, which have a high lipid (fat) content. Once the pollock get to be about 100 mm or greater in size, they switch from being zooplanktivores to being piscivorous. Piscivorous means “fish eater.”  I was surprised to hear that pollock sometimes eat each other.  Older pollock still eat zooplankton, but they are cannibalistic as well. Age one pollock will eat age zero pollock (those that haven’t had a first birthday yet), but the bigger threat to age zero pollock is the 2 year old and older cohorts of pollock.  Age zeros will eat small pollock larvae if they can find them.  Age zero pollock are also food for adult Pacific Cod and adult Arrowtooth Flounder.  Older pollock, Pacific Cod, and Arrowtooth Flounder are the most voracious predators of age 0 pollock.  Recently, in the Gulf of Alaska, Arrowtooth Flounder have increased in biomass (amount of biological material) and this has put a lot of pressure on the pollock population. Scientists are not yet sure why the biomass of Arrowtooth Flounder is increasing. (Source: Janet Duffy-Anderson – Chief Scientist aboard the Dyson and Alaska Fisheries Science Center).

The magnified images below, which I found online, are the same or similar to some of the species of zooplankton we have been catching in our bongo nets.  Click on the images for more details.

Personal Log (morning of September 14, 2013)

I’m thankful that last night we had calm seas and I was able to get a full eight hours of sleep without feeling like I was going to be thrown from my bed.  This morning we are headed toward the Kenai Peninsula, so I’m excited that we might get to see some amazing views of the Alaskan landscape.  The weather looks like it will improve and the winds have died down to about 14 knots this morning.  Last night’s shift caught an octopus in their trawl net; so hopefully, we will find something more interesting than just kelp and jellyfish in our trawls today.

Did You Know?

I mentioned that we had found some different types of pteropods in our bongo nets.  Pteropods are a main food source for North Pacific juvenile salmon and are eaten by many marine organisms from krill to whales.  There are two main varieties of pteropods; there are those with shells and those without.  Pteropods are sometimes called sea butterflies.

Pteropod

A close-up of Limacina helicina, a shelled pteropod or sea butterfly. (Photo credit: Russ Hopcroft/University of Alaska, Fairbanks)

Unfortunately, shelled pteropods are very susceptible to ocean acidification.  Scientists conducted an experiment in which they placed shelled pteropods in seawater with pH and carbonate levels that are projected for the year 2100.  In the image below, you can see that the shell dissolved slowly after 45 days.  If pteropods are at the bottom of the food chain, think of the implications of the loss of pteropods for the organisms that eat them!

Pteropods

Shelled pteropods after being exposed to sea water that has the anticipated carbonate and pH levels for the year 2100. Notice the degradation of the shell after 45 days. (Photo credit: David Liittschwager/National Geographic Stock)

Read more about ocean acidification on the NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) website. Also, check out this press release from November 2012 by the British Antarctic Survey about the first evidence of ocean acidification affecting marine life in the Southern Ocean.

Teacher’s Corner

In my last blog entry on the bongo, I talked about using the “frying pan” or clinometer to measure wire angle.  If you’re interested in other applications of clinometers, there are instructions for making homemade clinometers here and there’s also a lesson plan from National Ocean Services Education about geographic positioning and the use of clinometers this website.

If you are interested in teaching your students about different types of plankton, here is a Plankton Wars lesson plan from NOAA and the Southeast Phytoplankton Monitoring Network, which helps students to understand how plankton stay afloat and how surface area plays a role in plankton survival.

If you would like to show your students time series visualizations of phytoplankton and zooplankton, go to NOAA’s COPEPODite website.

Zooplankton time series

Zooplankton time series visualization from the COPEPODite website.

For more plankton visualizations and data, check out NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service website.

If you are interested in having your students learn more about ocean acidification, there is a great ocean acidification module developed for the NOAA Ocean Data Education Project on the Data in the Classroom website.

Britta Culbertson: The Beat of the Bongo (Part 1): Catching Zooplankton, September 11, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Britta Culbertson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4-19, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Walley Pollock and Forage Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge (for Sept 11th, 2013 at 10:57 PM UTC):
Wind Speed: 4.54 kts
Air Temperature: 10.50 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 83%
Barometric Pressure: 1009.60 mb
Latitude: 58.01 N              Longitude: 151.18 W

Science and Technology Log

What is a bongo net and why do we use it?

As I mentioned in a previous entry, one of the aspects of this cruise is a zooplankton survey, which happens at the same stations where we trawl for juvenile pollock.  The zooplankton are prey for the juvenile pollock.  There are many types of zooplankton including those that just float in the water, those that can swim a little bit on their own, and those that are actually the larval or young stage of much larger organisms like crab and shrimp.  We are interested in collecting the zooplankton at each station because because we are interested in several aspects of juvenile pollock ecology, including feeding ecology.  In order to catch zooplankton, we use a device called a bongo net.  The net gets its name because the frame resembles bongo drums.

20bon

Diagram of a 20 cm bongo net set-up. (Photo credit: NOAA – Alaska Fisheries Science Center)

The bongo net design we are using includes 2 small nets on a 20 cm frames with 153 micrometer nets attached to them and 2 large nets on 60 cm frames with 500 micrometer nets.  The 500 micrometer nets catch larger zooplankton and the 153 micrometer nets catch smaller zooplankton.  In the picture above, there are just two nets, but our device has 4 total nets.  At the top of the bongo net setup is a device called the Fastcat, which records information from the tow including the depth that bongo reaches and the salinity, conductivity, and temperature of the water.

Bongo in water

This is what the bongo looks like when it’s finally in the water (Photo credit: John Eiler)

What happens during a bongo net tow?

The process of collecting zooplankton involves many people with a variety of roles.  It usually takes three scientists, one survey tech, and a winch operator who will lower the bongo net into the water.  In addition, the officers on the bridge need to control the speed and direction of the boat.  All crew members are in radio contact with each other to assure that the operation runs smoothly.  Two scientists and a survey tech stand on the “hero deck” and work on getting the nets overboard safely.  Another scientist works in a data room at a computer which monitors the depth and angle of the bongo as it is lowered into the water.  It is important to maintain a 45 degree angle on the wire that tows the bongo to make sure that water is flowing directly into the mouth opening of the net.  One of the scientists on the hero deck will use a device that we lovingly call the “frying pan,” but more accurately it is called a clinometer or inclinometer. The flat side of the device gets lined up with the wire and an arrow dangles down on the plate and marks the angle.  The scientist calls out the angle every few seconds so that the bridge knows whether or not to increase or decrease the speed of the ship in order to maintain the 45 degree angle necessary.

Peter and the pan

Scientist Peter Proctor holds up the “frying pan” also known as a clinometer or inclinometer, which is used to measure the wire angle of the bongo when it’s in the water.

Meanwhile, back at the computer, we monitor how close the bongo gets to the bottom of the ocean.  We already know how deep the ocean is at our location because of the ship’s sonar.  The bongo operation involves a bit of simple triangle geometry.  We know the depth and we know the angles, so we just have to calculate the hypotenuse of the triangle that will be created when the bongo is pulled through the water to figure out how much wire to let out.  The survey tech uses a chart that helps him determine this quickly so he knows what to tell the winch operator in terms of wire to let out.  In the images below, you can see what we are watching as the bongo completes its tow.  The black line indicates the depth of the bongo, and the red, purple, and blue lines indicate temperature, conductivity, and salinity.

Good bongo tow

This is an example of a good bongo tow. The black line on the left of the graph shows a consistent tow angle both up and down. The key is that the black line should have a “v” shape on the graph if the tow is good.

Bad bongo

This graph shows what happens when a bongo gets caught in the current and stays at the same depth for a while. Look at how the black line isn’t smooth, but levels off for a bit. This happened with the bongo both when it was going down and coming back up to the surface.

When the bongo is within in 10 meters of the bottom, the survey tech radios the winch operator to start bringing the bongo back up.  It usually takes longer for it to come up as it does for it to go out, nevertheless, the 45 degree wire angle needs to be maintained.  When the survey tech sees the bongo at the surface of the water, the two scientists on the hero deck get ready to grab it.  This operation can be quite difficult when it’s windy and the seas are rough. If you look at the sequence of the photos below, pay attention to the horizon line where the water meets the sky and you can get a sense of the size of the swells that day.

When the bongo is safely back on deck, the person in the data room records the time of the net deployment, how long it takes to go down and up, how much wire gets let out, and the total depth at the station.  If anything goes wrong, this is also noted in the data sheet.

As the bongo reaches the surface, the scientists grab the net keep it from banging into the side of the ship.  When the net is on board, the next step is to read the flowmeters on the nets that indicate how much water has flowed through them.  Then we rinse the nets and wash all of the material down the nets and into the “codends” at the very end of the net.  These are little containers that can be detached and emptied to collect the samples.

Once the codends are detached, they are taken to the wet lab and rinsed.  Each of the four parts of the net has a codend where the zooplankton are caught. The zooplankton are rinsed out of the codends into a sieve and then collected in a jar and preserved with formalin.  The purpose of having two of each of the 20 cm and 60 cm bongo nets is to ensure that if one sample is bad or accidentally dumped, there is always a backup.  I have had to use the backup once or twice when there was a big jellyfish in the codend that kept me from getting all of the zooplankton out of the sample.

Codend

The codend from the 150 micrometer bongo net.

cleaning the codends and sieve

Britta rinsing the 500 micrometer sieve.

After we collect the zooplankton the samples are shipped to Seattle when we return to port. Back in the labs, the samples are sorted, the zooplankton are identified to species, and the catch is expressed at number per unit area.  This gives a quantitative estimate of the density of plankton in the water.  A high density of the right types of food means a good feeding spot for the juvenile walleye pollock!  This sorting process can take approximately one year.  I think it’s pretty amazing how much work goes into collecting the small samples we get at each station.  Just to think of all of the person hours and ship hours involved makes me realize how costly it is to study the ocean.

Colleen and zooplankton jar

Scientist Colleen Harpold holding up one of the preserved jars of zooplankton.

Colleen with zooplankton

Scientist Colleen Harpold holding up one of the preserved jars of zooplankton that has A LOT of algae in it too!

Personal Log

It is hard to believe that I’ve been on the ship a week now.  It feels strange that just 7 days ago I had never heard of a bongo net or an anchovy net.  Now I see them every day and I know how to identify several types of fish, jellyfish, and zooplankton.  I love working with the scientists and learning about the surveys we are doing.  Nearly every trawl reveals a special, new organism, like the Spiny Lumpsucker – go look that one up, I dare you!  We don’t have much down time and I’m trying to blog in between stations, but sometimes the time between stations after we finish our work can be 45 minutes and sometimes just 15 minutes.  So we are pretty much on the go for the whole 12-hour shift.  That’s where the fortitude part of Teacher at Sea comes in.  You definitely need to have fortitude to endure the long hours, occasional seasickness (I like to think of it as “sea discomfort”), and periodic bad weather.

By now though, it all seems routine and I’d like to think I’ve gotten used to being thrown around in my sleep a little now and again when we hit some rough seas.  This experience has been so worthwhile and even though I look forward to the comforts of home, I don’t really want it to end.  When I graduated from college, I worked with a herpetologist studying lizards in the desert south of Carlsbad, New Mexico.  I have fond memories of living in a tent for four months and collecting lizards all day to bring back to camp to measure and check for parasites.  I often miss doing scientific work, so Teacher at Sea has given me the opportunity to be a scientist again and to learn about a whole new world in the ocean.  What a treat! One of the reasons I chose to be a teacher was to be able to share my excitement about science with students and I feel so lucky that I get to share this experience too.

Did you know?

There are two species of Metridia, a type of copepod (zooplankton), that are found in the Gulf of Alaska/Bering Sea.  One of them is called Metridia lucens and the other one is Metridia oketensis.  These copepods are bioluminescent, which means that they glow when they are disturbed.  They sometimes glow when they are in the wake of the ship or on the crest of a wave.  Tonight when I was draining a codend into a sieve, my sieve looked like it had blue sparkles in it, but just for a second!  I asked our resident zooplankton expert, Colleen Harpold what they might be and she thought that my blue sparkles likely belonged to the genus Metridia.

If you are interested in reading a little more about Metridia, check out this blog from Scientific American on copepods in the Bering Sea!

Metridia longa

This is an image of Metridia longa. (Photo credit: NOAA/Hopcroft)

Glowing Metridia

This is a picture from Scientific American of Metridia spp. glowing while in a sieve. (Photo Credit: Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute)

 Thanks for reading! Please leave me some comments or ask questions about any of the blog posts and feel free to ask other questions about the work we are doing or what it’s like at sea! I would love to be able to answer real-time while I am at sea.

Britta Culbertson: Hiding Out During Rough Seas, September 6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Britta Culbertson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4-19, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Walley Pollock and Forage Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Friday, September 6th, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge (for Sept 6th at 5:57 PM UTC):
Wind Speed: 42.65 knots
Air Temperature: 11.8 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 81%
Barometric Pressure: 987.4 mb
Latitude:57.67 N          Longitude: 153.87 W

Science and Technology Log

Weather Advsisory

The weather advisory for the Gulf of Alaska and around Kodiak Island (screen shot from NOAA Alaska Region Headquarters)

Spiridon Bay

Spiridon Bay (screenshot from Shiptracker.noaa.gov)

As you can see from my weather data section, the wind speed this morning was up to 42.65 knots.  We had waves near 18 feet and thus the Oscar Dyson ran for cover and tucked itself in an inlet on the North side of Kodiak Island called Spiridon Bay.  The Oscar Dyson’s location can be viewed in near real-time using NOAA’s Shiptracker website.   The screenshot above was taken from the Shiptracker website when we were hiding from the weather. The weather forecast from NOAA’s Alaska Region Headquarters shows that the winds should diminish over the next few days.  I’m thankful to hear that!

…GALE WARNING TONIGHT….TONIGHT…S WIND 45 KT DIMINISHING TO 35 KT TOWARDS MORNING. SEAS 23FT. PATCHY FOG..SAT…SW WIND 30 KT DIMINISHING TO 20 KT IN THE AFTERNOON. SEAS15 FT. PATCHY FOG..SAT NIGHT…W WIND 15 TO 25 KT. SEAS 8 FT. RAIN..SUN…SW WIND 20 KT. SEAS 8 FT..SUN NIGHT…S WIND 25 KT. SEAS 8 FT..MON…SE WIND 25 KT. SEAS 13 FT..TUE…S WIND 30 KT. SEAS 11 FT..WED…S WIND 25 KT. SEAS 9 FT.

Since the Dyson has been in safe harbor in Spiridon Bay for the last few hours, I have had some time to catch up on some blogging!  Let’s backtrack a few days to Wednesday, September 4th, when the Dyson left Kodiak to begin its journey in the Gulf of Alaska.  We headed out after 1PM to pick up where the last cruise left off in the research grid.  We reached our first station later in the afternoon and began work.  A station is a pre-determined location where we complete two of our surveys (see map below).  The circles on the map represent a station location in the survey grid.  The solid circles are from leg 1 of the cruise that took place in August and the hollow circles represent leg 2 of the cruise, which is the leg on which I am sailing.

The first step once we reach a station is to deploy a Bongo net to collect marine zooplankton and the second step is to begin trawling with an anchovy net to capture small, pelagic juvenile pollock and forage fishes that are part of the main study for this cruise. Pelagic fish live near the surface of the water or in the water column, but not near the bottom or close to the shore.  Zooplankton are “animal plankton”.  The generic definition of plankton is: small, floating or somewhat motile (able to move on their own) organisms that live in a body of water. Some zooplankton are the larval (beginning) stages of crabs, worms, or shellfish.  Other types of zooplankton stay in the planktonic stage for the entirety of their lives. In other words, they don’t “grow up” to become something like a shrimp or crab.

Station Map

Station map for leg 1 and leg 2 of the juvenile pollock survey. I am on leg 2 of the survey, which is represented with hollow circles on the map.

Before we reached the first station, we conducted a few safety drills.  The first was a fire drill and the second was an abandon ship drill.  The purpose of these drills is to make sure we understand where to go (muster) in case of an emergency.   For the abandon ship drill, we had to grab our survival suits and life preservers and muster on the back deck.  The life rafts are stored one deck above and would be lowered to the fantail (rear deck of the ship) in the event of an actual emergency.  After the drill I had to test out my survival suit to make sure I knew how to put it on correctly.

Life Jacket

Britta Mustering for Abandon Ship Drill on Oscar Dyson

survival suit

Britta models a survival suit – they even found a size SMALL for me!

On the way to our first station, we traveled through Whale Pass next to Whale Island, which lies off of the northern end of Kodiak Island.  While passing through this area, we saw a total of 4 whales spouting and so many sea otters, I lost track after I counted 20.  Unfortunately, none of my pictures really captured the moment.  The boat was moving too fast to get the sea otters before they flipped over or were out of sight.

Whale Island

A nautical chart map for Whale Island and Whale Passage

Personal Log

secure for sea!

Last night’s warning about high seas in the early morning of September 6th.

A lot of people have emailed to ask me if I have been getting seasick.  So far, things haven’t been that bad, but I figured out that I feel pretty fine when I’m working and moving about the ship.  However, when I sit and type at a computer and focus my attention on the screen that seems to be when the seasickness hits. For the most part, getting some fresh air and eating dried ginger has saved me from getting sick and fortunately, I knew about the threat of high winds last night, so I made sure to take some seasickness medication before going to bed.  After what we experienced this morning, I am sure glad I took some medication.

Everyone on board seems very friendly and always asks how I am doing.  It has been a real pleasure to meet the engineers, fisherman, NOAA Corps officers, scientists, and all others aboard the ship.  Since we have to work with the crew to get our research done, it’s wonderful to have a positive relationship with the various crew members.  Plus, I’m learning a lot about what kinds of careers one can have aboard a ship, in addition to being a scientist.

So far, I’ve worked two 12-hour shifts and even though I’m pretty tired after my long travel day and the adjustment from the Eastern Time Zone to the Alaskan Time Zone (a four hour difference), I’m having a great time!  I really enjoy getting my hands dirty (or fishy) and processing the fish that we bring in from the trawl net.  Processing the haul involves identifying, sorting, counting, measuring the length, and freezing some of the catch.  The catch is mainly composed of different types of fish like pollock and eulachon, but sometimes there are squid, shrimp, and jellyfish as well.

One of the hardest parts of the trip so far is getting used to starting work at noon and working until midnight.  We have predetermined lunch and dinner times, 11:30 AM and 5:00 PM respectively, so I basically eat lunch for breakfast and dinner for lunch and then I snack a little before I go to bed after my shift ends at midnight.  As the days go by, I’m sure I’ll get more used to the schedule.

Did You Know?

During one of our trawls, we found a lanternfish.  Lanternfish have rows of photophores along the length of their bodies.  Photophores produce bioluminescence and are used for signaling in deep, dark waters.  The fish can control the amount of light that the photophores produce.  Lanternfish belong to the Family Myctophidae and are “one of the most abundant and diverse of all oceanic fish families” (NOAA Ocean Explorer).

lanternfish

Lanternfish caught during a trawl. Note the dots along the bottom of the fish, these are photophores that emit bioluminescence.

Lanternfish
Photo of bioluminescing lanternfish (Photo Credit: BBC Animal Facts http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/blueplanet/factfiles/fish/lanternfish_bg.shtml)

 

Britta Culbertson: Exploring the Oscar Dyson and Kodiak, AK Before Departure, September 3, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Britta Culbertson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4-19, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Walley Pollock and Forage Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge (for Sept 4th at 8:57 PM UTC):
Wind Speed: 5.11 kts
Air Temperature: 12.6 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 70%
Barometric Pressure: 1003.2 mb
Latitude: 57.78 N              Longitude: 152.43 W

Personal Log

Oscar Dyson

Oscar Dyson in Port – Kodiak, AK

My trip to Kodiak from Washington, DC was a long one.  I left DC early in the morning on September 2nd and I nearly missed my connection in Seattle after our flight left late from Reagan National Airport.  I tried to dash off the plane, lugging my suitcase and backpack, with only 10 minutes to get to my connecting flight before it was supposed to take off.  Fortunately, I know my way around SEA-TAC airport and with all of my escalator running experience from a year of DC living, I was able to get to my gate with 2 minutes to spare.  On the plane, I was reunited with the scientists for my cruise and off we flew to Anchorage.  Three and a half hours later, we arrived in Anchorage and from there it was just a one-hour flight to Kodiak Island where the NOAA ship the Oscar Dyson was in port.

While the ship was in port, we slept on board and I got used to the subtle rolls of the ship, which of course is nothing like when the ship is in motion.  After a long day of travel on Monday, we ate dinner in town and went straight to bed afterwards.  I spent the first day on the ship getting acquainted with the twists and turns of the hallways and the multiple staircases leading to different parts of the ship.  Interestingly, you can’t walk from bow to aft on the same level on the Dyson, which makes it kind of difficult to get a nice deck side stroll.

There are 8 people, including myself, on the science team and a total of 33 people aboard the ship.  I’m sharing a cabin with one of the scientists and we each have our own bunk with a small lamp and a curtain so we can close ourselves in and get some shut-eye.  Each stateroom (cabin) has a shower and toilet, which is pretty luxurious!  Once we get underway and get started working, I will work the noon to midnight shift and my roommate will work the midnight to noon shift.  That way we will each have time alone in the cabin when the other is working.

Stateroom

My stateroom on the Dyson

Private bathroom

Our private bathroom.

Mess Hall

Mess Hall (cafeteria) on the Dyson. Note the tennis balls and the tie downs on the chairs.

Science and Technology Log

Tuesday was our first full day in Kodiak and we started the day aboard the Dyson with a briefing about the scientific work that we would be doing during the cruise.  It was a bit overwhelming at first, because every term is completely new to me.  But because of the repetitive nature of the work we will be doing, everyone has assured me that once we get going, I will totally get the hang of it.  In short, one of the things we will be looking at is the year 0 pollock (those fish which haven’t had a first birthday yet).  The fish we collect during the survey will be analyzed back in Seattle to see how healthy they are.  From there, projections can be made about how many pollock will make it through the winter and survive until their first birthday.  Fish become vulnerable to the fishing when they reach year 3, so it’s important to understand the health of the young pollock now to set the numbers that can be caught by the fishing boats down the road.

Research boats are not like cruise ships.  There are few comfortable places to sit outside of the lounge and people are working around the clock on various shifts, so you have to be really quiet when walking through the hallways.  On board, there are automatically closing doors that slam shut during drills and emergencies, very steep staircases, and slippery floors. The Oscar Dyson has several labs below deck.  I will spend most of my time working in the wet lab processing the pollock that we collect.  There are computers on board and we also have internet, though the ship has to be going the right direction for us to be able to use it because otherwise the incoming signal gets blocked by the exhaust stack when the ship is at certain headings.

On Tuesday morning, we also had a short briefing about by Operations Officer Mark Frydrych, one of the NOAA Corps officers aboard the Dyson.  He described the general rules and regulations on board the ship.  Tomorrow (Wednesday) we head out to sea in the afternoon after the ship gets fueled.  We will have to travel for a few hours to get to our first station where the work begins.  I’m really looking forward to getting out to sea and starting to work on the project!

Did You Know?

Oscar Dyson

Oscar Dyson (Photo credit: NOAA)

“NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson R-224 supports NOAA’s mission to protect, restore and manage the use of living marine, coastal, and ocean resources through ecosystem-based management. Its primary objective is as a support platform to study and monitor Alaskan pollock and other fisheries, as well as oceanography in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The ship also observes weather, sea state, and other environmental conditions, conducts habitat assessments, and surveys marine mammal and marine bird populations.

Oscar Dyson, was launched at VT Halter Marine, in Pascagoula, Mississippi on October 17, 2003, and was commissioned May 28, 2005 in Kodiak, Alaska. Oscar Dyson is the first of four new fisheries survey ships to be built by NOAA. The ship, one of the most technologically advanced fisheries survey vessels in the world, was christened Oscar Dyson by Mrs. Peggy Dyson-Malson, wife of the late Alaskan fisherman and fisheries industry leader, Oscar Dyson. The ship is homeported in Mr. Dyson’s home town of Kodiak, Alaska.”

Excerpt taken from: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/od/

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Britta Culbertson: An Introduction, August 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Britta Culbertson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4-19, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Walley Pollock and Forage Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013

NOAA instrumentation

Britta checking out some NOAA instrumentation at Summit Station in Greenland

My name is Britta Culbertsonand I am currently serving as anAlbert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow in Washington, DC.  Prior to my fellowship, I was a high school science and art teacher in Seattle, Washington at The Center School.   I am serving my fellowship in NOAA’s Office of Education and have spent the last year getting exposed to many aspects of NOAA’s education efforts.

Einstein Fellows are K-12 science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) educators who come from all over the United States after a competitive selection process to serve in federal agencies or on Capitol Hill.  They typically serve for the duration of one school year.  Fortunately, I was offered to stay one more year in my office and will complete my second year in July 2014.  Through my role as an Einstein Fellow, I have been able share NOAA resources with teachers at national conferences, work on the education website, and network with a community of STEM professionals in Washington, D.C. among other things.  One task that I hope to accomplish this year is figuring out a way to make real-time NOAA datasets more accessible to teachers.

I am really excited about the opportunity to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea to learn more about the fisheries research conducted by NOAA scientists and to see if there might be opportunities to share real data from my cruise with students and their teachers.

After spending a year meeting Teacher at Sea alumni and hearing about their experiences, I am overjoyed to embark on my own cruise and to have a chance to work with scientists in the field.  I think these real-life experiences are crucial for teachers because it allows them get in touch with the scientific process in the field as opposed to the artificial environment in which we conduct experiments in the classroom.  Sharing these real-life research experiences with students is vital to their understanding of science.

Flat White

Britta at Summit Station, Greenland in “flat white” conditions (elevation 10,530 feet)

I spent part of my summer in Greenland working with high school students from Denmark, Greenland, and the United States.  During my three weeks there, I was inspired by the way the students were more interested in the research they conducted.   Being in the field made it more relevant and the students were more engaged.  We had visual teleconferences with scientists who were studying climate change and also worked with scientists who were in Greenland conducting research.  It was such a phenomenal experience for everyone involved.  I wish to use this trip as a model for my future classroom experiences and I am hoping that some of the scientists on my cruise might be willing to stay in touch with me and my students in the future.  Not only do I wish to incorporate more “real world” experiences and data into my science teaching, but I hope to connect more students with scientists.

Russell Glacier

Britta near Russell Glacier, Greenland

I will be departing Washington, D.C. on September 2 and will travel via Seattle and Anchorage to reach my final destination in Kodiak, Alaska.  I will board NOAA’s ship the Oscar Dyson on September 4 at port in Kodiak.  From Kodiak, we will head into the Gulf of Alaska and eventually make our way toward Prince William Sound, which incidentally, was the site of the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.  During the cruise, we will be collecting and studying walleye pollock.  If you’ve ever eaten fish sticks or imitation crabmeat, you were most likely eating pollock!  According to NOAA’s Fishwatch.gov, “The Alaska pollock fishery is one of the largest, most valuable fisheries in the world.”

Our cruise has several objectives ranging from the study of walleye pollock to physical and chemical oceanography.  I’m also excited about one aspect of the cruise, which is a gear comparison to examine the catch differences for each species between the anchovy trawl and the CamTrawl. We will also be describing the community structure, biomass, and vitality of the other swimming, aquatic organisms we capture along with pollock.  These organisms include capelin, eulachon, Pacific cod, arrowtooth flounder, sablefish, and rockfish.  Additionally, we will examine species that typically prey upon pollock and we will measure the environmental variables that could affect pollock ecology.

It was a wonderful coincidence that I happened to be in Washington State visiting the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center  when the science team for my cruise had their pre-cruise meeting.  I was able to attend in person and meet the scientists with whom I will spend the next three weeks.  I am really looking forward to working with them!  Visiting the OCNMS was a special treat before my upcoming cruise.  It was pretty awesome to stand along the Olympic Coast and check out all of the tide pools and other things like the huge whale skeleton I found.  In a few days instead of being on the edge of this massive ocean, I’ll be on a boat discovering what is in the depths of the same ocean. I’m looking forward to leaving the hot and humid D.C. weather behind for the cooler weather in Kodiak.  Next time you hear from me, I’ll be a teacher at sea!

Whale Skeleton

Whale skeleton on Lake Ozette Trail, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

Sea Stack

Sea stack on Lake Ozette Trail at the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary