Bruce Taterka, July 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Bruce Taterka
NOAA Ship: Oregon II

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Thursday, July 15, 2010

Last Day of Fishing

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1400 (2:00 pm)
Position: Latitude 28.32.95 N, Longitude 93.50.85 W
Present Weather: 35% cloud cover
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 31.6 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 32.7 C; Wet bulb = 27.0 C
Barometric Pressure: 1016.84 mb

Science and Technology Log

NOAA has closed off a large portion of the Gulf to fishing and shrimping because of the oil spill, but based on fish samples and real-time data being collected on the Oregon II and other NOAA ships, the western Gulf still appears to be unaffected by oil. In fact, the Texas shrimp season opens today.

The second leg of the Oregon II’s Summer Groundfish survey is coming to its end.Today is our last day of fishing. Tomorrow we’ll spend cleaning up and steaming back to the ship’s home port of Pascagoula, Mississippi, which we’ll reach on Saturday and then I fly home Saturday afternoon. The map shows the ship’s track for the Summer Groundfish Survey. Leg 1 was from Pascagoula to Galveston. Leg 2, our current cruise, left from Galveston on July 1 and headed south, zigzagging our way down the coast almost to Mexico then working our way back up, collecting samples and data the whole way.

The track of Leg 2

The track of Leg 2 SEAMAP Survey

This part of the Gulf has been oil free, but tomorrow on our way back to Pascagoula we should be going through the spill. Check back for pictures.

Earlier this week I got a chance to run the CTD from the lab. The graph on the computer screen shows the data being collected as the CTD drops to the sea floor. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can see the green line, which represents dissolved oxygen, dropping drastically towards the sea bottom. This indicates hypoxia – low dissolved oxygen at the sea floor.

Me running the CTD from the lab

Me running the CTD from the lab

This reading was from an area where the bottom was hypoxic, which resulted in a small catch in our trawl net. Yesterday, however, we got into less hypoxic waters and pulled in our biggest haul yet.

Big Catch - 380 kg

Big Catch – 380 kg

This is 380kg (~836lbs) of fish and invertebrates being hauled in. It took a long time to shovel into baskets, sort by species, measure, weigh, determine sex and enter the data into FSCS.

Large catch

Large catch

Personal Log

Yesterday some dolphins tried to steal our catch.

Dolphins

Dolphins

Dolphins

Dolphins

We caught a Bonnethead Shark, Sphyra tiburo, related to Hammerheads.

Bonnethead shark - Sphyra tiburo

Bonnethead shark – Sphyra tiburo

 

Bruce Taterka, July 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Bruce Taterka
NOAA Ship: Oregon II 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey 
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico 
Date: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 

It’s All Connected

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Time: 0015 (12:15 am)
Position: Latitude = 28.13.24 N; Longitude = 094.15.51 W
Present Weather: Cloud cover 20%
Visibility: 6-8 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.4 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 29.6 C; Wet bulb = 25.7 C
Barometric Pressure: 1011.96 mb

Science and Technology Log“IT’S ALL CONNECTED.” If you took my Environmental Science class I hope you know what I’m talking about. Everything in an ecosystem is connected to everything else. This is a guiding principle of studying and managing ecosystems. I saw this last summer when I helped investigate the relationship between plants, caterpillars, parasitic wasps and climate change in the cloud forest of Ecuador. I see it in the relationship between human development, deer, invasive plants and native plants at the Schiff Nature Preserve in New Jersey.

I’m seeing it now in the Gulf of Mexico. Obviously, the ocean environment is connected to human activities – the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill makes that abundantly clear. But there are also countless natural connections, and much less obvious human impacts, that must be understood and assessed if the Gulf ecosystem is to be protected. Commercial fish and shrimp stocks can only be sustained through a careful understanding of the human impact and natural connections in the Gulf.

Drilling platform off the coast of Texas.

That’s why we identify and count every organism we bring up in a trawl. Sometimes we get 50 or more different species in one catch, and we don’t just count the commercially important ones like red snapper and shrimp. We count the catfish, eel, starfish, sea squirts, hermit crabs and even jellyfish we haul in. Why? Because even though these organisms might seem “unimportant” to us, they might be important to the red snapper and shrimp. They also might be important to the organisms the red snapper and shrimp depend on. And even if they’re not directly important, studying them might tell us important things about the health of the Gulf.

Brittany Paul, Fisheries Biologist

Brittany Palm, Fisheries Biologist

I’m learning a lot about this from the incredibly knowledgeable marine biologists in the science party. Brittany Palm is a Research Fishery Biologist from NOAA’s Southeast Fishery Science Center (SEFSC) in Pascagoula, MS, and leader of the day watch on this leg of the Oregon II’s Summer Groundfish Survey. Brittany is working on her M.S. on a fish called croaker, Micropogonias undulatus, studying its stomach contents to better understand its position in the food web. Croaker is not an economically important species, but it lives in the same shallow sea floor habitat as shrimp so shrimpers end up hauling in a huge amount of croaker as bycatch. So, when the shrimping industry declined in 2003-2004, the croaker population exploded. Since croaker are closely associated with shrimp habitat and the shrimp fishery, we might gain important insights by studying croaker population and understanding what they eat, and what eats them.

Alonzo Hamilton, Fisheries Biologist

Alonzo Hamilton, Fisheries Biologist

Alonzo Hamilton is another NOAA Fishery Biologist from the SEFSC. Alonzo explained to me that there’s a lot to be learned by looking at the whole ecosystem, not just the 23 commercial species that are managed in the Gulf. For example, many of the crabs we commonly catch in our trawls are in the genus Portunas, known as “swimming crabs.” Portunas species normally live on the sea floor, but when severe hypoxia sets in, Portunas crabs can be found at the surface, trying to escape the sever oxygen depletion that typically takes place at the bottom of the water column.

Portunas spinicarpus

Sean Lucey is a Research Fishery

Biologist from NOAA’s Northeast Fishery Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He’s working on the Oregon IIright now to support the SEFSC because of huge manpower effort demanded by the oil spill. Sean explained that the NEFSC has been conducting its groundfish survey annually since 1963, making it the longest-running study of its kind. Originally the survey only looked at groundfish population, but as our understanding of ecosystem dynamics increased over time, more and more factors were analyzed. Now NEFSC looks at sex, age, stomach contents and many other species besides groundfish to obtain a more complete picture of the food web and the abiotic factors that affect groundfish. NEFSC even measures primary production in the marine ecosystem as one tool to estimate the potential biomass of groundfish and other species at higher trophic levels.

Andre DeBose, Fisheries Biologist

Andre DeBose, Fisheries Biologist

Andre DeBose is a NOAA Fishery Biologist from the SEFSC and the Field Party Chief for the Summer Groundfish Survey. In addition to leading the science team on the Oregon II, Andre is conducting research on Rough Scad, Trachurus lathami, an important food species for red snapper and important bait fish for red snapper fisherman. By gaining a better understanding of the relationship between Red Snapper and its prey we can better understand, and better manage, the ecosystem as a whole.

There’s a lot of information to be learned beyond just counting fish. By taking a wide look at the marine environment we can better understand how the whole ecosystem functions. This enables us not only to be more informed in setting sustainable catch levels, but also enables us to identify and respond to things that contribute to hypoxia and other problems that degrade habitat and reduce populations. It’s all connected.

Sunset

Sunset

Bruce Taterka, July 11, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Bruce Taterka
NOAA Ship: Oregon II

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday July 11, 2010

Sorting the Catch

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 0730 (7:30 am)
Position: Latitude 28.18.6 N; Longitude 95.19.4 W
Present Weather: party cloudy
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 12.35 knots
Wave Height: 2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 28.9 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 29.1 C; Wet bulb = 25.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1014.30 mb

 

Science and Technology Log

Kim and I have blogged about some of the tools we use aboard the Oregon II like FSCS, CTD, Bongos and the Neuston. But what, you ask, are some other tools we use that are not high tech?

Me with a shovel

Me with a shovel

Believe it or not, shovels, baskets and trays are important tools on the ground fish survey. When a catch comes in the net is held by a crane and emptied into baskets, but a lot flops out onto the deck. We use shovels to pick up the rest. In the wet lab we use small shovels to move the catch along and trays to sort the organisms by species.(Check out the video below!) When it comes to identification paperback field guides and laminated posters can help with ID.

Once we sort the catch, certain species have to be prepared and saved for research.Some specimens go to university scientists. For example, we bag and freeze specimens of batfish for an ongoing research study.

Slantbrow batfish, Ogcocephalaus declivirostris

For food species like shrimp and red snapper, we bag specimens to go to NSIL (National Seafood Inspection Lab). This is especially important now because of the oil spill –seafood samples are being tested to determine what parts of the Gulf can be opened to commercial fishing. Samples from leg I of the Groundfish Survey are going to be sensory tested, or “sniff” tested. For this test we have to wrap the specimens in foil to contain any scents so that the ‘sniff testers’ (people trained to pick up petroleum scent at an amazing 100 ppm) can identify if petroleum products are present. For leg II the focus is on chemical sampling for petroleum. However, protocols can change daily when you are sampling during a disaster. Here’s a link to a recent news story on testing the fish we’re catching and sending to the lab:http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2010/07/09/gupta.seafood.test.cnn

 

Personal Log:

Shark

Shark

We’ve been seeing lots of cool stuff. Yesterday we were trailed by a school of sharks for most of the day.

 

Here's a shark circling our CTD.

Here’s a shark circling our CTD.

We also caught a large Roughtail Stingray, Dasyatis centroura, in our trawl.

Roughtail Stingray, Dasyatis centroura

Roughtail Stingray, Dasyatis centroura

He swam away feeling fine.

Stingray swimming

Stingray swimming

Bruce Taterka, July 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Bruce Taterka
NOAA Ship: Oregon II

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sexing the Catch

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1630 (4:30 pm)
Position: Latitude = 28.20.93 N; Longitude = 095.58.98 W
Present Weather: Could cover 100%
Visibility: 4-6 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 18 knots
Wave Height: 6-8 feet
Sea Water Temp: 28.9 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 27.2 C; Wet bulb = 25.3 C
Barometric Pressure: 1011.56 mb

Science and Technology Log

As you can tell from our previous blogs, we spend a lot of our time on the Oregon II counting, measuring and weighing our catch and loading the data into FSCS. These data are critical to NOAA and the states in managing fish stocks and the Gulf ecosystem. In addition to knowing population size, weights, and lengths of individuals it’s also important to know the sex of the organisms. Information on the male:female ratio helps NOAA and the states assess the ability of the population to reproduce, and to establish sustainable catch levels for commercial fishing.

But how do you determine the sex of marine organisms? For most fish and invertebrates you can only tell the sex by internal anatomy, which almost always requires cutting the animal open. This is time consuming and not always practical when we have a large catch to process and other tasks take priority, such as preparing samples to be analyzed for contamination from the oil spill which is our top priority right now.

For some organisms, however, sex can be determined externally. One of the things we’ve learned in the past week is how to determine the sex of shrimp, flatfish, crabs, sharks, skates and rays. Here’s how:

Shrimp: the males have a pair of claspers (called petasma) on their first set of legs.The petasma are absent in females. The males use the petasma during mating to grasp the female and transfer the sperm sac.

Male – arrows show the petasma

Female – petasma are absent

 

Crabs: On most crab species females have wide plates curving around the rear of the abdomen, while males have a long narrow plate or plates. On females, the eggs develop under the curved plate.

Male

Female

Female with eggs

 

Flatfish: When you hold a flatfish up to the light you can see through it, which enables you to do an internal examination without cutting it open. On female flatfish, the gonad extends in a dark red, curved wedge which is absent in the male.

Female showing long curved gonad

Male – long gonad is absent

Sharks, skates and rays. Males have external claspers that they use in mating, while in females the cloaca is smooth and claspers are absent.

Male Angel shark – arrows point to claspers

Female Angel shark – claspers are absent

Personal Log

A tropical depression moved through the Gulf yesterday evening, making it too rough and windy to fish. So instead of counting, measuring and loading data into FSCS, my watchmates and I cleaned the lab, secured our gear, and headed up to the lounge to watch Shutter Island on the large-screen TV. Last night my bunk was like a roller coaster, tossing me from side-to-side and head-to-toe as the ship rolled and pitched in the big swells. Today has been a slow day for the scientists on board, waiting for the storm to pass so we can start trawling again, while the crew and officers remain as busy as ever.

Bruce Taterka, July 7, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Bruce Taterka
NOAA Ship: Oregon II

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Trawling in Deeper Waters

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 2015 (8:15pm)
Position: Latitude = 27.20.39 N; Longitude = 096.35.21 W
Present Weather: Could cover 90%
Visibility: 4-6 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Sea Water Temp: 28.6 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 28.5 C; Wet bulb = 26.7 C
Barometric Pressure: 1008.27 mb

Science and Technology Log

Since setting out on Friday we’ve headed south along the Gulf coast of Texas almost to the Mexican border, and now we’re heading back north but farther offshore, in deeper water. As a result our trawls are pulling up a deep-water assemblage of species different from those we saw in shallower waters a few days ago. There is still no sign of oil in this part of the Gulf, but we’re still taking samples of fish and shrimp for analysis to make sure there’s no contamination here from the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Ten-foot seas are predicted for tonight so we’re heading north along the Texas coast, away from the storm, and we’ve put away the fishing gear until it gets calmer.

Last log we talked about FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System). So what is it, how is it used, and what is so great about it?

FSCS, pronounced ‘fiscus’, is an automated system for recording the massive amount of biological and oceanographic data generated 24 hours a day by NOAA scientists during fisheries surveys. During a trawl survey, fish and invertebrates from each haul are sorted, counted and weighed by species. Scientists record data from individual fish, such as sex, weight, length and even stomach contents, resulting in tens of thousands of new data points every day. Before NOAA rolled out FSCS in 2001 aboard the ship Albatross IV, scientists recorded all data by hand, an incredibly tedious process. With FSCS, however, data are recorded digitally which is much faster, allows integration of biological and oceanographic data. It also enables NOAA to obtain critical real-time information to assess and manage the health of the marine ecosystem and individual fish stocks.

FSCS uses a Limnoterra FMB4 (fish measuring board) which has a magnetic pen to upload the length of an organism within a millimeter, and software that annotates all of the data on length, mass, sex, etc. The software has an index of species scientific names and can print labels for specimen samples that are to be shipped to other scientists and to the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory in Pascagoula, MS.

We use FSCS 24 hours a day, and I can’t imagine how NOAA scientists did this work without it.


Personal Log

I’m enjoying my 12-hour shifts processing fish, shrimp and invertebrates on theOregon II. Our noon-to-midnight watch is working well together and starting to bond.

My watch-mates in the Oregon II wet lab.

I’m seeing lots of very cool marine life that we’re hauling up from the bottom of the Gulf with our trawling net. Here are just a few of the things I’ve seen in the past two days:

Singlespot frogfish – Antennarius radiosus.

Note the lure on its snout.

Examining the stomach contents of a catfish.

Red snapper – Lutjanus campechanus.

Camouflage in the Sargassum. Can you spot the crabs?

Sunset

Sunset


Bruce Taterka, July 4, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Bruce Taterka
NOAA Ship: Oregon II

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Sunday, July 4, 2010

Out in the Gulf

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1000 hours (10:00am)
Position: Latitude = 27.58.38 N; Longitude = 096.17.53 W
Present Weather: partly cloudy, haze on the horizon
Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Sea Water Temp: 28.6 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 29.2 degrees Celsius; Wet bulb = 26.1 C
Barometric Pressure: 1011.1 mb

Science and Technology Log

The purpose of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey is to collect data for managing commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. SEAMAP stands for Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program.

Right now we’re working along the Gulf Coast of Texas, far from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, so we’re not seeing any effects of oil here. However, part of our mission is to collect fish for testing to make sure that oil spill has not impacted the marine life in this area and that the fish and shrimp from Texas are safe to eat. We’re also collecting water samples from this area to use as baseline data for the long-term monitoring of the impact of the oil spill in Gulf.

Analyzing a water sample in the Oregon II’s lab.

There are four main ways the Oregon II is gathering SEAMAP data on this cruise, and we’ve already learned how to use all of them. The main way we collect data is by trawling, and this is where we do most of our work on the Oregon II. In trawling, we drag a 42’ net along the bottom for 30 minutes, haul it up, and weigh the catch.

Hauling in the trawl net.

We then sort the haul which involves pulling out all of the shrimp and red snapper, which are the most commercially important species, and taking random samples of the rest. Then we count each species in the sample and record weights and measurements in a computer database called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System).

Logging a sample into FSCS.

Here on the Texas coast, where we’re working now, the SEAMAP data is used to protect the shrimp population and make sure that it’s sustained into the future. Since 1959, Texas has been closing the shrimp fishery seasonally to allow the population to reproduce and grow. The SEAMAP data allows Texas to determine the length of the season and size limits for each species. Judging by our trawls, the Texas shrimp population is healthy.

Another tool for data collection is the CTD, which stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. The CTD also measure dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll and other characteristics of the marine ecosystem and takes measurements from the surface to the bottom, creating a CTD profile of the water column at our trawling locations. These data are important to assess the extent of the hypoxic “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, and to relate the characteristics of our trawling hauls to dissolved oxygen levels. SEAMAP data collected since the early 1980s show that the zone of hypoxia in the Gulf has been spreading, causing populations to decline in hypoxic areas.

We also use Bongos and Neustons to gather data on larval fish, especially Bluefin Tuna, Mackerel, Gray Triggerfish, and Red Snapper. The Neuston is a rectangular net that we drag along the surface for ten minutes to collect surface-dwelling larval fish that inhabit Sargassum, a type of seaweed that floats at the surface and provides critical habitat for small fish and other organisms.

Examining the results of a Neuston drag.

Bongos.

We drag the Bongos below the surface to collect ichthyoplankton, which are the tiny larvae of fish just after they hatch. The Neuston and Bongo data on fish larvae are used for long-term planning to maintain these important food species and keep fish stocks healthy.

Personal Log

This is a great learning experience, not only about marine science but also about living and working on a ship. The Oregon II is literally a well-oiled machine, and the operation of the ship and the SEAMAP study depends on a complex effort and cooperation among the science team, the crew, the officers, engineers, and the steward and cook. Everyone seems to be an expert at their job, and the success of our survey and our safety depends on that. It’s a different feeling from life on land.

Life aboard the Oregon II is comfortable, especially now that I’ve gotten my sea legs.(I was hurting after we set out on Friday in 4’ to 6’ swells, but by Saturday afternoon I felt fine.) The food is excellent and most of the ship is air conditioned. The Gulf – at least the Gulf Coast off of Texas right now – is beautiful. The seas are deep green and blue and teeming with marine life. I’m looking forward to spending the next 2 weeks on board the Oregon II and being part of the effort to study the marine ecosystem in the Gulf and how it’s changing.

View of Gulf of Mexico

View of Gulf of Mexico

Bruce Taterka, July 1, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Bruce Taterka
NOAA Ship: Oregon II 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey 
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico 
Date: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 

On board the Oregon II in the Port of Galveston

I arrived in the Port of Galveston last night in the rain on the edge of Hurricane Alex, which was making landfall farther south along the Gulf Coast. The boat was quiet. I found my quarters – Stateroom 4, below deck – which I am sharing with Walter, the Second Cook for our cruise.
Stateroom 4

Stateroom 4

We were supposed to set sail today, but given the wind and rain that Alex brought to the Gulf our departure is delayed until tomorrow. Today is a wait-out-the-weather day.
Porthole

Porthole

Kim (the other Teacher at Sea the Oregon II) and I are meeting the officers and the crew and scientists and learning about our work for the next two weeks. I’ll be working the “day” shift – noon to midnight – while Kim will be on nights.

We set out tomorrow, heading south along the coast. Heavy seas are expected in the aftermath of Alex, which will be a major test for my sea legs. You can follow the Oregon II’s progress here.

 

Me on board

Me on board