Cathrine Fox: Issue Sixteen: Lumpsucker (there is no more perfect title)

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011


Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: October 25, 2011

Personal Log:
"It's not a party without a lumpsucker?"
“It’s not a party without a lumpsucker?”
What is the best birthday party you ever had? Let me set the stage for you to picture mine. It was a theme celebration: the guests came as a superhero or supermodel. Everyone was in costume. Balloons covered the floor. People brought so many flowers that I started putting them in washed out mayonnaise and pickle jars. The cake was homemade: I can’t now remember if it was chocolate oblivion or an upside-down fruit. I just remember that it was made from scratch. There were prizes for the best costumes. People danced for hours. I didn’t think that it could have ever gotten better. Until recently. Recently, I discovered lumpsuckers. For all of these years, I had no idea that my 29th could have gotten any better. Until now. Now I know that It’s not a party without a lumpsucker (Cartoon citations 1, 2 and 3).

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 16
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 16


Smooth and spiny lumpsuckers.
Smooth and spiny lumpsuckers.

I should explain why I chose a squishy dumpling with fins for the final cartoon of Adventures in a Blue World. It isn’t because my 29th birthday balloons should have been adorned by adorable fish (although admittedly they would have been grand). It is because, once again, I have found yet another inhabitant of our planet that I was ignorant of. As a biology teacher, I like to think that I have a fairly good handle on life, especially of our Animalia Kingdom. Who could have guessed, in their wildest dreams, that there were creatures like the lumpsucker that inhabit our oceans–our planet? With only 3% of the oceans explored, I can’t even fathom what else is out there. If we don’t explore, catalog and protect our oceans, we may never know.

I want to thank the Teacher at Sea Program of NOAA for an excellent and amazing adventure. In particular, the crew of the Oscar Dyson, the scientists of MACE, my fellow Teacher at Sea (rockstar) Staci DeSchryver and Elizabeth McMahon deserve special recognition. Thank you all so much.

Until our next adventure!
I wish you fair winds and following seas, a sailor’s farewell…

Cathrine Prenot Fox

Last evening: green flash watch.
Last evening: green flash watch.
Leaving Kodiak, AK.
Leaving Kodiak, AK.
Before I left I may have tagged some of the hard hats with cartoons...
Before I left I may have tagged some of the hard hats with cartoons…

Cathrine Fox: Issue Fifteen: So you want to be a scientist…

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: October 20, 2011

Personal Log:
Perhaps you are sitting at your desk right now, contemplating finishing work that you probably should be doing, or putting the last touches on a college application, or wondering if anyone brought any treats to share that are sitting in the lounge waiting your attention. Maybe it is late at night, and you are wishing that your work tomorrow was just a little more exciting.

Winslow Homer, Breezing Up.  National Gallery of Art.
Winslow Homer, Breezing Up. National Gallery of Art.

What if your work tomorrow looked like this? Why not choose a life at sea instead? Think of this: thousands before you have gone off to sea… …and while it isn’t as romantic as it once was with pirate attacks and years away from home, it is now a lot more comfortable. Perhaps you have always dreamed of becoming a commanding officer of a ship, or a boatswain, or an engineer… How does one do it? How do you get to live, work, and learn through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration? Look no further friends, I have just the right reading material to get you started: So you want to be a scientist? (Cartoon citations 1, 2 and 3).

Of particular interest to me (not surprisingly) are the opportunities for science research and exploration. I was captivated by Dr. Edith Widder’s research about bioluminscence, interested in the 2004 Titanic Expedition, and humbled by the wealth of knowledge presented in interviews with people from a variety of ocean careers.

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 15
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 15

Until our next adventure,
Cat

Kodiak Harbor
Kodiak Harbor
Measuring Walleye Pollock.
Measuring Walleye Pollock.
Dawn on the Dyson
Dawn on the Dyson
Bobble-heads on the Bridge.
Bobble-heads on the Bridge.
Insert your photo here: Life at Sea!
Insert your photo here: Life at Sea!

Cathrine Fox: Issue Fourteen: Late Night Television

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011


Personal Log:
Late night television=brain torture. I think late night t.v. might be designed to shrink brain neurons: shopping networks, exercise shows, self help and reality programs. Some studies have even linked watching late night t.v. to obesity and sleep deprivation. I’d rather stab myself with a butter knife than be trapped on a couch watching a self help guru in the middle of the night… …On the Oscar Dyson, though? You couldn’t drag me away from the 4:30 a.m. screen, as it shows a live feed of the floor of the ocean 100 meters below us.

The camera drops were just one part of the night-time research aboard the Oscar Dyson. Dr. Jodi Pirtle, a post doctoral research associate at the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, utilized her lab hours to explore and document “untrawlable” portions of our survey area. Rocky bottoms, pinnacles, shelves… …all make it difficult to drop a net down to get an accurate reading of groundfish diversity and abundance without destroying the net.

Throughout the night the ship maneuvers tight turns to provide high resolution acoustic signals of the bottom. My fellow Teacher at Sea, Staci DeSchryver, describes the ship’s movements as akin to “lawn mowing.” My father, watching the NOAA ship tracker online after one of these sessions, asked if the captain had had one too many cocktails (absolutely not, by the way). These turns, in addition to making me sleep like a baby, provide an overlapping and highly accurate map of the ocean floor. Below is a multibeam image of a seamount (underwater mountain) mapped during the 2004 Gulf of Alaska Seamount Expedition.

"In this multibeam image of Ely Seamount, the caldera (aka the Crater of Doom) is visible at the apex of the seamount." Image courtesy of Jason Chaytor, NOAA
“In this multibeam image of Ely Seamount, the caldera (aka the Crater of Doom) is visible at the apex of the seamount.” Image courtesy of Jason Chaytor, NOAA

After a night of intensive napping, I mean mapping, I go on shift at 4am. I know I have mentioned this before, but I have the best job in the world: my first task in the morning is helping with camera deployment. I am sure you will agree after checking out Issue 14 that several camera drops equal the best Late Night T.V. I have ever seen (Cartoon citations 1 and 2).

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 14
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 14

Until our next adventure,
Cat

Retrieving the camera. Snakehead.

Not to be redundant, but the best job ever.
Not to be redundant, but the best job ever.

Cathrine Fox: Issue Thirteen: Walleye Pollock Status Page

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011


Personal Log:
I have not always had the best morals when it came to eating seafood. I discovered the joys of sushi in San Francisco after I graduated college. There was one place that I would frequent so often that the sushi chefs would would create something for me when I walked through the door. I later learned from Ruth Reichl in her book Garlic and Sapphires that the phrase I was looking for was “Omakase.” Literally: I am in your hands. In their capable hands I tried unagi (eel), hon maguro (bluefin tuna), and hamachi (yellowtail) for the first time. And I fell in love.

A few years later, a friend mentioned to me that I might want to moderate my adoration of some fish. Never one to take someone else’s word, I did my own research. I read, with growing horror, that my delicious eel farms were not sustainable, and that bluefin tuna was declining worldwide. Evidently, there were so many others that shared my love of the cool simple taste of hon maguro that we were loving these and other species to death. I know, you probably don’t want to take my word for it. Do your own research and then come back: FishWatch and SeaFoodWatch.

Back? Did you see that Yellowfin tuna are being sustainably harvested? Yes, me too. One order of hamachi sashimi, please.

What is my point with all of this? I want to show you what data are used to make these determinations about sustainability. I assure you, it is not random or haphazard. In fact, the purpose of my time in Alaska was to provide data to fisheries managers (composed of teams of fishermen, scientists, and officials) to let them make educated decisions on the health of walleye pollock populations in the Gulf of Alaska. What data do we collect? How do we know what the fish are doing, and how many there are? It isn’t an easy job… there is no Walleye Pollock Facebook Status Page that you can just check… (Cartoon citations 1, 2, and 3). You have to get dirty and do some real science.

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 13
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 13

Until our next adventure,

Cat

Walleye Pollock age classes.
Walleye Pollock age classes.

p.s. Although my “real job” has severely impacted the amount of time I have to cartoon, I am still working on at least two more (and up to seven, if I find a way to get a hold of a Time-Turnerlike Hermione Granger) cartoons. Thank you for being patient!

Cathrine Fox: Issue Twelve: Better than any alarm clock

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011


Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: August 11, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 57deg 22.630N, Longitude: 152.02° W
Air Temperature: 13.6° C
Water temperature: 9.0° C
Wind Speed/Direction: 12kn/240°
Barometric Pressure: 1020.1
Partly cloudy (5%) and sun

Science Log:

Stern of the Oscar Dyson
Stern of the Oscar Dyson

Somewhere back in my family history there must have been a fishmonger, because I’ve been channeling something or someone. The entire process of watching the acoustic footprint of the ocean under the ship, deciding where to physically sample (trawl) populations, and then seeing and processing the fish that live 100 meters or more below us? Fascinating. Add to this camera drops to get snapshots of the ocean floor (more amazing footage this morning), and interesting ‘Methot’ plankton tows to sample what is available for the fish to eat and give a more accurate and complete picture? How many adjectives can I use?

Before we dive too far into the depths, let me explain/refresh what plankton are. Plankton are any drifting organisms that inhabit the water columns of bodies of water. In fact, their name derives from the Greek for “wanderer,” and it would be helpful if you thought of them as drifters in the current…from deep in the ocean to up on the surface. They are generally broken down into plant-like-photosynthesizing plankton (phytoplankton) and animal-like plankton (zooplankton).
Phytoplankton are “photosynthesizing microscopic organisms that inhabit the upper sunlit layer of almost alloceans and bodies of water” (wikipedia). If you have taken biology or forensics with me, I have described some of them ad nauseam: diatoms? Those organisms that are in every body of water on the planet? Ah, yes. I can see it all coming back to you.
https://i0.wp.com/desalalternatives.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/zooplankton.jpg
http://desalalternatives.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/zooplankton.jpg

Zooplankton encompass a diverse range of macro and microscopic animals. They generally eat the phytoplankton or one another. Examples include krill, copepods, jellyfish, and amphipods.

In the great food web of life, other organisms eat the zooplankton. Among them was a pod of 50+ Humpback whales in the Barnabas Trough off of Kodiak Island. They were exciting enough that I went from being sound asleep to dressed and on the bridge in less than five minutes. Issue 12, Humpback Whales: Better than any alarm clock I have ever known delves into these organisms (Cartoon citations 1, 2, 3 and 4).


Our chief survey technician, Kathy Hough, took a lot of photos the following day as we traveled from Barnabas Trough to Alitak Bay. The three photos that follow and descriptions are courtesy of Kathy.

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 12
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 12

 

Whale tail: Individual humpback whales can be identified by the black/white pattern on the ventral side of the fluke (tail).  The pattern is like a human's fingerprint, unique to one animal.
Whale tail: Individual humpback whales can be identified by the black/white pattern on the ventral side of the fluke (tail). The pattern is like a human’s fingerprint, unique to one animal.
There is evidence of three whales in the photo above: the closest whale's rostrum (blow hole) is visible.  The second whale is diving and you can see the peduncle (the stocky part of the tail before the fluke).  The glassy area in the back of the photo is evidence of a recent dive and is called a "footprint."
There is evidence of three whales in the photo above: the closest whale’s rostrum (blow hole) is visible. The second whale is diving and you can see the peduncle (the stocky part of the tail before the fluke). The glassy area in the back of the photo is evidence of a recent dive and is called a “footprint.”
This Humpback was last seen in this area in 2004, and has not been seen since.  The white marks on its fluke are from a killer whale attack!  Kathy emailled photos of the whales to observers, and they were able to identify individuals!
This Humpback was last seen in this area in 2004, and has not been seen since. The white marks on its fluke are from a killer whale attack! Kathy emailled photos of the whales to observers, and they were able to identify individuals!
All hands on deck... 100+ Humpback Whales.  Darin and Staci.
All hands on deck… 100+ Humpback Whales. Darin and Staci.

Our team of scientists sample plankton using a Methot net, which is fine mesh and captures macroscopic organisms. We sample plankton for the same reason that we physically trawl for fish: we need to make certain what we are “hearing” is what is down there, with a focus on the types and sizes of the plankton. Additionally, knowledge about what and where plankton populations are will help with modeling the entire ecosystem. If you know where the food lives, its abundance and composition, by extension you have a much greater understanding of the predators, both pollock and whale.

(If you get a chance, check out this video about how whales hunt with bubble nets; fascinating!)

Personal Log

Bowditch
Bowditch

I try to spend time on the bridge every morning before breakfast. I bring up a cup of tea and watch the horizon lighten until the sun pushes its way up above the lingering clouds. This morning, I saw the green flash for the first time. The green flash is not a superhero. It is not a myth. It is not a sailor’s fish tail. It is real. Furthermore, if you still don’t believe me, the green flash is in the “bible” of maritime studies, The American Practical Navigator (Bowditch, if you are on a first name basis). I was told by Ensign David Rodziewiczthat “if it is in Bowditch, it must be true.” So there.

The green flash appears on the horizon just after the sun sets or just before it rises. For one moment on that spot the sky looks as if someone broke a green glow stick and smeared a distant florescent mark. As fast as it was there, it is gone. The name is appropriate: green flash. It occurs because light is bent slightly as it passes through the atmosphere (refraction); this bending is greatest on the horizon. Since light is made up of different colors with different wavelengths, the bending causes the colors to be seen separately. Bowditch says it is like offset color printing (nice metaphor, eh?). The red end of the spectrum is first to rise. The blue end of the spectrum is scattered the most by the atmosphere, leaving behind the momentary and memorable second of green.

Evidently, to see the green flash is considered very good luck. I already feel very lucky. I am in one of the most beautiful places in the world, on a ship with interesting and intelligent people, driving around the Gulf of Alaska learning about science and occasionally checking out whales. If I can get luckier than this… well… wow.

Tomorrow is the last day of our cruise, but I have a few more cartoons up my sleeves, so keep checking back. In the meantime, thank you to the incredible staff of the Oscar Dyson, the scientists of MACE, my rockin’ cohort Staci, and the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.

Until our next adventure,
Cat

p.s. Whales have the worst morning breath I have ever smelled. I know it isn’t really their fault–imagine having 270-400 baleen sheets on either side of your mouth that you could get krill stuck in…

Take it to the Bridge...
Take it to the Bridge…
Oscar Dyson, me mateys.
Oscar Dyson, me mateys.

Cathrine Fox: Issue Eleven: In the belly of the beast

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011


Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: August 11, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 56 49.50° N, Longitude: 154 30.12° W
Air Temperature: 14.3° C
Water temperature: 9.2° C
Wind Speed/Direction:8.25kn/338.45
Barometric Pressure: 1017.59
Scattered clouds (10%) and sun

Science and Technology Log:
I have read a lot about travel during the “age of sail,” and the Gloucester, Massachusetts fishing boom years. Believe you me, it wasn’t all swashbuckling pirates, romantic whale captures and sea shanties. Now though? Life at sea, on the surface, has all of the amenities and trappings of life at home: shower, a place to sleep, delicious food, work and friends. Easy, especially if you are, I should add, a Teacher at Sea. Beneath the surface though… it gets complicated. How is it possible to turn on a faucet and get fresh water when you are surrounded by brine? Where is the food stored before it arrives on your plate? Where does the electricity come from when you flip a switch? (I assure you, our boat is not Pollock powered, nor do we drag an extra long extension cord…)

Before I go into the picture journey of the ship and her inner workings, let me tell you about routine matters. In fact, I want to share with you my daily routine on the Oscar Dyson, and then, afterward, take you into the Belly of the Beast. Go ahead. Click on Issue 11.

I want to especially thank the Chief Marine Engineer, Jeff Hokkanen, for a stellar hour and a half tour of the inner workings of the ship. He probably didn’t realize that his job was red carpet material, but after about 100 photo opportunities from Staci, Megan Stachura (a graduate student from the University of Washington) and me, I think we have convinced him…

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 11
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 11
I promise, I did not touch anything.  Generator control panel.
I promise, I did not touch anything. Generator control panel.

I was most curious about how the Oscar Dyson dealt with issues that I don’t think much about at home: power, water and waste. How is it possible to produce enough electricity for me to turn on lights, be charging my computer and driving along at 11 knots? Where does the water come from, when we are surrounded by the sea? Where does it all go, when, you know, we ‘go?’

There was no touching, we swear.  Staci and Megan.
There was no touching, we swear. Staci and Megan.

Power: We have four diesel engines on board. They are enormous Caterpillars that were built into the ship. The engines power generators that then run electric motors… all controlled by a computerized generator control panel. On average, we use 2,500-3,000 gallons of marine diesel fuel every day we are out to sea. Additionally, every 1,000 miles the 150 gallons of oil in the engines needs to be changed. I know you are adding up the prices in your head. It is pretty amazing how much good science costs, isn’t it? Here is how I see it: manage the single largest Alaskan fishery (some argue in the world) to ensure that it is healthy and here for generations in the future, or let Walleye Pollock go the way of the Atlantic Cod on the Grand Banks? Once I do the math, it all seems worth it.

Thumbs up for vacuum distillation water systems!
Thumbs up for vacuum distillation water systems!

Each human being on this boat uses about 50 gallons of water a day. The water is produced by drawing on seawater, running it through a vacuum and boiling it. Water in the vacuum boils at a lower temperature, saving energy. After distillation, the water is treated with a UV light (similar to how a backpacking steri pen works) and bromine. Seawater used to be in many ships’ toilets; if it contained phosphorescent bacteria, when you flushed, your effluent would fluoresce. (Oddly poetic for what I just described, no?)

Grey and black water treatment (not stinky).
Grey and black water treatment (not stinky).

Finally, what happens to ‘it’ all? The ship has two kinds of waste, grey water (from drains) and black water (sewage). According to international regulations, you cannot dispose of waste within three miles of shore. Most ships, once they have crossed that boundary? Heave ho. The Oscar Dyson treats it’s grey and black water in a septic system, chlorinates it, and then disposes of it, once we have crossed that 3 mile zone. When tested, it would classify as being safe to drink… …any takers? Food scraps are ground up and thrown overboard (outside the 3 miles), paper trash is incinerated, and aluminum recycled.

All in all, I think it is pretty fascinating how this ship supplies thirty people with their basic needs for weeks on end. I’ll leave you with a few bonus photos from our tour, and some fish cameos from our trawls. A heads up if you are about to scroll through my photos: I will describe the trawl operation in more detail in the future, but the general purpose of our trawls is to take the ages, weights, lengths, sexes and stomachs of individual fish we catch. Three of these operations (sexing, aging and taking the stomachs) are fatal to the fish…a hard reality to swallow when I have made the Walleye Pollock a beloved mascot. I choose to deal with this reality by taking inane photos with the fish. To sum up: photos of fish ahead. I make lots of faces.

Walleye Pollock trawl.  I discover that I have drawn them correctly.
Walleye Pollock trawl. I discover that I have drawn them correctly.
Teachers at Sea: Staci and Cat
Teachers at Sea: Staci and Cat
Capelin fish smell like cucumbers.  Really.
Capelin fish smell like cucumbers. Really.
Capelin.  Abigail and Cat.
Capelin. Abigail and Cat.
Salmonberries.  Abigail and Cat.
Salmonberries. Abigail and Cat.

Cathrine Fox: Issue Ten: Red King Crabs, a twenty word synopsis

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: August 7, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 57.33° N, Longitude: 152.02° W
Air Temperature: 10.6° C
Water temperature: 9.3° C
Wind Speed/Direction:8.25kn/338.45
Barometric Pressure: 1017.59
Partly cloudy (35%) and sun

Personal Log:

First things first: we have left the dock! We are surrounded by sea!

Being at sea is lovely. Pulling out of Women’s Bay a few of us went up above the bridge to the “flying bridge” (aptly named, as you are up in the air with the birds) for a view. In the mouth of the bay, sea otters swam through bull kelp forests and a humpback whale breached right off of the bow. Although horned puffins were more numerous by the Coast Guard pier, the farther we got offshore, the more tufted puffins there were. Pelagic (?) cormorants used the buoys as platforms to dry their wings and later, when we tested the net reels, Northern fulmars and black-footed albatross sailed in to see if we were pulling in fish: as if they were classically conditioned. The movement of the ship makes me feel sleepy when I am without a porthole; other than that, I haven’t felt any adverse effects at all. I love it.

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 10
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 10

I also feel really lucky to be working with such an interesting group of people. One of the scientists, Dr. Jodi Pirtle (now at the University of New Hampshire) studied juvenile Red King Crabs for her dissertation at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Science, Juneau. It is because of her and requests from three of you out there in cyber-land that Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 10 explores the natural history of these interesting organisms. I hope you enjoy Red King Crabs, a twenty word synopsis. (Cartoon citation 1. Hint: the twenty word synopsis starts with “I bite.”)

Science and Technology Log:

    Oscar Dyson's multibeam echo sounder
Oscar Dyson’s multibeam echo sounder

I came on shift this morning at 4am and immediately was able to take part in some really interesting work. Jodi (the scientist that shared her juvenile crab research) is working on mapping habitats in untrawlable places of the ocean floor using acoustic and other methods. During the night, the ship will be driven in tight transects over areas that she has identified as being potentially “untrawlable:” rocky ledges, areas with lots of pinnacles, or other areas with un-level bottoms. The ship’s multibeam echo sounder broadcasts and receives signals, providing an acoustic map of the floor. Three times during the trawl, Jodi will lower a camera down to the bottom to get live feed on what the habitat looks like.

This morning we tested the stereo video camera and lowered it 78.81 meters down. Watching it was like being able to control a live feed on the Discovery Channel! Euphausiids (krill) swarmed the lights, a huge burgundy colored halibut swam along the silty bottom, flat fish, pacific cod and a sturgeon poacher perused the camera and mushroom-like anemones called Netridium farcimen swayed with the currents.

In last summer’s cartoon series (Pura Vida Adventures, Issue 2), I quoted Stephen Sharnoff: The eye often cannot see what the mind does not already know” to explain how difficult it was to see lichen diversity until you knew what you were looking for. I think the reverse is true for life on the ocean floor. I know that the ocean is very alive. Seeing it 80 meters down in the pre-dawn light as if it were a bustling city is an all together different experience.

In the future, I will try to capture a few stills directly from the live video feed. For now, I will leave you with a few other images of science, technology and shipboard life.

Until our next adventure,
Cat

Lowering the stereo-video-camera.
Lowering the stereo-video-camera.
Jodi "drives" the lowered stereo-video-camera, watching the live feed.
Jodi “drives” the lowered stereo-video-camera, watching the live feed.
Darin Jones brakes while Jodi drives.
Darin Jones brakes while Jodi drives.
Dawn in Kalsin Bay, Kodiak.
Dawn in Kalsin Bay, Kodiak.
Deploying the Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT): click here to find out more
Deploying the Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT): click here to find out more

Cathrine Fox: Issue Nine: Pycnopodia phobia

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011


Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: August 4, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 12.5° C dry/10.8° C wet
Overcast, Fog and Rain
Latitude: 57.44° N, Longitude: 152.31° W

(Limited data, as ship is in port)


Personal Log:
There is a scene in the 1979 movie Alien, with Sigourney Weaver, that still makes me duck under an afghan, even though I have watched it many times and I know what is going to happen. (The scene takes place within the first 30 minutes, so I haven’t spoiled the ending for you if you have never experienced Alien.) Scene summary: The spaceship Nostromo is on its way back to Earth with a load of ore when it receives a transmission from a nearby planetoid. Of course, the crew land their ship on the planetoid to check it out. They find an abandoned spaceship transmitting the signal. Of course, they go inside to explore. One of the crew members (Kane) finds an immense room lined with pods…that look suspiciously like eggs. (Here is the point that I start inching under the protection of a blanket.) Of course, one of the eggs hatches… …and Kane leans in to “check it out.” Out leaps this multi-armed creature that attaches itself to Kane’s face. It all goes downhill from there, but I won’t spoil the how.

Picture, now, a Sunflower Starfish, Pycnopodia helianthoides, in the starring role instead of a face-sucking alien. I don’t think it is that much of a stretch of the imagination:

Kane from Alien with "Facehugger"
Kane from Alien with “Facehugger”
Bowdoin College student with Sunflower Starfish
Bowdoin College student with Sunflower Starfish

See what I mean? And really, you don’t have to imagine this animal as an Alien to fear it. These animals eat just about anything they can on the sea bed, and can grow to be a meter wide. Although they move too slow to capture a human and attach themselves to their face (1 to 2 meters per minute, the Maserati of the phylum echinodermata) I would not put it past them to snack on anything that was too slow to move out of their way. They are certainly a terror for sea urchins, clams and scallops.

Need I say more? I’ll let Issue 9: Pycnopodia phobia speak for itself. (Cartoon citations 1, 2, 3 and 4)

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 9
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 9

These creatures are under the dock and on the pier where we are right now, in a wide array of sizes and colors. As long as they stay there, I won’t be ringing any abandon ship drills (more on that later), but be wary. Be very wary.

If you get a chance, check out my fellow Teacher at Sea blogs! She has a TAS wordpress and personal blogspot, and both are informative and hilarious. I’ve also included a few more photos of various trips around Kodiak if you scroll down. We are scheduled to leave tomorrow at 0800 hours, so play some Styx for us (Come Sail Away, thanks Kim!) and keep your fingers and toes crossed.

Until our next adventure,
Cat

I have always said: "keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."
I have always said: “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
"Safety Stand Down Day:" Staci and I don orange gumby survival suits... ...and jump off the side of the ship into the water...
“Safety Stand Down Day:” Staci and I don orange gumby survival suits… …and jump off the side of the ship into the water…
...then paddle out to life rafts and do relay races to shore with our teammates.
…then paddle out to life rafts and do relay races to shore with our teammates.
Staci wins the scavenger hunt for ships from The Deadliest Catch (including the Cornelia Marie!).
Staci wins the scavenger hunt for ships from The Deadliest Catch (including the Cornelia Marie!).
Shocker: Cat with binoculars.  Miller Point.
Shocker: Cat with binoculars. Miller Point.
Fort Abercrombie: wildflower hike,
Fort Abercrombie: wildflower hike,
...historic World War II bunkers,
…historic World War II bunkers,
...and birding.
…and birding.

Cathrine Fox: Issue Eight: The Mermaid’s Bladder

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011


Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: August 2, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
True Wind Speed: na
Air Temperature: 14.0° C dry/12.4° C wet
Air Pressure: na
Clouds, Fog and Rain
Latitude: 57.44° N, Longitude: 152.31° W
Ship heading: n/a

(Limited data, as ship is in port)


Personal Log:
If you follow the links on the side-bar for the NOAA fleet map, you will notice that yes, indeed, we are still in Kodiak on the Coast Guard Base. My father informs me that if you go to google maps, you can zoom in and actually see the ship! I’d say I would wave to you, but I haven’t really spent a great deal of time onboard with so much to see and explore. Today is an exception, with 100% humidity (code for pouring) and I have been busily finishing two cartoons; one of which follows.

I have always been fascinated by members of the taxonomic kingdom protista: a group of diverse organisms united by the fact that they don’t fit into any of the other kingdoms (plants, animal, fungi and two bacteria). Protists also have eukaryotic cells, or cells with a nucleus and specialized organelles. I can wax poetic for an hour about diatoms, extol the virtues of Spirogyra and Volvox (an of how my students should name bands after them), and get excited about cillates like Stentor or Blepharisma. Imagine my delight at finding Bull Kelp, Nerocystis luetkeana, washed up on shore during a walk along Women’s Bay.

I know. It may be difficult for you to imagine it. Instead, try reading Issue 8: The Mermaid’s Bladder and watching a short relaxing video… …then come back and we’ll have a little chat. (Cartoon citations: 1, 2 and 3)

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 8
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 8

 

Bull kelp is pretty amazing. Since it is an annual, it grows from a single spore to a ginormous height in one year–sometimes growing as much as 10 inches per day. Indigenous peoples have made use of the stem for nets, harpoons, and fishing lines; the hollow float can be dried to store water or oil, and the stem and blades can be eaten. Pretty impressive, for a lowly protist.


Until our next adventure,
Cat


p.s. Many thanks to my sister Laura for doing Adventures in a Blue World video research for me. We don’t have a great deal of bandwidth on ship, and are not allowed to pig out on available cyberspace with video watching (plus, it would be abysmally slow). xo LJ!

Cathrine Fox: Issue Seven: Eight arms, three hearts, three brains

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011


Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: July 31, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
True Wind Speed: na
Air Temperature: 17.9° C dry/13.8° C wet
Air Pressure: na
Partly Cloudy
Latitude: 57.44° N, Longitude: 152.31° W
Ship heading: n/a
(Limited data, as ship is in port)

Lupine, Pasagshak Beach
Lupine, Pasagshak Beach

Personal Log:

Sometimes, science research is messy. Now might be one of those times. We are in Kodiak awaiting repairs to the rescue boat and the arrival of a deck hand before we can get underway. Everyone is doing everything they can to get us moving, but if you haven’t noticed yet, Kodiak is remote. The up side of this delay? Kodiak is a beautiful, interesting place to explore, and I have taken full advantage of this opportunity.

The head of our scientific team, Dr. Chris Wilson, introduced Staci (the other Teacher at Sea) and me to the director of the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center, Dr. Robert Foy. Bob took us on an amazing backroom tour of the Center, complete with two story aquariums, open tanks (Staci calls them underwater petting zoos), huge lab spaces and experiments in progress. One of the coolest organisms was a Giant Pacific Octopus. We got to play with it. Read that last sentence again, will you? We got to play with it. Amazing, eh?

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 7
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 7
Staci DeSchryver, Teacher at Sea
Staci DeSchryver, Teacher at Sea
In honor of Enteroctopus dofleini, I present to you Issue 7: Eight arms, three hearts, three brains. (Cartoon citations 1, 2 and 3) Check out Issue 7 and some excellent video and let me know if your impressions of this invertebrate have changed at all.

Fossil Beach. Kodiak, AK
Fossil Beach. Kodiak, AK

The wildlife viewing both underwater and on land has been spectacular. We drove down to a remote place called Fossil Beach around the bluff from Pasagshak Bay on the southeast side of the island and encountered wild horses on the way there, (spotted?) seals cruising the beach and three Kodiak brown bears on the way home (!). Two of the bears were smaller juveniles fishing at river crossings; the third was a huge adult that ran out in front of the car. The hump on its back was the level of the roof. Seriously? This bear was the size of a small pony. Other wildlife abound: otters, pigeon guillemots and jellyfish swim around our ship, black oystercatchers and fox parade on shore and bald eagles sail overhead. So, while we are all anxious to “get fishin,” we are still learning a ton and having an excellent time.

I’ll leave you with a photo of one of the bears: a “tiny” juvenile fishing in the Olds River in Kalsin Bay. Oh, and if you have any ideas for interesting ocean organisms for Adventures in a Blue World, drop me a line. I’m working on two really cool ones that I’ll deliver in the next several days, but then will be looking for new inspiration.


Until our next adventure,
Teacher on Land, Cat Fox


p.s. To clear up a common misconception: Grizzly and Brown Bears are the same species, Ursus arctos. Inland bears are usually called Grizzlies, coastal are browns.
p.p.s. A few folks have sent me some great new links on octopuses. Here is a video showing octopus camouflage and an interesting article on an octopus from Germany that picked the winners in the World Cup last summer.

Kodiak Brown Bear.  Kodiak, AK
Kodiak Brown Bear. Kodiak, AK



Cathrine Fox: Issue Six: Alaska, impossibly big and impossibly green

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011


Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: July 27, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
True Wind Speed: na
Air Temperature: 14° C dry/12° C wet
Air Pressure: na
Overcast
Latitude: 57.44° N, Longitude: 152.31° W
Ship heading: n/a
(Limited data, as ship is in port)

Scientific Log:

I’ve received an in-depth tour of the ship and labs, and I am starting to piece together how the “Acoustic Trawl Survey” works. Basically, NOAA is responsible for monitoring the populations of walleye pollock and accomplishes this task in several ways. The acoustic trawl survey is one part of how this is done.

Net Reels
Net Reels

The science team identifies particular transect areas in the Gulf of Alaska. The ship travels to that area, then transmits acoustic signals about once per second as it travels along each transect. The returning echo gives scientists an initial measurement of the abundance of organisms in the water below the ship. Just “listening,” however, is not enough. We also have to sample populations physically to determine the ages, sizes, and species of the organisms. The ship trawls for these additional data.

A trawl is a large net towed behind the ship to catch fish and other organisms. The individuals (of all species) in the catch are identified and counted. Cameras (three) are mounted inside the back of the trawl (codend) to collect images as they pass through the trawl. From this larger catch, a sample of the walleye pollock (about 300 individuals) are dissected to determine sex, diet, measured (length and weight) for size and aged by looking at (yes) their ear bones or otoliths. I’ll cover all of this in depth once I have been able to do it and see it in action, but that is the gist.



Personal Log:
I think first impressions are important. Alaska? Alaska is impossibly big and impossibly green. Too big, perhaps to describe with common adjectives. It took me about two days of travel from the 4-Corners to make my way up here: a Beechcraft 1900 from Cortez to Denver, then flights from Denver to Seattle and Seattle to Anchorage. I spent the night in Anchorage and wandered the city at midnight… …not that you can tell that it was so late from the pictures.

The next morning I took off from Anchorage and met up with the crew and scientific party onboard the Oscar Dyson in Kodiak, an island the size of Connecticut in the Gulf of Alaska

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 6
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 6

As for how ‘impossibly green’ Alaska is, I was thinking about the reasons Georgia O’Keeffe gave for moving from New York City to New Mexico in 1949. She said (and I paraphrase) that she wanted to use more vibrant colors in her palette of paints than just green. Ms. O’Keeffe would have it rough here in Alaska: greens, greys and blues abound. Adventures in a Blue World Issue 6 may not convince you of the colors of Alaska, but I hope it gives you a grasp of its size.

Kodiak, Alaska dock
Kodiak, Alaska dock

I’ve already settled in to the ship and my stateroom. My stateroom is small but comfortable, and I share it with a woman who is part of the scientific NOAA team. Interestingly, she worked for the same professor at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado as an undergraduate that I did. Very Small World.

We are docked in Kodiak for a few more days than anticipated: we are awaiting the arrival of another deck-hand, and there are a few repairs that need to be made to the ship. Once we get started, I will be working the 4am-4pm shift, and taking part in whatever science is taking place. In the meantime, I get to ‘nose around’ Kodiak, go for hikes and runs, check out museums (see below), and eat as many salmonberries as I can stuff into my mouth.

Until our next adventure,
Cat

Cathrine Fox: Issue Five: Cuteness factor of eleven

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011
Personal Log:
I’d like to say that it was for purely scientific reasons that the next cartoon in the series features the Puffins of Alaska. The truth be told, it was their deliciously cute little squishy bodies, their Buddha-like serenity and comical attempts at movement above water. Not sold yet? One viewing of the live “Puffin Cam” on Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge and you will be enraptured…
https://i2.wp.com/projectpuffin.org/images/PuffinsWithCam07.jpg
http://projectpuffin.org/images/PuffinsWithCam07.jpg

www.birdinginformation.com/wp-content/gallery/cache/1790__400x400_tufted-puffin-breeding-4a.jpg

www.nhptv.org/natureworks/hornedpuffin.htm
http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/hornedpuffin.htm
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 5
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 5

Until our next adventure,
Cat

Cathrine Fox: Issue Four: A Nautical Primer

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX

ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011

Personal Log:

I worked for many summers in construction doing finish work on log-cabin homes. My coworkers would have had months of detention from me if they had been in my class but, over time, I assimilated. A few weeks before summer vacation ended, I put a jar on the kitchen counter. If words escaped my lips that wouldn’t be quite…appropriate coming from a school teacher, I paid a tax into the jar. By the time school began, I was back to using the King’s English, and some local charity was a bit richer.

www.omao.noaa.gov/08_dyson_orca.html
http://www.omao.noaa.gov/08_dyson_orca.html

I realized soon after I found out I’d be a Teacher at Sea that I was going to need to do some serious work on my nautical language. It wasn’t that I wanted to swear like a sailor per se, but that I needed to call things by their proper names. Case in point: I am traveling on a ship, not a boat. (For those of you not in the maritime community, please recognize that calling a ship a boat is akin to swearing.) I hope that Issue 4 of Adventures in a Blue World may help others not make as many faux pas as I have, with help from A Nautical Primer: (cartoon citations: 1 and 2)

(Depending on your source, many common idioms have a nautical history. A few claim that “dressed to the nines” or “the whole nine yards” refers to a ship coming into port with all sails unfurled (although there is, to be sure, considerable debate).)

Whether or not you need to brush up on some simple terms, take some time to explore the website for the ship the Oscar Dyson. It was fascinating to me how much is packed into a little over 200ft.

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 4
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 4

Until our next adventure,
Cat

Cathrine Fox: Issue Three: Why are we seasick?

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011

Personal Log
Every year on my birthday my Nana sent me a card with a $20 bill tucked into it. Her written instructions were: “do something nice.” Without fail, the entire sum would be spent on ride tickets at the Dutchess County Fair for the roller coaster, tea-cup spin, high swings, pirate ship and the ’round-up’ ride (an old fashioned gravitron). Evidently, I assumed that she meant “do something nice (for yourself).”

I still love a good stomach dropping roller-coaster ride but as a scientist I have grown curious about the biology of balance. Why is it that I occasionally suffer from motion sickness but other times can eat funnel cakes, ride the spinniest amusement park ride and have no fear of the aftermath? Furthermore, when I was on a ship in high seas of the North Atlantic Ocean around the Hebrides (west of Scotland) I didn’t even have a stomach quiver… …once I put foot on shore though, my body decided that land was moving alarmingly.

The most frequent question of all Teacher at Sea Blogs that I have read in the past two months is a variation on this: “Are you seasick?” Since the word ‘Nausea’ stems from the Greek ‘naus,’ or ship, I think it seems very appropriate to address this question through Issue 3: Why are we seasick? (Again, if you click on the cartoon it should open in another window so you can read it more easily and magnify.)

Motion sickness in general seems to arise from the brain’s inability to resolve a conflict between the senses of balance. When input from the eyes, fine motor muscles, skin receptors and the organs of the inner ear don’t add up, your brain assumes that something must be adversely effecting the body. A cascade of events takes place: cold sweats, the pyloric valve of the stomach closes up, letting no food pass to the intestines, dizziness, vertigo, nausea and sometimes…well, you know. The most common theory is that the brain thinks the body’s discordant messages mean that it is hallucinating and has ingested a poison. Response? Get rid of it.

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 3
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 3
Commander Richard Behn, 1979.  NOAA.
Commander Richard Behn, 1979. NOAA.

Techniques to help resolve your brain’s conflict include napping and snacking (which I happen to be excellent at!), avoiding greasy or acidic foods and simply keeping a visual reference point on the horizon. Although I am bringing some OTC meds in case I get desperate, I have also stocked up on ginger chew candy. Ginger loosens up the pyloric valve, letting your stomach empty out, and making it less likely that you will “chum the waters.”

If the Oscar Dyson gets into waves anything like these onboard the Discoverer in the Bering Sea in 1979 (yes, I know, very unlikely), I don’t know if ginger and snacking will do me any good.

Whatever the result, at least I will have something to ponder if I have to take a few trips to the rail.

Until our next adventure,
Cat

Cathrine Fox: Issue Two: NOAA?

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011

Personal Log
As my date of departure nears, I have been having a lot of conversations about what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is, what I will be doing in Alaska, and what a Teacher at Sea does. The best way to answer your questions is through another cartoon.

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 2
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 2

The official title of my mission is “NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center for their Walleye Pollock Survey aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.” (Say that ten times fast.) The Teacher at Sea goals also align with some of NOAA’s Enterprise Objectives: 1) An engaged and educated public with an improved capacity to make scientifically informed environmental decisions; and 2) Diverse and constantly evolving capabilities in NOAA’s workforce.

To read more about NOAA, check out their website: http://www.noaa.gov/ A peruse through just the headlines will teach you about ‘elusive basking sharks,’ why evenings are getting warmer, what to expect for solar flares in 2013 (a lot!) and how NOAA satellites are tracking wildfires across the west. Pretty interesting.

In the meantime, I am packing up for the trip of a lifetime: warm layers, my trusty binocs, and, of course, some anti-seasickness precautions, which I’ll be discussing in my next cartoon.

Until our next adventure,
Cat

Cathrine Fox: Issue One: Adventures in a Blue World

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011

Personal Log
Why cartooning?  It all began with letters my dad sent me when I was away from home as a kid.  The star of the letters was an elephant named Ima.  She was curious, intelligent, hilarious, and had a penchant for peanuts, jelly beans and painted toenails.  From age 9 to ~20, Ima made her cameo appearance via the USPS.  Girl scout camp, Europe, summer trips and finally to college–Ima came along in a series of adventures marked by jelly bean shortages.

Eventually, my dad’s letters morphed into more “adult” humor, but I had a little sister still at home, and I started to write to her in cartoon form.  My family and friends found out that my sister was receiving cartoons and demanded photocopies.  “Adventures with Cat” was born.

This summer’s cartoon series is titled “Adventures in a Blue World,” a nod to Sylvia Earle’s The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One.  (If you don’t know who this amazing woman is, I encourage you to take 18 minutes and 16 seconds and watch her acceptance speech for the prestigious TEDprize: http://www.tedprize.org/sylvia-earle/).  My goal with this cartoon series is to make science more accessible, instill a curiosity about the ocean world, and provide fodder for all of the other “knowledge junkies” out there in the world, like myself.

Issue 1: Walleye Pollock Survey?  What is Walleye Pollock?

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 10
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 10

I am working out the kinks of size and format to make the cartoons readable.  You should be able to click on the cartoon and it will open in a separate window.  Let me know if this doesn’t work and you can’t read it still!

Until out next adventure,
Cat


Cathrine Fox: Pre-trip Pondering, June 29, 2011

Pre-trip Pondering

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011
 
Personal Log
I will be traveling in a few short weeks to join the crew of the NOAA ship the Oscar Dyson in the Gulf of Alaska.  During the voyage, I will be keeping this log up to date and documenting my “adventures” with a cartoon series as well.
I hope that you will follow along, ask lots of questions, and travel with me digitally.
Until our next adventure, Cat