Mary Murrian: NOAA, Science, Education, and the Bering Sea! July 20, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mary Murrian

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 4 – 22, 2013

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Bering Sea South of Russia

Date: July 20, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge

Wind Speed: 15.11 kt

Air Temperature: 9.5 degrees Celsius

Barometric Pressure: 1016.9

Latitude: 5717.3530 N

Longitude: 17317.1393 W

Almost 70 cm long pollock.  That's big!

Almost 70 cm long pollock. That’s big!

Science and Technology Log:

CamTrawl

Kresimir in the Acoustics Lab

Kresimir in the Acoustics Lab

Kresimir Williams, one of the scientists on board the Oscar Dyson, has been with NOAA for over ten years.  He is a Fisheries Biologist.  He was born in Switzerland and moved to Yugoslavia, now Croatia, a year and half later.  Kresimir has always loved fish ever since he was a little boy.  He as many as ten aquariums in his house growing up.  He moved to the United States when he was 17 years old.  His mother is from Croatia, and his dad is from the United States.  Kresimir received his bachelor’s degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama with a degree in Biology and Marine Science.  He received his Master’s degree from Auburn University, in Alabama with a degree in Aquaculture Fisheries.  He continued his education at the University of Washington, where he earned his PhD in fisheries and aquatic sciences.  He currently lives in Seattle with his wife and two children.  Kresimir current interests include integrating new technologies into marine surveys.

Cam trawl attached to trawl net

Cam trawl attached to trawl net

Trawl net with cam trawl attached being deployed to fish

Trawl net with camtrawl attached being deployed to fish

He is a fisheries biologist for NOAA and works on fishery surveys investigating new technology to make the survey process more accurate and effective.  Kresimir, along with fellow scientists Rick Towler and Scott McEntire, invented the camtrawl.  The camtrawl is made up of two small industrial cameras, protected by water proof, pressure resistant housing.  The cameras are attached to the trawl nets when deployed for fishing.  The cameras continuously take pictures (about eight pictures per second) in the net.  It photographs the animals as they swim through the net.

Picture from cam trawl of a lamprey

Picture from camtrawl of a lamprey

Cam trawl picture of a rockfish

Camtrawl picture of a rockfish

When the camtrawl is returned to the ship, the pictures can be downloaded for observation.  Using two cameras in stereo, allows scientists, to accurately length the fish they observe.  Looking at an object from two different perspectives allows you to see how far away an object is.  If you close one eye and look at an object, it is harder to tell how far it is away, however, if you use both eyes you have better depth-perception.  How will seeing the fish inside the net, in the ocean, help with the surveying process?  The camtrawl will make the process more efficient and save time.  Fewer people will be needed to conduct the surveys therefore reducing cost. It uses a non-lethal method of sampling the fish; the codend (the end of the trawl net that collects all the fish) can be left open allowing the fish to swim through easily, so the fish will not be captured and killed. And finally, it allows scientists to sample a greater range of animals sizes. Kresimir is still experimenting with the camtrawl and testing out its’ effectiveness. He is very enthusiastic about its prospects.  I really enjoy viewing the pictures and seeing the fish on the monitor.  I have attached a couple of my favorite pictures for you to view.

The Scientific Method in Action:

The Scientific Method is actively used in science careers and is very similar to the Engineering Design Process.  It is a process that scientists follow to solve problems in order to test a theory or answer a need.   In order for the camtrawl to be invented, Kresimir and Rick had to have an idea or question to get the process started.  Next, the idea had to be constructed, researched, and tested (testing is the fun part) numerous times.  During testing, data is collected and organized and then a conclusion can be generated based on the data.  If the idea is not successful, then it is important to go back to the beginning, make changes, and experiment again. If the idea is successful, then all is good, however, there is always room for improvement.  Scientists continue to test and retest until they get their expected results or prove themselves wrong and learn something totally new in the process.

Touring the Engine Rooms

First Engineer Kyle

First Engineer Kyle

 

I got the chance to tour the engine rooms at the bottom of the Oscar Dyson.  First Engineer, Kyle Chernoff, graciously escorted me and explained how everything works.  He received his bachelors degree in Marine Engineering at California Maritime University.  After graduation he had to take a series of seven coast guard exams in order to be qualified to work as a marine engineer.

Two of the ship's engines

Two of the ship’s engines

One of the evaporator machines

One of the evaporator machines

Besides the controls on the bridge, you can control the direction of the ship from the engine room.  The ship has many back up motors and generators so that if one breaks down or a fire ensues, the ship can continue on its course.  This is reassuring news for me and all of the 29 other crew aboard the ship.  I had to wear ear plugs while walking through the generator room.  It was extremely loud due to the noise the generators make to keep the ship running.  One of the pieces of equipment, I found most interesting, was the evaporator.  The Oscar Dyson has two.  The evaporators use heat to remove the salt from the sea water and convert it into drinking water.  During the process UV (ultraviolet) is used to kill any bacteria in the water to make it safe for drinking.  As well as the evaporators, the ship has a special machine that removes any oil before water is released back into the ocean.  This protects wildlife living in the ocean.  What a great use of resources.

I am in the engine room

I am in the engine room

Personal Log:

While on the bridge this week, I saw porpoises and whales.  I did not get pictures because the ship moves fast and so do the animals.  I had two gorgeous days, where the sun was out and I could feel the heat on my face.  Even the foggy days are nice, however ominous.  It rarely rained and the seas were relatively calm.  Thankfully, I did not have to don my survival suit except during weekly drills.  I participated in a really cool experiment on this trip.  Alyssa, the survey technician, gave me two Styrofoam cups (the exact same size) and asked me to color them, in which, I did. The next morning during the scheduled CTD, Alyssa placed one of my cups into a small net bag and attached it to the CTD device.  The bag was deployed to the bottom of the ocean floor.  Once back on deck of the ship, she retrieved the cup and returned it to me.  It looked the exact same with the exception that it shrunk.   Really awesome!  The air bubbles in the styrofoam cup and the pressure from the depth of the ocean cause this to happen.  It would shrink even more if we were in deeper waters.

Two cups I decorated before deploying into the ocean.

Two cups I decorated before deploying into the ocean.

I only sent the second cup into the ocean.  Notice the difference in size.   Talk about "under pressure"!

I only deployed the second cup into the ocean. Notice the difference in size.
Talk about “under pressure”!

Over the past couple of weeks, I have learned so much.  My voyage on the Bering Sea is quickly coming to an end.  In a couple of days, I will board the small puddle jumper from Dutch Harbor to Anchorage and eventually end up in Delaware.  The science team, NOAA Corps, and crew have been wonderful to work with during my time at sea.  This has truly been an experience of a lifetime.

Puddle Jumper from Dutch Harbor to Anchorage

Puddle Jumper from Dutch Harbor to Anchorage

Another beautiful sunrise on the Bering Sea

Another beautiful sunrise on the Bering Sea

Getting to know the Crew:

LT Greg Schweitzer, XO

LT Greg Schweitzer, XO

NOAA Corps LT Greg Schweitzer, Executive Officer or XO

In my last blog, I introduced you to the Commanding Officer of the Oscar Dyson.  Another vital member of the NOAA Corps and the crew of the Oscar Dyson, is the Executive Officer (XO), LT Greg Schweitzer. He is married and has four children.  He has been with NOAA for seven years and was in the Air Force before that for 10 years.  He received a bachelor’s degree in Meteorology and in Management. He received his Master’s Degree in Environmental Science.  While not at sea, he resides with his family in Kentucky.  He is second in command of the Oscar Dyson.  He  reports directly to the Commanding Officer and oversees the officers, stewards (cooks), engineers, deck crew, survey technicians, and scientists.  He is in charge of the ship’s budget, time cards and attendance, discipline, and port-side logistics.  He started his NOAA career, after a four month officer training, then aboard the NOAA ship Henry Bigelow for 2 ½ years out of Newport, Rhode Island. Because of his past military experience, he became an XO after only six years.  This is his last leg at sea before he starts a new land assignment.

An experience he really enjoyed during his NOAA career, was working on his first land assignment in Fernandina Beach, Florida.  He worked for NOAA’s Protected  Resource Division. Part of the XO’s job was to go out, on a small boat, off the coast of Florida and Georgia, to help disentangle North Atlantic Right Whales. The XO describes the whales as curious animals that spend most of their time at the surface of the water. Because they like to hang out on the surface of the water, they easily get tangled in nets and crab pots. Right Whales are on the critically endangered list.  In the past, they were hunted to almost extinction.  They got their name because they are easy to see and catch, so therefore fishermen, called them the Right Whales to fish.  There are approximately 350 North Atlantic Right Whales living at this time. They eat mainly plankton and krill. The Right Whales are migratory animals.  They are located off the Florida-Georgia coast during the winter where they calve and then travel up the east coast to Cape Code in the summertime.  They swim along the Atlantic Ocean, right outside of Delaware. Check out this website for more information on the North Atlantic Right Whales.

I asked the XO if he had any advice for my students.  He said to remember that there is no perfect path and that students should be open to new opportunities and be willing to take on new adventures. He lived in Kentucky until he was out of high school.  He never imagined he would ever leave. His Air Force and NOAA careers have given him opportunities, he might never had experienced.  He also adds, that it is important to go out and contribute and remember that there is still a lot of unknown discoveries on our planet, just waiting to be explored.

North Atlantic Right Whale: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/

North Atlantic Right Whale: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/

Meet the Scientist:  Carwyn Hammond

Carwyn working in the wet lab with Emily

Carwyn working in the wet lab with Emily

Title: NOAA Research Fisheries Biologist—10 years

Job Responsibilities:  Commercial fishing gear research: she looks for ways to modify the fishing gear to reduce impacts to the seafloor habitat and reduce bycatch (animals caught in net other than intended; i.e.  Dolphin caught in a crab fisheries net) of commercially important species.  She works directly with commercial fisheries as well as helps conduct surveys for NOAA.

Education:  Undergraduate Degree in Marine Resource Development at the University of Rhode Island; Master’s Degree in Fisheries at the University of Washington.

Hometown: She was born in Brooklyn, NY and moved to Hancock, MA at the age of six.

Current Residence: Seattle, Washington

Why pursue this career?  When deciding on a career, she asked, “What degree will let me play in the ocean?” and that is how she got started in the fisheries field of work.

Recently, she and her co-worker, Craig Rose, won the best paper award for their work on RAMP or Reflex Assessment Mortality Predictor.  Medical doctors use RAMP to check patients’ vital signs or reflexes such as tapping your knee to see if your leg reacts or kicks.  They applied this method to crabs.  On crabs they check six different reflexes: flare (legs moving up and down), leg retraction (pulling on leg), chela (claws), eyes, mouth, and abdomen.  Checking their vital signs allows scientists to help fishermen modify their fishing gear in order to reduce the mortality rate of their catch.

Good advice:  I asked Carwyn, “What would you tell kids interested in pursuing a science career?”she responded, “follow your gut and never stop asking questions”.

Meet the Scientist:  Dr. Mikhail A. Stepanenko

Mikhail helping process a trawl

Mikhail helping process a trawl

Title:  Senior Biologist, Northern Pacific Fish Resources Laboratory, Russia

Job Responsibilities:  In charge of pollock stock assessment and providing data for total allowable catch for Russia.  Building a international relationship with the United States of America.  He works closely with the New Fisheries Agreement between Russia, United States, Japan, Korea, and China, which works on improving fishery management for all fish.  He works on both Russian and United States fishery vessels, including NOAA’s Oscar Dyson as part of the science team.

Home: Vladivostok, Russia where his wife currently lives.  He has two daughters and four grandchildren, all of whom reside in the United States.

Why pursue this career?   He has always had a dream to be a seaman and he loves sport fishing.  He has an interest in animals and marine biology.

Mikhail has been working in the fisheries industry since graduating university in 1968.

 

New Riddle from the Oscar Dyson Crew:  Why does a wet deck remind you of music?

 Scroll to the bottom of my blog for the answer!

 

Did you know?

Did you know, during a new moon (the moon is not shining) out at sea, giant schools of anchovies glow on the ocean surface? 

Did you know the Oscar Dyson uses  500,000 gallons of fuel a year? 

 

Key Vocabulary:

Ultraviolet

Evaporation

Scientific Method

Engineering Design Process

Stereo

Meteorology

 

Squid

Squid

Sea stars or starfish

Sea stars or starfish

So cute! A the underside of a skate

So cute!  The underside of a skate

I'm holding a skate

I’m holding a skate

Answer to riddle:  If you don’t C sharp, you’ll B flat.

Mary Murrian: What an Adventure on the Bering Sea! July 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mary Murrian

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 4 – 22, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Bering Sea South of Russia

Date: July 15, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge

Wind Speed:  10.84 kt

Air Temperature:  10.2 degrees Celsius

Barometric Pressure:  1023.0

Latitude:  5822.3417 N

Longitude:  17253.5563 W

 

I'm standing outside on the deck.

I’m standing outside on the deck.

Science and Technology Log:

 Deploying a CTD

Alyssa is holding an Atka Mackerel

Alyssa is holding an Chum Salmon

Bill working on deck

Bill working on deck

I learn new operations each day I am aboard the Oscar Dyson.  There are numerous people aboard the ship that make the whole operation of working on a research vessel possible.  Survey technicians, Alyssa Pourmonir and Walter (Bill) Potts, help the scientists with the survey process and communicate between the bridge, deck crew, and the science team during a trawl. Each day, sometimes twice daily, the survey techs, will deploy a CTD (conductivity temperature depth) device to the bottom of the ocean floor.  The device measures salinity (how much salt is in the water), temperature, fluorescence (chlorophyll content of plankton), oxygen, and turbidity (how clear or murky the water is) of the ocean water. The CTD sends this information electronically to a computer program which then displays the data and graph for scientists to evaluate.

CTD Graphic Data Display

CTD Graphic Data Display

Prepping the CTD for deployment into the sea

Prepping the CTD for deployment into the sea

As with trawling for fish, this process requires collaboration among crew members.  The NOAA Corps Officers control the position of the ship  from the bridge, and members of the Deck Department control the winch that lifts the CTD device off the deck and into the sea.  It takes two deck hands to help the survey tech navigate the device attached to the winch (the two deck hands are firmly attached to the boat by a rope attached to a belt) off the side of the boat and into the sea, and one deckhand to run the winch from the deck above.

Once the device has been deployed into the sea, the survey tech, using a computer program, will record the data as the CTD is lowered and raised.  When the device surfaces and is returned to the side deck of the ship, the survey tech takes a sample of the water, which is collected in one of the bottles attached to the CTD device.  This water is then sealed and brought back to the lab in Seattle, Washington for further testing.  Although the device reports the salinity of the water while deployed in the ocean, the scientists want to calibrate the salinity of the water sample to check for accuracy.  They can perform more detailed tests on the water in their labs.

The CTD is entering the water

The CTD is entering the water

So why does NOAA want to collect this data?  Analyzing and comparing the data against previous year’s data will assist in checking the health and welfare of the ocean.  It also helps scientists discover more information about the different layers (depths) of the oceans.  It lets us know how the ocean is changing over time and gives us more information about how our climate changing.

Scientists' Journal

Scientists’ Journal

How do scientists organize their data? 

You probably deduce that scientists mainly use a computer to organize their data and you would be correct.  However, they also record data in a journal.  Journals are extremely essential and include appropriate headings, such as what the scientists are working on, the date and the time.  Time and dates are imperative to keeping accurate records and some scientists draw pictures with labels to help describe their findings.  This journal does not leave the Acoustics Lab during time at sea. My experience, working with the scientists, aboard the Oscar Dyson, allows me to easily relate “real world applications” into my daily curriculum and lesson planning.  I have my students journal in both their math and science classes.  And now I can show my students, proof that scientists actually do the same thing.  Thanks NOAA and the crew of Oscar Dyson!

Personal Log: 

Sunrise on the Bering Sea

Sunrise on the Bering Sea

Beautiful View

Beautiful View

I finally experienced a day with little cloud coverage.  The sunrise is breathtaking. It has been rising around 6:40 am each morning.  The crew does not see the sun very much on the Bering Sea as it is mostly cloudy in this area.  The sea has been relatively calm. Thankfully, I have not felt any signs of sea sickness.  The boat has a gentle rocking motion that, if I sit still long enough, can lull me to sleep.  I miss my family, friends, and my dog, however, I know I will be home soon.  I empathize with the crew whom work on the boat full-time and seldom see their loved ones.  Three weeks is plenty of time for me, although this is truly a voyage of a lifetime.  Twelve hour shifts are not bad as long as I keep busy. After my shift is over, I have been playing cards or Farkel with some of the science crew, mostly Nate, Emily, and Alyssa.  I even learned how to play Cribbage.  Dinner is at 5:00 pm and then I will watch a movie, visit the bridge, or work on my next blog.  My self-appointed bed time is 7:30 pm, as the morning comes quickly.

Selfie of the science girls: Emily, Carwyn, and me

Selfie of the science girls: Emily, Carwyn, and me

Each day while at sea, the ship continues to trawl the Bering Sea, as the scientists search for pollock using the sonar screens.  Trawling is like mowing the yard; we cover the ocean in the same manner, moving north and south covering a large expanse of the Bering Sea starting at Dutch Harbor and by the end of the third leg, possibly ending in Russia territory.  When the ship trawls north, I cannot access the internet due to the position of the receiver on top of the ship.  When the ship trawls south, the internet is available.  The crew, myself included, looks forward to southbound trawling across the Bering Sea.  Internet access opens up communication with both family and friends, not to mention the World Cup standings.   Maybe next time, USA!

Each day, “News for the day” is posted in the hallway on the galley level.  It includes weather, happenings aboard the ship, and usually a funny cartoon or riddle.   The following is a riddle I thought you would enjoy:

Each morning I appear to lie at your feet.  All day I follow no matter how fast you run.  Yet I nearly perish in the midday sun.  What am I?

 Scroll to the bottom of my blog for the answer!

Getting to know the Crew:

Over the past week and a half, I had the opportunity to talk to several crew members aboard the Oscar Dyson, including the NOAA Corps Officers.  Recently, I talked with the Commanding Officer and the Chief Bosun .

Chief Operations Officer (CO), CDR Arthur Stark

Commanding Officer (CO), CDR Arthur Stark

The Commanding Officer (CO), CDR Arthur Stark, is in charge of everyone and everything on the boat. He and his family currently live in Port Angeles, Washington.  During college he worked on the Coho Ferry, which ferries from Port Angeles, WA to Victoria, Canada, a 22 mile trip each way.  A year after graduating from college, with a degree in Fish and Wildlife Management, he secured a job as a deck hand aboard the NOAA Rainier.  While working at sea, he learned about the NOAA Corps, and their officer training program.  He applied, was accepted, and completed the 90 day program.  He started out as a junior officer and worked his way up to the Commanding Officer position.  He has been with NOAA for over 17 years.  All NOAA Corps Officers rotate two years at sea and three years on land.  He had the opportunity to help with the aftermath of the Deep Water Horizon incident, which occurred in 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico.  He remembers that day, since it was the same day his daughter was born.  He offered some good advice to students that want to pursue a career with the NOAA Corps or ocean related careers; look for volunteer opportunities and summer camps that deal with marine life.  He said to make sure to spend time outdoors and be involved.

Rockfish

Rockfish

I'm holding the Rockfish

I’m holding the Rockfish

Kirk is filleting the Rockfish

Kirk is filleting the Rockfish

I'm eating the Rockfish, freshly fried from the Galley.

I’m eating the Rockfish, freshly fried from the Galley.

The Chief Bosun or head fisherman is Kirk Perry.  He lives in California and has been with NOAA for over ten years.  Before his work with NOAA, he worked on fishing boats, with the fire department, and worked in construction.  He has a lot of interesting stories about his adventures at sea.  If you need help on deck, he is the man to ask.  Recently, we caught about three dozen Pacific Ocean Perch otherwise known as Rockfish. Kirk entered the wet lab, while we where processing the catch, took out a large cutting board and his personal, very sharp, filet knife, and started filleting the rockfish like a professional.  He told me he has been fishing and filleting fish since he was 10 years-old.  When finished, Kirk delivered the rockfish filets to the head galley chef, Kimrie Zentemeyer, to use for dinner.  She is going to make fish and chips.  Scrumptious, fresh fish, from the sea—to my table!

Head Chef, Kim

Head Chef, Kimrie

Assistant Chef, cooking up some french toast

Assistant Chef, Adam, cooking up some french toast

More to come, in my next blog, about other crew members and NOAA Corps Officers I spoke with during my journey aboard the Oscar Dyson.  Thank you for following me!

Meet the Scientist:  Nate Lauffenburger

Nate working in the Chem Lab

Nate working in the Chem Lab

Title: Scientist III—Contracted by Ocean Associates (working with NOAA)

Job Responsibilities:  Help develop software to automatically process images from Cam-Trawl, a camera that gets hooked to the trawl net and takes pictures of fish as they are being caught.  Completes acoustic analysis of fish near bottom of the sea and participates in fishing surveys.

Education:  Bachelor’s Degree in Math & Physics, State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo;  Master’s Degree in Oceanography, University of Washington

Hometown: Buffalo, New York

Current Residence: Seattle, Washington

Why pursue this career?  Math and science always came easy to him; he participated in an internship at the University of Rhode Island in oceanography and thoroughly enjoyed the experience and wanted to continue on that path.

Long term goals:  He is 27 years-old and is just starting his career.  He wants to continue to learn his trade and work in the field of ocean and fisheries.

Did you know?

Did you know the Smooth Lumpsucker is a different family from the Pufferfish but uses a similar defense mechanism?  It fills itself up with water so that it cannot be easily swallowed by a predator.

 

Slimey, but very adorable Lumpsucker

Slimy, but very adorable Lumpsucker

Did you know that the Pacific Ocean Perch is not a perch?  Perch are freshwater fish.  The Pacific Ocean Perch is a type of Rockfish.

 Ship Vocabulary:

 Stern-back of the boat

Bow-front of the boat

Port-left of the boat (red light flashing)

Starboard-right of boat (green light flashing)

Galley-kitchen

Mess Hall- Eating area for crew

Head-bathroom

Bridge-control room where NOAA Corps Officers navigate the ship

Line– rope

 

I am watching the sunrise.

I am watching the sunrise.

Atka Mackerel

Atka Mackerel

Baby Squid

Baby Squid

Shrimp

Shrimp

A type of jellyfish

A type of jellyfish

Chum Salmon

Chum Salmon

Large Hermit Crab

Large Hermit Crab

Sorting krill and baby pollock (age 0)

Sorting krill and baby pollock (age 0)

Age 0, Pollock

Age 0, Pollock

Pacific Herring

Pacific Herring

My fancy cup holder

My fancy cup holder

Krill

Krill

Answer to the Riddle:  A shadow

Mary Murrian: Working at Sea on the Oscar Dyson! July 11, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mary Murrian

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 4 – 22, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Bering Sea North of Dutch Harbor

Date: Friday, July 11, 2014

Weather Data fro the Bridge:

Wind Speed: 17.02 kt

Air Temperature: 8.9 degrees Celsius

Barometric Pressure: 1004.3

Latitude: 5903.6745 N

Longitude: 17220..4880 W

noaa iphone pictures july 5 and 6 2014 1109

I’m sorting the jellyfish (Chrysaora Melanaster) from the pollock.

Science log:

I participated in my first live trawl, catch, sort and data collection survey. In my last blog, I talked about how we located and caught the pollock.  This blog will talk about what happens when the fish are unloaded into the wet lab and processed.  A wet lab is a science lab that is capable of handling excess water and houses the equipment need to to process the catch.

Fresh catch proceeding down the conveyor belt. Time to sort.

Fresh catch proceeding down the conveyor belt. Time to sort.

Once the crew off loads the fish, from the net to the short conveyor belt, into the wet lab or sometimes called the slime lab, (it really lives up to its name), I help the scientists sort the pollock from the other species caught in the net. A small sample of marine life, that is not a pollock, gets sorted, weighed and measured for data collection purposes. They are not the main target of our survey, however, they are interesting to see. Large quantities of jellyfish usually make the mix, but I have seen a variety of other animals, such as crabs, starfishes, clams, salmon, flatfishes, Pacific herring, Atka mackerel, and Yellow Irish Lord. The main character, the pollock, are weighed in batches and then placed on a small table to be sexed. In order to sex the fish, I had to cut across the side of the fish with a small scalpel. Next, I inserted my fingers into their guts and pulled out either the gonads (male) or ovaries (female). The gonads look like stringy romaine noodles and the ovaries look like whitish-pinkish oval sacs. Female pollock are placed in a bin labeled sheila’s and the male pollocks are placed in a bin labeled blokes. Sheila’s and blokes are Australian terms for female and male. Cute.

A female pollock full of eggs

A female pollock full of eggs

Sexing the pollock.  This one is a female.  You can see it oval shaped ovaries.

Sexing the pollock. This one is a female. You can see it oval shaped ovaries.

Once sexed and sorted, the fish are measured for their length. Two very ingenious scientists (one who is working on my trip, Kresimir Williams, and Rick Towler), invented an electronic measuring device. The device allows us to measure quickly and accurately while at the same time automatically recording the measurement on the computer. It looks like a cutting board with a ruler embedded in the center. Of course, all measurements used are metric, the primary form of measurement for scientists across the world.  I to place the fish’s mouth at the beginning of the board and line the back tail of the fish along the ruler. Next, a special tool (a stylus) embedded with a magnet (it’s small, white,and the front looks like a plastic arrowhead) is placed arrow side forward on the end of the tail fin. Once the tool touches the board (it makes a noise which sounds similar to “ta-da” to let you know it captured its measurement), it automatically records the length in the data program, on the computer. I wish I had one for my classroom. Oh, the fun my students could have measuring!  The device streamlines the data collecting process allowing scientists more precise data collection and more time for other research.

I’m measuring the pollock on the electronic scale called the Ichthy Stick

That was a lot to absorb, but there is more. If you tend to get squeamish, you might want to scroll past the next paragraph.

Although, I did not work hands on with the next data collection, I closely observed and took pictures. I will try it before my trip ends. The next step is the aging process. Aging a pollock is a vital part of determining the health and welfare of the species. Aging a pollock is similar to the method of aging a tree.  The Russian scientist, Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko, who has been surveying pollock for over twenty years and is part of the NOAA science team, has it down to a science. First, he cuts the pollock’s head off exposing the ear bones called Otoliths (Oto–means ear; liths–means stone).  He removes the tiny ear bones (about the size and shape of a piece of a navy bean), rinses them, and places them in a small vial labeled with a serial-numbered bar code. The bar code gets scanned and the code is assigned to the specific fish in the computer data base, which also includes their sex, weight and length. Once back at the lab, located in Seattle, Washington, the otoliths can be observed under a microscope and aged based on the number of rings they have: pollock otoliths have one ring for every year of age.  Only twenty fish from each trawl have their otoliths extracted.

Looking inside the pollock.  The little white bones are the ear bones or otoliths.

Looking inside the pollock. The little white bones are the ear bones or otoliths.

Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko placing the otoliths (ear bones) in the vial to be sent to the lab.

Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko placing the otoliths (ear bones) in the vial to be sent to the lab.

Mikhail Stepanenko or we call him Meesha

Mikhail Stepanenko or we call him Meesha

Once all data are collected, there is still more work to be completed. All of the fish that we sampled, were thrown back into the ocean for the sea birds and other carnivores (meat-eaters) to enjoy. Who wouldn’t enjoy a free meal? Then the equipment and work space must be sprayed down to get rid of all the fish particles (slime). It’s important to clean up after yourself to ensure a safe and healthy environment for everyone. Besides, the smell would be horrible.  I also had to spray myself down, it gets very messy.  I had fish guts and jellyfish slime all over my lab gear (orange outer wear provided by NOAA). Unfortunately, the guts occasionally get splattered on my face and hair!  Yuck, talking about fish face.  Thankfully, a bathroom is nearby, where I can get cleaned up.

Starfish that fell from the net when being towed back on board.

Starfish that fell from the net when being towed back on board.

Part of the snail family

Whelks (snails) and anemones

When all is clean, the scientists can upload and analyze the data. They will compare the data to past and current surveys. The data is a vital step to determining the health and abundance of pollock in our ecosystem. I am amazed at all the science, math, engineering, and technology that goes on during a fish survey. It takes many people and numerous skills to make the survey successful.

Brittle Sea Star

This is one of many experiences, I have had trawling and collecting data at sea aboard the Oscar Dyson.  The process will repeat several times over my three week trip.  As part of the science crew, I am responsible to help with all trawls during my shift.  I could have multiple experiences in one day.  I cannot wait!

Personal Log:

What’s it like to be on a NOAA ship out at sea? 

The deck hands, NOAA Corps, and the people I work closest with, the science team, are wonderful and welcoming. I’m super excited and I have to restrain myself from overdoing my questions. They have a job to do!

The weather is not what I expected.  It is usually foggy, overcast, and in the high 40’s and low 50’s.  Once in a while the sun tries to peek out through the clouds. The Bering Sea has been relatively calm. The heaviest article of clothing I wear is a sweatshirt.  It is still early, anything can happen.

On my first day at sea, we had a fire drill and an evacuation drill. Thankfully, I passed.  With help from Carwyn, I practiced donning (putting on) my survival suit.  I displayed a picture of me wearing it in my last blog.  It makes for a hilarious picture!   All kidding aside, NOAA takes safety seriously. The survival suit will keep me alive for several days in case of an evacuation in the middle of sea until someone can rescue me. It will protect me from the elements like water temperature, heat from sun, and it has a flashlight attached. Hopefully, I will not have to go through the experience of needing the suit; but I feel safer knowing it is available.

Carwyn Hammond

Besides the people, the best amenity aboard the Oscar Dyson is the food. Food is available around the clock. That is important because we work 12 hour shifts from 4:00 to 4:00. That means I work the morning 12-hour shift and my roommate, Emily Collins, works the night 12-hour shift. Hungry workers are grumpy workers. For breakfast, you can get your eggs cooked to order and choose from a variety of traditional breakfast food: French toast, grits, cereal, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, etc…Hot meal options are served for lunch and dinner including a delicious dessert . Of course, ice cream is available always!  I hope I can at least maintain my weight while aboard.

The Galley

The Galley

Food Bar

Food Bar

If I get the urge, there is workout equipment including cardio machines and weights available to use. Other entertainment includes movies and playing games with the other crew members.  The Oscar Dyson also has a store where I can purchase sweatshirts, sweatpants, t-shirts, hats, and other miscellaneous souvenirs advertising the name of the ship. Who would have thought you could shop aboard a NOAA fishing vessel?  I am definitely going shopping.  One of my favorite things to do aboard the ship is to watch for marine life on the bridge, it is peaceful and relaxing.  For anyone that does not know, the bridge is where the Chief Commanding Officer, Chief Executive Officer, and crew navigate the ship.  It is the highest point in which to stand and watch safely out at sea and in my opinion, it has the best view on board.

Did you know?

Did you know when a marine animal such as a seal is close by during a trawl, the trawl process stops and is rerouted?   

The crew is very respectful of sea life and endeavors to complete their mission with the least negative impact on wildlife.  Also, while the ship is on its regular course, the officers on the bridge, sometimes with a deck hand who is available, keep an eye out for seals, sea lions, whales, and sharks, in order to maneuver around them and keep them safe.

NOAA Corps LT Greg Schweitzer, Executive Officer or XO

NOAA Corps LT Greg Schweitzer, Executive Officer or XO

NOAA Corps Ensign Ben VanDine, Safety Officer

NOAA Corps Ensign Ben VanDine, Safety Officer

 

Did you know you can track the Oscar Dyson and its current location?

Check out this link: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/

Make sure you find the Bering Sea and click on the yellow dot; it will tell you our coordinates!

 

Meet the Scientist:  Emily Collins

Emily holding a Yellow Irish Lord

Title: Fisheries Observer (4 years)

Education:  Bachelor’s Degree in Biology, Marine Science, Boston University

Job Responsibilities: As an observer, Emily works aboard numerous fishing vessels, including the Oscar Dyson.  She collects data to find out what is being caught so that we can send the information to NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Services), a division of NOAA.  They use the data she collects to complete a stock assessment about what type of fish are caught and how much.  She is helping, as part of the science team, survey the pollock for all three legs of the survey.  When I get back to port, she has a couple of days to rest up in Dutch Harbor and then she will complete the last leg of the trip.

Living Quarters:  As a full-time observer, her home is wherever the next assignment is located, mostly on the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska.  She is from Dundee, New York, where her family currently resides.

What is cool about her work?

She loves working at sea  and working with the marine life.  She especially loves it when the nets catch a species of fish she has not seen before.  Getting to know new people and traveling is also a plus.

The weirdest and definitely not her favorite experience, while working on a smaller fisheries boats, was having to use a bucket for the toilet.

Emily had a wonderful opportunity her senior year in high school, the chance to go on a National Geographic Expedition with her mom and then later while in college while taking classes abroad. She went to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador to study marine biology. These experiences and the fact that her mother is a veterinarian exposed Emily to the love of animals the ocean, and her career choice.

 

Nate is holding a snow crab.

A flat fish

Rock Sole (a type of flatfish)

 

Lots of crabs!

Lots of crabs!

Sorting through the bottom trawl

Sorting through the bottom trawl

Korean Horsehair Crab

Kresimir Williams holding a crab

Kresimir Williams holding a crab

Alex De Robertis working in the wet lab.

Alex De Robertis working in the wet lab.

Mary Murrian: My First Days in Dutch Harbor, July 6, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea 

Mary Murrian

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 4 – 22, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Bering Sea North of Dutch Harbor

Date: Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Wind Speed: 6 kts

Air Temperature: 8.6 degrees Celsius

Weather conditions: Hazy

Barometric Pressure: 1009.9

Latitude: 5923.6198  N

Longitude: 17030.6395  W

 

Science and Technology Log

Part One of the Survey Trawl: Getting Ready to Fish

This is a picture of a pollock from our first trawl.

This is a picture of a pollock from our first trawl.

Today is my second day aboard the Oscar Dyson.  We are anxiously waiting for the echosounder (more information on echosounder follows) to send us a visual indication that a large abundance of fish is ready to be caught.  The point of the survey is to measure the abundance of Walleye Pollock throughout specific regions in the Bering Sea and manage the fisheries that harvest these fish for commercial use to process and sell across the world.  The Walleye Pollock are one of the largest populations of fish.  It is important to manage their populations due to over-fishing could cause a substantial decrease the species.  This would be detrimental to our ecosystem.  The food web [interconnecting food chains; i.e. Sun, plants or producers (algae), primary consumers, animals that eat plants (zooplankton), secondary consumers, animals that eat other animals (pollock), and decomposers, plants or animals that break down dead matter (bacteria)] could be altered and would cause a negative effect on other producers and consumers that depend on the pollock for food or maintain their population.

The main food source for young pollock is copepods, a very small marine animal (it looks like a grain of rice with handle bars).  They also eat zooplankton (animals in the plankton), crustaceans, and other bottom dwelling sea life.  On the weird side of the species, adult pollock are known to eat smaller pollock.  That’s right, they eat each other, otherwise known as cannibalism.  Pollock is one of the main food sources for young fur seal pups and other marine life in Alaskan waters.  Without the pollock, the food web would be greatly altered and not in a positive way.

How do we track the pollock?

Pollock

Pollock

Tracking begins in the acoustics lab.  Acoustics is the branch of science concerned with the properties of sound.  The acoustics lab on board the Oscar Dyson, is the main work room where scientists can monitor life in the ocean using an echosounder which measures how many fish there are with sound to track the walleye pollock’s location in the ocean.  They also use the ships’s GPS (Global Positioning System), a navigation system, to track the location of the NOAA vessel and trawl path.

Echo Sounder

Sonar Screen

What is sonar and how does it work? 

Sonar (sound ranging & navigation;  it’s a product of World War II) allows scientists to “see” things in the ocean using sound by measuring the amount of sound bouncing off of objects in the water.  On this survey, sonar images are displayed as colors on several computer monitors, which are used to see when fish are present and their abundance.  Strong echoes show up as red, and weak echoes are shown as white.  The greater the amount of sound reported by the sonar as red signals, the greater the amount of fish.

Echo Sonar Screen Showing the patterns of echos from the ocean.

Echo Sonar Screen Showing the patterns of echos from the ocean.

How does it work?  There is a piece of equipment attached to the bottom of the ship called the echosounder.  It sends pings (sound pulses) to the bottom of the ocean and measures how much sound bounces back to track possible fish locations.   The echo from the ocean floor shows up as a very strong red signal.   When echoes appear before the sound hits the ocean floor, this represents the ping colliding with an object in the water such as a fish.

The scientists monitor the echosounder signal so they can convey to the ships’s bridge and commanding officer to release the nets so that they can identify the animals reflecting the sound.  The net catches anything in its path such as jellyfish, star fish, crabs, snails, clams, and a variety of other fish species. Years of experience allows the NOAA scientists the ability to distinguish between the colors represented on the computer monitor and determine which markings represent pollock versus krill or other sea life.  We also measure the echoes at different frequencies and can tell whether we have located fish such as pollock, or smaller aquatic life (zooplankton). The red color shown on the sonar screen is also an indicator of pollock, which form dense schools.  The greater amount of red color shown on the sonar monitor, the better opportunity to we have to catch a larger sample of pollock.

The Science Team Wonderful group of people.

Once we have located the pollock and the net is ready, it is time to fish.  It is not as easy as you think, although the deck hands and surveyors make it look simple.  In order to survey the pollock, we have to trawl the ocean.  Depending on the sonar location of the pollock, the trawl can gather fish from the bottom of floor, middle level and/or surface of the ocean covering preplanned locations or coordinates. Note: Not all the fish caught are pollock.

The preplanned survey path is called transect lines with head due north for a certain distance. When the path turns at a 90 degree angle west (called cross-transect lines) and turns around another 90 degree angle heading back south again.  This is repeated numerous times over the course of each leg in order to cover a greater area of the ocean floor.  In my case we are navigating the Bering Sea.  My voyage, on the Oscar Dyson is actually the second leg of the survey, in which, scientists are trawling for walleye pollock.  There are a total of three legs planned covering a distance of approximately 6,200nmi (nautical miles, that is).

Trawling is where we release a large net into the sea located on the stern (the back of the boat).  Trawling is similar to herding sheep.  The fish swim into the net as the boat continues to move forward, eventually moving to the smaller end of the net.  Once the sonar screen (located on a computer monitor) shows that we have collected a large enough sample of pollock, the deck hands reel the net back on board the boat.

 

The crew are beginning to release the trawl net.

The crew are beginning to release the trawl net.

This is the stern of the boat where the trawl net gets released into the ocean.

This is the stern of the boat where the trawl net gets released into the ocean.

We have caught the fish, now what?  Stay tuned for my exciting experience in the wet lab handling the pollock and other marine wild life.  It is most certainly an opportunity of a lifetime.

Personal Log

What an adventure!

I was lucky enough to spend a day exploring Dutch Harbor, Alaska before departing on the pollock survey across the Bering Sea. It took me three plane rides, several short lay-overs and and a car ride to get here, a total of 16 hours. There is a four hour time difference between Dutch Harbor and Dover, Delaware. It takes some getting used to, but definitely worth it. The sun sets shortly after 12:00 midnight and appears again around 5:00 in the morning. Going to sleep when it’s still daylight can be tricky. Thank goodness I have a curtain surrounding my bed. Speaking of the bed, it is extremely comfortable. It is one of those soft pillow top beds. Getting in and out of the top bunk can be challenging. I haven’t fallen yet.

My bed is the top bunk.

My bed is the top bunk.

During my tour through the small town of Dutch Harbor, I have encountered very friendly residents and fishermen from around the world.  I was fortunate to see the U.S. Coast Guard ship Healy docked at the harbor. What a beautiful vessel.  Dutch Harbor has one full grocery store (Safeway) just like we have in Delaware, with the exception of some of the local Alaska food products like Alaska BBQ potato chips. They have a merchant store that sells a variety of items ranging from food, souvenirs, clothing, and hardware. They have three local restaurants and a mom and pop fast food establishment. One of the restaurants is located in the only local Inn the Aleutian hotel, which also includes a gift shop. Dutch Harbor is home to several major fisheries. Dutch Harbor is rich in history and is home to the native Aleutian tribe. I took a tour of their local museum. It was filled with the history and journey of the Aleutian people. While driving through town, I got a chance to see their elementary and high school. They both looked relatively new. Dutch Harbor is also home to our nation’s first Russian Orthodox Church. Alaska is our 50th state and was purchased from Russia in 1867.

Me and the Oscar Dyson

Mary Murian in front of the Oscar Dyson

A very funny photo of me in my survival suit.

A very funny photo of me in my survival suit.

One of the coolest parts of my tour was walking around the area known as the “spit”. The “spit” is located directly behind the airport. I’m told it is called the “spit” because the land and water are spitting distance in length and width. We walked along the shoreline and discovered hundreds of small snails gathered around the rocks. We also found hermit crabs, starfish, sea anemones, jellyfish, and red algae. We saw red colored water, which is a bloom or a population explosion of tiny algae that get so thick that they change the color of the water.

One of numerous amazing views in Dutch Harbor

One of numerous amazing views in Dutch Harbor

tas 2014 day 1 and perboarding july 2-4th 089

Starfish

Another animal in abundance in Dutch Harbor is the bald eagle. There is practically one on every light post or tall structure. Often the bald eagles are perched in small groups. Watch out: if you walk too close to a nesting mother, she will come after you. They are massive, regal animals. I never get tired of watching them.

We had to watch our step, the snails were everywhere along the shoreline of the Spit.

We had to watch our step, the snails were everywhere along the shoreline of the Spit.

A bald eagle hoping to find some lunch.

A bald eagle hoping to find some lunch.

Russian Orthodox Church in Dutch Harbor, AK

Russian Orthodox Church in Dutch Harbor, AK

Did You Know?

Did you know that Alaska’s United States Coast Guard vessel has the ability to break through sea ice? 

This is especially helpful if you want to study northern areas, which are often ice covered, in the winter, and to assist a smaller boat if it gets trapped in the ice.

U.S. Coast Guard Ship Healy docked at the Spit.

U.S. Coast Guard Ship Healy docked at the Spit.

Did you know that scientists set time to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) which is the time in a place in England?

This reduces confusion (e.g. related to daylight savings, time zones) when the measurements are analyzed.

Key Vocabulary:

Carnivore

Primary Consumer

Secondary Consumer

Nautical Miles

Trawling

Stern

Acoustics

Decomposers

Echosounder

Meet the Scientist:

Alex De Biologist

Alex De Robertis Chief Scientist

Leg II Chief Scientist Dr. Alex De Robertis

Title: NOAA Research Fishery Biologist (10 years)

Education:  UCLA Biology Undergraduate Degree

Scripps Institute Oceanography San Diego, CA PhD.

Newport, Oregon Post Doctorate work

Living Quarters:

Born in Argentina and moved to England when one-year old.

Lived in Switzerland and moved to Los Angeles,CA at the age of 13.

Currently lives in Seattle, Washington, and he has two kids aged one and five.

Job Responsibilities:

Responsible for acoustic trawl surveying at Alaska Fisheries Science Center

Was able to help with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill clean-up using the same echo sonar used on trawl surveys.

What is cool about his work:

He enjoys his work, especially the chance to travel to different geographic locations and meet new people.  “You never know what you are going to encounter; there is always a surprise or curve ball, when that occurs you adjust and just go with it”.

In the near future, he would love to see or be part of the design for an autonomous ocean robot that will simplify the surveying process.

He has been interested in oceans and biology since a small boy.  He remembers seeing two divers emerge from the sea and was amazed it was possible.

Mary Murrian: Getting Ready to Fly to Alaska, July 1, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mary Murrian

(Almost) Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 19- July 22, 2014

 

Mission:  Annual Pollock Survey

Geographical area of cruise: Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 1, 2014

Personal Log

Greetings from Dover, Delaware, the first state to ratify the United States Constitution!  My name is Mary Murrian and I teach math and science to a wonderful group of fifth grade students at William Henry Middle School.  My journey will begin early in the morning on Wednesday, July 2, 2014.  My son, Robert–an upcoming junior at the University of Delaware, is driving me to the Philadelphia airport at 3:00 am in the morning.  After transferring planes in Chicago, Illinois and then again in Anchorage, Alaska, I will finally make land at my final destination, Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

disney trip 2014 009

If you are a Deadliest Catch fan you will recognize Dutch Harbor as the home base for the popular television show on the Discovery Channel.  I will be aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) ship.  I have the wonderful opportunity to work  with the crew and scientists aboard the Oscar Dyson to research and determine the abundance and health of walleye pollock, one of the largest fisheries in the world.  If you have ever eaten fish sticks or imitation seafood, most likely you have tried pollock!

Thanks to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program, I am afforded this wonderful opportunity to work hands-on, learning the science involved in research aboard a NOAA ship. I currently teach a unit on ecosystems, where my students learn about the ecosystem around them and the interrelationships between organisms in an environment focusing on food chains, food webs, and environmental factors that play a role in an ecosystem. This experience will enhance my knowledge of marine ecosystems and the important role the fish play in supporting a healthy and sustainable environment.  I look forward to learning and growing through my participation with experts in their field.  I want to gather as much information as possible, in order to bring it back to my classroom and share my real life experience with my students this upcoming school year and years to come.  What a wonderful way to bring real-life data and experiences to my students.

I have been asked numerous times if I am scared or nervous to be aboard a ship sailing on the Bering Sea.  My response, NO!  I am thrilled.  I cannot wait for my journey to begin.  I have cruised to Alaska before, however not as far north as the Dutch Harbor area and I was on a recreational cruise ship. It was beautiful and the scenery was amazing.  I never saw ice as blue as I did when we crossed Tracy Arm fjord.  A fjord is a typically long, narrow valley with steep sides that are created by advancing glaciers (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/kits/estuaries/media/supp_estuar04_fjord.html).  The trip, although freezing, was amazing.  I also found out that glacial ice often appears blue because of years of compression gradually making the ice denser over time, forcing out the tiny air pockets between the crystals.  When glacier ice becomes extremely dense, the ice absorbs a small amount of red light, leaving a bluish tint in the reflected light (http://nsidc.org/cryosphere/glaciers/quickfacts.html).  Super cool!

Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm, showing the very blue ice.  Photo provided by personnel of the NOAA ship John N. Cobb

Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm, showing the very blue ice.
Photo provided by personnel of the NOAA ship John N. Cobb

I look forward to my upcoming experience, a trip of a lifetime.  There is more to come, I hope you will continue with me on my journey across the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea!  Watch out Alaska, here I come!