Mechelle Shoemake, June 29, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mechelle Shoemake
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 19 – 30, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0000 hours (12:00pm)
Position: Latitude = 28.45.067 N; Longitude = 091.35.189 W
Present Weather: cloudy
Visibility: 6 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 8 knots
Wave Height: 4-6 foot swells
Sea Water Temp: 29.8 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 27.3 degrees Celsius;
Wet bulb = 26.2 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log

The Groundfish Survey’s purpose is to find out what species are here in the Gulf how many, and their size, sex, and maturity status. On average the trawl produces at least 20-40 different species on each tow. The type of trawl used on the Oregon II is the Bottom Otter Trawl. The deck hands put the net out, it trawls for around 30 minutes, and it is then pulled back in by the deck hands. The catch is then placed in basket where it is weighed and then separated by species Each species is then individually weighed, measured, and sexed.

This is a red snapper I’m sorting out of the catch

We caught a nice red snapper that will be sent back to the lab for testing. It will also be determined if the oil spill had any effect on the fish, shrimp, crabs, and other species we caught. We also took some more water samples using the CTD to determine how much oil is in the water. We We used the Neuston net and the Bongo nets to gather plankton, which is also being collected for testing. The Neuston gathers plankton on the surface while the Bongo nets gather plankton all the way from the bottom of the gulf to the surface. This plankton is then placed inglass jars with a preservative Twenty-four hours later the plankton is transferred to a lesser preservative. The initial set sample is too strong for long storage. The plankton samples are then sent to Poland to a specialized plankton lab. In this lab, the plankton is identified to the family level. It is then sent back to the NOAA labs where it is identified to the species level. It was amazing to see all the little critters in the jar. There were so many of them.

Deploying the bongo net

Later in the day, we did another trawl….the catch of the day. Well it was a tire! It did have two little critters living in it, though. They were both identified and weighed and then frozen and packaged for the lab. The speculated reason for the trawl producing so few specis what’s called hypoxia. Hypoxia is the depletion of the oxygen in the water. If there is no oxygen,the fish and many other species cannot live. You can read more about hypoxia at http://www.ncddc.gov.

A frog fish

To the right is a frog fish that we found living in the tire. It has a trick to catch its food. The tentacle on the top of the head acts as a lure to attracts its prey. When a smaller fish comes by to eat what it thinks is food at the end of the frog fish’s lure…..well it gets caught and the frog fish eats the little fish. This frog fish still had its dinner in its mouth.

To the left is a picture of the last trawl that my shift made. You can see that this catch was full of shrimp and little crabs. We had to turn back towards Texas due to Tropical Storm Alex, which is forecasted by NOAA’s National Weather Service to become a hurricane by tomorrow. It’s too dangerous for the ship to be out in weather like that.

Some of the critters from out last trawl

Personal Log

Well, I can say that this has definitely been an adventure of a lifetime. I have enjoyed my voyage with all of my new NOAA friends. They have taught me a lot. As I am writing this, we are sailing back to port in Galveston, TX. As I said earlier, we had to cut our trip short due to Tropical Storm Alex. Believe me, I know he is out there. Our ship is rolling with the waves. I had a quick lesson in securing my belongings. You never know what you might encounter when you go to sea. Thanks to NOAA for giving me this opportunity.

Mechelle Shoemake, June 27, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mechelle Shoemake
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 19 – 30, 2010

Mission:  SEAMAP Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Date:  Sunday, June 27, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0700 hours (07:00am)
Position: Latitude = 28.80.02 N; Longitude = 090.20.40 W
Present Weather: partly cloudy
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 8 knots
Wave Height:  3 foot swells
Sea Water Temp:  29.8 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 27.9 degrees Celsius; Wet bulb = 25.5 degrees Celsius

Here I am measuring and weighing the fish.

Science and Technology Log
We are on twelve hour shifts while on the Oregon II. That means that we have two crews of scientists that work around the clock taking fish, plankton, and water samples.  My shift begins at 12:00 noon and ends at midnight.  Our first shift began on Sunday. We had finally reached our first station for study, so we took over for the first set of scientists.  They had just finished a trawl and had separated the fish.

Here I am measuring and weighing the fish

We finished weighing and measuring the fish. Next on the agenda was a fire and abandon ship drill.  We had to “muster” to our stations for a head count  during the fire drill.  Next, the alarm sounded for the abandon ship drill.  We all had to get our survival suits and meet on the top deck.

As soon as the drill was over, we were able to get back to work. we first did a CTD test, which stands for conductivity, temperature, and density. This fancy machine tests these variables of ocean water at different depths. We took water samples from the bottom of the ocean, in the middle, and on the surface of the water column.  This is a very important sampling because it will help to determine if the shrimping and fishing waters can be opened back up since the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill.

During the safety drill, I donned my survival aute, also called a Gumby suit!

I’m assisting in getting the CTD ready for deployment

We then had to take a plankton samples. This is done buy using a plankton net called a Neuston net. it is very fine woven net that catches all of the small fish and other animals that we label as plankton. This was amazing to see. The net caught “floating nursery,” a plant called  sargassum. Many fish lay their eggs in this floating grass. Sea turtles also use it as a resting ground. We gathered all the plankton and preserved it for further testing. Sad to say, we also picked up some tarballs in our plankton net. This is not a good sign.

We soon did a trawl with the shrimping nets. This was very interesting to see what we caught. You never know what you might catch when you drag the ocean floor with a net. I never realized how many different species of fish there are. We caught some very nice sized brown shrimp. We had to count, weigh, and preserve all the fish and other critters.

This is a close up of the Neuston net.

I’m helping sort the catch. Those are squid I’m holding up.

Personal Log

I really admire the NOAA employees. They all work very hard for us. Our ship is performing a very important job by determining whether areas of the Gulf will be safe for fishing again. These men and women are gone from their families for extended periods of time and stay at sea for long voyages. I am enjoying my stay on the Oregon II, but I have to admit that I am still trying to grow my “sea legs”.

Mechelle Shoemake, June 23, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mechelle Shoemake
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 19 – 30, 2010

Mission:  SEAMAP Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Date:  Friday, June 25, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1300 hours (1:00pm)
Position: Latitude = 30.22.02 N; Longitude = 088.33.80 W
Present Weather: partly cloudy
Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp:  30.9 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 32.7 degrees Celsius; Wet bulb = 23.2 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log
Hello everyone!  I am Mechelle Shoemake from Laurel, MS.  I am a teacher at South Jones Elementary school.  I was chosen by NOAA to participate in their TAS (Teacher at Sea) program.  I was chosen to sail aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Here I am aboard the Oregon II, ready to sail!

The Oregon II conducts a groundfish cruise in the summer and fall across the northern Gulf of Mexico from Alabama to the Mexican Border in depths between 5 and 60 fathoms.  The Oregon II conducts strong bottom trawling.  This is a type of fishing where you drag a net along the sea floor.  The primary sampling objective in the summer is to determine the abundance and distribution of shrimp by depth.  Since shrimp are animals that live near the sea floor, bottom trawling is the best way to catch them.  Due to the recent Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill, we will be gathering samples of oiled shrimp and fish for further testing to be done.

We will be studying three types of shrimp:  white, pink and brown shrimp.   For more information about these shrimp, go to http://www.dnr.sc.gov.  This website explains how to identify the different species.

The bow (front) of the Oregon II, as she sits tied to the dock in Pascagoula.

We have had a slow start on the Oregon II due to repairs being made to the vessel that were necessary to keep  her in service for the next 6-8 years.  Our date of departure changed many times. We finally set sail on Wednesday, June 23, 2010.  Before we reached our destination, we started having some small problems with the vessel.  We turned around and we are now sailing back home to Pascagoula so repairs can be made.   Although we had to come back to port, we did sail for many hours.  During that time I had a lesson in line tying.  Line is the word used for rope when you’re on a ship.  This is task that many skilled and experienced sailors learn.  Believe me, it is harder than it looks.

Learning to tie line knots is harder than it looks!

I also had a lesson on how to read nautical charts and how to chart the longitude and latitude of a certain point. My first morning on the ship was breathtaking. The sunrise was beautiful, as you can see in the picture below.   Personal Log My first few hours at sea were not the greatest in the world.  I came prepared for sea sickness…maybe a little TOO prepared.  I was beginning to wonder if I would make it on the Oregon II.  But, thanks to Lindsey, our XO, she suggested that I remove my “sea patch” from behind my ear.  Wow, what a miracle!  I was no longer sick!  Lesson to the wise:  don’t overdose with the medicine.  Question of the Day How many feet are in a fathom?

Animals Seen Today: Dolphins, Pelicans

Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico