Melinda Storey, June 28, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 28, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0700 hours (7 am)
Position: latitude = 28° N longitude = 089º W
Present Weather: storm clouds, thunder, lightning, rain
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: E Wind Speed: 29 knots
Wave Height: 3-5 foot
Sea Water Temp: 30.6°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 27°C, wet bulb = 26°C

Science and Technology Log

Stormtrack of Tropical Storm Alex

Stormtrack of Tropical Storm Alex

Tropical Storm Alex, which is a very strong tropical storm, has moved over the Yucatan Peninsula and continues to show signs of strengthening and organization. It was headed straight for us before we started steaming eastward to get out of its path. Our CO has monitored this progression carefully so he can make the decision to go into home port or not. Yesterday evening we started steaming east at 13 knots so we could be closer to Pascagoula if indeed he decided it was unsafe to stay at sea. When we woke this morning we found that Tropical Storm Alex had intensified overnight maintaining wind speed of 50-60 mph. An Air Force Reserve reconnaissance plane found that the atmospheric pressure was decreasing thus creating a very dangerous situation for the Pisces. The CO said that 12 foot waves crashing over the bow would not be fun so he made the decision to head back to Pascagoula today.

We’ve been traveling at 14 knots all night long. Since that is as fast as we can go, we know that the CO is anxious to get us safely in port. He told us that he has to make a decision to return to home port early enough to get a berth at the dock. With all ships in the area heading to shore, he needs to make a decision within 72 hours of the storm hitting so we can get a berth. If you do not get back before the port closes, you have to ride out the storm on water.

The swells have gotten much larger and deeper causing the ship to rock and roll. Walking down the halls is like being a ping pong ball bouncing everywhere. Taking a shower this morning and cleaning up was quite a challenge. When we came down to the lab, they were packing it in. The ship’s crew is busy cleaning the rooms, deck, and ladders (stairs). No more science.

Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon

On our way back to Pascagoula, we passed within 6 miles of the Deepwater Horizon/BP disaster site. We saw 40 ships – pipeline boats, supply boats, a research vessel, tugs and barges that collect the oil, and the Stemstar, which is the ship that injects mud, steam, and concrete into damaged wells. On board the Stemstar are geologists and engineers who are working on solutions to stop the oil leakage of the well. We also saw a fire boat sending water toward a flame that was burning off oil from a rig. The CO thought this might be to keep the heat from damaging the rigs and ships. When oil is burned off the surface of the water, oil crystallizes and hardens much like obsidian rock. It then sinks to the bottom of the ocean and is much easier to collect and dispose of.

Personal Log

Me driving the ship

Me driving the ship

I am saddened that our cruise is over. I enjoyed the crew, scientists, and officers so much. They made our stay so enjoyable, but I am looking forward to bringing back to my students all that I’ve learned. As we watched Deepwater Horizon, I was stuck by the thought that you can’t connect the classroom to the real world better than this! To think that we were within 6 miles of Deepwater Horizon taking pictures to show my students, I thought, “We are watching one of the greatest disasters of our time.” It is incredibly sad to think how this oil is going to damage our pristine coast and affect so many lives. It is remarkable to think that I am one of the few people who get to see this up close and personal!

Me on the binoculars

Me on the binoculars

On a happier note, not every student gets to say his/her teacher has piloted a 208-foot NOAA research vessel! One night our Commanding Officer let me steer the ship – for REAL! I couldn’t believe the CO let me do that! He kept saying how easy it was to turn the ship. He said that the steering is very sensitive so if I made a sharp angled turn I could knock people right out of their berths, or beds! I sure didn’t want the crew mad at me so I wanted to be really careful. When he took the ship off automatic pilot and handed the ship off to me I was nervous as a tick, but I got the hang of it and really had fun. Nicolle, the other teacher, drove straight lines, and I steered in circles. She obviously was the better pilot! They printed off the “track line” so you can see my “donuts” in the sea! Pretty cool watching the bow of the ship swing right and then left. Although I enjoyed steering the ship, I was relieved to turn the helm back over to the CO.

It’s also very important to watch where you’re going. I was very surprised at how many obstacles there are out here – oil rigs, oil tankers, recreational boats, and the ever-present fish. So far, people on the bridge have sighted a dead whale, dolphins, and a sunfish. The CO told me that once he almost ran over a humpback whale. So you do have to watch where you’re going. Last night while we were in our rooms we heard, “Teachers at sea, report to the bridge. Teachers at sea, report to the bridge.” I felt like we were being sent to the Principal’s office! But it was a good thing. The XO had spotted dolphins and wanted us to see them.

One afternoon we saw a beautiful double rainbow, but THIS rainbow was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They both were circular rainbows and they circled the sun. It was really strange seeing an upside-down, round rainbow. Our Chief Scientist researched this phenomenon and found that circular rainbows are formed in very high cirrus clouds. These clouds have ice crystals formed in them that act like a prism. When lighttravels through these ice crystals they bend the light and that is what causes the circular rainbow

Rainbows in cirrus clouds

Rainbows in cirrus clouds

I’ve wanted to see a shark on board the whole trip, and when it happened, I was asleep! Nicolle was watching the deck hands fish off the stern when one of them caught, not one, but TWO sharks! The sharks were both dogfish sharks and had to be brought aboard with a net. I was surprised to learn that dogfish sharks don’t have teeth. I thought all sharks had teeth, but that’s just an example of the types of things I’ve learned on this trip.

Shark on board!

Shark on board!

Chris Gledhill, one of our scientists, told us that last night we would have a rare opportunity to view the Space Station as it passed overhead. So, at 9:00 pm I went to the bow and stared up at the sky. The stars were brilliant against the dark night sky and I had such a peace to come over me (even though at 14 knots the waves were splashing over the bow). Suddenly, I saw a light streaking across the sky! It was amazing! As it sped past, I thought of all the wonderful “firsts” that I’ve experienced while aboard the Pisces. It has been truly a remarkable trip.

New Term/Vocabulary

Muster – to gather

Berth – bed on a ship

“Something to Think About”

While on the bridge last night, I heard on the radio another ship broadcast they were “taking on water.” What would you do if you were on a boat in the Gulf and it suddenly started taking on water?

Melinda Storey, June 25, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

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

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1000 hours (10 am)
Position: latitude = 27°53.9 N longitude = 093º 51.1 W
Present Weather: 5/8 cloudy (cumulonimbus/cumulus clouds)
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: E Wind Speed: 4 knots
Wave Height: 1 foot
Sea Water Temp: 30.5°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.2°C, wet bulb = 26.3°C

Science and Technology Log

Video from the Camera Array

Video from the Camera Array

Echosounder

Echosounder

The technology on this ship is amazing! The picture on the left is video of what the camera array filmed yesterday. The fish just swim around and sometimes they even come right up to the camera like they are “kissing” it. Then they back away and swim off. It’s beautiful to watch. The picture on the right is the EK60 Echo Sounder. The red line that you see shows the bottom of the seafloor. The blue above the red line is the water itself and the white specks that you see are fish. The most recent reading is located on the right side of the screen. The echo sounder sends a “ping” to the computer and that “ping” is a fish. Sometimes we can see definite shark outlines in the images below our ship. If you look at the bottom right hand corner of the echo sounder photo, you will see a large white speck along the red line. This indicates a large fish (possibly a shark) trolling the bottom of the ocean. When we came upon the dead sperm whale, the Electronics Technician (ET) came to the lab and told us there were a lot of “large fish,” most likely Mahi Mahi or even sharks, swimming under the ship.
The Pisces would not be able to operate without the engineers who make sure that everything onboard is functioning properly, including the 4 massive diesel generators that power the ship, the freshwater generators that convert seawater into fresh drinking water, and the hydraulics that power the cranes to lift the cameras in and out of the water. Chief Engineer Garet Urban leads the team of engineers, oilers, and electrical experts who take care of all the mechanical issues on board the ship.

First Engineer, Brent Jones, took us on a tour of the very impressive engine room on the lower deck of the Pisces. He showed us the incinerator which burns all the trash, oil filters, and other waste at a temperature of 1200°C (2192°F). Paper, plastic, and aluminum is brought back to shore and recycled. Before entering the engine room, we were told to put in earplugs because the sound can damage your eardrums. In addition to not being able to hear a thing inside the engine room, the heat is incredible! The engineers need to be careful to stay hydrated while working in these conditions.

Engine room

Engine room

Diesel Generators

Diesel Generators

The Pisces is powered by 4 diesel fuel generators which generate electricity that drives two large electric motors. The photo above on the right shows one of the generators in yellow. The engineers are constantly monitoring the mechanics of the ship to make sure everyone on board has a safe and productive voyage while conducting scientific research on board.

Personal Log

All this technology on board makes me drool! The Pisces is certainly a beauty of the NOAA fleet. Each morning Chris Gledhill, our fishery biologist, looks at the video from the camera array and I’m hanging just over his shoulder watching all the coral and fish. It’s really interesting to see the fish swim by the camera and now I can even identify some of them. I never knew there was a type of coral called “wire coral.” It looks like curly-cue wire used in floral arrangements. One of our deck hands caught some on his fishing pole one night and when I held it, the coral moved! Wire coral is a living creature so, of course it moved!

What I thought was really funny was watching a big grouper swim by the camera and then we caught it on the Bandit Reel. Nothing like seeing your fish before you catch it! Here you can see Paul Felts and me holding the 21 pound grouper.

Big Grouper

Big Grouper

Big Grouper caught

Big Grouper caught

Just like school, the Pisces has drills – fire drills, man overboard drills, and abandon ship drills. It’s always good to be prepared. When we have an abandoned ship drill we have to put on our “Gumby Suit.” This survival suit would protect us by keeping us afloat and warm if we really had to go into the water. The Gumby Suit is not exactly the latest fashion but I would certainly want it if I have to abandon ship.

Gumby Suit

Gumby Suit

Teacher at Sea in their Gumby suits

Teacher at Sea in their Gumby suits

The day after this Abandon Ship drill, we had a REAL fire drill. Over the PA system we heard, “This is not a drill. This is not a drill.” The forward bow thruster was smoking. We “mustered,” or gathered, on the second deck, but when we got there we could really smell smoke. So, we were sent down to the main deck for precaution. Fortunately, we have an outstanding crew who fixed the problem immediately.

New Term/Vocabulary

Muster – to gather

“Something to Think About”

While on the bridge last night, I heard on the radio another ship broadcast they were “taking on water.” What would you do if you were on a boat in the Gulf and it suddenly started taking on water?

Melinda Storey, June 23, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 23, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1000 hours (10 am)
Position: latitude = 27°51 N longitude = 093º 51 W
Present Weather: 7/8 cloudy (cumulus/cirrus clouds)
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: SSE Wind Speed: 8 knots
Wave Height: > 1 foot
Sea Water Temp: 31°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 31.4°C, wet bulb = 28°C

Science and Technology Log

Because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, most of the fish we are catching in the Chevron Trap or Bandit Reel is being weighed, measured, and frozen for the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) to be tested for oil or toxin contamination. After the NSIL completes its testing, the fish are sent back to the NOAA Pascagoula Laboratory where the scientists determine the sex of the fish and remove the otolith, or ear bone, which can be analyzed to determine its age. The otoliths are sliced very thin and examined under a microscope. Rings can be seen that help the scientists age the fish, similar to reading tree rings to determine the age of a tree. Age data is analyzed to contribute to the fishery-independent stock assessments which help determine the health of the fish population and how many can be taken out of the water. This also helps establish the size restriction of fish for the commercial and recreational fishing industry.

Otoliths

Red Snapper Otoliths

Occasionally, the fish trap will catch more than 10 fish at a time. If this happens, the first 10 fish are frozen for NSIL. Any remaining fish are dissected on board the ship to determine their sex and their otoliths are removed and placed in a labeled envelope for later analysis. The picture above shows the otoliths taken out of a red snapper.

Video Footage from Sampling Station

Video Footage from Sampling Station

The video footage taken at each station will also be analyzed in depth back at the NOAA Pascagoula Laboratory; however after each station, the footage is spot checked to ensure that the cameras recorded properly. The scientists make sure that the cameras are positioned correctly and not pointing upward in the water column or down on the ocean floor, that the field of view is not obstructed by an object like a rock, and that the water is clear enough to view the fish in sight. When we first began the Reef Fish Survey, most of the fish we saw were red snapper. As we have moved up in latitude toward the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary, the diversity of fish has increased.

There are 14 federally designated marine sanctuaries in the United States and the Flower Garden Banks is the only one located in the Gulf of Mexico. The Banks are essentially three large salt domes that were formed about 190 million years ago when much of the Gulf evaporated into a shallow sea. When the salt deposits were covered in layers of sediment, the pressure and difference in density caused the salt domes to rise and corals began to form on them about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. (This information was obtained from the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary website. For more information, visit this informative and interesting website at http://flowergarden.noaa.gov )

Grouper

Yellowmouth Grouper

Grouper

Grey Triggerfish

Most of the fish we catch in these waters seem to be Red Snapper. We have also seen a variety of groupers including the giant Warsaw grouper, a Marbled Grouper, a Scamp Grouper, and a very rare Yellowmouth grouper shown in the upper left photo. We have also caught a few Grey Triggerfish shown on the right, Longspine and Red Porgies, Tomtate, Vermillion Snapper, and a very small and colorful Reef Butterflyfish.

As stated earlier, we do not view the entire recording from the camera arrays, but as we were spot-checking the footage from one of the cameras, one of the scientists came across an image of the Marbled Grouper that was later caught in the bandit reel. Looking closer at the image shows the variety of species found in these coral reef ecosystems including a Squirrelfish, a Yellowfin Grouper that has spots resembling a cheetah, and to our delight, a Spotted Moray eel!

From the Camera Array

From the Camera Array

Personal Log

I was amazed that fish could be aged by the rings in their ear bones! I watched one of the scientists extract the otiliths from a snapper and it was real work! Chief Scientist, Paul Felts, explained that the age of sharks can be determined by growth rings found in their vertebrae. Sometimes when they catch sharks, scientists inject a dye into the spines of sharks. This makes their growth rings more easily seen. Then they quickly tag the sharks and release them again into the ocean. If these sharks are ever caught again by NOAA, scientists could get new measurements and determine survival data.

Another interesting fact about sharks has to do with blood in the water. Most people know that blood attracts sharks. However, if you cut open a shark and throw it into a group of sharks, the other sharks scatter. Seems like they don’t like the smell of shark blood.

Fishing "kissing the camera"

Fishing “kissing the camera”

I love watching video of the fish at the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary. I’m fascinated seeing the variety of fish as they swim by and I really like to see them “kiss” the camera. It’s a whole different world down there.

New Term/Vocabulary

Otolith – ear bone,

NSIL – the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory

Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary – only sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico

“Did You Know?”

Did you know that sharks aren’t always able to digest what they eat. I guess it’s hard to digest a can or a boot. Well, if that happens, the shark will either vomit or turn its stomach inside out.
Marbled Grouper
Yellowfin Grouper
Squirrelfish
Spotted Moray eel

Melinda Storey, June 21, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Melinda Storey
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 21, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0800 hours (8 am)
Position: Latitude: 28º 09.6 minutes N Longitude: 094º 18.2 min. W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: variable
Water Temperature: 30.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 27.5 degrees Celsius
Ship’s Speed: 5 knots

Science Technology Log

Atlantic Spotted dolphins are the graceful ballerinas of the sea. They are just incredible! The Gulf of Mexico is one of the habitats of the dolphin because they live in warm tropical waters. The body of a spotted dolphin is covered with spots and as they get older their spots become greater in number.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Here you can see the spots on an older Atlantic Spotted Dolphin. To read more about dolphins go to
http://www.dolphindreamteam.com/dolphins/dolphins.html

Because Dolphins are mammals they breathe air through a single blowhole much like whales. Dolphins live together in pods and can grow to be 8 feet long and weigh 200-255 pounds. Like whales, dolphins swim by moving their tails (flukes) up and down. The dolphin’s beak is long and slim and its lips and the tip of its beak are white. They eat a variety of fish and squid found at the surface of the water. Since dolphins like to swim with yellow fin tuna, some dolphins die by getting tangled in the nets of tuna fishermen.

Newborn calves are grey with white bellies. They do not have spots. Calves mature around the age of 6-8 years or when the dolphin reaches a length of 6.5 feet. Calving takes place every two years. Gestation (or pregnancy) lasts for 11 1/2 months and babies are nursed for 11 months.

While watching the dolphins ride the bow wave, Nicolle and I wondered, “How do dolphins sleep and not drown?” Actually, we found that there are two basic methods of sleeping: they float and rest vertically or horizontally at the surface of the water. The other method is sleeping while swimming slowly next to another dolphin. Dolphins shut down half of their brains and close the opposite eye. That lets the other half of the brain stay “awake.” This way they can rest and also watch for predators. After two hours they reverse this process. This pattern of sleep is called “cat-napping.”

Dolphins maintain a deeper sleep at night and usually only sleep for two hours at a time. This method is called “logging” because in this state dolphins look like a log floating in the ocean.

The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the hunting, capturing, killing or collecting of marine mammals without a proper permit. Permits are granted for the Spotted Dolphins to be taken if it is for scientific research, public display, conservation, or in the case of a dolphin stranding. The maximum fine for violating the MMPA is $20,000 and one year in jail.

Personal Log

Watching the dolphins playfully swim below us at the bow is like watching water nymphs. I can almost see them smiling. They spring out of the water just ahead of the ship and then peel off at a ninety degree angle. FAST doesn’t even begin to describe their movement. I especially enjoy watching some of them swim upside down, their white bellies gleaming. The CO is really good at spotting them far away. The dolphins swim straight toward the ship lickity-split as if someone just let kids out for recess and they run straight for the playground. We’ve seen some babies with their mothers as well as some older spotted dolphins. It is totally amazing to look straight down into their blowholes! You can even hear them “snort” when they come up for air. Never in my life did I think I would ever have an up-close and personal relationship with a dolphin!

Sunset

Sunset

Sunset

Sunset

The sunsets here are so spectacular. Check out the middle of the cloud on the left. If you look carefully you can see that the cloud has a heart-shaped opening. Last night’s sunset was purple and orange and just looked like a painting by one of the Masters. Our scientists have told us to watch for the “green flash.” If conditions are right and there aren’t many clouds, you can see a flash of neon green just as the sun plops below the horizon. We keep watching but so far no green flash.

The night is also spectacular. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. One night I went out to the bow about 12:00am and it was pitch black. Then when I looked up, it was if God had thrown diamonds into the night sky. The half moon glistened against the ocean and the lapping of the water against the bow made it just so peaceful. You don’t see that many stars at home because of all the city lights. This is almost indescribable.

One evening the ship’s crew was fishing with fishing poles off the stern (back) of the ship when one guy said his hook had gotten stuck on something. I find that amazing since they were fishing 60 feet deep. He yanked and pulled and yanked again and finally pulled up what you see here.

Crinoids

Crinoids

The orange mass that you see here is a lot of animals called crinoids. They’ve wrapped themselves around a wire coral, which you can see here at the left side and the top right hand corner. The wire coral is green. The cool thing is all of this was alive and moving. Holding it felt surreal. It was somewhat like holding a big batch of worms.

New Term/Vocabulary

Pod – a group of dolphins

Slipstream – the wake created by the dolphins as they swim

Echelon – the dragging of the babies in the slipstream

Logging – a type of dolphin sleep where they are floating and they look like a log

Cat-napping – a light stage of sleeping

Fluke – the tail of the dolphins

“Something to Think About”

Dolphins are “social animals,” which means they travel together. What would be the benefits for traveling in pods?

“Did You Know?”

Did you know that a mama dolphin doesn’t stop swimming for the first several weeks after the birth of its young? This is because a baby needs to sleep and rest and can only do that by sleeping beside its mother. The baby sleeps while its mother swims, towing the baby along in her slipstream, the drag behind the mom. This is called echelon swimming. If the mother stops swimming, the sleeping baby will sink below the surface and drown.

Melinda Storey, June 19, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Melinda Storey
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 19, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1000 hours (10:00am)
Position: latitude = 27°34 N, longitude = 096°28 W
Present Weather: mostly clear
Visibility: > 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: SSE Wind Speed: 13 knots
Wave Height: 2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.5°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.4°C, wet bulb = 27.8°C

Science and Technology Log

One of the goals of the SEAMAP Reef Fish survey is to monitor the health and abundance of reef fish to establish limits on how much fish the fishing industry can take out of Gulf waters. SEAMAP stands for Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program and is a State/Federal/University program for collection, management and dissemination of fishery-independent data and information in the southeastern United States.

Due to the oil spill in the Gulf, the fish we capture will be weighed, measured, frozen, and delivered to the Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) in Mississippi to be tested for hydrocarbons (oil) or other contamination to ensure that the seafood is safe to eat. Since the oil spill is far to the east of where we are doing the survey, our data will serve as a baseline and be compared to future studies to see what the extent and future impact of the oil will be in these waters.

Dropping the bait

Dropping the bait

Bucket of fish

Bucket of fish

The fish are taken out of the Chevron Trap or off the Bandit Reel and brought into the wet lab.

The first measurement we take is the weight (or mass) of the fish in kilograms (kg) using a motion compensating scale. One scientist will take the measurements while another records the data in a data table.

Weighing fish

Weighing fish

Measuring fish, recording data

Measuring fish, recording data

Measuring fish, recording data

Measuring fish, recording data

Next, we take three different measurements of length by placing the fish on a board that has a metric measuring tape attached. All length measurements are measured in millimeters (mm). First, we take the Total Length (TL) measurement which is from the mouth of the fish to the longest point on the tail. Then we measure the Fork Length (FL) from the mouth of the fish to the indention of the tail. The last measurement is the Standard Length (SL) which is from the mouth of the fish to the base of the tail.

Fish Diagram

Fish Diagram

Personal Log

I’m loving the gross and slimy science that we are doing here. The other teacher on board likes logging the data onto the charts and all the numbers. That suits me fine because I like hands-on science! The messier the better.

Holding the squid

Holding the squid

Holding the squid

Holding the squid

Holding the squid

Holding the squid

Baiting a fish trap

Baiting a fish trap

You can see me holding the squid that we use to bait the Chevron fish trap. I even like picking up the fish and weighing them and measuring them too. Our Chief Scientist, Paul Felts, let me calibrate the scale. This scale compensates for the rolling of the ship so we get a very accurate weight. I think the scientists get a kick out this old woman doing some of the gooey, messy work like baiting the fish trap with the slimy squid and the Bandit Reel with pieces of mackerel, but what they don’t know is that I don’t mind at all!

I have been amazed at the number of oil rigs in the Gulf. Wherever we’ve been – 100 miles out or 40 miles out – we’ve seen oil and gas platforms (rigs). Rigs that are out 100 miles start drilling at 5,000 feet deep. At night the rigs are all lit up and are beautiful but the number just overwhelms me.

Oil Rigs

Oil Rigs

Nautical Chart

Nautical Chart

The CO showed me a chart they were using on the bridge and it looked like someone shook pepper on a white sheet of paper, only each pepper flake was an oil rig. He said that most of those rigs have been built since 1997. At first, ships from oil companies were sent out to map the ocean floor and that would help them decide WHERE to drill. On the nautical chart there were two levels of ocean depths – shallow water and deep water. I was looking at the deep water chart. When I commented on the number of oil rigs, the CO said there were even more rigs in the shallow part. He said that when he “steams” through the shallow water rigs it’s “like driving through traffic.”

There is a bird that has been catching a ride with us for the last 24 hours. We Googled ocean birds and found out it was a Brown Booby. They look like the blue footed Boobies that live in the Galapagos Islands. He is black with a white belly and white face with bright yellow beak. He also has yellow webbed feet. He just sits on top of a weather post in the bow and grooms himself. He poops too. Sometimes he flies off to catch a flying fish but always returns.

Brown Booby

New Term/Vocabulary

Bridge – the top level of the ship where the Commanding Officer steers the ship

Steam ahead – to move forward

“Something to Think About”

Nicolle found a moth in her room last night. Now, how did a moth get way out here? I caught him and released him but who knows what will happen to him. It doesn’t look good for the little guy!

“Did You Know?”

Did you know that if you get “pooped on” by an ocean bird, it means you’ll have good luck? Fortunately I’m not lucky!!!
There is a bird that has been catching a ride with us for the last 24 hours. We Googled ocean birds and found out it was a Brown Booby. They look like the blue footed Boobies that live in the Galapagos Islands. He is black with a white belly and white face with bright yellow beak. He also has yellow webbed feet. He just sits on top of a weather post in the bow and grooms himself. He poops too. Sometimes he flies off to catch a flying fish but always returns.

Melinda Storey, June 17, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 17, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1000 hours (10:00am)
Position: latitude = 26.52.6 N, longitude = 096.46.7 W
Present Weather: 3/8 cloudy
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.5 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.2 degrees Celsius, wet bulb = 27.5 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log

We reached our first research station 40 miles off the coast of Southern Texas sometime in the early morning. To maximize the use of daylight, the scientists begin collecting data one hour after sunrise (around 0730 hours) and work until one hour before sunset (around 1930 hours). At each station, a camera array is lifted and lowered by a crane into the water column, down to the ocean floor.

Camera Array

Camera Array

Camera Array being "dropped" into the ocean by a crane

Camera Array being lowered into the ocean by a crane

The depth of the ocean varies at each station but today the depth was somewhere around 68 meters (223.04 feet). The camera array has 4 sets of cameras pointing in each direction. Each set of cameras contains one video recorder and two still-shot cameras that take turns snapping pictures, sort of like closing your right eye, then your left eye, then your right eye, and so on. The purpose of the still-shots is to help the scientists, along with the use of lasers, to estimate the length of the fish in the images. The cameras stay submerged for 45 minutes and then they are hauled back up to the surface.

The next thing that happens at each station is the lowering of a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) into the water column. The CTD measures the changes in salinity (salt level), temperature, and dissolved oxygen as it passes through the water column.

CTD

CTD

CTD being lowered into the water

CTD being lowered into the water

This data is transmitted directly to a computer graph where a technician watches and monitors to make sure the CTD is working properly and stays within 2 meters of the ocean floor.

CTD data on monitors

CTD data on monitors

The camera array and CTD are lowered at every station, but two stations are chosen randomly to drop a Chevron trap and two stations are chosen randomly to lower a Bandit Reel. The Chevron trap is baited with squid and physically picked up and thrown over the deck. The trap is fitted with weights on the bottom to make sure it lands in the right position on the ocean floor and soaks for one hour before being hauled back to the surface. During the first drop of the trap, we hauled in a giant Warsaw Grouper weighing over 16 kilograms (35.2 pounds)!

Chevron trap

Chevron trap

Mackeral bait for chevron trap

Mackerel bait for chevron trap

The Bandit Reel is like a long line sent straight down to the bottom of the ocean. It has 10 hooks that are baited with fresh mackerel and lowered to soak for 10 minutes.

Bandit Reel

Bandit Reel

Luck was on our side again as the first drop of the bandit reel hooked 9 Red Snapper! This was our first look at the fish that is the main subject of our Reef Fish Survey.

Red Snapper

Red Snapper

Red Snapper

Red Snapper

Personal Log

WHOOO HOOOOO! I’ve just done REAL NOAA science!!!!! Today we are dropping the CTD and the camera ray and then dropping the Bandit Reel line that has 10 hooks. The first Bandit Reel drop we caught 9 big red snapper. The largest one was 1.89 kilos (4.15 lbs).

CTD

CTD

Camera Array

Camera Array

This is the camera array – four cameras take footage of the fish down there.

The next time we dropped the line, they let ME take the snapper off the hook, weigh them, and then measure them. I measured the total length, the fork length, and the standard length. Then I bagged them all up and put them in the freezer to take back to the Pascagoula lab.

Measuring a red snapper

Bagging a Red Snapper

Bagging a Red Snapper

Measuring a red snapper

Measuring a red snapper

Me and a Red Snapper

Me and a Red Snapper

I also got to hold a sucker fish that accidently got caught on the line. Its sucker was on the top of the head. It looked like someone had stepped on his head and left tennis shoe marks! The sucker fish attaches itself to the bottom of a shark and rides along with him. We saw 2 sharks hovering around as we brought up the line which is baited with mackerel. The next time we deployed the Bandit Line they let me bait the hooks with mackerel and then put the hooks on the line. It was great! I love getting messy!

Suckerfish

Suckerfish

Suckerfish

Suckerfish

This is a sucker fish that attaches to shark.

This afternoon the crew got out their personal fishing poles and fished off the stern. The XO caught a shark but he didn’t bring it on board. It was impressive to me. Then we threw out the fish trap that was sunk to the bottom of the ocean. We caught a HUGE Warsaw grouper in the trap. One of the scientist said it was the largest grouper he’d ever seen – 16 kilos (35.2lbs). Its eyes were bulging and its mouth was huge! Teeth and all! Nicolle and I were left alone with it in the bay when it started flopping and flipping all over the place. We squealed like little girls!

Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

So far we’ve had two “never seen before” experiences! This is GREAT!

New Term/Vocabulary

Camera array

CTD – conductivity, temperature, and depth

Bandit Reel

“Something to Think About”

Why do you think it’s important to take measurements and weights of the fish for NOAA research? What are they doing with all that research?

“Did You Know?”

Boyle’s Law at Sea

Did you know that when the fish are brought up from the deep (60-70 meters) the decrease in pressure causes the swim bladder to expand? That’s because the swim bladder is full of air and if you’ll remember Boyle’s Law, a decrease in pressure creates an increase in volume. Here you see a swim bladder that came out of the mouth.

Melinda Storey, June 15, 2010 part2

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 15, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Date: 6/15/2010
Time: 1000 hours
Position: Latitude: 27.38.1 N Longitude: 088.18.9 W
Present Weather: cloudy
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: SSW
Water Temperature: 30.4 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 29.5 degrees Celsius
Ship’s Speed: 12.2 knots

Science and Technology Log

Today at around 1000 hours (10:00 am) our CO sighted a dead Sperm Whale from the bridge. Our scientists say it is extremely rare to see a floating sperm whale. In fact, a whale expert who communicated with one of our scientists said he has only seen one in 25 years of studying them! The Gulf of Mexico is a habitat of Sperm Whales. Females stay here year round and birth their young in these waters while male Sperm Whales travel to many different locations, some as far as the Antarctic Ocean. Sperm Whales are the deepest diving whales. Although they live at the surface, they dive to hunt Giant Squid that are bottom dwellers. They have been known to dive as deeply as 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) but average dives are about 4000 feet (1,200 meters) deep. The Sperm Whale can hold its breath for about an hour!

Sperm Whale

Dead Sperm Whale

Sperm Whale

Dead Sperm Whale

Here you see a close up of the teeth of the whale and some of the small fish swimming around it.

As you can see, the whale was covered in some black substance. Our scientists are not experts on marine mammals; however they spoke with Dr. Keith Mullin, the Southeastern Fisheries Science Center Marine Mammals Program manager, who stated that this is typical for the skins of dead whales to blister, char, and fall off. Upon seeing photos of the whale, the experts stated that it appeared to have died of natural causes; however we were asked to take samples from the whale to eliminate the possibility of oil as the cause of death. The ship positioned itself next to the dead whale and scientists swabbed the carcass in order to test for oil toxins and took tissue samples for DNA. NOAA catalogues mammal DNA to record species information and migration of different animals.

Dead Sperm Whale

Blistered Skin of Dead Sperm Whale

As we watched the whale float next to the ship, a 12 foot Tiger shark approached. It was obvious that sharks had been feasting on the whale because we could see definite bite marks along the side.

Tiger Shark

Tiger Shark

The Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is a fierce predator that has tiger-like markings and can grow to be over 14 feet (4.2 meters) long. It eats just about anything: fish, turtles, crabs, clams, mammals, seabirds, reptiles, other sharks, and just about anything else they can catch. It apparently likes to eat dead whales too! The Tiger Shark is one lean, mean eating machine. Each of its teeth is shaped like those found on a circular saw with a flat and curved hook at the end. A power saw might not even equal this shark’s power since it can cut through turtle shells with a single bite.


The shark circled the whale carcass and suddenly attacked, twisting back and forth in typical shark style. A bit later, the shark came along side the whale, bobbed up and down and took several chomping bites. Everyone was amazed at what we were witnessing!

Tiger Shark circling the whale carcass

Tiger Shark circling the whale carcass

 

Tiger Shark biting the whale carcass

Tiger Shark biting the whale carcass

 

Personal Log

As I watched the stunning display before me, I felt like I was a National Geographic videographer! I’ve had some interesting experiences in my lifetime, but this has got to be up at the top of the list! The thrashing and bloody water was unbelievable and watching the bobbing motion of the shark eating the side of the whale was like nothing I’ve ever seen – even on TV! And the SMELL! UGH! Ensign Schill fitted us with respirators so we could go out on deck and not gag.

I’ve also seen thousands of flying fish that actually do fly! They are tiny silver fish whose bodies are streamlined in a torpedo shape that helps them gather enough underwater speed to break the surface and take to the air. Flying fish are thought to have evolved this ability to escape predators.

Silverfish

Silverfish

Silverfish

Silverfish

“Something to Think About”

If this whale did die because of the oil, will we see more dead fish and mammals? How is the oil affecting birds, fish, and mammals along the coast? What will the long term affect be for the Coast?

“Did You Know?”

The tiger shark is one lean, mean, eating machine. Each of its teeth is shaped like those found on a circular saw, with a flat and curved hook at the end. A power saw might not even equal this shark’s power, since it can cut through turtle shells with a single bite.