Jenny Hartigan: Whales and Friends! July 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Hartigan

 Back home from the NOAA Ship R/V Fulmar

July 30, 2017

Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies: Bird, mammal, plankton, and water column survey

Geographic Area: North-central California

Date: July 30

Weather Data from the Bridge (my kitchen!):

Latitude: 37º 76.52’ N

Longitude: 122º 24.16’ W

Time: 0700 hours

Sky: partly cloudy

Wind Direction: N

Wind Speed: 0-5 knots

Barometric pressure: 1017 hPA

Air temperature: 56º F

Rainfall: 0 mm

Scientific Log:

The graduate students and interns on the Fulmar:

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Carina Fish. Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

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Hannah Palmer Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

I really enjoyed getting to know all the students, interns and young scientists on board the Fulmar. It was inspiring to learn about what they are studying in their programs at San Francisco State University, University of California at Davis (Bodega Marine Lab), and Sonoma State University. Carina Fish studies geochemistry and paleooceanography as she pursues a PhD in Geology at UC Davis. She is involved in Carbon 14 dating of deep sea corals at the edge of the Cordell Bank. Hannah Palmer (Bodega Marine Lab) is a PhD student at UC Davis studying ocean change in the past, present and future. Kaytlin Ingman studies ecology and marine biology in her graduate program at San Francisco State. Kate Hewett (BML) got her BA and MA in mechanical engineering, and now is working on a PhD in marine science at UC Davis. Sarayu Ramnath and Liz Max conduct experiments on krill at Point Blue Conservation Science and demonstrate their craft at the Exploratorium once a month. Emily Sperou studies marine science at Sonoma State. All these people brought great energy to the mission on board the Fulmar. It’s clear that the senior scientists really enjoyed teaching and mentoring them.

The other day I posed some questions about whale and porpoise behavior:

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Photo credit: fisheries.noaa.gov

Why do whales breach? Some hypotheses include that whales breach to shed parasites, slough skin, communicate within their species, exhibit reproductive behavior or just for fun. The consensus within the scientific community is that whales breach to communicate with other whales.

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Dall’s porpoise off the bow Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

It’s pretty obvious that the CA sea lion we saw leaping and twisting as he swam behind the boat was enjoying himself surfing the stern wave, but what about porpoises swimming in front of the boat? The ship’s wake also pushes them forward so they can easily surf the water. They like to surf the bow wave – fun, fun, fun!

 

Surfing the bow – Video credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Other Creatures Seen on the Cruise:

Ocean sunfish (mola mola) This giant fish lives on a diet that consists mainly of jellyfish.

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No, it’s not an ocean creature! We found these balloons about 40 km out to sea. Marine mammals can mistake this for food and ingest it, resulting in harm or even death. How can we keep balloons from getting out here? Photo credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Did you know?

When exploring the coast, you should keep a 100 meter distance from marine mammals. If the animal appears stressed you are too close.

Personal Log:

Well, it’s true. I’ve been home now for 3 days and it still feels like I’m bobbing on the ocean! Kirsten called this “dock rock” and I can see why.

As we arrived in port on the final day of the cruise, someone asked me, “What were some highlights of the week?” Well, here we go…

  1. I came into this hoping I would see whales, and I did! I was thrilled to see humpback and blue whales, whale flukes, and CA sea lions and Dall’s porpoises surfing the boat’s wake!
  2. I gained a much deeper understanding of the ecosystem monitoring being done and how it’s important for the management and preservation of species.
  3. I appreciate the professionalism and collegiality among the scientists. It inspires me to build coalitions among the school system, scientists and community partners to advance ocean literacy.
  4. I am so impressed by the impressive mentoring of the graduate students (and me!)
  5. And finally, I have great respect for the hard work involved in being on the ocean.

Thank you for teaching me how to assist in conducting the research, and including me in the group. It was fun getting to know you and I look forward to staying in touch as I bring this experience back to the classroom. I am doing a lot of thinking about bringing marine science careers back to the classroom.

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To all the crew on the Fulmar – thanks for an amazing experience! and… safety first ! Photo credit: B. Yannutz/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

 

I loved hearing from you. Thanks for posting your comments!

Jenny Hartigan: Organisms from the Deep! July 27, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Hartigan

Aboard NOAA Ship R/V Fulmar

July 27, 2017

Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies: Bird, mammal, plankton, and water column survey

Geographic Area: North-central California

Date: July 27, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 38º 19.820’ N

Longitude: 123º 03.402’ W

Time: 0700 hours

Sky: overcast

Visibility: 8 nautical miles

Wind Direction: NW

Wind Speed: 15-25 knots

Sea Wave Height: 3-5’

NW Swell 5-7 feet at 8 seconds

Barometric pressure: 1028 hPA

Air temperature: 63º F

Wind Chill: 51º F

Rainfall: 0 mm

 

Scientific Log:

As I described in another blog, the ACCESS cruise records data about top-level predators, plankton, and environmental conditions as indicators of ecosystem health. Today I’ll explain sampling of plankton and environmental conditions.

 

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Krill from the Tucker Trawl Photo credit: J. Jahncke/ NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

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a single krill. Photo credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

a small squid – Video credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

There are two methods of collecting plankton. The Tucker Trawl, a large net with 3 levels is used to sample organisms that live in deep water (200 meters or more) just beyond the continental shelf. The collected krill and plankton are sent to a lab for identification and counting.

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Scientist Dani Lipski (left) and myself with the hoop net. Photo credit: C.Fish/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Another method of sampling producers and organisms is the hoop net, deployed to within 50 meters of the surface.

 

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Here I am with my daily job of cleaning the CTD. I also prepare labels for the samples, assist with the CTD, Niskin and hoop net, and Tucker Trawl if needed. Photo credit: C. Fish/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Deploying the CTD and hoop net – Video credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Environmental conditions are sampled using the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) device. It measures conductivity (salinity) of the water, temperature and depth. The CTD is deployed multiple times along one transect line. Nutrients and phytoplankton are also sampled using a net at the surface of the water. I interviewed several scientists and crew who help make this happen.

An Interview with a Scientist:

Danielle Lipski, Research Coordinator, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary

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Dani and myself deploying the CTD Photo credit: C. Fish/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Why is your work important?

The many aspects of the ocean we sample give a good picture of ecosystem health. It affects our management of National Marine Sanctuaries in events such as ship strikes, harmful algal blooms and ocean acidification.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

I like the variety of the work. I get to collaborate with other scientists, and see the whole project from start to finish.

Where do you do most of your work?

I spend 4 – 5 weeks at sea each year. The rest of the time I’m in the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary office.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?

In high school I was fascinated with understanding why biological things are the way they are in the world. There are some amazing life forms and adaptations.

How did you become interested in communicating about science?

I want to make a difference in the world by applying science.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

 

An Interview with a Scientist:

Jaime Jahncke, Ph.D., California Current Director, Point Blue Conservation Science

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Jaime checks the echo sounder for the location of krill. Photo credit: NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Why is your work important?

We protect wildlife and ecosystems through science and outreach partnerships.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

-being outside in nature and working with people who appreciate what I do.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean Science? 

I always wanted a career in marine science.

What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?

I thought whale study would not be a possibility, and I love whale study. (I started my career studying dolphin carcasses!)

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

The Story of the Essex – the history behind Moby Dick

An Interview with a NOAA Corpsman:

Brian Yannutz, Ensign, NOAA Corps

                   

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Brian on the bridge Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

    

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Brian retrieving party balloons from the ocean so they won’t harm wildlife. Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps) is a uniformed service of the United States which provides professionals trained in sciences and engineering. Brian has been working for the NOAA Corps for 3 years. He is responsible for the ship while on watch, and other duties such as safety officer.

 

Why is your work important?

Among other duties, I drive the ship and operate the winch to deploy the trawl and CTD.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

I enjoy meeting new people.

Where do you do most of your work?

I’m based out of Monterey, and spend 60 – 90 days per year at sea. I spend 40 hours / week maintaining the boat.

What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

-the Vessel Inventory Management System, which is a maintenance program.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?

In the summer of eighth grade I went to visit relatives in Germany. It was my first time in the ocean. I also spent 15 days in the San Juan Islands.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

-the movie “The Life Aquatic”

 

Let’s Talk about Safety:

Brian is responsible for safety aboard ship and it is a high priority. Before sailing I had to do an immersion suit drill where I put on a heavy neoprene suit in 3 minutes. When on deck everyone wears wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), which could be a “float coat” or a “work vest”. A “float coat” looks like a giant orange parka with flotation built in. A “work vest” is a life vest. If you are working on the back deck when the winch line is under tension, you must wear a hard hat. Most people wear waterproof pants and boots to stay dry when hosing down nets.

 

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That’s me, wearing the “gumby” immersion suit! Photo credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Bird and Mammals Seen Today in the Bodega Bay Wetlands:

35 Egrets, 1 Great Blue Heron, 1 Snowy Egret, many Brandt’s Cormorants, many Western Gulls

Did you know?

A blue whale spout has the general shape of a fire hydrant, and a humpback whale spout looks more like a fan.

Personal Log:

I suppose you are wondering what I do in my free time. Between my tasks on board, eating, and blogging, I am pretty busy. Getting extra rest is a big deal, because it’s hard work just to keep your balance on a ship. Some evenings, I feel like I have been skiing all day long! I spend a lot of my time on the flying bridge watching wildlife through my binoculars, or chatting with the scientists and crew. It is fabulous to be out here on the ocean.

Highlight of Today:

Watching several Dall’s Porpoises surfing the wake in front of the bow!

Questions of the Day:

Why do porpoises swim in front of the boat?

Why do whales breach? (Breaching is a behavior that looks like jumping out of the ocean on their side.)

 

 

I love hearing from you. Keep those comments coming!

Jenny Hartigan: How to Record Whales and Birds… July 25, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Hartigan

Aboard NOAA Ship R/V Fulmar

July 25, 2017

Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies: Bird, mammal, zooplankton, and water column survey

Geographic Area: North-central California

Date: July 25

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 38º 19.834’ N

Longitude: 123º 03.399’ W

Time: 0700 hours

Sky: overcast

Wind Direction: N

Wind Speed: 5-15 knots

Sea Wave Height: 3 feet becoming 2 feet or less

NW Swell 7-9 feet at 10 seconds

Barometric pressure: 1026 hPA

Air temperature: 65º F

Wind Chill: 48º F

Rainfall: 0 mm

Scientific Log:

One aspect of the ACCESS project is to collect data about top-level predators in the marine ecosystem. The scientists do this by recording observations of marine mammals and seabirds from the flying bridge (top deck) of the ship. I am going to tell you about the standardized method they have for recording observations so they can be quantified and compared year to year. Some of the categories include:

First Cue (The first thing you saw – either splash, spout, or body) .

Method (How did you see it? – by eye, binoculars, etc.) .

Bearing (relative to the bow of the boat: 0 – 360º)

Reticule (a scale that tells you how far it is away from the horizon)

Observer Code (Each scientist has a number).

Observer Side (port, starboard)

Behavior of the animal (traveling, milling, feeding, etc.)

Age (if you can tell)

Sex (if you can tell)

Species (humpback, blue whale, CA sea lion, etc.)

Counts (best, high, low)

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The flying bridge of the R/V Fulmar.       Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Marine mammal and seabird scientists are trained observers for this task that requires complete concentration. I interviewed them to find out more about their jobs.

An Interview with a Scientist:

Jan Roletto, Research Coordinator, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary

 

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Jan assisting with the Tucker Trawl.Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Why is your work important?

This long-term monitoring of the ecosystem helps shape, define and enforce the regulations for the National Marine Sanctuaries.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

I have the (long-term ecosystem) data when I assess damage and define restoration from oil pollution or boat grounding (incidents).

If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

Funding long-term data studies is a challenge, so I would like a marketing tool such as a fun TV program to market the excitement and drama of marine science.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?

I enjoyed studying marine mammal behavior, and did a Master’s in anatomy and physiology.

What part of your job did you least expect to be doing? – fundraising!

How did you become interested in communicating about science?

The only way to keep the project sustainable was to communicate in lay terms.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

The Doc Ford stories by Randy Wayne White are about a marine biologist ex-CIA agent.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Run (True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide) by Peter Allison.The stories are based on a Botswana saying “only food runs!”

 

An Interview with a Scientist:

Ryan Berger, M.Sc., Farallon Program Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science

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Ryan waiting on the back deck while the Tucker Trawl collects krill. Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Why is your work important?

We establish a baseline to more fully understand the effects of climate change on marine animals and thereby protect species.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

My work feels meaningful, I like its diversity, and I enjoy mentoring the next generation of conservation scientists.

Where do you do most of your work?

-on the Farallones Islands, on the ocean and in the office.

What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

-a Leatherman, walkie-talkies and a write-in-the-rain notebook while I’m on the Farallones Islands.

If you could invent any tool to make your work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?

-a tool to see the eggs under the adult birds without disturbing them. You have to have a lot of patience as you wait for the bird to move so you can see if it’s sitting on an egg.

What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?

I did not expect to be an emergency responder for freeing entangled whales.

How did you become interested in communicating about science?

I found a field I’m passionate about and want to communicate an important message about being stewards of the environment for the next generation to enjoy.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a young person exploring ocean or science career options?

The Education of Little Tree is about Native Americans, taking care of the environment.

Do you have an outside hobby?

I enjoy mountain biking, hiking and outdoor activities.

 

An Interview with a Scientist:

Kirsten Lindquist, Ecosystem Monitoring Manager, Greater Farallones Association

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Kirsten spotting seabirds from the flying bridge. Photo credit: NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Why is your work important?

Our Beach Watch and ACCESS program data informs NOAA about the effects of conditions such as oil spills on wildlife. Beach Watch is a citizen science program that extends along the California coast from Año Nuevo to Point Arena.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

I like being in the field and teaching and communicating why it’s important.

What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?  -binoculars!

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?

When I was a young child I watched “Never Cry Wolf”, a movie about a science researcher named Farley Mowat. I was so taken by it that I told my mom, “I want to do that!”

How do you help wider audiences to understand and appreciate NOAA science?

I teach 150 volunteers through the Beach Watch program. 

Do you have an outside hobby?

I like cooking and outdoor activities. Some of the field sites I’ve been are in Antarctica studying penguins, and Guadalupe Island, Mexico, and Chile.

 

Personal Log:

I am enjoying getting to know the scientists and crew on board. Since I am curious to find out more about what they do, I spend a lot of my free time asking questions. They are interested to know what middle school students learn in science.

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                                                                          the fog bank                                                                                   Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Every day I’m fascinated by life at sea. The fog off the California Coast is so dramatic. The other day we emerged from a huge fog bank into sunny skies where it was 15º F warmer!

I mentioned the galley the other day. It still fascinates me how compact everything is here on the boat. Everyone here has a sense of humor too. Check out the shark silverware we use!

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the galley Photo Credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

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Shark silverware! Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

Animals Seen Today:                              

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Purple-striped Jelly – This small one was in the hoop net today, and we saw a larger one off the stern of the boat. Photo credit: J. Hartigan/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small organisms in the hoop net – Video credit: J. Jahncke/NOAA/Point Blue/ACCESS

Question of the Day:

How do you tell the difference between the blow (spout) of a blue whale and a humpback whale?

 

I love hearing from you. Keep those comments coming!

 

Melissa Barker: Data, Samples and Research, Oh My, June 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22 – July 6, 2017

 

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 29, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29 11.93 N

Longitude: 92 40.31 W

Air temp: 28.6 C

Water temp: 28 C

Wind direction: 180 degrees

Wind speed: 13 knots

Wave height: 1 meter

Sky: Overcast

Science and Technology Log

We had a slight lull in the sampling yesterday due to storms and lightning risk, but today has been full speed ahead with the trawling. In this blog I’ll talk more about taking data and how the data and samples are used.

We use the FSCS system, designed by NOAA, to record our data for each trawl. The program walks us through all the data need for each species. The pattern goes something like this: select species, measure length with the Limnoterra magnetic measuring board, then mass the individual, and finally try to determine the sex of the organism. Without this technology I can image that the whole sampling process would take a lot longer.

 

 

Determining sex can be tricky at times and there are some species that we cannot sex such as squid, scallops and very small fish. We cut the fish open and look for male and female gonads. If possible we also mark the maturity state of the individual.

Female gonads

Male gonads

When recording shrimp, we measure length, weight and sex for each individual up to 200. This can take a while, but working in pairs we get pretty efficient. Female shrimp have a circular breast plate, called a thelycus, under the head or just above their first set of legs. Males have a petasma, the male sex organ, between their two front legs.

Female shrimp on the left, male shrimp on the right. The knife is indicating the petasma, the male sex organ.

David (left) and Tyler work together to measure, weigh and sex the shrimp efficiently

You might be wondering what happens to all this data that we are collecting?

The data we collect is sent to SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) and is made publicly available. Scientists can use this data for their research. The SEAMAP Groundfish survey happens twice per year and has been ongoing for 42 years, allowing for identification of long term trends in the data.

SEAMAP gives the shrimp data to the different state agencies who make the data available to fishermen, who will use it to determine if shrimp are of marketable size and thus worth heading out to shrimp.

Bagged lizard fish headed to the freezer

In addition to the data we are collecting, we also collect and freeze samples. Any scientists can make requests for a study species to be saved from our trawls. These requests are entered into the computer system, which prompts us to bag, label and freeze the species to be taken off the ship at the end of the cruise.

Samples stored in the freezer. There are many more in additional freezers.

For example, we save all Red Snapper and send them to the NOAA lab in Panama City, Florida, for an age and growth study. Red Snapper is the top commercial fish in Gulf of Mexico, so this is critical data for fisherman and sustaining a healthy fish stock.

 

Several of the students who are part of the science team are collecting samples for their research.

Tagged Blue Crabs (photo credit: Helen Olmi)

Helen, who is part of the night shift, attends University of Southern Mississippi and is part of the Gulf Coast Research Lab. She is part of a team that is looking at migration patterns and reproductive behavior of female Blue Crabs (Callinectes sapidus). She tags female crabs and if fishermen find them they call in to report the location. Female Blue Crabs mate after their terminal molt and collect sperm in sac-like receptacles to use later to fertilize their eggs. When ready to spawn, the females move lower in the estuary into saltier waters. Blue Crabs are the most common edible crab so it is important to continue to monitor the health of the population in the Gulf.

Sharpnose Shark ready to be measured

David is an undergrad at University of Miami, who has earned a scholarship through NOAA Office of Education school scholarship program. As part of this program, he is funded to do summer research. He is working as part of larger study looking at the distribution and diet of the sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), one of the most common species of shark in the Gulf. Sharpnose sharks are generalists and the research study is looking to see if they are also potentially opportunistic eaters. He is also comparing diets from East and West Gulf sharks and may also be able to compare diets of sharks in low vs high oxygen areas. David’s data collection involves sorting through partially digested stomach remains to try to figure out what the shark ate; he gets to play detective in the lab.

Tyler holding a Croker

Tyler is a graduate student at Texas A&M at Corpus Christi and works with Atlantic Croaker (Micropogonias undulatus). He researches whether exposure to low oxygen affects what Croaker eat. Croaker are widely abundant in the Gulf–they often make up more than half of our trawl samples–thus they make a good study species. Croaker often feed at the bottom, in the benthic zone. Tyler is trying to determine if Croaker are changing their feeding patterns in hypoxic areas by feeding higher up in the water column in the pelagic zone to find more food. He uses Croaker tissue samples to examine diet using isotopes. The general idea with isotopes is that what you eat or process will become part of you. Different prey species will have different isotope signatures and looking at Croaker tissue can determine what organisms the fish have been eating.

As you can see the data and samples from this survey support a lot of science and sustainable fisheries management. Check out some of the interesting organisms we have found in our trawls in the last few days.

 

 

Personal Log

 As we crank through trawl after trawl of species, I have to stop and remind myself of where I am. As a land lover, it can be a little disconcerting that there is no land anywhere in sight. This fact is helping me appreciate the vastness of the ocean. It is said that we have only explored five percent of the ocean. Before I was on the Oregon II, this was hard to believe, but now I am starting to comprehend just how large the ocean really is.

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

Andre and the Cobia

We had some rough seas due to a storm cell a couple days ago which got the boat rocking and rolling again. The movement made it hard to sleep or move around. Luckily, we are through that area and back to our normal motion. With each trawl, I anticipate the possibility of interesting new species that might come up in our net. We caught an 18.8 kg Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) in our net yesterday, which is a fish I had never heard of, but is apparently prized as a food and game fish. Andre filleted it up and we ate it for lunch. It was so of the best fish I’ve ever tasted. Living in Colorado, I don’t eat much seafood, but I’ve decided to try what we catch out here and I’m glad I have. We’ve also had fresh caught shrimp and snapper that were delicious thanks to Valerie and Arlene, the stewards who are keeping us well fed.

I’m enjoying getting to know some of the folks who work on the ship. Many of these people have worked on the Oregon II for several years. When you live and work with each other in a confined space for 24 hours a day, you become close pretty quickly. The family feel among the crew and officers is evident.

I am getting more efficient with my measuring and weighing techniques and even remembering a few scientific names. During each twelve-hour shift, the time spent on our feet depends on the number of stations we cover. Some days we are back to back, just finishing up one sample while they are already trawling for the next. A monitor screen tells us the distance to the next station, so we can anticipate what is coming next. We are getting closer to the Mississippi delta where we are anticipating a decrease in oxygen at some of our stations.

Did You Know?

The Natural Marine Sanctuary System is a network of underwater parks that protects more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters. NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for the parks and brings together a diverse group of stakeholders to promote responsible and sustainable ocean use and protect the health of our most valuable ocean resources. Healthy oceans can provide recreation and tourism opportunities for coastal communities. (Source: sanctuaries.noaa.gov)

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(Photo credit: sanctuaries.noaa.gov)

In the Gulf of Mexico there is a marine sanctuary called Flower Garden Banks which includes three different areas, East Flower Banks, West Flower Banks and Stetson Bank, which are all salt dome formations where coral reef communities have formed. You can learn more about our National Marine Sanctuary System here.

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

Why do you need to take the temperature and amount of salt in the water? (Bella)

Temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and florescence measurements give us more information about the water where we are sampling. Salinity helps tell us if we are in a freshwater, estuary or fully marine environment. The salinity will decrease as we near the Mississippi river delta. Salinity and temperature affect fish physiology or body functions. Each species has normal tolerance levels that it can live within. Organisms that find themselves outside of their salinity and temperature limits might not be able to survive.

The image of the CTD data below gives you an idea of typical values for temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and florescence and how they change as depth increases.

CTD key: pink=fluorescence, green=oxygen. blue=temperature, red=salinity

Does the temperature of the ocean get colder as it gets deeper? (Allison)

Generally temperature does decrease with depth, but in our shallow sampling locations there can be less than a 2 degree C temperature change. As you can see on the CTD data above, the temperature changed 6 degrees C at this sampling location.

How deep is it where you have sample? (David, Shane, Alix)

We sample at depths of 5-60 fathoms. One fathom equals 6 feet.

 

 

Michael Wing: What’s there to see out there? July 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Date: July 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Northwest wind 5 to 15 knots, wind waves 1’ to 3’, west swell 3’ at 14 seconds, patchy fog.

Science and Technology Log

I’ve been putting in long hours on the back deck, washing plankton in sieves and hosing down the hoop net. Often by the time the sample is safely in its bottle and all the equipment is rinsed off, it’s time to put the net down and do it all again.

On the back deck

Here’s where I wash plankton on the back deck

But, when I look up from the deck I see things and grab my camera. The surface of the ocean looks empty at first glance but it isn’t really. If you spend enough time on it, you see a lot.

Black Footed Albatross

Black Footed Albatross

Black footed albatrosses turn up whenever we stop to collect samples. They probably think we are a fishing boat – we’re about the same size and we have a cable astern. They leave once they find out we didn’t catch any fish. Kirsten tells me these birds nest on atolls east of Hawaii, and that most of the thirty or so species of albatross live in the southern hemisphere.

Mola

Mola

We also see lots of molas, or ocean sunfish. These bizarre looking fish lie on their side just under the water’s surface and eat jellyfish. They can be really large – four feet long, or more. I wonder why every predator in the ocean doesn’t eat them, because they are big, slow, very visible and apparently defenseless. The scientists I am with say that sea lions sometimes bite their fins. Molas are probably full of bones and gristle and aren’t very appetizing to sharks and seals. There are more molas than usual; one more indicator of the extra-warm water we’re seeing on this cruise.

Spouting whales

Humpback whales; one has just spouted

whale back

The back of a humpback whale

And of course there are WHALES! At times we a have been completely surrounded by them. Humpback whales, mostly, but also blue whales. The humpbacks are black with white patches on the undersides of their flippers and barnacles in places. They are playful. They breach, slap the water with their flippers, and do other tricks. The blue whales are not really blue. They are a kind of slate grey that may look blue in certain kinds of light. They are longer and straighter and bigger than the humpbacks, and they cruise along minding their own business. Their spouts are taller.

Humpback whale flukes

Humpback whale flukes

When we see one whale breaching in the distance, we call out. But, when a bunch of whales are all around us, we speak in hushed voices.

Personal Log

Orange balloon

Orange balloon

I have seen six balloons floating on the water, some dozens of miles offshore. Four of them were mylar, two like this one. The scientists I am with say they see the most balloons in June, presumably because June has more graduations and weddings. Maybe it’s time to say that balloons are not OK. When they get away from us, here’s where they end up.

Container ship

Container ship

We see container ships on the horizon. Sometimes they hit whales by accident. Every t-shirt, pair of sneakers, toy and electronic device you have ever owned probably arrived from Asia on one of these. Each of those boxes is forty feet long.

This is my last post from the R/V Fulmar. I go home tomorrow. I sure am grateful to everyone on board, and to NOAA, Point Blue Conservation Science, the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary for giving me the opportunity to visit this special place.

Common murre

Common murre

Did You Know? When common murre chicks fledge, they jump out of their nests onto the surface of the sea. The drop can be forty or fifty feet. At this point they can swim, but they don’t know how to fly or find food. So, their fathers jump in after them and for the next month or two father and chick swim together on the ocean while the father feeds the chick. These are small birds and they can easily get separated in the rough seas. When this happens, they start calling to each other. It sounds sort of like a cat meowing. We have heard it often on this cruise.

Murre with chick

Adult murre with almost-grown chick

Michael Wing: Introduction to El Niño, July 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean west of Bodega Bay, California
Date: July 22, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Northwest wind 15-25 knots, wind waves 3’-5’, northwest swell 4’ – 6’ at eight seconds, overcast.

Science and Technology Log

UC Davis graduate student and Point Blue Conservation Science intern Kate Davis took some plankton we collected to the Bodega Marine lab in Bodega Bay. She said she is seeing “tropical” species of plankton. A fellow graduate student who is from Brazil peeked into the microscope and said the plankton looked like what she sees at home in Brazil. The flying fish we saw is also anomalous, as is the number of molas (ocean sunfish) we are seeing. Plankton can’t swim, so some of our water must have come from a warm place south or west of us.

Farallones

The Farallon Islands are warmer this year

The surface water is several degrees warmer than it normally is this time of year. NOAA maintains a weather buoy near Bodega Bay, California that shows this really dramatically. Click on this link – it shows the average temperature in blue, one standard deviation in gray (that represents a “normal” variation in temperatures) and the actual daily temperature in red.

NOAA buoy data

Surface seawater temperatures from a NOAA buoy near Bodega Bay, California

http://bml.ucdavis.edu/boon/climatology.html

As you can see, the daily temperatures were warm last winter and basically normal in the spring. Then in late June they shot up several degrees, in a few days and have stayed there throughout this month. El Niño? Climate change? The scientists I am with say it’s complicated, but at least part of what is going on is due to El Niño.

Ryan at flying bridge

San Francisco State University student and Point Blue intern Ryan Hartnett watches El Nino

So what exactly is El Niño?

My students from last year know that the trade winds normally push the surface waters of the world’s tropical oceans downwind. In the Pacific, that means towards Asia. Water wells up from the depths to take its place on the west coasts of the continents, which means that places like Peru have cold water, lots of fog, and good fishing. The fishing is good because that deep water has lots of nutrients for phytoplankton growth like nitrate and phosphate (fertilizer, basically) and when it hits the sunlight lots of plankton grow. Zooplankton eat the phytoplankton; fish eat the zooplankton, big fish eat little fish and so on.

During an El Niño event, the trade winds off the coast of Peru start to weaken and that surface water bounces back towards South America. This is called a Kelvin wave. Instead of flowing towards Asia, the surface water in the ocean sits there in the sunlight and it gets warmer. There must be some sort of feedback mechanism that keeps the trade winds weak, but the truth is that nobody really understands how El Niño gets started. We just know the signs, which are (1) trade winds in the South Pacific get weak (2) surface water temperatures in the eastern tropical pacific rise, (3) the eastern Pacific Ocean and its associated lands get wet and rainy, (4) the western Pacific and places like Australia, Indonesia, and the Indian Ocean get sunny and dry.

This happens every two to seven years, but most of the time the effect is weak. The last time we had a really strong El Niño was 1997-1998, which is when our current cohort of high school seniors was born. That year it rained 100 inches in my yard, and averaged over an inch a day in February! So, even though California is not in the tropics we feel its effects too.

Sausalito sunset

Sunset from the waterfront in Sausalito, California

We are in an El Niño event now and NOAA is currently forecasting an excellent chance of a very strong El Niño this winter.

NOAA map

Sea surface temperature anomalies Summer 2015. Expect more red this winter.

What about climate change and global warming? How is that related to El Niño? There is no consensus on that; we’ve always had El Niño events and we’ll continue to have them in a warmer world but it is possible they might be stronger or more frequent.

Personal Log

So, is El Niño a good thing? That’s not a useful question. It’s a part of our climate. It does make life hard for the seabirds and whales because that layer of warm water at the surface separates the nutrients like nitrate and phosphate, which are down deep, from the sunlight. Fewer phytoplankton grow, fewer zooplankton eat them, there’s less krill and fish for the birds and whales to eat. However, it might help us out on land. California’s drought, which has lasted for several years now, may end this winter if the 2015 El Niño is as strong as expected.

Golden Gate Bridge

Rain will come again to California

Did You Know? El Niño means “the boy” in Spanish. It refers to the Christ child; the first signs of El Niño usually become evident in Peru around Christmas, which is summer in the southern hemisphere. The Spanish in colonial times were very fond of naming things after religious holidays. You can see that in our local place names. For instance, Marin County’s Point Reyes is named after the Feast of the Three Kings, an ecclesiastical holy day that coincided with its discovery by the Spanish. There are many other examples, from Año Nuevo on the San Mateo County coast to Easter Island in Chile.

Window selfie

Michael Wing takes a selfie in his reflection in the boat’s window

Michael Wing: How to Sample the Sea, July 20, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean west of Marin County, California
Date: July 20, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: 15 knot winds gusting to 20 knots, wind waves 3-5’ and a northwest swell 3-4’ four seconds apart.

Science and Technology Log

On the even-numbered “lines” we don’t just survey birds and mammals. We do a lot of sampling of the water and plankton.

Wing on Fulmar

Wing at rail of the R/V Fulmar

We use a CTD (Conductivity – Temperature – Depth profiler) at every place we stop. We hook it to a cable, turn it on, and lower to down until it comes within 5-10 meters of the bottom. When we pull it back up, it has a continuous and digital record of water conductivity (a proxy for salinity, since salty water conducts electricity better), temperature, dissolved oxygen, fluorescence (a proxy for chlorophyll, basically phytoplankton), all as a function of depth.

CTD

Kate and Danielle deploy the CTD

We also have a Niskin bottle attached to the CTD cable. This is a sturdy plastic tube with stoppers at both ends. The tube is lowered into the water with both ends cocked open. When it is at the depth you want, you clip a “messenger” to the cable. The messenger is basically a heavy metal bead. You let go, it slides down the cable, and when it strikes a trigger on the Niskin bottle the stoppers on both ends snap shut. You can feel a slight twitch on the ship’s cable when this happens. You pull it back up and decant the seawater that was trapped at that depth into sample bottles to measure nitrate, phosphate, alkalinity, and other chemical parameters back in the lab.

Niskin bottle

Niskin bottle

When we want surface water, we just use a bucket on a rope of course.

We use a hoop net to collect krill and other zooplankton. We tow it behind the boat at a depth of about 50 meters, haul it back in, and wash the contents into a sieve, then put them in sample bottles with a little preservative for later study. We also have a couple of smaller plankton nets for special projects, like the University of California at Davis graduate student Kate Davis’s project on ocean acidification, and the plankton samples we send to the California Department of Health. They are checking for red tides.

Hoop net

Hoop net

We use a Tucker Trawl once a day on even numbered lines. This is a heavy and complicated rig that has three plankton nets, each towed at a different depth. It takes about an hour to deploy and retrieve this one; that’s why we don’t use it each time we stop. The Tucker trawl is to catch krill; which are like very small shrimp.  During the day they are down deep; they come up at night.

Tucker trawl

Part of the Tucker trawl

 

krill

A mass of krill we collected. The black dots are their eyes.

What happens to these samples? The plankton from the hoop net gets sent to a lab where a subsample is taken and each species in the subsample is counted very precisely. The CTD casts are shared by all the groups here – NOAA, Point Blue Conservation Science, the University of California at Davis, San Francisco State University. The state health department gets its sample. San Francisco State student Ryan Hartnett has some water samples he will analyze for nitrate, phosphate and silicate. All the data, including the bird and mammal sightings, goes into a big database that’s been kept since 2004. That’s how we know what’s going on in the California Current. When things change, we’ll recognize the changes.

Personal Log

They told me “wear waterproof pants and rubber boots on the back deck, you’ll get wet.” I thought, how wet could it be? Now I understand. It’s not that some water drips on you when you lift a net up over the stern of the boat – although it does. It’s not that waves splash you, although that happens too. It’s that you use a salt water hose to help wash all of the plankton from the net into a sieve, and then into a container, and to fill wash bottles and to wash off the net, sieve, basins, funnel, etc. before you arrive at the next station and do it all again. It takes time, because you have to wash ALL of the plankton from the end of the net into the bottle, not just some of it. You spend a lot of time hosing things down. It’s like working at a car wash except with salty water and the deck is pitching like a continuous earthquake.

The weather has gone back to “normal”, which today means 15 knot winds gusting to 20 knots, wind waves 3-5’ and a northwest swell 3-4’ only four seconds apart. Do the math, and you’ll see that occasionally a wind wave adds to a swell and you get slapped by something eight feet high. We were going to go to Bodega Bay today; we had to return to Sausalito instead because it’s downwind.

sea state

The sea state today. Some waves were pretty big.

We saw a lot of humpback whales breaching again and again, and slapping the water with their tails. No, we don’t know why they do it although it just looks like fun. No, I didn’t get pictures. They do it too fast.

Did You Know? No biologist or birder uses the word “seagull.” They are “gulls”, and there are a lot of different species such as Western gulls, California gulls, Sabine’s gulls and others. Yes, it is possible to tell them apart.