Shelley Gordon: The Serengeti of the Sea, July 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Shelley Gordon

Aboard R/V Fulmar

July 19-26, 2019

Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS)

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Northern and Central California Coast

Date:  July 26, 2019

My NOAA Teacher at Sea experience wrapped up yesterday with our 7th, and final, day of the cruise.  Our last day was another observation-only day where we travelled along two transects (lines 5 and 7) and recorded what could be seen from above the water.  I want to wrap up my experience by sharing some information about this observation technique and what I’ve learned about some of the living things we were able to observe on this trip. 

The Serengeti ecosystem in Eastern Africa is well known for its diversity of life and massive annual migrations.  On the wall of R/V Fulmar there is a large map of the three National Marine Sanctuaries (Cordell Bank, Greater Farallones, and Monterey Bay) off the coast of central California with the words “the Serengeti of the Sea” written at the bottom.  Like the Serengeti, the marine ecosystem in this area of the world supports a high diversity of life and intricate food webs.  Many of the species that thrive in these waters migrate from great distances, far greater than the well documented wildebeest migrations in Africa. 

A map of the protected areas off the central California coast.
Image from farallones.noaa.gov

The three National Marine Sanctuaries and adjacent state and federal parks protect a total of 10,676 square miles of habitat, helping to create a thriving ecosystem.  One thing that became clear to me on this cruise is that this is a massive amount of space!  To collect observation data, scientists sit on the flying bridge (or upper deck) and systematically record what they can see as the boat moves at a constant speed of ~10 knots along the transect.  Depending on the weather (we had days that were pretty foggy and other days that were overcast, but pretty clear), you can see several kilometers in any direction.  To complete an offshore observation line, it takes about 2.5 hours.  So, it is a full day to complete 2 observation lines, especially when you include the travel time to and from each line.  During that time, there are times when you can see very little other than wind-blown whitecaps on the surface of the water.  There are other times when there is a frenzy of activity.

(From left to right) Dani Lipski, Dru Delvin, Rachel Pound, Jaime Jahncke, Kirsten Lindquist, and Jan Roletto recording observation data from the flying bridge.

There are four roles is the observation data collection.  Sitting on the starboard side of the boat, Kirsten Lindquist’s job is to identify and describe all of the birds she observes within 200 meters of the side of the boat.  Some examples of “calls” she made include: “Common Murre, 3, zone 2, water” or “Western Gull, 1, zone 1, flying, 270°.”  To explain, she calls out the name of the bird, the number that she sees in the group, the relative distance they are from the boat (zone 1 or zone 2), and what they are doing (sitting on the water, flying, feeding, etc…).  This data is all recorded in the computer by Jaime Jahncke.  Dru Devlin and Jan Roletto (one on each side of the boat) are responsible for observing other things on the surface, including animals, boats, fishing gear, trash, kelp, etc…  An example of a call they relay to Jaime to record is:  “First cue blow, by eye, bearing 270°, reticle 5, observer 9, side 1, traveling, humpback whale, 2, 3, 2.”  There is a lot going on in this data, but it basically explains the observer has seen a group of humpback whales in the distance off the front of the boat (bearing 0°).  The group is swimming along the surface and the size of the group is between 2-3 individuals.  The observers use reticle markings, fine lines in the eyepiece of binoculars, to estimate how far the object is from the boat (reticle 14 is at the boat, reticle 0 is on the horizon).  Using the bearing and reticle numbers, the computer then can use the GPS location of the boat to estimate where that animal was at the time of the recorded observation.  Using all of this data collected over the course of time, scientists are able to put together a picture of where animals, birds, and other objects are frequently seen within the sanctuaries.  This can also help them identify changes in animal numbers or behavior, and/or the need for a change in management strategies.

An example of a map showing humpback whale observation data on ACCESS in 2018.
Image: Point Blue/ONMS/ACCESS

One of the seabird species we saw relatively frequently were Sooty Shearwaters.  These birds are interesting to me because the migrate to the sanctuaries from their breeding grounds in New Zealand, an amazing 6500 miles away!  What’s even more impressive is that their migration is not just from New Zealand to California; they actually complete a circular migration route, first traveling up the western Pacific toward Japan and the Artic, and then they drop down to the pacific coast of North America before returning to their breeding grounds in New Zealand.  We also observed Pink-Footed Shearwaters, which nest off the coast of Chile. 

Sooty Shearwaters taking off from the surface of the water.  Photo:  Dru Devlin

When we were out on the offshore transects beyond the continental shelf break, we were frequently able to observe Black-Footed Albatrosses.  These large seabirds are well known for their long migrations as well.  The population we observed in the sanctuaries nest in the Hawaiian Islands and visit the California coast to feed.  From dissecting Albatross boluses (regurgitated food) with students at Roosevelt, I had previously learned that their diet consists of a lot of squid.  Since squid are actively feeding at night, albatross also do a lot of their hunting at night.  I was curious how they could find their prey and I learned that they have an incredible sense of smell that they can use to detect food.  They are known to follow ships and feed on refuse in the wake, and this seemed to be apparent because when we were collecting samples at stations beyond the shelf break we were often joined by multiple albatrosses.  At one station, I counted 19 Black-Footed Albatrosses floating in a group near the boat.

Two Black-Footed Albatrosses near the boat. Photo: Dru Devlin
A Black-Footed Albatross in flight.
Photo: Dru Devlin

I was also very interested to learn about the way that albatrosses and other large seabirds (including shearwaters) conserve energy during their long flights.  Dynamic soaring allows them to gain energy from the wind above the ocean waves without flapping their wings.  We often observed these birds flapping their wings a few times and then soaring very close to the surface of the water before flapping again.  Apparently, in favorable wind conditions, these birds can us this method to fly great distances without flapping their wings at all, thus conserving energy.

Three humpback whales surfacing. Photo: Dru Devlin

Another animal that I was on the constant lookout for were whales.  These gigantic mammals have always captured my imagination.  On this cruise we were lucky enough to see quite a few humpback whales.  These large baleen whales are known for their acrobatic displays, occasionally launching their body out of the water in an action called breaching.  I was able to observe a few whales breaching, and also several instances of whales rolling on the surface of the water slapping their long flippers or tail at the surface.  One of the highlights was seeing humpbacks lunge feeding at the surface.  Lunge feeding is when the whale opens its mouth widely, engulfing a large amount to water and prey.  The whale then pushes the water out of its throat pouch, leaving the prey behind to consume.  One of the favorite foods of humpback whales is krill.  Using the Tucker trawl net at very deep depths, we were able to collect some large krill samples that will be analyzed back at the lab. 

There are several other species of whales that can be present in the sanctuaries at different times throughout the year, including blue whales, gray whales, fin whales, and minke whales, but we did not positively identify any of those species on this trip.  The scientists on board were specifically surprised that we did not see any blue whales, as they usually observe a few on cruises at this time of year.

Gallery

Here are a few other images of animals that we saw and were able to capture in the camera lens.

Did You Know?

Scientists can use robots to explore the undersea environment?  From October 3rd-11th, scientists from the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries will be partnering with the Ocean Exploration Trust to learn more about life beneath the waves.  Working aboard the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilius, the team will use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to explore deep-sea coral reef and sponge habitats.  And, we will be able to follow along live

Shelley Gordon: Life on Board R/V Fulmar, July 23, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Shelley Gordon

Aboard R/V Fulmar

July 19-27, 2019


Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS)

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Northern and Central California Coast

Date:  July 23, 2019

Weather Data: Wind – NW 19-23 knots, gust ~30 knots, wind wave ~7′, swell SSW 1′ at 16 seconds; Partly sunny, with patchy fog early

R/V Fulmar
R/V Fulmar refueling at Spud Point marina in Bodega Bay.

During this week, I am living aboard R/V Fulmar.  The “research vessel” is a 67-foot catamaran (meaning it has two parallel hulls) with an aluminum hull.  This boat was specifically designed to support research projects in the three National Marine Sanctuaries along the central and northern California coast, and was first put in the water in 2007.  Normally, the Fulmar is based out of Monterey Bay harbor in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.  However, this week she is being put to work on an ACCESS cruise in the two sanctuaries a little farther to the north, Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones.  

Fishing trawlers at Spud Point marina
Fishing trawlers at Spud Point marina.

Each evening, after a full day of collecting samples, the Fulmar motors back into the harbor for the night.  We are working out of two harbors on this cruise, Sausalito and Bodega Bay.  The vibe in each harbor is quite different.  Sausalito is full of private pleasure yachts, small sailboats, and live aboard boats/houseboats.  Spud Point marina in Bodega Bay is much more of a working marina.  The majority of the boats are large fishing trawlers.  It is currently salmon fishing season, and the boats that are working bring back their daily catch to the marina so that it can be transported to market.

The Fulmar is operated by two crew members on this cruise.  Clyde Terrell is the captain and Rayon Carruthers is the first mate.  In addition to the crew there have been 6-7 scientists on board, and myself.  Jan Roletto is a scientist from Greater Farallones, Kirsten Lindquist and Dru Devlin work at the Greater Farallones Association, and from Cordell Bank we have Dani Lipski and Rachel Pound.  Jaime Jahncke is lead Principal Investigator on ACCESS and works at Point Blue Conservation Scientist.  Kate Davis, currently a post-doc at the University of South Carolina, also joined the first half of the trip.

The boat has 5 main areas.  The “bridge” contains the digital and physical equipment that the crew uses to steer the ship.  There are several computers that display radar signals and a GPS map.  In the main cabin there are bunks for sleeping, a marine head (bathroom) with a toilet, sink, and shower, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a lab/work area.  The back deck is where most of the equipment for sample collecting is stored and put to use when samples are being collected.  On the top deck there are life rafts and safety equipment, as well as an additional steering wheel.  This is also where the team sits to make observations as we move along the transects.  Finally, there are two engine rooms underneath the main cabin.

Shelley in immersion suit
Me, putting on the immersion suit. Photo: Jan Roletto

Safety on the boat is obviously very important.  Before we went the first day, I received a full safety briefing and I got to practice donning an immersion suit, which we would need to wear in the case of an emergency where we might need to evacuate the ship and be exposed to cold water for a prolonged period of time.  The immersion suit is like a full-footed, full-fingered, and hooded wetsuit.  The goal is to be able to get into the immersion suit in less than two minutes, which was actually a little more difficult than I expected given that once you have the full-fingered gloves on it is difficult to effectively use your hands to finish zipping up the suit.  Anyone working on the back deck collecting samples is required to wear a life jacket or float coat and a hard hat. 

The daily activities on the boat vary depending on your role.  In general, we have been leaving the marina between 6:30-7:00am and there has typically been a 1-2 hour transit to the first data collection station.  During that time the team is generally relaxing, preparing for the day, or employing their personal strategy to combat seasickness (napping, lying down, or sitting in the fresh air on the top deck).  I’ve been fortunate to feel pretty good on this trip and haven’t struggled with seasickness.  Once data collection begins, my role on the back deck has been a series of action and waiting.  Since we are using heavy tools to collect data at significant depths, we use a crane and cable to hoist the equipment in and out of the water.  The winch that unwinds and winds the cable can lower or lift the equipment at a rate of ~20 m/min.  For the most part while the equipment is away from the boat we are waiting, and at times we have lowered data collection tools beyond 200m, which means a travel time of ~20 minutes, down and back.

Jaime and Kirsten
Jaime Jahncke and Kirsten Lindquist recording observations along ACCESS transect 3N.

However, today we actually did observation-only lines, so I had a lot of time to relax and observe.  The weather also turned a little bit today.  We had pretty dense fog in the morning, and more wind and rougher seas than on previous days.  But, near the end of the day, as we reached Drake’s Bay in Point Reyes National Seashore, the fog suddenly cleared and Point Reyes provided some protection from the wind.  The marine life seemed to appreciate the sun and wind protection as well as there was a large group of feeding seabirds and humpback whales right off the point.  We ended the day on a pleasant, sunny ride along the coast and underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, docking for the night in Sausalito.


Did You Know?

Humpback whales are migratory.  The population we are able to see here migrate annually from their breeding grounds off the coast of Mexico.  They come each summer to enjoy the nutrient rich waters of the California coast.  Humpback whales thrive here due to upwelling of nutrients from the deep ocean, which helps supports their favorite food – krill!  Humpback whales feed all summer on krill, copepods, and small fish so that they can store up energy to migrate back down to the warmer tropical waters for the winter breeding season.  I hope they get their fill while they’re here since they won’t eat much until they return, next summer.

humpback whale tail.
A humpback whale tail. Photo: Dru Devlin

Shelley Gordon: A Day on the Back Deck, July 20, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Shelley Gordon

Aboard R/V Fulmar

July 19-27, 2019


Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS)

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Northern and Central California Coast

Date:  July 20, 2019

Weather data: Wind – variable 5 knots or less, wind wave ~1’, Swell – NW 7’@ 10sec / S 1’ @ 11sec, Patchy fog


Science Log

7:39am – We are about to pass under the Golden Gate Bridge, heading west toward the Farallon Islands.  Several small fishing boats race out in a line off our port side, hulls bouncing against the waves and fishing nets flying in the wind.  I am aboard R/V Fulmar in transit toward data collection point 4E, the eastern most point along ACCESS Transect 4.  The TTG (“time to go,” or the time we expect to arrive at 4E) is estimated at 1h53’ (1 hour, 53 minutes), a figure that fluctuates as the boat changes course, speeds up, or slows down.  

This is my second day on an ACCESS research cruise.  Yesterday I got my boots wet in the data collection methods used on the back deck.  The ACCESS research project collects various types of data at specific points along transects (invisible horizontal lines in the ocean). Today we will be collecting samples at 6 different points along Transect 4.  With one day under my belt and a little better idea of what to expect, today I will aim to capture some of the action on the back deck of the boat throughout the day. 

9:41am – Almost to Station 4E. “5 minutes to station.”  This is the call across the radio from First Mate Rayon Carruthers, and also my signal to come down from the top deck and get ready for action.  I put on my rain pants, rubber boots, a float jacket, and a hard hat.  Once I have my gear on, I am ready to step onto the back deck just as the boat slows down for sample collection to commence.  At this first station, 4E, we will collect multiple samples and data.  Most of the sampling methods will be repeated multiple times through the course of the day at different locations and depths (most are described below). 

deploying hoop net
Dani Lipski and Shelley Gordon deploy the hoop net. Photo: Rachel Pound

10:53am – Station 4EX. We finished cleaning the hoop net after collecting a sample at a maximum depth of 33m.  The hoop net is a tool used to collect a sample of small living things in deep water.  This apparatus consists of an ~1m diameter metal ring that has multiple weights attached along the outside.  A 3m, tapered fine mesh net with a cod end (small plastic container with mesh vents) hangs from the hoop.  Attached to the net there is also a flow meter (to measure the amount of water that flowed through the net during the sample collection) and a depth sensor (to measure the depth profile of the tow).  To deploy the net, we used a crane and winch to hoist the hoop out over the surface of the water and drop the net down into the water. Once the net was let out 100m using the winch, we brought it back in and pulled it back up onto the boat deck.  Using a hose, we sprayed down the final 1m of the net, pushing anything clinging to the side toward the cod end.  The organisms caught in the container were collected and stored for analysis back at a lab.  On this haul the net caught a bunch of copepods (plankton) and ctenophores (jellyfish).

Kate Davis preps samples
Kate Davis fills a small bottle with deep water collected by the Niskin bottle.

11:10am – Station 4ME. Dani Lipski just deployed the messenger, a small bronze-colored weight, sending it down the metal cable to the Niskin sampling bottle.  This messenger will travel down the cable until it makes contact with a trigger, causing the two caps on the end of the Niskin bottle to close and capturing a few liters of deep water that we can then retrieve back up at the surface.  Once the water arrives on the back deck, Kate Davis will fill three small vials to take back to the lab for a project that is looking at ocean acidification.  The Niskin bottle is attached to the cable just above the CTD, a device that measures the conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth of the water.  In this case, we sent the Niskin bottle and CTD down to a depth of 95m. 

deploying the CTD
Dani Lipski and Shelley Gordon deploy the CTD. Photo: Rachel Pound

12:16pm – Station 4M. Rachel Pound just threw a small plastic bucket tied to a rope over the side of the boat.  Using the rope, she hauls the bucket in toward the ship and up over the railing, and then dumps it out.  This process is repeated three times, and on the third throw the water that is hauled up is collected as a sample.  Some of the surface water is collected for monitoring nutrients at the ocean surface, while another sample is collected for the ocean acidification project.

surface water sample
Rachel Pound throws a plastic bucket over the side railing to collect a surface water sample.

1:36pm – Station 4W. Using a small hoop net attached to a rope, Rachel Pound collected a small sample of the phytoplankton near the surface.  She dropped the net down 30ft off the side of the boat and then towed it back up toward the boat.  She repeated this procedure 3 times and then collected the sample from the cod end.  This sample will be sent to the California Department of Public Health to be used to monitor the presence of harmful algal blooms that produce domoic acid, which can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning.

Tucker trawl net
Shelley Gordon, Dru Devlin, Jamie Jahncke, and Kirsten Lindquist prepare the Tucker trawl net. Photo: Kate Davis

2:54pm – The final sample collection of the day is underway.  Jaime Jahncke just deployed the first messenger on the Tucker trawl net.  This apparatus consists of three different nets.  These nets are similar to the hoop net, with fine mesh and cod ends to collect small organisms in the water.  The first net was open to collect a sample while the net descended toward ocean floor.  The messenger was sent down to trigger the device to close the first net and open a second net.  The second net was towed at a depth between 175-225m for ~10 minutes.  After the deep tow, a second messenger will be sent down the cable to close the second net and open a third net, which will collect a sample from the water as the net is hauled back to the boat.  The Tucker trawl aims to collect a sample of krill that live near the edge of the continental shelf and the deep ocean.

3:46pm – After a full day of action, the boat is turning back toward shore and heading toward the Bodega Bay Marina. 

5:42pm – The boat is pulling in to the marina at Bodega Bay.  Once the crew secures the boat along a dock, our day will be “done.”  We will eat aboard the boat this evening, and then likely hit the bunks pretty early so that we can rise bright and early again tomorrow morning, ready to do it all again along a different transect line!


Did You Know?

The word copepod means “oar-legged.” The name comes from the Greek word cope meaning oar or paddle, and pod meaning leg. Copepods are found in fresh and salt water all over the world and are an important part of aquatic food chains. They eat algae, bacteria, and other dead matter, and are food for fish, birds, and other animals. There are over 10,000 identified species of copepods on Earth, making them the most numerous animal on the planet.

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:

humpbackwhale_noaa_large
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.

IMG_8285
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.

 

IMG_7858
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

FullSizeRender
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)

Marine Sanctuary map copy
(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.

Michael Wing: Seabirds to starboard, whales and seals to port, July 18, 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 the Golden Gate Bridge
Date: Saturday, July 18, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind Southeast, ten knots. Wind waves less than two feet. Swell 4-6 feet ten seconds. Patchy morning fog.

Michael Wing and Fulmar
Michael Wing and the R/V Fulmar

Science and Technology Log

We loaded the boat yesterday at 3:00 PM and I met a lot of people including the three co-principal investigators Jan Roletto of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Danielle Lipski of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and Jaime Jahncke of Point Blue Conservation Science. There are others, including volunteers and visitors, and I will try to introduce some of them in future posts.

Today we didn’t collect water or plankton samples. We’ll do that tomorrow.  We sailed west from the Golden Gate Bridge on a track called “Line 5” at ten knots until we passed the edge of the continental shelf and then dropped south and cruised back to our dock in Sausalito on another line called “Line 7.” Plankton and water samples are for the even-numbered lines. Our purpose today was to count seabirds, whales and seals and sea lions. It’s not simple. By 7:30 AM we are assembled on the “flying bridge” (the highest part of the boat) with Jaime and the Greater Farallones Association’s Kirsten Lindquist on the starboard side and volunteers Jason Thompson and Rudy Wallen on the port. Kirsten notes birds, focusing just on the area from dead ahead to the starboard beam and calls out things like “Common murre, zone two, thirteen, flying, bearing 330 degrees.” This means she saw thirteen common murres flying northwest together not too far from the boat. This time is called being “on effort” and she is really focused on it. I don’t talk to her unless spoken to. Jamie enters all this into a database on his laptop.

On bird patol
On bird patrol

The guys on the port side are doing the same thing for marine mammals and saying “Animal, by eye, bearing 320, reticle seven, traveling, immature California sea lion, one-one-one.” These last numbers are estimates of the most probable number of animals in the group, and maximum and minimum estimates. Obviously, in this example just one animal was seen.

I am in awe of their ability to identify species, maturity and other things from just a glimpse. Kirsten can tell the difference between a Western gull and a California gull from hundreds of feet away, even if the gull is flying away from her. They also record floating trash, dead animals, and boats and ships.

So what are we seeing? Common murres, western gulls, California gulls, Sabine’s gulls, sooty shearwaters, pink footed shearwaters, storm petrels, black footed albatrosses, red necked phalaropes, tufted puffins, Pacific white sided dolphins, northern fur seals, a bottlenose dolphin, humpback whales, a dead seal, Mola molas (ocean sunfish), one flying fish, mylar balloons (4), a paper cup, a piece of Styrofoam. The flying fish was totally unexpected because they are mostly tropical and everyone talked about it all afternoon.

Port side
The port (left) side is for spotting marine mammals

Some of these birds have come here from Chile, New Zealand, or Hawaii in their “off” (non-breeding) season because there is a world-class food supply here for them. The sooty shearwaters start in New Zealand and fly to Japan, to Alaskan waters, and then down the west coast of North America before returning to New Zealand across the Pacific! However, a lot of these were far away. Visually, the ocean looks pretty empty from the flying bridge.

striped crab
This little crab was clinging to a piece of kelp we caught with a boat hook

Personal Log

The specter of seasickness haunts us on the first day of a cruise. Most of us are snacking on starchy treats like pretzels and Cheez-Its and drinking carbonated drinks. Paradoxically, these foods help prevent nausea. I have not taken any seasickness medicine and I am feeling a little queasy during the morning, but by noon I feel great. Nobody throws up. The Fulmar doesn’t roll from side to side very much but she does lurch when smacked head-on by a wave. It helps that the waves weren’t very big today. Soon we’ll all get our “sea legs.”

Also, you might appreciate these photos of me getting into a “Gumby suit” in under a minute, as part of my safety training. This is a survival suit meant to keep you from freezing to death if the boat sinks. You have to be able to get into it in less than a minute.

survival suit
Getting into the survival suit. I have 1 minute, and the suit is stiff. Photo credit: Ryan Hartnett

into survival suit
I am into the survival suit. Photo credit: Ryan Hartnett

Did You Know? Here’s what you need to untangle fishing nets from a frustrated humpback whale: Boathooks, sharp knives, and a GoPro digital camera on the end of a pole. The GoPro helps you study the tangles so you can decide where to make that one cut that causes the whole mess to fall apart and off the whale.

 

life ring
R/V Fulmar’s life ring

Bill Henske, Sharks and Minnows, June 25, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – 29, 2015

Mission: Spawning Aggregation Survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

Date: Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: East to southwest winds 15-20 kts. Decreasing to 10 to 15 kts.  Seas 3 to 5 ft. Isolated showers and thunderstorms.

Science and Technology Log

Integrated Tracking of Aquatic Animals of the Gulf Coast

One of the best games you can play in the pool is Sharks and Minnows. The premise of this game is that you and your school are small fish that have to travel from one side of the pool to the other without getting caught by the shark. If you are caught you get turned into a shark for the next round.  Eventually the sharks are well distributed, preventing any minnows from getting through.

Acoustic Monitoring Arrays in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Acoustic Monitoring Arrays in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

I am reminded of this as the fin fish team from FWC sets up a grand game of sharks and minnows for fisheries science.  Over the past week we have been setting up several arrays of acoustic receivers that catch tagged fishes’ signals as they swim through the Florida Keys reef system.  The plan is designed to capture fish moving within and between different parts of the ecosystem.  Any tagged fish coming into Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary should come into contact with one of the receivers, as will any fish traveling out.  The placement of the receivers on the west and east of the sanctuary create and “entrance” and “exit” for tagged fish.

Within the sanctuary there are now several concentrated grids of receivers in places that make for good fish habitat (aka good fishing spots).  The VR2 receivers can record the identification number of the tagged fish as well as the time and date they connected to the receiver and their distance from the receiver.  When the receivers are collected, that data can be downloaded and a picture of fish movement created.  The data from the FWC’s arrays and tagged fish will be incorporated into a more extensive project called ITAG (Integrated Tracking of Aquatic Animals of the Gulf Coast).   In this project, collaborators share their acoustic tag data and receiver logs with each other, extending the reach of all project.   In the vastness of our marine environments, any one project will produce only a small snapshot of what is happening.  By collaborating between projects, the complexity of fisheries and ecosystems might be more easily untangled.

Sonar profile of one of our sites for an acoustic release receiver.
Sonar profile of one of our sites for an acoustic release receiver.

Today we set up individual stations of a new device which uses an acoustic release.  These are for much deeper sites containing “humps” which are relief features rising 100 to 200  feet about the surrounding sea floor.  Because of the relief, humps offer a large variety of habitats in a small amount of space, creating a highly diverse area for aquatic life.  Since these deeper areas are inaccessible to most divers, the receivers we set out can be triggered to return to the surface.  When data is ready to be collected in a few months, a device will be lowered into the water that communicates with the receiver using sound.  This device, called a VR100, can trigger the receivers to jettison themselves to the surface with the help of two small floats.  At that time the receivers can be collected from a small boat.

Joel from FWC checks the connection to an acoustic receiver that has just been dropped to the sea floor.
Joel from FWC checks the connection to an acoustic receiver that has just been dropped to the sea floor.

This video below shows our deployment of the acoustic release receiver from the side of the Nancy Foster.

 

Personal Log

City in the Sea

The Nancy Foster has been at sea since February of this year.  While it resupplies every few weeks, most of the vital functions for human habitation are performed on board.  The ship is, for its officers, crew, and science passengers, a small floating city.

View of the engine room control panels.
View of the engine room control panels.

Electricity requirements for a large ship are quite high.  If you factor in air conditioning, navigation systems, lighting, motors and pumps, kitchen, and scientific tools, the energy consumption equals a small hamlet.  Amazingly, this electricity is all created on board with the ship’s generator and a copious amount of marine diesel.

The Nancy Foster has a main engine for thrust but several others that act as generators for the thrusters, electricity, and backup power.
The Nancy Foster has a main engine and several others that act as generators for the thrusters, electricity, and backup power.

Food is loaded on at ports but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fresh and delicious.  Each day Bob and Lito prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all of the scientists and crew.  These delicious multi-course meals keep all the members of this floating city very happy.  Just like the hungry generators, the humans energy levels are kept well stocked.

Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink, except on the Nancy Foster you can just distill it using excess engine heat.
Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink, except on the Nancy Foster you can just distill it using excess engine heat.

There is no sewage processing on board the ship.  Ship waste is carried in large tanks until it can be released into open ocean, far from land.  Once in the ocean, its nutrients are quickly consumed by hungry phytoplankton and converted into energy for the next level of the food chain.  Food waste is also separated from recycling and “garbage”.  Food waste, after being ground, is composted at sea.

With 40 people on board eating, showering, and using the head, the ship needs to produce water on a continual basis.  The ship keeps a reserve supply and when it goes down, The Nancy Foster has a device that uses excess heat from the engines and generators to distill water from the ocean.

Every day the Science Chief and project leaders determine a schedule and make staff assignments.
Every day the Science Chief and project leaders determine a schedule and make staff assignments.

Cities need organization and a specialized workforce to get all of these things done.  The NOAA Corps Officers make sure the ship stays on course and its mission objectives are met.  The ships crew ensures the small craft are launched safely, everyone is fed, and the ship keeps humming and running smoothly.  The science staff are visitors, enjoying all of the amenities of the ship while using its resources to complete their scientific missions.  Many of the science staff cruise with the Nancy Foster every year, while for some, it is their first time.

How did you get here?

I asked several of the scientists on board what they wanted to do when they were in middle school and how they became involved in marine science and research.  My middle school students are just starting to think about who they are and who they want to be.  I wanted to get some background information on how some of the scientists here got their start.

J. – A biologist had no clue what he wanted to do when he was in middle school and this trend continued until college! He loved fish and applied for an entry level fisheries job and has been at it ever since.

R. – Thinks she wanted to be a writer in middle school based on a paper she read from back then.  After pursuing her interest in ecology she is now writing about conservation issues for NOAA.

S. – She always loved science and math – After studying geology she had a chance to go to sea.  Loved it more than her geology work and now scans the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico.  She won’t tell you where the treasure is!

P. – He took a test when he was in middle school that said he was not particularly interested in anything.  What he always liked was fish. After a couple related jobs he has worked in fisheries for many years.

S. – When he was in middle school he wanted to be rich and work in biology.  He now works in biology!

One of the major commonalities among the scientists is that they followed, or in some cases, rediscovered their interest.  As a teacher, I hope I can help my students find what they are passionate about.

By the numbers:

226 scuba dives
5 ROV dives
5 Reef Visual Census (RVC) surveys
20 Drop camera ‘dives’
40 New stands and receivers deployed
4 sea turtles
61 square miles of seafloor mapped
1 Teacher at Sea Hat not lost

Bill Henske, Turns Out You Might Need That Skill, June 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – 29, 2015

Mission: Spawning Aggregation Survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

Date: Monday, June 22, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: East winds 10-15 kts.  Seas 2-4 ft (1 ft inside reef) Isolated showers and thunderstorms)

Science and Technology Log

Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs)

We were talking on board today about the olden days, you know, when Jaques Cousteau and Marlin Perkins could reliably be found on a majority of American televisions.  Remember Generation X?

Jeff from FWC at the controls of the ROV searching for signs of spawning aggregations.
Jeff from FWC at the controls of the ROV searching for signs of spawning aggregations.

Yes- we are in our 40s now.  Kids my age had the spirit of scientific adventure to look forward to on Sunday nights.  The same generation of kids grew up with monitors and joysticks, interacting with worlds that were somewhere beyond the “real world” on our Ataris and Commodore computers.  Our 1980s parents might be incredulous to learn that we are now doing these same things to investigate critical habitat, monitor fish populations, and gather geographic data.  I know many futurists predicted it would happen but the grownups I knew were skeptical, to say the least.

NF3 Dive Boat loaded for ROV Mission
NF3 Dive Boat loaded for ROV Miss

The remotely operated vehicle has been a staple of marine research for many years now.  Called an ROV for short, these devices are human operated machines that can do many of the same things humans divers can do but in much more difficult circumstances, for much longer periods of time, and at greater depths.  ROVs are “employed” by resource managers, marine scientists, construction crews, engineering companies, and just about anyone else who has work to do under water.

Loading ROV gear into dive boat.
Loading ROV gear into dive boat.

We have been using an ROV on our current mission on the Nancy Foster to  collect fisheries data.  With the ROV we can investigate different areas identified on hydrographic maps and from previous studies without labor intensive dive operations.  The ROV does not need to stick to a dive schedule and as long as it has power and a willing operator, it can do its job.  The ROV has several components that must all be brought onto our dive boat in order to operate.

The primary need of the ROV is electricity.  Rather than running on combustion or cellular respiration, which both require oxygen, the ROV needs a steady supply of electrical current.  Because many variables can affect the power demands of an ROV such as speed, depth, wind, and current, the FWC team has chosen to operate a small generator to power their ROV.

ROV being set up for deployment.  Note the spool of tether cable and control panel.
ROV being set up for deployment. Note the spool of tether cable and control panel.

The ROV has a specialized cable that carries the electricity from the boat to the motors. This cable, called a tether, also carries the signal from the controller to the motors to tell the ROV where to go.  The video input the ROV gathers is relayed through this cable in order to allow the operator to see through the “eyes” of the ROV, and, of course, record what it sees.

Operating the ROV requires a good deal of coordination.  The craft is controlled much like a slow, unresponsive airplane.  It can move forward, reverse, side to side, up and down, and operate at a tilt.  This dizzying array of motions are necessary to track and study the reef fish as they travel through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Jeff from FWC records the coordinates before beginning ROV survey
Jeff from FWC records the coordinates before beginning ROV survey

Jeff Renchen of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is, among many other things, our ROV operator on this cruise.  He is using the small ROV to collect data on spawning aggregations of several important fish species.  Jeff explained that the ROV allows researchers to explore deeper than divers are able to easily go.  ROV camera operations can follow aggregations of fish and provide insights into the behaviors and conditions of spawning fish, as well as structures and locations that are important for spawning behavior.

With the ROV in the water Jeff takes it for a swim away from the boat. Once the ROV’s line has 50 feet of slack, the tether is attached to a drop line. In strong currents, it is possible for smaller ROVs, like the one here, to get carried off.  The drop line allows us to raise or lower the ROV in the water column faster, increasing our ability to focus in on fish of interest or specific depths.

ROV swimming away.
ROV swimming away.

 


Personal Log

There are some things that seem special no matter how many times you have seem them before.  I remember a long time student of Appalachian ecology saying that he could not remember what he had for lunch but he could describe every time he had seen a bear.   There are some things in our world that have that the ability to mesmerize us, silencing the combating thoughts that often clutter our minds and setting a reset button somewhere in our brain stem.

One of those things that stands out for me, and kindly keep it to yourself if you disagree, is seeing dolphins interact.  We came in from some drop camera operations on Wednesday evening and found this pod of dolphins playing in the wash of the Z-Drive motors of the Nancy Foster.  There would more footage but if you are taking video rather than living in this moment, you are probably doing it wrong.

Watching dolphins play and interact appeals to so many of us.  I think it reminds us of the pleasure of physicality and the joy that can be had as social creatures.

Then there is the thrill of hearing “There’s a shark” from the scientist monitoring the camera you have been steadily lowering below a 17 foot dive boat bobbing in the small but steady waves.

.

The enormities of life at sea give us an awe inspiring sense of scale.  Every day at sea there is at least one endless horizon and yesterday they surrounded us on all sides.  Just past sunset I caught this small cumulonimbus that had previously drizzled on our afternoon drop camera trip.  I thought about the thermal energy required to make such a structure.  I wondered at the amount of fresh water it carried.  And then my brain quieted down and I just watched it.

Cumulonimbus with 2 layers of rain.
Cumulonimbus with 2 layers of rain.

Bill Henske, Mind if We Drop in? June 19, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – 29, 2015

Mission: Drop camera operations
Geographical Area: Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

Date: Friday, June 19, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: East wind 10-15 kts.  Seas 3-4 ft (2 ft inside reef).  Isolated showers and thunderstorms

Science and Technology Log

Drop Camera Operations

We have so many ways to see our planet using scientific tools.  The Nancy Foster, for example, uses radar to see boats and weather in the direct vicinity.  The ship uses satellite images to prepare for missions and to support surface information. Onboard, the Nancy Foster uses sonar to measure ocean depths and detect the undersea activity of marine organisms, and map the physical characteristics of the seafloor.

The ship collects hydrographic information by making repeated passes over  an area of interest.  This is the product.
The ship collects hydrographic information by making repeated passes over an area of interest. This is the product.

This technology all relies on our acceptance that a pixel of light with a specific value equals some tangible unit of mass or energy in our ocean.  The equations and processes that help us determine the relationship between the data collected and what is meaningful to us must be worked out through careful analysis and study.  In our case, we are trying to work out the relationship between certain patterns of sonar feedback and what habitat is present on the seafloor.

Don Checking Drop Camera Setup before lowering down into Warsaw Hole.
Don Checking Drop Camera Setup before lowering down into Warsaw Hole.

Don Field of NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science calls himself a pixel-pusher.  Deciphering the images and data that show up on a monitor means having an astute understanding of what each bit of data means.  Part of Don’s research involves squeezing more data from the bits collected by looking for associations between these bits of light and the real world.  Identifying the relationship between these sonar profiles and the habitat on the seafloor means matching up pixels from a screen with what exists in the actual environment.  If we can reliably identify seafloor type by sonar, for example, we could begin to quantify habitat for individual species rather than relying on approximations.

Me pushing pixels on one of the sonars. I can't get it to work though. (Scott Donohue, NOAA)
Me pushing pixels on one of the sonars. I can’t get it to work though. (Scott Donahue, NOAA)

Don calls this ground-truthing.  This means a researcher on the ground (or in the ocean in our case) must connect the features from satellite and sonar with images and data collected from onsite.  Our project on this mission involves deploying a drop camera from one of our small vessels and determining what is there.  Several coordinates are chosen from sonar and satellite pictures.  These coordinates are entered into the GPS of the small dive boats allowing us to pinpoint the exact location within just a few meters.

The drop camera is a fairly self descriptive term.  This is a specially designed black and white camera that is deployed from the side of the small vessel.  The camera is mounted within a protective cage with weights attached to facilitate its trip to the bottom.  While the turbidity of the water is very low, light is still limited at deeper depths.  The camera has lights that enable viewing in low light or during nocturnal missions.  The reason we use a black and white camera is that they can operate in much lower light levels than color cameras.  Think about your own color vision and how it diminishes as the sun goes down.

This is our drop camera.  The two brass devices attached to the left are for lasers which allow the operator to determine depth as well as relative size of objects in the field of view.
This is our drop camera. The two brass devices attached to the left are for lasers which allow the operator to determine depth as well as relative size of objects in the field of view.

The camera rig is tethered to the GPS and video recorder with a 300 foot long coaxial cable.   This cable is specially designed for this application with corrosion resistant terminals and kevlar sheathing along the entire length.  We also attached a downrigger to the camera apparatus to reduce the wear and tear on the cable and to speed retrieval of the unit.

On board, we monitor the camera as it is lowered almost to the sea floor at each chosen coordinate.  Our equipment records and geotags the video with the exact location so it can be aligned with mapping data back in the lab.

The controls of the drop camera.
The controls of the drop camera.

On the drop camera, we also utilize a fairly “off the shelf” GoPro camera.  This camera doesn’t feed information back up to the vessel and isn’t connected to GPS but it can provide other useful information about the species encountered along the trip down.  This biological information can be used for other projects and adds to the overall value of the mission.

One of the critical things for all field scientists is to check the functioning of gear before heading out. Don and I set everything up in the drylab and on deck.  There were several bugs to work out of the procedures before heading out to our first coordinates.  Once we addressed the issues we had with the equipment, our dropcam was ready to go.

Heading out to Warsaw Hole with our drop camera and equipment..
Heading out to Warsaw Hole with our drop camera and equipment.

We headed out to the locally famous Warsaw Hole.  This spot is known for spawning populations of several important fish.  We wanted to determine if the seafloor with in this structure held any clues to why it was so important to fish.  At over 300 feet deep, this area is not conducive to exploratory dives.  This inaccessibility made it a good candidate for our mission.

After heading out to the coordinates we unpacked the camera, GPS, and computers.  There was a sudden loss of power to the camera.  A little trouble-shooting and we determined it was the fuse.  Saltwater is tough on electronic components!   A blown fuse was not one of the things we prepared for the day before.  We radioed the ship with our fuse requirements and after a short shuttle back to the Nancy Foster, we were back in business.

What could be in the mysterious Warsaw Hole?  At 100 feet deeper than the surrounding seafloor, what was it about this place that encourages aggregations of the Warsaw grouper (Epinephelus nigritus)?  As the camera was lowered deeper, we were able to see everything in the water column as it swam to one side or the other.

We reached our destination depth and discovered that Warsaw Hole is a plain, ordinary sandy bottom.  In the world of science this unexceptional discovery is called “zero data”, but it is valuable information nonetheless, as we try to characterize all of the habitats in the area.

Personal Log

The Dry Tortugas is one of the most out-of-the-way National Parks in the US.  This former Civil War era fort and the surrounding small keys are a paradise of colorful fish and raucous colonies of seabirds.  While the camp site was busy, it was definitely not crowded after the Key West ferry had gone home for the day.  If you decide to spend the day or camp over night, bring water.  It is named for the fact that there is no fresh water!

We were able to snorkel almost entirely around the fort.  The submerged walls of the old fort are encrusted with corals, sea fans, annelids, and sponges of every shape and color.  The remnants of former building materials are almost unrecognizable as human detritus, instead housing a great diversity of interesting reef organisms.

Unfortunately, we did not see the infamous crocodile.  Tick Tock.

Here it is official as I stand in front of the Dry Tortugas National Park Sign.
Here it is official as I stand in front of the Fort Jefferson – Dry Tortugas National Park Sign.

By the Numbers

  • Sea Turtles – 1
  • Square miles of seafloor surveyed – 21.02
  • Treadmill Miles – 6.25
  • Drop cam dives – 6
  • Teacher at Sea Hat Recoveries – 2

 

Bill Henske, Tag, You’re It! June 16, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – 29, 2015

Mission: Acoustic Monitoring
Geographical Area: Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas

Date: Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: East winds near 15 knots, Seas 3 to 5 feet (2-3 inside reef), Scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms

Science and Technology Log

Acoustic Tracking Project
The Nancy Foster is a NOAA research vessel that frequently collaborates with multiple parties – universities, state agencies, and federal managers. By working together and pooling resources, a ship like the Nancy Foster, can synergize the work of a number of connected scientists. On the current cruise we have several scientists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), National Center for Coastal Ocean Sciences (NCCOS), and the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO). Their fascinating and important work will help us better understand the way marine populations work.

You may have heard the saying there’s more than one fish in the sea. While certainly this is true, the aphorism does little to describe the condition of the sea. The assumption might be that because there are a large number of fish, the sea is a healthy one. But are the individual types of fish occurring in significant populations? Are the populations equally distributed or are they more likely in certain parts of the ocean? How do they change over time?

Receiver Stands and surgical apparatus awaiting deployment(Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)
Receiver Stands and surgical apparatus awaiting deployment (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)

There are many things we don’t yet know about the territory, movement, and reproduction of even our most important fish. With the acoustic tracking project, we hope to find out how species of fish use the diverse habitats in the Florida Keys.

It would be hard to follow a black grouper around 24/7. The logistics would be very difficult to work out, to say the least. Rather than following one fish, the acoustic tracking project tags fishes in the study area with what is called an acoustic tag.

Acoustic tag which will be activated and implanted in study subject.
Acoustic tag which will be activated and implanted in study subject.

Once fish are captured, they receive a small “surgery” during which one of the tags is implanted. This, in and of itself, does nothing. The tags can be customized for the characteristics of different species or needs of the study. For a habitat study, the tag might ping several times a minute while a longer project looking at movement between areas might be set to ping once every few minutes. The longer frequency extends the life of the tag.

If a tag pings in the ocean, does it make a sound? The second part to the acoustic tracking is setting up and maintaining the listening probes called VR2s. Throughout the Keys and the Dry Tortugas, VR2 probes quietly wait for these pings and nonchalantly record the fish’s visit for later analysis. Think about the smartphone app Foursquare (is that a thing anymore?). Each time a fish swims near a VR2 its presence and visit duration is recorded and time stamped.

Every 6 months to a year, the VR2 recorders have to be collected and analyzed. Each VR2 is a record of every tagged fish that came within a certain distance of the probe over the period of time it was collecting data. This is where our mission comes in. On our cruise, we are servicing a number of these probes; picking up the old ones, replacing batteries, downloading data sets, and placing new or rejuvenated VR2s.

The VR2 receiver gather data from tagged individuals within the study area.  The VR2 records the identification number, time, and date of each visit by a tagged specimen.
The VR2 receiver gather data from tagged individuals within the study area. The VR2 records the identification number, time, and date of each visit by a tagged specimen.

Dive teams go out from the Nancy Foster, using only the GPS coordinates, to recover the sensors from the unmarked expanses of ocean. This process can be tricky due to variables such as currents, weather, and the inevitable equipment glitches. A clouded over satellite, a misread latitude, or a tipped over stand make this otherwise fun diving job challenging at times.

On day 2 of our cruise we serviced several of these probes. We took a small dive boat out to sets of coordinates where a VR2 had been placed on previous missions. From there our dive teams went down with the new VR2s and came back with the old. Once the used probes are brought to the lab, the data is moved to a computer for analysis. From here we can map the fishes’ activities by tying the location of the VR2s to a geocoded map created by the bathymetric maps generated by the hydrography crew (I’ll write about that later). One additional point of interest is that the unique tag ID that each fish gets is searchable by other marine researchers in similar projects around the world. We can identify fish tagged from other projects that happen to travel, migrate or wander this way and our fish from the Keys can be located by others.

Member of the dive team servicing a VR2 receiver stand (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)
Member of the dive team servicing a VR2 receiver stand (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)

Today we also set out traps in promising

Member of the dive team checking trap and selecting fish for acoustic tagging and release. (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)
Member of the dive team checking trap and selecting fish for acoustic tagging and release. (Photo by Kelsey Jeffers, NOAA)

locations. These are specially designed devices that have been approved by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary specifically for this research project. Commercial or recreational trapping of fish has been banned for over 20 years. Remember the tagged fish? With these traps we hope to catch some grouper and snapper, key fish species in the Keys ecosystem. Once caught in these baited traps the fish may receive a transmitter to begin their role in the study. While it is easier for humans to do surgery on the surface, it is easier for the fish if it is done in the water. Amazingly, most of the implantations are done at the trap site, sometimes up to 100 feet deep!


Personal Log

These is the emergency gear affectionately referred to as a Gumby Suit.
This is the emergency gear affectionately referred to as a Gumby Suit.

I have to admit, for someone like me, it is hard to be the green horn. Most of the folks I know can piece together a picture of what working and living at sea would be like. I thought I had a pretty good mental collage going from my bits and pieces and random trivia knowledge. My maritime fantasy world was made of concepts and ideas from many experiences, books, friends and the like. Most of these are small snippets of truths that are sprinkled through all our memories. Drawers opening and closing with the rolling of the waves, portholes, the bustling mess at supper, escape hatches, smoke stacks, life rings. When I heard the “All aboard that’s coming aboard” as we prepared to leave port, the primeval neurons of my childhood sparked. I realized most of my snippets were from Popeye. Ak ak ak ak ak. Passing note, tonight’s wonderful dinner included spinach.

Did You Know?
The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is the smallest of the 7 uniformed services of the United States with just over 300 service members. It is eclipsed by the second smallest service, the United States Public Health Service, which has over 6000 officers.

The Nancy Foster has a Facebook page!  Like it and follow her amazing adventures.

Bill Henske, Introduction, June 8, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
June 14 – June 26, 2015

Mission: Coral Reef Condition Assessment, Coral Reef Mapping, and Fisheries Acoustics Characterizations
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: June 8, 2015

Personal Log

This is a picture of me in the St. Francis Mountains of southeast Missouri doing planning for a student backpacking trip.
This is a picture of me in the St. Francis Mountains of southeast Missouri doing planning for our middle school summer field study class.

As a middle school teacher, I often think about the experiences I had through my education that brought me to where I am now – what led to my passion for science and exploration.  Giving students experiences, experts, and opportunities are essential to promoting a lifelong love of learning.  When I learned about the Teacher at Sea  program with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) I eagerly applied.  This is a tremendous opportunity to grow in my capacity as a science teacher, role model, and colleague.  Best of all, it would be an adventure where I would learn lots of new things!

Teacher at Sea bling will come in handy on this June's cruise through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Teacher at Sea bling will come in handy on this June’s cruise through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

I am very lucky to teach and learn at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School in a small, but diverse school district just outside of St. Louis, Missouri.  We have a wonderful program of expeditionary learning at our public school.  Our classrooms go from the watershed of our neighborhood, to the Mississippi valley, to the Appalachian Mountains,  to the Gulf of Mexico.  Through expeditionary learning, we can give students many similar experiences that led us teachers to enter STEM fields.  Through field experiences and connections to scientists, students have opportunities to explore their interests and ignite passions.

This is a photo from 1993 when a friend and I canoed from college in Wisconsin to my home in St. Louis.
This is a photo from 1993 when a friend and I canoed from college in Wisconsin to my home in St. Louis.

One of the important lessons we learn at our school from our study of watersheds during our 7th and 8th grade years is that we are really one giant watershed.  The motto that “We all live downstream” is not just a metaphor for the way that our actions have consequences.  “We all live downstream” is also very literal.  My school community exists in the largest drainage area of North America, the Mississippi River.  Our collective actions, whether they are positive or negative, have quantifiable effects downstream.

The interconnected systems of the hydrosphere, geosphere, and atmosphere also connect all of us humans.  Because these resources are “free”, they have gone a long time through Western history without the respect of economic value.  Students across our country are confronted with the sad statistics of environmental decline.  They are bombarded with figures and facts about the negative trend in marine ecosystems.  What truly drives my and many other teacher’s passion is the opportunity to provide the next generation with the hope of science and research.  These tools will help us define problems and propose solutions that can stop or even reverse the situation.

This June I will be joining the crew of NOAA Ship Nancy Foster.  We will be cruising the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Dry Tortugas region where NOAA scientists will conduct  fish sampling and acoustic tagging in order to determine the connectivity of fish populations between the various geographic entities.  This essential work will help determine the fragmentation or cohesiveness of different populations of marine organisms as habitat is protected but in fragments.  It would be interesting to incorporate this information and the techniques used as we set up our yearly pond study back in Missouri.  Do fish move from one side of the pond to the other?

On this cruise we will also be deploying and installing the Integrated Tracking of Aquatic Animals in the Gulf of Mexico (iTag) array network.  This system will help monitor the movement of marine organisms to determine larger scale movement of different populations and species.  I can see this project leading to classroom lessons on population biology, genetics, and even speciation.  The complexity of interactions between hundreds of species and dozens of distinct populations is truly astounding.  Our scientists policy makers are often asked to distill this complexity down to a harvest number or population level. I want to bring back to my students the important role science has in, not only explaining the world around us but, shaping our future and helping develop or maintain the world we want.

Area of June NOAA cruise on the Nancy Foster
Area of June 2015 NOAA cruise on the Nancy Foster

I am so excited to be a part of the Teacher at Sea program and cannot wait to share my work and experiences with my students and school community.  Every year we take our 8th grade class to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab where we study the marine science that others have discovered.  This August, when I go back to the regular classroom, I will be one of the folks who helped make those discoveries!

As I finish this entry, I am thinking about how the coral, sponges, and mollusks of the Gulf will soon be filtering through the water that we floated through last week on the 11 Point River, here in Missouri.  The water flows so easily and generously from the ground that an unfortunate majority here take its presence for granted.  The water carried little bits of all of us, a connection, as it traveled its thousand plus miles to the ocean.  On Saturday, June 14, I cycle myself through the atmosphere and hydrosphere to begin my adventure as a Teacher at Sea.  Check back regularly for updates on our mission aboard the Nancy Foster and a taste of life on a research vessel.

My students and I became part of the watershed this past week, floating towards the sea along Greer Spring Branch in southern Missouri.

My students and I found a great way to cool off last week in Missouri.  How long can you stand the 55º F spring water?

Michael Wing: The Ocean Is Our Front Yard, May 20, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 26, 2015

Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey
Geographical Area: Northern California coast
Date: May 9, 2015

Science and Technology Log

If you live in the San Francisco Bay area, you’ve seen our “front yard” many times. You have looked west while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, walked on a beach and faced into the wind, maybe even gone on a whale watching trip. How well do we know it? Besides the fog and wind, the whales and waves, what’s out there? After living here for two decades, I’m going to find out.

What's it like out there?
What’s it like out there?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency of the federal government. They’re the people who run the National Weather Service, among other things. They also do oceanographic research, and through their Teacher at Sea Program they place teachers on oceanographic ships. I am one of those fortunate teachers.

I work at Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, California. Lots of NOAA Teachers at Sea get on an airplane, fly to a distant city, board a big ship and cruise hundreds of miles out to sea; but my experience will be very local. I will never be more than about fifty miles from my house, as the gull flies. In fact, Sir Francis Drake High School is the closest major school to the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, where a lot of my time will be spent. I will also be working the waters of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. A marine sanctuary is sort of like a national park that is underwater.

The cruise I will be on is a routine one; part of a scientific program called the Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS). The California Current is a cold, south-running current; part of a global circulation pattern called the North Pacific Gyre. Upwelling of deep ocean water keeps it fertile. There used to be very productive commercial fishing here, before we caught too many fish in the 20th century. There are still lots of plankton, birds, and marine mammals. The ACCESS cruises happen three or four times each year. We sample, count and/or measure seawater temperature and salinity, plankton, krill, birds and whales and other marine mammals. This way we’ll know the ecological health of our front yard.

Our Front Yard
Our Front Yard

The boat I will work on is specially designed for this environment. NOAA has oceanographic vessels hundreds of feet long for offshore studies, but I will be on the R/V Fulmar, an aluminum-hulled catamaran only 67 feet long. She is technically a “small boat” and not a ship at all. She is fast and stable and six people can sleep on board, as I will. “R/V” stands for “Research Vessel.” A fulmar is a seabird that looks like a stocky gull. It spends nearly all of its life at sea. Northern Fulmars fish in the waters of the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries. A catamaran is a boat with two side-by-side hulls instead of one. My jobs will include standing watches, doing science, housekeeping chores and keeping this log.

Personal Log

What do I hope to get out of this? We do a plankton lab at my school, but it is very basic. I should be more of a plankton expert after this experience. I have been interested in the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary ever since Drake High became a NOAA Ocean Guardian School last year. We picked up hundreds of pounds of marine plastic debris on the beaches of the Point Reyes National Seashore and analyzed where it comes from. A lot of it is related to commercial crabbing and fishing and international shipping. Also, I and my students read flipper tags on northern elephant seals for the National Park Service, and our seals swim though these waters. So, I’ll keep an eye out for floating plastic and elephant seals.

Really, though, I can’t yet know what this experience will lead to. Serendipity is a guiding principle for most scientists; the word implies luck, chance, surprise, and the wisdom to respond appropriately to the unexpected. It means spotting opportunities and following up on them. Since I’m so local, maybe there will be a way to get a new collaboration going with NOAA. Maybe just being in a new environment with new people will make me think outside of my daily grind. All of my best ideas have come to me while traveling.

Unlike practically every other teacher in the world, I have the same students two years in a row. So if you are one of my wonderful ninth graders now, you will be one of my wonderful tenth graders when I come back from this experience. So, to my wonderful ninth graders now (and ninth-graders-to-be): Follow this blog in July! Post a comment, question, or idea. We’re going to follow up in the fall.

Did you know that Sir Francis Drake missed discovering the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay when he sailed these waters in 1579? (The “Golden Gate” is the channel of water that the bridge crosses over; there was a Golden Gate long before there was a bridge.) We shouldn’t criticize him too harshly for that because the Spanish sailed past the Golden Gate every year for 250 years without seeing it or discovering the bay! Apparently, it doesn’t look like much from out at sea.

Amy Orchard: Days 9-13 – Conch, NOAA Corps, Seining, & Mission Stats, September 27, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Conchs Surveys and Fish Seining
Geographical area of cruise: Marquesas Keys Wildlife Management Area
Date: September 22-26, 2014

Weather: September 25, 2014 17:00 hours
Latitude 24° 27 N
Longitude 82° 14 W
Broken clouds, Lightening, Funnel Clouds
Wind speed 7 knots.
Air Temperature: 28° Celsius (82.4° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 29.9° Celsius (85.8°Fahrenheit)

MONDAY

Typical Day

Today started as it has every other day – up at 5:15 am, a trip to the gym, 30 minutes of yoga under the stars on the “Steel Beach” on the top deck of the ship, a sunrise and a delicious breakfast by Lito & Bob.

Then science begins at 7:30 am and usually goes till 7:30 pm or later if I am writing, studying fish identification books or asking a million questions of the scientists!

Conch

Today I began with small boat trip to assist the conch scientists Bob and Einat (pronounced A KNOT)  Their surveys will be the same all week (in different locations)  They drop a weight tied to a rope with a bouy and dive flag on top.  They dive down the line and survey four transects, to the north, south, east then west.  Each transect is 30 meters by 1 meter.  They only count the Queen Conch within that defined area.  Then they come back up the line and move to the next site.  They have already made 270 dives this summer alone.  Einat told me they may dive up to 11 times a day!  I’m not sure Einat’s hair ever dries out.

measuring tool
This is the tool used to measure the lip (or the curled up front part of their shell) The largest slot would indicate a sexually mature adult, the middle; a young adult and the skinniest (TL stands for Thin Lip) for the youngest.

Einat on the transect line
Here you can see Einat as she glides along the measuring tape which marks the area of study. In her hand she holds a measuring caliper and her clipboard (which she can write on underwater!)

Einat measuring conch lip
Einat measuring a Queen Conch with her measuring tool.

NOAA Corps

While our coxswain ENS Conor Maginn and I waited for Bob and Einat, I asked lots of questions about the http://www.noaacorps.noaa.gov/about/about.html  As I have mentioned before, I am impressed with the character, quality and kindness of everyone on board.  I truly hope I am able adequately convey the experiences I have had to my Junior Docents and Earth Campers and perhaps inspire many of you to look into NOAA as a career option.  It’s very possible my career would have taken a different direction if I had known about the NOAA Corps earlier in my life.

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.  They are not trained for military action, but rather for positions of leadership and command in the operation of ships and aircraft which support scientific research.  Conor told me about his training which included leadership, 1st Aid and CPR, firefighting, navigation, seamanship and radar.   In addition to the 320 officers in the Corps, there are 12,000 civilian employees; some of these positions do not require an advanced college degree.

Seems like a wonderful agency to work for with great benefits such as seeing the world and supporting scientific data collection which leads to making the world a better place.

Stowaway

Stowaway
We had a stowaway today! It seemed really exhausted once it had finally caught up with the ship. Seems that a storm is blowing in, perhaps it got knocked off course. Can you identify what type of bird this is?

 

TUESDAY 

More on Conch

Einat was happy to have me out on the boat with them again.  She claims I am a lucky charm because the only time they have found conch on their surveys has been while I am aboard.  Perhaps I should become a conch whisperer.

really pink conch
I took this photo last week of a Queen Conch at Fort Jefferson. Bob was surprised how pink & purple it was. They get their color from the algae they eat.

Queen Conch have an average life span of 8-11 years, although some in the Bahamas have been aged up to 40 years old.  About the only way to age them is to date the corals which grow on their backs.  They are herbivores which graze mostly on red algae.  They are docile and Bob says “very sweet animals”.  Bob and Einat are surveying to collect more information about their population densities as they will not reproduce unless there are enough numbers in one location.  The Queen Conch is a candidate for the Endangered Species Act.  Harvesting of conch has been illegal in Florida and its adjoining waters since 1986.  This is a big deal because collecting conch for meat, fishing bait and their beautiful shells has been an important part of the Florida Keys since the early 19th century.

When all conditions are just right, a Queen Conch will lay 400,000 eggs at once, called an egg mass.  Only 1 in 8 million of these eggs will survive to adulthood.  Many efforts are being made to help their populations increase including raising for release into the wild.  Bob told me that they have even taught these captive-raised conch how to avoid predation so when they are released they can survive.

conch with egg mass
Bob and Einat were very excited to see Queen Conch laying egg masses. Understandably so since the eggs hatch 5 days after being laid, there is a very short time frame in which to see this in the wild.

I try to be as helpful on the small boats as I can be.  Here is a slide show of me working really hard to pull the weight dive flag back to the boat.

 

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WEDNESDAY 

Receiver Data Retrieval

Today the divers retrieved acoustic receivers from the ocean floor which have been out for a year in order to bring the data top side for analysis.

The work the FWC has been doing in this area has been vital to providing the data necessary to show that these reserves act as connected highways essential to numerous species of fish and to justify the creation of these large ecological reserves which closed 150 square miles to commercial and private fishing.  Their data shows an increase in both the abundance and size of at least 4 species of fish in the protected areas where there was a decrease or no change at all in the non-protected areas in the same region.

It has been fulfilling to give a hand in collecting this critical data.

THURSDAY

Seining

The small boat took us to the Marquesas Islands today for some seine netting.  The fish biologists were not sure what to find since they don’t have opportunities to get this far out.  They were especially pleased to see Lane Snapper since they rarely find them.  We also saw 17 other fish species.  These mangrove islands are crucial habitat for juvenile fish.  Many species will spend the beginning of their lives in the sea grass beds near the islands, seek refuge as they grow within the mangroves and then head out to deep waters to live their lives as large adults.

Best thing to happen today – I finally saw a sea turtle!  They surface only occasionally but then dive back down so quickly that it is really hard to get a photograph of them, therefore no photo to share, but it is certainly a wonderful memory I will keep with me forever.

Dominoes King

The game was on again at the end of the second week.  The science team lost its crown.  The Commanding Officer of our ship LCDR Jeff Shoup won the championship and thus the crown stays on the Nancy Foster – right where it is meant to be.

Dominoes King
Commanding Officer of our ship LCDR Jeff Shoup – reigning Mexican Train winner

FRIDAY

We pulled into Key West a day early, giving me plenty of time to finish up my writing and collect some statistics from our 13 day scientific cruise:

  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission personnel – 10
  • Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Personnel – 7
  • University of North Carolina at Wilmington Remotely Operated Vehicle Operators – 2
  • Nancy Foster Officers – 9
  • Nancy Foster Crew – 14
  • Teacher at Sea – 1
  • Media Reporter at Sea – 1
  • ROV Operations – 14 hours and 20 minutes underwater
  • ROV digital stills – 957
  • ROV longest dive – 4 hours and 10 minutes
  • ROV deepest dive – 128 meters (420 feet)
  • Multibeam seafloor mapping distance – 787.9 linear nautical miles
  • Dives – 167
  • Fish surgeries performed- 8
  • Acoustic Receivers exchanged – 6
  • New Acoustic Receivers Installed – 5
  • Reef Fish Visual Census (or fish counts) – 40 dives on 11 stations
  • Seine Net pulls – 5
  • Number of species of fish counted in seines – 18 species
  • Total fish counted during seining – 290
  • Conch surveys- 14
  • Conch measured – 57
  • Conch females laying eggs – 2
  • Egg masses – 1
  • Facebook Reach on the FKNMS Account with Cruise Posts as of 8:15 on 9/26/2014:  528,584
  • Laughs – lots!
  • Fun had – tons!
  • Days/Nights of sea sickness for Amy – 0
  • Number of accidents- 0

Mission was a success!

Challenge Your Observational Skills

Can you find the fish in this photo?  Hint, it is NOT yellow!

hide and seek
You will have to zoom in to find this itty, bitty fish. Good luck finding it!

NOTE:  Scott Donahue, Chief Scientist for this cruise, actually found TWO fish in this photo!  Can you find them both?  He has a good eye!

BONUS QUESTION:  Can you identify the fish in the photo once you find them?

Answer to the last blog’s question:  Goliath Grouper is no longer being considered for Endangered listing because their populations have recovered due to a fishing ban.

Definition of the word EXTIRPATED:  Completely removed from an area.

 

Sunset at port - Key West
Sunset at port – Key West

The sun has set on my adventure, now it’s back to Arizona.  I leave better educated, but with plenty of questions to still find answers to.  I leave more inspired.  I am a better scientist, educator and a better person because of my Teacher At Sea experience.

A heart-felt “Thank You!” goes out to each and every person who made it possible for me.

Amy Orchard: Day 7 & 8 – ROV, Multibeam, New Scientists, More Dolphins, September 22, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Deep Habitat Classification
Geographical area of cruise: Tortugas Ecological Reserve and surrounding non-reserve area
Date: September 21 & 22, 2014

Weather: September 22, 2014 20:00 hours
Latitude 24° 25.90 N Longitude 83° 80.0 W
Few clouds, clear
Wind speed 10 knots
Air Temperature: 28.5° Celsius (83.3° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 29.9° Celsius (86° Fahrenheit)

CLICK ON THE SMALL PHOTOS TO MAKE THEM LARGER

SATURDAY:

The ROV

All week we have had the privilege of using the Remotely Operated Vehicle.  This model is the Mohawk 18.  It has two cameras, one that provides still photographs and the other takes high-definition video.  Both are geo-referenced so we know exactly which latitude and longitude we are working.

It has an amazing maneuverability and gets around, over and under things quite quickly.  The footage is sent back up aboard in real time via a long fiber optic umbilical cord.

This amazing piece of equipment has allowed us to see down to depths that the divers would not have been able to reach.  It has also allowed us lengthy bottom times that the divers would not have been able to sustain.  Most of the divers have been trained to dive with double air supply tanks, which affords them more bottom time, but the ROV can stay down for hours and hours at a time.  The only limitation is the stress it puts on the pilots. Jason and Lance, our pilots, said that a four hour dive is about all they can run at a time without getting extremely crossed-eyed and need a break!  However, they are troopers and we have been doing multiple ROV dives each day, some lasting up to 4 hours.

Here are some fun things we have seen.

The last ROV dive of our day (& this cruise) was to a 56’ shrimp boat wreck which was down 47 meters (154 ft) just along the boundary of the North Reserve.  We saw nine Goliath Groupers (Epinephelus itajara) all at once.  Groups of these fish are often seen on wrecks, but the scientists were a bit surprised about the high density on such a small boat.  Due to over fishing of the Goliath Grouper, about twenty years ago, a moratorium was placed on fishing them and they were being considered for Endangered Status.  After just 10 years, a significant increase in population size was observed.  It’s still illegal to bring them over board but they are not on the Endangered Species list.  Juveniles live in the mangroves but adults live in deeper waters where our scientists were able to observe them with the ROV.

During the last 6 days we spent 14 hours and 20 minutes underwater with the ROV.  The entire time was recorded in SD and the scientists recorded the most significant events in HD.  They also sat at the monitors the entire time snapping still shots as often as they saw things they wanted photos of.  957 digital stills were taken.  The longest dive was 4 hours and 10 minutes.  Our deepest dive was 128 meters (420 feet!)

The screen on the left shows the map of the area the ROV is surveying.

These maps were created by the Multibeam Echo Sounder (MBES) The ROV depends on the MBES as do the fish scientists.  Without these maps, the ROV would not know where to dive and the fish scientists would not know where to conduct their research.  The MBES gives the fish scientists a wider view of the terrain than they can get on their own by SCUBA diving in smaller areas.

Multibeam Sonar

The Multibeam Echo Sounder (MBES) uses SOund NAvigation and Ranging (Sonar) to create high-definition maps of the sea floor and it’s contours (as well as other objects such as shipwrecks) by shooting sound waves (from 512 sonic beams) down to the seabed and then listening as they reflect back up to the ship.

cartoon of MBES
On the Nancy Foster, the Multibeam Echo Sounder sends down 512 sonic beams and listens as they return. Image courtesy of NOAA

This is very similar to the way a topographic (topo) map represents the three-dimensional features (mountain and valleys) of the land above water.  Instead of using contour lines to show variations in relief, MBS uses color to depict the bathymetry (submarine topography)  Red shows the shallowest areas, purple the deepest.

Another important element of the MBES for the fish researchers is called backscatter.  This byproduct of the sonar action wasn’t always collected.  Not until advances in technology allowed for an understanding of how to gather useful information from the backscatter did technicians realized how valuable it can be.  Backscatter is the amount of acoustic energy being received by the sonar after it is done interacting with the seafloor.  It is now recognized that the information from backscatter can determine substrate type.  Different types of substrate will “scatter” the sound energy differently. For example, a softer bottom such as mud will return a weaker signal than a harder bottom, like rock.

Layering together the multibeam data (which provides seafloor depth information and is computed by measuring the time that it takes for the signal to return to the sonar) with the backscatter, provides information which is especially helpful to fish researchers as it can assist them in classifying habitat type.  This allows them to know where they might find the species of fish they are looking to study.

Engine Room

Tim Olsen, Chief Engineer, toured Camy and I through the engine room.  It was overwhelming how many wires, cranks, moving parts and metal pieces there were.  Tim and the other engineers are brilliant.  I can not fathom what it takes to keep this 187 foot ship going with it’s multiple cranes, winches, engines, thrusters, small boats, air conditioners, toilets, kitchen appliances, etc.

I was most interested in the water systems.  The ship makes all its own drinking water since salt water is non-potable and it would take a lot of storage space to carry fresh water (space its tight on a ship!)  They have two systems.  One is a reverse osmosis system which, using lots of pressure, moves sea water through a membrane to remove the salts.  This system produces 1500 gallons of potable water a day. The second one is a flash distiller.  In this system, seawater is heated by the engine and then pumped into a vacuum chamber where it is “flashes” into water vapor which is condensed and collected.  The distilling system makes 1800 gallons a day aboard the Nancy Foster.  Distillers, in some form, have been used on ships since the 1770s.

The other thing that caught my attention was the sewage treatment system.  Earth Campers, this one is a bit smaller than the one we toured!

 

sewage treatment "plant"
sewage treatment “plant”

Of course, I also took a ride out in one of the small boats to assist the divers.  Sometimes all I do is fill out the dive log and pull the buoys back into the boat but I really enjoy being out in the open ocean, feeling the sea spray in my face and watching the light move across the top of the water.

Amy on boat
I always am happy to get out on the little boats!

Mexican Train

This week Tim has been coming around every now and then wearing his Domino King’s crown and cape, reminding us all to come challenge him to a game of Mexican Train (a fun dominos game).

Mexican Train
Mexican Train is played by building runs on each others dominoes. There has been some fun and some definite sassy times.

 

Tim has won every tournament game on the Nancy Foster in the last three months and has the bling to show for it! Then tonight, to the surprise of all, one of the scientists, Mike, dethroned the king!  This was the first time ever that a member of the science team has won the championship game.

SUNDAY:

Today was a fairly quiet day.  Not too much science was done except setting out a few more fish traps.

The big news was that we steamed back to Key West and made a science crew change.  We said goodbye to Jason, Lance & the ROV as well as Sean, Brett, Linh, Alejandro, Ariel, Ben and Camy.  They will all be missed.  Be sure you see Camy’s Miami Herald news articles–the first: (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/florida-keys/article2113805.html); and second: (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/florida-keys/article2500074.html)

New Scientists

We welcomed aboard NOAA’s Mary Tagilareni, Deputy Superintendent for Operations & Education and Beth Dieveney, Deputy Superintendent for Science & Policy as well as Lonny Anderson, our new dive master.  From the FWC, Bill Sympson, Biological Scientist, as well as our conch biologists Bob Glazer, Associate Research Scientist and Einat Sandbank, Biological Scientist.

Ship Propeller 

Also while in port, a few of the crew dived under the ship to check for any calcium carbonate secreting critters that may be growing on the transducer.  While down there, they found some lobster pot line that had caught on the propeller.

Sam dives under ship
Samantha Martin, Senior Survey Technician, is seen here diving to remove the lobster pot line. Again and again I was incredibly impressed with the NOAA crew. Their skill set was so vast. Sam not only runs the multibeam system but also dives, loads the small boats on & off the ship, drives the small boats and just about anything that needs done. This was the same for all the crew members. Photo taken by Sam’s diving buddy, the Commanding Officer, LCDR Jeff Shoup.

More Dolphins

To end the evening, a pod of dolphins can by again and Ensign Conor Maginn caught this video.

WORD OF THE DAY:  Extirpated

BONUS QUESTION:  Tell me about any Sonoran Desert species which were once being listed as Threatened or Endangered (or were being considered to be listed) and then had their populations recover.

Answer to the quiz from the last blog:  Lion Fish are INVASIVE.

IMG_7087

Amy Orchard: Day 4, 5 & 6 – Tagging, Gumby suit, Lion Fish Dish and Fort Jefferson, September 19, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Fish Tagging
Geographical area of cruise: Tortugas Ecological Reserve North & South sections: Tortugas Bank
Date: September 17, 18, 19, 2014

Weather, September 19, 2014 20:00 hours
Latitude 24° 35’ 07’’N Longitude 83° 01’ 09’’W
Broken clouds, clear.
Humidity 10%.
Wind speed 7 knots.
Air Temperature: 29° Celsius (84° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 30.2° Celsius (86.7°Fahrenheit)

CLICKING ON THE SMALL PHOTOS WILL ENLARGE THEM & REVEAL HIDDEN TEXT.

WEDNESDAY:

Resetting Traps

We did not have great success with the shrimp bait.  Guess these fish prefer their shrimp au naturel where as we gave them cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp.  This morning we set out again in the small boats so the divers could re-bait the traps with squid instead.

Ariel the Scientist
Finally Ariel looks much more like a scientist now that she has a pen in her pocket!

Safety on the ship

Safety always comes first on the Nancy Foster.  We have had briefings on safety, we wear hard hats while the cranes are moving, we wear closed toe shoes (except when in the shower) and we have had fire drills & first aid emergency drills.  Today we had an abandon ship drill.  First we each arrived at our muster stations (our assigned place to meet), then we climbed into our Survival Suits (nicknamed the Gumby suit.)  This is made of very thick neoprene, probably 7-9 millimeters thick, and covers you from head to toe to fingertips.  It is meant to keep you safe from hypothermia if you were overboard for a long period of time.

After wriggling back out, we went to find our assigned life raft.  There are 6 rafts which each hold 25 people.  There is enough bunk space on the ship for 37 people, so there are plenty of life rafts for all.  Three rafts sit on each side of the ship so even if the ship was under water listing to one side, we could still access enough rafts for all.

In addition to the Survival Suit, Nick thought he would be safer being more visible so he wore a few extra items to ensure his safety!

Nick fuzzy hat w/ bow & cool googles
Nick has a horde of awesome hats. Keep your eyes peeled for more.

Dancing with the Remotely Operated Vehicle

Part of each day has been spent looking underwater with the Remotely Operated Vehicle piloted by Lance Horn and Jason White from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (yet another partner in this 14-day collaboration)

ROV pilots
Lance Horn and Jason White are geniuses with the Remotely Operated Vehicle. There are lots of very highly technical parts to this equipment and they do it all – and they do it well.

I will be sharing lots more information about the ROV in an upcoming post.  Today I wanted you to see who else besides scientists are curious about the ROV (the large instrument with the yellow top you see in the video here)

THURSDAY:

Fish Surgery

We checked traps again this morning and had success with the squid.  The dive teams will perform surgery today!  The surgery only takes about 10 minutes, which may seem quick, but since they are underwater at a depth of about 100 feet, they must work quickly so as to not run out of their air supply.  One scientist (usually Paul Barbera, FWC Associate Scientist – who they call the Fish Whisperer) will hold the fish steady while another will make the incision, insert the acoustic transmitter and then stitch up the incision. The stitches will dissolve in about a week or two.  The acoustic transmitter (fish tag) will last 2-5 years.  Life span of the tag is determined by it’s battery life.  The smaller tags (for smaller fish) can last 2 years and the larger tags (for larger fish) will work for about 5 years.  This allows the scientists to gather information on the same fish for multiple years, giving them a really good idea of their seasonality – or the fish’s movements between different areas, both protected an unprotected.

fish tags
Acoustic Transmitters – Fish Tags which will be surgically placed in the fish at a depth of about 100 feet. Here you can see the smaller ones are about 4 cm and the larger 6.5 cm

This footage was not shot during our cruise, but Ben Binder, FWC Biological Scientist, shared this video with me describing the surgery process.  Here you will see two scientists who are aboard the Nancy Foster with me.  Paul is securing the fish and Mike McCallister, FWC Biological Scientist, is performing the surgery.  They are working with a Lion Fish here.

Placing the fish tag is just one part of the process of collecting the data the scientists are hoping to gather.  The second part is to place an instrument which can read the acoustic transmitter as it swims past (within the fish of course!)  Danielle Morley, FWC Assistant Research Scientist, and I worked to prepare some previously used acoustic receivers.  Each of the 90 receivers the FWC have placed in the waters off the Florida Keys costs about $2500.  Therefore, used receivers are reprogrammed, repainted with anti-fouling paint and used again.  Anti-fouling paint makes it very difficult for animals like barnacles to build their calcium carbonate skeletons on the receiver’s exposed top.  The receivers are made up of a hydrophone, a circuit board and a battery.  I replaced the batteries and cleaned up the O rings.  The O rings are extremely important as they ensure the capsule is completely water-proof and can be submerged in ocean water for a year at a time.

After a year, the batteries need replaced and the data needs retrieved.  Today, the divers will retrieve 6 acoustic receivers on Riley’s Hump and replace them with those we reprogrammed.  This is footage of our divers (Jeff, Sean and Colin) making the swap.  Thanks to Cammy Clark, the Miami Herald reporter, who dived down about 100 feet to capture the action.

FRIDAY:

Trap Retrieval

Over the last 5 days, there have been 65 dives and 3 surgeries performed.  The scientists deem this as very successful trip.  Additionally, all divers returned safely to the ship after each dive!  This morning the divers are retrieving the traps, which like the receiver stands are allowed by a special permit from the FKNMS.  Even if conditions did not allow us to get the traps and they needed to stay at the bottom, no fish would be caught for very long.  Each trap is closed with a zinc clip that will dissolve after a week or two.

Zinc Clips
Zinc clips keep the traps closed, but only temporarily. They dissolve after a week or two allowing any fish to escape if a trap has to be abandoned due to weather or other conditions.

The large fish we are trapping can easily stay down in a trap that long.  But today, the weather allowed us to retrieve the traps.

Along with the traps, Ben and Ariel brought five Lion Fish Pterois volitans back up.

 

Lion Fish are not naturally found here.  They are native to the Indo-Pacific.  It has not been determined exactly how they got to the area but they are very popular for home aquariums.  However, since they are voracious predators, after eating all their other aquarium fish, people have been dumping them in the Atlantic Ocean for decades.  It was decided that efforts to eradicate the species would be futile since they are prolific breeders, have no natural predators and have been found in extremely deep waters where it would be unfeasible to reach them.  Instead, there are large efforts to manage their populations in certain areas.

One does need to be extremely careful as they have venomous spines – 13 along the top (dorsal spines) and 3 along the bottom (anal spines)  The pain they inflict & the reaction people can have when stung sounds very similar to the bark scorpion.

 

I found out they are SUPER tasty!  Especially since Bob Burroughs, 2nd Cook and Lito LLena, Chief Steward prepared them as ceviche – my favorite.

 

Fort Jefferson

In the afternoon we got a special treat.  We left the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and ferried over to Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas National Park for a tour and some snorkeling.  One can only reach the fort by boat or sea plane.  It was built between the years 1846 and 1875 as a way to claim the main shipping channel between the Gulf of Mexico, the western Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean.  It never saw battle, mostly because it’s fire power was so massive that no one wanted to go up against it!

 

Even though I have been able to travel out into the open ocean on the small boats each day, it was SO GOOD to actually get into the water and snorkel around.  So many amazing things to see and take photos of.

 

There were many jelly fish (mostly Moon Jellies) and we all got stung a lot, but the underwater scenery was well worth it.

 

Bonus Points – make a COMMENT and tell me how the LION FISH and the GILA MONSTER are similar!

Answer to my last post:  It was a DOLPHIN.  The Common Bottlenose Tursiops truncatus

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/bottlenosedolphin.htm

Also, the definition of RECIPROCITY is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.

I have been so impressed with the seamless collaboration between the crew & science team as well as the different agencies within the science team.  Everyone gives of themselves so freely for the main goal of the scientific mission.

Amy Orchard: Day 1, 2 and 3 – Cool Scientists, Multibeam, Setting Traps, Cetaceans, September 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Fish Tagging
Geographical area of cruise: Riley’s Hump: Tortugas Ecological Reserve South
Date: September 14, 15, 16, 2014

Weather: September 16, 2014 20:00 hours
Latitude 24° 30’ 30’’N Longitude 83° 09’ 9’’W
Few clouds, clear.  Humidity 10%.
Wind speed 7 knots.
Air Temperature: 28° Celsius (83° Fahrenheit)
Sea Water Temperature: 30.4° Celsius (86.7°Fahrenheit)

SUNDAY:

Getting to Know the Nancy Foster

Scott Donahue, Science Coordinator for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Chief Scientist for this cruise, brought me aboard and gave me a tour of the Nancy Foster early in the day.  Also there was Tim Olsen, Chief Engineer, who I had met on the plane from Atlanta to Key West.  I was overwhelmed with the capacity of the ship.  It is huge and fully equipped for a wide variety of scientific endeavors, diving, mapping, surveying, launching large equipment etc.  I feel lucky to be a part of what is going on.

Click on these two photos for more information

Short Jaunt into Key West

After taking some time to see Key West, I headed back to the ship where I met Cammy Clark from the Miami Herald who will be with us for one week reporting on our experience. Cammy and I spent the night on the ship awaiting the science team to arrive early tomorrow morning.  The ship is in dock so I can’t yet be sure if I will suffer from sea sickness.  However, I hear that there is 100% survival rate if it does occur!

Click on these two photos for more information

MONDAY:

Meeting the Scientists

During the two weeks aboard, I will be working with 10 scientists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), 7 NOAA Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary scientists and 2 ROV pilots from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.  I am excited to be a part this interagency collaboration.  Seems like an efficient way to communicate and share experiences.

Guess which photo shows the scientists I will be working with…

Answer:  PHOTO ON THE RIGHT.  FWC scientists from left to right: Mike McCallister, Jeff Renchen,Danielle Morley, Ariel Tobin (in front), Ben Binder, Paul Barbera.  Not as reserved or stodgy as you might picture a group of scientists, but they are incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated to their work.  They are unbelievably cool people!  They have amazing stories to tell, are easy-going and love to have a good time.  I want to be like them when I grow up!

Preparing to Do Science

One of the many things we will do this week is tagging fish.  To do this, we will travel away from the ship on small boats to set fish traps.  Once the right fish are contained, the dive team will surgically insert an acoustic tag which will allow them to monitor the fish’s movements throughout different reaches of the sanctuary.  This information is important to see the effectiveness of protected areas vs. non-protected areas.

The divers perform this surgery underwater (usually at depths of 95-110 feet) in order to reduce stress on the fish and to avoid air bladder expansion.

Today the divers went out to practice their diving skills before the intense work begins.  I got to travel with them in the small boat.  Even though I am certified to SCUBA dive, only American Academy of Underwater Sciences divers and other divers with official reciprocity are allowed to dive off NOAA ships.  (reciprocity is the word of the day – look it up!)  The diving these scientists do is much more technical than the recreational diving I do in Mexico, but they enjoy it just as much.

Best note of the day:  No sea sickness!  (yet)

dive boat being lowered
The 4 small boats sit on the back deck of the ship and are lowered over the side with a large crane. Once the boat is on the water, we climb down a rope ladder (which is swinging ferociously in the waves!)

me on the small dive boat
The Nancy Foster has four small boats. Three for dive operations and one reserved as a rescue boat. It was exciting to have a different perspective and to see the Nancy Foster out at sea from the small boat. Photo by Linh Nugyen

TUESDAY:

Multibeam Sonar

Last night was the first night I slept on the ship while it was out to sea.  I had a really hard time sleeping as I would awaken every half hour feeling as if I were going to roll over and fall out of my top bunk!  This movement was due to the fact that science is being done aboard the Nancy Foster 24 hours a day.  During the night time, Nick Mitchell and Samantha Martin, the Survey Technicians, are running the Multibeam Sonar which determines ocean depth and creates a map of the sea floor contours.  Using 512  sonic beams, sound is emitted, bounces off the sea bed, then returns to the ship.

See these videos for more information:  http://www.nauticalcharts.noaa.gov/staff/education_animations.htm

The ship would travel out about 3 miles, then turn 180° to make the next pass.  Cruising at about 1 mile every 10 minutes (walking speed) we were turning about every 30 minutes, explaining my rockn’ night!

More on MSB in upcoming posts.

Click on these two photos for more information

Setting Fish Traps

I joined the divers on the small boat to set out the first two traps.  We used cooked and peeled shrimp as bait.  The traps were still empty late afternoon.  Let’s hope they take the shrimp so the tagging can begin!

modified chevron trap
Here sits the modified chevron trap Ben and I will be deploying from our small boat. Divers on a second small boat will follow us, dive down and be sure the trap sits on the ocean floor upright and will set the bait.

trap over board
I am making sure the rope which attaches the float buoys to the trap doesn’t get caught on the boat as the fish trap is deployed into the water. Photo by Nick Mitchell

Here Ben Binder & Survey Technician, Nick Mitchell, record the exact Latitude and Longitude where the trap was set.  Can you figure out the general GPS coordinates for the Tortuga South Ecological Reserve?
Here Ben Binder & Survey Technician, Nick Mitchell, record the exact Latitude and Longitude where the trap was set. Can you figure out the general GPS coordinates for the Tortuga South Ecological Reserve? Need help? Go to http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/

We are focusing on two species during this trip: the Black Grouper and the Cubera Snapper.  These two were selected because they are commercially and recreationally important species.  The FWC’s aim is to monitor the seasonal movement of these species to better understand how the fishes are utilizing the protected areas, as well as those outside of the reserve, so they can make the best management decisions.

I will attach photos of each species that will be taken from the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) in my next blog since this one is getting long…

Challenge Your Understanding

Identify this animal.

I took this photo and video on day 1.  We have seen them each day since!

cetaceans jumping
Am I a porpoise, dolphin or vaquita?

The species in my photo/video is part of the Order Cetacea and the suborder Odontoceti (or toothed whales) which includes the porpoises , dolphins, vaquitas, narwhals and killer whales (to name only a few – there are 67 species in this suborder.)

Go to this website to help you find the correct answer

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/

 

Bonus Points – make a COMMENT and share some information you have found about the VAQUITA.

Cool fact – all members of Odontoceti can echolocate.

Junior Docents – add that to your bat interpretations!

The question from my last post about the relationship between Tucson and the Sea of Cortez could be answered with all of the first four answers.  Glad NO ONE chose the last answer!  The sea is an integral part of our lives no matter how far we live from it.

Amy Orchard: Headed Out to Sea! September 5, 2014

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Amy Orchard
(Soon to Be) Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
September 14 – 27, 2014

Mission: Fish Survey (Cubera Snapper and Black Grouper)
Geographical area of cruise: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Date: September 5, 2014

Pre-Trip Introduction

Greetings from the sunny Sonoran Desert.  My name is Amy Orchard and I live in Tucson, Arizona, USA.  This is a wonderful time of the year to be in the desert.  Although the day-time temperatures can soar into the 100’s (100 degrees F/37.8 degrees C) the monsoon rains are falling and the desert is lush with many hues of green.  Plants that appear to be dead most of the year have sprung alive with a bounty of leaves.  Below is a close up of one of my favorites, the Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)  If you look closely you can see that the stem itself has some green on it as well, this is how they photosynthesize when there isn’t enough water to support leaf growth.

Foquieria splendens - Ocotillo
Desert monsoon rains bring to life plants that appear to be dead the rest of the year. Zoom in to see the chlorophyll present in the STEM of the plant which allows it to photosynthesis when it is too dry to support leaf growth.

I am lucky enough to have my dream job!  Actually, I work two jobs, and both are dreamy.  On the side, for fun and for my personal growth, I teach yoga.  Most of my students are Middle School aged, but I teach K-adult as well.  Yoga is a great way to chill out, become strong and learn to be flexible (physically and mentally.)

My full-time job, the one that opened up this wonderful opportunity to be a Teacher At Sea with NOAA, is as an Education Specialist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  It is an amazing place that is all at once a museum, a zoo, a botanical garden, an art institute and an aquarium.  We only display plants and animals native to the Sonoran Desert Region.  This makes it a very unique place.  I work with live animals such as tarantulas, snakes, hawks, tortoises, toads, porcupines and skunks.

 

Mephitis macroura - Hooded Skunk
Do not worry! He is de-scented.

I also work closely with the wildest of all animals – teenagers!  I run the youth programs at the museum including our Earth Camp summer expeditions and the teen volunteer program – the Junior Docents.  I love working with students in middle school and high school.  They are so curious about the world around them and have a passion to work towards protecting it for the future.  They are eager to learn through my adventures on-board the Nancy Foster.  I will challenge them to increase their understanding of the natural world by providing a “Challenge Your Understanding” section at the end of my posts.  (Prizes for anyone who answers ALL of my questions while on board!)  Feel free to take the challenge questions yourself, even if you aren’t a wild teenager.

Earth Campers at Arches National Park
This rugged group of teens and I traveled the Western United States exploring the issue of water use. We hiked, backpacked, river rafted and drove many, many miles through the beautiful, open lands of Arizona and Utah.

I will miss my family while I am gone.  They are the coolest people on earth… well the Earth Campers and Junior Docents I have worked with over the last 15 years are superbly awesome as well, but my family takes the cake!  I’m not exactly sure that my daughters will miss me very much.  They are busy on their own adventures.  Sonora, my oldest, is in China for 4 months teaching English.  Naomi, a Junior in High School, is attending an Environmental Stewardship boarding school in Northern WI called Conserve School until Christmas.  I hope they will find time to follow my blogs!  And I hope my poor husband will get along without his three ladies to keep him entertained.

Orchard Family
We aren’t always this nicely dressed. We are most often found in biking, hiking or rafting gear.

I am thrilled to have been selected to be a Teacher At Sea.  There were nearly 200 applications this season and only 24 of us were chosen.  It seems like a miracle they picked me.  However it came about, I couldn’t be more honored.  I love learning new things and cannot imagine all the knowledge I will gather aboard my 14-day scientific cruise.  Even though I live in the desert, I am very interested in ocean acidification, sea level rise and melting glaciers.  I understand that the changes happening to our climate affect all of us, no matter how far in-land we live.  I look forward to understanding more about changes in fish populations and coral reef health from my time about the Nancy Foster using ROVs and multi-beam sonar to survey fish populations.  I will be eager to take my new knowledge back to Tucson and enhance the way we share our new aquarium and information about the oceans with the 50,000 visitors to our museum.

You may be wondering why we have an aquarium at a desert museum!  Check out the map below to understand that we have sharks and sea stars in our desert!  It is a part of our landscape, weather systems and culture.  That leads me into the my first Challenge-Your-Understanding question.

Sonoran Desert Region Map
The Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California, is sandwiched right in the middle of our desert.

Challenge Your Understanding

(mark any that apply)

Bonus Points to anyone who adds a comment and defines the word ENDEMIC!

Daniel Rivera: First Day Meeting the Crew, July 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Daniel Rivera

Aboard Research Vessel Fulmar

July 16 – 24, 2014

Mission: Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS)

Geographical Area: Spud Point Marina; Bodega Bay CA.

Date: July 16, 2014

Weather Data from the bridge: N/A (day at port)

 

Science and Technology Log:

This trip is part of an ongoing mission called Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies (ACCESS ) that monitors the ecosystem health of the northern California National Marine Sanctuaries. To determine the health of the ecosystem, scientists collect water samples, perform net tows, and monitor the number and behavior of organisms (birds, mammals, turtles, ships, and marine debris) along predetermined routes, called transects.  A map of the transects we will cover this trip can be found in the picture below.

Transect Lines for the ACCESS Cruise
Transect Lines for the ACCESS Cruise
Caption: The red lines are the transects, the path the ACCESS cruise takes in order to collect samples and monitor organisms.

The vessel used on the ACCESS cruise is called the R/V Fulmar, a 67-foot boat that has been used by NOAA for the past 8 years. The boat has enough sleeping room for 6 scientists and 2 crew. Read more about it here http://www.sanctuarysimon.org/regional_sections/fulmar/.

Personal Log:

Where to begin? I guess the most logical place to start is on shore, when I first meet up with Jan Roletto–the cruise leader for our trip–at the Gulf of the Farallones NMS, Crissy Field office in San Francisco. The cruise leader is responsible for the logistics of the trip: who’s on board, emergency contacts, what transects we will monitor, the ports we will visit, and a host of other responsibilities once we actually leave land. What’s interesting about this cruise is that it’s a collaborative monitoring effort between three groups: The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and Point Blue Conservation Science, all local to the Bay Area. The three groups take turns being the cruise leader; this trip the cruise leader is from the Gulf of the Farallones; the next cruise leader will be from Cordell Bank.

Once we load up our vehicles with the equipment needed for the cruise, we drive the roughly 1.5 hours north to Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay, CA. This is where I first catch sight of our vessel, the R/V Fulmar, and this is where mob (or mobilization) happens, which is short for saying loading all the gear onto the boat. (When we come back to shore on the last day, we will demob, or demobilize.)

Once everything is loaded on board I settle in to my cozy bunk below the bridge, the command center of the ship. On either side of the bridge there is a small set of stairs that leads to a bunk room; I’m staying to the left of the bridge, sleeping on the top bunk. Slightly bigger than a bunk bed from childhood, but without the rails, I w