Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1
Geographic Area: 30 19’ 54’’ N, 81 39’ 20’’ W, 10 nautical miles NE of Jacksonville, Florida
Date: August 9, 2018
Weather Data from Bridge: Wind speed 11 knots, Air Temp: 30c, Visibility 10 nautical miles, Wave height 3 ft.
Science and Technology Log
Sharks have senses similar to humans that help them interact with their environment. They use them in a specific order and rely on each one to get them closer for navigational reasons, and to find any food sources in the area around them. The largest part of the shark’s brain is devoted to their strong sense of smell, so we’ll start there.
snout of Tiger shark
snout of sharpnose shark
Smell– Sharks first rely on their strong sense of smell to detect potential food sources and other movement around them from a great distance. Odor travels into the nostrils on either side of the underside of the snout. As the water passes through the olfactory tissue inside the nostrils, the shark can sense or taste what the odor is, and depending which nostril it goes into, which direction it’s coming from. It is said that sharks can smell one drop of blood in a billion parts of water from up to several hundred meters away.
Sharks can also sense electrical currents in animals from long distances in several ways. Sharks have many electro sensitive holes along the snout and jaw called the Ampullae of Lorenzini. These holes detect weak electrical fields generated by the muscles in all living things. They work to help sharks feel the slightest movement in the water and sand and direct them to it from hundreds of meters away. This system can also help them detect the magnetic field of the earth and sharks use it to navigate as well.
Hearing– Sharks also heavily use their sense of smell to initially locate objects in the water. There are small interior holes behind their eyes that can sense vibrations up to 200 yards away. Sound waves travel much further in water than in the air allowing them to hear a great distance away in all directions. They also use their lateral lines, which are a fluid filled canal that runs down both sides of the body. It contains tiny pores with microscopic hairs inside that can detect changes in water pressure and the movement and direction of objects around them.
Sight– Once sharks get close enough to see an object, their eyes take over. Their eyes are placed on either side of their head to provide an excellent range of vision. They are adapted to low light environments, and are roughly ten times more sensitive to light than human eyes. Most sharks see in color and can dilate their pupils to adapt to hunting at different times of day. Some sharks have upper and lower eyelids that do not move. Some sharks have a third eyelid called a nictitating membrane, which is an eyelid that comes up from the bottom of the eye to protect it when the shark is feeding or in other dangerous situations. Other sharks without the membrane can roll their eyes back into their head to protect them from injury.
Touch– After using the previous senses, sometimes a shark will swim up and bump into an object to obtain some tactile information. They will then decide whether it is food to eat and attack, or possibly another shark of the opposite gender, so they can mate.
Taste– Sharks are most famous for their impressive teeth. Most people are not aware that sharks do not have bones, only cartilage (like our nose and ears) that make up their skeletal system, including their jaw that holds the teeth. The jaw is only connected to the skull by muscles and ligaments and it can project forward when opening to create a stronger bite force. Surface feeding sharks have sharp teeth to seize and hold prey, while bottom feeding sharks teeth are flatter to crush shellfish and other crustaceans. The teeth are embedded in the gums, not the jaw, and there are many rows of teeth behind the front teeth. It a tooth is damaged or lost, a new one comes from behind to replace it soon after. Some sharks can produce up to 30,000 teeth in their lifetime.
Sandbar Shark teeth
Great Hammerhead Shark teeth
While I had a general knowledge of shark biology before coming on this trip, I’ve learned a great deal about sharks during my Teacher at Sea experience aboard the Oregon II. Seeing, observing, and holding sharks every day has given me first hand knowledge that has aided my understanding of these great creatures. The pictures you see of the sharks in this post were taken by me during our research at sea. I could now see evidence of all their features up close and I could ask questions to the fishermen and scientists onboard to add to the things I read from books. As an artist, I can now draw and paint these beautiful creatures more accurately based on my reference photos and first hand observations for the deck. It was amazing to see that sharks are many different colors and not just different shades of grey and white you see in most print photographs. I highly encourage everyone that has an interest in animals or specific areas of nature to get out there and observe the animals and places firsthand. I guarantee the experience will inspire you, and everyone you tell of the many great things to be found in the outdoors.
TAS Stephen Kade with a sharpnose shark
TAS Stephen Kade removes the hook from a sharpnose shark
Animals Seen Today: Sandbar shark, Great Hammerhead shark, Sharp nose shark
Geographic Area: Northwest Hawaiian Island Chain, Just past Mokumanamana (Necker Island)
Date: July 20, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Science and Technology Log:
As promised in Blog Post #3, I mentioned that “Thing number four we deliberately throw overboard” would have a dedicated blog post because it was so involved. Well, grab some popcorn, because the time has arrived!
Thing number 4 we deliberately throw over the side of a ship does not get thrown overboard very often, but when it does, it causes much hubbub and hullaballoo on the ship. I had the unique opportunity to witness one of only ten ocean noise sensors that are deployed in US waters come aboard the ship and get redeployed. These sensors are found all over US waters – from Alaska to the Atlantic. One is located in the Catalina Marine Sanctuary, and still others are hanging out in the Gulf of Mexico, and we are going to be sailing right past one! To see more about the Ocean Noise Sensors, visit the HICEAS website “other projects” tab, or just click here. To see where the Ocean Noise Recorders are, click here.
The Ocean Noise Sensor system is a group of 10 microphones placed in the “SOFAR” channel all over US waters. Once deployed, they collect data for two years in order to track the level of ocean noise over time. It’s no secret that our oceans are getting louder. Shipping routes, oil and gas exploration, and even natural sources of noise like earthquakes all contribute to the underwater noise that our cetacean friends must chatter through. Imagine sitting at far ends of the table at a dinner party with a friend you have not caught up with in a while. While other guests chat away, you and the friend must raise your voices slightly to remain in contact. As the night progresses on, plates start clanging, glasses are clinking, servers are asking questions, and music is playing in the background. The frustration of trying to communicate over the din is tolerable, but not insurmountable. Now imagine the host turning on the Super Bowl at full volume for entertainment. Now the noise in the room is incorrigible, and you and your friend have lost all hope of even hearing a simple greeting, let alone have a conversation. In fact, you can hardly get anyone’s attention to get them to pass you the potatoes. This is similar to the noise levels in our world’s ocean. As time goes on, more noise is being added to the system. This could potentially interfere with multiple species and their communications abilities. Calling out to find a mate, forage for food, or simply find a group to associate with must now be done in the equivalent din of a ticker-tape parade, complete with bands, floats, and fire engines blaring their horns. This is what the Ocean Noise Sensor is hoping to get a handle on. By placing sensors in the ocean to passively collect ambient noise, we can answer two important questions: How have the noise levels changed over time? To what extent are these changes in noise levels impacting marine life?
Many smaller isolated studies have been done on ocean noise levels in the past, but a few years ago, scientists from Cornell partnered with NOAA and the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) and the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab to streamline this study in order to get a unified, global data source of ocean noise levels. The Pacific Marine Environmental Lab built a unified sound recording system for all groups involved in the study, and undertook the deployments of the hydrophones. They also took on the task of processing the data once it is recovered. The HICEAS team is in a timely and geographical position to assist in recovery of the data box and redeploying the hydrophone. This was how we spent the day.
The recovery and re-deployment of the buoy started just before dawn, and ended just before dinner.
Our standard effort of marine mammal observation was put on hold so that we could recover and re-deploy the hydrophone. It was an exciting day for a few reasons – one, it was definitely a novel way to spend the day. There was much to do on the part of the crew, and much to watch on the part of those who didn’t have the know-how to assist. (This was the category I fell in to.)
At dawn, an underwater acoustic command was sent to the depths to release a buoy held underwater attached to the hydrophone. While the hydrophone is only 1000m below the surface seated nice and squarely in the SOFAR channel, the entire system is anchored to the ocean floor at a depth of 4000m. Once the buoy was released, crew members stationed themselves around the ship on the Big Eyes and with binoculars to watch for the buoy to surface. It took approximately 45 minutes before the buoy was spotted just off our port side. The sighting award goes to CDR Stephanie Koes, our fearless CO. A crewmember pointed out the advancement in our technologies in the following way: “We can use GPS to find a buried hydrophone in the middle of the ocean…and then send a signal…down 4000m…to a buoy anchored to the ocean floor…cut the buoy loose remotely, and then actually have the buoy come up to the surface near enough to the ship where we can find it.” Pretty impressive if you think about it.
The buoy was tied to the line that is attached to the hydrophone, so once the buoy surfaced, “all” we had to do was send a fast rescue boat out to retrieve it, bring the buoy and line back to the ship, bring the crew safely back aboard the ship, hook the line up through a pulley overhead and back to a deck wench, pull the line through, take off the hydrophone, pull the rest of the line up, unspool the line on the wench to re-set the line, re-spool the winch, and then reverse the whole process.
Watching the crew work on this process was impressive at least, and a fully orchestrated symphony at best. There were many tyings of knots and transfers of lines, and all crew members worked like the well-seasoned deck crew that they are. Chief Bos’n Chris Kaanaana is no stranger to hauling in and maintaining buoys, so his deck crew were well prepared to take on this monumental task.
Much of the day went exactly according to plan. The buoy was safely retrieved, the hydrophone brought on board, the lines pulled in, re-spooled, and all sent back out again. But I am here to tell you that 4000m of line to haul in and pay back out takes. A Long. Time. We worked through a rainstorm spooling the line off the winch to reset it, through the glare of the tropical sun and the gentle and steadfast breeze of the trade winds. By dinner time, all was back in place, the buoy safely submerged deep in the ocean waters, waiting to be released again in another two years to repeat the process all over again. With any luck, the noise levels in the ocean will have improved. Many commercial vessels have committed to adopting “quiet ship” technology to assist in the reduction of noise levels. If this continues to improve, our cetacean friends just might be able to hear one another again at dinner.
So, I guess it’s pretty fair to say that once you’re a teacher, you’re always a teacher. I could not fully escape my August to May duties onboard, despite my best efforts. This week, I found myself on the bridge, doing a science experiment with the Wardroom (These are what all of the officers onboard as a group are called). How is this even happening, you ask? (Trust me, I asked myself the same thing when I was in the middle of it, running around to different “lab groups” just like in class.) Our CO, CDR Koes, is committed to ensuring that her crew is always learning on the ship.
If her staff do not know the answer to a question, she will guide them through the process of seeking out the correct answer so that all officers learn as much as they can when it comes to being underway – steering the ship, preparing for emergencies, and working with engineers, scientists, and crew. For example, I found out that while I was off “small-boating” near Pilot Whales, the Wardroom was busy working on maneuvering the ship in practice of man overboard scenarios. She is committed to ensuring that all of her staff knows all parts of this moving city, or at a minimum know how to find the answers to any questions they may have. It’s become clear just how much the crew and the entire ship have a deep respect and admiration for CDR Koes. I knew she was going to be great when we were at training and word got out that she would be the CO of this Leg on Sette and everyone had a range of positive emotions from elated to relieved to ecstatic.
As part of this training, she gives regular “quizzes” to her staff each day – many of them in good fun with questions for scientists, crew, engineers, and I. Some questions are nautical “things” that the Wardroom should know or are nice to know (for example, knowing the locations of Material Safety Data Sheets or calculating dew point temperatures), some questions are about the scientific work done onboard, while others are questions about personal lives of onboard members.
It has been a lot of fun watching the Wardroom and Crew seek out others and ask them where they live while showing them their “whale dance” to encourage sightings. It has exponentially increased the interactions between everyone onboard in a positive and productive way.
The other teaching element that CDR Koes has implemented is a daily lesson each day from Monday to Friday just after lunch. All NOAA Officers meet on the bridge, while one officer takes the lead to teach a quick, fifteen minute lesson on any topic of their choosing. It could be to refresh scientific knowledge, general ship operations, nautical concepts, or anything else that would be considered “good to know.”
This sharing of knowledge builds trust among the Wardroom because it honors each officer’s strong suits and reminds us that we all have something to contribute while onboard.
I started attending these lunchtime sessions and volunteered to take on a lesson. So, this past Tuesday, I rounded up some supplies and did what I know best – we all participated in the Cloud in a Bottle Lesson!
The Wardroom had fun (I think?) making bottle clouds, talking about the three conditions for cloud formation, and refreshing their memories on adiabatic heating and cooling. It was a little nerve wracking for me as a teacher because two of the officers are meteorologists by trade, but I think I passed the bar. (I hope I did!)
It was fun to slide back into the role of teacher, if only for a brief while, and served as a reminder that I’m on my way back to work in a few weeks! Thanks to the Wardroom for calling on me to dust up my teacher skills for the upcoming first weeks of school!
Facebook Asks, DeSchryver Answers
I polled all of my Facebook friends, fishing (ha ha, see what I did there?) for questions about the ship, and here are some of the questions and my answers!
Q: LC asks, “What has been your most exciting moment on the ship?”
It’s hard to pick just one, so I’ll tell you the times I was held at a little tear: a) Any sighting of a new species is a solid winner, especially the rare ones b) The first time I heard Sperm Whales on the acoustic detector c) The first time we took the small boat out for UAS operations….annnndddd d) The first time I was on Independent Observation and we had a sighting!
Q: JK asks, “What are your thoughts on the breakoff of Larsen C? And have there been any effects from the Alaskan quake and tsunami?”
We’re actually pretty isolated on board! Limited internet makes it hard to hear of all the current events. I had only briefly heard about Larsen C, and just that it broke, not anything else. I had no clue there was a quake and tsunami! But! I will tell a cool sort of related story. On Ford Island, right where Sette is docked, the parking lot is holding three pretty banged up boats. If you look closely, they all have Japanese markings on them. Turns out they washed up on Oahu after the Japan Tsunami. They tracked down the owners, and they came out to confirm those boats were theirs, but left them with NOAA as a donation. So? There’s tsunami debris on Oahu and I saw it.
Q: NG asks, “Any aha moments when it comes to being on the ocean? And anything to bring back to Earth Science class?”
So many aha moments, but one in particular that comes to mind is just how difficult it is to spot cetaceans and how talented the marine mammal observers are! They can quite literally spot animals from miles away! There are a lot of measures put in place to help the marine mammal observers, but at the end of the day, there are some species that are just tougher than nails to spot, or to spot and keep an eye on since their behaviors are all so different. And as far as anything to bring back to our class? Tons. I got a cool trick to make a range finder using a pencil. I think we should use it!
Q: MJB asks, “Have you had some peaceful moments to process and just take it all in?”
Yes. At night between the sonobuoy launches, I get two miles of transit time out on the back deck to just absorb the day and be thankful for the opportunities. The area of Hawai’i we are in right now is considered sacred ground, so it’s very powerful to just be here and be here.
Q: SC asks, “What souvenir are you bringing me?”
Well, we saw a glass fishing float, and we tried to catch it for you, but it got away.
Q: LC asks, “What’s the most disgusting ocean creature?”
Boy that’s a loaded question because I guarantee if I name a creature, someone out there studies it for a living. But! I will tell you the most delicious ocean creature. That would be Ono. In sashimi form. Also, there is a bird called a Great Frigate bird – it feeds via something called Klepto-parasitism, which is exactly how it sounds. It basically finds other birds, harasses them until they give up whatever they just caught or in some cases until it pukes, and then it steals their food. So, yeah. I’d say that’s pretty gross. But everyone’s gotta eat, right?
Q: KI asks, “Have you eaten all that ginger?”
I’m about two weeks in and I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten about a pound. I’m still working on it!
Q: HC asks, ”Have you seen or heard any species outside of their normal ocean territory?”
Sort of. Yesterday we saw Orca! They are tropical Orca, so they are found in this area, but they aren’t very common. The scientific team was thinking we’d maybe see one or two out of the entire seven legs of the trip, and we saw some yesterday! (I can’t say how many, and you’ll find out why in an upcoming post.) We have also seen a little bird that wasn’t really technically out of his territory, but the poor fella sure was a little far from home.
Q: JPK asks, “What kinds of data have you accumulated to use in a cross-curricular experience for math?”
We can do abundance estimates with a reasonably simplified equation. It’s pretty neat how we can take everything that we see from this study, and use those numbers to extrapolate how many of each species is estimated to be “out there.”
Q: AP asks, “What has surprised you about this trip?”
Many, many things, but I’ll mention a couple fun ones. The ship has an enormous movie collection – even of movies that aren’t out on DVD yet because they get them ahead of time! Also? The food on the ship is amazing. We’re halfway through the trip and the lettuce is still green. I have to find out the chef’s secret! And the desserts are to die for. It’s a wonder I haven’t put on twenty pounds. The crew does a lot of little things to celebrate and keep morale up, like birthday parties, and music at dinner, and shave ice once a week. Lots of people take turns barbecuing and cooking traditional foods and desserts special to them from home and they share with everyone. They are always in really high spirits and don’t let morale drop to begin with, so it’s always fun.
Q: TS asks, “What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done?”
I’ve done lots of exciting things, but the one thing that comes to mind is launching on the small boat to go take photos of the pilot whales. Such a cool experience, and I hope we get good enough weather to do it again while we’re out here! Everything about ship life is brand new to me, so I like to help out as much as I can. Any time someone says, “Will you help with this?” I get excited, because I know I’m about to learn something new and also lend a hand.
The CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) array is another important tool. It goes down at each station, which means data is captured ten-twelve times a day. It drops 50 m/min so it only takes minutes to reach the bottom where other winch/device systems can take an hour to do the same. This array scans eight times per second for the following environmental factors:
Conductivity (converts to salinity in ppt)
Dissolved oxygen (mg/mL)
Descent rate (m/sec)
Sound velocity (m/sec)
There are two sensors for most readings and the difference between them is shown in real time and recorded. For example, the dissolved oxygen sensor is most apt to have calibration issues. If the two sensors are off each other by 0.1 mg/L then something needs to be done.
Software programs filter the data to cut out superfluous numbers such as when the CTD is acclimating in the water for three minutes prior to diving. Another program aligns the readings when the water is working through the sensors. Since a portion of water will reach one sensor first, then another, then another, and so on, the data from each exact portion of water is aligned with each environmental factor. There are many other sophisticated software programs that clean up the data for use besides these two.
These readings are uploaded to the Navy every twelve hours, which provides almost real-time data of the Gulf. The military uses this environmental data to determine how sound will travel through sound channels by locating thermoclines as well as identifying submarines. NOAA describes a thermocline as, “the transition layer between warmer mixed water at the ocean’s surface and cooler deep water below.” Sound channels are how whales are able to communicate over long distances.
The transmissometer measures the optical properties of the water, which allows scientists to track particulates in the water. Many of these are clay particles suspended in the water column. Atmospheric scientists are interested in particulates in the air and measure 400 m. In the water, 0.5 m is recorded since too many particulate affects visibility very quickly. This affects the cameras since light reflecting off the clay can further reduce visibility.
Fluorescence allows scientists to measure chlorophyll A in the water. The chlorophyll molecule is what absorbs energy in photosynthetic plants, algae, and bacteria. Therefore, it is an indicator of the concentration of organisms that make up the base of food chains. In an ecosystem, it’s all about the little things! Oxygen, salinity, clay particles, photosynthetic organisms, and more (most we can not actually see), create a foundation that affects the fish we catch more than those fish affect the little things.
The relationship between abiotic (nonliving) and biotic (living) factors is fascinating. Oxygen is a great example. When nitrates and phosphates wash down the Mississippi River from the breadbasket of America, it flows into the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients can make algae go crazy and lead to algae blooms. The algae then use up the oxygen, creating dead zones. Fish can move higher up the water column or away from the area, but organisms fixed to the substrate (of which there are many in a reef system) can not. Over time, too many algae blooms can affect the productivity of an area.
Salt domes were created millions of years ago when an ancient sea dried up prior to reflooding into what we have today. Some salt domes melted and pressurized into super saline water, which sinks and pools. These areas create unique microclimates suitable to species like some mussels. A microclimate is a small or restricted area with a climate unique to what surrounds it.
Another great example is how geology affects biology. Some of these salt domes collapsed leaving granite spires 30-35 meters tall and 10 meters across. These solid substrates create a magical biological trickle down effect. The algae and coral attach to the hard rock, and soon bigger and bigger organisms populate this microclimate. Similar microclimates are created in the Gulf of Mexico from oil rigs and other hard surfaces humans add to the water.
Jillian’s net also takes a ride with the CTD. She is a PhD student at Texas A&M University studying the abundance and distribution of zooplankton in the northern Gulf of Mexico because it is the primary food source of some commercially important larval fish species. Her net is sized to capture the hundreds of different zooplankton species that may be populating the area. The term zooplankton comes from the Greek zoo (animal) and planktos (wanderer/drifter). Many are microscopic, but Jillian’s samples reveal some translucent critters you can see with the naked eye. Her work and the work of others like her ensures we will have a deeper understanding of the ocean.
Prior to this I had never been to the Gulf of Mexico other than on a cruise ship (not exactly the place to learn a lot of science). It has been unexpected to see differences and parallels between the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of Maine, which I am more familiar. NOAA scientist, John, described the Gulf to me as, “a big bathtub.” In both, the geology of the area, which was formed millions of years ago, affects that way these ecosystems run.
Quote of the Day: Jillian: “Joey, are we fishing at this station?” Joey: “I dunno. I haven’t had my coffee yet.” Jillian: “It’s 3:30 in the afternoon!”
Did You Know?
Zooplankton in the Gulf of Mexico are smaller than zooplankton in the Gulf of Maine. Larger species are found in colder water.
Greetings from New Hampshire! Our variable spring weather is getting me ready for the coolness at sea compared to hot Galveston, Texas, where I will ship off in a few days.
It is currently 50 F and raining with a light wind, the perfect weather to reflect on this upcoming adventure.
Science and Technology Log
I am excited to soon be a part of the 2017 SEAMAP Reef Survey. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) writes the objective of these surveys is, “ to provide an index of the relative abundances of fish species associated with topographic features (banks, ledges) located on the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico in the area from Brownsville, Texas to Dry Tortugas, Florida.” The health of the Gulf is important from an ecological and economic perspective. Good science demands good research.
We will be working 12 hour shifts aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces. I expect to work hard and learn a lot about the science using cameras, fish traps, and vertical long lines. I also look forward to learning more about life aboard a fisheries research vessel and the career opportunities available to my students as they think about their own futures.
I’ve been teaching science in Maine and New Hampshire for eight years and always strive to stay connected to science research. I aim to keep my students directly connected through citizen science opportunities and my own continuing professional development. Living in coastal states, it is easier to remember the ocean plays a large role in our lives. The culture of lobster, fried clams, and beach days requires a healthy ocean.
I love adventure and have always wanted to “go out to sea.” This was the perfect opportunity! I was fortunate to take a Fisheries Science & Techniques class with Dave Potter while attending Unity College and look forward to revisiting some of that work, like measuring otoliths (ear bones, used to age fish). I have also benefited from professional development with The Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and other ocean science experiences. One of the best parts of science teaching is you are always learning!
There was a lot of preparation involved since I am missing two weeks of school. I work at The Founders Academy, a public charter school in Manchester, New Hampshire. We serve students from 30 towns, but about a third come from Manchester. The school’s Vision is to: prepare wise, principled leaders by offering a classical education and providing a wide array of opportunities to lead:
Preparing students to be productive citizens.
Teaching students how to apply the American experience and adapt to become leaders in today’s and tomorrow’s global economy.
Emphasis on building ethical and responsible leaders in society.
I look forward to bringing my experiences with NOAA Teacher at Sea Program back to school! It is difficult to leave my students for two weeks, but so worth it. It is exciting to connect with middle and high school students all of the lessons we can learn from the work NOAA does. My school community has been very supportive, especially another science teacher who generously volunteered to teach my middle school classes while I am at sea.
My boyfriend too is holding down the fort at home and with Stone & Fire Pizza as I go off on another adventure. Our old guinea pigs, Montana & Macaroni, prefer staying at home, but put up with us taking them on vacation to Rangeley, Maine. I am grateful for the support and understanding of everyone and for the opportunity NOAA has offered me.
Did You Know?
NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.
NOAA is the scientific agency of the Department of Commerce. The agency was founded in 1970 by consolidating different organizations that existed since the 1800’s, making NOAA’s scientific legacy the oldest in the U.S. government.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces (In Port)
May 04, 2016 – May 17, 2016
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Saturday, May 7, 2016
Tenacity helps NOAA manage our seafood supply.
Tenacity, otherwise known as perseverance or stamina, is a required skill at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces, we are all anxious to head out to collect data about the type and abundance of reef fish along the continental shelf and shelf edge of the Gulf of Mexico. However, things don’t always go as planned. Much like the animals we study, scientists must rapidly adapt to their changing circumstances. Instead of waiting for a problem to be solved, fisheries biologists of all ages and experience work in the lab, using the newest, most sophisticated technology in the world to meet our demand for seafood.
As I ate dinner tonight in the mess (the area where the crew eats), I stared at the Pisces’ motto on the tablecloth, “patience and tenacity.”
The Pisces is a “quiet” ship; it uses generators to supply power to an electric motor that turns the ship’s propeller. The ship’s motor (or a mysteriously related part) is not working properly, and without a motor, we will not sail. This change of plans provides other opportunities for me, and you, to learn about many fascinating projects developing in the lab. Sound science begins right here at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center Laboratory in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
Kevin Rademacher, a fishery biologist in the Reef Fish Unit, meets me at the lab where he works when he isn’t at sea. As he introduces me to other biologists working in the protected species, plankton, and long line units, I begin to appreciate the great biodiversity of species in the Gulf of Mexico. I get a glimpse of the methods biologists use to conduct research in the field, and in the lab.
While it looks like a regular old office building on the outside, the center of the building is filled with labs where fish are taken to be discovered. Mark Grace, a fisheries biologist in the lab, made one such discovery of a rare species of pocket shark on a survey in the gulf. The only other specimen of a pocket shark was found coast of Peru in 1979. Mark’s discovery raises more questions in my mind than answers.
When I met Mark, he explained that capability of technology to gather data has outpaced our ability to process it. “Twenty years ago, we used a pencil and a clipboard. Think about the 1980s when they started computerizing data points compared to the present time… maybe in the future when scientists look back on the use of computers in science, it will be considered to be as important as Galileo looking at the stars” he said. It’s important because as Mark also explains, “This correspondence is a good example. We can send text, website links, images, etc…and now its a matter of digital records that will carry in to the future.”
How do fishery biologists find fish?
Earth has one big connected ocean that covers the many features beneath it. Looking below the surface to the ocean floor, we find a fascinating combination of continental shelves, canyons, reefs, and even tiny bumps that make unique homes for all of the living creatures that live there. Brandi Noble, one of 30-40 fishery biologists in the lab, uses very complicated sonar (sound) equipment to find “fish hot spots,” the kinds of places fish like to go for food, shelter and safety from predators. Fisheries sonar sends pulses of sound, or pings, into the water. Fishery biologists are looking for a varied echo sound that indicates they’ve found rocky bottoms, ledges, and reefs that snapper and grouper inhabit.
The sonar can also survey fish in a non-invasive way. Most fish have a swim bladder, or a gas filled chamber, which reflects sonar’s sound waves. A bigger fish will create a returning echo of greater strength. This way, fisheries biologists can identify and count fish without hurting them.
Ship Pisces uses a scientific methods to survey, determining relative abundance and types of fish in each area. They establish blocks of habitat along the continental shelf to survey and then randomly sample sites that they will survey with video cameras, CTD (measures temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen in the water), and fishing. Back in the lab, they spend hours, weeks, and years, analyzing the data they collect at sea. During the 2012 SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey, the most common reef fish caught were 179 red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), 22 vermillion snapper (Rhomboplites aurorubens), and 10 red porgy (Pagrus pagrus). Comparing the 2012 data with survey results from 2016 and other years will help policy makers develop fishing regulations to protect the stock of these and other tasty fish.
How do fishery biologists manage all the information they collect during a survey?
Scientists migrate between offices and labs, supporting each other as they identify fish and marine mammals from previous research expeditions.
Our mission, the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey has been broken into four parts or legs. The goal is to survey some of the most popular commercially harvested fish in the Gulf of Mexico. Kevin Rademacher is the Field Party Chief for Leg 1 and Leg 3 of the survey.
Last week, he showed me collections of frozen fish, beetle infested fish, and fish on video. At one point the telephone rang, it was Andrew Paul Felts, another biologist down the hall. “Is it staying in one spot?” Kevin asks. “I bet it’s Chromis. They hang over a spot all the time.”
We head a couple doors down and enter a dark room. Behind the blue glow of the screen sits Paul, working in the dark, like the deep water inhabitants of the video he watches. Paul observes the physical characteristics of a fish: size, shape, fins, color. He also watches its behavior. Does it swim in a school or alone? Does it stay in one spot or move around a lot? He looks at its habitat, such as a rocky or sandy bottom, and its range, or place on the map.
As you watch the video below, observe how each fish looks, its habitat, and its behavior.
To learn about fisheries, biologists use the same strategies students at South Prairie Elementary use. Paul is using his “eagle eyes,” or practiced skills of observation, as he identifies and counts fish on the screen. All the scientists read, re-read and then “read the book a third time” like a “trying lion” to make sense out of their observations. Finally, Paul calls Kevin, the “wise owl,” to make sure he isn’t making a mistake when he identifies a questionable fish.
Using Latin terminology such as “Chromis” or “Homo” allows scientists to use the same names for organisms. This makes it easier for scientists worldwide, who speak different languages, to communicate clearly with each other as they classify the living things they study.
I appreciate how each member of the NOAA staff, on land and at sea, look at each situation as a springboard to more challenging inquiry. They share with each other and with us what they have learned about the diversity of life in the ocean, and how humans are linked to the ocean. With the knowledge we gain from their hard work and tenacity, we can make better choices to protect our food supply and support the diversity of life on Earth.
Crew members tell me that every day at sea is a Monday. In port, they are able to spend time with family and their communities. I have been able to learn a bit about Pascagoula, kayak with locals, and see many new birds like the least tern, swallow tailed kite, eastern bluebird and clapper rail. Can you guess what I ate for dinner last night?
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015
Mission: Shark Longline Survey Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico Date: September 12, 2015
Data from the Bridge Ship Speed: 9.2 knots
Wind Speed: 8.8 knots
Air Temp: 27,7°C
Sea Temp: 30.2°C
Seas: 1-2 meters
Sea Depth: 457 meters
GPS Coordinates Lat: 27 47.142 N
Long: 094 04.264 W
Science and Technology Log On September 8 – 9, we surveyed a number of stations along the Texas and Louisiana coasts that were in shallow water between 10-30 meters (approximately 30-100 feet). Interestingly, the number of sharks we caught at each station varied dramatically. For example, we pulled up 65 sharks at station 136 and 53 sharks at station 137, whereas we caught only 5 sharks at station 138 and 2 sharks at station 139. What could account for this large variance in the number of sharks caught at these locations?
One key factor that is likely influencing shark distribution is the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. Oxygen is required by living organisms to produce the energy needed to fuel all their activities. In water, dissolved oxygen levels above 5 mg/liter are needed for most marine organisms to thrive. Water with less than 2 mg/liter of dissolved oxygen is termed hypoxic, meaning dissolved oxygen is below levels needed by most organisms to thrive and survive. Water with less than 0.2 mg/liter of dissolved oxygen is termed anoxic (no oxygen) and results in “dead zones” where little, if any, marine life can survive.
As part of several missions, including the ground fish and longline shark surveys, NOAA ships sample the levels of dissolved oxygen at survey stations in coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Measurements of dissolved oxygen, salinity, and temperature are collected by a device called the CTD. At each survey station, the CTD is deployed and it collects real-time measurements as it descends to the bottom and returns to the surface.
Environmental surveys demonstrate that large anoxic/hypoxic zones often exist along the Louisiana/Texas continental shelf. Because low dissolved oxygen levels are harmful to marine organisms, the anoxic/hypoxic zones in the northern Gulf of Mexico could greatly impact commercially and ecologically important marine species. Overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that excess organic matter, especially nitrogen, from the Mississippi River drainage basin drives the development of anoxic/hypoxic waters. Although natural sources contribute to the runoff, inputs from agricultural runoff, the burning of fossil fuels, and waste water treatment discharges have increased inputs to many times natural levels.
Nitrogen runoff from the Mississippi River feeds large phytoplankton algae blooms at the surface. Over time, excess algae and other organic materials sink to the bottom. On the bottom, decomposition of this organic material by bacteria and other organisms consumes oxygen and leads to formation of anoxic/hypoxic zones. These anoxic/hypoxic zones persist because waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico become stratified, which means the water is separated into horizontal layers with cold and/or saltier water at the bottom and warmer and/or fresher water at the surface. This layering separates bottom waters from the atmosphere and prevents re-supply of oxygen from the surface.
Since levels of dissolved oxygen can greatly influence the distribution of marine life, we reasoned that the high variation in the number of sharks caught along the Louisiana/Texas coast could be the result of differences in dissolved oxygen. To test this idea, we analyzed environmental data and shark numbers at survey stations along the Louisiana/Texas coast. The graphs below show raw data collected by the CTD at stations 137 and 138.
Putting together shark survey numbers with environmental data from the CTD we found that we caught very high numbers of sharks in hypoxic water and we caught very few sharks in anoxic water. Similar results were observed at station 136 (hypoxic waters; 65 sharks caught) and station 139 (anoxic waters; 2 sharks caught).
What can explain this data? One possible answer is that sharks will be found where there is food for them to eat. Thus, many sharks may be moving in and out of hypoxic waters to catch prey that may be stressed or less active due to low oxygen levels. In other words, sharks may be taking advantage of low oxygen conditions that make fish easier to catch. In contrast, anoxic waters cannot support marine life so there will be very little food for sharks to eat and, therefore, few sharks will be present. While this idea provides an explanation for our observations, more research, like the work being done aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II, is needed to understand the distribution and movement of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.
Personal Log My time aboard the Oregon II is drawing to a close as we move into the last weekend of the cruise. We have now turned away from the Louisiana coast into deeper waters as we travel west to Galveston, Texas. The weather has changed as well. It has been sunny and hot for much of our trip, but clouds, rain, and wind have moved in. Despite this change in weather, we continue to set longlines at survey stations along our route to Galveston. The rain makes our job more challenging but our catch has been relatively light since we moved away from the coast into deeper waters. Hopefully our fishing luck will change as we move closer to Galveston. I would like to wrestle a few more sharks before my time on the Oregon II comes to an end.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015
Mission: Shark Longline Survey Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico Date: September 9, 2015
Data from the Bridge Ship Speed: 9.4 knots
Wind Speed: 6.75 knots
Air Temp: 29.4°C
Sea Temp: 30.4°C
Seas: <1 meter
Sea Depth: 13 meters
GPS Coordinates Lat: N 29 25.103
Long: W 092.36.483
Science and Technology Log The major goal of our mission is to survey shark populations in the western Gulf of Mexico and collect measurements and biological samples. The sharks are also tagged so if they are re-caught scientists can learn about their growth and movements.
Sharks are members of the class of fishes called Chondrichthyes,which are cartilaginous fishes meaning they have an internal skeleton made of cartilage. Within the class Chondricthyes, sharks belong to the subclass Elasmobranchii together with their closest relatives the skates and rays. There are about 450 species of living sharks that inhabit oceans around the world.
Sharks, or better put their ancient relatives, have inhabited the oceans for approximately 450 million years and have evolved a number of unique characteristics that help them survive and thrive in virtually all parts of the world. The most recognizable feature of sharks is their shape. A shark’s body shape and fin placement allow water to flow over the shark reducing drag and making swimming easier. In addition, the shark’s cartilaginous skeleton reduces weight while providing strength and flexibility, which also increases energy efficiency.
When I held a shark for the first time, the feature I noticed most is the incredible muscle mass and strength of the shark. The body of a typical shark is composed of over 60% muscle (the average human has about 35-40% muscle mass). Most sharks need to keep swimming to breathe and, therefore, typically move steadily and slowly through the water. This slow, steady movement is powered by red muscle, which makes up about 10% of a sharks muscle and requires high amounts of oxygen to produce fuel for muscle contraction. The other 90% of a sharks muscle is called white muscle and is used for powerful bursts of speed when eluding predators (other sharks) or capturing prey.
Since sharks are so strong and potentially dangerous, one lesson that I learned quickly was how to properly handle a shark on deck. Smaller sharks can typically be handled by one person. To hold a small shark, you grab the shark just behind the chondrocranium (the stiff cartilage that makes up the “skull” of the shark) and above the gill slits. This is a relatively soft area that can be squeezed firmly with your hand to hold the shark. If the shark is a bit feisty, a second hand can be used to hold the tail.
Larger and/or more aggressive sharks typically require two sets of hands to hold safely. When two people are needed to hold a shark, it is very important that both people grab the shark at the same time. One person holds the head while the other holds the tail. When trying to hold a larger, more powerful shark, you do not want to grab the tail first. Sharks are very flexible and can bend their heads back towards their tail, which can pose a safety risk for the handler. While holding a shark sounds simple, subduing a large shark and getting it to cooperate while taking measurements takes a lot of focus, strength, and teamwork.
When a shark is too big to bring on deck safely, the shark is placed into a cradle and hoisted from the water so it can be measured and tagged. We have used the cradle on a number of sharks including a 7.5 foot tiger shark and a 6 foot scalloped hammerhead shark. When processing sharks, we try to work quickly and efficiently to measure and tag the sharks to minimize stress on the animals and time out of the water. Once our data collection is complete, the sharks are returned to the water.
Personal Log We are now in full work mode on the ship. My daily routine consists of waking up around 7:30 and grabbing breakfast. After breakfast I like to go check in on the night team to see what they caught and determine when they will do their next haul (i.e. pull in their catch). This usually gives me a couple hours of free time before my shift begins at noon. I like to use my time in the morning to work on my log and go through pictures from the previous day. I eat lunch around 11:30 so I am ready to start work at noon. My shift, which runs from noon to midnight, typically includes surveying three or four different stations. At each station, we set our baited hooks for one hour, haul the catch, and process the sharks and fishes. We process the sharks immediately and then release them, whereas we keep the fish to collect biological samples (otoliths and gonads). Once we finish processing the catch, we have free time until the ship reaches the next survey station. The stations can be anywhere from 6 or 7 miles apart to over 40 miles apart. Therefore, our downtime throughout the day can vary widely from 30 minutes to several hours (the ship usually travels at about 10 knots; 1 knot = 1.15 mph). At midnight, we switch roles with the night team. Working with fish in temperatures reaching the low 90°s will make you dirty. Therefore, I typically head to the shower to clean up before going to bed. I am usually in bed by 12:30 and will be back up early in the morning to do it all over again. It is a busy schedule, but the work is interesting, exciting, and fun. I feel very lucky to be out here because not many people get the opportunity to wrestle sharks. This is one experience I will always remember.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015
Mission: Shark Longline Survey Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico Date: September 6, 2015
Data from the Bridge Ship Speed: 9.7 knots
Wind Speed: 5.6 knots
Air Temp: 30.9°C
Sea Temp: 31.1°C
Seas: <1 meter
Sea Depth: 52 meters
GPS Coordinates Lat: N 28 06.236
Long: W 095 15.023
Science and Technology Log Our first couple days of fishing have been a great learning experience for me despite the fact that the fish count has been relatively low (the last three sets we averaged less than 5 fish per 100 hooks). There are a number of jobs to do at each survey station and I will rotate through each of them during my cruise. These jobs include baiting the hooks, numbering and setting the hooks on the main line, hauling in the hooks, measuring and weighing the sharks/fish, and processing the shark/fish for biological samples.
After the line is deployed for one hour, we haul in the catch. As the gangions come in, one of us will collect empty hooks and place them back in the barrel to be ready for the next station. Other members of the team will process the fish we catch. The number of fish caught at each station can vary widely. Our team (the daytime team) had two stations in a row where we caught fewer than five fish while the night team caught 57 fish at a single station.
So far we have caught a variety of fishes including golden tilefish, red snapper, sharpnose sharks, blacknose sharks, a scalloped hammerhead, black tip sharks, a spinner shark, and smooth dogfish. The first set of hooks we deployed was at a deep water station (sea depth was approx. 300 meters or 985 feet) and we hooked 11 golden tilefish, including one that weighed 13 kg (28.6 pounds).
We collect a number of samples from fishes such as red snapper and golden tilefish. First we collect otoliths, which are hard calcified structures of the inner ear that are located just behind the brain. Scientists can read the rings of the otolith to determine the approximate age and growth rate of the fish.
The answer to the poll is at the end of this post.
You can try to age fish like NOAA scientists do by using the Age Reading Demonstration created by the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Click here to visit the site.
When sharks are caught, we collect information about their size, gender, and sexual maturity. You may be wondering, “how can you determine the sex of a shark?” It ends up that the answer is actually quite simple. Male sharks have two claspers along the inner margin of the pelvic fins that are used to insert sperm into the cloaca of a female. Female sharks lack claspers.
Personal Log After arriving at our first survey station on Thursday afternoon (Sep. 3), everyone on the ship is in full work mode. We work around the clock in two groups: one team, which I belong to, works from noon to midnight, and the other team works from midnight to noon. The crew and science teams work very well together – everyone has a specific job as we set out hooks, haul the catch, and process the fishes. It’s a well oiled machine and I am grateful to the crew and my fellow science team members for helping me learn and take an active role the process. I am not here as a passive observer. I am truly part of the scientific team.
I have also learned a lot about the fishes we are catching. For example, I have learned how to handle them on deck, how to process them for samples, and how to filet them for dinner. I never fished much my life, so pretty much everything I am doing is new to me.
I have also adjusted well to life on the ship. Before the cruise, I was concerned that I may get seasick since I am prone to motion sickness. However, so far I have felt great even though we have been in relatively choppy seas (averaging about 1-2 meters or 3 to 6 feet) and the ship rocks constantly. I have been using a scopolamine patch, an anticholinergic drug that decreases nausea and dizziness, and this likely is playing a role. Whether it’s just me or the medicine, I feel good, I’m sleeping well, and I am eating well. The cooks are great and the food has been outstanding. All in all, I am having an amazing experience.
Poll answer: This fish is approximately nine years old (as determined by members of my science team aboard the Oregon II).
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015
Mission: Shark Longline Survey Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico Date: September 2, 2015
Data from the Bridge Ship Speed: 11.6 knots
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Air Temp: 24.7°C
Sea Temp: 29.6°C
Seas: 3-4 ft.
Sea Depth: 589 meters
GPS Coordinates Lat: 28 01.364 N
Long: 091 29.104 W
Science and Technology Log After a one day delay in port at Pascagoula, MS we are currently motoring southwest towards our first survey station in the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville, TX. Our survey area will include random stations roughly between Brownsville and Galveston, TX.
Survey stations are randomly selected from a predetermined grid of sites. Possible stations fall into three categories: (A) stations in depths 9-55 meters (5-30 fathoms), (B) stations in depths between 55-183 meters (30-100 fathoms), and (C) stations in depths between 183-366 meters (100-200 fathoms). On the current shark longline surveys, 50% of the sites we survey will be category A sites, 40% will be category B sites, and 10% will be category C sites. Environmental data is also collected at each station including water temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen.
Several questions you may have are why do a shark survey, how do you catch the sharks, and what do you do with the sharks once they are caught? These are great questions and below I will describe the materials and methods we will use to catch and analyze sharks aboard the Oregon II.
Why does NOAA perform shark surveys? Shark surveys are done to gather information about shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico and to collect morphological measurements (length, weight) and biological samples for research.
How are shark surveys performed?
At each collection station, a one mile line of 100 hooks baited with Atlantic Mackerel is used to catch sharks. The line is first attached to a radar reflective highflyer (a type of buoy that can be detected by the ship’s radar). A weight is then attached to the line to make it sink to the bottom. After the weight is added, about 50 gangions with baited hooks are attached to the line. At the half mile point of the line, another weight is attached then the second 50 hooks. After the last hook, a third weight is added then the second highflyer. The line is left in the water for one hour (time between last highflyer deployed and first highflyer retrieved) and then is pulled back on to the boat to assess what has been caught. Small sharks and fishes are brought on deck while larger sharks are lifted into a cradle for processing.
What data is collected from the sharks?
Researchers collect a variety of samples and information from the caught sharks. First, the survey provides a snapshot of the different shark species and their relative abundance in the Gulf of Mexico. Second, researchers collect data from individual sharks including length, weight and whether the shark is reproductively mature. Some sharks are tagged to gather data about their migration patterns. Each tag has an identification number for the shark and contact information to report information about where the same shark was re-caught. Third, biological samples are collected from sharks for more detailed analyses. Tissues collected include fin clips (for DNA and molecular studies), muscle tissue (for toxicology studies), blood (for hormonal studies), reproductive organs (including embryos if present), and vertebrae (for age and growth studies).
Personal Log One of the desired traits for participants in the Teacher at Sea program is flexibility – cruising schedules and even ports can change. I have now experienced this first-hand as we were delayed in port in Pascagoula, MS for an extra day. Though waiting an extra day really isn’t a big deal, it is hard to wait since myself and the rest of the scientific crew are all anxious to begin the shark survey. Since we also have two days of cruising to reach our first survey site, this means we all have to find ways to pass the time. I have used some of my time trying to learn about the operation of the ship as well as the methods we will be using to perform the longline survey. I also watched a couple movies with other members of the science team. The ship has an amazing library of DVDs.
Safety is very important aboard the Oregon II so today we performed several drills including an abandon ship drill. This drill requires you to wear a survival suit. Getting mine on was a tight squeeze but I got the suit on in the required time.
Did You Know?
The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. Can you name the other six uniformed services? Think about this and check the answer at the bottom of this post.
NOAA Corps Officers perform many duties that include commanding NOAA’s research and survey vessels, flying NOAA’s hurricane and environmental monitoring planes, and managing scientific and engineering work needed to make wise decisions about our natural resources and environment.
Answer: The seven uniformed services of the United States are: (1) Army, (2) Navy, (3) Air Force, (4) Marine Corps, (5) Coast Guard, (6) NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, and (7) Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
(Almost) Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015
Mission: Shark Longline Survey Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico Date: August 19, 2015
Hello from Phoenix, Arizona. My name is Jeff Miller and I teach biology at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) in Avondale, AZ. EMCC is one of ten community colleges in the Maricopa Community College District, which is one of the largest college districts in the United States, serving more than 128,000 students each year. I have been teaching at EMCC for eight years. I currently teach two sections of a general biology course for non-majors (that is students who are majoring in subjects other than biology) and one section of a human anatomy and physiology course primarily taken by students entering healthcare-related fields.
EMCC is an outstanding place to teach because of all the truly wonderful students. EMCC serves a diverse set of students from recent high school graduates to adults seeking a new career. EMCC students are also ethnically diverse. Thus, students bring a wide range of knowledge, ideas, and talents to our classrooms. Despite this diversity, one thing most students lack is real world experiences with marine organisms and environments. We are, after all, located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. Arizona does, however, possess many unique and amazing environments and when I’m not in the classroom, hiking and exploring nature with my family is one of my favorite things to do.
I applied to the Teacher at Sea program to deepen my knowledge of marine systems as part of my sabbatical. A sabbatical is a period of time granted to teachers to study, travel, acquire new skills, and/or fulfill a personal dream. I have always loved the ocean and even worked with sea urchin embryos in graduate school. However, my knowledge and experience of marine organisms and ecosystems is limited. Therefore, participation in the Teacher at Sea program will give me the opportunity to learn how marine biologists and oceanographers collect and analyze data and how their investigations can inform us about human impacts on marine ecosystems. I plan to use the knowledge and experiences I gain to develop curriculum materials for a marine biology course at EMCC that to helps my students gain fundamental knowledge of and appreciation for our world’s oceans. I hope to foster greater curiosity and excitement about marine science and the scientists who explore our oceans and help students see why it is so important to protect and conserve the oceans resources for future generations.
To help fulfill my dream of learning more about the oceans, I have the opportunity of a lifetime – to sail on the NOAA Ship Oregon II. I will be working with the crew and scientists aboard the Oregon II to perform part of an annual longline shark survey. The goal of the mission is to gather data about shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast. Some of the data collected includes length, weight, and sex of each individual, collection of tissues samples for DNA analysis, and collection of environmental data. Please visit the main mission page or the Oregon IIFacebook page for more detailed information and images, videos, and stories from recent cruises. Also check out a recent article from the Washington Post featuring Kristin Hannan, a fisheries biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Services describing the shark research being conducted aboard the Oregon II.
Needless to say, I am extremely excited, though a bit nervous, about my upcoming cruise. I have little experience sailing on the open ocean and have never been up close to a shark let alone actually handled one in person. All that will change soon and I know that I will treasure the knowledge and experiences I gain aboard the Oregon II. I am currently packing up my gear and preparing myself for the experience of a lifetime.
The next time you hear from me I will be in the Gulf of Mexico on my mission to learn more about sharks.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cristina Veresan Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 28 – August 16, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Sunday, August 16, 2015
Calibration, Cleaning, and Camera Drops
Our final days aboard the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson were action-packed! Though our trawling operations were finished, the science team had plenty to do, mainly calibrating, and cleaning, and camera drops. For the echosounder calibration process, the ship was brought into the calm waters of Otter Bay near Yakutat, Alaska. The process involved lowering tungsten carbide and copper spheres into the water at prescribed depths; these standard targets have a known echo return at particular echosounder frequencies, so our scientists can make sure the echosounders are working properly. This calibration process was done at the beginning of the survey and now again at the end. It is important for scientists to calibrate their echosounder equipment as often as is practical in order to ensure the equipment is working consistently so that they have accurate data.
To accommodate the calibration, the ship had to stay in place for about 8 hours. After our shift ended, the bridge gave Emily and I permission to take a kayak into the bay. Allen and Rob each held a line connected to an end of the kayak, and they lowered it into the water from the deck. To get in the kayak, we had to climb down a rope ladder to right over the water level, then lower ourselves down to our seats. Thankfully, Emily and I managed to do this without tipping ourselves over! She and I each had a life preserver on, and we had a radio with us to communicate with the bridge. It was so fun to go for a paddle. The Oscar Dyson faded into the distance as we made our way towards the shore. We hugged the coast of the bay, surrounded by gorgeous alpine scenery. In the shallow water, we saw large sea stars, mounds of clams, and lots of scurrying crabs. After about an hour, we made our way back to the ship, exhilarated from our kayak adventure.
We also spent a day cleaning the wet lab from top to bottom, including all the baskets, walls, and counters. We had to rid all its surfaces of pesky fish scales, so we spent hours scrubbing, soaping, and spraying everything down. At that point, we also began packing much of our gear and equipment that would be offloaded in Kodiak, as this was the last leg of the summer survey. Although we were not fishing, our camera drops also continued on both shifts. In transit, we were also treated to an awesome view of Hubbard Glacier in Disenchantment Bay. Hubbard Glacier is unique in that, unlike most of the world’s glaciers, it has actually been advancing and thickening for the last 100 years. As we cruised into the bay, we all gathered on deck or on the bridge to take in the majestic tidewater glacier terminating in the sea. We also took the opportunity to get a group picture of our science team!
This morning, under the supervision of superior officers, Ensign Benjamin Kaiser (remember him from the interview?) expertly brought the Oscar Dyson into port. The ship was back in her home port of Kodiak, Alaska, and the science team was ready to disembark and offload our gear. I must say it is a weird sensation to get your “land legs” back after having been at sea for three weeks. I was ready to go to nearby Harborside Coffee and Goods, get myself a good coffee and go for a long walk. I do not fly back to Hawai’i until Tuesday afternoon, so I am looking forward to exploring Kodiak a bit more with some of my shipmates in the next few days. I will also be able to attend a talk tomorrow in which chief scientist Darin Jones will present the preliminary results from this summer’s survey to a group of fisheries industry professionals and other interested parties.
I am very grateful to Commanding Officer Arthur “Jesse” Stark and all the officers and crew of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson for a safe, productive voyage. And I would like to extend a big MAHALO to the science team from Midwater Assessment & Conservation Engineering (MACE) at Alaska Fisheries Science Center conducting the third leg of the summer Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey! Thanks for welcoming me into your team; you all are dedicated professionals whose passion for your work is obvious. A special thanks to chief scientist Darin Jones for sharing your expertise and taking the time to edit this blog.
Sailing as Teacher at Sea was a rich, hands-on learning experience. I was impressed by the sophisticated techniques and novel technology helping scientists assess pollock populations, which will eventually inform fisheries management decisions. And working in the wet lab was a lot of fun! In addition to processing pollock, I enjoyed observing all the different creatures we caught in our trawls, from sea jellies to shrimps to all manner of fish. While I will really miss my shipmates, the fisheries work, and the gorgeous scenery (especially those epic sunrises), I am excited to go back and share all I have learned with my students and a larger community of educators.
So this is Cristina Veresan, once again a Teacher Ashore, and officially signing off…
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cristina Veresan Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 28 – August 16, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Wednesday, August 13, 2015
Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 59° 18.31’N
Longitude: 141° 36.22’W
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: 358
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea Wave Height: < 1 feet
Swell Wave: 2-3 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 16.2°C
Dry Temperature: 15°C
Science and Technology Log
When my shift begins at 4am, I often get to participate in a few “camera drops” before the sun comes up and we begin sailing our transect lines looking for fish. We are conducting the “camera drops” on a grid of 5 km squares provided by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center bottom trawl survey that shows whether the seafloor across the Gulf of Alaska is “trawlable” or “untrawlable” based on several criteria to that survey. The DropCam footage, used in conjunction with a multi-beam echosounder, helps verify the “trawlability” designation and also helps identify and measure fish seen with the echosounder.
The DropCam is made up of strobe lights and two cameras, one color and one black and white, contained in a steel frame. The cameras shoot in stereo, calibrated so scientists can get measurements from rocks, fish, and anything else on the images. When the ship is stopped, the DropCam can be deployed on a hydrowire by the deck crew and Survey Tech. In the Chem Lab, the wire can be moved up and down by a joystick connected to a winch on deck while the DropCam images are being viewed on a computer monitor. The ship drifts with the current so the camera moves over the seafloor at about a knot, but you still have to “drive” with the joystick to move it up and down, keeping close to the bottom while avoiding obstacles. The bottom time is 15 minutes for each drop. It’s fun to watch the footage in real-time, and often we see really cool creatures as we explore the ocean floor! The images from the DropCam are later analyzed to identify and length fish species, count number of individual fish, and classify substrate type.
Technology enables scientists to collect physical oceanographic data as well. The Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) is a probe that is dropped from a ship and measures the temperature as it falls through the water column. The depth is calculated by a known fall rate. A very thin copper wire transmits the data to the ship where it is recorded in real-time for later analysis. You launch the probe from a hand-held plastic launcher tube; after pulling out the pin, the probe slides out the tube. We also use a Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) aboard the Oscar Dyson; a CTD is an electronic device used by oceanographers to measure salinity through conductivity, as well as temperature and pressure. The CTD’s sensors are mounted on a steel frame and can also include sensors for oxygen, fluorescence and collecting bottles for water samples. However, to deploy a CTD, the ship must be stopped and the heavy CTD carousel lowered on a hydrowire. The hand-held XBT does not require the ship to slow down or otherwise interfere with normal operations. We launch XBT’s twice a day on our survey to monitor water temperatures for use with the multi beam echosounder.
Shipmate Spotlight: An Interview with Ensign Benjamin Kaiser
Tell me a little more about the NOAA Corps? We facilitate NOAA scientific operations aboard NOAA vessels like hydrographic work making charts, fisheries data collection, and oceanographic research.
What do you do up on the bridge? I am a Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD), so when I am on the bridge driving the ship, I am accompanied by an Officer of the Deck (OOD). I am on my way to becoming an OOD. For that you need 120 days at sea, a detailed workbook completed, and the Commanding Officer’s approval.
What education or training is required for your position? I have an undergraduate degree in Marine Science from Boston University. My training for NOAA Corps was 19 weeks at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut– essentially going through Coast Guard Officer Candidate School.
What motivated you to join the NOAA Corps? A friend of mine was an observer on a fisheries boat, and she told me about the NOAA Corps. When I was in high school and college, I didn’t know it was an option. We’re a small service, so recruiting is limited; there’s approximately 320 officers in the NOAA Corps.
What do you enjoy the most about your work? I love not being in an office all the time. In the NOAA Corps, the expectation is two years at sea and then a land assignment. The flexibility appeals to me because I don’t want to be pigeonholed into one thing. There are so many opportunities to learn new skills. Like, this year I got advanced dive training for Nitrox and dry suit. I don’t have any regrets about this career path.
What is the most challenging part of your work? There’s a steep learning curve. At this stage, I have to be like a sponge and take everything in and there’s so much to learn. That, and just getting used to shipboard life. It is difficult to find time to work out and the days are long.
What are your duties aboard the Oscar Dyson? I am on duty 12pm to midnight, rotating between working on the bridge and other duties. I am the ship’s Safety Officer, so I help make sure the vessel is safely operating and coordinate drills with the Commanding Officer. I am also the Training Officer, so I have to arrange the officers’ and crew members’ training schedules. I am also in charge of morale/wellness, ship’s store, keys, radios, and inspections, to name a few.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career? I grew up in Rhode Island and was an ocean kid. I loved sailing and swimming, and I always knew I would have an ocean-related career.
How would a student who wanted to join the NOAA Corps need to prepare?
Students would need an undergraduate degree from a college or university, preferably in a STEM field. Students could also graduate from a Maritime Academy. When they go to Officer Candidate School, they need to be prepared for a tough first week with people yelling at them. Then there’s long days of working out, nautical science class, drill work, homework, and lights out by 10pm!
What are your hobbies? I enjoy rock climbing, competitive swimming, hiking, and sailing.
What do you miss most while working at sea? There’s no rock climbing!
What is your favorite marine creature? Sailfish because they are fast and cool.
Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Chem Lab
This lab is called the Chem Lab (short for Chemical). For our survey, we don’t have that many chemicals, but it is a dry lab with counters for workspace when needed. This room is adjacent to the wet lab through a watertight door, so in between trawls, Emily and I spend a lot of time here. In the Chem Lab, we charge batteries for the CamTrawl and the DropCam. There are also two computer stations for downloading data, AutoLength analysis, and any other work (like blogging!). There is a window port to the Hero Deck, where the CTD and DropCam are deployed from. In the fume hood, we store Methot net samples in bottles of formalin. There is a microscope for viewing samples. Note the rolling chairs have their wheels removed and there are tie-downs on cases so they are safer at sea. Major cribbage tournaments are also played in this room!
It has been so calm on this cruise, but I have to say that I was looking forward to some bigger waves! Well, Sunday night to yesterday afternoon we experienced some rain and rough seas due to a nearby storm. For a while the ship would do big rolling motions and then a quick lurchy crash. Sea waves were about 2 feet in height, but the swell waves were over 5 feet at times. When I was moving about the ship, I’d have to keep a hand on a rail or something else secured. In the wet lab while I was working, I would lean against the counter and keep my feet spread apart for better balance.
Remember the Methot net? It is the smaller net used to catch macroplankton. We deployed one this week and once it came out of the water, it was rinsed and the codend was unscrewed. When we got the codend into the wet lab, we realized it was exclusively krill!
Krill are small crustaceans that are found in all the world’s oceans. Krill eat plant plankton (phytoplankton), so they are near the bottom of many marine food chains and fed on by creatures varying from fish like pollock to baleen whales like humpbacks. They are not so small that you need a microscope to see them, but they are tiny. We took a subsample and preserved it and then another subsample to count individuals…there were over 800 krill in just that one scoop! Luckily, we had them spread out on a board and made piles of ten so we did not lose count. It was tedious work moving individual krill with the forceps! I much prefer counting big things.
I love it when there is diversity among the catch from the AWT trawls. And, we caught some very memorable and unique fish this week. First was a beautiful Shortraker Rockfish (Sebastes borealis). Remember, like the Pacific Ocean Perch, its eyes bulge when its brought up from depth. The Shortraker Rockfish is an open-water, demersal species and can be one of the longest lived of all fish. There have been huge individuals caught in Alaskan waters that are over 100 years old. This fish was not particularly big for a Shortraker, but I was impressed at its size. It was probably my age.
We also caught a Smooth Lumpsucker (Aptocyclus ventricosus). It was inflated because it was brought up from depth, a form of barotrauma. This scaleless fish got its name for being shaped like a “lump” and having an adhesive disc-shaped “sucker.” The “sucker,” modified pelvic fins, are located ventrally and used to adhere to substrate. These pelagic fish are exclusively found in cold waters of the Arctic, North Atlantic, and North Pacific. The lumpsucker fish, and its roe (eggs) are considered delicacies in Iceland and some other countries.
Pollock are pretty slimy and they have tiny scales, so when we process them, everything gets covered with a kind of speckled grey ooze. However, when we trawled the other day and got a haul that was almost entirely Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii), I was amazed at their scales. For small fish, the herring had scales that were quite large and glistened like silvery sequins. The herring’s backs are an iridescent greenish-blue, and they have silver sides and bellies. The silver color comes from embedded guanine crystals, leading to an effective camouflage phenomenon in open water.
As this last week comes to a close, I am not ready to say goodbye…
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cristina Veresan Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 28 – August 16, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Sunday, August 9, 2015
Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 59°28.8’ N
Longitude: 145°53.2’ W
Visibility: 7 miles
Wind Direction: SSE
Wind speed: 13 knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Swell Wave: 3 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 16.0°C
Dry Temperature: 14.5°C
Science and Technology Log
Our wet lab is outfitted with novel technology that makes processing the catch much more efficient. All of our touchscreen computers in the wet lab are running a program, designed by MACE personnel, called Catch Logger for Acoustic Midwater Survey (CLAMS). Once we enter the haul number and select the species that were caught, most of the data populates automatically from the lab instruments. For example, the digital scale is synced with the computer, so the weights are automatically recorded in CLAMS when a button is pushed. Also, an electronic fish measuring board called the “Icthystick,” designed by MACE IT specialist Rick Towler, is used to measure fish lengths. The fish’s head is placed at one end of the measuring board; when you place a finger stylus (with a magnet mounted inside it) at the end of the tail, the length is automatically recorded in CLAMS. The CLAMS system creates a histogram (type of graph) of all the lengths measured, and scientists archive and review this important data.
What can fisheries scientists learn from a pollock’s ear bones? The ear bones, called otoliths, have layers that can be counted and measured to determine the fish’s age and growth over the years of its life. Fish otoliths are glimpses into the past and their layers of proteins and calcium composites can sometimes offer clues about climate and water conditions as well. For our sub-sample of pollock, in addition to length, weight, and sex data, we will remove and archive the otoliths. We have to slice into the head and extract the two bony otoliths with forceps. The otoliths are then placed into a vial of ethanol with a bar code that has been scanned into the CLAMS system and assigned to the individual pollock they came from. Therefore, when all the otoliths are sent back to the lab in Seattle, ages of the fish can be confirmed. We sometimes collect other biological samples as well. In Seattle, there are scientists working on special projects for certain species, so sometimes we take a fin clip or an ovary sample from fish for those colleagues.
Shipmate Spotlight: An interview with Rick Towler
What is your position on the Oscar Dyson? I am an IT Specialist at MACE. I spend about 4 weeks total at sea and the rest of my time in our Seattle office. I have been in my position for 11 years.
What training or education do you need for your position? My background is in wildlife biology, but I have had a lifelong interest in computers and electronics. I was lucky enough to get an internship with a physical oceanographer and started writing data analysis software for him. That got me on my career path, but for the most part, I have taught myself.
What do you enjoy the most about your work? I love the freedom to creatively solve problems. There’s a lot of room to learn new things in my position. Like when we started on the “Icthystick” I had never done any electronics like that but I was able to innovate and make something that works. The scientists provide the goals and I provide the gear!
Have you had much experience at sea? No, I get seasick! I am usually the first to go down with it. Before I joined MACE I had no real sea time. When I get sick, I just have to rest and take medication. I am so lucky that this leg of the survey has been very calm.
What are your duties of your position in Seattle and at sea? In general, I write software and design and develop instruments to help us do our job better. Along with my colleague, Scott Furnish, I am also responsible for installing and maintaining the equipment used during the survey. When at sea, I make sure all the data is being backed up. I respond to any equipment issues and fix things that are not working properly.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career? I did not necessarily know I wanted a marine career, but I knew I wanted to be involved in science. I love that my job now is a mix of natural science and computer technology. It’s important to me to have a job I think is meaningful.
What are your hobbies? I enjoy family time: playing with my kids and hiking and biking together. I also love playing with my dog and building things with my kids.
What do you miss most while working at sea? Pizza! And my family and my dog.
What is your favorite marine creature? Tufted puffin because they are cute. I’m a bird guy.
Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Bridge
The bridge of a ship is an enclosed room or platform from which the ship is commanded. Our bridge is commended by officers of the NOAA Corps, one of the uniformed services of the United States. From the bridge, officers can control the ship’s movements, radar, IT (information technology), communications, trawling and everything else to operate the ship. Full control of the ships generators and engines is from the engine room, although there is a repeater display, so officers can monitor these systems. In our bridge, there is a main console from which the ship is steered. There are also consoles on other sides of the room, so the officers can control the ship when we are pulling up to the dock or when equipment is being deployed off the stern, starboard side, or port side. There is a navigation station where charts are stored and courses are plotted. For our cruise, courses are plotted on paper charts as well as two different digital charts. The bridge is surrounded by windows and the view is incredible!
Each fish we catch has a particular scent, some more “fishy” than others. But when Darin told me to smell a capelin (Mallotus villosus) I discovered something quite surprising. The small, slender fish smells exactly like cucumber. Or should I say that cucumbers smell exactly like capelin? It is amazing!
After all these clear sunny days, we had our first foggy one, a complete white out! It gave me an appreciation for the officers that have to navigate through these conditions using radar alone. I also noticed the fog horn sounded every two minutes; Ensign Ben told me that this is a nautical rule when visibility is less than 2 miles and the ship is underway. In between blasts, I scooted out to the bow to take the photo below.
I have seen two different whales on my trip so far. I saw one humpback whale from a distance while it was feeding. It was tough to make out the whale itself, but it was easy to spot the flock of birds that was gathered on the water’s surface. I have also always wanted to see an orca whale, and I finally got my chance. It was a fleeting encounter. I had just stepped out onto the deck and saw an orca surface. I raised my camera as it surfaced again and managed to take a picture of the dorsal fin. Unfortunately, our ship and the whale were cruising pretty fast in opposite directions. But it was still a magical moment to observe this amazing creature in its natural habitat.
Like I have said before, working on a moving platform has its challenges. Even getting around a ship presents a unique set of peculiarities. First of all, most doorways have 4-inch rails on the floor. When you are stumbling down at 4am to begin your shift or excitedly moving outside to see a whale, you have to keep those in mind! Most interior doors are pretty standard, although some come equipped with hooks at the top in order to secure them open. However, the exterior doors are watertight and must be handled appropriately. To open them from either side, you first have to push the lever up and then open the door by the handle. It is really important to avoid placing your hand in the door frame while the door is open because the thick, heavy door would crush your hand is if it swung shut. For this reason, and to keep the ship secure, you also have to remember to close these doors behind you and pull down the lever on the other side. On account of a nearby storm, we are supposed to get some big seas overnight, so now everything must be secured!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Kathleen Gibson Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II July 25 – August 8, 2015
Mission: Shark Longline Survey Geographic Area of the Cruise: Atlantic Ocean off the Florida and Carolina Coast Date: Evening,Aug 6,2015
Coordinates: LAT 3035.997 N
LONG 8105.5449 W
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots): 6.8
Sea Temp (deg C): 28.3
Air Temp (deg C): 28.9
I’ve now had the chance to see at least 9 different shark species, ranging from 1 kg to over 250 kg and I’ve placed tags on 4 of the larger sharks that we have caught. These numbered tags are inserted below the shark’s skin, in the region of the dorsal fin. A small piece from one of the smaller fins is also clipped off for DNA studies and we make sure to record the tag number. If a shark happens to be recaptured in the future, the information gathered will be valuable for population and migration studies. The video below shows the process.
After checking that the tag is secure, I gave the shark a pat. I agree with Tim Martin’s description that it’s skin feels like a roughed-up basketball.
We’ve had a busy couple of days. The ship is further south now, just off the coast of Florida, and today we worked three stations. The high daytime temperatures and humidity make it pretty sticky on deck but there are others on board working in tougher conditions.
Yesterday, during a brief period of downtime, I took the opportunity to go down to the engine room. Temperatures routinely exceed 103 o F, and noise levels require hearing protection. My inner Industrial Hygienist (my former occupation) kicked in and I found it fascinating; there is a lot going on is a small space. My environmental science students won’t be surprised at my excitement learning
about the desalination unit (reverse osmosis) for fresh water generation and energy conversions propelling the vessel.
I know, I know… but it was really interesting.
Science and Technology – Conservation
Sustainability, no matter what your discipline is, refers to the wise use of resources with an eye toward the future. In environmental science we specifically talk about actively protecting the natural world through conservation of both species and habitat. Each year when I prepare my syllabus for my AP Environmental Science course, I include the secondary title “Working Toward Sustainability”. I see this as a positive phrase that establishes the potential for renewal while noting the effort required to effect change.
Sustainability is the major focus of NOAA Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Service) as it is “responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources and their habitat.” I’m sure that most readers have some familiarity with the term endangered species or even the Endangered Species Act, but the idea that protection extends to habitats and essential resources may be new.
Regulation of U.S. Fisheries
Marine fisheries in the United States are primarily governed by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, initially passed in 1976. Significant reductions in key fish populations were observed at that time and the necessity for improved regulatory oversight was recognized. This act relied heavily on scientific research and was intended to prevent overfishing, rebuild stocks, and increase the long-term biological and economic viability of marine fisheries. It was this regulation that extended U.S. waters out to 200 nautical miles from shore. Previously, foreign fleets could fish as close as 12 nautical miles from U.S
Under this fisheries act, Regional Fishery Management Councils develop Fishery Management Plans (FMP)for most species (those found in nearby regional waters) which outline sustainable and responsible practices such as harvest limits, seasonal parameters, size, and maturity parameters for different species. Regional councils rely heavily on research when drafting the FMP, so the work done by NOAAFisheries scientists and other researchers around the country is critical to the process. Drafting a Fishery Management Plan for highly migratory fish that do not remain in U.S. waters is challenging and enforcement even more so. Recall from a previous blog that great hammerheads are an example of a highly migratory shark.
Threats to Shark Populations and Conservation Efforts
Shark populations around the globe suffered significantly between 1975 and 2000, and for many species (not all sharks and less in the USA) the decline continues. This decline is linked to a number of factors. Improved technology and the development of factory fishing allows for increased harvest of target species and a subsequent increase in by-catch (capture of non-target fish). Efficient vessels and refined fishing techniques reduced fish stocks at all levels of the food web, predator and prey alike.
More significantly, the fin fishing industry specifically targets sharks and typical finning operations remove shark fins and throw the rest of the shark overboard. These sharks are often still living and death results from predation or suffocation as they sink. Shark fins are a desirable food product in Asian dishes such as shark fin soup, and are an ingredient in traditional medicines. They bring a high price on the international market and sharks with big fins are particularly valuable.
Sandbar (Carcharhinus plumbeus) and great hammerheads (Sphyrna mokarran) and scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini) that we have seen have very large dorsal and pectoral fins, which are particularly desirable to fin fisherman. There are many groups, international and domestic, working to reduce fin fishing, but the high price paid for fins makes enforcement difficult. The Shark Finning Prohibition Act implemented in 2000, in combination with the Shark Protection Act of 2010 sought to reduce this practice. These acts amended Magnusen-Stevens (1976) to require that all sharks caught in U.S. waters have their fins intact when they reach the shore. U.S. flagged vessels in international waters must also adhere to this ban, therefore no fins should be present on board that are not still naturally attached. The meat of many sharks is not desirable due to high ammonia levels, so the ban on fin removal has dramatically reduced the commercial shark fishing industry in the United States. (Read about some good news below in my interview with Trey Driggers )
The video below featuring the Northwest Atlantic Shark cooperative summarizes these threats to shark populations.
It must also be mentioned that in the 25 years after the release of the book and film “Jaws”, fear and misunderstanding fueled an increase in shark hunting for sport. The idea that sharks were focused human predators with vendettas led many to fear the ocean and ALL sharks. In his essay “Misunderstood Monsters,” author Peter Benchley laments the limited research available about sharks 40 years ago, even stating that he would not have been able to write the same book with what we now know. He spoke publicly about the need for additional research and educational initiatives to spread knowledge about ocean ecology.
The United States is at the forefront of shark research, conservation and education and in the intervening years, with the help of NOAA Fisheries and many other scientists, we have learned much about shark ecology and marine ecosystems. It’s certain that marine food webs are complex, but that complexity is not always fully represented in general science textbooks. For example, texts often state that sharks are apex predators (top of the food chain). This applies to many
species including great white and tiger sharks, but it doesn’t represent all species. In truth, many shark species are actually mesopredators (mid level), and are a food source for larger organisms. Therefore conservation efforts need to extend through all levels of the food web.
The Atlantic sharpnose (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) and Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) are examples of mesopredators. It was not uncommon for us to find the remains of and small Atlantic sharpnose on the hook with a large shark that it had attracted.
William (Trey) Driggers – Field Research Scientist – Shark Unit Leader ( is there a III?)
Trey is a graduate of Clemson University and earned his Ph.D at the University of South Carolina. He’s been with NOAA for over 10 years and is the Lead Scientist of the Shark Unit, headquartered in Pascagoula, MS. His responsibilities include establishing and modifying experimental protocols and general oversight of the annual Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey. Trey has authored numerous scientific articles related to his work with sharks and is considered an expert in his field. He is a field biologist by training and makes it a point to participate in at least one leg of the this survey each year.
I asked Trey if analysis of the data from the annual surveys has revealed any significant trends among individual shark populations. He immediately cited the increased number of sandbar sharks and tied that to the closure of the fin fisheries. Approximately 20 years ago, the Sandbar shark population off of the Carolina and Florida coasts was declining. Trey spoke with an experienced fisherman who recalled times past when Sandbar sharks were abundant. At the time Trey was somewhat skeptical of the accuracy of the recollection — there was no data to support the claim. Today the population of Sandbar sharks is robust by comparison to 1995 levels, and the fin removal legislation is likely a major factor. Having the numbers to support this statement illustrates the value of a longitudinal study.
Trey notes that it’s important for the public to know of the positive trends like increases in Sandbar shark populations and to acknowledge that this increase has come at a cost. The reduction and/or closure of fisheries have had radiating effects on individuals, families and communities. Fishing is often a family legacy, passed down through the generations, and in most fishing communities there is not an easy replacement. In reporting rebounding populations we acknowledge the sacrifices made by these individuals and communities.
Personal Log- Last posting from sea.
Thirty minutes before leaving Pascagoula we were informed that the V-Sat was not working and that we would likely have no internet for the duration of the cruise.
We had a few minutes to send word to our families and in my case, TAS followers. I think most of us were confident a fix would happen at some point, but we’re still here in the cone of silence. It’s been challenging for all on board and makes us all aware of how dependent we are on technology for communication and support. I’ve gotten a few texts, which has been a pleasant surprise. One tantalizing text on the first day said “off to the hospital (to give birth)”, and then no follow-up text for weeks. That was quite a wait! I can imagine how it was aboard ship in times past when such news was delayed by months—or longer. I was looking forward to sharing photos along the way, so be prepared for lot of images all at once when we get to shore! As for my students, while it would have been nice to share with you in real time, there is plenty to learn and plenty of time when we finally meet.
I’d like to thank Dave Nelson, the Captain of the Oregon II, who greeted me each day saying “How’s it going Teach?” and for always making me feel welcome. Thank you also to all of those working in the Teacher at Sea Program office for making this experience possible. Being a part of the Shark Longline Survey makes me feel like I won the TAS lottery. I’m sure every TAS feels the same way about their experience.
Special thanks to Kristin Hannan, Field Party Chief Extraordinaire, for answering my endless questions (I really am a lifelong learner…), encouraging me to take on new challenges, and for her boundless energy which was infectious. Sharks are SOOO cool.
Here’s a final shout out to the day shift–12 pm-12 am–including the scientists, the Corps, deck crew and engineers for making a great experience for me. Ian and Jim – It was great sitting out back talking. I learned so much from the two of you and I admire your work.
And, to all on board the Oregon II, I admire your commitment to this important work and am humbled by the personal sacrifices you make to get it done.
This has been one of the hardest and most worthwhile experiences I’ve ever had. It was exhilarating and exhausting, usually at the same time. I often encourage my students to take on challenges and to look for unique opportunities, especially as they prepare for college. In applying to the TAS program I took my own advice and, with the support of my family and friends, took a risk. I couldn’t have done it without you all. This experience has given me a heightened respect for the leaps my students have made over the years and a renewed commitment to encouraging them to do so. Who knows, they may end up tagging sharks someday. Safe Sailing Everyone.
Learn more about what’s going on with Great White sharks by listening to the following NOAA podcast: Hooked On Sharks
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cristina Veresan Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 28 – August 16, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 60° 46.4′ N
Longitude: 147° 41.0′ W
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: E
Wind speed: 5 knots
Sea Wave Height: 0-1 feet
Swell Wave: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 16.8 °C
Dry Temperature: 16.0° C
Science and Technology Log
What about all those fish we bring onboard? Our Lab Lead Emily oversees the processing of the catch and determines which protocols or sampling strategies are most appropriate. She and I, along with the Survey Tech on duty, work together to identify, weigh, and measure the catch and collect any necessary biological samples such as otoliths or ovaries. The first job is to sort everything, and we continue sorting until the table is empty. We identify the creatures and organize them by species into different baskets. We end up with many baskets of pollock, usually hundreds of individuals. If distinct length groups of pollock are present we sort them by length (which is indicative of age class) and sample each group separately. All of the basket(s) are weighed to get a total weight per species (or length group) for the haul.
For pollock estimated to be age two and older, we sex and length about 300 individuals per haul. When I say sex a pollock, I mean we must determine if the fish is male or female. Pollock do not have any external features to determine which sex they are so we must slice open the belly of the fish, pull back the liver and look for the gonads; females have a light pinkish to orange colored two-lobed ovary, while males have a whitish bubbled string of testes. The sex-sorting table has a large basin next to a partitioned bin cheekily labeled with a “blokes” section (for males) and a “sheila” section (for females). Once the sex of the fish is determined, we toss it in the proper bin. Each bin opens to a length board from which we measure all of the fish in the bin. For creatures other than our targeted pollock, we collect unsexed length and weight data from a smaller sample of individuals.
Shipmate Spotlight: Interview with Darin Jones
What is your position on the Oscar Dyson? I am a Research Fisheries Biologist. I am also the field party chief in charge of the scientific team for leg 3 of our summer survey. I have been with the National Marine Fisheries Service for 8 years.
What training or education do you need for your position? The ability to go to sea and not get seasick is key, and a solid marine biology education with plenty of math and statistics. I earned my undergraduate degree in marine biology from UNC at Wilmington, then a Masters in Fisheries Resources at the University of Idaho.
What do you enjoy the most about your work? Being able to get out in the field and see the beautiful scenery of Alaska instead of being stuck behind a desk all the time. And, of course, meeting wonderful new people on each cruise.
Have you had much experience at sea? After my undergraduate work, I was an observer for five years in Alaska on trawlers, longliners, and pot fishing boats and got lots of sea time. In New England I worked for about 4 years on a cod tagging program where we went out to Georges Bank and caught Atlantic Cod to tag and release. I have also worked at fish hatcheries in California and South Carolina where we went to sea to collect brood stock. In my current position, I am at sea for about 3 months a year.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? What do you do? Most of my work is in “the Cave” (Acoustics Lab), where I monitor the acoustics equipment and analyze the data. When we are trawling, I go to the bridge to help guide the fishing operation. As field party chief, I direct all science operations, make daily decisions pertaining to the survey mission and its completion based on weather and time available, and I’m the liaison between the science party and the ship’s officers.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career? I have loved the ocean since I started surfing in high school. During college, I was looking for a career that would keep me near the ocean, and marine biology was a natural fit.
What are your hobbies? I am a surfer and a woodworker, and I enjoy and playing the guitar.
What do you miss most while working at sea? My family for sure. My own bed!
What is your favorite marine creature? My porcupine pufferfish that I had during grad school; he had a personality and was always happy to see me.
Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Lounge
When you work hard at sea, you need a place to unwind and relax after a 12-hour shift. The lounge is right across the hall from my stateroom, and it is a great gathering place. It has comfy couches, a big bean bag chair, and a book library. The large television, like the televisions in the staterooms, has Direct TV with many channels. I have not watched television until this week when I began watching the last ever episodes of the Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. The ship also has a large collection of DVDs.
We left Seward and headed up the coast to Prince William Sound. I can see why the region is known for its breathtaking wilderness scenery: mountains, islands, and fjords. The coast is lined with both dense spruce forest and tidewater glaciers. In fact, most of this area is part of the Chugach National Forest, the second largest National Forest in the United States. The sound’s largest port is Valdez, the terminus of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. In 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef after it left Valdez, which resulted in a massive oil spill that caused environmental destruction and wildlife deaths.
My favorite part of working in the wet lab is when it’s time to sort the catch. We tilt the table, open the gate, and all the fish roll in on the conveyor belt. You never know what you will find among the pollock and rockfish. A lot of the time, there are krill and shrimp mixed in with the fish. Occasionally, there will be another big fish like a Pacific Cod (Gadus macrocephalus). A few times this week, there have been some very interesting baby creatures in our trawls. When sorting, you have to take care not to miss them!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Kathleen Gibson Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II July 25 – August 8, 2015
Mission: Shark Longline Survey Geographic Area of the Cruise: Atlantic Ocean off the Florida and Carolina Coast Date: Aug 4, 2015
Coordinates: LAT 3323.870N
LONG 07736.658 W
Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind speed (knots): 28
Sea Temp (deg C): 29.2
Air Temp (deg C): 24.2
Early this morning the night shift caught and cradled a great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran). This is a first for this cruise leg. I’m sure that just saying “Hammerhead” conjures an image of a shark with an unusual head projection (cephalofoil), but did you know that there are at least 8 distinct Hammerhead species? Thus far in the cruise we have caught 4 scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini), one of which I was fortunate to tag.
Science and Technology Log
All eight species of hammerhead sharks have cephalofoils with differences noted in shape, size, and eye placement, to name a few. Research indicates that this structure acts as a hydrofoil or rudder, increasing the shark’s agility. In addition, the structure contains a high concentration of specialized electro sensory organs (Ampullae of Lorenzini) that help the shark detect electric signals of other organisms nearby. The eye placement at each end of the cephalofoil allows hammerhead sharks to have essentially a panoramic view with only a slight movement of their head – quite handy when hunting or avoiding other predators.
Great hammerheadsharks are highly migratory. They are found worldwide in tropical latitudes, and at various depths. There are no geographically Distinct Population Segments (DPS) identified. The great hammerhead, as its name implies, is the largest of the group and average size estimates of mature individuals varies between 10-14 ft in length with a weight approximately 500 lb.; the largest recorded was 20 ft in length. The one we caught was ll ft. in length.
As with most shark species, the numbers declined rapidly between 1975 and 1995 due to the fin fishing industry and focused sport fishing often fueled by fear and misinformation. One has to wonder what the average length was before that time.
Scalloped Hammerhead sharks are the most common hammerhead species. Their habitat overlaps that of the great hammerhead, though they are more often found in slightly shallower waters. In contrast to the great hammerhead, scalloped hammerheads are only semi-migratory, and scientists have identified Distinct Population Segments around the world. This is important information when evaluating population size and determining which groups, if any, need regulatory protection.
The average life expectancy for both species is approximately 30 years. Males tend to become sexually mature before females, at smaller weights; females mature between 7-10 years (sources vary). In my last log I discussed shark reproduction – Oviparous vs. Viviparous. (egg laying vs. live birth). All hammerheads are viviparous placental sharks but reproductive patterns do differ. Great hammerheads bear young every two years, typically having 20-40 pups. A great hammerhead recently caught by a fisherman in Florida was found to be pregnant with 33 pups. Scalloped have slightly fewer pups in each brood, but can reproduce more frequently.
Setting and retrieving the Longline requires coordination between Deck Operations and the Bridge. Up until now I’ve highlighted those on deck. Let’s learn a bit about two NOAA officers on the Bridge.
The NOAA Corps is one of the 7 Uniformed Services of the United States and all members are officers. The Corps’ charge is to support the scientific mission of NOAA, operating and navigating NOAA ships and airplanes. Applicants for the Corps must have earned Bachelor’s degree and many have graduate degrees. A science degree is not required but a significant number of science units must have been completed. It’s not unusual for Corps recruits to have done post-baccalaureate studies to complete the required science coursework. New recruits go through Basic Officer’s Training at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
Lt. Lecia Salerno – Executive Officer (XO) – NOAA
Lt. Lecia Salerno at the helm or the Oregon II during Longline retrieval.
Lt. Salerno is a 10-year veteran of the NOAA Corps and has significant experience with ship operations. She was recently assigned to the Oregon II as the XO. This is Lecia’s first assignment as an XO and she reports directly to Captain Dave Nelson. In addition to her Bridge responsibilities, she manages personnel issues, ship accounts and expenditures. During these first few weeks on her new ship, Lt. Salerno is on watch for split shifts – day and night – and is quickly becoming familiar with the nuances of the Oregon II. This ship is the oldest (and much loved) ship in NOAA’s fleet, having been built in 1964, which can make it a challenge to pilot. It’s no small task to maneuver a 170-foot vessel up to a small highflyer and a float, and continue moving the ship along the Longline throughout retrieval.
Lecia has a strong academic background in science and in the liberal arts and initially considered joining another branch of the military after college. Her assignments with NOAA incorporate her varied interests and expertise, which she feels makes her job that much more rewarding.
Laura has always had a love for the ocean, but did not initially look in that direction for a career. She first earned a degree in International Business from James Madison University. Her interest in marine life took her back to the sea and she spent a number of years as a scuba diving instructor in the U.S. and Australia. Laura returned to the U.S. to take additional biology coursework. During that time she more fully investigated the NOAA Corps, applied and was accepted.
Laura has been on the Oregon II for 1.5 years and loves her work. When she is on shift she independently handles the ship during all operations and also acts as Navigator. What she loves about the Corps is that the work merges science and technology, and there are many opportunities for her to grow professionally. In December Laura will be assigned to a shore duty unit that is developing Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV).
It’s amazing to think that just over a week ago I held my first live shark. We caught over 30 sharks at our first station and our inexperience showed. At first even the small ones looked like all teeth and tail, and those teeth are not only sharp but carry some pretty nasty bacteria. It took all of us (new volunteers) forever to get the hooks out quickly without causing significant trauma to the shark–or ourselves. A tail smack from this small-but-mighty tiger shark pictured below left me with a wedge-shaped bruise for a week!
Since then we have caught hundreds of sharks. We’ve caught so many Atlantic Sharpnose that on occasion it seems mundane. Then I catch myself and realize how amazing it is to be doing what I’m doing– holding a wild animal in my hands, freeing it from the circle hook (finally!), looking at the detailed pattern of its skin, and feeling it’s rough texture, measuring it and releasing it back into the sea.
I’m pleased to be able to say that my day shift team has become much more confident and efficient. Our mid-day haul yesterday numbered over 40 sharks, including a few large sharks that were cradled, and it went really smoothly.
At this point I’ve had a chance to work at most of the volunteer stations including baiting hooks, throwing off the high-flyer marker, numbering, gangions, throwing bait, data entry, tagging shark, removing hooks, and measuring/ weighing. A highlight of last night was getting to throw out the hook to pull in the high-flyer marker at the start of retrieval. I’m not known for having the best throwing arm but it all worked out!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cristina Veresan Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 28 – August 16, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Monday, August 3, 2015
Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 58° 51.5 N
Longitude: 149° 30.8 W
Sky: Scattered Clouds
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: SSE
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea Wave Height: <1 feet
Swell Wave: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 16.3° C
Dry Temperature: 17.2 ° C
Science and Technology Log
Once it is determined where to fish, the scientists also have to decide which trawl to deploy and tow behind the ship in order to catch the targeted fish. The most common trawl we use to catch mid-water pollock is the Aleutian wing trawl (AWT). Our AWT is 140 meters long, and it can be fished anywhere from 30-1,000 meters underwater. A net echosounder is mounted at the top of the net opening and transmits acoustic images of fish going in the mouth of the net in real time to a display on a computer on the bridge that is monitored by the scientist and the Lead Fisherman. Additionally, at the entrance of the codend (the end of the net where the fish are collected), a stereo camera called the CamTrawl takes pictures of anything entering the codend. CamTrawl pictures are later analyzed to determine species and lengths of the fish that were caught. Sometimes the net is fished with the codend opened and the catch is only evaluated based on what is seen in the CamTrawl images. As this technology gets perfected less fish will need to be brought onboard.
Cooperation among many different people is necessary during a trawl. The wet lab team prepares the CamTrawl to collect data. The deck crew physically handles all the gear on deck, including attaching the CamTrawl camera, net echosounders, and physical oceanography instruments to the net and deploying and recovering the net. From the bridge, the Lead Fisherman controls the winches that move the trawl net in and out of the water. Once the trawl net is in the water, the scientists work closely with the Lead Fisherman and the officers to ensure a safe, effective trawl. Sometimes the trawl net will be down for a few minutes, and other times it will be closer to an hour. Once the net is back on the ship and emptied out, the catch and CamTrawl images are ready to be analyzed by the scientist and wet lab team.
Two other nets, more seldom used, are the bottom trawl net, known as the Poly Nor’easter (PNE) and the Methot net, used to catch krill and zooplankton. The PNE is deployed if there is a large concentration of fish close to the ocean floor. It is smaller than the AWT and it is usually lowered to just above the ocean floor. The Methot net was named after Dr. Richard Methot, a famous fisheries modeler who designed the net. This net has an opening of 5 square meters, and it has a finer mesh than the AWT or the PNE. At the end of the net is a small PVC codend where the sample is taken from.
Shipmate Spotlight: Interview with Kirk Perry
What is your position on the Oscar Dyson? I am the Lead Fisherman and also sailing as active Chief Boatswain.
What training or education do you need for your position? I went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and got a BS in Natural Resource Management. I have certifications from the Coast Guard like an AB (Able-Bodied Seaman) unlimited, which means I have over 1070 days sailing as an AB. I also have a Masters license to operate a 100-ton vessel. You need a lot of fishing experience.
What do you enjoy the most about your work? Fishing! Obviously. You just never know what you are going to get, and it’s always exciting.
Have you had much experience at sea? I have been fishing since I was 10 years old and I helped a neighbor build a boat and go salmon fishing in Monterey Bay. When I visited family in Hawai’i, we would go trolling, set net fishing, beach casting, and spearfishing. I have been sailing professionally with NOAA for 11 years on different vessels in Hawai’i, Mississippi, and here in Alaska.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? What do you do? As Lead Fisherman I operate the machinery from the bridge when we are trawling. Basically, I get the fishing gear in and out of the water safely. As Chief Boatswain, I am in charge of the Deck Department, so I schedule crew, assign daily crew duties, maintain supply inventories, oversee the ship’s survival gear, and operate deck equipment like winches, anchor, and cranes.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career? By 25 years old I knew I had to be on the water, full time, all the time, but I did not get to be here until I was 44 years old.
What are your hobbies? When I’m not fishing, I like to hunt. Mainly ducks and geese.
What do you miss most while working at sea? Home, my family. And my own bed!
What is your favorite marine creature? Tuna because they are so fast powerful and so delicious! When you are fishing for them, it’s like nothing else. It can turn into a wide open frenzy.
Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Wet Lab
The wet lab is where we do most of our work, and it gets really busy in here after a trawl. It is called a “wet” lab because it is designed to get just that. When a trawl net is full of fish, it is emptied onto a table that tilts onto a conveyor belt feeding into the wet lab. We have controls to run the conveyor belt as well as tilt the tableAs the fish are brought in on the conveyor, we sort them in large and small baskets, and then collect data from the different species. The metal counters, outfitted with electronic balances and automated length readers provide us with workspace to process our samples. The work of the wet lab is messy and fun. When we process a catch, fish scales get everywhere! The shiny, sticky little discs coat every surface, especially areas that you touch like the computer screens and handles. It is fun to clean this lab because you spray everything down with the salt water from hoses that are rigged from the ceiling. You can even spray down the computer screens themselves, and then rinse them with fresh water. Water washes over everything and drips down, entering drains in troughs along the edges of the floor.
Whenever it’s time to process fish in the wet lab, I have to get geared up! What is the latest in fisheries fashion, you might ask? Rubber boots are a must. We take the lead of Alaskans and wear brown XtraTuf boots. Once I get my boots on, I put on my Grundens foul weather coveralls over my pants. The weather has been mild, so I have been forgoing the matching foul weather jacket and just wearing a long sleeved t-shirt or sweatshirt. I have not been wearing a hat, but I do pull my hair back. Lastly, I pull on elbow-length yellow rubber gloves over my sleeves.
I am really enjoying my time with this ship’s crew and the rest of the science party. Everyone has been very welcoming, and, though we work hard, we maintain a sense of fun. If we have down time between data collection, Emily and I play cribbage. Or we go out on deck and take in the sights, like the Holgate glacier we passed the other day. Quite a few people on board have spent time in Hawai’i, so we can ‘talk story’ about the islands from all the way up here in the North Pacific. It is amazing how we are all connected in some way through our love of the ocean.
Rough Seas and bad weather have delayed our sampling. I’m getting use to walking sideways.
Today we reached the northernmost sampling station of our cruise, just off the North Carolina coast. The latest stations have been further off shore than those previous and we’ve caught fewer sharks. However, the sharks we have caught have been much larger. Our catch included Sandbar Sharks, Scalloped Hammerhead, Spinner, Nurse and Black Nose.
Sharks have a number of reproductive strategies ranging from egg laying to placental formation. Oviparous sharks produce and release egg cases made of a collagen (protein). The case surrounds the developing embryo and a large yolk with the vital nutrients required for shark development. This is called lecithotrophic (all nutrients from yolk). Oviparous sharks can take to 2 years to develop within the egg case.
Sharks that give birth to live young are considered Viviparous. Within this category there are two major types. Those that produce eggs with large yolks with all required nutrients, but remain in the uterus for gestation, are called yolk-sac vivipores (ovoviviparous, or aplacental viviparity). In some cases, offspring will consume other eggs (oophagy) in the uterus to gain additional nutrients. An advantage to this type of reproduction is that the young sharks are larger when they are born and have a higher survival rate.
The last group, considered to be the most advanced, is the Placental Group. As with the other types, a yolk is produced that can initially provide some nutrients to the developing pup. However, in the uterus the yolk sac after it is depleted is modified into a placenta through which nutrients can pass from parent to offspring. While fewer offspring are produced at one time, they are typically more robust and have a higher survival rate. Most of the sharks we have caught on this cruise are placental vivipores.
Career Spotlight: Dr. Ian Davenport, Ph.D., Research Scientist
Ian hails from Manchester, England, and his path to becoming a scientist was quite unusual. Similar to others on board, he always had an interest in Marine Science, and sharks in particular, but school was not a priority early on. He spent time travelling and learned a trade as well. He finally decided to return to school, but being accepted was a challenge. Fortunately Ian’s academic ability was recognized and he was accepted to the University of Newcastle upon Tyne where he studied Marine Biology, but a course in Developmental Biology particularly resonated. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in shark developmental biology at Clemson University.
Ian’s research focus is in evolution of “live bearing.” As noted above, shark species employ a number of reproductive strategies. Placentals are considered to be the most advanced. Ian is studying the eggs of placental sharks and the structure of the cells that surround the egg. His research has revealed some interesting cell features that may aid in nutrient delivery to the developing embryo. If a female shark is caught during the cruise and does not survive, Ian collects the eggs for later study.
Career Spotlight: Chuck Godwin, Deck Crew and Environmental Compliance officer
Chuck has a B.A. in History and has also studied Wildlife Management. Chuck spent 10 years in the Coast Guard and left in 2000, but he was recalled to active service on two occasions – after 9/11 and after Hurricane Katrina. In addition to his work as part of the deck crew, where he is involved in all deck operations, Chuck is also the Environmental Compliance Officer. As such, he manages hazardous waste compliance.
It’s apparent that Chuck enjoys his work. He is all business when he needs to be, but has a knack for adding a note of levity when appropriate. He keeps me laughing, even when the fish aren’t biting. Chuck notes that as a member of the Coast Guard, part of his job was to enforce U.S. fisheries laws. With NOAA he plays an important role in establishing those regulations and this makes the work that much more rewarding.
The weather has been poor since yesterday. Lightning caused a five-hour delay in setting the longline in the night; the ship traversed back and forth over the sampling area waiting for the worst of the storm to pass. Sleeping was a challenge – I think some of us were airborne a few times. Thank goodness for the patch and a few saltine crackers. I took the video below in my bunk as I was nodding off to sleep.
Today’s rough seas and high winds prevented us from using the cradle to bring sharks up to deck height. Ken’s dual laser device, mentioned in my last blog post, was put to good use to estimate the size of the large sharks before they were released.
I need to give shout out to the ship’s cook Walter Coghlan and the second cook O.C. (Otha) Hill. The food has been great and plentiful. ( Homemade Mac n’ Cheese – need I say more?) Walter takes special care to set aside a plate for us if we are on duty during mealtime. The ice cream sandwiches are much appreciated too.
New species seen since last posting: Sharksucker (a type of Remora, Echeneis naucrates), Blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus)
NOAA Teacher at Sea Leah Johnson Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces July 21 – August 3, 2015
Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast Date: Saturday, August 1, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Time 12:13 PM
Water Temperature 24.37 °C
Salinity 36.179 ppt
Air Temperature 27.4 °C
Relative Humidity 83 %
Wind Speed 15.95 knots
Wind Direction 189.45 degrees
Air Pressure 1012.3 mbar
Science and Technology Log: I am still amazed at the wealth of data collected aboard the Pisces on this survey cruise. I am getting better at identifying the fish as they are hauled up in the traps, as well as when I see these fish on video. Because of light attenuation, many fish look very different in color when they are underwater. Light attenuation refers to the gradual loss of visible light that can penetrate water with increasing depth. Red light has the longest wavelength on the visible light spectrum, and violet has the shortest wavelength. In water, light with the shortest wavelength is absorbed first. Therefore, with increasing depth, red light is absorbed, followed by orange, then yellow. Fish that appear red in color at the surface will not appear red when they are several meters below the sea surface where they are captured on camera.
For example, we hauled in some blackfin snapper earlier this week. At the surface, its color is a distinct red like many other types of snappers, and it has a black spot near the base of its pectoral fin. When I looked at the videos from the trap site, I did not realize that all of the fish swimming around with yellow-looking tails were the very same blackfin snappers that appeared in the traps! When I remembered that red light is quickly absorbed in ocean water and noticed the black spot on the pectoral fin and shape of the dorsal fin, it made more sense.
Top: Blackfin snapper collected from trap. Bottom: Video still of blackfin snappers swimming near trap.
I tell my geology students every year that when identifying minerals, color is the least reliable property. I realize now that this can also apply to fish identification. Therefore, I am trying to pay closer attention to the shape of the different fins, slope of the head, and relative proportions of different features. The adult scamp grouper, for example, has a distinct, unevenly serrated caudal fin (tail) with tips that extend beyond the fin membrane. The tip of the anal fin is elongated as well.
Another tricky aspect of fish identification is that some fish change color and pattern over time. Some groups of fish, like wrasses, parrotfish, and grouper, exhibit sequential hermaphroditism. This means that these fish change sex at some point in their lifespan. These fish are associated with different colors and patterns as they progress through the juvenile phase, the initial phase, and finally the terminal phase. Some fish exhibit fleeting changes in appearance that can be caught on camera. This could be as subtle as a slight darkening of the face.
The slight shape variations among groupers can also lead groups of scientists to gather around the computer screen and debate which species it is. If the trap lands in an area where there are some rocky outcrops, a fish may be partially concealed, adding another challenge to the identification process. This is no easy task! Yet, everyone on board is excited about the videos, and we make a point to call others over when something different pops up on the screen.
We were all impressed by this large Warsaw grouper, which is not a common sight.
I have seen many more types of fish and invertebrates come up in the traps over the past week. Here are a few new specimens that were not featured in my last “fish” post:
Did You Know?
Fish eyes are very similar to those of terrestrial vertebrates, but their lenses that are more spherical.
Lens from fish eye
I love being surrounded by people who are enthusiastic about and dedicated to what they do. Everyone makes an extra effort to show me things that they think I will be interested to see – which I am, of course! If an interesting fish is pulled up in the trap and I have stepped out of the wet lab, someone will grab my camera and take a picture for me. I continue to be touched by everyone’s thoughtfulness, and willingness to let me try something new, even if I slow down the process.
Me, on the deck of the ship. We just deployed the traps off the stern.
As our cruise comes to an end, I want to thank everyone on board for letting me share their work and living space for two weeks. To the NOAA Corps officers, scientists, technicians, engineers, deckhands, and stewards, thank you for everything you do. The data collection that takes place on NOAA fishery survey cruises is critical for the management and protection of our marine resources. I am grateful that the Teacher at Sea program allowed me this experience of a lifetime. Finally, thank you, readers! I sincerely appreciate your continued support. I am excited to share more of what I have learned when I am back on land and in the classroom. Farewell, Pisces!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cristina Veresan Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 28 – August 16, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Saturday, August 1, 2015
Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 58° 39.0′ N
Longitude: 148° 045.8′ W
Sky: Broken clouds
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: W
Wind speed: 15 knots
Sea Wave Height: 3 feet
Swell Wave: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 15.4° C
Dry Temperature: 13.8° C
Science and Technology Log
So, you might be wondering how our scientists know when it’s time to “go fishin’”? That is, how do they determine if there might be a significant concentration of pollock to deploy a trawl? The answer is acoustics! The ship is equipped with a multitude of acoustic transducers on the bottom of the ship, five of which are primarily used in the pollock population assessment. These transducers both send and receive energy waves; they transmit sound waves down to the ocean floor, which reflect back to the ship. However, if there are obstacles of a different density in the water (like fish), the signal bounces back from that obstacle. The amount of energy that pollock individuals of different lengths return is known to our scientists.
The real-time data from transducers is automatically graphed in what is called an echogram. When we are on our predetermined transect line, the scientist on watch analyzes the echograms to make the determination of when to trawl. The transducers are different frequencies. In general, the higher the frequency, the smaller the object it can detect. To make a final decision on fishing, the scientist must also coordinate with the officers on the bridge who take into account wind speed, wind direction, water currents, and ship traffic. Once we collect the trawl data, scientists use the catch information to assign a species and length designation to the echogram data in order to produce a pollock biomass or abundance estimate. In addition to the pollock we are targeting, we have caught salmon, cod, jellyfish, and a few different types of rockfish.
We often catch one type of rockfish, the Pacific Ocean perch (Sebastes alutus), which has a similar acoustic signature as pollock. On the ship, we call this fish POP, and they are difficult to handle because of the sharp spines on their dorsal fin, anal fin, head, and gill covers (operculum). You have to watch out for spine pricks when handling them! Their eyes usually bulge when they come up from depth quickly and gases escape, which is a form of barotrauma. One interesting fact about Pacific Ocean perch is that they are viviparous (give birth to live young); the male fish inserts sperm into the female fish and her egg is fertilized inside her body. These fish can also be incredibly long-lived, with individuals in Alaska reaching almost 100 years old. The Pacific Ocean perch fishery declined in the 1960’s-1970’s due to overfishing, but has since recovered due to increased regulation.
Shipmate Spotlight: Interview with Allen Smith
What is your position on the Oscar Dyson? I am the Senior Survey Technician. It’s my second season in this role.
Where did you go to school? There is no formal training for this position, but you do need a scientific/technical background. I have a BS in geology, and right after college, I worked in technical support for Apple.
What do you enjoy the most about your work? My favorite part is meeting people and re-connecting with ones I already know. Different scientists rotate in and out and they are my contact with the outside world.
Have you had much experience at sea? I have worked on ships since 2011. I worked on cruise ship as a cook then I joined NOAA and sailed on the NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette in Hawai’i as a cook and then later joined the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson as a survey tech. I really wanted to get back into science so I made the switch.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? What do you do? The domain of the survey technician is the laboratory. We have wet, dry, chemical, and computer/electronics labs aboard the Oscar Dyson. I am responsible for the meteorological, oceanographic, and navigation data that the ship collects full-time. We also help visiting scientists to accomplish their missions using the ship’s resources, like deploying fishing gear, CTD, cameras, or other equipment. Sometimes we do special missions like last year when we went to the Bering Sea for an ice-associated seal survey and our ship had to break through sea ice. During scientific operations, I work a 12-hour shift everyday.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career? I grew up in Dallas, Texas, which is totally land-locked, so you could say I wanted a change.
What are your hobbies? No time for hobbies at sea! Just kidding, I like photography and playing guitar and ukulele. When I am not at sea, I enjoy hiking and biking.
What do you miss most while working at sea? Probably what I miss the most is being able to cook vegetarian meals for myself.
What is your favorite marine creature? The red-footed booby because they have so much personality and are very entertaining.
Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Galley
The galley is ship-speak for the kitchen and dining area. Our ship stewards (chefs) work really hard to prepare buffet-style meals three times a day. Breakfast is served from 7-8am, lunch from 11am-noon, and dinner from 5-6pm. There is also a salad bar and a soup available for lunch and dinner. One night we even had food popular in Hawai’i: Kalua Pork, ramen stir fry, and chicken katsu! You can also come in the galley 24 hours a day to get coffee, espresso, tea, water, and various snacks. There is even an ice cream freezer! You might notice the chairs in the galley have tennis balls on the ends of the legs, as well as tie downs attached to them; this is to prevent sliding during rough seas.
One of the challenges of working on a moving platform is seasickness. Nausea can be really debilitating, and it prevents many people from enjoying time on the water. I am not prone to it, but I am aware it could still afflict me at any time. Luckily, we have had very calm seas, and I have felt great, even when typing on the computer or slicing up fish! I brought some anti-seasickness medication with me but I have not needed it yet. I also have some candied ginger with me that I have been enjoying, though not for medicinal purposes.
The scenery this week has been incredible as we weave our way through the bays and fjords of the Kenai Peninsula. McCarty fjord, carved 23 miles into the coast, was very impressive. The fjord is flanked by massive green mountains and towering cliffs. This majestic landscape was carved by ancient glaciers. I have spotted a few bald eagles, and, with binoculars, one of the deck crew members saw a brown bear mama and two cubs. As much as I love the open ocean, it’s exciting to be close to shore, so we can enjoy Alaska’s dramatic vistas and wildlife.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Leah Johnson Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces July 21 – August 3, 2015
Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast Date: Thursday, July 30th, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Time 12:13 PM
Water Temperature 25.62 °C
Salinity 35.3592 ppt
Air Temperature 29.8 °C
Relative Humidity 71 %
Wind Speed 13.23 knots
Wind Direction 159.25
Air Pressure 1013.2 mbar
Science and Technology Log: Career Spotlight: I would like to introduce everyone to Ensign Hollis Johnson, one of the Junior Officers on NOAA Ship Pisces. She was kind enough to let me ask her a few questions about life at sea.
Ensign Hollis Johnson
Q: What is the role of a Junior Officer (JO) on this ship?
A: The primary duty of a JO is driving the ship. We are also the eyes and ears of the Commanding Officer (CO). We carry out standing orders, ensure ship safety, and also make sure the scientists are getting what they need for their survey work.
Q: Does this job description vary depending on the ship?
A: This is a generic fleet-wide description, and some ships are a little different. On hydrographic ships, there is more computer-based work with data collection. On fisheries ships, collateral duties are split amongst the JOs; for example, we have an environmental compliance officer, a safety officer, a movie officer, and a navigation officer.
Q: What do you like best about your job and being at sea?
A: I really like driving the ship. Few jobs offer this kind of an opportunity! I also like the fact that no two days are ever the same, so my job is a constant adventure. The best things about being at sea in general are the sunrises and sunsets, and the dolphins, of course.
Q: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job and life at sea?
A: This job requires long hours. We can easily work 12-16 hour days, and while in port we still have to work some weekends. Because of this time commitment, we have to make sacrifices. But, we get that time back with our land assignments because there is more flexibility.
Q: When do NOAA Corps officers go to sea, and for how long do they stay?
A: After a 5-month training period, JOs are sent straight to sea assignments for 2 year periods. This can be extended or shortened by 6 months depending on what you are looking for in your next assignment. I extended my assignment at sea for 5 months so I could get my upcoming land assignment in California to work with dolphins for 3 years. After the land-based assignment, NOAA officers typically return to sea as operations officers, then back to land, then sea as executive officers, and so on. That is how you move up.
Q: What exactly will you be doing when you are on your next assignment in California?
A: The title of my position will be Cetacean Photo Specialist. I will be in La Jolla, CA, doing boat and aerial surveys, lots of GIS work and spatial surveys of marine mammal populations. I will participate in the center’s marine mammal stranding network. I will also be involved with outreach and education, which includes giving tours and presentations on scientific studies happening at the lab.
Q: Is life at sea different from what you expected?
A: Actually, it is easier than I thought it would be. I have always been a homebody and lived near my parents, I’m always busy here so time flies. I have internet and phone service so I still feel connected.
Q: Where did you go to college, and what degree did you earn?
A: I attended the University of Georgia, and earned a B.S. in Biology with a focus in marine biology.
Q: When / how did you decide to pursue a career in science?
A: When I was a kid I went to Sea World and fell in love with the whales and dolphins. I always loved animal planet. I also considered being a veterinarian for a while. I tried to be realistic because it is hard to land a career as a marine biologist, but I interned at a lot of places and made connections so I could do what I wanted to do.
Q: How did you find out about careers with NOAA?
In college, I took a summer course about marine mammals and toured a NOAA lab. About a year later, in June, my uncle saw the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster in port in Georgia, and I talked to someone on board about the work they were doing at sea. I immediately applied, interviewed, and was commissioned in January. It all happened very fast once I found out about it.
Q: You were one of the divers who recovered the missing trap this week. How long have you been diving?
A: I was certified to dive when I was 18. It is amazing, and something everyone should try. When I became an officer, the first thing I did was beg my command to send me to the NOAA Dive Center for training as a working diver.
Q: If a high school student is interested in a career like yours, what advice would you give?
A: Do a lot of volunteer work before you expect to get paid. You are investing in your future. If you want it bad enough you have to make sacrifices – but it will pay off. Make connections. If a marine biologist gives a presentation at your school, hang out after and talk with them. Ask for their email address and follow up. It’s a small world in marine research and networking is key.
Q: What is your favorite marine animal, and why?
A: I love thresher sharks and octopuses, but I’ll say Orcas. I’ve always found their species-wide diversity fascinating.
There are so many people on this cruise who scuba dive and see amazing things below the sea surface. I have only snorkeled. I see dive certification in my future!
Did You Know?
The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services in the United States. Their motto is “Science, service, stewardship”.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Kathleen Gibson Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II July 25-August 8, 2015
Mission: Shark Longline Survey Geographic Area of the Cruise: Atlantic Ocean off the Florida and Carolina Coast Date: July 29, 2015 Coordinates: LAT 2933.3326N LONG 8029.065W
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots): 9.2
Sea Temp (deg C): 29.6
Air Temp (deg C): 28.7
Yesterday was the first full day of sampling. We were off the coast of Miami, FL and it was relatively shallow. I’m not sure how many sharks I expected to see on my first day, but certainly not the 80 + that we did catch!
Science and Technology Log – A, B, C’s of Fishing for Sharks
Kristin Hannan preselected our stations following a random stratified approach. Sampling stations have A, B, or C designations, depending on the depth (A is more shallow than B or C). The night crew went on duty at midnight and completed one station yesterday morning. We completed three stations during our shift yesterday and three more today.
The bridge lets us know when we’re 30 minutes from our station, and we begin preparations. We bait the hooks with mackerel 20 minutes ahead of time.
When we get to the station, the longline is fed out from the stern of the ship and extends one mile. A
marker, called a high flyer, is attached to the beginning of the line. One hundred baited gangions are attached to the line at intervals after which another high-flyer marks the end of the line. The ship then returns to the starting point, the line is hauled in and the fun begins. If there is a shark on the line, the deck crew fisherman calls out “Shark On!” That’s the signal for someone from the science group to step up and take the shark, remove the hook and collect data.
The following data collected is collected for all sharks:
Total Length: Nose to end of tail when extended manually
Tag numbers and tissue sample collection is also noted if applicable.
Early morning haul back by the night shift. Video taken from the highest point on the ship.
Most of the sharks caught were small enough to bring up and hand to the science team. We use a wooden measuring board to determine lengths. Those that were a bit larger were brought up on deck by the fishermen and they required multiple handlers to collect data.
Very large sharks had to be measured with the help of a cradle and hoist. The cradle is lowered to water level and large sharks are coaxed onto the cradle using the hook and line they are still attached to. A hoist brings them to deck height for assessment. Deck Operations Crew manages all shark retrieval and determines when is safe for us to proceed.
Most of the sharks that we’ve caught have been Atlantic Sharpnose. This shark is relatively small (adults average 0.85 M) and are found in shallow Atlantic coastal waters from New Brunswick down into the Gulf of Mexico, and even off the coast of Brazil. They are known by at least 8 common names in different regions. My Biology students would recognize this as a good example of why it’s important to use agreed-upon scientific names for scientific research. The scientific name for this species is Rhizoprionodon terraenova. It has a long snout (longer than the width of the head) and most adults have a few white spots on a gray body.
Sharpnose mature relatively quickly and can begin producing offspring within two years; also, they can have up to 5-7 pups at once. These are major factors contributing to the abundance of this species. In comparison, larger sharks may take up to 15 years to reach maturity and typically have fewer offspring in each brood.
Our catch also included one Blacknose (Carcharhinus acronotus) and multiple Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini), Nurse (Ginglymostoma cirratum) and Spinner sharks (Carcharhinus brevipinna).
Larger specimens were brought to deck height using a cradle, for weight, size, and sex determination, and were lowered back into the water after being measured and tagged.
If your interests tend toward science mixed with heavy machinery, skilled fishing, robotics or electronics, perhaps one of the following careers is for you.
Tim Martin: Chief Boatswain
As the Chief Boatswain, Tim Martin is responsible of all activities that happen on deck and he maintains constant communication with the bridge during all operations. Tim came to NOAA fisheries with a wealth of experience gained while serving in the U.S. Navy and later as a commercial fisherman in the Pacific Northwest. He was initially classified as a “Skilled Fisherman” with NOAA and has worked his way up to Chief Boatswain.
He and his group set and retrieve the longline. They also run all of the heavy deck equipment, such as the cranes that are used to position the shark cradle for large sharks and the CTD (water Sampling device). The Chief Boatswain is also responsible for training new crewmembers and maintaining ship supplies. In addition, Tim has earned Dive Master Certification through the NOAA Diving School, considered to be the best civilian diving school in the US.
When asked what keeps him going, Tim is very clear that he believes the work that NOAA Fisheries does is very important, and he is proud to be able to use his expertise to support NOAA’s efforts. This satisfaction somewhat tempers the challenges of the job which include being at sea for at least 6 months of the year, and constantly being in a training flux. Tim feels a strong bond with his crew and there is a clear sense of mutual trust and respect among them.
Ken Wilkinson: Electronic Technician (Supreme), NOAA Fisheries Engineering Unit
Ken has been with the Engineering Unit of NOAA Fisheries for 26 years. The mission of his Unit is to
support NOAA Fishery research by developing innovative technology. Ken always wanted to work on the water and he initially studied Marine Biology in college, but he migrated toward electronics. His work allows him to combine two great interests. His work takes him to sea 50-80 days each year.
A major focus of the electronics unit is to support the Reef Fish program. Trawling nets and longline apparatus will damage reef systems. In order to assess reef fish populations in a non-invasive way, Ken and his group work a number of Remotely Operated Vehicles that capture still and moving images that can be used later to determine abundance and species diversity. Ken’s unit has also developed a device called an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). This programmable instrument scans the sea floor using lasers and data collected is used to develop more accurate sea floor maps.
New device: Kennenator 5000 Dual Laser
Ken is on board the Oregon II testing his new device that can be used to assess the size of large sharks without bringing them to deck height. Ken’s device has two lasers set at a fixed distance from one another. The beams are directed toward the shark while it remains at the surface of the water. Various measurements can be extrapolated from the laser measurement. Large sharks caught on the longline survey are typically brought to the surface in the cradle for assessment. Cradle use is preferred as it allows tagging and tissue sample collection and sex determination. However, there are situations when this is not possible such as when poor weather conditions develop which limit sling operations, and some small vessels are not equipped with sling equipment.
The fast pace of the haul back at early stations was jarring. I stepped up when “Shark On” was called and a writhing Sharpnose was thrust into my hands. The first task is to get the hook out of the shark’smouth and this is no small feat. The circle hook is designed is to reduce the chance that the shark will swallow the hook or get hurt by it, but getting these hooks out of the mouth without hurting the shark requires technique. There will be plenty of opportunities to get the hang of in the next week.
A highlight of this first day was getting up close to a 2 meter long Scalloped Hammerhead brought to the surface in the cradle. I was able to feel its head, observe its eyes, and place an identification tag near its dorsal fin before it was lowered back into the water.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cristina Veresan Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 28 – August 16, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Data from the Bridge Latitude: 58° 27.7′ N Longitude: 149° 31.0′ W
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: S
Wind speed: 2 knots
Sea Wave Height: 1 ft.
Swell Wave: 0 ft.
Sea Water Temperature: 14.4° C
Dry Temperature: 14.8° C
Science and Technology Log
We steamed out of the port of Kodiak, sailing northeast into the Gulf of Alaska. From the bow, I looked back and saw the busy harbor, full of fishing boats of all sizes, slowly fade away. Scanning the water, I saw two sea otters floating on their backs with their arms in the air. I spotted a few puffins dotting the surface of the water, with their characteristic black and white plumage and orange beaks. In the distance, a spout rose from the ocean’s surface, evidence of a whale below. The sea was calm and the sun was shining. I breathed in the salty air. I was feeling grateful to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea and ready for this mission.
So what exactly is our mission here aboard the Oscar Dyson? We are conducting fisheries research, primarily a Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey. A fish survey is like a scientific fishing trip! The surveys, when conducted consistently and repeatedly over time, allows scientists to monitor trends in fish abundance and changes in the marine ecosystem. The data from these surveys are used, along with data collected from fishermen and other sources, to set sustainable catch limits, ensuring a healthy supply of pollock in the future..
The science team is from the Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering (MACE) group of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington. This is the third and final leg of their summer assessment of the walleye pollock population in the Gulf of Alaska. We will be traveling along predetermined, randomized transect lines, and scientists will use acoustic technology, along with catch data from nets towed behind the boat, to assess the pollock population. Walleye pollock is the targeted species, though everything we catch will be identified and measured.
You might not have seen walleye pollock on a menu, but you probably have eaten it. Pollock is the “Fish” in McDonald’s “Filet-o-Fish” sandwiches. Pollock are also masters of disguise and can sometimes be found imitating crab meat. Yes, that imitation crab (surimi) in your California roll is usually ground up and re-formed pollock. In fact, the pollock fishery is one of the largest and most valuable in the world. Walleye pollock are a schooling, semi-demersal (bottom) fish that is found at depths up to 1000 feet and widely distributed throughout the North Pacific Ocean. They can grow up to 3.5 feet and live up to about 20 years old. Pollock feed mainly on krill when they are young; when they mature, they eat young pollock and other teleosts (bony fish). That’s right, they are cannibalistic! Recently, after extensive genetic studies, the scientific name of this fish changed from Theragra chalcogramma to Gadus chalcogrammus. This change placed the walleye pollock in an evolutionary lineage that includes the Pacific, Atlantic, and Greenland Cods. In Alaska, about 1.5 million tons of this fish are caught each year. With each fish weighing an average of 3 pounds, that’s about 1 billion fish annually!
Shipmate Spotlight: Emily Collins
What is your position on the Oscar Dyson?
I am on the science team, and for all three legs of the survey this summer, I have been the Lab Lead.
Where did you go to school? I earned a BS in Biology (marine science concentration) from Boston University. I am attending Southern Oregon University in the fall for graduate work in Environmental Education.
What do you enjoy most about your work? I certainly like playing with fish, but I enjoy the people the most. This is an awesome group of scientists and I really like meeting new people each cruise, too. I enjoy learning new things from different scientists.
Have you had much experience at sea? Yes, after college, I worked as a fisheries observer for 2 ½ years on various east coast boats from Maine to Virginia and 1 ½ years on boats in Alaska. As an observer, I boarded commercial fishing vessels and kept fishing data on the catch and discarded species and collected biological samples for the National Marine Fisheries Service. I have been on trawlers (pollock, ground fish), gillnet vessels (cod), scallop dredgers, pair trawls (herring), pot vessels (cod) and longliners (halibut, sablefish). Observer data is used to conduct stock assessments, which are used in managing the fisheries.
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? You can usually find me in the wet lab. I am in charge of the wet lab and sampling all the fish that we catch: identifying, weighing, measuring fish and collecting otoliths and other biological samples. I also help with camera operations and data management, so I am often in the Chem Lab or Acoustics Lab on a computer.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science? I always liked biology and knew it was a career goal. I took a Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic voyage in the Galapagos my senior year of high school and Sylvia Earle was onboard as an expert naturalist. The snorkeling was unbelievable. I saw so many fish, sea turtles, penguins, and sea lions. That was my inspiration for studying marine biology
What are your hobbies? I love to travel, hike and snowboard. And I do arts and crafts, like paper arts and beadwork.
What do you miss most while working at sea? I miss my friends and family the most (Hi Mom!). And being able to eat out at different restaurants.
What is your favorite marine creature? Bluefin Tuna because they are huge, fast, and they live in the open ocean.
Inside the Oscar Dyson: Staterooms
So once our work is finished, where do we finally get some rest? Staterooms are what you call the sleeping quarters aboard the ship. Emily Collins and I share a stateroom. There are bunk beds, and I am on the top and Emily is on the bottom. We each have a locker to store our clothes, and there is a desk and shelving to stow odds and ends. You have to latch the locker doors closed, or they will slam when the ship moves. There is a head (bathroom) with a toilet, sink and shower attached to our stateroom. It is important to keep voices down in your stateroom and moving through the corridors, as people are sleeping at different times of the day! We have a porthole in our room, but since it is summer in the high latitudes, it is dark for only about 4-5 hours a day. The quarters are cozy but comfortable. I enjoy getting lulled to sleep by the rolling motion of the ship.
As Teacher at Sea, I am an active member of the science team and I have been assigned the day shift, which means that I work from 4am-4pm. I think this shift will be great because it is a little more of a regular schedule, just getting up really early and going to bed really early. I come on shift when it is actually dark and then, after about an hour, I enjoy the sunrise over the water. During the shift, as our work allows, we can break for breakfast and lunch. And we can get coffee as needed…which is a lot!
Safety is the first priority of everyone aboard the Oscar Dyson. The ship’s officers have briefed us about safety procedures, and we have participated in drills for different scenarios, such as Man Overboard and Abandon Ship. For the Abandon Ship drill, we grabbed our PFD (personal floatation device) and survival suit from our staterooms and mustered on the deck to find our lifeboat group.
Here’s to a productive and safe voyage aboard the Oscar Dyson!