Days at Sea: 18 Nautical Miles traveled: 3802.9 nm Location when we were farthest north and farthest west: 61 20.300N/176 05.250 W XBTs: 113 CTDs: 21 AWTs: 28 Methots: 7
Average Swell Height: 2- 3 ft Wind Speed Range: 3 – 22 knots Average temperature: 6° C/42.8°F
Types of cetaceans seen: 5 (fin whale, killer whale, Dall’s porpoise, sea lion, sperm whale) Types of birds seen: 7+ (including fulmar, murre, kittiwake, petrel, albatross, puffin, & bald eagle) Logs seen: 3 (unfortunately there was not an arborist who could identify them)
Average number of meals eaten per day: 5 (first breakfast, second breakfast, snack, elevenses, dinner)
Times I worked out in the aft gym for the “European Challenge”: 7
Times we fell out of our chairs laughing: too many to count!
Top five things I am thankful for:
The willingness of all the scientists, officers and crew to answer my questions and explain what it is they are doing
The chance to try my hand at fish processing (I will get you otoliths), net operations (10 out!), bridge operations (this is a test), and survey tech skills (mark XBT 135!).
The delicious food – to quote Michele, it was like eating at my favorite restaurant every day thanks to Ray and Floyd!
Our amazing shift – Neal, Abby, Katie and Michele are fantastic and I am lucky to have gotten the chance to get to work with them (and laugh with them)
The weather – although we had no control over it, it was great to have such pleasant weather the whole trip. Yes, there were foggy days and high winds but they made the clear days that much more exciting.
Top five things for a TAS to bring on the Oscar Dyson
Flash drive (no need to rely on the Internet)
Fleece/wool cap (its cold in the fish lab)
Workout clothes (2 gyms, endless choices)
Slip-on shoes you can put through the wash (they will smell like fish!)
Digital Camera (keep it in your pocket at all times, you never know when you might spot a walrus)
(BONUS) A Coffee Mug — you won’t want to be without your peppermint hot chocolate or latte
Time: 1500 Latitude: 57.34N Longitude: 173.35W Cloud Cover: 2/8 Wind: 10 knots Air Temperature: 8.50 C/ 470 F Water Temperature: 8.10 C/ 470 F Barometric Pressure: 1021.4 mb
During this trip, it has been amazing how the days have blended into each other. There are times when it has been hard to even remember what we did in the morning (before breakfast) by the time lunch rolls around. In some ways, a “day” is not a useful unit of measurement for time. Instead, things happen in moments.
Sightings of mammals and birds require you to be at the right place at the right time. Yesterday, during dinner, a call came into the mess hall from the flying bridge — sperm whales and killer whales off the port bow. Within seconds, everyone hustled into gear, shoveling down the last bites of food, clearing their plates and heading up to see the whales. I went all the way up to the flying bridge and was able to see three different sperm whales catching their breath before diving back to the depths. Ernesto also showed me the killer whales through the big eyes. As sperm whales can be down for 45-50 minutes, it is very exciting to catch them at the surface as we are moving to fast to see them on their next trip up.
In addition, timing is important to ensure that operations on the ship continue smoothly. For example, fishing operations involve three teams (officer on deck, the deck crew and the scientists) all working together to ensure that the fish we spot get in the net, on the boat, and processed as quickly as possible. As Katie, Michele and I became more familiar with processing, we were able to move through the hauls much faster. On Tuesday, we completed three hauls in our shift and still had time to catch up on emails, learn about the Aleutian volcanoes and attempt to master some old-school knots.
While we’re on the subject of timing, I have to mention the crew’s and scientists’ comedic timing. I can’t tell you how much time I have spent laughing and joking while on this cruise. It could be as simple as a funny face someone makes when confronted by a huge jellyfish or as nerdy as when someone uses the word of the day in a sentence. As the trip comes to a close (we will be in port by 9 am on Friday), I have started to think about how I will take this experience back to my classroom and to my friends and family. In addition to the science and the amazing sights I have seen, I will definitely take the memories of how often we fell out of our chairs laughing.
Time: 1500 Latitude: 57.34N Longitude: 173.35W Cloud Cover: 2/8 Wind: 10 knots Air Temperature: 8.50 C/ 470 F Water Temperature: 8.10 C/ 470 F Barometric Pressure: 1021.4 mb
How can I join the Oscar Dyson?
Wish you could join the Oscar Dyson on its next journey? There are a number of ways you could come aboard:
• Join NOAA Corps – NOAA Corps partake in officer training and complete years of service to earn officer ranks (such as the CO, XO, Operations Officer, etc). Unlike other military branches, NOAA Corps are required to hold a bachelor’s degree and have significant course work in math, science and/or engineering. For more information, click here.
• Become a Deckhand/Fisherman – NOAA employs wage mariners for their deck crew. The Oscar Dyson has a deck and fishing crew to help keep the boat in order and to support the scientific research (moving the net, bringing the CTD in and out). For more information, click here.
• Become a specialist – Beyond the deck crew, the ship needs specialists to help it run smoothly. We have a crew of amazing engineers, two great survey technicians, and a Steward department that keeps us well fed (the food is delicious here!). For more information,click here.
• Work for the National Marine Fisheries Service – most employees join a trip to complete field research and to ensure data collection and processing for those back in the lab. The Oscar Dyson works primarily with scientists from theAlaska Fisheries Science Center for the summer cruises.• Work for another marine life service – As mentioned before, there are two birders (from the Fish and Wildlife commission), three mammalian observers (from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory), and a scientist from the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab oratory. In addition, we are hosting two Russian scientists who are also studying pollock.
• Serve as a NOAA Intern – NOAA has a variety of internship opportunities for graduate, undergraduate and even high school students. You can check out more information here.
• Be like me and join a cruise as a Teacher At Sea – If you work in education (as a K-college teacher/administrator, an adult education teacher or a museum curator), you can apply to serve as a Teacher At Sea. Trust me, its awesome. (more information and application information can be found at their website.
Word of the day
sagacious: having sound judgment
CO: Commanding Officer
XO: Executive Officer
A modern city has a network of companies that provide us with modern conveniences (water, electricity, sewage and trash removal). A NOAA research vessel provides those same conveniences to its crew through the complex engineering network. We wouldn’t be able to eat, drink, take showers, or conduct research without the expertise of our engineers.
Sea water is taken in by an intake valve about 6 m below the surface. It goes through a variety of cleaning processes to filter, distill and purify the water for human consumption. First, small sea creatures are removed by a filter known as the “sea chest.” Here is a picture of some of the creatures captured by the sea chest in the Oscar Dyson. Next, the water is distilled using the heat from the engine under a vacuum to remove dissolved ions. The water is then purified using bromine and UV light before it is pumped into the piping system (running throughout the ship in pipes labeled “potable water”). The water is so pure that we have to add salt for the espresso machine to recognize the water level (the science of the espresso machine will have to wait for a later entry).
Lights, Camera, Acoustics
The Oscar Dyson requires electricity to run the ships instruments, the scientific equipment and the lights which allow us to keep the ship operational 24/7. Our power is generated by the engines which also propel the ship forward. The Oscar Dyson runs on diesel fuel and uses larger, more powerful versions of the engines we find in cars. We use about 110 gallons of fuel each hour to maintain scientific and navigational operations.
Taking out the trash
Kitchen and food waste are the main sources of trash on the Oscar Dyson. Trash is sorted and disposed of based on how it breaks down. Food, which decomposes, is released into the ocean to re-enter the ecosystem. Combustible items (such as paper, napkins, etc) are burned in the ship’s incinerator which is run every night. Non-combustible items, such as aluminum cans, are recycled and brought back to land.
And out the other end Although a less than pleasant topic to discuss over dinner, it is important to remember that a ship must track its human waste as well. Per NOAA regulations, human waste is treated through a complex process before being released into the ocean (to re-enter the eco-system). This process, like those of water treatment plants and septic systems on land, break down the waste through multiple steps involving biological, physical and chemical reactions. Ask me for more information if you really want the dirty details.
Who’s watching the engines? The Oscar Dyson employs an engineering staff of seven, who have specialized training and job responsibilities to ensure proper functioning and maintenance of the vessel. Like all good engineers, they usually work behind the scenes so it was great to get an inside look at the inter-workings of the ship.
hull: watertight body of a ship distill: remove impurities ions: an atom with a positive or negative charge. Ions are created when elements gain or lose electrons. They can be in the form of a solid or a liquid (dissolved) UV light: ultraviolet light
As we have moved farther west, we have encountered more fish and are therefore completing more trawls. Yesterday was our biggest day so far and we completed two trawls for pollock (referred to as AWTs for Aleutian Wing Trawl) and one Methot during our 12 hour shift (with more fishing done in the next shift). Our first trawl started at the beginning of our shift and we hustled to finish processing before breakfast. To help keep our spirits up, Abby, Michele, Katie, Robert and I rocked out to some 80s tunes as we sorted and processed fish. Imagine the five of us bopping around the lab, in our foul weather gear, with scalpels in hand, while Rick Springfield wishes he had Jessie’s Girl, all before sunrise.
Even though we completed three hauls, I still had time to work on my “Run Across Germany” (for Chuck Norris Snuggle Muffin) and to spend time with the mammal observers. As I mentioned before, marine mammal observers have to be extremely patient. I spent about an hour and a half with them yesterday evening and saw two groups of whales through the big eyes (which was more than average). One was clearly a group of 2-3 fin whales while another was an unidentified blow.
The marine mammal observers mark all sightings in a data program with a mapping function that then predicts where the cetaceans might be moving so the observers can identify whether future sightings are the same or new animals. They might see two or three sets of blows before they spot any part of the body which could help them identify it. Fin whales come up to the surface once every 8-10 minutes and it took until the third set of blows before marine mammal observer Paula Olson was able to identify them (I got to see them on the fourth surface visit).
While we were waiting for the fin whales to come up again, Paula explained that in our part of the Bering Sea, there are five cetacean species that we are most likely to see. We determined that with the fin whale sighting I have already seen three (killer whales, Dall’s porpoises, and fin whales) leaving me with two species to scope out before we leave (minke whales and humpback whales (you know, like Humphrey)). Hopefully the weather will stay clear and I’ll be able to spend some more time on the flying bridge.
Animals Seen • Squid • Fin Whales • Pteropods • Ctenophores • Amphipods • Euphausiids • Pollock
Word of the day descry: to catch sight of something in the distance
After my shift ends at 1600, I usually hit up one of the gyms. That’s right, I said gyms – plural. There is a forward gym that contains a treadmill, an exercise bike and an elliptical and an aft gym, located in the winch room, which contains a treadmill, an ERG machine, a spin bike and free weights. Abby, Katie, Michele and I usually hit up the gym at about the same time and have a great time comparing our ability to not do ring push-ups while we rock out to music.Workout time is a way for us to zone out for a while even though we have to stay focused on our movements when the swells are high (see weather entry for more information). I’ve tried using the treadmill a couple times and feel like I’m getting twice the workout because I have to use my core and arms to keep me steady.Since the gym is a popular place for many residents of the Oscar Dyson, Ensign Amber Payne spearheaded a “European Challenge of the Century.” While we travel our transects on the Bering Sea, officers, crew and scientists are tasked to climb the Matterhorn (lower body workout), bike the Tour de France (exercise or spin bike), swim the English Channel (there is a pool in Dutch Harbor), hang-glide across Ireland (ab workouts), and more. We were assigned teams randomly and have the opportunity to contribute while we are at sea. My team, Chuck Norris Snuggle Muffin, has taken an early lead but other teams are getting into the spirit and the gyms have been more crowded recently. The competition will last until the end of the field season (early October) but I am excited to contribute while I can.
In addition to the gyms, people who are off duty congregate in the computer rooms or the lounge. Everyone on the ship has some quantity of work to do on the computer and email/messenger is the most reliable method of communication to family and friends off the boat (even though the Internet is less than reliable as we go farther north). We are lucky to have comfortable couches, a big screen TV and a collection of hundreds of movies, including several recent movies. Recently, a large group of us day shifters watched the classic Enter the Dragon and periodically imitate Bruce Lee as we launch XBTs and process pollock.
While on the subject of leisure activities, I should mention that I have taken an obscene number of photographs while I have been here and get entranced just looking out the window or watching the path of the short-tailed albatross. Here is a photo I took this morning after our first trawl of the morning (Fulmars are always circling the ship while we trawl):
New animals seen
short-tailed albatross (endangered)
brittle stars- Ophiura sp.
2 types of cockles- Clinocardium sp. and Serripes sp.
flounder- Kamchatka flounder
spiny lumpsucker (at right)
Weather Data from the Bridge Time: 1400 Latitude: 59.12 N Longitude: 174.02 W Cloud Cover: 5/8 Wind: 17 knots Air Temperature: 8° C/ 46° F Water Temperature: 7° C/ 45° F Barometric Pressure: 1006.9 mb
Aside from weather helping you decide what to wear for the day, weather is critical on board a research vessel. Each hour the bridge collects the same data that is then input into the AMVER Sea system and sent to NOAA Weather. Some of the information included is: time, latitude, longitude, cloud cover, air and water temperatures, wind, barometric pressure, visibility, and swell height. This helps determine our exact location (check out NOAA Shiptracker for more information) as well as the weather at sea and also weather inland. It is not uncommon for marine weather systems to move inland. This information also helps us understand long term climate changes, precipitation, and ocean currents.
Exactly where are we?
The latitude and longitude help determine the position of the ship and the time is recorded to understand how the ship is moving and in what direction. This allows the scientists to follow the transects to conduct their research. If I told you at 1500 hours (3pm) our mark was 58.00N and 171.48W, you would be able to pinpoint our location on a map. Our latitude so far on this trip (July 7th) has been in the range of 56.12N-58.69N depending on the transect that we are following and the longitudes’ range is between 170.01W-171.48W.
It’s cloudy again?
It tends to be quite cloudy and foggy here in the Bering Sea and cloud cover is measured in eighths of the sky. For example, on July 6th the cloud cover at 1500 hours was 7/8 which means that 87.5% of the sky was filled with clouds. Cloud type and location can help predict the type of weather. The majority of our days have been 8/8 or 100% cloud cover with stratus clouds and lots of moisture in the air.
This is definitely not the heat wave they are getting back home!
This brings us to air temperature and wind. The temperature is always taken on the windward side of the ship because this is the side of the ship in the stream of air fresh from the sea that has not been in contact with or passed over the ship. There are two types of thermometers in each case on the deck in front of the bridge. The dry bulb measures the air temperature and the wet bulb has a muslin wick which absorbs heat from the thermometer. The temperature difference between the two, called the depression of the wet bulb, can help determine what the percent humidity is by referring to the humidity chart. Wind can affect these readings which is why there are thermometers on either side of the bridge. The wind direction is logged as the same direction from which the sea waves are coming. Average temperature through July 7th for Leg II has been 5.680C/420F with winds averaging 10.29 knots. The weather mentioned has been the trend for Leg II; however, this could be changing by the end of the week…stay tuned!
Hold on tight!
It’s July 10 and we are still waiting for the big seas to hit us. (not that I am complaining about calm weather!) The swells have gotten larger and the wind definitely picked up yesterday. The strongest wind recorded yesterday was 26 knots while on my shift. There is still a chance for NW sustained winds up to 25 knots and 10 foot seas before the weekend is up. Part of the reason for calmer seas yesterday was that we were so far north and the low pressure system was to the south of us. It was actually the farthest north I have ever been, and we will go even farther north before it is time to head back to Dutch Harbor.
Word of the day
barometric pressure: the downward force that the atmosphere exerts per unit of a certain area.
swell height: measure of wind waves generated locally; vertical distance between trough and crest
muslin wick: plain woven cotton fabric
humidity: the amount of moisture in the air
gale force winds: strong winds between 28-47 knots
One of my favorite things about science research is that scientists accept that there will be errors. Sometimes things will not go as you plan. While you might have great luck one day, everything might go wrong the next day. Life at sea is similar in that way – while you have some sense of what you will be up against, you have to be flexible for the challenges that may arise. As I reach the halfway point of my trip, I wanted to highlight a few of those challenges as most of my entries have been all about the successes.
XBT Fail As I mentioned earlier, XBTs are a pretty routine part of the day on the Oscar Dyson. On a given day, we might conduct an XBT every one to two hours. In addition to being regular they are also pretty easy. Basically, you drop a torpedo shaped sensor into the water and record data until it reaches the bottom. Sounds straight-forward right? As long as you know where the bottom is. On my second day, I was tasked with throwing the XBT and cut off the sensor before it reached the bottom. (I didn’t realize that the computer would tell me when it reached the bottom. As some of my students would say “Swine.”) While I was teased for my error, this apparently is a common mistake and the fix is easy enough – throw another one.
Talk of Whales I keep missing the orca sightings. Either I am too far from a window or without binoculars when I am told there is a sighting or I am only told hours later. The challenge of course is that cetacean sightings are brief by nature. These air-breathing mammals only need to come up to the surface once every 10 to 20 minutes. If you are not in the right place at the right time, you will miss it. It doesn’t help that there have been several occasions where it has been too foggy to see any whales that weren’t next to the ship. I could mope about my lack of visible evidence, but I instead recognize that I cannot plan a whale sighting and need to be patient if I hope to see them.
A Tree of Hope One afternoon, while stalking the mammal observers on the bridge, we got word on the radio that they had spotted something about a half mile ahead and the mammal observers requested that we slow down to check it out. Everyone on the bridge hustled into action – scanning the horizon with the binoculars and trying to identify what object could be floating on the surface and covered with Murres. As you probably guessed from the title of this section, it was only a tree. We all had a good laugh at ourselves and remembering that there is humor in failure was an experience worth having.
Searching for Fish Just like whales, you can’t force the pollock to stop by at the appointed time. Although I might be ready to fish, there may not be fish in our area of the Bering Sea. On the days when we spent 12 hours waiting for fish, I have to remind myself that the point of the survey is that there are places with no fish. If there were fish everywhere, we wouldn’t need to conduct a survey. As a teacher, I am used to constantly being pulled in several directions at once and it has been a challenge to build up my reserve of patience and to capitalize on my quiet time to get as much as I can out of this experience.
Time Delay Even though there is a great deal of down time, I am finding it hard to make sure I get enough sleep each night. Waking up for the 0400 shift is challenging because I find it hard to convince myself to go to bed at a reasonable hour. My body does not seem to understand that even if the sun is breaking through the clouds for the first time at 8 pm, it is time to go to sleep or that when the alarm rings at 3:30 and it is pitch black outside, it is time to wake up. Even though this is challenging for me, I recognize that the 0400-1600 shift is a preferred shift because I am able to keep my eating schedule on track. Scientists and crew who work an overnight shift eat meals out of order and have to prepare food to heat up later. Time Delay Part 2 You also may have noticed that sometimes the dates and times listed on the posts do not correspond to when they were actually posted. Although the Eastern Bering Sea is behind most of the US time zone wise, we are not THAT far behind. It usually takes me a little time to write up what I have done and get it ready for posting. Also, we don’t always have Internet (as we are in the middle of the ocean). Even as I am posting this, things are changing. Who knows what will be next…
And now for your questions…What else would you like to know about our research, my activities or life on board? Post a question in the comments and I will try to answer in an upcoming post.
In the Bering Sea, pollock are so abundant that our mid-water trawls capture mostly pollock. However, there are a lot of other species in the Bering Sea that scientists are interested in. In addition to the Oscar Dyson, NOAA charters fishing boats (such as the Alaska Knight and the Aldebaron) to trawl on the ocean floor. This allows scientists to see more species in the Bering Sea. These ships trawl all day; sometimes up to 6 trawls a day. The groundfishing boats cover the eastern Bering Sea shelf, extending up to the region around St. Lawrence Island (a wider area than the Oscar Dyson will cover). While the Oscar Dyson focuses on euphausiids and pollock, the groundfishing boats examine everything else found on the bottom.
Who owns the water?
International laws provide countries with an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) within 200 miles of their shoreline. The area we are studying in the Bering Sea can be fished solely by fishing boats operated in the United States. On the other side of the Sea, Russians fish in their own 200-mile zone. However, in the middle there is a “donut hole” which is considered “international waters.” This Donut Hole supported a large pollock fishery in the late 1980’s. Here is a diagram showing the Donut Hole (interesting note, it is also called the Donut Hole in Russia (or at least called Bubleek — the Russian word for a donut hole.))
How do American scientists collaborate with scientists from other countries?
The United States works with other Pacific countries to conduct research on the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. For example, the Oscar Dyson, in addition to hosting two Teachers at Sea, is hosting two Russian scientists from the Pacific Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (TINRO) in Vladivostok, Russia – Mikhail Stepanenko and Elena Gritsay. I had the opportunity to sit down with Mikhail the other night and asked him about his experience and how he ended up on the Oscar Dyson.
Born and raised in Primorye, Mikhail spent a great deal of time at the Ussuri River. He studied biology at The Far East State University in Vladivostok and began researching at sea soon after his graduation in 1968. After the first USA-USSR agreement regarding marine research, Mikhail visited the United States and worked out of La Jolla, CA starting in 1969. He has spent about 5-6 months at sea per year for the last 40 years, including the last 18 summers on the NOAA summer pollock survey (specifically on the Oscar Dyson and its predecessor the Miller Freeman). This wealth of experience has made Mikhail an expert and he is a well-respected member of the Pacific marine science community.
Throughout the years, there have been numerous conferences between stakeholder countries and Mikhail has played an active role in recommending action for working together to maintain the populations of pollock and other fish. Mikhail has served on the Intergovernmental Consultative Committee (ICC) – a six-nation committee that meets biannually to discuss fishing polices in the “donut hole.” In addition, Mikhail worked as a Russian delegate during meetings which led to the creation of PICES (North Pacific Marine Science Organization), an “intergovernmental scientific organization, was established in 1992 to promote and coordinate marine research in the northern North Pacific and adjacent seas.” (Visit their website for more information.) Mikhail was elected Chairman of the Fisheries Science Committee (FIS), a branch of PICES, in 2008 and is currently preparing for their next meeting in October.
Each organization is trying to find the best policies to help understand the organisms through reproduction, population dynamics, stock assessments and fishery management. Mikhail’s wealth of knowledge, collaborative scientific research and commitment to the sustainable fishing benefits all members of the international community and we are lucky to have such a science superstar in our midst.
Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays although more for the activities accompanied with it than for the meaning. I usually celebrate the fourth by enjoying Food, Fireworks and time with Friends. On the Oscar Dyson some of those “F”s were substituted and as the festivities were around Fish, Food, and Flares. After what felt like forever, we finally trawled for fish today. It had clearly been too long for most members of the ship as we were surrounded by the paparazzi as we pulled the fish out onto the table and sorted through the mass of jellyfish. It was great to be actually sorting fish and I became an expert otolith-remover.After our shift finished, we were able to enjoy the holiday properly. Our steward department prepared an excellent Fourth of July BBQ complete with Flag Cake. I was a little surprised that the Oscar Dysonhas a grill on board but it made dinner feel more like an occasion. Weheld the BBQ on the boat deck and the lack of tables provided an opportunity to talk with new and different parties. I was glad that I was able to enjoy the BBQ (as some members of the staff were sleeping or on watch, they weren’t able to relax).
Also, it couldn’t be Fourth of July without a few colored smoke displays. Luckily, the Oscar Dyson had some expired flares and I was able to convince Operations Officer Sarah Duncan to show me how they worked. Different chemical reactions produce rapid heat and brightly colored smoke. If our boat were in distress, these flares would be used to alert other boats of our location. I was excited to see these flares up close (but not too close – Safety First!) and got some great footage to use when we discuss flame tests and emission spectra.Although our Fourth of July was more low key than in years past — the flare demonstration could not compare to the fireworks display on the Mall and I was in bed by 9 pm – it was a great way to celebrate the holiday.Animals Seen
brown jellies or northern sea nettle- Chrysaora melanaster
pollock- many 1-3 years
fulmarsWord of the day
In a previous post, I briefly mentioned that acoustics helps Oscar Dyson scientists locate aggregations of pollock. I didn’t know much about acoustics surveying before I arrived on board but think its pretty cool.The Oscar Dyson has 5 transducers on its center board and 1 temporary transducer on the side of the center board that looks horizontally. The transducers allow us to see where the fish are. Because of where the transducers are placed, we can only see the pollock from 16m to the bottom. This means that if there are any fish between the surface and 16m they will not be detected. This is the near surface “dead zone”. At right you will see a picture of the acoustic data picked up by the transducers. Why this happens? The transducers are mounted on the bottom of the centerboard about 9 m below the water line, and near the transducer face (first 7 m), no good data are collected. Why it’s okay? Pollock tend to hang out in mid-water. Although a few baby pollock might be in the near surface “dead zone,” the majority of pollock will be in the area we are watching. There is also a bit of a “dead zone” at the other end near the ocean floor.
Ideally, the acoustic data collection would allow us to track aggregations of pollock without actually having to fish them out of the water. All parties involved (scientists, fish, bank accounts) would benefit from this change but scientists are still in the process of perfecting this process. The Oscar Dyson is part of a fleet of five boats that was specifically designed for acoustics. Specifically, it is considered a “quiet boat” where the engine noise is decreased to prevent scaring the fish. Other acoustic projects include: Pacific hake off the coast from California to Vancouver Island (run as a joint project with Canada), herring in the northwest Atlantic, and krill in the Antarctic. Acoustics are used throughout the globe and many countries depend on acoustics for their fish surveys.
Looking in more than one direction
Along with the transducers, there is also a multibeam SONAR that produces the same information as the transducers but with a wider angle range. Scientists use this program to help separate species in the water column. The multibeam ME70 sends its signal out after the transducers information is sent and returned. They alternate about 1.5 seconds apart. Scientists around the world are working to improve this technology and we use information from a group at University of New Hampshire along with a program from Tasmania to analyze these data. Scientists utilize the multibeam ME 70 along with the transducers and fish trawling to ensure they are capturing an accurate picture of the mid-waters.
How the survey data we collect are used.
The data we collect on the Oscar Dyson during the summer pollock surveys are used by scientists and policy makers to determine the fishing quota (the “take”) of pollock for the next season. Quotas are important for maintaining the population of pollock (and other species) for this generation and generations to come. The data we collect on the Oscar Dyson help ensure that maximum stock can be taken without negatively impacting the Eastern Bering Sea pollock population.Thought Question: What could happen if we didn’t regulate the amount of fish that could be caught? Bonus points for anyone who can identify an area where overfishing has impacted the ecosystem.
As a former student of community development (go fighting okra!), I am always interested in the social science aspects of communities and towns. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about Dutch Harbor/Unalaska and was very excited when I learned we needed to make a pit stop in St. Paul, the largest of the Pribilof Islands. I learned about the Pribilofs at the Museum of the Aleutians and was intrigued by the islands’ remote location, abundant wildlife and complex history. The islands were uninhabited until Russian fur traders forced Aleuts to relocate to the Pribilofs in the late 18th century to harvest fur seal. Many Aleuts endured centuries of servitude and continue to call the Pribilofs home. As reported on a sign at the edge of town, St. Paul is home to the largest Aleut community in the world.
Overnight, the Oscar Dyson had stopped to pick up an ice-flow sensor from a buoy and needed to ship it back to Seattle for another project. As we were close to St. Paul, the decision was made to send a small crew into port to transport the sensor to the airport. After expressing my enthusiasm for the Pribilofs (the fur seals! the reindeer! The “Galápagos of the North!”) to our CO (Commanding Officer Mike Hoshlyk), he allowed Katie, Michele and I to accompany Amber Payne and Joel Kellogg on their mission into port.
For our mission, we got decked out in our protective weather gear (complete with float coats – basically, a winter coat with a PFD inside). After days of bopping around the boat in regular clothes, it was exciting to get “dressed up” and go out on “official business.” The water was glassy and still as we rode on the small Zodiac through the fog into the cove on St. Paul’s.
We met a taxi at the dock and headed to the airport. Driving through town was an amazing experience as the dark volcanic soil, the rolling green mossy hills and the dense fog created the sense of another world. We were probably a surprising sight as well when the we arrived at the airport — imagine four women in full boat gear (Joel stayed back to watch the boat) hauling a heavy, silver box through the small, fog engulfed building.
Once we had secured shipment for the sensor, we headed back into the fog on our way back to the ship. The fog produced limited visibility as we rode out of the cove, although we were able to spot some sea lions. There was a moment when we were surrounded by fog and I was relieved when the ship appeared in front of us. It looked like an eerie ghost ship on the calm water.
Almost everyone was on deck when we returned, as of course they were eagerly awaiting our arrival to get back on course and continue our journey. While I am unlikely to visit the Pribilofs again, I am glad that I was able to see such a unique place.
Murre (2 different types differentiated by bill type)
(but no fur seals…not sure why as there should be several hundred thousand living amongst the islands but their numbers have been in decline. See here for more information)
Bonus picture: Katie, Michele and I in our full gear. Check out those rain pants!
Now that we are at sea, I work a shift each day (as do all members of the crew and science team). I began my shift this morning at 0400 and reported to the Acoustics Lab to meet with chief scientist, Neal Williamson. In addition to Neal, my shift includes Abigail McCarthy, NOAA research fisheries biologist, Katie Wurtzell, awesome biologist and my fellow TAS, Michele Brustolon.We began the shift by observing our first CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth) profiler which will be deployed at least 10 times throughout our trip. The CTD measures conductivity, temperature, and depth (used to calculate salinity) and gathers samples to measure dissolved oxygen. In other words, it measures many of the physical properties of the seawater mixture in a specific column of water. In addition, fluorescence is measured to monitor chlorophyll up to a 100 m from the surface.How it works: The CTD is lowered down to the ocean floor, collecting data on the way down. Then, on the way back up, the survey tech stops the CTD at specific depths to collect water for the samples. Upon its return, the water is collected and treated for future analysis.
After our first CTD, we completed our first Methot trawl. A Methot trawl is named after the scientist who designed the net used. Here is a picture of the methot getting hauled back on deck (please note, it does actually get dark here. I woke up in the dead of night and had to wait two hours for sunrise. Sunrise is at the “normal” time of 6:30 am and I think that’s because we are on the western edge of the time zone)
A Methot net grabs the creatures and collects them into a codend (to make it easier for us to process) at 30-40 m below the surface – our Methot collected jellies and euphausiids (also known as krill). My first duty was to sort through the “catch” to pick out jellies. Next, we measured the weight of the krill before counting a small sample. We also preserved a couple samples for use in larger studies.
Following our Methot, I assisted with the completion of an XBT (eXpenable Bathymetric Thermograph). At left, you will see that I actually “launched” the XBT overboard. The XBT is used to collect quick temperature data from the surface to the sea floor. The data are graphed at depth vs. temperature to highlight the thermocline, that is where colder water meets water warmed by the sun. Here in the Bering Sea, the thermocline is not always noticeable as the water column is subject to mixing from heavy winds and shallow depths.
Lucky for us, it was a calm day on the water and we were able to see a distinct thermocline:
I think the CTDs and XBTs are really cool because they are pretty routine. Both processes are conducted all over the globe at consistent locations year after year. As you can see from the chart below, the CTDs and XBTs are marked out for the area the Oscar Dyson covers throughout the summer. (As I mentioned in my blog description, theOscar Dyson must travel the same route year after year for the pollock survey to ensure consistency in data collection).
Beyond the Oscar Dyson, these data are collected on every NOAA cruise that I read about and that data can be used to measure how a body of water is doing in general as well as how the water column of a specific location has changed over time. For example, longitudinal data are needed to note climate change within the Bering Sea. Pretty cool huh?
Vocabulary Note: I tried to define all the new terms I used in my entry. Did you notice a term I didn’t define? Ask me about it in the comments and I will make sure to provide you with a definition.
Thought Question: In the XBT data graph, why is the X axis labeled on the top rather than the bottom? (think about your coordinate plane)
Weather Data from the Bridge Time: 1600 hrs Latitude: 57.16 N Longitude: 169.09 W Cloud Cover: Dense fog Wind: 11.56 knots Air Temperature: 5.3°C (41.5°F) Water Temperature: 5.09°C (41.16°F) Barometric Pressure: 1005.02 mb
Did I mention I completed all the tasks in the previous post before lunch? That left us time to fish for pollock in the afternoon.
Why pollock? Walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) is an important fish for Alaska (and the entire United States). Although you may not know it, you’ve probably eaten pollock when you have enjoyed fish sticks or a fish sandwich at a fast food restaurant. Also, sushi lovers, artificial crab is made from pollock surimi. Walleye pollock produce one of the largest catch of any single species within US waters and accounts for over half the groundfish catch in Alaska (see:http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/species/pollock.php for more information)
How the Oscar Dyson helps? By surveying the pollock populations within the Bering Sea, scientists can gather data on these important fish – including size, gender distribution, maturity, location, and diet.
How do we find the fish? Scientists work around the clock gathering data through acoustics to identify the locations of aggregations (or schools). The Oscar Dyson has five transducers located across the bottom of the ship on its centerboard. These transducers send out signals and the data are graphed on large computer screens in our acoustics lab (more information on the acoustics lab will come in a later post) While on shift, we eagerly await word that a fish aggregation has been identified and await the trawl.
And the trawl… As mentioned above, we were lucky enough to spot fish during my first shift and we conducted the trawl in the afternoon. A trawl is a method where a large net is cast off the back and towed behind the boat until it fills with fish. The take varies based on the aggregations (or schools) identified and the net may be out for two minutes or an hour. This first trawl was out for 45 minutes before the crew hauled it in. It was amazing how many seabirds were swarming around the net as it was pulled up and how many jellyfish were caught in the lines. The first task, once the catch is brought on deck and placed in the fish table, is to sort the specimens. We had pollock, Pacific cod, and 2 types of jellies (including theChrysaora melanaster shown at right)
Once the catch was sorted, the fish were weighed and then sexed. After they were sorted into Blokes and Sheilas (males and females), the fish also had to be measured. A small sample was dissected to remove stomachs and otoliths (ear bones of pollock that are used by scientists to determine the age of the fish) for further study.
Animals Seen on First Shift
On our way out of Dutch Harbor and Captain’s Bay, I spent some time on the bow with Katie, Michele and birder Nate Jones. As I know very little about birds, I quizzed him on every flying specimen we encountered and used his binoculars to observe the birds up close. After a few sightings, I was able to identify the Fulmar by its unique wing movement (quick quick quick soar). We also saw tufted puffins and a black-footed albatross. There are two birders (Nate and Marty from US Fish and Wildlife Service) on this leg who are responsible for scanning the horizon and counting and identifying the seabirds they observe from the bridge.Here is bird observer Nate Jones scanning the horizon for seabirds:
We were distracted from our bird watching by a call of orcas. We hustled up to the “flying bridge” to join the marine mammal observers. There are three “mammals” (Paula, Yin and Ernesto from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory) on this leg and they are constantly scanning the horizon with their “big eyes” to observe and identify cetaceans. I was able to observe two separate groups of orcas and heard that porpoises were also spotted.Here is marine mammalian observer Ernesto Vazquez looking through the big eyes on the flying bridge:
Although I am technically on the fish shift, I hope to check in with the “birds” and “mammals” later in the cruise. After spotting birds and mammals, it’s time for the first installment of the “animals seen” list:Animals Seen in Dutch Harbor
(but no horses…)Animals Seen in Transit
Black Footed Albatross
As many of you know, I am a horrible speller. When I went to check the spelling for the birds I had seen, I spotted a Thick-billed Murre from the bridge. Okay, in reality, the observation and identification went more like this:
Me: “Hey that’s a bird”
Nate: “Yes, it was a Thick-billed Murre”
I am impressed by the seabird and marine mammal observers’ abilities to spot and identify birds and mammals from such far distances. Like any recall-related skill, I recognize that animal identification takes both an innate talent and years of practice. But the animal observers also need to have extreme patience to maintain a clear focus, a methodologically-sound routine and a sense of possibility (as the weather is not always in their favor). We’re lucky to have such talented scientists counting species in the Bering Sea.
As we say goodbye to land, we know the real adventure is about to begin
After 14 + hours of traveling from the sweltering heat of DC to the snow capped mountains of Alaska, I finally arrived in Dutch Harbor late Friday evening and began to explore the town on Saturday. Due to some mechanical difficulties, our departure was delayed and we were given a couple bonus days in Dutch Harbor which I definitely used to my advantage.
The town of Dutch Harbor and the neighboring village of Unalaska are located on the island of Unalaska, the second largest island in the Aleutian Chain. It is referred to in some documents as the gateway to the Western Aleutians – containing an airport and a large commercial fishing operation. The majority of full year residents appear to live in Unalaska (which contains the school district and schools) while Dutch Harbor contains commerce to support the local processing plants and canneries. According to the local I quizzed, there are about 3000 full year residents of Dutch Harbor and Unalaska and several hundred more fishermen stopping through.
Unalaska was originally home to the Unangan people who survived for thousands of years off the fish and mammals found in the sea before the Russians arrived in the mid-eighteenth century. As described by the Museum of the Aleutians, the relationship was first hostile but evolved into something that was treasured. Many residents of Unalaska are Russian Orthodox and several have Russian surnames. The Russian Orthodox church was completed in 1825 and is one of the oldest in North America (here is a picture of the outside).
Unalaska became a United States territory in 1867 (as part of “Seward’s Folly”) and while there was some American presence – notably from fisherman seeking the bounty of the Bering Sea, there was not a great deal of contact until World War II. The US Military started fortifying Dutch Harbor in 1940 (building a variety of small bunkers known as pill boxes which were so embedded in the town, I didn’t even take a picture!). Japan must have been aware of this as the island was attacked on June 3-4, 1942. Numerous buildings were destroyed and dozens of people died. (Look up the “Battle of Dutch Harbor” for more information).
Although I would claim to have learned a great deal about World War II during the course of my education, I had no idea that a battle was waged on American soil after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. (Check out the war memorial to the left). Further, I did not realize the cost of this battle to the native residents. Although there was a military base, the US government decided it was “too costly to secure and protect the residents” (according to a display at the Museum of the Aleutians) and instead, conducted mass evacuations soon after the attack. The residents were interred in camps in Southeast Alaska for the duration of the war. While visiting the Museum of the Aleutians, I watched a very powerful video on the untold story of this internment which included interviews from the survivors and told of harsh conditions and confusing information.
In addition to learning a great deal about the history of Dutch Harbor/Unalaska, I also had a chance to see the sights and explore a bit:
I hiked until I hit the snow,
I checked out sea creatures at low tide with Katie and Michele,
I joined a search for wild horses which, although unsuccessful, led to some amazing vistas,
I saw more bald eagles than I could count (see how many you can spot in this picture) (to give the local cliché — they are like pigeons here),
And I tried to take some cool shots of local life.
As my trip is now days or hours away rather than weeks away, I figured I should give a little overview by the numbers:
* Hours until I leave: 41
* Travel time to get to Dutch Harbor (including layovers): 14 1/2 hours
* Legs of Flight: 3
* Days at Sea: 20
* Current temperature in our port, Dutch Harbor: 47°F
* Current temperature in DC: 94°F
* Temperature difference between DC and Dutch Harbor: 47°F cooler in AK
* Hours of Daylight in Dutch Harbor today: almost 19
* Number of teachers on my trip: 2 (including me)
* Number of scientists: 15 (again, including me)
* Crew members: approximately 12-15 but I will have to update
* Number of posts per week, anticipated: Around 4
* Amount of extra credit my students will earn if they comment on a post: 1 Homework Assignment
* Number of people who have asked me to report when I can see Russia from our boat: 10
* Episodes of Deadliest Catch watched in preparation: 2
* Number of school-related items on my to-do list that have to get done before I leave: 6
* Number of items packed: Currently, none…but I do have a pile and a list…