NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014
Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Leg I
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean from Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC
Date: September 18, 2014
Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat 39°10.4’N Lon 0714°18.7W
Present Weather PC
Visibility 10 nm
Wind 153° 5kts
Sea Level Pressure 1015.1
Sea Wave Height 1-2 ft
Temperature: Sea Water 22.3°C
Science and Technology Log
Flags are just one way the ship communicates. There is equipment which ships use to communicate information to other ships. Ships in the area appear on the Bigelow’s radar. The NOAA Corps can even find out their name and what type of ship it is. It’s almost like an email address which lets you know who is sending you the message. We have had naval vessels, sailboats, yachts, container ships, research vessels, cruise ships, etc. appear on radar.
The Bigelow has a protocol (rule) which says if another ship comes within one mile of our perimeter (the radar even shows the big circle like a halo around its position), the officer on duty must make radio contact and ask them to change course. This is especially important if we are trawling or dropping the bongo (plankton net) or CTD. All this information gets logged into the Deck Log which is an official document. It is critical for the officers to keep accurate information and observations during their watch so others know what has been happening and for future reference should the ship have an emergency.
Last night on the fly bridge I noticed that the green and white lights were on. I knew from talking to Ensign Estela that this was the signal at night for “we are trawling”.
We were sharing stories on our watch and Dave told of when he sailed in the Pacific for a Sea Semester, sailing as mariners of old did. He had to navigate using the stars. We were able to do that on the flying bridge last night. The Big Dipper was visible and it was clear we were traveling NW. Soon, the ship changed course (direction) and headed right toward Polaris (the North Star) so we knew we were traveling north.
This is our last day of trawling. Tomorrow we steam back to Newport and get in late. People are excited to see their families again. I have to wait until Saturday to return home since my plane leaves early that day. We weren’t sure what time we would get in on Friday and there were no later flights for me. I am looking forward to seeing my family, but sad to be leaving the sea. Fortunately, we only had a couple of “rockin’ an a rollin’ ” days which made me feel a little “off”. When that happened, everyone was so kind. Many people asked if I was feeling better when they saw me after the waves died down. Crackers were a big help.
Currently (no pun intended) we are off the Jersey shore and can see Atlantic City. My mother used to live near the shore when she was a little girl and her father had a boat. She loved the ocean. No doubt the shore has changed quite a bit in 75 years. The ocean is a change agent. Man is, too. Our land, climate, and weather often change as a result of the sea–currents, tides, storms all contribute. We help change the ocean, too. Hopefully, we are getting better about it by not dumping pollutants in as much as we once did. Part of NOAA’s mission is to check for pollutants to help keep the marine environment healthy. Yes, the ocean is vast, but man’s lack of understanding of the ocean causes us to do things which are harmful to the ocean environment. I worry about all the plastics wrapping the fresh foods in the supermarkets now. We used to just pick the items we wanted in the meat and produce sections. Now most things are pre-wrapped and much is processed. We need convenience due to our busy lives, but at what cost to our environment and our health? Perhaps we need to visit the farmer’s market more and ask for meat to be in more biodegradable wrappers.
As I sit here enjoying the sun glistening off the ripples caused by a gentle breeze, I realize how much I love the ocean. Its storms and the wildness of it have my respect, but there is a draw to its vastness, the incredible diversity within it, its changeability, and variety of colors. I am so grateful for this opportunity to discover and learn by sailing with NOAA. So far, I know of at least one of my students who is in college for marine biology. I wonder what influence these NOAA experiences will have on my current and future students.
The ship has a system similar to your car’s odometer. It measures short trips as well as total miles covered. According to the MX420 GPS on the ship on the bridge, the Bigelow has traveled 54,254 nm.
Getting ready for processing fish is similar to how fire fighters dress. Jump in the boots, pull up the pants, and you’re ready. We head out to the conveyor belt and sort the fish. Many hands make the work load light. Here we are sorting croakers and weakfish. If one person on the line misses a fish, the next one gets it. Then we consolidate similar species into one container.
After removing a fish’s otolith, they are stored in envelopes and put into this sorting system. The samples are taken back to the lab to determine the age of the fish.
It’s a Win-Win situation. Skilled Fisherman, Steve, catches up on light reading about sharks in the Dry Lab. He then goes out and helps deploy the CTD and Bongo nets. He also taught me to mop floors on the bridge. A skilled fisherman is multi-talented and, as I learned, can do many things very well.
Engineers, such as Kevin Van Lohuizen, who is on temporary assignment from the Reuben Lasker, works often in 107° heat. They are responsible for fixing anything mechanical broken on the ship from the washing machine to toilets to generators. They can “do it all”. Thank goodness for the engineers. Kevin earned his Bachelor’s of Marine Engineering Technology from the California Maritime Academy. By the way, Kevin says you should always have a flashlight with you on a ship in case the lights fail.
The rudder is double-actuated which means it can add a little bit of turning ability . The Bigelow‘s rudder, which turns the ship, has a small turning radius similar to a sports car (turns on a dime) rather than the normal rudder’s radius which is more like a truck (turns take forever and need a lot of space). There are two pumps for the rudder, which are switched daily.
What happens to Styrofoam cups when submerged in a bag to 300 m and are brought back up? My students colored Styrofoam cups with Sharpees and we submerged them. I had it in the dry lab and was asked to open the bag in the wet lab. Why do you think that would be? This bag was totally full when submerged. Look at it afterwards.
Remember that a clean ship is a happy ship? At the end of the last watch, everyone starts cleaning, from the Chief Scientist to the lowly Teacher at Sea. We were all handed scrub brushes and a pail of soapy water. The deck hands cleaned the net and the deck. The other watch scrubbed all the buckets (I found them on the fantail at 1:30 am doing this).
Did You Know?
There are over 26,000 species of bony fish, making fish the most speciose vertebrate animal (by number of species).
Question of the Day
What are plankton and why are they important? Plankton are plants and animals which cannot move on their own and rely on currents and wind to move them. Phytoplankton make about 80% of our oxygen and are the basis of the marine food chain. What do you think?
Planktos in Greek means “wanderer”. Plankton is derived from this.
Something to Think About
Nicole was explaining that the protocols are set up by scientists looking for certain data about catch. She always seems to know when the jaguar will scream, meaning we need a special measurement or to preserve a sample. She had me pull down a monitor and pull up the fish we were processing at the time and had me pull up a bar graph for that species. She showed how for every 1 cm of length of the fish, the protocol was to ask for information. When I measured and it was longer or shorter than the average, we had more processing to do. Once we hit our quota for that protocol, the rest were just measured and added in. So, if my fish ranged from 19-21 cm, I would have to do special measurements or get samples for just three fish within that range. If the range was 15-25, it could be a lot more, depending on the lengths of the fish caught. The more fish sampled the more it falls into a bell curve, similar to our heights. You’ll notice some students are tall, others are short, most fall in between. They don’t need to repeat getting the information on every fish–it would probably be pretty close to the same data.
Carry cloth bags to the grocery store rather than using their plastic or paper bags. In many areas stores charge for each plastic bag. Recycle as much as possible and encourage others to do the same. Yes, it takes a little effort, but if more people did this we would reduce our trash going to landfills or into the ocean.
Animals Seen Today
We saw a lot of the same species all day. We collected Sea Robins, rays, skates, and Croakers by the hundreds, even thousands. I was able to measure a 40 pound ray and several large skates. Earlier this week we had rays which were so big, we had to call out all the deckhands from the watch and several scientists to weigh and measure them using the crane. One was 240 pounds and the other just 192 pounds.