Jessica Cobley: While in Kodiak, July 19, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jessica Cobley

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 19 – August 8, 2019

Mission: Midwater Trawl Acoustic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Prince William Sound)

Date: Saturday, July 20th, 2019

Weather Data from Kodiak, AK: 4:00am Lat: 57.79° N Lon: 152.4072° W Temp: 56 degrees F.  

Personal Log

Good morning! It is currently 4:30am on Saturday, July 20th and I have just woken up for my first shift on the boat. So far, I have met scientists Abigail McCarthy and Troy Buckley, who will be working the day shift with me. I also met Ruth, an intern from the University of Washington and my bunkmate. It will be nice to have someone else on board who is also new to the experience! 

exploring Spruce Cape
From left to right: Myself, Ruth, Abigail and Darin exploring Spruce Cape. Photo Credit: Troy Buckley

Before talking about work, I’d like to share what we got up to in Kodiak before departing on the cruise. One thing to note – Chief Scientist Darin Jones explained that because this is the 3rd leg of the survey and the scientists are taking over from the previous group, we do not have any set up or calibration of equipment to do. If this had been leg 1 of the survey, the free days in port would have been spent doing those jobs. Lucky us!

After unpacking everything in our state rooms (bunks), we quickly set out to explore Kodiak. In two and a half days, were able to see a lot! Wednesday night, some friends of mine in town took us for a stroll on Near Island, followed by a yummy dinner at Noodle Bar.

Near Island
Walking with friends on Near Island, just across the bridge from Kodiak. Photo by Ruth Drinkwater

Thursday morning, team building began with a run to Safeway and Walmart for all last minute necessities. The teacher in me couldn’t resist a fresh pack of sharpie markers and colored pencils. 🙂 In the afternoon, we walked along Spruce Cape where we picked a TON of blueberries and found the largest barnacle I have ever seen. 

Check out this Giant Acorn Barnacle!

After a short recoup back on the boat, Darin and Abigail were ready for an evening surf session at Fossil Beach. This beach is the farthest south you can access by road in Kodiak and the drive was BEAUTIFUL. Prior to the trip, I hadn’t looked up any pictures of Kodiak and so the treeless green mountains, cliffy coastlines and herds of cows were exciting to see. Once at the beach, we jumped in the ocean, watched a successful surf session and finished our team building with a fire and dinner on the beach. 

Fossil Beach
Fossil Beach: We hiked up the cliffs in the background to check out old WWII bunkers.
grazing cows
Happily grazing cows on the drive back from Fossil Beach.

Science and Technology Log

In just a few days of being here, I have already learned a lot about the workings of the ship and what we will be busy doing for the next three weeks. Here is a preview.

To begin, science shifts run from 4am – 4pm and 4pm – 4am. Throughout this entire time, acoustic data is being collected and read. Acoustic data is gathered by sending out sound waves from a transducer box attached to the bottom of a centerboard underneath the boat. The sound waves reverberate out and bounce off of anything with a different density than water. In the picture below, you can see a bold line on the screen with smaller dots above. Take a look and see if you can identify what the line and dots might represent.

Darin looks over morning acoustic data
Chief Scientist Darin Jones looking at the morning acoustic data. This room is called “The Cave” because it is the only lab without windows.

If you thought the big bold lines on each screen were the seafloor, you were correct! Most of the little dots that appear above the sea floor are fish. Fish are identified from the sound waves bouncing off of their swim bladders. Swim bladders are the “bags” of air inside fish that inflate and deflate to allow the fish to raise and lower itself in the water column. Air has a different density compared to water and therefore shows up in the acoustics data.

acoustic data screen
Close up view of the acoustic data screen.

What is this acoustic data used for? There are 2 primary parts. The first is to identify where schools of fish are located and therefore areas well suited for collecting fish samples. The second is to calculate the total biomass of pollock in the water column by combining acoustics data with the actual measurements of fish caught in that same area. More specifics to come as I take part in the process throughout the survey. 

Did You Know?

On this survey, scientists do not catch/survey fish at night (when it is dark). The reason? At night, bottom dwelling species come up off the seafloor at night to feed. During the day they settle back down on the seafloor. The scientists are primarily interested in catching pollock, a mid water species, so they fish during daylight hours. 

hauling in the trawl net
View from the upper deck of the trawl net being hauled in.

Updates to come later in the week. It is time for me to join the scientists and get ready process our first catch! 

Cheers, Jess

Allison Irwin: Working in the Acoustics Lab, July 11, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Allison Irwin

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

July 7-25, 2019

Mission: Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area: Northern Coast of California

Date: July 11, 2019

Weather at 1100 Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday 10 July 2019

The winds picked up. Dreary is a good way to describe the sky – an overcast layer on top with smoky-gray smudges of smaller clouds just a little lower. According to the Beaufort Wind Scale, I can describe the sea as moderately choppy with 4’ – 8’ waves, white caps scattered throughout, and some spray.  But on the scale that only accounts for 17-21 knots of wind.  The instruments on the ship track the wind in real time, and it’s showing anywhere from 20 – 30 knots. Today I need a couple of light layers under a warm, cozy jacket to keep me feeling comfortable. And a hat to keep my hair in place while the wind blows all around us.


I didn’t want to get my hopes up in regard to food on the ship. Between the constant rocking, less than ideal conditions for fruits and vegetables, and confined space, I didn’t have high expectations. But once I got to NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker, the regulars on the ship thankfully put my worries at ease. They told me we have one of the best chefs on the NOAA fleet of ships.

Fresh Cherries
Fresh Cherries

Our Chief Steward, Kathy, is in charge of the kitchen. She makes her job look effortless, though I’m sure it’s not. She puts out an eclectic menu each day that would rival any popular restaurant. Since I’m a Food Network junky, I really think she belongs on Chopped. She’d blow her competitors out of the water! She seasons everything perfectly.

She always has snacks available like fresh baked macadamia nut cookies or homemade rice crispy treats. So far she’s served Peruvian chicken, kalbi ribs, chicken pad thai, open-faced meatloaf sandwiches, West African peanut soup, and chicken marsala. Oh, and pancakes, and omelets, and cheeseburgers, and Cuban sandwiches, and black bean soup, and… the list goes on. She always offers fresh fruit or a fresh salad bar. It’s clear she’s had a lot of experience working with the constraints this unique environment must put on her. I’m lucky to be on a ship with someone who so clearly loves to cook! The foodie in me is very happy.

Pork Chop
Mustard Glazed Pork Chop, Veggies & Rice, Side Salad


The acoustics lab is something to behold. If you took a classroom and cut it in half lengthwise, it would be that large. Since we’re on a ship where space is limited, I get the sense that this equipment is important. And after working a shift in the room, I know why. The data collected in this room provides the backbone for the whole survey.

Acoustics Lab
Chief Scientist Kevin Stierhoff in the Acoustics Lab

NOAA scientists use sonar to identify various types of fish in the water below us – and to the sides – as we travel along. Individual echoes from discreet targets – noise, small plankton, large fishes – show up on one screen as raw data. Through post processing, the system removes most of the unwanted echoes so that all we’re left with are echoes from the fishes of interest on a separate screen.

The Coastal Pelagic Species show up as a seemingly indistinguishable, colorful blob of dots on the screen, but our chief scientist Kevin Stierhoff interprets each blob with a fair amount of accuracy. He explained what looked like hocus pocus to me originally is really just simple logic. For example, pelagic species tend to stay relatively close to the surface. So if I see a blob of red and yellow that’s, let’s say, more than 100 meters below the surface, then I’m probably looking at a type of fish that prefers deeper waters near the rocky seabed. Those deeper blobs could indicate a species of Rockfish (of which there are plenty), but probably not one of the pelagic species we’re searching for.

Ever try searching for a needle in a haystack? Get frustrated and walk away? Yeah. NOAA is more strategic than that. Acoustic sampling is conducted during the day when the Coastal Pelagic Species are deeper in the water and schooled together. This makes them easier to see using the sonar equipment on board. Later we’ll return at night to noted areas of high activity to trawl for the anchovies, sardines, herring, mackerel, and squid while they’re closer to the surface feeding.  Plus, they can’t see the net at night and therefore won’t be able to avoid it like they would if we attempted to trawl for fish during the day.

Acoustic sampling allows us to efficiently survey a much larger area than we could without it. Its primary purpose is to more precisely determine the biomass of the pelagic fish community over a large area. NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center started using this style of acoustic data collection to enhance its fisheries mission about 15 years ago, but this is only the second year they’ve deployed saildrones – wind and solar powered unmanned surface vehicles – to extend the survey area both in shore where it’s more shallow and far off shore where Reuben Lasker will not have time to travel during this survey. The saildrones allow scientists to capture more acoustic data from a wider survey area.


One of the coolest things about education is that we can connect students not just to their local community, but to their global community. For the last three years, the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory has written a blog to help classrooms and individuals follow the adventures of their latest saildrone missions. They’re intending to write another series of blog entries to track a mission in 2019 and 2020, but you could easily use one of the previous year’s text in the classroom if you can’t wait for the new entries to be posted. Read a few of these entries with your students and use them as a springboard to teach about cutting edge technology, stewardship, environmental science, storytelling, culture, math, or navigation.

Thankfully, almost any topic can be used to build literacy skills. When texts like this inspire me to connect my students to local and global community leaders in a particular field of interest, I usually reach out to the authors directly. Some teachers will find it more challenging to make these connections to their classrooms, but it is worth the effort. If I can find an email address or contact information for the person who wrote an article I enjoy, typically they can lead me to someone who is a dynamic speaker and willing to come into my classroom. Or sometimes they will offer to come out themselves if they live nearby. Then I find companion texts to read with my students before and after the person comes in to present.

The possibilities are almost too voluminous to count. In one direction, you could bring in a local scientist or graduate student doing interesting research to speak on some topic as it relates to your classroom content. You should also consider arranging a field site visit to a unique local gem if the funding is available. Usually local field trips are much less expensive. Our local communities are filled to the brim with places that relate to our class content. It takes a little leg work to find them sometimes, but if you choose the right place you’ll see a return on your investment for the full school year.

Last year I was lucky enough to coordinate a visit to the Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Philadelphia which is one of the leading working dog training facilities in the nation. It’s housed in a tiny little building off some obscure road in Philadelphia. I never would have found it if I weren’t out there directly searching for something like it. Most places like this can be found and initially filtered online with a little bit of strategic searching. Something as small as a one-day site visit or facility tour, if it’s the right location, can motivate students to push themselves academically a little bit further than they thought they could go on their own.

This one visit ended up being the springboard for my students to read authentic nonfiction texts (like media release forms and liability release forms), to think critically and make decisions, to write a press release, to build background knowledge, to enhance their vocabulary, and to learn the value of reading not for the sake of a grade but because interpreting the texts and being able to share information with others (like younger students they ended up mentoring or like our district’s administrative team who were interested in their project) was vital to the success of their project. Most important, it provided a means of intrinsic motivation for my students – that elusive creature that often comes so close to my grasp but then flutters away again when I use less engaging methods of classroom instruction.

If you want to go in more of a global direction, you could ask a facility farther away in another state or country if they have the capacity to involve your students in an integrated learning experience via Skype or old school pen-pal style communication throughout the year. Students can participate in or monitor on-going research around the world all while learning about unfamiliar cultures and locations.  And of course, bring your own diverse experiences and travel into the classroom! Apply for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program to get out of your own comfort zone and be a positive means of bridging your classroom to the global community.

Teaching Resources

Melissa George: Do You Hear What I Hear? July 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melissa George
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 22 – August 9, 2013

Mission:  Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Alaska
Date:  Sunday, July 28, 2013

Current Data From Today’s Cruise

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Sky Condition:  Cloudy
Temperature:  14° C
Wind Speed:  4 knots
Barometric Pressure:  1025.1 mb
Humidity:  90%

Sun and Moon Data 
Sunrise:  5:57 am
Sunset:  10:34 pm

Moonrise:  11:52 pm  (July 27, 2013)
Moonset:  2:35 pm

Geographic Coordinates at 

Latitude:  59° 53.3′ N
Longitude:  149° 00.0′ W

The ship’s position now can be found by clicking:  Oscar Dyson’s Geographical Position

False Point on Kenai Peninsula (viewed this morning through the fog)
False Point on Kenai Peninsula (viewed this morning through the fog)

Science and Technology Log

How do scientists use acoustics to locate Pollock (and serendipitously other ocean creatures)?

Scientists aboard the NOAA Research Vessel Oscar Dyson use acoustic, specifically hydroacoustic data, to locate schools of fish before trawling.  The trawl data provide a sample from each school and allow the NOAA scientists to take a closer look by age, gender and species distribution.  Basically, the trawl data verify and validate the acoustics data.  The acoustics data, collected in the Gulf of Alaska in systematic paths called transects, combined with the validating biological data from the numerous individual trawls, give scientists a very good estimate for the entire Walleye pollock population in this location.

This screen is showing the echogram from the EK 60 echosounder during a trawl at 83.13 meters.  The red line in the middle of the screen is the ocean floor.  The colorful spikes above the red line indicate “backscatter” that is characteristic of capelin, a small fish that pollock feed on.
This screen is showing the echogram from the EK 60 echosounder during a trawl at 83.13 meters. The red line in the middle of the screen is the ocean floor. The colorful spikes above the red line indicate “backscatter” that is characteristic of capelin, a small fish that pollock feed on.

Hydroacoustics  (from Greek words: hydro meaning “water”  and  acoustics meaning “sound”) is the study of sound in water.  Sound is a form of energy that travels in pressure waves. In water, sound can travel great distances without losing strength and can travel fast, roughly 4.3 times faster in water than in air (depending on temperature and salinity of the water).

Click on this picture to see how sound travels from various ocean creatures through water. (Photo from
Click on this picture to see how sound travels from various ocean creatures through water. (Photo from

The Oscar Dyson has powerful, extremely sensitive, carefully calibrated, scientific acoustic instruments or “fish finders” including the five SIMRAD EK60 transducers located on the bottom of the centerboard, the SIMRAD ME70 multibeam transducer located on the hull, and a pair of SIMRAD ITI transducers on the trailing edge of the centerboard.

Image of acoustic instruments on the Oscar Dyson.  (Photo courtesy of NOAA Teacher at Sea Program)
Image of acoustic instruments on the Oscar Dyson. (Photo courtesy of NOAA Teacher at Sea Program)

This “fish-finder” technology works when transducers emit a sound wave at a particular frequency and detect the sound wave bouncing back (the echo) at the same frequency.  When the sound waves return from a school of fish, the strength of the returning echo helps determine how many fish are at that particular site.

The green ship’s transducer is sending out sound waves towards the fish.  The waves bounce back echoes towards the ship that are received by the transducer.  (Photo courtesy of Oracle Thinkquest)
The green ship’s transducer is sending out sound waves towards the fish. The waves bounce back echoes towards the ship that are received by the transducer. (Photo courtesy of Oracle Thinkquest)

Sound waves bounce or reflect off of fish and other creatures in the sea differently.  Most fish reflect sound energy sent from the transducers because of their swim bladders, organs that fish use to stay buoyant in the water column.  Since a swim bladder is filled with air, it reflects sound very well.   When the sound energy goes from one medium to another, there is a stronger reflection of that sound energy.  In most cases, the bigger the fish, the bigger the swim bladder; the bigger the swim bladder, the more sound is reflected and received by the transducer.  The characteristic reflection of sound is called target strength and can be used to detect the size of the fish. This is why fish that have air-filled swim bladders show up nicely on hydroacoustic data, while fish that lack swim bladders (like sharks) or that have oil or wax filled swim bladders (like Orange Roughy), have weak signals.

The above picture shows the location of the swim bladder.  (Photo courtesy of
The above picture shows the location of the swim bladder. (Photo courtesy of

These reflections of sound (echoes) are sent to computers which display the information in echograms.  The reflections showing up on the computer screen are called backscatter.  The backscatter is how we determine how dense the fish are in a particular school.  Scientists take the backscatter that we measure from the transducers and divide that by the target strength for an individual and that gives  the number of individuals that must be there to produce that amount of backscatter.  For example, a hundred fish produce 100x more echoes than a single fish.  This information can be used to estimate the pollock population in the Gulf of Alaska.

The above picture shows a computer screen with dense red “backscatter” characteristic of large amount of fish. The yellow lines above and below the backscatter show the location of the trawl lines.
The above picture shows a computer screen with dense red “backscatter” characteristic of large amount of fish, most likely pollock. The yellow lines above and below the backscatter show the location of the trawl lines.

Personal Log: 


Safety Announcements Don the Walls of the Oscar Dyson
Safety Announcements Don the Walls of the Oscar Dyson

Continuing with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I will continue up the pyramid  (see below) and discuss some ways that the basic need of safety is  met on the ship.  The safety and security of all staff (as well as sea animals we encounter) are top priority on the Oscar Dyson.   There are constant reminders of  this priority during ship life.

A Version of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
A Version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Safety Drills

On the first day of our travel,  before the Oscar Dyson was far from port at Kodiak,  we had three drills.  The fire drill and man overboard drill required me to report to the conference room and meet up with the rest of the science team.  Patrick, the lead scientist, then reported that we (the scientist team) were all accounted for.  The crew had more complex tasks of deploying a small boat and retrieving “the man overboard”.

The other drill was the abandon ship drill.  On the ship, every person is assigned to a life boat (mine is Lifeboat 1).  When the drill commenced, I reported to my muster, the portside of the trawl deck, with survival gear:  jacket, hat, survival suit and life preserver.  We will have drills weekly at anytime.

Abandon Ship Crew Assignments
Abandon Ship Crew Assignments

Safety Gear
When working in the lab, the scientists wear orange slickers, boots, and gloves, not only to keep clean, but to protect us from anything that might be dangerous (fish spines, jellyfish tentacles, and so on).  When on deck, we must wear hardhats (to protect from falling objects from the crane or trawl) and life preservers like the rest of the crew.

Gloves, a Must in Fish Lab!
Gloves, a Must in Fish Lab!

Water Tight Doors
Watertight doors are special types of doors found on the ship which prevent the flow of water from one compartment to other during flooding or accidents. These doors are used onboard in areas, such as the engine room compartment,  science and acoustics labs, and control bridge, where chances of flooding are high.

Water Tight Door on Bridge
Water Tight Door on Bridge

These are just a few examples of how safety is emphasized on the ship.  There are reminders in one’s line of vision constantly.

Safety, Everyone's Responsibility
Safety, Everyone’s Responsibility

Did You Know?

There are various seafarer or crew positions on the Oscar Dyson.  A ship’s crew can generally be divided into three main categories: the deck department, the engineering department, and the steward department.  Rob and Greg are members of the deck department; both men hold Merchant Mariner Credentials as “Able Bodied Seamen” or ABS.  Rob is from Boston, Massachusetts and went to school for seamanship in Fairhaven, MA.  He considers his NOAA position as a good job with a good income, but his main profession is lobstering which he does on the open sea when he is not working for NOAA.  Rob says, “The ocean is in my blood” and always wanted to work on it.   Greg, on the other hand, chose to be a Merchant Mariner after a voyage at sea.  He moved to Texas from Louisiana in his 20’s, went fishing for the first time, and got seasick.  He considered battling seasickness a challenge, and thus pursing seamanship as a career.  In his free time he is a free-lance photographer and journalist.  Below are some pictures of Greg and Rob on the job.  Notice they are always wearing their safety gear.

Greg and Rob Bringing in the Trawling Net
Greg and Rob Bringing in the Trawling Net

Greg and Rob, Preparing for a Camera Drop
Greg and Rob, Preparing for a Camera Drop

Something to Think About: 

Since I will begin teaching Zoology later in August, I have decided to highlight some of the animals that the scientist team has found in our trawls.  Today’s feature will be one of the simplest multicellular animal families, the Porifera.  Porifera is a word formed from combining the Latin words porus which means “passage-way” and fera meaning “bearing.”  Porifera, commonly referred to as sponges, have tiny pores in their outer walls that filter water to get nutrients.  

Various Porifera (Sponges) from a Bottom Trawl
Various Porifera (Sponges) from a Bottom Trawl

Teacher (me) Demonstrating How Water Flows out the Osculum (opening) of a Poriferan
Teacher (me) Demonstrating How Water Flows out the Osculum (opening) of a Poriferan

To learn more about the Porifera Family, click the Porifera on the picture below, and stay tuned for further exploration of this animal Tree of Life.

Tree of Life:  Can you spot  the Poriferan?
Tree of Life: Can you spot the Poriferan?

Anne Mortimer: Fishing, July 7, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Mortimer
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 7, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 9.53 C, Foggy
Sea temperature: 8.19 C
Wind direction: 145
Wind Speed: 18.73 knots
Barometric pressure: 1013.22 mbar

Science and Technology Log

Last night, we attempted a bottom trawl for walleye pollock. The way scientists know that fish are present is by using acoustic sampling. The centerboard of the ship is set-up with sound emitting and recording devices. When a sound wave is emitted toward the bottom, it will eventually be returned when it hits a fish or the ocean bottom. This is called echo-sounding and has been used by sport & commercial fisherman and researchers for many decades. The sound waves are sent down in pulses every 1.35 seconds and each returned wave is recorded. Each data point shows up in one pixel of color that is dependent on the density of the object hit. So a tightly packed group of fish will show as a red or red & yellow blob on the screen. When scientists see this, they fish!

This echogram shows scientists where fish can be found.

The scientists use this acoustic technology to identify when to put the net in the water, so they can collect data from the fish that are caught. The researchers that I am working with are specifically looking at pollock, a mid-water fish. The entire catch will be weighed, and then each species will be weighed separately. The pollock will all be individually weighed, measured, sexed, and the otolith removed to determine the age of the fish. Similar to the rings on a tree, the otolith can show the age of a fish, as well as the species.

pollock otolith
A pollock otolith.

Pollock otolith in my hand

These scientists aren’t the only ones that rely on technology, the ships navigation systems is computerized and always monitored by the ship’s crew. For scientific survey’s like these, there are designated routes the ship must follow called transects.

globe chart
This chart shows the transects, or route, that the ship will follow.

This chart shows the route (white line) of the ship once fish were spotted. When scientists find a spot that they want to fish (green fish symbol), they call up to the bridge and the ship returns to that area. As the ship is returning, the deckhands are preparing the net and gear for a trawl.

Personal Log

I think that I must have good sea legs. So far, I haven’t felt sick at all, although it is very challenging to walk straight most times! I’ve enjoyed talking with lots of different folks working on the ship, of all ages and from all different places. Without all of the crew on board, the scientists couldn’t do their research. I’ve been working the night shift and although we’ve completed a bottom trawl and Methot trawl, we haven’t had a lot of fish to sort through. My biggest challenge is staying awake until 3 or 4 am!

Did you know?

That nautical charts show depths in fathoms.  A fathom is a unit of measurement that originated from the distance from tip to tip of a man’s outstretched arms. A fathom is 2 yards, or 6 feet.

Species list for today:

Humpback Whale

Northern Fulmar

Tufted Puffin

Stormy Petrel

Fish biologist Kresimir found this petrel in the fish lab; attracted to the lights it flew inside by accident. The petrel is in the group of birds called the tube-nosed sea birds. They have one or two "tubes" on their beak that helps them excrete the excess salt in their bodies that they accumulate from a life spent at sea.

In the Methot net:

Multiple crab species including tanner crabs

Multiple sea star species, including rose star


Juvenile fish

Brittle stars


Multiple shrimp species including candy striped shrimp

shrimp variety
These are some of the shrimp types that we found in our Methot net tow.

Bryan Hirschman, August 13, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bryan Hirschman
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman (tracker)
August 1 – 17, 2009 

Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey
Geographical area: North Pacific Ocean; Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA
Date: August 13, 2009

Weather Data from Bridge (0800) 
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind: 6 knots
Wave Height: 1 ft
Wave Swell:  1-2 ft
Ocean temperature: 15.20C
Air Temperature: 14.20C

Science and Technology Log 

This is the net reel. The unit attaches with four bolts in each corner
This is the net reel. The unit attaches with four bolts in each corner

Life at sea can be very unpredictable. One minute everything is working great, and the next minute problems occur. Last evening a problem occurred with the net reel. The net reel is a large bull wheel that the nets roll into and out of when lowered in the water. The reel is spun by a huge engine that pulls the nets in when they are loaded with fish. This net reel is anchored to the boat with 16 huge bolts and nuts. Four of the bolts were found last night to be weakened during one of the daily inspections of ship’s mechanical instruments. The crew is constantly inspecting each piece of equipment to ensure the safest working conditions. Once this problem was seen all fish tows were canceled. We will be heading into port four days early to fix the problem.

An incorrect assembly of the bolts on the net reel
An incorrect assembly of the bolts on the net reel

A correct assembly of the bolts on the net reel
A correct assembly of the bolts on the net reel

Once in port the entire net reel will have to be lifted by crane and all the bolts will be replaced. The reel will then be lowered back in place and locked in place with nuts. Even though we are not fishing, other work on the ship is still occurring. The XBT (Expendable Bathythermograph) is deployed at regular intervals. This device sends depth and temperature data to a science laboratory to be recorded and used later (discussed in more detail in log 2).

Toxin-producing  phytoplankton pseudo-nitzschia.
Toxin-producing phytoplankton pseudo-nitzschia.

The HABS (Harmful Algal Bloom Sampling) research is also still being completed by Nick Adams, an oceanographer with NOAA. He takes water samples approximately every 10 nautical miles (1 nautical mile = 1.15 miles). After collecting the samples, he filters them for toxin and chlorophyll analysis. He also collects seawater for phytoplankton numeration and identification. His main focus is on toxin-producing genera, such as Pseudo-nitzschia and Alexandrium which are responsible for Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning and Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning, respectively.  At the end of the cruise, Nick will be able to create a map of the concentrations and locations of toxin- producing phytoplankton. This will then be compared with data from years past to determine patterns and trends.

Toxin-producing  phytoplankton Alexandrium
Toxin-producing phytoplankton Alexandrium

The phytoplankton themselves are not harmful to humans, but as they accumulate in the food chain there can be human-related sickness. If we eat the organisms that are eating the plankton that produce toxins, we can become ill. Not much is known about the cause of the toxin producers, but with more research like Nick’s, scientists continually increase their understanding and ultimately hope to prevent human sickness from these phytoplankton.

Personal Log 

I am saddened to be cutting my journey earlier then expected, but I will leave the ship with fond memories of Pacific Hake, Humboldt Squid, and all the wonderful people who work on the ship. I am particularly grateful to the seven scientists who have gone out of their way to make me feel at home on the ship and have answered all of my questions. They are: the acoustic scientists: Dr. Dezhang Chu, Larry Hufnagle, and Steve de Blois; the fish biologists: Melanie Johnson and John Pohl; the oceanographers: Steve Pierce and Nick Adams. They are each extremely dedicated and passionate about their research and equally passionate about protecting our oceans and the organisms living there.

Scientists Steve de Blois, Larry Hufnagle, Dr. Dezhang Chu, and John Pohl
Scientists Steve de Blois, Larry Hufnagle, Dr. Dezhang Chu, and John Pohl

Challenge Yourself 
Volunteers play an integral role in supporting the environmental stewardship conducted every day by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Across the United States and its coastal waters, opportunities exist for volunteers to take part in research, observation and educational roles that benefit science, our citizens and our planet.

Visit this website to see where you can help


Bryan Hirschman, August 10, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bryan Hirschman
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman (tracker)
August 1 – 17, 2009 

Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey
Geographical area: North Pacific Ocean; Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA
Date: August 10, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge (0800) 
Visibility: 4 nautical miles
Wind: 14 knots
Wave Height: 2 ft
Wave Swell:  5-6 ft
Ocean temperature: 14.40C
Air Temperature: 16.00C

Science and Technology Log 

Image of plankton taken with VPR
Image of plankton taken with VPR

Today, John Pohl, one of the fish biologists showed me the VPR (video plankton recorder). The camera is attached to the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth), which is operated by Steve Pierce, a physical oceanographer, and Phil White, chief survey technician, who work the night shift. The CTD is a large apparatus which has room for many additional sensors and attachments. The CTD onboard the Miller Freeman has a dissolved oxygen sensor in addition to the VPR.

Image of plankton taken with VPR
Image of plankton taken with VPR

Each night Steve sends the CTD down to the seafloor (about 7 times) to collect data. He is most interested in determining the differing densities of water at different depths (depth is based on pressure, which the CTD measures). He then calculates the densities using conductivity and temperature. By measuring conductivity (how easily electric currents pass through the water sample being tested), Steve can get a measurement of that water sample’s salinity.  Density of water is then calculated from measurements of salinity, and temperature. An equation is used which relates the measurements so that density can be found if these other two values are known. Steve records all the data each night, and will use this information to study currents and their movements.

The VPR is a camera which records video as well as still pictures as it descends to the sea floor. The data are recorded, then uploaded to an external hard drive. The file is very large, as it takes about ten minutes to transfer all the data. The pictures and video will be used by biologists (not on board presently) to identify and determine the percentage of plankton (plankton consist of any drifting organisms) floating throughout the water column. Each time before we set out the fish nets, two people go to the bridge to look for marine mammals. If any are present the nets won’t be put into the water. A few tows have been cancelled due to the presence of marine mammals. This is a great step in keeping them safe. It is always special when I see dolphins or whales.

Here I am holding a sleeper shark.
Here I am holding a sleeper shark.

The only fish tow of the day (no marine mammals present) consisted of mainly Humboldt Squid and some Pacific Hake. Today we used a load cell to get a total mass; this is a device which hooks up to the net and crane. The load cell gives a mass of the entire haul. The majority of the load was released back into the water while a smaller sample was retained. The weights of the Hake and squid were then determined using bins and a balance. The scientists can use the subsample data to determine the data for the entire load.  Bycatch, defined as living creatures that are caught unintentionally by fishing gear, are occasionally found in the net. Today a rougheye rockfish was caught, and yesterday a sleeper shark were accidently caught. The scientists do a very good job of limiting bycatch using their acoustic data.

Personal Log 

A rougheye rockfish – what a pretty fish
A rougheye rockfish – what a pretty fish

I am enjoying the long hours of work, and have gotten into quite a rhythm. I also enjoy spending time with the hardworking and intelligent staff here on board. We work together as a team, and everyone enjoys their jobs. NOAA has chosen a great group of officers who set a very positive tone and make the ship a great workplace. I would love to take a sabbatical from teaching and work on a NOAA ship. I’m having a lot of fun and learning a bunch. I will take back a lot of positive experience to share with my students, family, and friends.

I have also learned to appreciate the smells of a load of fish. As we move the fish from the holding cell, to small baskets for weighing we are constantly splashed in the arms, face, mouth, eyes, etc. I find it pretty amusing every time I get splashed, or even better, when I splash John, Melanie, or Jake. It never grows old. The hardest portion of my day is determining what movie to watch while running on the treadmill (I finally mastered the art of the treadmill on a rocking boat and can leave the elliptical trainer alone). The boat has close to 800 movies to choose from.

Animals Seen Today 
Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, Rougheye rockfish, Humboldt Squid, Pacific Hake, Albatross, Sheerwaters, and Murres.

Poem of the Day 
Squid ink, squid ink!
O! How you make me stink!
You stain my face, you stain my clothes;
I must wash you off with a fire hose!

You make me scratch, you make me itch,
You even turn Melanie into a wicked witch!
(which is a horribly difficult thing to do—
She’s as gentle as a lamb in a petting zoo!)

Why not John, allergic to your ink!
Torment HIM with your venomous stink!
But no–not ME! All I want are Hake.
So torment instead “almost” graduate Jake!

But once again, though our dinner hour,
Because of you I must shower!

So I beg you, O squid, to hear my plea:
In the future, stay away from me!
Does that sound good?
Do we have a deal?
If not, well then—you’re my next meal.

Answers to Last Question 
Ribbon Barracudina, Pacific Hatchetfish, Baby Humboldt Squid

Bryan Hirschman, August 6, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bryan Hirschman
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman (tracker)
August 1 – 17, 2009 

Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey
Geographical area: North Pacific Ocean; Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA
Date: August 6, 2009

Weather Data from Bridge (0800) 
Visibility: 6 nautical miles
Wind: light
Wave Height: <1
Wave Swell: 2-3 ft
Ocean temperature: 15.90C
Air Temperature: 15.50C

Science and Technology Log 

John and Melanie sexing and measuring the fish
Melanie sexing and measuring the fish

Today the day started with a fish tow at 8:00 am. The acoustic scientists, Steve, Larry, and Chu, predicted the fish would be mostly myctophids, and wanted to be certain. The fisherman sent the net out and about an hour later the net was brought back. As predicted the net was filled with mostly myctophids. This is an important step in being able to determine the fish type and numbers using acoustic data only. Scientists will then be able to acoustically count fish populations for most schooling fish (Pollock, Pacific Hake, anchovies, and mackerel to name a few), with out using nets. After the nets are brought in the fish biologists (and me) get to work. We separate all the organisms into their own piles. We then count and weigh them, and log this into a computer using their scientific names. It’s amazing how Melanie and John (the fish biologists) can identify and recall the Latin names of these organisms.

Question: Do we just fish in random locations?

Answer: No, the acoustic scientists choose to fish in locations that appear to be different from previous fishing locations. The parameters which make them different are depth, color intensity, or pattern of the markings on their computer screens. The scientists get real-time acoustic pictures as the boat travels along on a pre-determined path (called a transect).  The more they can relate the graphs on the computer screens to the actual catch in the nets the less fishing which needs to be done.

Here is an acoustic image (2 frequencies) as seen on the scientist’s screen. The bottom wavy line is the seafloor, and the colored sections above are organisms located in the water column.
Here is an acoustic image (2 frequencies) as seen on the scientist’s screen. The bottom wavy line is the seafloor, and the colored sections above are organisms located in the water column.

Here is the second tow consisting of Pacific Hake and Humboldt Squid.
Here is the second tow consisting of Pacific Hake and Humboldt Squid.

The second fish tow of the day produced Pacific Hake and Humboldt Squid. We weighed all the squid first (then quickly returned to the ocean), and 10 were randomly selected for a stomach dissection. The stomachs contained pieces of squid, Pacific Hake, and other unidentifiable fish. Another purpose of this cruise is to determine the effects of the squid on the Hake, and by looking at the stomachs the scientists will be able to determine the relationship between the squid and hake.  The third tow of the day involved an open net with a camera. The camera could record for an hour. The scientists then view the footage to estimate the size and quantity of the hake passing through the net. This is another method the scientists are using to verify their acoustic data.

Here I am holding the delightful meal of tuna.
Here I am holding the delightful meal of tuna.

I also had the chance to launch an XBT (Expendable Bathythermograph). This device is launched at the back of the boat. The sensor is released into the water and is attached by a tiny copper wire. As the sensor travels down the water column it sends the depth and temperature data to the bridge. This data is saved and used by physical oceanographers to better understand temperature profiles found in the ocean.

Personal Log 

Today was a great day. The seas were calm, I slept well last night, and the food was great. I even got to exercise for 1.5 hours. The exercise room has a television hooked up to watch movies, and it made using the elliptical trainer and stationary bike much more enjoyable. I also had a great time working with the fish biologists. We were throwing and catching squid like the professionals who work at Pike Place Market in Seattle.  Best of all was dinner, freshly caught tuna, which I got to filet.

Animals Seen Today 
Dolphin, Mola-mola, Albatross, Sheerwaters, Slender Barracudia, Ribbon Barracudina, Blackbelly Dragonfish, Pacific Hake, Lanternfish (myctophids), Salps, Sunrise Jellyfish, Purple Cone Jellyfish, Wheel Jellyfish, Humboldt Squid, Black-eyed Squid, Pacific Hatchetfish, and Spiny Dogfish shark.

Question of the Day : Can you identify the animals in the photo?
Question of the Day : Can you identify the animals in the photo?

Answer to the last question: Lancetfish

Bryan Hirschman, August 4, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bryan Hirschman
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman (tracker)
August 1 – 17, 2009 

Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey
Geographical area: North Pacific Ocean; Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA
Date: August 4, 2009

hirschman_log1Weather Data from the Bridge (0800) 
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind: 2 knots
Wave Height: <1 ft
Wave Swell: 3 ft
Ocean temperature: 15.50C
Air Temperature: 15.50C

Science and Technology Log 

Here I am holding a Pacific Hake.
Here I am holding a Pacific Hake.

We will be conducting several types of oceanographic sampling during our cruise: 2-3 Pacific hake tows per day (weather permitting), an open net tow where fish are viewed through a camera, XBTs: Expendable Bathythermograph (take temperatures at various depths), HABS: Harmful Algal Bloom Sampling, CTD: Conductivity, Temperature, and Density (also at various depths), and a Multiple Opening Plankton Net (collects living organisms at various depths). We will also release a Surface Drifter: floats with currents and sends information about currents via satellite.

The tows, XBTs and HABS are done from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm, while the CTD and plankton net are used during nighttime hours. By working in daytime and nighttime shifts the scientists are maximizing the boat’s usage. I was fortunate enough to help with the plankton net last night. Five samples were collected while I observed. Each sample was labeled and preserved for later use in a laboratory. Observed were amphipods, copepods, shrimp, and crab larvae.

Can you identify the animal I’m holding?
Can you identify the animal I’m holding?

Our first Pacific hake tow came at approximately 8:00 am. The acoustic scientists use four transducers that are attached to the bottom of the boat.  Each transducer sends out pulses of sound at a different frequency toward the bottom of the sea floor. The sound pulse then travels back to the boat and is recorded onto graphs. Fish and other biological organisms also reflect sound pulses. Each type of fish gives off a different signal depending on its size, shape, and orientation. The fish are then identified on a computer using acoustic analysis software. The strength of the sonar signal helps determine the biomass and number of fish. When the chief scientist see an interesting aggregation of fish to tow on, he calls the bridge (the brains of the boat–this is where the boat is controlled) and reports the latitude and longitude of where he wishes to fish. The ship then turns about and the deck hands work to lower the tow net and prepare to collect fish at the depth the scientists observed the fish.

Here, I’ve got a Humboldt Squid.
Here, I’ve got a Humboldt Squid.

After the fish are collected, the Pacific hake are weighed and counted.  A sub-sample of about 300 Pacific hake is sexed and lengthed. Another sub-sample of about 50 Pacific hake is weighed, sexed, and lengthed; sexual maturity is determined by observation of the gonads, and ear bones are removed – this will enable scientists to determine the age of the fish.  About 10 Pacific hake have their stomach contents sampled as well. All this information is collected and used by Fishery Biologists to determine the population dynamics of the overall Pacific hake stock. The acoustic scientists also save all their data in an acoustic library. This will help scientists to analyze the Pacific hake biomass (population) while minimizing how many live specimens they need to collect. In total we completed three tows today. That’s a lot of Pacific hake to measure, weigh, and sex.

Personal Log 

The ship is loud. Sleep was hard to come by last night. Living in quiet Vermont has made me a light sleeper. I need to work on adjusting to the constant noise. The food and staff are great. Everyone takes pride in their ship and the work which is done on the ship.

Question of the Day 
Can you identify the beast in the picture to the picture?

Animals Seen Today 
Pacific Hake, Humboldt Squid, Myctophids, Breaching Whale (too far away to identify; most likely a Humpback)