Mission: Acoustic Trawl Survey (Leg 3 of 3) Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean/ Gulf of Alaska Date: Saturday, August 19, 2023
Weather Data Lat 58.1 N, Lon 150.1 W Sky condition: Partly Sunny Wind Speed: 5.81 knots Wind Direction: 346.98° Air Temp: 12.91 °C
The last trawl sample that the OscarDyson’s crew and scientist’s took was in deep water with a Methot net, named after Dr. Rick Methot, the NOAA scientist who developed it. This type of trawl net slows down the water as marine organisms tumble into it, so their delicate bodies are not crushed. The codend looks a lot like what you would see in a plankton tow, only it will catch a lot more organisms.
Sub-samples are taken from what the Methot catches. Some krill is preserved and sent back to NOAA in Seattle for identification and analysis. On board, the krill are weighed and counted. The krill and other organisms are small, so the tools used to sort them are designed for capturing and moving small organisms.
After the last krill was counted and weighed, the science team quickly jumped into action cleaning up the Fish Lab. Yes, I am including this in the science log, because cleanup is an important part of science that many high school students seem to forget.
The crew had unreeled the trawl nets and were getting ready to ship them to Washington state.
Being a Teacher at Sea on the Oscar Dyson was a fantastic way to end the summer for me. Shortly I will be heading back to Anchorage where high school has already started and students have already been to my class with a substitute teacher. I look forward to teaching school, but am so thankful for the opportunity to have this adventure.
It has been so wonderful working with the science team on this cruise. After so many unforeseen delays the objectives were met through team work and the organizational skills of the lead scientist Taina Honkalehto.
The people on this ship really enjoy working on the ocean. Whether it is captaining the boat, engineering, the mess, to programming echo sounders, identifying species of fish, weighing and sampling them, they all love what they do. They also really care about the work that they are doing, the health of the ocean, and they want to support the people working and living with it. Also, there is a unique brand of humor that comes with working together for extended periods of time at sea. You just have to laugh at strange fish that come aboard and wonder at the beautiful sunsets or northern lights.
On the bridge I found the ship’s communication flags. These flags are a way to communicate with other ships if the radios are not working or to hang on holidays with a message. When I was a kid back in Ketchikan, Alaska, I admired the flags so much I would draw cartoons with flag messages. So, to NOAA, the science team and the crew of the OscarDyson…
May the seas lie smooth before you. May a gentle breeze forever fill your sails. May sunshine warm your face, and Kindness warm your soul. – An Irish Sailor’s Blessing
Mission: Acoustic Trawl Survey (Leg 3 of 3) Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean/ Gulf of Alaska Date: Friday, August 18, 2023
Weather Data Lat 58.18 N, Lon 148.82 W Sky condition: Partially Cloudy Wind Speed: 10.55 knots Wind Direction: 32.58° Air Temp: 14 °C
Science and Technology Blog
Meet Sandi Neidetcher, she is a fish biologist investigating fish reproductive status. Why care about fish reproduction? Well, the seafood industry is extremely important to Alaska and other coastal states. And they would not have an industry if those “little fishes” could not reproduce. But the ocean is changing due to climate and different types of pollution.
Climate change is making our oceans a warmer place—just a couple of degrees, but that may be enough to really change how fish reproduce and spawn. A few degrees in temperature could change when and where fish reproduce, and then cascade to the fishing industry, the food market, and the people who depend on them as food.
NOAA wants to have background information on fish reproduction so they can recognize whether the fish have changed their reproductive strategies over time and how that could impact fisheries.
Sandi received her Masters degree studying the ovaries of Pacific cod to determine the phenology and geography, or the timing and location, of spawning. She specialized in histology, which is the study of microscopic tissue structures, for her it was specifically the ovaries. To understand the reproductive process and ovary maturation, she studies slides with ovary tissue mounted and stained to show oocyte (unfertilized egg) structures that develop as the spawning season progresses.
Now she is involved in a study looking at the reproductive states of Walleye Pollock. Pollock are multi-batch spawners. They have the ability to spawn (lay eggs) more than once in a season. So the female ovaries can be in different stages of reproduction throughout the season.
The first step in this analysis is to collect the ovaries from the pollock.
In the photo above, the fish will be measured for length and weight, then the ovary and the liver will be removed, weighed, and saved for analysis. The fish’s ear bones (otoliths) will also be removed and used to determine its age. Samples are sent back to Sandi at NOAA AFSC (Alaska Fisheries Science Center) in Seattle, Washington. Half of the ovary will be sent to a histology lab where technicians will prep the tissues and return the sides ready to be analyzed. The other half of the ovary is scanned on the ship.
Sandi is comparing the histological samples to Raman Spectroscopy Analysis that she does aboard the OscarDyson. A long time ago when I was an undergraduate student in chemistry, Raman spectrometers were very large. The one I worked with in my physical chemistry class was in the basement of a building on a special concrete slab that stopped any vibrations from disturbing the path of the laser. Did I mention that the whole setup took up almost half of the basement?
Raman spectrometers have come a long way since my undergrad. Today, Sandi has a small wand that contains a laser connected to a spectrometer the size of a donut box. A small desktop computer connected to the spectrometer will give an immediate readout of the analysis.
The wand with the laser is held over the ovary to collect data on large macromolecules like lipids, proteins, and DNA.
The analysis that Sandi does is to compare the molecular composition identified through the spectral patterns with the structures seen in the histology samples, and to determine if the maturation status can be identified through the spectral patterns. The ultimate goal would be to have a small hand-held spectrometer that a scientist could use right as the ovaries are extracted. This would greatly increase the amount of ovaries analyzed quickly and efficiently and reduce the cost and time required for histological analysis
Pollock have variability in their reproductive strategies and may be impacted by environmental conditions. One strategy is down regulation, where a fish will reabsorb a number of eggs during maturation and, as a result, reduce the resources spent on reproduction. This reduces the fecundity, or number of eggs released by that fish in a season. Knowing how fecund a fish population is helps managers determine how many fish can be removed by a fishery. Atresia is the resorption of an oocyte and can be seen histologically. Mass atresia is where a whole ovary of oocytes is be reabsorbed. If the fish is not finding enough food or the temperature is not correct then, then a female fish can save energy by reducing, or stopping the whole process of reproduction.
Recent warming sea temperatures have been seen in the Gulf of Alaska, and this may be impacting fish reproduction. In 2020, the number of Pacific cod predicted had dropped so low that the federal waters fishery was closed. That same year, crew fishing for Pacific cod reported seeing a number of Pacific cod with mass atresia. Scientists do not know if the observation of atresia, during a warming period, is related to the population crash but studies like this will give more information for the future. Predicting population crashes that may be related to climate change, fish health or temperature differences are an important part of fisheries management and impact us all because the ocean is an important resource.
Crew Members in the Spotlight
The Commanding Officer runs the ship, but there are many important jobs that the OscarDyson would not function without. Engineering is one of them. There is a small team of Engineers aboard that are constantly monitoring the ship when on shift.
Juliette is a member of the OscarDyson’s Engineering department and may have been on the staff the longest. Her personality is direct, friendly and capable. Before becoming an Engineer, she attained her bachelor of science degree at the University of Washington. After receiving her degree she did not really have a clear plan for a job. So she went to a community college and received the equivalent associates degree of a Junior Unlicensed Engineer. Eventually, through NOAA, she can be a fully qualified Engineer with time aboard ships.
Juliette has a wildly creative side and interest in science. The scarf she is wearing in the picture has different layers present in sedimentary rock. She is also a big fan of dinosaurs, placing several all over the ship for people to find when work is slow. Honestly, it is the kind of humor that keeps everyone moving around with a smile. Some dinosaurs even have sweaters that she knitted, in her down time. Her knitting is extremely impressive.
Ben is the Survey Technician for the ship. Survey Technician is the kind of job you would never know exists as a high school student. There are jobs out there in this world that people would never specifically train for in high school or college , but are highly needed where you have different groups collaborating in complex situations. Ben’s job description is a pretty long list; calibrate scientific instruments, collect data, assist scientists, help the deck crew, and act as a liaison between science and the deck crew.
How did he arrive at this position? He attained a bachelor of science in Wildlife Biology and worked in the field for a while. Unfortunately, he found the job hard to make a living with the low pay. Fishing’s siren song came in the form of factory trawling and other crew positions in smaller boats. Because of his academic training and work experience the “perfect storm” of a Survey Technician was born.
Soon we will be taking our last trawl sample and heading to port in Kodiak. There have been moments on the cruise where time crawled in the dead of night while I was struggling to stay awake. Mostly, it has been a trip of a lifetime, with an incredibly capable and adaptive team of scientists and crew members willing to share stories that keep you awake and lull you to sleep, dreaming about tomorrow.
Mission: Acoustic Trawl Survey (Leg 3 of 3) Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean/ Gulf of Alaska Date: Wednesday, August 16, 2023
Weather Data Lat 59.47 N, Lon 144.1 W Sky condition: Cloudy with Rain Wind Speed: 22.62 knots Wind Direction: 125.44° Air Temp: 14 °C
Science and Technology Lab
While on the third leg of our cruise we have had a lot of weather delays, so when the going gets rough the Oscar Dyson science team calibrates! Plus they do not hesitate to work on a couple special projects. No time is wasted. In a secluded bay, waiting for the storm to pass, lots of work can be done to further science.
As I mentioned, this summer has been cold, dark, rainy, and windy. As a fisher person who works in this environment, I cannot overstate how important the internet has become with weather apps like Windy. They accumulate data from oceanic buoys, local weather stations, and satellite images to create a picture like the one you see below.
The crew and scientists were able to be proactive in their decision to find a safe place to harbor and then could set up a work plan through the weather day.
Calibration of the Ships Echosounders
The Oscar Dyson’s echo sounders get calibrated about four times a year, at the start and end of the winter and summer field seasons. Because this is the last leg of the cruise, and we are nearing the end of the summer, a weather day is a good day to make sure they are working well
The first step in calibration is to set up down riggers on the starboard, port and aft decks.
Once placed, the downrigger lines are very cleverly connected underneath the boat, so all three lines meet.
Where all three lines meet, a single line is suspended directly down underneath the keel of the boat where the echo sounders are located. The down line has a tungsten carbide sphere suspended above a lead weight. The scientists use the known target of the sphere and the known properties of the water column to figure out the difference between expectations and reality in their calibration. The tungsten carbide sphere works extremely well for calibration because it is extremely dense when compared to water, has a known sound reflection, and allows calibration at multiple frequencies.
The picture is showing a black circle representing the transducer face as observed from above. The blue dots represent individual measurements of the reflected echo of the calibration sphere as it is moved around in the transducer beam. Using this calibration software the scientists can evaluate the measurement sensitivity and the beam characteristics of the echo sounders.
Calibrating the acoustics was not the only event that happened while weathered deep in a fjord arm of Nuka Bay.
While waiting out the weather, other members of the science team had a chance to work with a new piece of equipment called a minicam.
The purpose of this camera is to connect the images it records to the backscatter shown with the Oscar Dyson‘s echo sounders. Again, backscatter, as I mentioned in the previous blog, are images that are produced when the echosounders’ different frequencies are reflected back to the ship. The images created by sound are shown on a computer screen and can be used to identify different species of fish or other marine organisms. The images need to be verified by either the minicam or trawl sampling. Scientists want to make sure that the length and species of what they see in the camera can relate to the scaling of the backscatter. The minicam was deployed by scientists and the crew several times to look at the fish and euphausiids in the water column, while we waited out the bad weather.
Recreational Fish Finders “Little Pingers” Project
This is a project by NOAA oceanographer Robert Levine. The echosounders that are suspended below the Oscar Dyson are extremely precise and expensive. Robert and a colleague want to compare the echosounder’s data/readout for recreational fish finders to the echosounders on the Oscar Dyson. There are situations where scientists would love to monitor fish and marine organisms’ populations, but may not need the accuracy and precision of the scientific Simrad echosounders.
They also might not be able to recover the fish finders, so having them less expensive is very important.
At this point they are just collecting data and monitoring performance with the recreational fish finders, affectionately called “little pingers.” Later in the project they will do more of a data comparison to the Oscar Dyson‘s echo sounders.
On board a ship, one way to keep the crew’s spirits up in bad weather is excellent food. According to the people I have worked with so far on the cruise, the meals on this leg of the acoustic-trawl survey have been amazing.
Meet The Dream Galley Team
Meet the Dream Galley Team. From left to right, Rodney Bynum and Angelo Santos. These men share a passion for food and see how it brings smiles to the faces of their customers, friends, and family. Both have fathers who worked on ships in the Steward Department. Rodney fondly remembers his father bringing home exotic food from all over the world. His father inspired him to open a Soul Food restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia. Years later, Rodney decided to take his culinary career in a different direction: cooking on a ship. The Oscar Dyson was his first time working on a ship and he has really enjoyed it thus far. The crew loves his congenial personality, mad cooking skills, and awe-inspiring work ethic.
Angelo started cooking at the age of 11, often helping his mom roll lumpia (Filipino egg rolls) and make other traditional Filipino food while religiously watching Giada de Laurentis, Emeril Lagasse, and Ina Garten on Food Network. Angelo grew up in San Francisco and rural Oregon, spent 3 years in San Diego, and is now based in Oregon once again while traveling the world for work. In Oregon, he decided to major in Culinary Arts and graduated with his associate’s degree after going through Linn-Benton Community College’s Culinary program. Angelo mentioned, “culinary school isn’t required, but it helps you gain a fundamental understanding of cooking to prepare you for the real world.” He recommends trying out a restaurant job before spending money on tuition for culinary school.
East Coast meets West Coast aboard the Oscar Dyson. Both men have solid fundamentals in cooking from their years of experience as restaurant chefs. Angelo is the Chief Steward while Rodney is the 2nd Cook. The Chief Steward is in charge of galley operations while the 2nd cook provides breakfast and assists as needed. Chief Steward is like an Executive Chef position on land while 2nd cook is like a breakfast cook/prep cook/dishwasher. Rodney and Angelo often collaborate for menu ideas and feed off each other’s passion for delicious food.
Both of them enjoyed high school and had lots of advice for students looking into a career in Culinary Arts. As I interviewed them, they’d often finish each others’ sentences in agreement.
Rodney: “If you’re looking to become a good chef, don’t be afraid to taste everything, including food that may not be familiar to you. Every job in the kitchen matters, whether it’s the prep cook, dishwasher, or executive chef. Learn every position and never stop learning.”
Angelo attended culinary school shortly after graduating high school, so he found it to be stressful and chaotic, but very rewarding. He mentioned, “Focus as much as possible on having a good work-life balance. Find the joy in simple pleasures, take care of your mental health, and make friends outside of work. Work on networking with peers who share your passion for food as well as people outside of your cohort. Connections can help a lot.” Angelo enjoys cooking on ships because the compensation was very good. The only chef jobs on land that compare to this salary are executive chefs at very high end venues and private/personal chefs. Being able to travel around the world on business was a cool perk of being a chef at sea.
Overall, both men agreed that some of the best moments of pursuing a career in the food industry have been about seeing the joy that good food brings to people. Life is too short to not eat well and this is especially appreciated when one works on a ship. It makes all the difference for the morale of a ship to know that while you’re away from your loved ones, you can still eat well.
Finally, I have to give Angel credit for helping me write the sections about the “Dream Galley Team,” not only is he a great cook but also a fantastic writer.
Mission: Acoustic Trawl Survey (Leg 3 of 3) Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean/ Gulf of Alaska Date: Sunday, August 13, 2023
Weather Data Lat 59.12 N, Lon 150.11 W Sky condition: Partly Cloudy Wind Speed: 13 knots Wind Direction: 330° Air Temp: 14 °C
Science and Technology blog
The ocean is a really big place. We have really only mapped about 5% of the ocean bottom. How do we manage fisheries if we have to count fish in an area that is overwhelmingly large? This is where the genius of acoustics and trawl sampling complement each other. The scientists aboardNOAA Ship Oscar Dyson use the echo sounders to find fish or other animals lurking in the ocean and then they can extrapolate and upscale that data to a much larger area which is covered by their transects.
Wait! That is a lot of information using language that folks don’t really use at the dinner table. Could you please explain this in more basic terms? You bet, as a matter of fact in the last couple of days I have been swimming in a sea of new vocabulary, talking to really smart people and trying to keep up with the conversation that it almost makes my head explode. Don’t worry, I am safe. But it’s really impressive how scientists have developed ways to accurately know fish and marine organism populations in the ocean with out having to sample all of it.
Acoustics uses the echo-sounders a lot like a fish finder, but the ones on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are much more capable than the type you would find on your boat. The echo-sounders are attached to the bottom of a lowered centerboard—essentially a large keel—in the center of the boat, and they measure five different frequencies with different wavelengths.
So, if we can see the fish using acoustics, why do scientists need to sample using a trawl net? As you can see above, the marks in the backscatter can show the depth and the approximate shape of objects, but there is not enough detail to tell exactly what kind of organism is present. Most of the scientists on board have a pretty good idea what kind of fish or organisms are present, but the most definitive way to know is to take a trawl sample.
The trawl net as seen in the picture below is being set off the aft deck.
When the trawl is deployed to the depth that the scientists want to sample, the net will funnel fish and other organisms into it. This is called flying the net.
I just have to include one more view of the trawl net from the bridge as it is pulled behind the boat.
The next image shows the path that the net was pulled through the water.
Because the trawl is dragged through the water, it catches different organisms at different times. The scientists want to know when the different organisms were caught so they have cleverly attached a camera to the side of the net. Through the camera they can see which type of fish came into the trawl. Ultimately, this links the kind of acoustic backscatter viewed in the echograms recorded during the trawl to exactly the type of organism caught by the trawl.
Below is a picture of some fish as they enter the trawl net and move towards the codend.
So how do scientists take this information and extrapolate the data to a broader area? While the Oscar Dyson is out at sea they run transect lines while recording acoustic data. Transect lines are specific paths in the ocean. The picture below shows the transect lines that we plan to do and have done on this leg of the cruise.
Using the acoustic data that the echo-sounders provide and verifying the types of fish and other marine organisms through the trawl sampling allows the scientists to predict, with a high level of certainty, the amount and types of marine organisms that are present along the transect lines that were not trawl-sampled. Thus saving the taxpayers money, and allowing fisheries managers to use good data, keeping the fishery viable, and allowing commercial fishing boats to have reasonable catch limits.
Scientist in the Spotlight
Honestly it takes a team to make all of this happen. But, half of our team is sleeping at the moment, I have the night shift from 4pm to 4am, so I am going to introduce one fabulous expert in acoustics and fisheries:
Abigail McCarthy has been working for MACE: Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering Program since 2007. She received her undergraduate degree in Biology from Wellesley College and then obtained a Masters in Fisheries from Oregon State University.
For fun, she surfs and enjoys long-distance prone paddle board races. She has recently found a new love with fly fishing.
Aboard the Ship Oscar Dyson, she is working as a specialist helping to run the acoustics lab.
I asked Abigail what she thought of about her educational experience? She immediately said, “I love learning! High school and college were both a lot of fun.”
What would be a good suggestion for a young aspiring high school student pursuing a degree related to ocean studies or science in general?
Her response was great: “Being curious and working hard is more important than being brilliant. Persistence and determination will get you where you want to be in the future.” Finally, “Learn to code! Become familiar with programing languages like Python and R.”
Hopefully, I answered your burning questions about the use of acoustic trawl sampling, and surveys. Yet, there is so much more to learn. Why not take a trip yourself? Check NOAA’s website out and just apply.
Mission: Acoustic Trawl Survey (Leg 3 of 3) Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean/ Gulf of Alaska Date: Monday August 7, 2023
Weather Data Lat 58.31 N, Lon 151.58 W Sky condition: cloudy Wind Speed: 12.43 knots Wind Direction: 357.55° Sea Wave height: 1 ft | Swell: 340°, 1-2 ft Air Temp: 12.35 °C
The purpose of this trip is acoustic trawl sampling for pollock (Gadus chalchogrammus). There are other projects that people are working on during this leg that I will report on in other upcoming blogs.
Today, at about 5:30 pm we deployed a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth – Probe). This probe measures the salinity using conductivity, the temperature with a digital thermometer, and records the data all at different depths in the water column. This CTD also records fluorescence which is an easy way to determine the amount of plankton present. The plankton at the surface are producers and have chlorophyll, which reacts to fluorescence and can be recorded. This information will be important when we start taking trawl samples, so the ships crew will routinely send out the CTD while we cover our transects.
Watch the videos below of the crew members deploying and recovering the CTD.
The data from the CTD collection are shown on the picture of the computer screen below:
The data from the CTD are presented in graphical form. The first frame shows chlorophyll, which is the green line. The second frame is percent oxygen (which they were not measuring so it remains zero). The third frame shows salinity (yellow line) and water temperature (blue line).
Currently we are cruising out to our transect destinations over the continental shelf. The seas are a little rough (6-8 foot waves) and I am enjoying some saltine crackers that help with mild sea sickness. It has been a while since I have been in a large boat in rolling seas.
Three days ago, I flew from Anchorage to Kodiak Island on an a sunny afternoon and met the science team for the cruise. The whole team was extremely welcoming, sharing stories of past cruises, colorful characters and the science behind acoustic trawl sampling. Later, they invited me to go surfing the next day at a beach on the far side of the island.
Through the camaraderie of playing in the waves I was introduced to these amazing people and their knowledge and love of the ocean. They are very professional and willing to share what they are studying. They also have a deep concern for the changes occurring in the ocean and honestly hope that their information can be shared and understood in order to mitigate the impact of change. Sitting on my surfboard I quickly learned I was the beginner, and they were the experts. With the experience of time, they would effortlessly snap up and slice through the waves. Smiles and whoops encouraged each other as the sea crashed into the beach.
Surf photos courtesy of Mathew Phillips
The next day was spent with the science crew getting ready to bring aboard equipment they will be using, accessing and streamlining the information they need for the data collection, and also a little bit more shore time with fishing and hiking. I hiked up a local mountain called Pyramid.
Overall this has been a great start for a wonderful trip. I love to get my students outside experiencing the real world. After a year of taking both Oceanography and Marine Biology my students get to touch, see and smell the ocean through a field trip. They get to see marine birds and mammals, touch and taste icebergs and smell the brine scent of the ocean. They also get a chance to apply the knowledge and skills that they have learned in my class. The NOAA as Teacher at Sea Program is my field trip. I get to see the science and technology in action and share it with my students, friends and family. Thanks so much for letting me play!