Jessica Cobley: An Introduction, July 15, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jessica Cobley

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 17 – August 8, 2019


Mission: Midwater Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Aleutian Islands)

Date: Monday, July 15th, 2019

Weather Data from Juneau, AK: 8:50am Lat: 58.35° N Lon: 134.58° W 

Personal Log

Hello everyone. In just a few days I will be swapping out halibut fishing in Juneau, AK for surveying walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA)…and I can’t wait! Our cruise on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson will depart from Kodiak Island and sail out along the Aleutian Islands, a place I have yet to see or experience since moving to Alaska. 

Jessica halibut fishing
Fishing for Halibut near Holkham Bay. This photo was taken just after the fillet had slipped out of my hands and onto the boat deck…guess I’ll benefit from fish handling practice on the cruise! Photo Credit: Laura Maruhashi

Three years ago, I left a curriculum consulting job in Portland, OR to begin teaching in Juneau. Prior to Oregon, I was living overseas in Australia, where I completed my Masters in Education and spent time with the Australian side of my family. I am incredibly excited to now call Juneau my home and be in the classroom as both an educator and a learner. Alaska is such a unique and special place – sometimes I still can’t believe I live here! 

Currently, I work as a 7th grade Life Science teacher at Floyd Dryden Middle School. Not only is middle school my favorite age of kids to teach (yes, you heard that right), but I also love the curriculum we get to share with them. One main focus during the school year is to teach about ecosystems. Two years ago I developed a unit, along with NOAA Scientist Elizabeth Siddon, that focuses on how commercial fisheries quotas are set in Alaska. The lessons range from data collection and stakeholder input to presenting recommendations to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. Alaska takes several different aspects of the ecosystem into consideration when setting quotas and I think it is a great way for students to see how the science they learn in school can be applied to real life careers. 

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Students in my 7th grade life science class presenting ecosystem risk table recommendations to a panel of scientists for sablefish quotas in the Gulf of Alaska.

I myself have never had the chance to work as a scientist. That is why I am so excited for the opportunity to participate in data collection and analysis alongside a research team right here in Alaska. It will be fantastic to bring what I learn back to my students and be able to give them an even better understanding what being a scientist can entail. 

Lastly, outside of teaching, I try to enjoy all of the outdoor activities Juneau has to offer. With the recent streak of unusually warm and sunny weather, my friends and I have been boating, swimming, and hiking as much as possible. While it will be hard to leave those things behind, I am looking forward to this next adventure! 

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Midway through a hike from Granite Creek Basin to Mount Juneau. Photo Credit: Laura Maruhashi


Science and Technology Log

The research team on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is conducting an acoustic-trawl (AT) survey to collect data, primarily on walleye pollock, to be used in stock assessment models for determining commercial fisheries quotas. When collecting data, scientists will work in 12 hour shifts and be looking to determine things such as species composition, age, length distribution etc. 

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Photo Credit: NOAA

Trawl fishing, for those of you unfamiliar, is a method of fishing when a net of particular size is pulled through the water behind a boat. Oscar Dyson is a 64 meter stern trawler that contains acoustic and oceanographic instruments to collect the necessary data. After researching online, I learned that the main instrument used is a Simrad EK60 split-beam echosounder system. Look for more information about what this instrument is (and others) in future blog posts! 

Did You Know?

Alaska pollock is one of the largest commercial fisheries in the world! 

Thank you for reading and I am looking forward to sharing more about life out at sea! 

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.

PERSONAL LOG


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 SCIENCE


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.

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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.


TEACHING CONNECTIONS


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

Virginia Warren: Home Sweet Home

NOAA Teacher at Sea Virginia Warren
Mission: Acoustic and Trawl Survey of Walleye Pollock
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shelikof Strait
on NOAA ship Oscar Dyson
Date: 3/25/2016

Science and Technology Log:

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I created the video below  to document some of my activities aboard the Oscar Dyson during my 2016 Teacher at Sea research trip.

In this video, Virginia opens with exciting footage from the front of the Oscar Dyson’s bow as they transit through Alaska’s Shelikof Strait. Interspersed, she shares various steps involved in processing the fish caught in the survey: sorting the catch by species (0:34), collecting the pollock into bins (1:00), making an incision to determine the sex of the pollock (1:07), measuring the pollocks’ lengths and taking biological samples (1:33), removing the otoliths (2:23 and 3:29), preserving the otoliths for analyzing on shore (3:12), and measuring and recording other fish using the Ichthystick and the CLAMS computer program (3:57). Virginia also takes the opportunity to show off some interesting species—lumpsucker fish (2:18), starry flounder (2:53), and salmon (3:53). Finally, Virginia gives a brief tour of the deck (4:38) and finishes with a photo of her wearing a survival (or “Gumby”) suit (5:02.)

My students know a good bit about my previous Teacher at Sea experience out of Woods Hole, Massachusetts where we used the HabCam to look at the ocean floor. With that knowledge in mind a couple of my students asked me if there was a way that we were able to look at the fish while they were still in the water. The simple answer to that question is yes. While my previous TAS experience used the HabCam, the Oscar Dyson uses a CamTrawl. The CamTrawl is attached to the net and it records pictures as fish enter the  cod end of the net.

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Image from the CamTrawl

 

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CamTrawl

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Nick and Ryan Attaching the CamTrawl to the Net

 

After each trawl we would use custom software written in MATLAB to measure lengths of pollock while they were in the water. This program uses the pictures taken from the CamTrawl during the trawl to measure the length of the fish. The CamTrawl takes two pictures at different angles so that most of the time we can see the same fish from two different angles. Fish length irregularities occur in the MATLAB program when it selects nets or two fish at one time to length, so therefore a person has to go back and check to make sure that the program has selected valid fish to length. As the fish pictures come up on the MATLAB screen the person rating the fish selects the fish when the yellow box around the fish covers most of the fish from both angle camera shots of the CamTrawl.

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A Screen in MATLAB that Shows Valid Fish Lengths

The above picture shows three different fish that were valid choices for length measurement. The pictures on the left show one camera angle and the pictures on the right show the other camera angle. When both angles have a valid fish with the correct placement of the yellow box, the person selecting the fish will click the fish to tell the program to use that fish in the measurement data.

 

Interview With a NOAA Survey Technician: Alyssa Pourmonir 

Alyssa Pourmonir inside the Wet Lab
Alyssa Pourmonir inside the Wet Lab

  1. How did you come to be in NOAA Corps? (or what made you decide to join NOAA Corps and not another military branch.

I am not in the NOAA Corps, instead I am a civilian government employee under the title of Survey Technician. I was in the US Coast Guard for 3 years where I took many courses related to navigation, leadership, and ship life. I feel my background in the Coast Guard has allowed me to excel in this demanding environment.

  1. What is your educational/working background?

I have been lucky to have the opportunity to be in the Coast Guard which taught me many professional skills and built me up to be stronger and more independent. I also spent an entire summer forecasting for the weather in Pennsylvania. Here I gained an abundance of practice presenting the weather on the green screen and performing on live television for WNEP TV. Before coming to Alaska for this job, I worked as a consultant at NASA Stennis Space Center performing remote sensing analysis of forests using data from the MODIS and VIIRS data.

Academically, I have a BS in Marine Environmental Science from SUNY Maritime College, although most of my college experience took place at the US Coast Guard Academy.

  1. How long have you been in NOAA Corps?

I’m not in the NOAA Corps, but I have worked for NOAA for almost 2 years as a Survey Technician. May 2014 to present.

  1. How long have you been on the Dyson?

June 2014 to present.

  1. How long do you usually stay onboard the ship before going home?

In the past 2 years I have visited my family one time. Partly because I wish to send money home so my family can struggle a little less and hopefully enjoy a life with less debt; especially as my father passes retirement age. He has worked several full time jobs at a time for many years just to support my mom and sisters. Potentially, his work ethic and care giving nature is what I try to embody each day.

  1. Have you worked on any other NOAA ships? If so, which one and how long did you work on it?

Nope

  1. What is your job description on the Dyson?

On the NOAA Oscar Dyson, I am a crew member who acts as a liaison to the scientific personnel on board. I work up to 12 hours each day, 7 days per week maintaining the scientific data, equipment, and lab spaces on board. I also work alongside the scientists, deck department, and bridge watch standers to collect data by completing many different oceanographic or fishing operations.

  1. How is your science job on the Dyson different from the NOAA Scientists that you work with?

As a crew member, I facilitate a positive environment with the needed resources for the scientists to fulfill their data analysis and data collection. I also work alongside the scientists to process the fishing catch in our lab. So you can imagine me suited up with the scientists analyzing the fish’s reproduction development stages and extracting otoliths.

  1. What is the best part of your job?

I get to explore and work in the infamous Bering Sea Alaska, Gulf of Alaska, and Aleutian Island chain which most people can’t even imagine doing. Here in Alaska, I do not have the luxuries found in Continental US, so I believe out here there is a great opportunity for character building. It takes someone pretty amazing to live out here and do what we do.

  1. What is the most difficult part of your job?

Being in remote places and not seeing family or friends, but also being so far away that it is super expensive to try to see them.

  1. Do you have any career highlights or something that stands out in your mind that is exceptionally interesting?

I began my BS absolutely hating biology. I dislike and do not eat seafood. I was skittish and would let my partners do all of the dissections during classes, and I felt that I knew nothing about biology. As a Marine Environmental Science major I decided to take as many biology electives as I could. I went from the lowest grade in my classes to someone who received one of the highest grades in each class. I graduated just one class shy of a minor in Marine Biology and now toss around fish on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, a fisheries research vessel. While my first day I would jump when the fish would move unexpectedly, now I can analyze characteristics of the fish with little alarm and much confidence. It is amazing how I enjoy biology now. I hope to encourage others to confidently try new things, for with a little practice and hard work you may accomplish anything or overcome fears you may not have realized you had.

  1. Do you have any advice for students who want to pursue a career with NOAA?

If you wish to pursue a career with NOAA, be sure to work hard to learn as much as you can, but also come out of your comfort zone to pursue as many volunteer or paid jobs that will give you work experience that correlates with your interests. Time management and resilience is often my secret to success.

Personal Log:

I had a fabulous time aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson and I’m very thankful to NOAA giving me the opportunity to travel to Alaska and learn from their scientists!!!

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My flight home started on a small plane from Kodiak to Anchorage.

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Ravn Alaska’s Bombardier DHC-8-100

 

After the plane got into the air and was flying away from Kodiak, we were treated to a flyby of the Kodak Harbor and even got to see the Dyson outside of the harbor as we flew away.

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Aerial view of the Kodiak Harbor

We flew into Anchorage, Alaska and I was amazed at the beauty of the mountains in Alaska!

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Mountains Outside the Anchorage, Alaska Airport

A little while before sunset I caught a plane from Anchorage to the Chicago, O’Hare airport. The scenery and sunset leaving Alaska was beautiful!!!! I hope this won’t be the last time I get to come to Alaska, because it is a beautiful, adventure-filled part of the United States.

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It was good to be back on land again when we got back to Kodiak, but I do miss being on the ocean!!

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Bow of the Oscar Dyson

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NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

 

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Finally back on land in front of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson!

This experience was wonderful for me, however for my students this experience was invaluable. I was able to communicate and share my experiences with them through email almost daily and they were also able to read my TAS blogs as they were posted. If they don’t learn anything else from my experiences in Alaska, which I know that they will, I hope they will learn that the world is theirs to explore, study, and learn about no matter how small the town is that they come from!!

Virginia Warren: CLAMS and Trawls March 22, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea Virginia Warren
Mission: Acoustic and Trawl Survey of Walleye Pollock
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shelikof Strait
on NOAA ship Oscar Dyson
Date: 3/20/16 – 3/22/16

Data from the Bridge (3/21/16):
Sky: Snow
Visibility: 8 to 10 nautical miles (at one point it was more like 2 to 3 nautical miles)
Wind Speed: 23 knots
Sea Wave Height: 4 – 6 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 5° C (41°)
Air Temperature: 0° C (32° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 994.3 Millibars

Science and Technology Log:
The purpose of this research survey is to collect data on walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus) that scientists will use when the survey is complete to help determine the population of the pollock. This data also helps scientists decide where and when to open the pollock fishery to fishermen. Data collection such as this survey are critical to the survival and health of the pollock fishery.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, we use an AWT (Aleutian Wing Trawl) to complete the pollock survey. The AWT has two doors that glide through the water and hold the net open. The cod end of the net is where all of the fish end up when the trawl is complete.

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Scale model of the Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT) net courtesy of NOAA Scientist Kresimir Williams (Source: TAS Melissa George)

After the trawl is brought back onto the boat, the cod end of net is dumped onto a hydraulic table. The hydraulic table is then lifted up so that it angles the fish down a shoot into the Wet Lab on a conveyor belt.

 

Once the pollock come through the shoot and onto the conveyor belt, the first thing that we do is pick out every type of animal that is not a pollock. So far we have found lots of eulachons (Thaleichthys pacificus), jellyfish (Cnidaria), isopods, and squid. We have even found the occasional chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), rock fish (Sebastes spp.), and a lumpsucker (Cyclopteridea). The pollock continue to roll down the conveyor belt into a plastic bin until the bin is full. Then the bin of pollock are weighed.

Contents of the Trawl

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The data from every fish we sample goes into a computer system called CLAMS. CLAMS stands for Catch Logger for Acoustic Midwater Survey. While we are taking samples of the fish our gloves get covered in fish scales and become slimy, so to be able to enter the data into the CLAMS system without causing damage there is a touch screen on all of the computers in the Wet Lab.

 

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CLAMS computer system with a touch screen.

 

Once the pollock are weighed, a sample of the fish are taken to be sexed. To sex the fish, we use a scalpel to slice into the side of the fish. The picture of the chart below shows what we are looking for to determine if a pollock is male or female. Once we know what sex the fish is, we put it into a bin that says “Sheilas” for the female fish and “Blokes” for the male fish.

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This chart of the Maturity Scale for Walleye Pollock is hanging in the Wet Lab.

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Up-close of the Maturity Scale for female pollock.

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Up-close of the Maturity Scale for male pollock.

 

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Kim showing Virginia what to look for when sexing the fish.

Once the fish are in their correct male/female bin, they are then measured for their length using an Ichthystick.

The Ichtystick was designed and built by MACE staff Rick Towler and Kresimir Williams who wrote a paper on it: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165783610001517

The Ichthystick has a magnet under the board. When the fish is placed on top of the board, a hand held magnet is placed at the fork of the fish tale. Where the hand held magnet is attracted to the magnet under the board tells the computer the length of the fish and the data is automatically stored in the CLAMS program.

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Ichtystick

Starry Flounder Length
Getting the length of the starry flounder using the Ichthystick.

The next station is where the stomach, ovaries, and otoliths are removed from the fish and preserved for scientists to research when the survey is over. The ovaries of a female fish are weighed as well. Depending on the size of the ovaries, they may be collected for further research. Once all of the data has been collected from the fish, a label is printed with the data on it. This label is placed in the bag with the stomach or ovaries sample. Kim completes a special project for this survey. She is a stomach content analysist, so she collects stomachs from a sample of fish that will be taken back to her lab to analyze the stomach content of what she collected. She puts the stomach and the label with the fish’s information, into a bag that is placed in a solution of formalin that preserves the samples.

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The next step is to get the otoliths out of the fish. A knife is used to cut across the head of the pollock. Otoliths are used to learn the age of the fish. The otoliths are placed in a glass vile that has a barcode number that can be scanned and put with all of the fish’s information in CLAMS. This number is used to keep track of the fish data for when the otoliths get analyzed later on.

Getting the Otoliths

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We also collect length, weight, sex, and stomach samples from other fish that come up in the trawl as well.

Interview with a NOAA Corps Officer: Ensign Caroline Wilkinson
Caroline is a Junior NOAA Corps Officer on board the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson. She is always very helpful with any information asked of her and always has a smile on her face when she does so. Thank you Caroline for making me feel so welcomed on board the Dyson!

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Ensign Caroline Wilkinson

How did you come to be in NOAA Corps? (or what made you decide to join NOAA Corps and not another military branch?

  • I graduated from college in May of 2015. I was looking for a job at a career fair at my school and discovered the NOAA Corps. I had heard of NOAA, but didn’t know a lot about NOAA Corps. I wanted to travel and NOAA Corps allowed me that opportunity. I was unsure what type of work I wanted to do, so I decided to join and explore career options or make a career out of NOAA Corps.

What is your educational/working background?

  • I went to the University of Michigan where I received an undergraduate degree in ecology and evolutionary biology and a minor in physical oceanography.

How long have you been in NOAA Corps?

  • July of 2015 I started basic training. Training was at the Coast Guard academy in a strict military environment. We had navigation and ship handling classes seven hours a day.

How long have you been on the Dyson?

  • I have been here since December of 2015.

How long do you usually stay onboard the ship before going home?

  • We stay at sea for two years and then in a land assignment for 3 years before heading back to sea.

Have you worked on any other NOAA ships? If so, which one and how long did you work on it?

  • Nope, no other ships. I had no underway experience except a five-day dive trip in Australia.

Where have you traveled to with your job?

  • We were in Newport, Oregon and then we went to Seattle, Washington for a couple of weeks. Then we went to Kodiak and then to Dutch Harbor.

What is your job description on the Dyson?

  • I’m a Junior Officer, the Medical Officer, and the Environmental Compliance Officer. As a junior officer I am responsible for standing bridge watch while underway. As a Junior Officer I am responsible for standing 8 hours of watch, driving the ship, every day. As medical officer, we have over 150 drugs onboard that I am responsible for inventorying, administering, and ordering. I also perform weekly health and sanitary inspections and Weekly environmental walkthroughs where I’m looking for any safety hazards, unsecured items, leaks or spills that could go into the water.

What is the best part of your job?

  • Getting to drive the ship.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

  • Being so far away from my family and friends.

Do you have any career highlights or something that stands out in your mind that is exceptionally interesting?

  • During training we got to sail in the US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle. It’s a tall ship (like a pirate ship). We were out for eight days. We went from Baltimore to Port Smith, Virginia and had the opportunity to do a swim call 200 miles out in the Atlantic.

What kind of sea creature do you most like to see while you are at sea?

  • We have seen some killer whales and humpback whale in the bay we are in this morning. We’ve also seen some albatross.

Do you have any advice for students who want to join NOAA Corps?

  • You need an undergraduate degree in math or science. There are 2 classes of ten students a year. Recruiters look for students with research experience, a willingness to learn, and a sense of adventure.

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Ensign Caroline Wilkinson at the helm.

 

Personal Log:
I have really been enjoying my time aboard the Oscar Dyson and getting to know the people who are on the ship with me. I love spending time on the Bridge because you can look out and see all around the ship. I also like being on the bridge because I get to witness, and sometimes be a part of, the interactions and camaraderie between the NOAA Corps Officers that drive/control the ship and the other ship workers.

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Panoramic view of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson‘s Bridge. Look at all of those windows!

 

Arnold and Kimrie are responsible for making breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all 34 people on the Oscar Dyson. They also clean the galley and all of the dishes that go along with feeding all of those people. They probably have the most important job on the ship, because in my previous experiences, hungry people tend to be grouchy people.

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Arnold and Kimrie are the stewards of the Oscar Dyson.

 

We’ve had a variety of yummy dishes made for us while we’ve been at sea. Breakfast starts at 7 a.m. and could include a combination of scrambled eggs, breakfast casserole, French toast, waffles, chocolate pancakes, bacon, sausage, or my personal favorite, eggs benedict.

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Breakfast is served. YUM!!!

Lunch is served at 11 a.m. and seems like a dinner with all of the variety of choices. Lunch usually has some type of soup, fish, and another meat choice available, along with vegetables, bread, and desert. Dinner is served at 5 p.m. and usually soup, fish, and another meat choice available, along with vegetables, bread and desert. I loved getting to try all of the different types of fish that they fix for us and I also really liked getting to try Alaskan King Crab for the first time!!

If you are still hungry after all of that, then there is always a 24-hour salad bar, a variety of cereal, snacks, and ice cream available in the galley. The left-overs from previous meals are also saved and put in the refrigerator for anyone to consume when they feel the need. If we are working and unable to get to the galley before a meal is over, Arnold or Kimrie will save a plate for us to eat when we get finished.

I also tried Ube ice cream, which is purple and made from yams. At first I was very skeptical of any kind of sweet treat being made out of yams, but I was pleasantly surprised that it tasted really good!

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Ube ice cream made from yams! Very YUMMY!!!

 

There is even a place to do laundry on this ship, which I was very happy about because fishy clothes can get pretty stinky!

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Laundry Room

I can’t end a blog without showing off some of the beautiful scenery that I have been privileged to see on this journey. The pictures below are of the Semidi Islands.

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Virginia Warren: Calibrations, Drills, and Interviews March 19, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea Virginia Warren
Mission: Acoustic Trawl Survey of Walleye Pollock
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shelikof Strait
on NOAA ship Oscar Dyson
Date: 3/17/16 – 3/18/16

Data from the Bridge:
Sky: Cloudy
Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 0.2 (20°) From the Northeast
Wind Speed: 25 Knots (30 Knots at point during the day)
Sea Wave Height: 5 – 6 ft. on average (10 ft. at highest)
Sea Water Temperature: 5.6° C (42.08° F)
Dry Temperature: 4° C (40° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 1018.4

Science and Technology Log:
When the wind picked up, it was decided that the ship would quit fishing and running transect lines with the echo-sounder and instead go into one of Kodiak’s bays to seek protection from the weather (>40 knot winds and 16 – 20 foot sea waves were forecast). While were were ‘hiding’, the ship’s crew had time to fix a trawl winch problem and change nets, and the scientists conducted a calibration of the echo-sounder (this is done at the beginning and end of surveys). When we left the transect line, we went through Alitak Bay and stopped the ship in front of Hepburn Peninsula, with Deadman Bay to the left of the peninsula and Portage Bay to the right (if you are looking at the map). Where the ship was sitting, the bay was 74.8 m (245.4068 ft) deep and 5.6° C (42.08° F). It was still pretty windy (15-20 knots), but the Hepburn Peninsula blocked us from a lot of the wind.

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Deadman Bay to the left of Hepburn Peninsula and Portage Bay to the right

The calibration process of the echo sounder took some time. The science crew before me already started the process of calibrating the echo sounder before it was time for my shift to take over. They used three down riggers to send three lines under the center of the boat, where the echo sounder is positioned. A calibration sphere was placed a little further down one of the lines. There is also a lead weight put at the end of the line so that it will help hold the calibration sphere in place as the current moves.

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Echo Sounder Calibration Diagram (Source Credit: Sea Technology Website)

Then one of the science crew uses a system to align the calibration sphere with the echo sounder. There are two types of calibration spheres that we used today. The first, and smaller one, was made out of a tungsten-carbide alloy.

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Patrick holding the Tungsten-Carbide Calibration Sphere (photo by Julia Harvey, TAS summer 2013 DY1307)

The second calibration sphere was larger than the first and it was made out of solid copper. This made for a very easy, get a blog done, day for me because the job was completed by the lead scientist Patrick and Robert, one of the other science crew members.

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Robert Putting the Copper Calibration Sphere on the Line

 

Echosounder calibration screen
Echo-sounder display during calibration. On the echogram (depth on vertical axis, time on horizontal axis) you can see the calibration spheres hanging below the ship above the seafloor. (credit: Patrick Ressler)

 

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Diagram to Describe Echo Sounder Technology (Source Credit: FAO Website)

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Diagram to Describe Echo Sounder Technology (Source Credit: FAO Link)

 

 

Interview with a Scientist: Kim
For this leg of the research cruise Kim is on the same shift that I work on and she’s also my roommate. She has been great in helping me get accustomed to sea life and training me on what to do while we are sorting trawls in the science lab. She also agreed to let me interview her to share her story with my students. I am extremely grateful for all of the help, training, and friendship she has provided while I have been on the Dyson. Her interview is below:

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Kim Holding a Smooth Lumpsucker from a Bottom Trawl Survey (photo credit: Kim)

What is your educational background?
I have a bachelor’s of science degree aquatic and fishery sciences and a minor in marine biology.

How long have you been working as a scientist?
About 10 years.

How long have you been working as a NOAA contractor?
6 years.

What is your job description?
I am a stomach content analyst.

How often do you go on a survey?
Usually twice during the summer for about three weeks at a time.

What is a highlight for you while at sea?
A family of 4 got lost at sea and had been missing for 60 hours. We were out on survey and came across them in their life raft. We were able to pull them out. They wrote a book about it called “Lost in the Shelikof: an Alaskan Family’s Struggle to Survive”.

If you would like to read more about this story, here is the link to the book:  http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Shelikof-Alaskan-Familys-Struggle/dp/145650584X

What made you want to be a scientist?
I spent a lot of time on the water as a kid crabbing and playing in the water. I was always drawn to sea life and I wanted to learn as much about it as I could.

What enjoy most about being a scientist?
The survey work is my favorite part of my job. You get to see a lot of unique species that most people don’t get to see. A lot of deep water species. I also like going out on survey because most of my work is done in the lab looking at samples under a microscope. It’s refreshing to be able to travel up here and work on a boat every summer. Sometimes when I’m out here I stop and think “I can’t believe this is my job.” I learn something new every time I come out here. It’s hard work, but it’s also a lot of fun.

What is the hardest part of your job?
We have a sampling plan that tells us what species and what size range of fish we want to collect stomachs from. It can be difficult to get stomachs from all the fish that you’d like to simply because the net doesn’t catch individuals of a certain size. Fish frequently regurgitate their food when they come up in the net and it can be a challenge sometimes to find ones that haven’t thrown up.

What is your favorite sea creature?
Cuttlefish, they are pretty cute.

Here is a short YouTube video about cuttlefish if you would like to see what they look like and how they act: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-zodF-XrSE

Any advice for people who want to be a scientist?
Volunteer as much as you can. Internships, especially those involving field work, are a great way to gain experience and help you decide what aspects of a particular field of science you’re most interested in. Also, having enthusiasm for the work that you’re doing goes a long way towards helping you get possible internships and job opportunities in the future. Hard work and enthusiasm are what helped me get where I am today in my career.

Personal Log:
For the first couple of days on board the Dyson we had beautiful weather blue skies, pretty clouds, beautiful scenery, and calm seas. However, experiencing calm seas came to a halt on Thursday. The wind picked up which caused the ship to rock back and forth with the waves. Gusts of wind would cause water to splash over the bow of the ship, creating a very entertaining show. I loved to watch the waves move and feel the ship’s reaction to the power of the water. When I went to visit the bridge of the ship one wave hit the boat hard enough to ring a bell that is hanging in the bridge. Sitting down to do work or eating a meal can be kind of fun when the wind is up. It’s almost like a roller coaster, because you never know when your chair is going to slide sideways. Walking while the ship was rocking was also interesting because two normal steps could become 5 so that you can keep your balance and stay on your feet.

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On Friday we had our mandatory at sea drills. The first was a fire drill which was very easy for me because all I had to do for that drill was meet up with the rest of the science crew in a preplanned muster station. The next drill was a little more eventful. We had to bring a survival suit, a life jacket, a hat, and gloves to the preplanned muster station. Once we were there roll was called to make sure we were in the correct station to get on the correct life raft should it became necessary. This part wasn’t too bad because the scenery outside was very pretty. However, after that part was complete the people new to the ship had to put on the survival suit, which is supposed to take less than a minute to put on. This was my first attempt to get into a survival suit and I needed a lot of guidance from ENS Ben Kaiser, one of the NOAA Corps officers. He was very patient with me and also took my picture when I was finally able to get it on.

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My First Time in a Survival Suit

 

The Oscar Dyson takes safety very seriously!!

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Cristina Veresan, Back in Kodiak! August 16, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 28 – August 16, 2015 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Sunday, August 16, 2015

Calibration, Cleaning, and Camera Drops

Our final days aboard the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson were action-packed! Though our trawling operations were finished, the science team had plenty to do, mainly calibrating, and cleaning, and camera drops. For the echosounder calibration process, the ship was brought into the calm waters of Otter Bay near Yakutat, Alaska. The process involved lowering tungsten carbide and copper spheres into the water at prescribed depths; these standard targets have a known echo return at particular echosounder frequencies, so our scientists can make sure the echosounders are working properly. This calibration process was done at the beginning of the survey and now again at the end. It is important for scientists to calibrate their echosounder equipment as often as is practical in order to ensure the equipment is working consistently so that they have accurate data.

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Kayak selfie! Note the Oscar Dyson in the background. Photo by Emily Collins

To accommodate the calibration, the ship had to stay in place for about 8 hours. After our shift ended, the bridge gave Emily and I permission to take a kayak into the bay. Allen and Rob each held a line connected to an end of the kayak, and they lowered it into the water from the deck. To get in the kayak, we had to climb down a rope ladder to right over the water level, then lower ourselves down to our seats. Thankfully, Emily and I managed to do this without tipping ourselves over! She and I each had a life preserver on, and we had a radio with us to communicate with the bridge. It was so fun to go for a paddle. The Oscar Dyson faded into the distance as we made our way towards the shore. We hugged the coast of the bay, surrounded by gorgeous alpine scenery. In the shallow water, we saw large sea stars, mounds of clams, and lots of scurrying crabs. After about an hour, we made our way back to the ship, exhilarated from our kayak adventure.

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Otter Bay from our kayak

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Great view of the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson from our kayak

We also spent a day cleaning the wet lab from top to bottom, including all the baskets, walls, and counters. We had to rid all its surfaces of pesky fish scales, so we spent hours scrubbing, soaping, and spraying everything down. At that point, we also began packing much of our gear and equipment that would be offloaded in Kodiak, as this was the last leg of the summer survey. Although we were not fishing, our camera drops also continued on both shifts. In transit, we were also treated to an awesome view of Hubbard Glacier in Disenchantment Bay. Hubbard Glacier is unique in that, unlike most of the world’s glaciers, it has actually been advancing and thickening for the last 100 years. As we cruised into the bay, we all gathered on deck or on the bridge to take in the majestic tidewater glacier terminating in the sea. We also took the opportunity to get a group picture of our science team!

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Hubbard Glacier, Disenchantment Bay, Alaska

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The Science Team: (top row, from left) Nathan Lauffenburger, Emily Collins, Cristina Veresan, Darin Jones, Rick Towler (bottom row, from left) Denise McKelvey, Mackenzie Wilson Photo by Alyssa Pourmonir

A Farewell

This morning, under the supervision of superior officers, Ensign Benjamin Kaiser (remember him from the interview?) expertly brought the Oscar Dyson into port. The ship was back in her home port of Kodiak, Alaska, and the science team was ready to disembark and offload our gear. I must say it is a weird sensation to get your “land legs” back after having been at sea for three weeks. I was ready to go to nearby Harborside Coffee and Goods, get myself a good coffee and go for a long walk. I do not fly back to Hawai’i until Tuesday afternoon, so I am looking forward to exploring Kodiak a bit more with some of my shipmates in the next few days. I will also be able to attend a talk tomorrow in which chief scientist Darin Jones will present the preliminary results from this summer’s survey to a group of fisheries industry professionals and other interested parties.

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Reflection. Kodiak Harbor, Alaska

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A salmon sculpture made from marine debris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am very grateful to Commanding Officer Arthur “Jesse” Stark and all the officers and crew of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson for a safe, productive voyage. And I would like to extend a big MAHALO to the science team from Midwater Assessment & Conservation Engineering (MACE) at Alaska Fisheries Science Center conducting the third leg of the summer Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey! Thanks for welcoming me into your team; you all are dedicated professionals whose passion for your work is obvious. A special thanks to chief scientist Darin Jones for sharing your expertise and taking the time to edit this blog.

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One of my last sunrises at sea, observed from the bow

Sailing as Teacher at Sea was a rich, hands-on learning experience. I was impressed by the sophisticated techniques and novel technology helping scientists assess pollock populations, which will eventually inform fisheries management decisions. And working in the wet lab was a lot of fun! In addition to processing pollock, I enjoyed observing all the different creatures we caught in our trawls, from sea jellies to shrimps to all manner of fish. While I will really miss my shipmates, the fisheries work, and the gorgeous scenery (especially those epic sunrises), I am excited to go back and share all I have learned with my students and a larger community of educators.

So this is Cristina Veresan, once again a Teacher Ashore, and officially signing off…

Mahalo nui loa for following my journey. Aloha!

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Fish faces! Photo by Emily Collins

Cristina Veresan, Lights, Camera, Ocean! August 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 28 – August 16, 2015 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Wednesday, August 13, 2015

Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 59° 18.31’N
Longitude: 141° 36.22’W
Sky: Overcast
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: 358
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea Wave Height: < 1 feet
Swell Wave: 2-3 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 16.2°C
Dry Temperature: 15°C

Science and Technology Log

When my shift begins at 4am, I often get to participate in a few “camera drops” before the sun comes up and we begin sailing our transect lines looking for fish. We are conducting the “camera drops” on a grid of 5 km squares provided by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center bottom trawl survey that shows whether the seafloor across the Gulf of Alaska is “trawlable” or “untrawlable” based on several criteria to that survey. The DropCam footage, used in conjunction with a multi-beam echosounder, helps verify the “trawlability” designation and also helps identify and measure fish seen with the echosounder.

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The Drop Camera being deployed

The DropCam is made up of strobe lights and two cameras, one color and one black and white, contained in a steel frame. The cameras shoot in stereo, calibrated so scientists can get measurements from rocks, fish, and anything else on the images. When the ship is stopped, the DropCam can be deployed on a hydrowire by the deck crew and Survey Tech. In the Chem Lab, the wire can be moved up and down by a joystick connected to a winch on deck while the DropCam images are being viewed on a computer monitor. The ship drifts with  the current so the camera moves over the seafloor at about a knot, but you still have to “drive” with the joystick to move it up and down, keeping close to the bottom while avoiding obstacles. The bottom time is 15 minutes for each drop. It’s fun to watch the footage in real-time, and often we see really cool creatures as we explore the ocean floor! The images from the DropCam are later analyzed to identify and length fish species, count number of individual fish, and classify substrate type.

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Emily “drives” the camera from the Chem Lab as the sun begins to rise

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DropCam images (clockwise from top left) a skate, brittle stars, a cruising halibut, two rockfish in rocky habitat

Technology enables scientists to collect physical oceanographic data as well. The Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT) is a probe that is dropped from a ship and measures the temperature as it falls through the water column. The depth is calculated by a known fall rate. A very thin copper wire transmits the data to the ship where it is recorded in real-time for later analysis. You launch the probe from a hand-held plastic launcher tube; after pulling out the pin, the probe slides out the tube. We also use a Conductivity Temperature Depth (CTD) aboard the Oscar Dyson; a CTD is an electronic device used by oceanographers to measure salinity through conductivity, as well as temperature and pressure. The CTD’s sensors are mounted on a steel frame and can also include sensors for oxygen, fluorescence and collecting bottles for water samples. However, to deploy a CTD, the ship must be stopped and the heavy CTD carousel lowered on a hydrowire. The hand-held XBT does not require the ship to slow down or otherwise interfere with normal operations. We launch XBT’s twice a day on our survey to monitor water temperatures for use with the multi beam echosounder.

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Cristina launching the XBT probe Photo by Alyssa Pourmonir

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Survey Tech Alyssa servicing the CTD carousel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shipmate Spotlight: An Interview with Ensign Benjamin Kaiser

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Ensign Benjamin Kaiser, NOAA Corps

Tell me a little more about the NOAA Corps?
We facilitate NOAA scientific operations aboard NOAA vessels like hydrographic work making charts, fisheries data collection, and oceanographic research.

What do you do up on the bridge?
I am a Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD), so when I am on the bridge driving the ship, I am accompanied by an Officer of the Deck (OOD). I am on my way to becoming an OOD. For that you need 120 days at sea, a detailed workbook completed, and the Commanding Officer’s approval.

What education or training is required for your position?
I have an undergraduate degree in Marine Science from Boston University. My training for NOAA Corps was 19 weeks at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut– essentially going through Coast Guard Officer Candidate School.

What motivated you to join the NOAA Corps?
A friend of mine was an observer on a fisheries boat, and she told me about the NOAA Corps. When I was in high school and college, I didn’t know it was an option. We’re a small service, so recruiting is limited; there’s approximately 320 officers in the NOAA Corps.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?
I love not being in an office all the time. In the NOAA Corps, the expectation is two years at sea and then a land assignment. The flexibility appeals to me because I don’t want to be pigeonholed into one thing. There are so many opportunities to learn new skills. Like, this year I got advanced dive training for Nitrox and dry suit. I don’t have any regrets about this career path.

What is the most challenging part of your work?
There’s a steep learning curve. At this stage, I have to be like a sponge and take everything in and there’s so much to learn. That, and just getting used to shipboard life. It is difficult to find time to work out and the days are long.

What are your duties aboard the Oscar Dyson?
I am on duty 12pm to midnight, rotating between working on the bridge and other duties. I am the ship’s Safety Officer, so I help make sure the vessel is safely operating and coordinate drills with the Commanding Officer. I am also the Training Officer, so I have to arrange the officers’ and crew members’ training schedules. I am also in charge of morale/wellness, ship’s store, keys, radios, and inspections, to name a few.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career?
I grew up in Rhode Island and was an ocean kid. I loved sailing and swimming, and I always knew I would have an ocean-related career.

How would a student who wanted to join the NOAA Corps need to prepare?

Students would need an undergraduate degree from a college or university, preferably in a STEM field. Students could also graduate from a Maritime Academy. When they go to Officer Candidate School, they need to be prepared for a tough first week with people yelling at them. Then there’s long days of working out, nautical science class, drill work, homework, and lights out by 10pm!

What are your hobbies?
I enjoy rock climbing, competitive swimming, hiking, and sailing.

What do you miss most while working at sea?
There’s no rock climbing!

What is your favorite marine creature?
Sailfish because they are fast and cool.

Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Chem Lab

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This lab is called the Chem Lab (short for Chemical). For our survey, we don’t have that many chemicals, but it is a dry lab with counters for workspace when needed. This room is adjacent to the wet lab through a watertight door, so in between trawls, Emily and I spend a lot of time here.  In the Chem Lab, we charge batteries for the CamTrawl and the DropCam. There are also two computer stations for downloading data, AutoLength analysis, and any other work (like blogging!). There is a window port to the Hero Deck, where the CTD and DropCam are deployed from. In the fume hood, we store Methot net samples in bottles of formalin. There is a microscope for viewing samples. Note the rolling chairs have their wheels removed and there are tie-downs on cases so they are safer at sea. Major cribbage tournaments are also played in this room!

Personal Log

It has been so calm on this cruise, but I have to say that I was looking forward to some bigger waves! Well, Sunday night to yesterday afternoon we experienced some rain and rough seas due to a nearby storm. For a while the ship would do big rolling motions and then a quick lurchy crash. Sea waves were about 2 feet in height, but the swell waves were over 5 feet at times. When I was moving about the ship, I’d have to keep a hand on a rail or something else secured. In the wet lab while I was working, I would lean against the counter and keep my feet spread apart for better balance.

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Seas picked up and the ship was rocking and rolling!

Remember the Methot net? It is the smaller net used to catch macroplankton. We deployed one this week and once it came out of the water, it was rinsed and the codend was unscrewed. When we got the codend into the wet lab, we realized it was exclusively krill!

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The Methot net is deployed by the Survey Tech and deck crew members

Krill
#krillfordays

Krill are  small crustaceans that are found in all the world’s oceans. Krill eat plant plankton (phytoplankton), so they are near the bottom of many marine food chains and fed on by creatures varying from fish like pollock to baleen whales like humpbacks. They are not so small that you need a microscope to see them, but they are tiny. We took a subsample and preserved it and then another subsample to count individuals…there were over 800 krill in just that one scoop! Luckily, we had them spread out on a board and made piles of ten so we did not lose count. It was tedious work moving individual krill with the forceps! I much prefer counting big things.

I love it when there is diversity among the catch from the AWT trawls. And, we caught some very memorable and unique fish this week.  First was a beautiful Shortraker Rockfish (Sebastes borealis). Remember, like the Pacific Ocean Perch, its eyes bulge when its brought up from depth. The Shortraker Rockfish is an open-water, demersal species and can be one of the longest lived of all fish. There have  been huge individuals caught in Alaskan waters that are over 100 years old. This fish was not particularly big for a Shortraker, but I was impressed at its size. It was probably my age.

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Holding a Shortraker Rockfish. Photo by Emily Collins

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Smooth Lumpsucker fish: so ugly it’s cute?! Photo by Mackenzie Wilson

We also caught a Smooth Lumpsucker (Aptocyclus ventricosus). It was inflated because it was brought up from depth, a form of barotrauma. This scaleless fish got its name for being shaped like a “lump” and having an adhesive disc-shaped “sucker.” The “sucker,” modified pelvic fins, are located ventrally and used to adhere to substrate. These pelagic fish are exclusively found in cold waters of the Arctic, North Atlantic, and North Pacific. The lumpsucker fish, and its roe (eggs) are considered delicacies in Iceland and some other countries.

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You can see the “sucker” on the bottom of its body. Photo by Mackenzie Wilson

Pollock are pretty slimy and they have tiny scales, so when we process them, everything gets covered with a kind of speckled grey ooze. However, when we trawled the other day and got a haul that was almost entirely Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii), I was amazed at their scales. For small fish, the herring had scales that were quite large and glistened like silvery sequins. The herring’s backs are an iridescent greenish-blue, and they have silver sides and bellies. The silver color comes from embedded guanine crystals, leading to an effective camouflage phenomenon in open water.

As this last week comes to a close, I am not ready to say goodbye…

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Herring scales are nature’s sequins

Cristina Veresan, Icthysticks and Otoliths? August 9, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 28 – August 16, 2015 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Sunday, August 9, 2015

Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 59°28.8’ N
Longitude: 145°53.2’ W
Sky: Rain
Visibility: 7 miles
Wind Direction: SSE
Wind speed: 13 knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Swell Wave: 3 feet
Sea Water Temperature:  16.0°C
Dry Temperature:  14.5°C

Science and Technology Log

Our wet lab is outfitted with novel technology that makes processing the catch much more efficient. All of our touchscreen computers in the wet lab are running a program, designed by MACE personnel, called Catch Logger for Acoustic Midwater Survey (CLAMS). Once we enter the haul number and select the species that were caught, most of the data populates automatically from the lab instruments. For example, the digital scale is synced with the computer, so the weights are automatically recorded in CLAMS when a button is pushed. Also, an electronic fish measuring board called the “Icthystick,” designed by MACE IT specialist Rick Towler, is used to measure fish lengths. The fish’s head is placed at one end of the measuring board; when you place a finger stylus (with a magnet mounted inside it) at the end of the tail, the length is automatically recorded in CLAMS. The CLAMS system creates a histogram (type of graph) of all the lengths measured, and scientists archive and review this important data.

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The CLAMS program records our catch

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The “Icthystick” AKA “Fish Stick” Photo by Darin Jones

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A digital scale connected to the CLAMS system

What can fisheries scientists learn from a pollock’s ear bones? The ear bones, called otoliths, have layers that can be counted and measured to determine the fish’s age and growth over the years of its life. Fish otoliths are glimpses into the past and their layers of proteins and calcium composites can sometimes offer clues about climate and water conditions as well. For our sub-sample of pollock, in addition to length, weight, and sex data, we will remove and archive the otoliths. We have to slice into the head and extract the two bony otoliths with forceps. The otoliths are then placed into a vial of ethanol with a bar code that has been scanned into the CLAMS system and assigned to the individual pollock they came from. Therefore, when all the otoliths are sent back to the lab in Seattle, ages of the fish can be confirmed. We sometimes collect other biological samples as well. In Seattle, there are scientists working on special projects for certain species, so sometimes we take a fin clip or an ovary sample from fish for those colleagues.

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After a slice is made across the head, the otoliths can be removed with forceps

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The otoliths in glycerol thymol (the bar code is on the opposite side of the vial)

 

 

Shipmate Spotlight: An interview with Rick Towler 

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Rick Towler, IT Specialist Photo by Darin Jones

What is your position on the Oscar Dyson?
I am an IT Specialist at MACE. I spend about 4 weeks total at sea and the rest of my time in our Seattle office. I have been in my position for 11 years.

What training or education do you need for your position?
My background is in wildlife biology, but I have had a lifelong interest in computers and electronics. I was lucky enough to get an internship with a physical oceanographer and started writing data analysis software for him. That got me on my career path, but for the most part, I have taught myself.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?
I love the freedom to creatively solve problems. There’s a lot of room to learn new things in my position. Like when we started on the “Icthystick” I had never done any electronics like that but I was able to innovate and make something that works. The scientists provide the goals and I provide the gear!

Have you had much experience at sea?
No, I get seasick! I am usually the first to go down with it. Before I joined MACE I had no real sea time. When I get sick, I just have to rest and take medication. I am so lucky that this leg of the survey has been very calm.

What are your duties of your position in Seattle and at sea?
In general, I write software and design and develop instruments to help us do our job better. Along with my colleague, Scott Furnish, I am also responsible for installing and maintaining the equipment used during the survey. When at sea, I make sure all the data is being backed up. I respond to any equipment issues and fix things that are not working properly.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career?
I did not necessarily know I wanted a marine career, but I knew I wanted to be involved in science. I love that my job now is a mix of natural science and computer technology. It’s important to me to have a job I think is meaningful.

What are your hobbies?
I enjoy family time: playing with my kids and hiking and biking together. I also love playing with my dog and building things with my kids.

What do you miss most while working at sea?
Pizza! And my family and my dog.

What is your favorite marine creature?
Tufted puffin because they are cute. I’m a bird guy.

Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Bridge

bridge
The main console (left) and the navigation station (right)

The bridge of a ship is an enclosed room or platform from which the ship is commanded. Our bridge is commended by officers of the NOAA Corps, one of the uniformed services of the United States. From the bridge, officers can control the ship’s movements, radar, IT (information technology), communications, trawling and everything else to operate the ship. Full control of the ships generators and engines is from the engine room, although there is a repeater display, so officers can monitor these systems. In our bridgethere is a main console from which the ship is steered. There are also consoles on other sides of the room, so the officers can control the ship when we are pulling up to the dock or when equipment is being deployed off the stern, starboard side, or port side. There is a navigation station where charts are stored and courses are plotted. For our cruise, courses are plotted on paper charts as well as two different digital charts. The bridge is surrounded by windows and the view is incredible!

Personal Log

Each fish we catch has a particular scent, some more “fishy” than others. But when Darin told me to smell a capelin (Mallotus villosus) I discovered something quite surprising. The small, slender fish smells exactly like cucumber. Or should I say that cucumbers smell exactly like capelin? It is amazing!

me
Capelin are in the smelt family: I smelt a smelt!

After all these clear sunny days, we had our first foggy one, a complete white out! It gave me an appreciation for the officers that have to navigate through these conditions using radar alone. I also noticed the fog horn sounded every two minutes; Ensign Ben told me that this is a nautical rule when visibility is less than 2 miles and the ship is underway. In between blasts, I scooted out to the bow to take the photo below.

fog
Thick fog surrounded us

I have seen two different whales on my trip so far. I saw one humpback whale from a distance while it was feeding. It was tough to make out the whale itself, but it was easy to spot the flock of birds that was gathered on the water’s surface. I have also always wanted to see an orca whale, and I finally got my chance. It was a fleeting encounter. I had just stepped out onto the deck and saw an orca surface. I raised my camera as it surfaced again and managed to take a picture of the dorsal fin. Unfortunately, our ship and the whale were cruising pretty fast in opposite directions. But it was still a magical moment to observe this amazing creature in its natural habitat.

whale
A feeding humpback whale

orca
A cruising orca whale

Like I have said before, working on a moving platform has its challenges. Even getting around a ship presents a unique set of peculiarities. First of all, most doorways have 4-inch rails on the floor. When you are stumbling down at 4am to begin your shift or excitedly moving outside to see a whale, you have to keep those in mind! Most interior doors are pretty standard, although some come equipped with hooks at the top in order to secure them open. However, the exterior doors are watertight and must be handled appropriately. To open them from either side, you first have to push the lever up and then open the door by the handle. It is really important to avoid placing your hand in the door frame while the door is open because the thick, heavy door would crush your hand is if it swung shut. For this reason, and to keep the ship secure, you also have to remember to close these doors behind you and pull down the lever on the other side. On account of a nearby storm, we are supposed to get some big seas overnight, so now everything must be secured!

Ah, the joys of shipboard living!

sea
(from left) a raised door frame, a latch on the back of a door, and a watertight exterior door

Cristina Veresan, Sorting the Catch, August 5, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 28 – August 16, 2015 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 60° 46.4′ N
Longitude: 147° 41.0′ W
Sky: Clear
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: E
Wind speed: 5 knots
Sea Wave Height: 0-1 feet
Swell Wave: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 16.8 °C
Dry Temperature: 16.0° C

Science and Technology Log

What about all those fish we bring onboard? Our Lab Lead Emily oversees the processing of the catch and determines which protocols or sampling strategies are most appropriate. She and I, along with the Survey Tech on duty, work together to identify, weigh, and measure the catch and collect any necessary biological samples such as otoliths or ovaries. The first job is to sort everything, and we continue sorting until the table is empty. We identify the creatures and organize them by species into different baskets. We end up with many baskets of pollock, usually hundreds of individuals. If distinct length groups of pollock are present we sort them by length (which is indicative of age class) and sample each group separately. All of the basket(s) are weighed to get a total weight per species (or length group) for the haul.

One of many baskets of pollock
One of many baskets of pollock

'Bloke' or 'Sheila' pollock? It's all sorted out here
‘Bloke’ or ‘Sheila’ pollock? It’s all sorted out here

For pollock estimated to be age two and older, we sex and length about 300 individuals per haul. When I say sex a pollock, I mean we must determine if the fish is male or female. Pollock do not have any external features to determine which sex they are so we must slice open the belly of the fish, pull back the liver and look for the gonads; females have a light pinkish to orange colored two-lobed ovary, while males have a whitish bubbled string of testes. The sex-sorting table has a large basin next to a partitioned bin cheekily labeled with a “blokes” section (for males) and a “sheila” section (for females). Once the sex of the fish is determined, we toss it in the proper bin. Each bin opens to a length board from which we measure all of the fish in the bin. For creatures other than our targeted pollock, we collect unsexed length and weight data from a smaller sample of individuals.

Pollock gonads: female ovaries
Pollock gonads: female ovaries

Pollock gonads: male testes
Pollock gonads: male testes

spawning
A spawning female! Note the ovaries, swollen with eggs.

Shipmate Spotlight: Interview with Darin Jones

Darin Jones, Scientist and Field Party Chief
Darin Jones, Research Fisheries Biologist, Field Party Chief (and my awesome blog editor)!

What is your position on the Oscar Dyson?
I am a Research Fisheries Biologist. I am also the field party chief in charge of the scientific team for leg 3 of our summer survey. I have been with the National Marine Fisheries Service for 8 years.

What training or education do you need for your position?
The ability to go to sea and not get seasick is key, and a solid marine biology education with plenty of math and statistics. I earned my undergraduate degree in marine biology from UNC at Wilmington, then a Masters in Fisheries Resources at the University of Idaho.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?
Being able to get out in the field and see the beautiful scenery of Alaska instead of being stuck behind a desk all the time. And, of course, meeting wonderful new people on each cruise.

Have you had much experience at sea?
After my undergraduate work, I was an observer for five years in Alaska on trawlers, longliners, and pot fishing boats and got lots of sea time. In New England I worked for about 4 years on a cod tagging program where we went out to Georges Bank and caught Atlantic Cod to tag and release.  I have also worked at fish hatcheries in California and South Carolina where we went to sea to collect brood stock. In my current position, I am at sea for about 3 months a year.

Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? What do you do?
Most of my work is in “the Cave” (Acoustics Lab), where I monitor the acoustics equipment and analyze the data. When we are trawling, I go to the bridge to help guide the fishing operation. As field party chief, I direct all science operations, make daily decisions pertaining to the survey mission and its completion based on weather and time available, and I’m the liaison between the science party and the ship’s officers.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career?
I have loved the ocean since I started surfing in high school. During college, I was looking for a career that would keep me near the ocean, and marine biology was a natural fit.

What are your hobbies?
I am a surfer and a woodworker, and I enjoy and playing the guitar.

What do you miss most while working at sea?
My family for sure. My own bed!

What is your favorite marine creature?
My porcupine pufferfish that I had during grad school; he had a personality and was always happy to see me.

Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Lounge

The lounge
The ship’s lounge

When you work hard at sea, you need a place to unwind and relax after a 12-hour shift. The lounge is right across the hall from my stateroom, and it is a great gathering place. It has comfy couches, a big bean bag chair, and a book library. The large television, like the televisions in the staterooms, has Direct TV with many channels. I have not watched television until this week when I began watching the last ever episodes of the Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. The ship also has a large collection of DVDs.

 

 

Personal Log

We left Seward and headed up the coast to Prince William Sound. I can see why the region is known for its breathtaking wilderness scenery: mountains, islands, and fjords. The coast is lined with both dense spruce forest and tidewater glaciers. In fact, most of this area is part of the Chugach National Forest, the second largest National Forest in the United States. The sound’s largest port is Valdez, the terminus of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. In 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef after it left Valdez, which resulted in a massive oil spill that caused environmental destruction and wildlife deaths.

Cruising through Prince William Sound
Cruising through Prince William Sound

My favorite part of working in the wet lab is when it’s time to sort the catch. We tilt the table, open the gate, and all the fish roll in on the conveyor belt. You never know what you will find among the pollock and rockfish. A lot of the time, there are krill and shrimp mixed in with the fish. Occasionally, there will be another big fish like a Pacific Cod (Gadus macrocephalus). A few times this week, there have been some very interesting baby creatures in our trawls. When sorting, you have to take care not to miss them!

My Alaskan fisheries adventure continues…

COD
Here’s a big Pacific Cod…Photo by Emily Collins

littlefish
And here’s some of the baby creatures found in our catches: (clockwise from top left) an Atka mackerel, an Alaska eelpout, Squid, and Snailfish.

Cristina Veresan, Nets and the Wet Lab, August 3, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 28 – August 16, 2015 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Monday, August 3, 2015

Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 58° 51.5 N
Longitude: 149° 30.8 W
Sky: Scattered Clouds
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: SSE
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea Wave Height: <1 feet
Swell Wave: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 16.3° C
Dry Temperature: 17.2 ° C

Science and Technology Log

Once it is determined where to fish, the scientists also have to decide which trawl to deploy and tow behind the ship in order to catch the targeted fish. The most common trawl we use to catch mid-water pollock is the Aleutian wing trawl (AWT). Our AWT is 140 meters long, and it can be fished anywhere from 30-1,000 meters underwater. A net echosounder is mounted at the top of the net opening and transmits acoustic images of fish going in the mouth of the net in real time to a display on a computer on the bridge that is monitored by the scientist and the Lead Fisherman. Additionally, at the entrance of the codend (the end of the net where the fish are collected), a stereo camera called the  CamTrawl takes pictures of anything entering the codend. CamTrawl pictures are later analyzed to determine species and lengths of the fish that were caught.  Sometimes the net is fished with the codend opened and the catch is only evaluated based on what is seen in the CamTrawl images. As this technology gets perfected less fish will need to be brought onboard.

A view of the stern as the deck crew prepares to deploy the AWT. Note the net reel at the bottom of the frame.
A view of the stern as the deck crew prepares to deploy the AWT. Note the AWT on the net reel at the bottom of the frame.

Cooperation among many different people is necessary during a trawl. The wet lab team prepares  the CamTrawl to collect data. The deck crew physically handles all the gear on deck, including attaching the CamTrawl camera, net echosounders, and physical oceanography instruments to the net and deploying and recovering the net. From the bridge, the Lead Fisherman controls the winches that move the trawl net in and out of the water. Once the trawl net is in the water, the scientists work closely with the Lead Fisherman and the officers to ensure a safe, effective trawl. Sometimes the trawl net will be down for a few minutes, and other times it will be closer to an hour. Once the net is back on the ship and emptied out, the catch and CamTrawl images are ready to be analyzed by the scientist and wet lab team.

CamTrawl images were filmed by two cameras in stereo and so scientists can run a program that calculates length.
Fish are filmed in stereo so scientists can run a program that calculates their length.

Two other nets, more seldom used, are the bottom trawl net, known as the Poly Nor’easter (PNE) and the Methot net, used to catch krill and zooplankton. The PNE is deployed if there is a large concentration of fish close to the ocean floor. It is smaller than the AWT and it is usually lowered to just above the ocean floor. The Methot net was named after Dr. Richard Methot, a famous fisheries modeler who designed the net. This net has an opening of 5 square meters, and it has a finer mesh than the AWT or the PNE. At the end of the net is a small PVC codend where the sample is taken from.

Shipmate Spotlight: Interview with Kirk Perry

Kirk Smith, Lead Fisherman and Chief Boatswain
Kirk Perry, Lead Fisherman and Chief Boatswain

What is your position on the Oscar Dyson?
I am the Lead Fisherman and also sailing as active Chief Boatswain.

What training or education do you need for your position?
I went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and got a BS in Natural Resource Management. I have certifications from the Coast Guard like an AB (Able-Bodied Seaman) unlimited, which means I have over 1070 days sailing as an AB. I also have a Masters license to operate a 100-ton vessel. You need a lot of fishing experience.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?
Fishing! Obviously. You just never know what you are going to get, and it’s always exciting.

Have you had much experience at sea?
I have been fishing since I was 10 years old and I helped a neighbor build a boat and go salmon fishing in Monterey Bay. When I visited family in Hawai’i, we would go trolling, set net fishing, beach casting, and spearfishing. I have been sailing professionally with NOAA for 11 years on different vessels in Hawai’i, Mississippi, and here in Alaska.

Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? What do you do?
As Lead Fisherman I operate the machinery from the bridge when we are trawling. Basically, I get the fishing gear in and out of the water safely. As Chief Boatswain, I am in charge of the Deck Department, so I schedule crew, assign daily crew duties, maintain supply inventories, oversee the ship’s survival gear, and operate deck equipment like winches, anchor, and cranes.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career?
By 25 years old I knew I had to be on the water, full time, all the time, but I did not get to be here until I was 44 years old.

What are your hobbies?
When I’m not fishing, I like to hunt. Mainly ducks and geese.

What do you miss most while working at sea?
Home, my family. And my own bed!

What is your favorite marine creature?
Tuna because they are so fast powerful and so delicious! When you are fishing for them, it’s like nothing else. It can turn into a wide open frenzy.

Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Wet Lab

The ship's wet lab
The ship’s wet lab

The wet lab is where we do most of our work, and it gets really busy in here after a trawl. It is called a “wet” lab because it is designed to get just that. When a trawl net is full of fish, it is emptied onto a table that tilts onto a conveyor belt feeding into the wet lab. We have controls to run the conveyor belt as well as tilt the tableAs the fish are brought in on the conveyor, we sort them in large and small baskets, and then collect data from the different species. The metal counters, outfitted with electronic balances and automated length readers provide us with workspace to process our samples. The work of the wet lab is messy and fun. When we process a catch, fish scales get everywhere! The shiny, sticky little discs coat every surface, especially areas that you touch like the computer screens and handles. It is fun to clean this lab because you spray everything down with the salt water from hoses that are rigged from the ceiling. You can even spray down the computer screens themselves, and then rinse them with fresh water. Water washes over everything and drips down, entering drains in troughs along the edges of the floor.

 

Processing pollock in the wet lab!
Processing pollock in the wet lab! Photo by Emily Collins

Personal Log

Whenever it’s time to process fish in the wet lab, I have to get geared up! What is the latest in fisheries fashion, you might ask? Rubber boots are a must. We take the lead of Alaskans and wear brown XtraTuf boots. Once I get my boots on, I put on my Grundens foul weather coveralls over my pants. The weather has been mild, so I have been forgoing the matching foul weather jacket and just wearing a long sleeved t-shirt or sweatshirt. I have not been wearing a hat, but I do pull my hair back. Lastly, I pull on elbow-length yellow rubber gloves over my sleeves.

Before you enter the wet lab, you get geared up here. Sometimes to make a quick entrance/exit, you leave your boots in your coveralls (bottom right)
Before you enter the wet lab, you get geared up here. Sometimes to make a quick entrance/exit, you leave your boots in your coveralls (bottom right)

These boots are made for fishin'
These boots are made for fishin’

I am really enjoying my time with this ship’s crew and the rest of the science party. Everyone has been very welcoming, and, though we work hard, we maintain a sense of fun. If we have down time between data collection, Emily and I play cribbage. Or we go out on deck and take in the sights, like the Holgate glacier we passed the other day. Quite a few people on board have spent time in Hawai’i, so we can ‘talk story’ about the islands from all the way up here in the North Pacific. It is amazing how we are all connected in some way through our love of the ocean.

My voyage of discovery continues…

glacier
We sailed within 4 miles of Holgate Glacier on a beautiful sunny morning

Cristina Veresan, Gone Fishin’, August 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 28 – August 16, 2015

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Saturday, August 1, 2015

Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 58° 39.0′ N
Longitude: 148° 045.8′ W
Sky: Broken clouds
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: W
Wind speed: 15 knots
Sea Wave Height: 3 feet
Swell Wave: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 15.4° C
Dry Temperature: 13.8° C

Science and Technology Log

So, you might be wondering how our scientists know when it’s time to “go fishin’”? That is, how do they determine if there might be a significant concentration of pollock to deploy a trawl? The answer is acoustics! The ship is equipped with a multitude of acoustic transducers on the bottom of the ship, five of which are primarily used in the pollock population assessment. These transducers both send and receive energy waves; they transmit sound waves down to the ocean floor, which reflect back to the ship. However, if there are obstacles of a different density in the water (like fish), the signal bounces back from that obstacle. The amount of energy that pollock individuals of different lengths return is known to our scientists.

Chief Scientist Darin Jones studies the echogram
Chief Scientist Darin Jones studies the echogram and talks to the bridge

The real-time data from transducers is automatically graphed in what is called an echogram. When we are on our predetermined transect line, the scientist on watch analyzes the echograms to make the determination of when to trawl. The transducers are different frequencies. In general, the higher the frequency, the smaller the object it can detect. To make a final decision on fishing, the scientist must also coordinate with the officers on the bridge who take into account wind speed, wind direction, water currents, and ship traffic. Once we collect the trawl data, scientists use the catch information to assign a species and length designation to the echogram data in order to produce a pollock biomass or abundance estimate. In addition to the pollock we are targeting, we have caught salmon, cod, jellyfish, and a few different types of rockfish.

echogram
Each echogram is from a different frequency transducer

We often catch one type of rockfish, the Pacific Ocean perch (Sebastes alutus), which has a similar acoustic signature as pollock. On the ship, we call this fish POP, and they are difficult to handle because of the sharp spines on their dorsal fin, anal fin, head, and gill covers (operculum). You have to watch out for spine pricks when handling them! Their eyes usually bulge when they come up from depth quickly and gases escape, which is a form of barotrauma. One interesting fact about Pacific Ocean perch is that they are viviparous (give birth to live young); the male fish inserts sperm into the female fish and her egg is fertilized inside her body. These fish can also be incredibly long-lived, with individuals in Alaska reaching almost 100 years old. The Pacific Ocean perch fishery declined in the 1960’s-1970’s due to overfishing, but has since recovered due to increased regulation.

POP
You down with POP?! Yeah, you know me!

 

Allen Smith, Senior Survey Technician
Allen Smith, Senior Survey Technician

Shipmate Spotlight: Interview with Allen Smith

What is your position on the Oscar Dyson?
I am the Senior Survey Technician. It’s my second season in this role.

Where did you go to school?
There is no formal training for this position, but you do need a scientific/technical background. I have a BS in geology, and right after college, I worked in technical support for Apple.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?
My favorite part is meeting people and re-connecting with ones I already know. Different scientists rotate in and out and they are my contact with the outside world.

Have you had much experience at sea?
I have worked on ships since 2011. I worked on cruise ship as a cook then I joined NOAA and sailed on the NOAA ship Oscar Elton Sette in Hawai’i as a cook and then later joined the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson as a survey tech. I really wanted to get back into science so I made the switch.

Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? What do you do?
The domain of the survey technician is the laboratory. We have wet, dry, chemical, and computer/electronics labs aboard the Oscar Dyson. I am responsible for the meteorological, oceanographic, and navigation data that the ship collects full-time. We also help visiting scientists to accomplish their missions using the ship’s resources, like deploying fishing gear, CTD, cameras, or other equipment. Sometimes we do special missions like last year when we went to the Bering Sea for an ice-associated seal survey and our ship had to break through sea ice. During scientific operations, I work a 12-hour shift everyday.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career?
I grew up in Dallas, Texas, which is totally land-locked, so you could say I wanted a change.

What are your hobbies?
No time for hobbies at sea! Just kidding, I like photography and playing guitar and ukulele. When I am not at sea, I enjoy hiking and biking.

What do you miss most while working at sea?
Probably what I miss the most is being able to cook vegetarian meals for myself. 

What is your favorite marine creature?
The red-footed booby because they have so much personality and are very entertaining.

Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Galley

galley
The ship’s galley is always open

The galley is ship-speak for the kitchen and dining area. Our ship stewards (chefs) work really hard to prepare buffet-style meals three times a day. Breakfast is served from 7-8am, lunch from 11am-noon, and dinner from 5-6pm. There is also a salad bar and a soup available for lunch and dinner. One night we even had food popular in Hawai’i: Kalua Pork, ramen stir fry, and chicken katsu! You can also come in the galley 24 hours a day to get coffee, espresso, tea, water, and various snacks. There is even an ice cream freezer! You might notice the chairs in the galley have tennis balls on the ends of the legs, as well as tie downs attached to them; this is to prevent sliding during rough seas.

 Personal Log

One of the challenges of working on a moving platform is seasickness. Nausea can be really debilitating, and it prevents many people from enjoying time on the water. I am not prone to it, but I am aware it could still afflict me at any time. Luckily, we have had very calm seas, and I have felt great, even when typing on the computer or slicing up fish! I brought some anti-seasickness medication with me but I have not needed it yet. I also have some candied ginger with me that I have been enjoying, though not for medicinal purposes.

Good morning from the Oscar Dyson!
Feeling happy, not seasick!

The scenery this week has been incredible as we weave our way through the bays and fjords of the Kenai Peninsula. McCarty fjord, carved 23 miles into the coast, was very impressive. The fjord is flanked by massive green mountains and towering cliffs. This majestic landscape was carved by ancient glaciers. I have spotted a few bald eagles, and, with binoculars, one of the deck crew members saw a brown bear mama and two cubs. As much as I love the open ocean, it’s exciting to be close to shore, so we can enjoy Alaska’s dramatic vistas and wildlife.

I am loving life at sea!

glacier
McCarty Glacier comes out from the clouds

Cristina Veresan, Welcome Aboard the Oscar Dyson, July 29, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 28 – August 16, 2015 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 58° 27.7′ N
Longitude: 149° 31.0′ W
Sky: Clear
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: S
Wind speed: 2 knots
Sea Wave Height: 1 ft.
Swell Wave: 0 ft.
Sea Water Temperature: 14.4° C
Dry Temperature: 14.8° C

Science and Technology Log

We steamed out of the port of Kodiak, sailing northeast into the Gulf of Alaska. From the bow, I looked back and saw the busy harbor, full of fishing boats of all sizes, slowly fade away. Scanning the water, I saw two sea otters floating on their backs with their arms in the air. I spotted a few puffins dotting the surface of the water, with their characteristic black and white plumage and orange beaks. In the distance, a spout rose from the ocean’s surface, evidence of a whale below. The sea was calm and the sun was shining. I breathed in the salty air. I was feeling grateful to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea and ready for this mission.

So what exactly is our mission here aboard the Oscar Dyson? We are conducting fisheries research, primarily a Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey. A fish survey is like a scientific fishing trip! The surveys, when conducted consistently and repeatedly over time, allows scientists to monitor trends in fish abundance and changes in the marine ecosystem. The data from these surveys are used, along with data collected from fishermen and other sources, to set sustainable catch limits, ensuring a healthy supply of pollock in the future..

The science team is from the Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering (MACE) group of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington. This is the third and final leg of their summer assessment of the walleye pollock population in the Gulf of Alaska. We will be traveling along predetermined, randomized transect lines, and scientists will use acoustic technology, along with catch data from nets towed behind the boat, to assess the pollock population. Walleye pollock is the targeted species, though everything we catch will be identified and measured.

The Oscar Dyson in the Port Of Kodiak, Alaska
The Oscar Dyson in the Port Of Kodiak, Alaska

A view of Kodiak Harbor
A view of Kodiak Harbor

Young Pollock caught in the pocket net of a trawl
Young walleye pollock

You might not have seen walleye pollock on a menu, but you probably have eaten it. Pollock is the “Fish” in McDonald’s “Filet-o-Fish” sandwiches. Pollock are also masters of disguise and can sometimes be found imitating crab meat. Yes, that imitation crab (surimi) in your California roll is usually ground up and re-formed pollock. In fact, the pollock fishery is one of the largest and most valuable in the world. Walleye pollock are a schooling, semi-demersal (bottom) fish that is found at depths up to 1000 feet and widely distributed throughout the North Pacific Ocean. They can grow up to 3.5 feet and live up to about 20 years old. Pollock feed mainly on krill when they are young; when they mature, they eat young pollock and other teleosts (bony fish). That’s right, they are cannibalistic! Recently, after extensive genetic studies, the scientific name of this fish changed from Theragra chalcogramma to Gadus chalcogrammus. This change placed the walleye pollock in an evolutionary lineage that includes the Pacific, Atlantic, and Greenland Cods. In Alaska, about 1.5 million tons of this fish are caught each year. With each fish weighing an average of 3 pounds, that’s about 1 billion fish annually!

 

 

Shipmate Spotlight: Emily Collins

Lab Lead Emily Collins
Lab Lead Emily Collins

What is your position on the Oscar Dyson? 

I am on the science team, and for all three legs of the survey this summer, I have been the Lab Lead.

Where did you go to school?
I earned a BS in Biology (marine science concentration) from Boston University. I am attending Southern Oregon University in the fall for graduate work in Environmental Education.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
I certainly like playing with fish, but I enjoy the people the most. This is an awesome group of scientists and I really like meeting new people each cruise, too. I enjoy learning new things from different scientists.

Have you had much experience at sea?
Yes, after college, I worked as a fisheries observer for 2 ½ years on various east coast boats from Maine to Virginia and 1 ½ years on boats in Alaska. As an observer, I boarded commercial fishing vessels and kept fishing data on the catch and discarded species and collected biological samples for the National Marine Fisheries Service. I have been on trawlers (pollock, ground fish), gillnet vessels (cod), scallop dredgers, pair trawls (herring), pot vessels (cod) and longliners (halibut, sablefish). Observer data is used to conduct stock assessments, which are used in managing the fisheries.

Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship?
You can usually find me in the wet lab. I am in charge of the wet lab and sampling all the fish that we catch: identifying, weighing, measuring fish and collecting otoliths and other biological samples. I also help with camera operations and data management, so I am often in the Chem Lab or Acoustics Lab on a computer.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?
I always liked biology and knew it was a career goal. I took a Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic voyage in the Galapagos my senior year of high school and Sylvia Earle was onboard as an expert naturalist. The snorkeling was unbelievable. I saw so many fish, sea turtles, penguins, and sea lions. That was my inspiration for studying marine biology

What are your hobbies?
I love to travel, hike and snowboard. And I do arts and crafts, like paper arts and beadwork.

What do you miss most while working at sea?
I miss my friends and family the most (Hi Mom!). And being able to eat out at different restaurants.

What is your favorite marine creature?
Bluefin Tuna because they are huge, fast, and they live in the open ocean.

Inside the Oscar Dyson: Staterooms

stateroom
Our sleeping quarters

So once our work is finished, where do we finally get some rest? Staterooms are what you call the sleeping quarters aboard the ship. Emily Collins and I share a stateroom. There are bunk beds, and I am on the top and Emily is on the bottom. We each have a locker to store our clothes, and there is a desk and shelving to stow odds and ends. You have to latch the locker doors closed, or they will slam when the ship moves. There is a head (bathroom) with a toilet, sink and shower attached to our stateroom. It is important to keep voices down in your stateroom and moving through the corridors, as people are sleeping at different times of the day! We have a porthole in our room, but since it is summer in the high latitudes, it is dark for only about 4-5 hours a day. The quarters are cozy but comfortable. I enjoy getting lulled to sleep by the rolling motion of the ship.

 

 

Personal Log

As Teacher at Sea, I am an active member of the science team and I have been assigned the day shift, which means that I work from 4am-4pm. I think this shift will be great because it is a little more of a regular schedule, just getting up really early and going to bed really early. I come on shift when it is actually dark and then, after about an hour, I enjoy the sunrise over the water. During the shift, as our work allows, we can break for breakfast and lunch. And we can get coffee as needed…which is a lot!

sunrise
Sunrise over sea

Safety is the first priority of everyone aboard the Oscar Dyson. The ship’s officers have briefed us about safety procedures, and we have participated in drills for different scenarios, such as Man Overboard and Abandon Ship. For the Abandon Ship drill, we grabbed our PFD (personal floatation device) and survival suit from our staterooms and mustered on the deck to find our lifeboat group.

Here’s to a productive and safe voyage aboard the Oscar Dyson!

Survival suit
Trying on my survival suit during an Abandon Ship drill. Photo by Mackenzie Wilson

Cathrine Fox: Issue Six: Alaska, impossibly big and impossibly green

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011


Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: July 27, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
True Wind Speed: na
Air Temperature: 14° C dry/12° C wet
Air Pressure: na
Overcast
Latitude: 57.44° N, Longitude: 152.31° W
Ship heading: n/a
(Limited data, as ship is in port)

Scientific Log:

I’ve received an in-depth tour of the ship and labs, and I am starting to piece together how the “Acoustic Trawl Survey” works. Basically, NOAA is responsible for monitoring the populations of walleye pollock and accomplishes this task in several ways. The acoustic trawl survey is one part of how this is done.

Net Reels
Net Reels

The science team identifies particular transect areas in the Gulf of Alaska. The ship travels to that area, then transmits acoustic signals about once per second as it travels along each transect. The returning echo gives scientists an initial measurement of the abundance of organisms in the water below the ship. Just “listening,” however, is not enough. We also have to sample populations physically to determine the ages, sizes, and species of the organisms. The ship trawls for these additional data.

A trawl is a large net towed behind the ship to catch fish and other organisms. The individuals (of all species) in the catch are identified and counted. Cameras (three) are mounted inside the back of the trawl (codend) to collect images as they pass through the trawl. From this larger catch, a sample of the walleye pollock (about 300 individuals) are dissected to determine sex, diet, measured (length and weight) for size and aged by looking at (yes) their ear bones or otoliths. I’ll cover all of this in depth once I have been able to do it and see it in action, but that is the gist.



Personal Log:
I think first impressions are important. Alaska? Alaska is impossibly big and impossibly green. Too big, perhaps to describe with common adjectives. It took me about two days of travel from the 4-Corners to make my way up here: a Beechcraft 1900 from Cortez to Denver, then flights from Denver to Seattle and Seattle to Anchorage. I spent the night in Anchorage and wandered the city at midnight… …not that you can tell that it was so late from the pictures.

The next morning I took off from Anchorage and met up with the crew and scientific party onboard the Oscar Dyson in Kodiak, an island the size of Connecticut in the Gulf of Alaska

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 6
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 6

As for how ‘impossibly green’ Alaska is, I was thinking about the reasons Georgia O’Keeffe gave for moving from New York City to New Mexico in 1949. She said (and I paraphrase) that she wanted to use more vibrant colors in her palette of paints than just green. Ms. O’Keeffe would have it rough here in Alaska: greens, greys and blues abound. Adventures in a Blue World Issue 6 may not convince you of the colors of Alaska, but I hope it gives you a grasp of its size.

Kodiak, Alaska dock
Kodiak, Alaska dock

I’ve already settled in to the ship and my stateroom. My stateroom is small but comfortable, and I share it with a woman who is part of the scientific NOAA team. Interestingly, she worked for the same professor at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, Colorado as an undergraduate that I did. Very Small World.

We are docked in Kodiak for a few more days than anticipated: we are awaiting the arrival of another deck-hand, and there are a few repairs that need to be made to the ship. Once we get started, I will be working the 4am-4pm shift, and taking part in whatever science is taking place. In the meantime, I get to ‘nose around’ Kodiak, go for hikes and runs, check out museums (see below), and eat as many salmonberries as I can stuff into my mouth.

Until our next adventure,
Cat