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

ctd

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

chemlab

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.

waves

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!

methotlaunch

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.

lumpsucker

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, 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

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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…

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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, 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.

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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

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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

Nikki Durkan: Global Commons, June 13, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nikki Durkan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 11 – 30, 2015

Mission: Midwater Assessment Conservation Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Saturday, June 13, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots):  14.16
Sea Temp (deg C):  8.97
Air Temp (deg C):  8.06

Science and Technology Log

During my first several days in Kodiak, I spent as much time as possible exploring the island on foot.  I hiked up Pillar Mountain to the wind turbines which now help to make Kodiak virtually 100% renewably powered; 14% comes from these turbines while the bulk of the electricity is generated by Terror Lake hydro-power facility located within the interior of the island.  The hydro and wind generation replaced a diesel powered generator and resulted in many benefits to the town and our atmospheric global commons.

View from Pillar Mountain

View of turbines from Pillar Mountain

The idea of a global commons is one I spend a lot of time discussing in the first days of my environmental science course.  The Global Commons includes resources or regions outside the political reach of any one nation state:  the Atmosphere, Outer Space, Antarctica, and you guessed it…the High Seas!

June is National Ocean Month – and the theme for this week is marine debris.  I recently learned a new doctrine of mare liberum (free sea for everyone), but I’d like to add the latin word for responsibility, officium.  Dumping wastes is commonplace with the mantra of “dilution is the solution to pollution” and this practice continues to create challenges in our oceans.  Plastics pose a major threat to our marine life and NOAA is taking significant steps toward reducing plastic pollution through a variety of educational campaigns.  Plastic marine debris can come from a variety of industrial and domestic products, as well as lost or discarded fishing equipment.

While exploring the lovely little town of Kodiak, I came upon the rare plastic Iqaluk (Iñupiaq word meaning fish):

Sculpture constructed from collected marine debris

Sculpture constructed from collected marine debris

Another challenge facing our Global Commons includes over fishing in the High Seas.  Have you eaten Fish sticks, Filet-o-fish, Imitation-crab….otherwise known as Alaskan Pollock?  My mother often told me she craved McDonald’s fish sandwiches while pregnant with me; perhaps those sandwiches somehow led me to this spot 20 miles off the Aleutian Islands?  One of the main reasons we are on the Oscar Dyson for the next three weeks is to gather data on the Alaskan Pollock populations so that the fishery can be maintained at a sustainable level.  This Alaskan Pollock commercial fishery is one of the most economically valuable and well managed fisheries in the world.  Part of this success is due to the implementation of the MSA (Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act) that set up a system governing the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone – waters three to 200 miles offshore), and also established NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) under NOAA (you better know what this means).  The UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) provides international guidelines and law for our oceans.  Acronyms…scientists and the military love them.  I will learn to love them.

 Personal Log

On the topic of marine debris, there are often jokes made on the bridge about the too-fat-to-fly puffins. They furiously flap their little wings in front of our ship.

Tufted Puffin

Tufted Puffin Photo credit: NOAA image gallery

Apparently cribbage is the game to play on the Oscar Dyson and thanks to Emily Collins (fisheries biologist), I now have another card game to add to my repertoire.  Ever tried to ride a stationary bike on a ship?  The feeling is hard to describe and I must have a sensitive stomach because occasionally I feel as if I am on a roller coaster! Currently I am sitting in my stateroom listening to the sloshing ocean that gurgles and surges with the swell against the wall; the sounds are 95% soothing and 5% terrifying.  I will not get sea sick and I will do my best not to become marine debris….
Did You Know?  In the event that I have to abandon ship, my “Gumby suit” will help me survive the frigid waters of the Gulf of Alaska.
Donning my Immersion Suit!

Donning my Immersion “Gumby” Suit!

 

Gregory Cook, Introduction, July 22, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gregory Cook

(Almost) Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: July 23, 2014

Welcome to the Seablog! This is where I’ll be posting about my adventures aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, as we study the fisheries off the coast of Alaska.

Introductions!
First allow me to introduce myself. My name is Gregory Cook, and I am, as far as I can tell, in the running for Luckiest Guy on the Planet! I teach middle school science and math at the East Somerville Community School to some of the coolest kids I know, and work with some of the best teachers in the country. Go Phoenix!

Me and my buzzing buddy

Me and a Humming Bird in Costa Rica

On top of that, I received acceptance this year with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Teacher at Sea program! NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce, and does research on everything from fish and whale populations to climate change to mapping the ocean floor and coastline!

In their Teacher at Sea program, I get to work with world class scientists, be a part of real-world research, learn about amazing careers, and share that knowledge with my students. In a small way, I get to share with you the exploration and study of this great planet. What else do you want out of life? A pony? I think not, good sir!

 

oscar dyson

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson  (Photo from http://www.moc.noaa.gov/od/)

 

The Oscar Dyson is a ship built by the U.S. Government (Your tax dollars doing great work!) to study the Earth’s oceans. It’s over two-thirds of a football field long and almost fifty feet wide. It can deploy (or send out) over five kilometers (more than three miles!) of cable, It has two massive winches for launching scientific study packages. It can use something akin to Doppler Radar to tell you about what’s in the water beneath us and what the sea floor beneath THAT looks like.

Wanna see how they built it? Of course you do!

See Video Credits for Source Material

Alaska

The first thing you need to know about Alaska is its name. It comes from the Aleutian word Alakshak, which means Great Lands or Peninsula… the entire state, in the end, seems to be named after the great Alaskan Peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean.

http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/image/ak_crm_512.jpg

Alaska gets its name from the Alaskan Peninsula, which juts out into the Pacific and then trails off and becomes the Aleutian Islands. (http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/coastal/s_alaska.html)

If you’re one of my students, you’re probably asking “How…?”

Well, The Alaskan Peninsula forms in a Subduction Zone. That means that the Pacific Plate is diving underneath the North American Plate. This creates some beautiful upthrusts that you and I know as mountains… or, in the case of the Aleutians,… Islands! Geologists think The Aleutians are about 37 Million Years Old, formed by volcanic activity.

As a matter of fact, the Island I’ll be sailing from, Unalaska, was created this very way. You might remember (from 6th grade if you’re a Somerville kid!) Oceanic crustal plates are more dense than crustal plates, so they dive under them, pushing the mountains and islands up.

When I first heard I was sailing out of Unalaska, I wondered what was so “Unalaska” about it… like… were they Yankees fans or something?

It turns out that in the Aleutian language (the language of the Aleuts… the native people of the area) placing “Un-” in front of a word means “near.” So Unalaska means “Near the Peninsula.” You could say that I live “Undunkindonuts.” (Though, yeah, I’m a Starbucks guy).

OK, back to Geology…

So it turns out that a great deal of the Bering Sea is over the continental shelf of North America. What that means is that the sea is more shallow than the Pacific.

Much of the Eastern Bering Sea is shallow. This helps create a thriving ecosystem!

http://www.pbs.org/harriman/explog/lectures/alexander.html

What THAT means is that all the good nutrients that run off of the land… from the rains and rivers… can support a huge amount of sea life. The Bering sea is one of the most productive fisheries in the world… It is teeming with life!

Which brings us to this guy…

http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/Quarterly/amj2012/divrptsREFM7.htm

Walleye Pollock… Fishy-fishy!!!

http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/species/pollock.php

If you’ve ever had Fish Sticks or McDonald’s Fillet o’ Fish, you’ve probably had some form of Pollock. They grow quickly, they die young, and have a lot of offspring. They also represent almost 2/3 of all the groundfish (fish that live near the bottom of the sea) caught in Alaska 2012.

So to say Pollock are important is kind of like saying bread is important… They have a huge impact on our lives here in the United States. So it’s important we look in on them every now and then, and make sure they’re doing ok… So we can eat them. 😀

That’s what I’ll be doing up there in Alaska. Exploring the Bering Sea, and looking in on our good friend, Mr. Pollock. I hope you can come along for the ride. 😀

Britta Culbertson: An Introduction, August 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Britta Culbertson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4-19, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Walley Pollock and Forage Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013

NOAA instrumentation

Britta checking out some NOAA instrumentation at Summit Station in Greenland

My name is Britta Culbertsonand I am currently serving as anAlbert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow in Washington, DC.  Prior to my fellowship, I was a high school science and art teacher in Seattle, Washington at The Center School.   I am serving my fellowship in NOAA’s Office of Education and have spent the last year getting exposed to many aspects of NOAA’s education efforts.

Einstein Fellows are K-12 science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) educators who come from all over the United States after a competitive selection process to serve in federal agencies or on Capitol Hill.  They typically serve for the duration of one school year.  Fortunately, I was offered to stay one more year in my office and will complete my second year in July 2014.  Through my role as an Einstein Fellow, I have been able share NOAA resources with teachers at national conferences, work on the education website, and network with a community of STEM professionals in Washington, D.C. among other things.  One task that I hope to accomplish this year is figuring out a way to make real-time NOAA datasets more accessible to teachers.

I am really excited about the opportunity to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea to learn more about the fisheries research conducted by NOAA scientists and to see if there might be opportunities to share real data from my cruise with students and their teachers.

After spending a year meeting Teacher at Sea alumni and hearing about their experiences, I am overjoyed to embark on my own cruise and to have a chance to work with scientists in the field.  I think these real-life experiences are crucial for teachers because it allows them get in touch with the scientific process in the field as opposed to the artificial environment in which we conduct experiments in the classroom.  Sharing these real-life research experiences with students is vital to their understanding of science.

Flat White

Britta at Summit Station, Greenland in “flat white” conditions (elevation 10,530 feet)

I spent part of my summer in Greenland working with high school students from Denmark, Greenland, and the United States.  During my three weeks there, I was inspired by the way the students were more interested in the research they conducted.   Being in the field made it more relevant and the students were more engaged.  We had visual teleconferences with scientists who were studying climate change and also worked with scientists who were in Greenland conducting research.  It was such a phenomenal experience for everyone involved.  I wish to use this trip as a model for my future classroom experiences and I am hoping that some of the scientists on my cruise might be willing to stay in touch with me and my students in the future.  Not only do I wish to incorporate more “real world” experiences and data into my science teaching, but I hope to connect more students with scientists.

Russell Glacier

Britta near Russell Glacier, Greenland

I will be departing Washington, D.C. on September 2 and will travel via Seattle and Anchorage to reach my final destination in Kodiak, Alaska.  I will board NOAA’s ship the Oscar Dyson on September 4 at port in Kodiak.  From Kodiak, we will head into the Gulf of Alaska and eventually make our way toward Prince William Sound, which incidentally, was the site of the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.  During the cruise, we will be collecting and studying walleye pollock.  If you’ve ever eaten fish sticks or imitation crabmeat, you were most likely eating pollock!  According to NOAA’s Fishwatch.gov, “The Alaska pollock fishery is one of the largest, most valuable fisheries in the world.”

Our cruise has several objectives ranging from the study of walleye pollock to physical and chemical oceanography.  I’m also excited about one aspect of the cruise, which is a gear comparison to examine the catch differences for each species between the anchovy trawl and the CamTrawl. We will also be describing the community structure, biomass, and vitality of the other swimming, aquatic organisms we capture along with pollock.  These organisms include capelin, eulachon, Pacific cod, arrowtooth flounder, sablefish, and rockfish.  Additionally, we will examine species that typically prey upon pollock and we will measure the environmental variables that could affect pollock ecology.

It was a wonderful coincidence that I happened to be in Washington State visiting the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center  when the science team for my cruise had their pre-cruise meeting.  I was able to attend in person and meet the scientists with whom I will spend the next three weeks.  I am really looking forward to working with them!  Visiting the OCNMS was a special treat before my upcoming cruise.  It was pretty awesome to stand along the Olympic Coast and check out all of the tide pools and other things like the huge whale skeleton I found.  In a few days instead of being on the edge of this massive ocean, I’ll be on a boat discovering what is in the depths of the same ocean. I’m looking forward to leaving the hot and humid D.C. weather behind for the cooler weather in Kodiak.  Next time you hear from me, I’ll be a teacher at sea!

Whale Skeleton

Whale skeleton on Lake Ozette Trail, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

Sea Stack

Sea stack on Lake Ozette Trail at the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary