On this leg of the Research Cruise in the Eastern Bering Sea I will be helping a team of NOAA scientists collect data about a fish species called Pollock. The data that are collected will help to set the limits for how much pollock the fishing boats are allowed to catch. The data also allow scientists to track the populations of the pollock to look for patterns. For additional information on Pollock, visit the NOAA fisheries website here.
During the survey, acoustic (sound) signals will be sent into the water by transducers at different frequencies and these acoustic signals will bounce off of the objects in the ocean and bounce back to the ship where the echoes will be picked up by the transducers. The data collected from each echo is presented visually to the science team. When we reach a spot where a lot of the acoustic signals returning to the boat indicate the presence of fish, a trawl sample will be taken at that location. A trawl survey includes putting a large net into the water and scooping up a sample of all of the living things in that location. Once the trawl haul is brought onto the boat, it is taken to the fish lab where the fish are identified and measured.
The area being surveyed is the Eastern Bering Sea and for this study is divided up into 28 different transects have been mapped out and are spread 20 nautical miles apart. We will start at northern point of the first transect and travel south until we reach the bottom of it. Once we reach the bottom of the first transect we will travel 20 nautical miles west to the southern tip of the second transect. We will then travel north along this second transect until we reach the top and then travel the 20 nautical miles west until we reach transect 3. This will continue throughout my time on the ship, and on the 2 other legs of this journey. On this first leg of the research cruise, the aim is to survey and sample from 16.3 of the transects which will total a journey of 2627 nautical miles on the transect lines.
According to the NOAA National Ocean Service Website, “A nautical mile is based on the circumference of the earth, and is equal to one minute of latitude. It is slightly more than a statute (land measured) mile (1 nautical mile = 1.1508 statute miles). Nautical miles are used for charting and navigating.”
It was a long trip getting to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, but it has already been worth it! I am on the Island of Unalaska, which is a part of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. The main port city is called Dutch Harbor, or commonly just “Dutch”. This is such a beautiful place that I probably never would have seen otherwise. There are mountains filled with grasses, berry bushes, and wild orchids as well as snow-topped peaks and natural waterfalls. There are bald eagles everywhere and foxes that are so fluffy they almost appear to be dogs from far away. Looking into the water you can see a few scattered otters floating on their backs and the occasional harbor seal.
As soon as I landed in Dutch, I was greeted by two of the scientists that I will be working with, Matthew and Sarah. They took me to NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson to drop off my luggage before we all went out to dinner. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I actually had my own stateroom. Due to the number of female scientists and us being on the same work shift, we were both able to have our own rooms. The rooms are so much nicer than I had anticipated them to be! The mattresses are comfortable, I have a desk space, there’s a television (that I will probably never watch) and I have my own bathroom as well.
Photo of my stateroom and bathroom on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
Photo of my restroom on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
After we had dinner and returned to the ship, I went on a mini hike with one of the members of the science team and we went to view this amazing natural waterfall. You wouldn’t know it was there if you weren’t looking for it. There is so much more that you can do when the sun is up for most of the day. At 11:30pm (the latest i’ve stayed up so far) it is still light outside. There are so many clouds that the sky looks pretty grey, and there are a ton of clouds, often hiding the tops of the mountain peaks.
The next morning I woke up and went for a nice long walk along Captain’s Bay and sat and had coffee on the rocks and just admired the incredible view. It is so much more beautiful here than I had imagined. Later a few of us went for a drive around the island and a few people surfed in the ocean, but I wasn’t brave enough to get in the cold water this time.
Since we will be on the ship for a while (23 days) we stopped at the grocery store to bring a few things onboard that we want to have in addition to our regular meals prepared on the ship by the stewards. I decided that I wanted to bring some fresh fruit, not realizing that I would be paying way more than I expected for them! Everything is expensive here!
Did You Know?
Even though we think of Bears and Moose being found all over Alaska, they are not found on the Island of Unalaska at all!
6/4/18 – Bald Eagles, Fox, Otters
6/5/18 – Bald Eagles, 4 Foxes, Otters, Harbor seal, Jellyfish (3 different species)
6/6/18- Bald Eagles, Jellyfish (2 species), Humpback Whales!!
Alaska pollock are found in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska and are part of the cod family. The dorsal side of the pollock is speckled brown in color with a slight olive green hue and the ventral side is silver. They eat krill, copepods, and small fish – mainly their own offspring. They quickly grow into adults, reaching reproductive age after 3-4 years, and are very fertile, replacing harvested fish in just a few years. Pollock swim in large schools during the day and disperse overnight. They can be found throughout the water column, but young pollock tend to live in the mid-water region while the older fish tend to live near the sea floor.
Science-based monitoring and management play a key role in the sustainability of the Alaska pollock fishery. It is managed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council based on data provided by the NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. The Alaska pollock fishery is the largest, by volume, in the United States and one of the most valuable in the world. Products made from pollock include fish fillet, roe eggs, and imitation crab. The entire industry is valued at over a billion dollars. It is also considered one of the best-managed fisheries in the world. Scientists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center conduct acoustic trawl surveys to estimate the abundance of Alaska pollock using acoustics and by catching small samples.
While on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson I had the opportunity to spend time in the fish lab learning how pollock data are collected.. This video is an example of what I experienced.
The main way commercial pollock is caught in the United States is by net. Scientifically trained observers are sent out on U.S. pollock fishing boats and, similar to the NOAA scientists, they collect sample data from each catch and send it back to NOAA. They also observe the fishing practices on the boat and report any regulatory infractions. All the collected data and interactions between the fishing industry and NOAA have been established to make sure the Alaska pollock fishery remains sustainable.
Leadership and administration of the Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering (RACE) Division within Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC)
What is your current position on Oscar Dyson?
Fish lab biologist
How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
of and on for ~ 10 years
Why the ocean? What made you choose a career at sea?
I loved exploring sea creatures a the beach as a kid; Jacques Cousteau.
What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?
Getting out of the office; Seeing amazing scientists do their work and getting to participate.
Why is your work (or research) important?
The information we collect plays a very important role in managing fisheries in Alaska, providing economic and food security for many people. We also do tremendous research that benefits the science community and subsequently people world-wide. We are among the leaders in understanding fish and invertebrate abundance and behavior in the world.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do if I grow up! Probably between 10 and 13 years old I developed an interest in the ocean.
What part of your job with NOAA (or contracted to NOAA) did you least expect to be doing?
Dealing with bureaucracy.
What are some of the challenges with your job?
Leading a group of scientists is, in some ways, like herding a group of very intelligent cats. They are very focused on their research and have very strong opinions about things that they feel could detract their ability to do the best job possible. This can be a challenge for me at times, but is a great problem to have!
What are some of the rewards with your job?
Being able to facilitate scientists and help them accomplish their goals is very rewarding.
Describe a memorable moment at sea.
Rescuing a family in a life raft that had been missing for 3+ days.
Interview with Meredith Emery
Normal Job Duties
As Survey Technicians, our primary responsibility is to monitor and maintain fisheries and oceanographic equipment. In addition, we have to run and verify the Scientific Computer System (SCS) is collecting quality data and all the ship’s sensors connected to SCS are working properly. We also are the liaison between scientists and the crew members, and assist the scientists with any part of their research. Survey Technicians have the unique opportunity to participate in all aspects of the fisheries or oceanographic operation start to finish. During the fishing operations: 1. Scientist communicates to the people on the bridge, deck and survey technicians when they are going to fishing. 2. We put the fishing equipment on the net, as the net is casting out. 3. Assist the scientists log net dimension data when the net is in the water. 4. As the net is being recovered, we retrieve all the fishing equipment. 5. We help the deck with emptying the catch on the fish table, when needed. 6. Lastly, which is my favorite part, is when we get to assist the scientists collect biological fish samples in the wet lab. During oceanographic operations we are in charge of deploying and recovering the equipment (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD)). In addition we verify all the sensors on the CTD are presenting quality real time data. From the CTD we can collect water samples that can be used for several studies, like salinity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, or micro plankton. We are able to see the operations in action, understand the importance of the research through the science perspective and ultimately know the reason the Oscar Dyson is in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska.
What is your current position on Oscar Dyson?
I am one of two Survey Technicians on the Oscar Dyson.
How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
I have been working on the Oscar Dyson about 10 months.
Why the ocean? What made you choose a career at sea?
My fascination for the ocean started when I was young playing with the anemones on the rocky intertidal beach. I’ve always enjoyed being at the beach and seeing the organisms there. I became curious of life at sea and really wanted to see the marine wild life in action, especially when the ice first melts and there is a high abundance of phytoplankton and zooplankton that attracts marine mammals, birds and fish to migrate there. Being on the Oscar Dyson, I was able to observe the fluctuation between high abundance of phytoplankton, zooplankton or fish, depending on the area and time of year.
What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?
I enjoy seeing the scenery. Like the untouched lands, glaciers, marine wild life; the fishes, mammals or birds. Also I like seeing the endless blue of the ocean, especially calm weather. Really puts the vastness of the ocean in perspective.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
The reason I pursued a career in studying the ocean is because I come to realize that people take the ocean for granted and don’t recognize how much we depend on it. I obtained a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology emphasis marine. One of my favorite college courses was oceanography. It was the first time for me to see the connection between geology, physics, chemistry and biology in one scenario like in the ocean processes. Each component relies on the other. First the geological features of the ocean floor and land masses influences the physics of the current flow, wave motion, and up-welling. Then the ocean movement determines the mixing and distribution of the water chemistry. Finally the biodiversity, location, and populations of marine organisms rely on the water chemistry, like nutrients or dissolved oxygen.
I really enjoyed learning about the variety of sea creatures in the Gulf of Alaska. Here is a video showing a few of the sea creatures I encountered. Totally amazing!
There such is so much science and technology aboard this vessel. I had a tour of the various labs that the research will take place in as well as the various types of equipment and technology that we will be using. We are holding stationary position right now, calibrating the acoustic equipment and have not actually collected any biological data yet. During my tour of the boat, I observed some of the various roles that different people play on this research cruise. It became very clear to me that it is a composition of talents, specialized skills, communication, and respect that is the underlying thread to the success of this research.
There are so many specialized skills that are needed for this cruise. Everyone on board has a specific function and it is essential that that function be carried out flawlessly. The central element in all of this is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), because everyone on board, from the engineers, to the deck crew, scientists and officers, work for NOAA. NOAA is an agency within the Department of Commerce that was founded in 1970. It merged three different agencies (the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, The Weather Bureau, and the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries) into one. Its mission is to “understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources”. This is easily condensed into three words: Science, Service and Stewardship.
The boat is run by the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps). NOAA Corps is one of the nation’s seven uniformed services. The officers are (obviously) a part of NOAA, where they support nearly all of NOAA’s programs and missions. They are trained in many areas, including engineering, earth sciences, oceanography, meteorology, and fisheries science.
Becoming a NOAA Corps officer is a career path that some people may choose to pursue. One must have a baccalaureate degree, (preferably in a major course of study related to NOAA’s scientific or technical activities) and attend a 19-week Basic Officer Training Class. This course is very demanding and fast-paced. Once a candidate has completed the training, they are assigned to a NOAA ship for up to three years.
So, what exactly am I doing out here?
That’s a really good question, one that I have been asked many times. I will try to explain it in a nutshell. As you may already know, the fisheries in Alaska are a key part of the economies of Alaska as well as the U.S. Seafood is Alaska’s largest export. According to a study conducted by the McDowell Group in 2015, in 2014, close to 3 billion pounds of seafood product were processed in Alaska with a wholesale value of $4.2 billion. The total seafood harvest for the year was 5.7 billion pounds! That’s a lot of fish.
Needless to say, fishing has always been a way of life for the people of Alaska. Unfortunately, overfishing and poor fishing practices have resulted in a decline in marine health. Fishing regulations are now in place to ensure that the fisheries can continue to be a vital part of the economy while being sustainable at the same time.
NOAA’s marine scientists conduct surveys to collect data on various aspects of the ocean to share with not only the fisheries, but the public as well. Ultimately, they are responsible for monitoring the conditions of the climate and environment, and additionally, taking steps to preserve them. The surveys are designed to monitor changes in the marine ecosystems and set sustainable catch limits for the fisheries.
The purpose of this cruise is to conduct a survey of walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska. The scientists will determine the abundance and distribution of pollock and provide the data to stock assessment managers that set pollock catch limits for the following year. The science team is from the Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering (MACE) group of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) in Seattle, Washington. They primarily conduct surveys on the status of walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. This is the first of 3 legs of the summer assessment. They will conduct the surveys on randomized transect lines using both the net catches and acoustic technology. Though the main focus is to gather data on the walleye pollock, everything that is caught will be weighted, measured, and entered into the data system.
You might be wondering what pollock are. Do you eat fish sticks? Have you ever had imitation crab at a sushi restaurant? Then you have most likely eaten pollock. Alaska pollock is a white fish that is wild caught in the Gulf of Alaska, mostly with trawl vessels. They are used in many fish products, including Filet-O-Fish. It has consistently been one of the top five seafood species consumed in the U.S. That’s a pretty popular fish!
Trawl vessels use trawling as a way to get their fish. It involves dragging or pulling a large net through the water behind one or more boats. We will be using midwater trawls to catch the fish we will be collecting data from.
I arrived in Kodiak on Tuesday afternoon and was met at the airport by the scientists who will be conducting the pollock survey. My flight into Kodiak was fairly uneventful. I was, however, a bit baffled though when we entered the plane from the rear and only the back half of the plane was designated for passengers. The front half of the plane was for cargo. There are two primary ways to get things to Kodiak: cargo planes and freighters.
We took a quick 10-minute car ride to the dock. The weather reminded me of Humboldt County. It was drizzly, cool, and people had on their layers. They took me aboard and gave me a quick tour of the vessel where we will be spending the next three weeks. The NOAA ship Oscar Dyson is said to be one of the most technologically advanced fisheries survey vessels in the world and was named after Oscar Dyson, who was a well-known fishing activist in Alaska. Mr. Dyson was dedicated to managing and improving the industry for those that make their living at sea.
Of course I got lost immediately and spent a good 10 minutes trying to find my way back to my room. After a dinner of tacos back in town, we all went to sleep. The rocking of the boat was a nice way to be lulled to sleep. I do not yet know if I will feel the same way once we are out on the open ocean.
On Thursday, we fueled up. The ship has an 110,00 gallon capacity and uses about 2,100 gallons of gas a day. (Here is a task for my class: Can you calculate how much it costs per day to drive the boat if the cost of gas is $3.00/ gallon?) Fueling up a ship this size is quite a task. It requires a lot of people and a lot of communication. Fuel spill booms are put around the boat to protect the water should there be a gas spill. After the fuel up (which takes over 4 hours!), the booms are removed again. We left the pier and started out. The sky was gray and there was some light rain, but I was still mesmerized by the pure beauty surrounding us. We pulled into a nearby quiet bay so the scientists could calibrate their equipment.
Leaving the Port of Kodiak
The scientists have been working hard to calibrate the machinery. This requires many hours, many hands, and minds all working together. Once all of the machinery is calibrated, we can set sail to the starting point near the Islands of the Four Mountains in the Aleutian Islands. It should take us 2 and half days (760 miles) to get there. The Oscar Dyson can go 12.5 knots. A “knot” is 1.151 miles/hour.
We have started adjusting to our 12-hour shifts. My shift will be from 4 am to 4 pm. This means that I will be setting my alarm for 3:30 every morning, grabbing a cup of coffee (well, a double latte, actually!) and heading down to the “Wet lab”. There we will be pull up the hauls of fish, sort them by species, separate males and females, measure their lengths, and remove the otoliths (ear bones). The purpose of studying the otolith is to determine the age of the fish. An otolith is a calcium carbonate structure in the inner ear of the fish. They are very similar to the rings of a tree. They add a new layer every year and give the scientists valuable data on the age structure of the population.
Did You Know?
All Pollock is wild-caught in the ocean. There is no commercial aquaculture for this species.
Since 2001, U.S. commercial landings of Alaskan Pollock (primarily in Alaska) have been well over 2 billion pounds each year.
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
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.
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.
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.
Shipmate Spotlight: An Interview with Ensign Benjamin Kaiser
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
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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
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.
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.
Shipmate Spotlight: Interview with Darin Jones
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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!
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!
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.
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 mareliberum (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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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
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.
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.
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!
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. 😀
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
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.
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.
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!
How do scientists use acoustics to locate Pollock (and serendipitously other ocean creatures)?
Scientists aboard the NOAA Research Vessel Oscar Dyson use acoustic, specifically hydroacoustic data, to locate schools of fish before trawling. The trawl data provide a sample from each school and allow the NOAA scientists to take a closer look by age, gender and species distribution. Basically, the trawl data verify and validate the acoustics data. The acoustics data, collected in the Gulf of Alaska in systematic paths called transects, combined with the validating biological data from the numerous individual trawls, give scientists a very good estimate for the entire Walleye pollock population in this location.
Hydroacoustics (from Greek words: hydro meaning “water” and acoustics meaning “sound”) is the study of sound in water. Sound is a form of energy that travels in pressure waves. In water, sound can travel great distances without losing strength and can travel fast, roughly 4.3 times faster in water than in air (depending on temperature and salinity of the water).
The Oscar Dyson has powerful, extremely sensitive, carefully calibrated, scientific acoustic instruments or “fish finders” including the five SIMRAD EK60 transducers located on the bottom of the centerboard, the SIMRAD ME70 multibeam transducer located on the hull, and a pair of SIMRAD ITI transducers on the trailing edge of the centerboard.
This “fish-finder” technology works when transducers emit a sound wave at a particular frequency and detect the sound wave bouncing back (the echo) at the same frequency. When the sound waves return from a school of fish, the strength of the returning echo helps determine how many fish are at that particular site.
Sound waves bounce or reflect off of fish and other creatures in the sea differently. Most fish reflect sound energy sent from the transducers because of their swim bladders, organs that fish use to stay buoyant in the water column. Since a swim bladder is filled with air, it reflects sound very well. When the sound energy goes from one medium to another, there is a stronger reflection of that sound energy. In most cases, the bigger the fish, the bigger the swim bladder; the bigger the swim bladder, the more sound is reflected and received by the transducer. The characteristic reflection of sound is called target strength and can be used to detect the size of the fish. This is why fish that have air-filled swim bladders show up nicely on hydroacoustic data, while fish that lack swim bladders (like sharks) or that have oil or wax filled swim bladders (like Orange Roughy), have weak signals.
These reflections of sound (echoes) are sent to computers which display the information in echograms. The reflections showing up on the computer screen are called backscatter. The backscatter is how we determine how dense the fish are in a particular school. Scientists take the backscatter that we measure from the transducers and divide that by the target strength for an individual and that gives the number of individuals that must be there to produce that amount of backscatter. For example, a hundred fish produce 100x more echoes than a single fish. This information can be used to estimate the pollock population in the Gulf of Alaska.
Continuing with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I will continue up the pyramid (see below) and discuss some ways that the basic need of safety is met on the ship. The safety and security of all staff (as well as sea animals we encounter) are top priority on the Oscar Dyson. There are constant reminders of this priority during ship life.
On the first day of our travel, before the Oscar Dyson was far from port at Kodiak, we had three drills. The fire drill and man overboard drill required me to report to the conference room and meet up with the rest of the science team. Patrick, the lead scientist, then reported that we (the scientist team) were all accounted for. The crew had more complex tasks of deploying a small boat and retrieving “the man overboard”.
The other drill was the abandon ship drill. On the ship, every person is assigned to a life boat (mine is Lifeboat 1). When the drill commenced, I reported to my muster, the portside of the trawl deck, with survival gear: jacket, hat, survival suit and life preserver. We will have drills weekly at anytime.
When working in the lab, the scientists wear orange slickers, boots, and gloves, not only to keep clean, but to protect us from anything that might be dangerous (fish spines, jellyfish tentacles, and so on). When on deck, we must wear hardhats (to protect from falling objects from the crane or trawl) and life preservers like the rest of the crew.
Water Tight Doors
Watertight doors are special types of doors found on the ship which prevent the flow of water from one compartment to other during flooding or accidents. These doors are used onboard in areas, such as the engine room compartment, science and acoustics labs, and control bridge, where chances of flooding are high.
These are just a few examples of how safety is emphasized on the ship. There are reminders in one’s line of vision constantly.
Did You Know?
There are various seafarer or crew positions on the Oscar Dyson. A ship’s crew can generally be divided into three main categories: the deck department, the engineering department, and the steward department. Rob and Greg are members of the deck department; both men hold Merchant Mariner Credentials as “Able Bodied Seamen” or ABS. Rob is from Boston, Massachusetts and went to school for seamanship in Fairhaven, MA. He considers his NOAA position as a good job with a good income, but his main profession is lobstering which he does on the open sea when he is not working for NOAA. Rob says, “The ocean is in my blood” and always wanted to work on it. Greg, on the other hand, chose to be a Merchant Mariner after a voyage at sea. He moved to Texas from Louisiana in his 20’s, went fishing for the first time, and got seasick. He considered battling seasickness a challenge, and thus pursing seamanship as a career. In his free time he is a free-lance photographer and journalist. Below are some pictures of Greg and Rob on the job. Notice they are always wearing their safety gear.
Something to Think About:
Since I will begin teaching Zoology later in August, I have decided to highlight some of the animals that the scientist team has found in our trawls. Today’s feature will be one of the simplest multicellular animal families, the Porifera. Porifera is a word formed from combining the Latin words porus which means “passage-way” and fera meaning “bearing.” Porifera, commonly referred to as sponges, have tiny pores in their outer walls that filter water to get nutrients.
To learn more about the Porifera Family, click the Porifera on the picture below, and stay tuned for further exploration of this animal Tree of Life.
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: July 22, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge: (7/23/13 at 11 pm) Wind Speed = 13 knots
Air Temperature = 12.7 C
Humidity = 93%
Barometric Pressure = 1017 mb
Science and Technology Log:
There is a great deal of hope to complete the survey, which is supposed to end near Yakutat in the southeast of Alaska. It began near the islands of Four Mountains during leg 1. We are on leg 3, the final leg this summer. Leg 3 began in Kodiak. Three Legs of the Survey
The purpose of this cruise is to survey the walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma)in the Gulf of Alaska. Pollock is a significant fishery in the United States as well as the world. Pollock is processed into fish sticks, fish patties and imitation crab. Last year, about 3 million tons of pollock were caught in North Pacific. The scientists on board will collect data to determine the pollock biomass and age structure. These data are used with results from other independent surveys to establish the total allowable pollock catch.
According to the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, pollock can grow to about 3 ½ feet and weigh about 13 lbs. More typically the pollock are approximately 50 cm (20 in) and weigh .75 kg (1.7 lbs). They live in the water column and feed on krill, zooplankton and other crustaceans. As they age they will eat juvenile pollock and other small fishes such as capelin, eulachon and herring as well. Sexual maturity is reached around age 4. Spawning and fertilization occurs in the water column in early spring. The eggs stay in the water column and once hatched are part of the zooplankton until they are free swimming.
The general process used to catch the pollock involves multiple parts. I will break down those steps in a series of blogs. But basically, acoustics are used to locate fish in the water column. Once the scientists have located the fish along the transect (transects are the paths that the ship will travel on so the scientists can collect data), the Oscar Dyson sets out a trawl equipped with a camera. The trawl is brought in and data from the catch is documented. And then the ship continues on.
Trawling is usually completed only during daylight hours. Fortunately the sun does not set here in Alaska right now until after 10 pm. When it is dark, work aboard the Oscar Dyson continues. Jodi is documenting the sea floor with a drop camera. She is looking at life that is there as well as potential threats to the trawl nets for the bottom trawl surveys.
How do scientists use acoustics to locate pollock?
How are the transects locations determined?
How are pollock and the rest of the catch processed?
What information is retrieved from the trawl camera?
What is a bottom trawl and how is it different from a mid-water trawl?
We left Kodiak at 1 pm on July 22 heading southwest.
We had 8 hours of travel time before we would reach our first transect. But before we got too far away from Kodiak, we needed to practice the three drills for the safety of everyone. The fire drill and man overboard drill required me to report to the conference room and meet up with the rest of the science team. Patrick, the lead scientist, then reported that we were all accounted for. The crew had more complex tasks of deploying a small boat and retrieving “the man overboard”.
The other drill was the abandon ship drill. We are assigned to a lifeboat and I reported to my muster on the portside of the trawl deck with my survival suit, long sleeve shirt, hat and life preserver. We will have drills weekly at anytime.
For the last two days I have been becoming oriented to the ship and to my responsibilities to the science team. Jodi, a post doctorate from Juneau gave us a tour of the boat on the first day we arrived in Kodiak. I then practiced finding all of the key parts of the ship I will need to access. I now am confident that I can find my stateroom, the mess, laundry room, both exercise spaces, acoustics lab, and fish lab. For other sites, I wander around for a while until I locate it.
My first shift began at 4 pm on Monday. There are two shifts for scientists. Some work 4 am to 4 pm and the others work 4 pm to 4 am. I work the night shift. I never drink coffee but today I realized that I needed it. My shift includes scientists Paul, Jodi and Darin as well as a survey tech named Vince. We all share staterooms with people who work the opposite shift.
The ocean is very calm but most of us took Bonine (a seasickness medication) anyway to acclimate to the movement. Hopefully we will be adjusted to the motion before the seas get very rough if it does. The rocking of the boat does make one very sleepy.
Did You Know?
The requirements for joining the NOAA Corps include a bachelor’s degree in science, math or engineering and a 5 month program at the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. This is Abby’s second cruise with the NOAA Corps. She has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and just completed her NOAA officer basictraining.
Something to Think About:
What is a day in the life aboard the Oscar Dyson like?
NOAA Teacher at Sea Melissa George Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 22–August 9, 2013
Mission: Alaska Pollock Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: July 20, 2013
Greetings from Lafayette, Indiana, where I recently moved back after spending two years in Washington, D.C. as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the National Science Foundation in the Division of Environmental Biology. In my recent position, I learned of many of the interesting research projects that ecosystem ecologists, population and community ecologists, systematic biologists, and evolutionary biologists are working on in various parts of the world. Beginning this fall, I will be returning to the Lafayette School Corporation to teach Biology and Zoology at Jefferson High School in Lafayette, Indiana. I am excited to integrate aspects of the research I have learned about into my classroom.
Enhancing my understanding will be the authentic research experience in the Gulf of Alaskaas a NOAA Teacher at Sea. I will fly to Kodiak Island and board NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, a support platform to study and monitor various aspects of the ocean: environmental conditions, habitat assessments, and marine mammal, fish, and bird populations.
This particular mission will be surveying the population of a species of fish called Alaskan pollock or scientifically speaking, Theragra chalcogramma. These fish belong to the cod family and are one of the United States’ most valuable fisheries; they are typically sold as fish sticks, fish patties, or imitation crab, scallops, or shrimp. Pollock populations vary from year to year, thus fish surveys, help to enact management practices as well as monitor the effects of climate change.
This adventure is exciting to me for several reasons. First, growing up on the Pacific Coast in Santa Cruz, California I fell in love with the ocean at a young age. I realize the importance of respecting the ocean and the ecosystems within it and around it. Having spent the second half of my life in the Midwest, I have missed its calming effect as well as the wealth of ecological wonders it holds. I escape to the ocean whenever I have the chance. Below is a picture of me resting on the beach at Halawa Bay on the east end of Molokai, one of the Hawaiian Islands.
Second, I hope to incorporate what I learn about how ocean scientists monitor various animal populations into my high school classes. There are so many aspects to this endeavor, I think my students will be excited to learn about many, if not all, of them.
I have four traveling companions. They are in the photo below. One of them will be accompanying me on the Teacher at Sea mission. See if you can find pictures of this traveling companion in future posts and please comment when you do!
Hello everyone! Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you continue to follow my journeys this summer. Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Amie Ell. I am a teacher of sciences and mathematics at Columbia High School in White Salmon, WA. I live across the beautiful Columbia River in The Dalles, Oregon with my husband and two daughters. I have taught for 10 years, 8 of them with my wonderful CHS clan! I teach Physical, Earth, and Space Sciences as well as Algebra to primarily 9th graders.
This Friday I will fly to Kodiak to meet the crew of the Oscar Dyson and begin my adventure. I was elated to learn that I had been chosen to be a part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program and assigned to the Oscar Dyson. I had hoped that I would be given the opportunity to visit Alaska. I have traveled to and explored many tropical ocean waters, but this will be my first Alaskan experience. The commanding officer tells me that “…This Gulf of Alaska Pollock survey is one of the best ways to see the remote coastline of Alaska and to experience one of its foundation industries from a research perspective…”
I have learned that I will be helping with a survey of the Alaskan walleye pollock. The main source of fish for many fast food fish sandwiches, fish sticks, and even your imitation crab meat is the walleye pollock. It is very important for scientists to maintain a careful watch on these fish so that their populations are not decimated by overfishing.
Please leave questions and comments for me. I would love to hear from you all. I know I will be missing home, friends, family, and all “my kids” at Columbia High. Check back often. I will always try to investigate and answer any questions you have. Let’s begin our communication with a little survey:
Did You Know? NOAA’s Pacific Marine Operations Center is located in Newport, OR. Nine ships are serviced here including the Oscar Dyson. Many of you have visited the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. Next time you are there, see if you can spot this NOAA hub.