Ragupathy Kannan: Back on Terra Firma, September 9, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ragupathy Kannan

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 15-30, 2019


Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast U.S. Atlantic Ocean

Date: September 6, 2019

I’m glad to get my land legs back. As I reflect on the wonderful experience of 2 weeks out at sea with scientists, I wish to sum it all up by two images below.

ocean ecosystem diagram
The various threads in the fabric of the ocean ecosystem
Northwest Atlantic Food Web
We’re all in it together! We have no choice but to coexist in harmony. (Slide courtesy Harvey Walsh)

I re-posted (above) an important slide I presented earlier, that of a food web that includes plankton, krill, fish, birds, whales, and even us. Both the above images drive home the important message that all species are threads in this delicate fabric of life, coexisting and interdependent in a fragile planet with an uncertain and unsettling future. The loss of threads from this tapestry, one by one, however minuscule or inconsequential they may seem, spells doom for the ecosystem in the long run. The NOAA Corps personnel and NOAA scientists are unsung heroes, monitoring the ecosystems that sustain and support us. In this age of fake news and skepticism of science, they are a refreshing reminder that there are good folks out there leading the good fight to save our planet and keep it hospitable for posterity.

The Teacher at Sea (TAS) program gives hope that the fight to study and protect precious ocean ecosystems will be taken up by future generations. I was privileged to work with NOAA’s Teacher at Sea staff (Emily Susko et al.) in their enthusiastic and sincere work to set teachers on a stage to inspire students towards conservation and science. They too are unsung heroes.

And one final note. Why is the TAS program predominantly K-12 in nature? Why aren’t more college professors participating? In the past few weeks, I have directly connected with hundreds of college students, many with the impression that being a biology major was all about going to med school or other health professions. Research, exploration, and science are unfortunately not in their horizon. If the TAS program makes one Harvey Walsh (our Chief Scientist) or Michael Berumen (my former student!) or even the iconic Jacques Cousteau in the future, imagine the positive impact it will have on our oceans for decades to come. I urge readers to forward this blog to college teachers and encourage them to apply for this fantastic program. We owe it to our planet and to all its denizens (including us) to recruit more future marine scientists.

Post script

In my final blog from the ship, I included a poster on Right Whales that covered NOAA’s strict policy guidelines for ships when the endangered Right Whales are around. It turns out it was a timely posting. Just as our cruise ended, Right Whales were seen just south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. NOAA triggered an immediate bulletin announcing a voluntary vessel speed restriction zone (see map below). While I am sad that we so narrowly missed seeing them, it is good to know that they are there in the very waters we roamed.

voluntary speed restriction zone
Voluntary speed restriction zone (yellow block) around Nantucket following a sighting of Right Whales on August 30, 2019

Cecelia Carroll: A Busy Day Off the Coast of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, May 11, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cecelia Carroll

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

May 2 – 13, 2017  

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl

Geographic Area: Northeastern Atlantic

Date: May 11, 2017

Latitude: 42.45.719 N
Longitude: 282.18.6 W

Science and Technology

As soon as the day group’s shift started at noon we were right into sorting the catch and doing the work-up of weighing, measuring and taking samples.

It’s with a good bit of anticipation waiting to see what the net will reveal when its contents are emptied! There were some new fish for me to see today of which I was able to get some nice photos.  I was asked today if I had a favorite fish.  I enjoy seeing the variety of star fish that come down the conveyor belt as we sort through the catch even though they are not part of the survey.  The Atlantic Mackerel (Scomber scombrus) are beautiful with their blue and black bands on their upper bodies and their shimmering scales.  They are a schooling fish and today one catch consisted primarily of this species. I’m fascinated with the unusual looking fish such as the goosefish, the Atlantic wolffish (Anarchichas lupus) with its sharp protruding teeth, and some of the different crabs we have caught in the net.  Another catch today, closer to land where the seafloor was more sandy, was full of Atlantic Scallops. Their shells consisted of a variety of interesting colors and patterns.

Today I also had a chance to have a conversation with the Commanding Officer of the Henry B. Bigelow, Commander Jeffrey Taylor.  After serving as a medic in the air force, and with a degree in Biology with a concentration in marine zoology from the University of South Florida.  What he enjoys about his job is teaching the younger NOAA officers in the operation of the ship.  He is proud of his state-of-the-art ship with its advanced technology and engineering and its mission to protect, restore, and manage the marine, coastal and ocean resources.  Some things that were touched upon in our conversation about the ship included the winch system for trawling.  It is an advanced system that monitors the cable tension and adjusts to keep the net with its sensors open to specific measurements and to keep it on the bottom of the seafloor. This system also is more time efficient. The Hydrographic Winch System deploys the CTD’s before each trawl.  CO Taylor also related how the quiet hull and the advanced SONAR systems help in their missions.  What we discussed that I am most familiar with since I boarded the Henry B. Bigelow is the Wet Lab, which was especially engineered for the Henry B. Bigelow and its survey missions. This is where I spend a good bit of time during the survey.  The ergonomically designed work stations interface with the computer system to record and store the data collected from the fish samples 100% digitally. I was pleased to hear what thought, skill and fine tuning had gone into designing this room as I had earlier on the trip mentally noted some of the interesting aspects of the layout of the room. Commanding Officer Taylor also had high praise for his dedicated NOAA Corps staff and the crew, engineers and scientists that work together as a team.

 

Sea stars

 

Atlantic mackerel

 

TAS Cecelia Carroll holds a wolffish

 

Crab and sea star

 

Atlantic sea scallops

Leah Johnson: Fish Identification & Pisces Farewell, August 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Saturday, August 1, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:13 PM
Latitude 033.995650
Longitude -077.348710
Water Temperature 24.37 °C
Salinity 36.179 ppt
Air Temperature 27.4 °C
Relative Humidity 83 %
Wind Speed 15.95 knots
Wind Direction 189.45 degrees
Air Pressure 1012.3 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
I am still amazed at the wealth of data collected aboard the Pisces on this survey cruise. I am getting better at identifying the fish as they are hauled up in the traps, as well as when I see these fish on video. Because of light attenuation, many fish look very different in color when they are underwater. Light attenuation refers to the gradual loss of visible light that can penetrate water with increasing depth. Red light has the longest wavelength on the visible light spectrum, and violet has the shortest wavelength. In water, light with the shortest wavelength is absorbed first. Therefore, with increasing depth, red light is absorbed, followed by orange, then yellow. Fish that appear red in color at the surface will not appear red when they are several meters below the sea surface where they are captured on camera.

For example, we hauled in some blackfin snapper earlier this week. At the surface, its color is a distinct red like many other types of snappers, and it has a black spot near the base of its pectoral fin. When I looked at the videos from the trap site, I did not realize that all of the fish swimming around with yellow-looking tails were the very same blackfin snappers that appeared in the traps! When I remembered that red light is quickly absorbed in ocean water and noticed the black spot on the pectoral fin and shape of the dorsal fin, it made more sense.

Top: Blackfin snapper collected from trap.
Bottom: Video still of blackfin snappers swimming near trap.

I tell my geology students every year that when identifying minerals, color is the least reliable property. I realize now that this can also apply to fish identification. Therefore, I am trying to pay closer attention to the shape of the different fins, slope of the head, and relative proportions of different features. The adult scamp grouper, for example, has a distinct, unevenly serrated caudal fin (tail) with tips that extend beyond the fin membrane. The tip of the anal fin is elongated as well.

scamp grouper

Scamp grouper

Another tricky aspect of fish identification is that some fish change color and pattern over time. Some groups of fish, like wrasses, parrotfish, and grouper, exhibit sequential hermaphroditism. This means that these fish change sex at some point in their lifespan. These fish are associated with different colors and patterns as they progress through the juvenile phase, the initial phase, and finally the terminal phase. Some fish exhibit fleeting changes in appearance that can be caught on camera. This could be as subtle as a slight darkening of the face.

The slight shape variations among groupers can also lead groups of scientists to gather around the computer screen and debate which species it is. If the trap lands in an area where there are some rocky outcrops, a fish may be partially concealed, adding another challenge to the identification process. This is no easy task! Yet, everyone on board is excited about the videos, and we make a point to call others over when something different pops up on the screen.

warsaw grouper

We were all impressed by this large Warsaw grouper, which is not a common sight.

I have seen many more types of fish and invertebrates come up in the traps over the past week. Here are a few new specimens that were not featured in my last “fish” post:

Did You Know?

Fish eyes are very similar to those of terrestrial vertebrates, but their lenses that are more spherical.

lens from fish eye

Lens from fish eye

Personal Log:

I love being surrounded by people who are enthusiastic about and dedicated to what they do. Everyone makes an extra effort to show me things that they think I will be interested to see – which I am, of course! If an interesting fish is pulled up in the trap and I have stepped out of the wet lab, someone will grab my camera and take a picture for me. I continue to be touched by everyone’s thoughtfulness, and willingness to let me try something new, even if I slow down the process.

me, standing on the deck at the stern

Me, on the deck of the ship. We just deployed the traps off the stern.

As our cruise comes to an end, I want to thank everyone on board for letting me share their work and living space for two weeks. To the NOAA Corps officers, scientists, technicians, engineers, deckhands, and stewards, thank you for everything you do. The data collection that takes place on NOAA fishery survey cruises is critical for the management and protection of our marine resources. I am grateful that the Teacher at Sea program allowed me this experience of a lifetime. Finally, thank you, readers! I sincerely appreciate your continued support. I am excited to share more of what I have learned when I am back on land and in the classroom. Farewell, Pisces!

Leah Johnson: Career Spotlight: NOAA Corps Officer, July 30, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

 Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:13 PM
Latitude 34.18282
Longitude -76.13712
Water Temperature 25.62 °C
Salinity 35.3592 ppt
Air Temperature 29.8 °C
Relative Humidity 71 %
Wind Speed 13.23 knots
Wind Direction 159.25
Air Pressure 1013.2 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
Career Spotlight: I would like to introduce everyone to Ensign Hollis Johnson, one of the Junior Officers on NOAA Ship Pisces. She was kind enough to let me ask her a few questions about life at sea.

Ens Hollis Johnson

Ensign Hollis Johnson

Q: What is the role of a Junior Officer (JO) on this ship?

A: The primary duty of a JO is driving the ship. We are also the eyes and ears of the Commanding Officer (CO). We carry out standing orders, ensure ship safety, and also make sure the scientists are getting what they need for their survey work.

Q: Does this job description vary depending on the ship?

A: This is a generic fleet-wide description, and some ships are a little different. On hydrographic ships, there is more computer-based work with data collection. On fisheries ships, collateral duties are split amongst the JOs; for example, we have an environmental compliance officer, a safety officer, a movie officer, and a navigation officer.

Q: What do you like best about your job and being at sea?

A: I really like driving the ship. Few jobs offer this kind of an opportunity! I also like the fact that no two days are ever the same, so my job is a constant adventure. The best things about being at sea in general are the sunrises and sunsets, and the dolphins, of course.

Q: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job and life at sea?

A: This job requires long hours. We can easily work 12-16 hour days, and while in port we still have to work some weekends. Because of this time commitment, we have to make sacrifices. But, we get that time back with our land assignments because there is more flexibility.

Q: When do NOAA Corps officers go to sea, and for how long do they stay?

A: After a 5-month training period, JOs are sent straight to sea assignments for 2 year periods. This can be extended or shortened by 6 months depending on what you are looking for in your next assignment. I extended my assignment at sea for 5 months so I could get my upcoming land assignment in California to work with dolphins for 3 years. After the land-based assignment, NOAA officers typically return to sea as operations officers, then back to land, then sea as executive officers, and so on. That is how you move up.

Q: What exactly will you be doing when you are on your next assignment in California?

A: The title of my position will be Cetacean Photo Specialist. I will be in La Jolla, CA, doing boat and aerial surveys, lots of GIS work and spatial surveys of marine mammal populations. I will participate in the center’s marine mammal stranding network. I will also be involved with outreach and education, which includes giving tours and presentations on scientific studies happening at the lab.

Q: Is life at sea different from what you expected?

A: Actually, it is easier than I thought it would be. I have always been a homebody and lived near my parents, I’m always busy here so time flies. I have internet and phone service so I still feel connected.

Q: Where did you go to college, and what degree did you earn?

A: I attended the University of Georgia, and earned a B.S. in Biology with a focus in marine biology.

Q: When / how did you decide to pursue a career in science?

A: When I was a kid I went to Sea World and fell in love with the whales and dolphins. I always loved animal planet. I also considered being a veterinarian for a while. I tried to be realistic because it is hard to land a career as a marine biologist, but I interned at a lot of places and made connections so I could do what I wanted to do.

Q: How did you find out about careers with NOAA?

In college, I took a summer course about marine mammals and toured a NOAA lab. About a year later, in June, my uncle saw the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster in port in Georgia, and I talked to someone on board about the work they were doing at sea. I immediately applied, interviewed, and was commissioned in January. It all happened very fast once I found out about it.

Q: You were one of the divers who recovered the missing trap this week. How long have you been diving?

A: I was certified to dive when I was 18. It is amazing, and something everyone should try. When I became an officer, the first thing I did was beg my command to send me to the NOAA Dive Center for training as a working diver.

Q: If a high school student is interested in a career like yours, what advice would you give?

A: Do a lot of volunteer work before you expect to get paid. You are investing in your future. If you want it bad enough you have to make sacrifices – but it will pay off. Make connections. If a marine biologist gives a presentation at your school, hang out after and talk with them. Ask for their email address and follow up. It’s a small world in marine research and networking is key.

Q: What is your favorite marine animal, and why?

A: I love thresher sharks and octopuses, but I’ll say Orcas. I’ve always found their species-wide diversity fascinating.

Personal Log:

There are so many people on this cruise who scuba dive and see amazing things below the sea surface. I have only snorkeled. I see dive certification in my future!

Did You Know?

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services in the United States. Their motto is “Science, service, stewardship”.

map and control panel on the bridge

Chart and control panel on the bridge

Leah Johnson: Career Spotlight: Survey Technician, July 29, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:13 PM
Latitude 033.707470
Longitude -076.827550
Water Temperature 25.8 °C
Salinity 37.1618 ppt
Air Temperature 29.2 °C
Relative Humidity 75 %
Wind Speed 16.08 knots
Wind Direction 25.88 degrees
Air Pressure 1013.2 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
Career Spotlight: I would like to introduce everyone to Danielle Power, the Survey Technician on NOAA Ship Pisces. She was kind enough to let me interview her today.

survey technician working in the acoustics lab

Editing map area coordinates in the acoustics lab

Q: What is the role of a survey technician (ST) on this ship?

A: The survey technician keeps track of scientific equipment and spaces. This includes calibrating sensors and maintaining and repairing equipment. When science parties are on the ship, the ST assists with data collection and oversees CTD operation.

Q: Does this job description vary depending on the ship?

A: Yes. On the Nancy Foster and other ships with big dive platforms, STs do a lot of diving and deck work. There are often two STs on board, each working a half-day shift. These STs do not work so intensively with fish. Hydrographic vessel STs deal with mapping and tide station installs.

Q: What do you like best about your job and being at sea?

A: My favorite thing about life at sea is that there are no bugs, and I don’t have to deal with allergies! I also meet awesome people on every cruise. Every trip is a little different, so I am always learning new things.

Q: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job and life at sea?

A: Being at sea for a long time, all the time, is taxing.

Q: Is life at sea different from what you expected?

A: Yes. This job requires living with 20 other people in a confined space all the time, and it isn’t easy. I didn’t fully realize this back in college. I don’t have easy access to things I might want or need. I also have to give up certain aspects of social life. You can’t just take a day off, you have to take an entire leg of a cruise off (up to 2 weeks), which is a lot of money to not be making and a lot of work to be missing. So I have to miss some big events for important people in my life, like weddings and holidays.

Q: Where did you go to college, and what degree did you earn?

A: I graduated from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. I earned a B.S. in biology with a concentration in marine biology.

Q: When / how did you decide to pursue a career in science?

A: In 6th grade, I went on a family vacation to Disney world. I went to Sea World, and it ignited my love for all things ocean. I have stuck with it ever since.

Q: If a high school student is interested in a career like yours, what advice would you give?

A: Work hard, and get a college degree that is relevant. Make sure you know that this is a job you truly want to do. Find internships and experience life on a ship before you commit. If you enjoy it, then make the most of the career and all of the opportunities that come with it.

Q: What is your favorite marine animal, and why?

A: An Octopus! Cephalopods are very intelligent creatures, and I love that they can blend into environments so well that they cannot be seen. They can change not just their color, but their texture. They are so interesting! They can go into small spaces, because they can fit anywhere their beaks fit and they use parts of their environment as tools.

survey technician working in the wet lab

recording data in the wet lab

Personal Log:
I am blown away by all of the different jobs that need to be filled while out at sea. Working on a boat was something that I never even considered when I was in high school. The idea just never occurred to me, and I didn’t know anyone at the time who did anything like this. There are so many interesting career opportunities that exist, and new types of jobs will develop as needs and technology change over time.

Read all about career opportunities with NOAA here!

Did You Know?

NOAA stands for “National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration”. It officially formed in 1970, but the environmental agencies that came together to form NOAA originated in the 1800s. Learn more about NOAA’s history here.

Leah Johnson: Trap Recovery, July 27, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Monday, July 27, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:38 PM
Latitude 034.384490
Longitude -076.576130
Water Temperature 23.75 °C
Salinity -No Data-
Air Temperature 30.8 °C
Relative Humidity 62 %
Wind Speed 10.15 knots
Wind Direction 88.23 degrees
Air Pressure 1014.8 mbar

 Science and Technology Log:
As I mentioned in an earlier post, flexibility is key. Things don’t always go according to plan. Originally, we were going to head northeast from Morehead City Port, but the weather did not cooperate with us. We headed south to avoid a large storm, and then moved closer inshore. This forced us to choose some different areas to sample. Most of our sample sites are situated over the continental shelf between Cape Fear and Cape Hatteras. Tomorrow we hope to move to deeper waters beyond the shelf break.

Pisces cruise pathway so far. Image from Shiptracker.

Map of Pisces route so far. Image from Shiptracker.

On July 23, we lost a trap. After one of the deckhands threw the hook out to catch the buoy rope and started the winch, the rope went taut and then snapped. Occasionally this happens because the traps can shift and become wedged under or hooked onto a rocky ledge on the seafloor. We do our best to avoid this, but it happens. This is why it is important to have extra traps, cameras, and camera housings on board.

Map showing locations of the two lost traps. Image from Shiptracker.

Map showing positions of two lost traps. Water depth is shown in feet.

We planned to retrieve our trap the following day, but the storm chased us out of the area. Two days later, we lost a second trap! Unfortunately, this one was too deep to recover on a dive. The traps we deploy have zinc clasps that dissolve after ~24 hours, so fish can eventually exit the traps on the off chance that we are unable to retrieve them. Still, we don’t want to simply abandon traps on the seafloor or run short on gear, so we made plans to retrieve the first trap. We just had to remain patient and hope for calmer seas. Finally, our window of opportunity opened up today.

Zodiac dive boat

The small boat is on a davit on the 01 deck.

A small boat is located on 01 deck near the stern of NOAA ship Pisces. The deck chief oversees operations as it is lowered for the divers, the dive master, and deckhands to board. They take an inflatable buoy and rope with them, and then head out to the coordinates of the trap. The divers descended ~20 meters to the shelf where the trap was indeed wedged on a rocky ledge. First, the divers removed the two GoPro cameras that were attached to the trap. Next, they secured a rope attached to a buoy on the trap. The ship will then be able to use this buoy to retrieve the trap as typically done. The divers ascended the line and were picked up with the small boat.

dive boat returns after successfully locating the trap

The small boat returns after successfully finding the trap.

The deckhands then attached our standard buoys to the rope, and returned to the Pisces. The divers climbed up a rope ladder on the starboard side of the ship, and the small boat was hoisted up. We then hauled up the missing trap like we would any other. The trap was empty, and all of the bait was gone – not surprising after a 4-day soak!

Personal Log:

I make a point to stand near the bow of the ship and watch the sea and sky for a while every day. I usually see some flying fish, which are fun to watch. They zip out of the water, dart across the waves, and then dive back under. One of them landed on deck after a storm, so I had a chance to see one up close.

flying fish found on deck

Flying fish

The skies are beautiful, too. I have seen some impressive clouds and gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. The view is completely unobstructed, so I can just take it all in without distraction. I find it all very peaceful.

The skies at sea are stunning.

Did You Know?

After otoliths and tissue samples are collected from the fish we keep, the fish are filleted, frozen, and donated to local food banks.

removing tissue samples from a fish

Collecting tissues from a fish.

Leah Johnson: All About the Fish, July 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Friday, July 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:38 PM
Latitude 033.235230
Longitude -077.298950
Water Temperature 25.88 °C
Salinity -No Data-
Air Temperature 28.3 °C
Relative Humidity 78 %
Wind Speed 5.76 knots
Wind Direction 355.13 degrees
Air Pressure 1011.3 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
When the traps are reeled in, the GoPro camera attachments are unclipped and brought into the dry lab. The cameras are encased in waterproof housing that can withstand the higher pressure at the seafloor. One camera is placed on the front of the trap, and one camera is placed on the back. Each video card captures ~45 minutes of footage. The videos will be carefully scrutinized at a later date to identify the fish (since many do not enter the traps), describe the habitat, and also describe the fish behavior. While aboard the ship, the videos are downloaded and watched just to make sure that the cameras worked properly, and to gain a general idea of what was happening around the trap. Occasionally, there are some really exciting moments, like when a tiger shark decided to investigate our trap!

tiger sharkThis tiger shark appeared in the video from both trap cameras as it circled.

While the cameras are being prepped in the dry lab for the next deployment, we are busy in the wet lab with the fish caught in the traps. The first step is identification. I could not identify a single fish when the first trap landed on the deck! However, I am slowly learning the names and distinctive features of the local fish. Here are a few examples of the fish that we have hauled in so far:

Once the fish are identified, they are sorted into different bins. We record the mass of each bin and the lengths of each fish. Most of the smaller fish are returned to the ocean once the measurements are recorded. Some fish are kept for further measuring and sampling. For each of these fish, we find the mass, recheck the total length (snout to tail), and also measure the fork length (snout to fork in tail) and standard length (snout to start of tail).

I measured the fish while one of my crew mates recorded the data.

I measured the fish while one of my crew mates recorded the data.

The fish is then ready for sampling. Depending on the species of fish, we may collect a variety of other biological materials:

  • Otoliths (ear stones) are made of calcium carbonate, and are located near the brain. As the fish grows, the calcium carbonate accumulates in layers. As a result, otoliths can be used – similarly to tree rings – to determine the age of the fish. I retrieved my first set of otoliths today!
  • Muscle tissue (the part of the fish that we eat) can be used to test for the presence of mercury. Since mercury is toxic, it is important to determine its concentration in fish species that are regularly consumed.
  • Gonads (ovaries in females or testes in males) can be examined to determine if a fish is of reproductive age, and whether it is just about to spawn (release eggs / sperm into the water).
  • The stomach contents indicate what the fish has eaten.

This toadfish had snail shells in its stomach!

This toadfish had snail shells in its stomach!

The soft tissues are kept in bags and preserved in a freezer in the wet lab. Sample analyses will take place in various onshore labs.

Personal Log:
It is important to remember that this ship is home to most of the people on board. They live and work together in very close quarters. There are daily routines and specific duties that individuals fill to keep Pisces running smoothly. Cooperation is key. I do my best to be useful when I can, and step aside when I cannot. Despite my inexperience at sea, everyone has been incredibly kind, patient, and helpful. I am lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing people who are willing to show me the ropes!

Did You Know?
The lionfish is an invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean. Its numbers are increasing in waters off the Southeastern U.S. coast. These fish have few predators, and they are consuming smaller fish and invertebrates which also sustain local snapper and grouper populations.

lionfish

This lionfish was in one of our traps yesterday.

Leah Johnson: The Sampling Begins, July 22, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:20 PM
Latitude 034.242730
Longitude -076.394350
Water Temperature 24.99 °C
Salinity 36.5532 ppt
Air Temperature 29.5 °C
Relative Humidity 80%
Wind Speed 15.45 knots
Wind Direction 229.54 degrees
Air Pressure 1012.5 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
As a fishery-independent survey, our task is to monitor the population of fish – mostly those of commercial value – at a wide variety of locations. While commercial operations provide some information based on their annual catch, a fishery-independent survey is able to conduct a broader assessment in a given area of the ocean, even though fewer fish are caught. Because there is no limitation on fish size and a wider array of locations are sampled, these surveys can be used in conjunction with reports from commercial fishing vessels to provide a better picture of changing fish populations over time.

I am on the second leg of the sampling survey in the Southeast Atlantic, and I am working the 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM shift. We will be setting traps and cameras in waters between Myrtle Beach, SC and Hatteras, NC. NOAA Ship Pisces left port at 2:00 PM on Tuesday, July 22. I stood near the bow of the ship as we headed out to sea, and watched flying fish zip through the spray. Once we left the sheltered waters near Morehead City Port, the seas became rough. High winds led to high swells, and we were unable to set any fish traps that afternoon. Because of these conditions, we changed our plans so that we could shelter behind a cape overnight. Flexibility is key!

Map of Pisces route upon departure on Tuesday, July 22.

Map of Pisces route upon departure on Tuesday, July 22. Source: Shiptracker

Today, skies were clear and the water was calm. We deployed a total of 18 traps in three areas over the course of the day. I helped to bait the chevron traps and line them up on the deck. Once the ship was over the chosen location, the traps and buoys were pushed overboard. Most of the traps today were deployed at a depth of ~25 meters. Six traps are deployed in an area, and are set at least 200 meters apart. The traps soak for 90 minutes, and then the ship circles back for the first trap. It is hauled up on the starboard (right) side, and the fish fall into a large tray placed beneath the trap opening.

The crew pulls up a trap.

The crew pulls up a trap.

We collected a variety of fish which had to be sorted, measured, and either kept for further sampling or returned to the sea based on the species. The bulk of the fish were black sea bass, but there was also a wide range of small fish (including scup, pinfish, and tomtate), red snapper, gag grouper, toadfish, and triggerfish. A small octopus came up with the second trap, which was exciting for the whole crew! One trap line snagged during retrieval, so a couple people may try to collect it on a future dive. The camera footage has been interesting too, as there are many fish that may swim near the trap but never enter. Therefore, the cameras provide additional data for the survey. Just today, a tiger shark was caught on tape!

A variety of fish in a chevron trap

A wide variety of fish are brought up in a chevron trap.

Personal Log
I have only spent one full day at sea so far, but I am enjoying every second of it. I am fascinated by all of the fish and other marine life. I spent some quality time watching dolphins jumping alongside the ship in the afternoon, and just looking out over the water. Sometimes the horizon is completely empty. Occasionally, I can see a lighthouse on a cape or another ship. Most of the time, we are surrounded by only sea and sky. The color of the water varies with weather conditions and water depth.

I have not experienced any sea sickness, and I am grateful for that. It was a little difficult getting used to the movement of the ship. I was definitely wobbling all over the place on day one. The swells were big though, so everyone was wobbling around with me. Putting food on my plate during dinner was especially challenging – and keeping it on my plate while walking to a table was more challenging still! However, my sea legs are improving, and I managed to do some yoga at sunset on the fly deck with a couple of the crew members! I didn’t fall over…. much. It was great way to wrap up the day. Keeping up with regular activities, like exercise, is really important while at sea. I am also growing used to the sensation of being rocked to sleep at night.

Did You Know?
The triggerfish earned its name because of its dorsal fin. If you press down on the first spine (a long, thin bone) at the front of the fin, it won’t budge. However, if you place your finger on a lower, shorter spine (the “trigger”), you can collapse the fin. Cool!

I love triggerfish!

I love this gray triggerfish!

Leah Johnson: Almost Time to Sail, July 7, 2015

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Leah Johnson
Soon Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: July 7, 2015

Personal Log

About Me

I am a science teacher at Naperville Central High School in Naperville, IL. My background is primarily in Earth Science, but I enjoy learning and teaching in all areas of science. Currently, I teach Principles of Biology and Chemistry to freshmen and sophomores, and two elective courses – Weather and Environment and Physical Geology – to juniors and seniors. I work with amazing people who are invested in science education and outreach, and they are very supportive of my upcoming adventure at sea!

Outside of my career in science and education, I love painting, reading, traveling, horseback riding, and biking. I am lucky to be married to someone who shares many of my interests, and we have a couple awesome huskies, too!

Why Teacher At Sea?

I have always been fascinated with the ocean. I have spent many vacation hours snorkeling in Florida, Hawaii, and the Bahamas, and exploring tide pools along the Pacific Northwest coast. When I am home in the Midwest, I can often be found with my nose in a book about deep sea fish, or watching ocean documentaries. I heard about NOAA’s Teacher At Sea Program several years ago as a graduate student, and decided to apply during my second year of teaching high school. To my surprise and delight, I was admitted to the program. I am grateful for this opportunity to learn more about ocean life, and to share this hands-on experience with my students and others who are curious about marine life, careers at sea, and what it’s like to live on a boat for two weeks!

Enjoying the California Coast

Enjoying the California Coast

Assignment: Fisheries

On Monday, July 20, I will fly to North Carolina and meet up with the crew of NOAA ship Pisces. We will embark from Morehead City on July 21 and sail along the outer banks of the Carolinas. The purpose of this cruise is to monitor fisheries in the Southeastern waters of the U.S. We will be counting and measuring nearly all of the reef fish that are caught in traps, and determining the age and gender of a select number of fish. Underwater cameras will be used in addition to traps to establish a better survey of the local fish populations. I am very excited to participate in this research, and learn from a group of dedicated and highly-experienced individuals who have established careers in ocean science and sailing.

NOAA Ship Pisces, Photo courtesy of NOAA

NOAA Ship Pisces, Photo courtesy of NOAA

Sharing the Experience

When I write my next post, I will be in the Atlantic Ocean. I am looking forward to sharing my experiences with you, and I will do my best to answer any questions you have. Communication is critical to science outreach, so please come along for the ride by checking out my posts and the blogs of other Teachers At Sea who have documented their fascinating ocean adventures as well. Thanks for reading!

 Did You Know?

The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest ocean on Earth, covering about 41,105,000 square miles. This area makes up nearly 20% of Earth’s surface!

Source: NOAA

Trevor Hance: Life, As You (Already) Know It… June 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Trevor Hance
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 12 – 24, 2015

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank
Date: June 21, 2015

Teacher at Sea?
Teacher at Sea?

Science and Technology Log

The rhythm of a ship rocking and rolling through varied wave heights while catching some zzzz’s in a small, curtain-enclosed bunk provides an opportunity to get some really amazing deep sleep.  Last night I had a dream that one of my childhood friends married Dan Marino.  It seemed completely bizarre until I remembered we saw lots of dolphins yesterday.

Dan? Mrs. Marino? Is that you?
Dan? Mrs. Marino? Is that you?

Seas have calmed substantially from the ride we had a couple of days ago, and for the past few days the ride has been so smooth I feel more like a “Teacher at Pond” than “Teacher at Sea.”  Unfortunately, it looks like that awful weather system my friends and family have been dealing back home in Texas is about to make its way to us here off the coast of New England (what many Texans consider “the southern edge of Santa-land”) and there’s even a chance today might be our last full day at sea.

At the helm: Estoy El Jefe!
At the helm: Estoy El Jefe!

Operations

Operationally, we’ve shifted back and forth from dredge to HabCam work and it is a decidedly different experience, and as with everything, there are pros and cons.

HabCam

As mentioned in an earlier blog, the HabCam requires two people to monitor two different stations as pilot and co-pilot, each with several monitors to help keep the system running smoothly and providing updates on things like salinity, depth and water temperature (currently 4.59 degrees Celsius – yikes!!!).

Views of the screens we monitor: from 6 o’clock, moving clockwise:  the winch, altitude monitor, cameras of back deck, sonar of the sea floor and photos being taken as we travel
Views of the screens we monitor: from 6 o’clock, moving clockwise: the winch, altitude monitor, cameras of back deck, sonar of the sea floor and photos being taken as we travel

The pilot gets to drive the HabCam with a joystick that pays-out or pulls in the tow-wire, trying to keep the HabCam “flying” about 2 meters off the sea floor.  Changes in topography, currents, and motion of the vessel all contribute to the challenge. The co-pilot primarily monitors and annotates the photographs that are continually taken and fed into one of the computers in our dry-lab.  I’ll share more about annotating in the next blog-post, but essentially, you have to review, categorize and sort photos based on the information each contains.

The winch has its own monitor
The winch has its own monitor

Driving the HabCam gives you a feeling of adventure – I find myself imagining I am driving The Nautilus and Curiosity, but, after about an hour, things get bleary, and it’s time to switch and let one of the other crew members take over.  My rule is to tap-out when I start feeling a little too much like Steve Zissou.

Dredge

Dredge work involves dropping a weighted ring bag that is lined with net-like material to the sea floor and towing it behind the vessel, where it acts as a sieve and filters out the smallest things and catches the larger things, which are sorted, weighed and measured in the wet lab on the back deck.

Close up of the dredge material
Close up of the dredge material; HabCam in the background

Dredge work is a little like the “waves-crashing-across-the-deck” stuff that you see on overly dramatized TV shows like “Deadliest Catch.”  As my students know, I like getting my hands dirty, so I tend to very much enjoy the wind, water and salty experience associated with a dredge.

Yours truly, sporting my homemade jolly roger t-shirt after a successful dredge
Yours truly, after a successful dredge, sporting my homemade Jolly Roger t-shirt

While the dredge is fun, my students and I use motion-triggered wildlife cameras to study the life and systems in the Preserve behind our school, and I fully realize the value those cameras provide — especially in helping us understand when we have too much human traffic in the Preserve. The non-invasive aspects of HabCam work provide a similar window, and a remarkable, reliable data source when you consider that the data pertaining to one particular photograph could potentially be reviewed thousands of times for various purposes.  The sheer quantity of data we collect on a HabCam run is overwhelming in real-time, and there are thousands of photos that need to be annotated (i.e. – reviewed and organized) after each cruise.

More Science

Anyway, enough of the operational stuff we are doing on this trip for now, let’s talk about some science behind this trip… I’m going to present this section as though I’m having a conversation with a student (student’s voice italicized).

Life needs death; this is a shot of 8 or 9 different crabs feasting on a dead skate that settled at the bottom. Ain't no party like a dead skate party...
Life needs death; this is a shot of 8 or 9 different crabs feasting on a dead skate that settled at the bottom. Ain’t no party like a dead skate party…

Mr. Hance, can’t we look at pictures instead of having class?  I mean, even your Mom commented on your blog and said this marine science seems a little thick.

We’ll look at pictures in a minute, but before we do, I need you to realize what you already know.

The National Wildlife Federation gives folks a chance to support biodiversity by developing a “Certified Wildlife Habitat” right in their own backyard.  We used NWF’s plan in our class as a guideline as we learned that the mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds we study in our Preserve need four basic things for survival:  water, food, shelter and space (note:  while not clearly stated in NWF’s guidelines, “air” is built in.)

This same guide is largely true for marine life, and because we are starting small and building the story, we should probably look at some physics and geology to see some of the tools we are working with to draw a parallel.

Ugh, more water and rocks?  I want to see DOLPHINS, Mr. Hance!

Sorry, kid, but we’re doing water and rocks before more dolphins.

Keep in mind the flow of currents around Georges Bank and the important role they play in distributing water and transporting things, big and small.  Remember what happened to Nemo when he was hanging out with Crush? You’ll see why that sort of stuff loosely plays in to today’s lesson.

Let There Be Light! And Heat!
Let There Be Light! And Heat!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Georges Bank is a shallow shoal, which means the sea floor has a lot more access to sunlight than the deeper areas around it, which is important for two big reasons. First, students will recall that “light travels in a straight line until it strikes an object, at which point it….” (yada, yada, yada).  In this case, the water refracts as it hits the water (“passes through a medium”) and where the water is really shallow, the sunlight can actually reflect off of the sea floor (as was apparent in that NASA photo I posted in my last blog.)

Also important is the role the sun plays as the massive energy driver behind pretty much everything on earth.  So, just like in our edible garden back at school, the sun provides energy (heat and light), which we know are necessary for plant growth.

Okay, so we have energy, Mr. Hance, but what do fish do for homes?

The substrate, or the sediment(s) that make-up the sea floor on Georges Bank consists of material favorable for marine habitat and shelter.  The shallowest areas of Georges Bank are made mostly of sand or shell hash (“bits and pieces”) that can be moved around by currents, often forming sand waves.  Sand waves are sort of the underwater equivalent of what we consider sand dunes on the beach.  In addition to the largely sandy areas, the northern areas of the Bank include lots of gravel left behind as glaciers retreated (i.e. – when Georges Bank was still land.)

Moving currents and the size of the sediment on the sea floor are important factors in scallop population, and they play a particularly significant role relating to larval transportation and settlement.  Revisiting our understanding of Newton’s three laws of motion, you’ll recognize that the finer sediment (i.e. – small and light) are easily moved by currents in areas of high energy (i.e. – frequent or strong currents), while larger sediment like large grains of sand, gravel and boulders get increasingly tough to push around.

Importantly, not all of Georges Bank is a “high energy” area, and the more stable areas provide a better opportunity for both flora and fauna habitat.  In perhaps simpler terms, the harder, more immobile substrates provide solid surfaces as well as “nooks and crannies” for plants to attach and grow, as well as a place for larvae (such as very young scallop) to attach or hide from predators until they are large enough to start swimming, perhaps in search of food or a better habitat.

With something to hold on to, you might even see what scientists call “biogenic” habitat, or places where the plants and animals themselves make up the shelter.

Substrate samples from one of our dredges; sand, rocks/gravel/pebbles,
Substrate samples from one of our dredges; shells, sand, rocks/gravel/pebbles, “bio-trash” and a very young crab

There is one strand of a plant growing off of this rock we pulled up.  Not much, but it's something to hold on to!
There is one strand of a plant growing off of this rock we pulled up. Not much, but it’s something to hold on to!

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm, rocks and one weed, huh… I wonder what’s happening at the pool…

Whoa, hold on, don’t quit — you’re half way there!

Before you mind drifts off thinking that there are coral reefs or something similar here, it is probably important that I remind you that the sea floor of Georges Bank doesn’t include a whole lot of rapid topography changes – remember, we are towing a very expensive, 3500 lb. steel framed camera at about 6 knots, and it wouldn’t make sense to do that in an area where we might smash it into a bunch of reefs or boulders.  Here, things are pretty flat and relatively smooth, sand waves and the occasional boulder being the exceptions.

Okay, our scallops now have a place to start their life, but, what about breathing and eating, and why do they need “space” to survive?  Isn’t the ocean huge?

As always, remember that we are trying to find a balance, or equilibrium in the system we are studying.

One example of a simple system can be found in the aquaponics systems we built in our classroom last year. Aquaponics is soil-less gardening, where fish live in a tank below a grow bed and the water they “pollute” through natural bodily functions (aka – “poop”) is circulated to the grow bed where the plants get the nutrients they need, filter out the waste and return good, healthy water back to the fish, full of the micronutrients the fish need to survive.  I say our system is simple because we are “simply” trying to balance ammonia, nitrates and phosphates and not the vast number of variables that exist in the oceans that cover most of our Earth’s surface.  Although the ocean is much larger on the spatial scale, the concept isn’t really that much different, the physical properties of matter are what they are, and waste needs to be processed in order for a healthy system to stay balanced.

Our simple classroom system
Our simple classroom system

Another aspect of our aquaponics system that provides a parallel to Georges Bank lies in our “current,” which for us is the pump-driven movement of water from the fish to the plants, and the natural, gravity-driven return of that water to the fish.  While the transportation of nutrients necessary to both parties is directionally the exact opposite of what happens here on Georges Bank (i.e. – the currents push the nutrients up from the depths here), the idea is the same and again, it is moving water that supports life.

But, Mr. Hance, where do those “nutrients” come from in the first place, and what are they feeding?

Remember, systems run in repetitive cycles; ideally, they are completely predictable.  In a very basic sense where plants and animals are concerned, that repetitive cycle is “life to death to life to death, etc…”  This is another one of those “here, look at what you already know” moments.

When marine life dies, that carbon-based organic material sinks towards the bottom of the ocean and continues to break down while being pushed around at depth along the oceans currents. Students will recognize a parallel in “The Audit” Legacy Project from this spring when they think about what is happening in those three compost bins in our edible garden; our turning that compost pile is pretty much what is happening to all of those important nutrients getting rolled around in the moving water out here – microscopic plants and animals are using those as building blocks for their life.

Our new compost system
Our new compost system

Oh wait, so, this is all about the relationship between decomposers, producers and consumers?  But, Mr. Hance, I thought that was just in the garden?

Yes, “nutrient rich” water is the equivalent of “good soil,” but, we have to get it to a depth appropriate for marine life to really start to flourish.  Using your knowledge of the properties of matter, you figured out how and why the currents behave the way they do here.  You now know that when those currents reach Georges Bank, they are pushed to the surface and during the warm summer months, they get trapped in this shallow(ish), warm(ish) sunlit water, providing a wonderful opportunity for the oceans’ primary producers, phytoplankton, to use those nutrients much like we see in our garden.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, I think I’m starting to see what you mean. Can you tell me a little more about plankton?

The term plankton encompasses all of the lowest members of the food chain (web), and can be further divided into “phytoplankton” and “zooplankton.”  Yes, “phyto” does indeed resemble “photo,” as in “photosynthesis”, and does indeed relate to microscopic plant-like plankton, like algae.  Zooplankton pertains to microscopic animal-like plankton, and can include copepods and krill.

Plankton are tiny and although they might try to swim against the current, they aren’t really strong enough, so they get carried along, providing valuable nutrients to bigger sea creatures they encounter.  Just like on land, there are good growing seasons and bad growing seasons for these phytoplankton, and on Georges Bank, the better times for growing coincide with the spring-summer currents.

Dude, Mr. Hance, I didn’t know I already knew that…. Mind…. Blown.

Yeah little dude, I saw the whole thing. First, you were like, whoa! And then you were like, WHOA! And then you were like, whoa…  Sorry, I got carried away; another Nemo flashback. While I get back in teacher-mode, why don’t you build the food web. Next stop, knowledge…

You've got some serious thrill issues, dude
You’ve got some serious thrill issues, dude

But, Mr. Hance, you are on a scallop survey.  How do they fit into the food web? You told us that you, crabs and starfish are their primary natural predators, but, what are they eating, and how?

Scallops are animals, complete with muscles (well, one big, strong one), a digestive system, reproductive system, and nervous system.  They don’t really have a brain (like ours), but, they do have light-sensing eyes on their mantle, which is a ring that sits on the outer edge of their organ system housed under their protective shell.  Acting in concert, those eyes help scallops sense nearby danger, including predators like those creepy starfish.

Predators
Predators

Scallops are filter feeders who live off of plankton, and they process lots of water.  With their shells open, water moves over a filtering structure, which you can imagine as a sort of sieve made of mucus that traps food.  Hair-like cilia transport the food to the scallop’s mouth, where it is digested, processed, and the waste excreted.

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The text is small, but, it describes some of the anatomy of the scallop. Click to zoom.

DSCN0158

But, Mr. Hance, do they hunt? How do they find their food?

Remember, scallops, unlike most other bivalves such as oysters, are free-living, mobile animals; in other words, they can swim to dinner if necessary.  Of course, they’d prefer to just be lazy and hang out in lounge chairs while the food is brought to them (kind of like the big-bellied humans in my favorite Disney film, Wall-E), so can you guess what they look for?

Gee, Mr. Hance…. Let me guess, water that moves the food to them?

Yep, see, I told you this was stuff you already knew.

I highlighted the shadows in one of the HabCam photos to show you proof that scallop swim.
I highlighted the shadows in one of the HabCam photos to show you proof that scallop swim.

While plankton can (and do!) live everywhere in the shallow(ish) ocean, because they are helpless against the force of the current, they get trapped in downwellings, which is a unique “vertical eddy,” caused by competing currents, or “fronts.”  Think of a downwelling as sort of the opposite of a tug-o-war where instead of pulling apart, the two currents run head-on into one another.  Eventually, something’s gotta give, and gravity is there to lend a hand, pushing the water down towards the sea floor and away, where it joins another current and continues on.

Those of you who have fished offshore will recognize these spots as a “slick” on the top of the water, and there is often a lot of sea-foam (“bubbles”) associated with a downwelling because of the accumulation of protein and “trash” that gets stuck on top as the water drops off underneath it.

Those
Those “smooth as glass” spots are where currents are hitting and downwellings are occurring

This particularly large group of birds gathered together atop a downwelling, likely because the water helped keep them together (and because fishing would be good there!)
This particularly large group of birds gathered together atop a downwelling, likely because the water helped keep them together (and because fishing would be good there!)

Because plankton aren’t strong enough to swim against the current, they move into these downwellings in great numbers.  You can wind up with an underwater cloud of plankton in those instances, and it doesn’t take long for fish and whales to figure out that nature is setting the table for them.  Like our human friends in Wall-E, scallops pull up a chair, put on their bibs and settle at the base of these competing fronts, salivating like a Pavlovian pup as they wait on their venti-sized planko-latte (okay, I’m exaggerating; scallops live in salt water, so they don’t salivate, but because I’m not there to sing and dance to hold your attention while you read, I have to keep you interested somehow.)

If you become a marine scientist at Woods Hole, you’ll probably spend some time looking for the “magic” 60m isobaths, which is where you see scallop and other things congregate at these convergent fronts.

Before you ask, an isobaths is a depth line.  Depth lines are important when you consider appropriate marine life habitat, just like altitude would be when you ask why there aren’t more trees when you get off the ski lift at the top of the mountain.

Um, Mr. Hance, why didn’t you just tell us this is just like the garden!  I’m immediately bored.  What else ya got?

Well, in the next class, we’ll spend some time talking about (over-)fishing and fisheries management, but for now, how about I introduce you to another one of my new friends and then show you some pictures?

I don’t know, Mr. Hance, all of this talk about water makes me want to go swimming.  I’ll stick around for a few minutes, but this dude better be cool.

Lagniappe: Dr. Burton Shank

Today, I’ll introduce another important member of the science crew aboard the vessel, Dr. Burton Shank.  As I was preparing for the voyage, I received several introductory emails, and I regret that I didn’t respond to the one I received from Burton asking for more information.  He’s a box of knowledge.

That's Burton, on the right, sorting through a dredge with lots and lots of sand dollars.
That’s Burton, on the right, sorting through a dredge with lots and lots of sand dollars.

Burton is a Research Fishery Biologist at National Marine Fisheries Service in Woods Hole working in the populations dynamic group, which involves lots of statistical analysis (aka – Mental Abuse To Humans, or “MATH”).  Burton’s group looks at data to determine how many scallops or lobsters are in the area, and how well they are doing using the data collected through these field surveys.  One of my students last year did a pretty similar study last year, dissecting owl pellets and setting (humane) rat traps to determine how many Great Horned Owls our Preserve could support.  Good stuff.

Burton is an Aggie (Whoop! Gig ‘Em!), having received his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M at Galveston before receiving his master’s in oceanography from the University of Puerto Rico and heading off as a travelling technical specialist on gigs in Florida, Alaska and at the Biosphere in Arizona.  For those unfamiliar, the biosphere was a project intended to help start human colonies on other planets, and after a couple of unsuccessful starts, the research portion was taken over by Columbia University and Burton was hired to do ocean climate manipulations.  Unlike most science experiments where you try to maintain balance, Burton’s job was to design ways that might “wreck” the system to determine potential climate situations that could occur in different environments.

As seems to be the case with several of the folks out here, Burton didn’t really grow up in a coastal, marine environment, and in fact, his childhood years were spent in quite the opposite environment:  Nebraska, where his dad was involved in agricultural research.  He did, however, have a small river and oxbow like near his home and spent some summers in Hawaii.

It was on during a summer visit to Hawaii at about 9 years old that Burton realized that “life in a mask and fins” was the life for him.  On return to Nebraska, home of the (then!) mighty Cornhusker football team, many of his fellow fourth grade students proclaimed that they would be the quarterback at Nebraska when they grew up.  Burton said his teacher seemed to think being the Cornhusker QB was a completely reasonable career path, but audibly scoffed when he was asked what he wanted to be and said he would be a marine biologist when he grew up.  I welcome any of you young Burton’s in my class, anytime – “12th Man” or not!

Photoblog:

RSCN0090
Sheerwater, I loved the reflection on this one

Such a nice day
Such a nice day

You'll never look at them the same, will you?
You’ll never look at them the same, will you?

Cleaning up after a dredge
Cleaning up after a dredge; shot from vestibule where wet-gear is housed.  We spent lots of time changing.

So fun to see lobsters and crabs when
So fun to see lobsters and crabs when “HabCam’ing.” They rear back and raise their claws as if to dare you to get any closer.

Good night!
Good night!

Playlist:  Matisyahu, Seu Jorge, Gotan Project, George Jones

Okay, that’s it, class dismissed.  Get outta here…

Mr. Hance

Trevor Hance: Permission to Come Aboard? May 28, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Trevor Hance
Soon to be Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 12 – 24, 2015

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank
Date: May 28, 2015

Personal Log: Permission to Come Aboard?

Greetings from Austin, Texas.  In less than two weeks, my grand summer adventure begins.  I will be flying out of Austin, and heading to Boston where Peter Pan will magically transport me down the Woods (Rabbit?) Hole and out to sea aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp, where I will support scientists conducting a Sea Scallop Survey.

sharp_deck_copy
Photo from the NOAA Fisheries website that I’ve been using to determine how to dress!

My Real Job

I teach at a fantastic public school in Austin that incorporates student interest surveys in lesson design and enrichment opportunities across subjects.  Although we are within the city of Austin, our campus backs up to a wildlife preserve (30,000 acres, total) that was set aside as land use patterns changed, and threatened habitat and ecosystems of 2 endangered birds, 8 invertebrates and 27 other species deemed “at risk.”  We have about 5 “wildspace” acres on our actual campus property that is unfenced to the larger Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.  We use that space as our own laboratory, and over the last decade, fifth grade students at our school have designed, constructed and continue to support the ecosystem through ponds supported by rainwater collection (yes, they are quite full at the moment!), a butterfly habitat, water-harvesting shelter/outdoor classroom, grassland/wildflower prairie and a series of trails.  In the spring, I post job descriptions for projects that need work in our Preserve and students formally apply for a job (i.e. – resume/cover letter).  They spend the balance of the spring working outdoors, conducting research relating to their job, and doing their part to develop a culture and heritage of sustainability on our campus that transcends time as students move beyond our campus during their educational journey.  My path through the curriculum is rooted in constructivist learning theory (project-based, place-based and service learning) and students are always outdoors.  Parents, of course, always get a huge “thank you” at the end of the year from me for not complaining that I’ve ruined too many pairs of shoes.

Below are a few pictures from our game cameras and shots I’ve taken of my classes in action this spring.

Capture2
Texas bluebonnets are beautiful, and even more spectacular when you get close and see “the neighborhood.”

DSCN7879
Rain or shine

DSCN8205
Early morning observation in the Preserve

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Gambusia — my favorite!

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Western ribbon snake snacking at the tadpole buffet.

DSCN9907
One of our frog surveys in action

IMG_0092
So, did anyone figure out what does the fox say?

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Wild pigs rooting

IMG_0995
Bandits abound when the sun goes down.

 

2015 05 13 GCW top of observation area
The endangered golden cheeked warbler, taken by me early May

As I write, there are about 5 days left of this school year, which means that most of our big projects are complete and the rain has paused, so we’re spending a few days having a big “mechanical energy ball” competition (aka – “kickball”), and I get the distinct feeling that the students are quite prepared for their summer break!

My Background

I was an “oilfield kid” and grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Cajun Country, and about an hour’s drive to the Gulf of Mexico.  In college, I worked in the oilfield a bit, and after finishing law school, I was a maritime attorney, so I was able to spend some time aboard vessels for various purposes.  My time aboard the Hugh R. Sharp will be my longest stint aboard a vessel, and I’m quite excited for the work!

My Mission

R/V Hugh R. Sharp (btw students, it is a vessel or ship, not a “boat”) is a 146-foot general purpose research vessel owned by the University of Delaware (go Fighting Blue Hens!).  Each summer I get a travel coffee mug from the college where I attend a professional development course, and I’m hopeful I can find one with a picture of YoUDee on it this year!

GofMmap_750_272953
Photo from the Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health

 

LARGEIMAGE_920423
Photo from the University of Delaware bookstore website of the mug I might pick up while traveling this summer

 

rvSharp-AcousticTrials
R/V Hugh R. Sharp

 

While aboard the vessel, we will be conducting surveys to determine the distribution and abundance of scallops.  My cruise is the third (and northernmost) leg of the surveys, and we’ll spend our time dredge surveying, doing an image based survey using a tethered tow-behind observation vehicle, and some deeper water imaging of lobster habitat.  Those of you who know me, know that I am genuinely and completely excited and grateful for the opportunity to “nerd out” on this once-in-a-lifetime get-away-from-it-all adventure!  Check back over the summer and see what I’ve been up to!

Trevor Headshot
That’s me!

Emily Whalen: Station 381–Cashes Ledge, May 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emily Whalen
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 27 – May 10, 2015

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine

Date: May 1, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Winds:  Light and variable
Seas: 1-2ft
Air Temperature:   6.2○ C
Water Temperature:  5.8○ C

Science and Technology Log:

Earlier today I had planned to write about all of the safety features on board the Bigelow and explain how safe they make me feel while I am on board.  However, that was before our first sampling station turned out to be a monster haul!  For most stations I have done so far, it takes about an hour from the time that the net comes back on board to the time that we are cleaning up the wetlab.  At station 381, it took us one minute shy of three hours! So explaining the EEBD and the EPIRB will have to wait so that I can describe the awesome sampling we did at station 381, Cashes Ledge.

This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine.  The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam.  This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!
This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine. The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam. This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!

Before I get to describing the actual catch, I want to give you an idea of all of the work that has to be done in the acoustics lab and on the bridge long before the net even gets into the water.

The bridge is the highest enclosed deck on the boat, and it is where the officers work to navigate the ship.  To this end, it is full of nautical charts, screens that give information about the ship’s location and speed, the engine, generators, other ships, radios for communication, weather data and other technical equipment.  After arriving at the latitude and longitude of each sampling station, the officer’s attention turns to the screen that displays information from the Olex Realtime Bathymetry Program, which collects data using a ME70 multibeam sonar device attached to bottom of the hull of the ship .

Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges in trawling has been getting the net caught on the bottom of the ocean.  This is often called getting ‘hung’ and it can happen when the net snags on a big rock, sunken debris, or anything else resting on the sea floor.  The consequences can range from losing a few minutes time working the net free, to tearing or even losing the net. The Olex data is extremely useful because it can essentially paint a picture of the sea floor to ensure that the net doesn’t encounter any obstacles.  Upon arrival at a site, the boat will cruise looking for a clear path that is about a mile long and 300 yards wide.  Only after finding a suitable spot will the net go into the water.

Check out this view of the seafloor.  On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges.  That's where we dragged the net and caught all of the fish!
Check out this view of the seafloor. On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges. We trawled right between the ridges and caught a lot of really big fish!

The ME70 Multibeam uses sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean at specific points.  It is similar to a simpler, single stream sonar in that it shoots a wave of sound down to the seafloor, waits for it to bounce back up to the ship and then calculates the distance the wave traveled based on the time and the speed of sound through the water, which depends on temperature.  The advantage to using the multibeam is that it shoots out 200 beams of sound at once instead of just one.  This means that with each ‘ping’, or burst of sound energy, we know the depth at many points under the ship instead of just one.  Considering that the multibeam pings at a rate of 2 Hertz to 0.5 Herts, which is once every 0.5 seconds to 2 seconds, that’s a lot of information about the sea floor contour!

This is what the nautical chart for Cashes Ledge looks like. The numbers represent depth in fathoms.  The light blue lines are contour lines.  The places where they are close together represent steep cliffs.  The red line represents the Bigelow’s track. You can see where we trawled as a short jag between the L and the E in the word Ledge

The stations that we sample are randomly selected by a computer program that was written by one of the scientists in the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, who happens to be on board this trip.  Just by chance, station number 381 was on Cashes Ledge, which is an underwater geographical feature that includes jagged cliffs and underwater mountains.  The area has been fished very little because all of the bottom features present many hazards for trawl nets.  In fact, it is currently a protected area, which means the commercial fishing isn’t allowed there.  As a research vessel, we have permission to sample there because we are working to collect data that will provide useful information for stock assessments.

My watch came on duty at noon, at which time the Bigelow was scouting out the bottom and looking for a spot to sample within 1 nautical mile of the latitude and longitude of station 381.  Shortly before 1pm, the CTD dropped and then the net went in the water.  By 1:30, the net was coming back on board the ship, and there was a buzz going around about how big the catch was predicted to be.  As it turns out, the catch was huge!  Once on board, the net empties into the checker, which is usually plenty big enough to hold everything.  This time though, it was overflowing with big, beautiful cod, pollock and haddock.  You can see that one of the deck crew is using a shovel to fill the orange baskets with fish so that they can be taken into the lab and sorted!

You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge.  How many different kinds of fish can you see?
You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge. How many different kinds of fish can you see? Photo by fellow volunteer Joe Warren

 

At this point, I was standing at the conveyor belt, grabbing slippery fish as quickly as I could and sorting them into baskets.  Big haddock, little haddock, big cod, little cod, pollock, pollock, pollock.  As fast as I could sort, the fish kept coming!  Every basket in the lab was full and everyone was working at top speed to process fish so that we could empty the baskets and fill them up with more fish!  One of the things that was interesting to notice was the variation within each species.  When you see pictures of fish, or just a few fish at a time, they don’t look that different.  But looking at so many all at once, I really saw how some have brighter colors, or fatter bodies or bigger spots.  But only for a moment, because the fish just kept coming and coming and coming!

Finally, the fish were sorted and I headed to my station, where TK, the cutter that I have been working with, had already started processing some of the huge pollock that we had caught.  I helped him maneuver them up onto the lengthing board so that he could measure them and take samples, and we fell into a fish-measuring groove that lasted for two hours.  Grab a fish, take the length, print a label and put it on an envelope, slip the otolith into the envelope, examine the stomach contents, repeat.

Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets
Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets waiting to get counted and measured. Photo by Watch Chief Adam Poquette.

Some of you have asked about the fish that we have seen and so here is a list of the species that we saw at just this one site:

  • Pollock
  • Haddock
  • Atlantic wolffish
  • Cod
  • Goosefish
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Alewife
  • Acadian redfish
  • Alligator fish
  • White hake
  • Red hake
  • American plaice
  • Little skate
  • American lobster
  • Sea raven
  • Thorny skate
  • Red deepsea crab

 

 

 

 

I think it’s human nature to try to draw conclusions about what we see and do.  If all we knew about the state of our fish populations was based on the data from this one catch, then we might conclude that there are tons of healthy fish stocks in the sea.  However, I know that this is just one small data point in a literal sea of data points and it cannot be considered independently of the others.  Just because this is data that I was able to see, touch and smell doesn’t give it any more validity than other data that I can only see as a point on a map or numbers on a screen.  Eventually, every measurement and sample will be compiled into reports, and it’s that big picture over a long period of time that will really allow give us a better understanding of the state of affairs in the ocean.

Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow
Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow

Personal Log

Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!
Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!

It seems like time is passing faster and faster on board the Bigelow.  I have been getting up each morning and doing a Hero’s Journey workout up on the flying bridge.  One of my shipmates let me borrow a book that is about all of the people who have died trying to climb Mount Washington.  Today I did laundry, and to quote Olaf, putting on my warm and clean sweatshirt fresh out of the dryer was like a warm hug!  I am getting to know the crew and learning how they all ended up here, working on a NOAA ship.  It’s tough to believe but a week from today, I will be wrapping up and getting ready to go back to school!

Emily Whalen: Trawling in Cape Cod Bay, April 29, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emily Whalen
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 27 – May 10, 2015

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine

Date: April 29, 2015

Weather Data:
GPS location:  4251.770’N, 07043.695’W
Sky condition:  Cloudy
Wind: 10 kts NNW
Wave height: 1-2 feet
Water temperature:  6.2○ C
Air temperature:  8.1○ C

Science and Technology Log:

On board the Henry B. Bigelow we are working to complete the fourth and final leg of the spring bottom trawl survey. Since 1948, NOAA has sent ships along the east coast from Cape Hatteras to the Scotian Shelf to catch, identify, measure and collect the fish and invertebrates from the sea floor. Scientists and fishermen use this data to assess the health of the ocean and make management decisions about fish stocks.

What do you recognize on this chart?  Do you know where Derry, NH is on the map?
This is the area that we will be trawling. Each blue circle represents one of the sites that we will sample. We are covering a LOT of ground! Image courtesy of NOAA.

Today I am going to give you a rundown of the small role that I play in this process. I am on the noon to midnight watch with a crew of six other scientists, which means that we are responsible for processing everything caught in the giant trawl net on board during those hours. During the first three legs of the survey, the Bigelow has sampled over 300 sites. We are working to finish the survey by completing the remaining sites, which are scattered throughout Cape Cod Bay and the Gulf of Maine.  The data collected on this trip will be added to data from similar trips that NOAA has taken each spring for almost 60 years.  These huge sets of data allow scientists to track species that are dwindling, recovering, thriving or shifting habitats.

The CTD ready to deploy.
The CTD ready to deploy.

At each sampling station, the ship first drops a man-sized piece of equipment called a CTD to the sea floor. The CTD measures conductivity, temperature and depth, hence its name.  Using the conductivity measurement, the CTD software also calculates salinity, which is the amount of dissolved salt in the water.  It also has light sensors that are used to measure how much light is penetrating through the water.

While the CTD is in the water,  the deck crew prepares the trawl net and streams it from the back of the ship.  The net is towed by a set of hydraulic winches that are controlled by a sophisticated autotrawl system.  The system senses the tension on each trawl warp and will pay out or reel in cable to ensure that the net is fishing properly.

Once deployed, the net sinks to the bottom and the ship tows it for twenty minutes, which is a little more than one nautical mile. The mouth of the net is rectangular so that it can open up wide and catch the most fish.  The bottom edge of the mouth has something called a rockhopper sweep on it, which is made of a series of heavy disks that roll along the rocky bottom instead of getting hung up or tangled.  The top edge of the net has floats along it to hold it wide open.   There are sensors positioned throughout the net that send data back to the ship about the shape of the net’s mouth, the water temperature on the bottom, the amount of contact with the bottom, the speed of water through the net and the direction that the water is flowing through the net.  It is important that each tow is standardized like this so that the fish populations in the sample areas aren’t misrepresented by the catch.   For example, if the net was twisted or didn’t open properly, the catch might be very small, even in an area that is teaming with fish.

Do you think this is what trawl nets looked like in 1948?
This is what the net looks like when it is coming back on board. The deck hands are guiding the trawl warps onto the big black spools. The whole process is powered by two hydraulic winches.

After twenty minutes, the net is hauled back onto the boat using heavy-duty winches.  The science crew changes into brightly colored foul weather gear and heads to the wet lab, where we wait to see what we’ve caught in the net. The watch chief turns the music up and everyone goes to their station along a conveyor belt the transports the fish from outside on the deck to inside the lab. We sort the catch by species into baskets and buckets, working at a slow, comfortable pace when the catch is small, or at a rapid fire, breakneck speed when the catch is large.

If you guessed 'sponges', then you are correct!
This is the conveyor belt that transports the catch from the deck into the wetlab. The crew works to sort things into buckets. Do you know what these chunky yellow blobs that we caught this time are?

After that, the species and weight of each container is recorded into the Fisheries Scientific Computing System (FSCS), which is an amazing software system that allows our team of seven people to collect an enormous amount of data very quickly. Then we work in teams of two to process each fish at work stations using a barcode scanner, magnetic lengthing board, digital scale, fillet knives, tweezers, two touch screen monitors, a freshwater hose, scannable stickers, envelopes, baggies, jars and finally a conveyor belt that leads to a chute that returns the catch back to the ocean.  To picture what this looks like, imagine a grocery store checkout line crossed with an arcade crossed with a water park crossed with an operating room.  Add in some music playing from an ipod and it’s a pretty raucous scene!

The data that we collect for each fish varies.  At a bare minimum, we will measure the length of the fish, which is electronically transmitted into FSCS.  For some fish, we also record the weight, sex and stage of maturity.  This also often includes taking tissue samples and packaging them up so that they can be studied back at the lab.  Fortunately, for each fish, the FSCS screen automatically prompts us about which measurements need to be taken and samples need to be kept.  For some fish, we cut out and label a small piece of gonad or some scales.  We collect the otoliths, or ear bones from many fish.

It does not look this neat and tidy when we are working!
These are the work stations in the wet lab. The cutters stand on the left processing the fish, and the recorders stand on the right.These bones can be used to determine the age of each fish because they are made of rings of calcium carbonate that accumulate over time.

Most of the samples will got back to the Northeast Fisheries Science Center where they will be processed by NOAA scientists.  Some of them will go to other scientists from universities and other labs who have requested special sampling from the Bigelow.  It’s like we are working on a dozen different research projects all at once!

 

 

 

Something to Think About:

Below are two pictures that I took from the flying bridge as we departed from the Coast Guard Station in Boston. They were taken just moments apart from each other. Why do you think that the area in the first picture has been built up with beautiful skyscrapers while the area in the second picture is filled with shipping containers and industry? Which area do you think is more important to the city? Post your thoughts in the comment section below.

Rows of shipping containers. What do you think is inside them?

Downtown Boston.  Just a mile from the shipping containers.  Why do you think this area is so different from the previous picture?
Downtown Boston. Just a mile from the shipping containers. Why do you think this area is so different from the previous picture?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Log

Believe it or not, I actually feel very relaxed on board the Bigelow!  The food is excellent, my stateroom is comfortable and all I have to do is follow the instructions of the crew and the FSCS.  The internet is fast enough to occasionally check my email, but not fast enough to stream music or obsessively read articles I find on Twitter.  The gentle rocking of the boat is relaxing, and there is a constant supply of coffee and yogurt.  I have already read one whole book (Paper Towns by John Greene) and later tonight I will go to the onboard library and choose another.  That said, I do miss my family and my dog and I’m sure that in a few days I will start to miss my students too!

If the description above doesn’t make you want to consider volunteering on a NOAA cruise, maybe the radical outfits will.  On the left, you can see me trying on my Mustang Suit, which is designed to keep me safe in the unlikely event that the ship sinks.  On the right, you can see me in my stylish yellow foul weather pants.  They look even better when they are covered in sparkling fish scales!

Seriously, they keep me totally dry!
Banana Yellow Pants: SO 2015! Photo taken by fellow volunteer Megan Plourde.

Seriously, do I look awesome, or what?
This is a Mustang Suit. If you owned one of these, where would you most like to wear it? Photo taken by IT Specialist Heidi Marotta.

That’s it for now!  What topics would you like to hear more about?  If you post your questions in the comment section below, I will try to answer them in my next blog post.

Janelle Harrier-Wilson: Toro’s Tour and the Process of Fishing, October 2, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Janelle Harrier-Wilson
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 3 

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg II
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean from the Mid-Atlantic Coast to S New England
Date: October 2, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat: 41° 16.5′ N  Lon: 071° 06.3′ W
Present Weather: Cloudy
Visibility: 6-8 nm
Wind:  020 at 28 knts
Sea Level Pressure: 1017.4 mb
Sea Wave Height:  2-3 ft
Temperature Sea Water: 18.4  C
Temperature Air:  14 C

Science and Technology Log

The Henry Bigelow before we left port last week.
The Henry Bigelow before we left port last week.

Have you been wondering how we fish? I know I have shared a lot about sorting the catch, measuring the length and weight of the fish, and taking other data from the fish, but I haven’t shared a lot of details about how we fish. It’s a pretty cool process that involves a lot of science and engineering to get to a place where we have fish coming down the belt in order for us to sort. Let’s take a look at what happens.

  1. Before the season begins, points are randomly predetermined where we will fish. Each of these points is called a station. The captain and the chief scientist work together to plan out which stations will be visited on each leg of the trip and in what order. We are currently on Leg II of the Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey. There are usually four legs each year.
  2. Once we arrive on station, the ship’s officer scouts for the best place to release the nets. The nets need a relatively flat bottom of the ocean floor with no obstacles like rocks that the net could get caught up on. How does the scouting take place? The ship is equipped with both single beam and mutli-beam sonar. The multi-beam sonar is used to create a three-dimensional map of the ocean floor. This map is used to find the best place for us to trawl.
  3. Next, we take data about that particular spot of the ocean. We either send down the CTD, which measures conductivity, temperature, and density of the water, or we do a bongo. The bongo is a set of nets that streams off the ship to collect plankton from the area of the ocean on station. The survey techs are in charge of conducting these tests and collecting the data from them. Before the cruise began, the stations that would have CTDs or bongos were predetermined.
  4. Once the CTD or bongo test has been conducted, we are ready to set out the nets. The nets are set out by the deck crew and involve a complex series of machinery and computers. Our chief scientist, Jakub Kircun shares this about the system and sensors: “Autotrawl System and Scanmar Sensors: Autotrawl is specifically designed to keep the tensions between port and starboard towing wires equal, therefore keeping the net from fishing crooked. Autotrawl will also be able to assist with hangs as it will automatically release wire during a tension spike. The (Scanmar) sensors on the net are used to check the geometry of the net, however that data is not directly tied with Autotrawl. Instead we monitor the sensors to check on a variety of net mensuration parameters, such as wing-spread, door-spread, headrope-height, headrope-depth, bottom-contact, and water-speed-through-trawl. All those parameters are analyzed by a computer program after each tow called TOGA (Tow Operation Gear Acquisition). If all the parameters are within the per-determined tolerances the tow is considered a representative tow. However if the values are outside of these tolerances then the tow would fail the validation and would need to be retowed.”
  5. Once the net is in the water, we  begin streaming. While we are streaming, we are moving slowly in the water, dragging the net behind us. We stream for 20 minutes. We can check the progress of the trawl by watching the sensor readouts. There are sensors in the net that send back live data to the ship.
  6. After we have streamed for 20 minutes, we then haul back the nets. This is the reverse process of when we set the nets out. The net slowly comes back in and begins to be wrapped up and stored. The deck crew puts ropes around the part of the net where the fish are and attaches the net to a crane. The crane moves the net over to the checker.
  7. Once the net is over the checker, the net is opened and the fish are dropped into the checker.
  8. From that point, the watch chief looks through the checker and decides what we will run. This means we don’t collect these things off the conveyor belt instead letting them collect at the end. This is done for the things we caught in large quantities.
  9. From that point, the fish from the checker are loaded onto the conveyor belt and up into the wet lab for us to sort through and process. While we are sorting and processing the fish, the ship is on its way to the next station. The distance between stations varies. We’ve had some that were just over a mile away and others that have been 20 or more miles away. Yesterday, we had a long steam (travel) between stations because the next station was 52 miles away. It took us several hours to steam to that station.

Personal Log

Are you wondering what it’s like to live on a ship? It’s actually pretty cool. I mentioned before that we are on 12-hour watches. While we are on watch, we pack up what we will need for the day in backpacks or other bags. Why? Well, we share rooms with people on the night watch. My stateroom has four bunks. Two of us are on day watch and two of us are on night watch. While the day watch is working, the night watch is sleeping. We don’t want to disturb them so they can get good “night” of rest, so we do not go back to the state room while the night watch is off duty. When we are off duty, they do not come back to the room, either. While we are on watch, we can be really busy sorting and working up a catch. However, depending on how many times we fish during a watch, we may have some free time as well. We have some down time while we are steaming to the next station, during the CTD and bongo tests, and while we are streaming. We jump to work once we start hauling back the nets. We had one day where we were really busy because we visited seven stations during our watch. Sometimes, we have more free time between steams. During that time we can read, have a snack, work on blog posts like I am doing, or sometimes watch a movie. We also have time to eat our meals on watch.

The galley cooks up three meals a day for us. I have only made it in time for breakfast the first day before we started our 12-hour watches. We eat lunch before our watch starts and we eat dinner during our watch. The food is amazing. Dennis Carey is our head steward and chief chef, and he prepares awesome meals for us with his assistant, Luke. However, the galley is open all day, even when a meal is not being served. There are always snacks available like goldfish crackers, Chex mix, cereal, fresh fruit, and ice cream. Plus, there is bread, peanut butter, and jelly to make sandwiches. Sometimes there are pastries, cookies, or other desserts available, too. As you can see, we don’t have to worry about going hungry on the Henry Bigelow!

There is a lounge on board with six recliners and a television set. We can watch satellite TV and movies while we are here. There is also a television in the mess deck. It’s a tradition to watch The Price is Right during lunch time, for instance! We also have an exercise room that has weights, a treadmill, and a bicycle. I haven’t used the gym, but I have worked out with some of the other scientists on board. We can also do laundry, which is pretty important. We pack lightly since we don’t have a lot of room in our staterooms. As you can imagine, our clothes get a little smelly from working with fish all day, so it is nice to be able to do our laundry on board!

Careers at Sea

Ensign Estella Gomez shows volunteer Eric Smith how he plots the ship's course on the chart.
Ensign Estela Gomez shows volunteer Eric Smith how he plots the ship’s course on the chart.

Have you ever considered a career as a commissioned officer? Did you know that the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven branches of the U.S. uniformed services? We have several officers on board including our commanding officer (the ship’s captain) and the executive officer. I had a chance to visit the bridge the other day, and Ensign Erick Estela Gomez shared what it is like to be part of NOAA’s Commissioned Officer Corps. Most of the officers have a background in science or math that aligns with NOAA’s scientific vision and purpose. To be part of the Corps, you have to have a science or math degree and apply to the program. If you are accepted, you go to training with the Coast Guard. Usually, there are 60 people as part of each training class, 40 from the Coast Guard and 20 from NOAA. The training is like boot camp and includes learning about how to be an officer as well as the science aspects of NOAA. One interesting thing Ensign Estela Gomez shared is that only about 10% of Coast Guard officers actually go out to sea. If you want to be out at sea and be a part of science, the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corp might be for you. Officers move through the ranks starting at ensign. Once an officer has passed training and certification, they can become an Officer On Deck (OOD), which means they can be on watch running the ship on their own.

Lt. Kuzirian takes the oath to accept his new rank as Lt. Commander.
Lt. Kuzirian takes the oath to accept his new rank as Lt. Commander.

As an officer on the bridge, there is a lot to do in terms of monitoring the different gauges and screens. There are radar monitors, engine and generator monitors, ship’s location, and mulitbeam sonar screens just to name a few. Also, the officer on deck has to watch the horizon for other ships and fishing gear in the water. Although there are computer systems to monitor the ship’s track and location, the ship’s location is still plotted on a paper chart. This is a backup in case of computer errors or other problems.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to watch one of the officers, Lt. Stephen Kuzirian be promoted to Lt. Commander. This does not happen on board ship every day, so it was really cool to be a part of this ceremony. Lt. Commander Kuzirian has a background in oceanography. He currently works in Washington, D.C., but he joined us on this trip for a chance to be at sea and to assist the Henry Bigelow.

Toro’s Tour

Toro won the votes to make the trip on the Henry Bigelow. He thought you might like a tour of the some of the areas on board the ship. As he was working up the tour, the Captain was worried that Toro was a stowaway since he has not fulfilled any science duties while aboard ship!

Did You Know?

The Atlantic Torpedo is an electric ray. It is the largest growing electric ray, and can deliver a shock up to 220 volts!

Atlantic Torpedo Ray
Atlantic Torpedo Ray

Poll

Janelle Harrier-Wilson: Sunsets, Stars, and Analyzing Sea Life, September 29, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Janelle Harrier-Wilson
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 3 

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg II
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean from the Mid-Atlantic Coast to S New England
Date: September 29, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat: 39° 34.6′ N  Lon: 072° 14.9′ W
Present Weather: cloudy
Visibility:  7-9 nm
Wind:  140 at  17 knts
Sea Level Pressure:  1010.9 mb
Sea Wave Height:  3-4 ft
Temperature Sea Water:  22.6 C
Temperature Air:  20.8 C

Science and Technology Log

Processing fish as the cutter
Processing fish as the cutter

We are continuing to trawl different areas of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Southern New England area. I have graduated from recorder to cutter. This means that when we process the fish and other sea life that we catch, I get to cut fish open to examine them. I am working with Christine Kircun, and we trade off now almost every other tow taking turns to be the cutter and recorder. Christine has been an awesome teacher helping me learn how to properly cut into the fish, identify the sex and maturity of the fish, examine the contents of the fish’s stomach, and find the otoliths. Otoliths are small hard parts of a fish’s inner ear. They are found in cavities near the fish’s brain. The otoliths are collected and sent back to the lab to be analyzed. As the fish grows, the otolith gets different colored (clearer and white) growth rings  on it similar to a tree. Counting these can tell the age of the fish. Some fish have otoliths that are really easy to find and remove. Other types of fish are more difficult to find and remove, like windowpane flounder. For more information about how otoliths are used for age and growth, click here.

In my last post, I mentioned that there are left and right-eyed flounder. Summer flounder are left eyed, and winter flounder are right eyed. In a catch the other day, we had winter flounder. As we were working up the winter flounder, we discovered a left-eyed winter flounder! That was pretty cool to see since this is a more rare occurrence.

Winter flounder - a rare left-eyed winter flounder
Winter flounder – a rare left-eyed winter flounder

Winter flounder - a right eyed flounder
Winter flounder – a right eyed flounder

Before I left for my cruise, I received a CD with information on it including how to identify many of the common fish we catch at sea. I looked through that presentation several times, and I thought I was ready to identify the fish. However, I didn’t get really good at identifying fish until I saw them in person. For instance, there are several kinds of hake. So far, we have caught spotted hake, red hake, silver hake, and offshore hake. Each one looks slightly different, although the offshore and silver hake are the most similar. Red hake have a slight reddish appearance to their scales, and spotted hake have spots down their side. Now that I have seen each one in person, it is much easier to identify the different types of fish. Fish that seemed really similar in the presentation take on new meaning to you when you are holding them in your hand. It’s reminded me once again that when we are learning new things, the most important thing to do is dig in and try things out. You will learn so much more by doing things like experiments in chemistry and building things in engineering than you would by just reading about it or looking at pictures. I have also learned about the anatomy of fish by watching Christine first do the processing and now doing it myself. It’s really cool to see the insides of the fish and the different stages of growth and development. It’s also really cool to push the contents of the fish’s stomach out onto the board to examine what they have eaten!

I thought you might like to see a short video of the process of sorting the fish off the conveyor belt. You can see the fish coming up the conveyor belt from the checker and pouring onto the conveyor belt in the wet lab for sorting.

Careers at Sea

I have learned something really interesting about working at sea. The scientists onboard this cruise do not spend their entire time out at sea. In fact, most of the scientists go out once or twice in the spring and once or twice in the fall. Just like we are doing an autumn bottom trawl survey, there is also a spring bottom trawl survey. During the rest of the time, they work at the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Lab in Woods Hole, MA. It seems like a really cool balance between doing science in the lab with a pretty normal daily routine most of the year but then having the chance to go out to sea a couple of times a year in order to do field work and be part of an adventure. I did not know that opportunities like this existed. If you love to do science but don’t want to spend all of your time in the lab, a career like this might be really interesting to you. Most of the scientists have degrees in marine science/biology, biology, or other related fields.

Personal Log

After just a few short days, I have settled in to my routine here on the Henry Bigelow. It’s an exciting life because you never know what’s going to come up on the next trawl or what other cool things you will see out at sea. Sometimes, we have been really close to the shore, and you can see the lights of the cities off in the distance. Now, we are offshore, but even out here you aren’t alone. There are ships passing by most of the time, and at night you can see the lights from the other ships off in the distance.

One of my favorite things to do is to head up to the flying bridge to watch the sunset. The past few nights have had beautiful sun sets, and we have had time to enjoy them in between sorting and working up the fish. The flying bridge is the highest part of the ship. It’s above the main bridge where the ship is controlled from. When it’s clear, you can see for miles in every direction. There is also a picnic bench up there, so it’s a great place to sit and read a book while waiting for the next trawl to come in.

After my watch finishes at midnight, I also like to head up to the flying bridge. It’s one of the darker places on the ship at night. As your eyes adjust to the night, the stars begin to appear before you. Out here, the sky kisses the sea, and the stars rise out of the inky black of the ocean. I watched the constellation Orion rise up out of the Atlantic. It was inspiring. There are so many stars. It’s not like the light polluted skies of the Atlanta area. Even with the ship’s lights, you can still make out the bands of the Milky Way. I also saw two meteors streak through the sky the other night.

Did You Know?

The goosefish is an angler fish that lives on the ocean floor on the continental shelf and slope. It uses its angler to attract prey. It has a huge mouth compared to its body. It’s also called poor man’s lobster because the meaty tail of the fish resembles the taste of lobster.

Goosefish
Goosefish

Goosefish mouth
Goosefish mouth

Challenge Yourself

Think you have what it takes to figure out the age of a fish using otoliths? Try this interactive, and share how you did in the comments.

Poll

Janelle Harrier-Wilson: Learning about Life at Sea, September 26, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Janelle Harrier-Wilson
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 3 

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg II
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean from the Mid-Atlantic Coast to S New England
Date: September 26, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat: 40° 11.3’N  Lon: 073° 52.7’W
Present Weather: CLR
Visibility: 10 nm
Wind: 326 at 5 knts
Sea Level Pressure: 1020.4 mb
Sea Wave Height: 2-4 ft
Temperature Sea Water: 20.4° C
Temperature Air: 23° C

Science and Technology Log

On the ship, there are two science watches: noon to midnight (day shift) and midnight to noon (night shift). I am assigned to the day shift. We left port late Tuesday afternoon, but we made it to our first trawl site a few hours later. When the nets brought back our first haul, I had a crash course in sorting through the fish. The fish come down and conveyor belt from the back deck to the wet lab. In the wet lab, the first thing we do is sort through the fish. The more experienced scientists are at the front sorting through the larger species and sometimes the more abundant ones. The largest species of fish go in large baskets, the medium sized ones go into large buckets, and the smaller ones go into smaller buckets. Each basket or bucket only has one species in it. During our first trawl, there was a smaller amount of fish to sort through, but we had a lot more fish the second trawl. It took us longer to sort through the larger fish.

Once the fish are sorted, we go to our cutter/recorder stations. At our stations, we sort through the buckets of fish one by one. Right now, I am a recorder. This means that I record the information about each fish into the computer. It’s a really cool computer system. First, the bucket it scanned. On the computer screen, a message pops up to tell us what type of fish should be in the bucket. If that is what we have, we say “Yes” to the prompt and continue. Then, we dump the contents of the bucket into a well waiting for inspection. The cutter pulls the fish out, one by one, and begins to take measurements. The first measurement is usually length. The tool for taking the measurements is integrated into the computer system. The fish are laid out on the ruler, and a sensor is tapped at the end of the fish. This sends the fish’s measurement to the computer. The Fish Measuring Board is a magnetic system. The tool that we use to measure the fish is a magnet. The board is calibrated so that when the magnet touches a specific area of the board, it will read the appropriate length. The computer then tells us what measurement to take next. Usually it is weight. On the other side of the Fish Measuring Board is the scale for the larger fish. There is also a small scale for smaller specimens. When the weight is recorded, the computer then prompts for additional measurements which are taken from the fish. During our second trawl, we worked up a bucket of summer flounder. One of the summer flounder was huge! I had not seen a flounder that big before!

One of the things that has really impressed me so far is the integration of the science and the technology. The computer system that records measurements is integrated into the ruler and scale right at the work bench (the fish measuring board). When we take samples from the specimen, a label is printed right at the station, and the sample is placed into either an envelope, zip bag, or jar for further handling. It reminds me of how technology makes the job of science more streamlined. I can’t imagine how long it would take for the processing and sampling of the fish if we had to take all of the measurements by hand! Technology is a valuable tool for scientists at sea.

Careers at Sea

Henry Bigelow Engine Room
Henry Bigelow Engine Room

We left port on Tuesday, September 23. Before we left, I had a chance to explore the ship and ran into chief engineer Craig Moran. He sent me to the engine room for a tour, and I met John Hohmann. John is the first engineer on the Henry Bigelow. He showed me around the engine room including the generators, the water system, and the shaft to the propeller. It was pretty quiet in the engine room since we hadn’t left yet, but it is a loud, warm place when the ship is at sea.

I had a chance to chat with John about his background in engineering. He has a specialization in marine engineering. Marine engineers really need to be a jack-of-all-trades when we are out at sea. If anything is not working right on the ship, they are called out to fix it. This can include any of the machinery in the engine room, the electrical systems, the water purification system, and even fixing the cooking equipment in the galley! Life at sea can be demanding as they can be called at any time day or night to fix an integral piece of machinery. However, engineers generally work 30 days at sea and then are home for 30 days. One thing John wanted you all to know is that there will always be jobs for engineers. If you are interested in marine engineering, it can help you travel the world. John has been all over the world to many interesting countries. The other thing that I found interesting is that he says you need to be able read and follow instruction manuals in order to fix an issue. He also said an essential skill for an engineer is problem solving. Marine engineering entails a lot more than I had initially thought, and it is really cool to be able to talk to John and learn about marine engineering from him first hand.

Personal Log

I arrived to the ship Monday evening (September 22). Since the ship wasn’t scheduled to leave port until the next day, most of the team was not on board yet. I was able to find my stateroom and get settled in. Tuesday, things started to pick up on ship. There was a dive at 9:00 to check the hull of the ship, so I had a chance to watch the divers slide into the water and later climb back out. The rest of the science team arrived just in time for lunch. I then had time to explore the ship (I found the important places: the laundry room and the gym!), and get to know the science team a little bit better. The ship started undocking around 16:00 (4:00 pm), and we were on our way to sea. We went up to the flying bridge, the highest deck on the ship, as we left Rhode Island. It was beautiful up there as we passed by Newport and the surrounding areas. There is an old lighthouse that is now used for event spaces, and a house built up on a small rocky island. At 17:00, it was dinner time. We eat our meals in the mess, and the meals are prepared in the galley. I knew I needed to eat a good meal because my watch for the night officially started at 18:00 and would last until 24:00.

The sea was pretty calm yesterday, so it was a good introduction to the ways of life on a ship. So far, I have not had any trouble adjusting to life onboard ship. I was worried about sea-sickness, but I came prepared and have felt great so far. A lot of the crew have mentioned that I should be fine, and that I’ve already found my sea legs. I think perhaps I have found my sea stomach but not my sea legs! I do periodically lose my balance when walking through the corridors. Thankfully, there are handrails everywhere to catch my balance just in case. Maybe I’ll find my sea legs in a few more days, but I am pretty clumsy even on land!

Janelle Wilson wears immersion  suit for abandon ship drill.
Trying on my Immersion Suit

Safety drills are also an important part of sea life. Each person has their own immersion suit and personal flotation device (PFD). These are in case we have to abandon ship. We need to be able to put our immersion suit on in 60 seconds. The immersion suit is kind of like a wet suit, but it has lights on it and other tools. There are also lifeboats on board. There are three types of emergencies we need to be prepared for: abandon ship, man overboard, and fire/other emergency. Just like we have fire drills at school to help us know where to go in the case of a fire, these drills help us prepare for emergencies.

Did You Know?

You can tell a summer flounder from a winter flounder by the side the eyes are on the fish. You look at the fish as if it were swimming up right. Summer flounder eyes are on the left, and winter flounder eyes are on the right. Summer flounder are called left eyed, and winter flounder are called right eyed.

Challenge Yourself

What additional information can you find out about marine engineering careers at sea? What type of training do marine engineers need, and what schools offer marine engineering?

Poll

Joan Le, Getting Set to TowCam, August 5, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Joanie Le
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
August 5 – 16, 2014

Mission: Deep-Sea Coral Research
Geographic area of the cruise: 40 miles SE of Cape May, New Jersey
Date: August 5, 2014

In full survival gear during our first “abandon ship” drill.

Weather information from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 25.5° Celsius
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Wind Direction: 330°
Weather Conditions: clear
Latitude: 37° 37.7′ N
Longitude: 74° 06.8′ W

Science and Technology Log

After almost a full day at sea, we are only hours away from the first watch and the first glimpse of data. Preparations commence, and anticipation is high.

For the next two weeks, we’ll study the deep-sea corals that occur in submarine canyons off the east coast. They have been found in every region of the United States, but for this mission we’ll target canyons in the Northeast region, investigating canyons east of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

Deep-Sea Corals are similar to the familiar shallow-water corals, but cannot harness sunlight for energy through photosynthesis. Instead, they rely on nutrients from the water including detritus (non-living organic matter) and plankton. It is believed that Deep-Sea Corals find both shelter and bountiful grub on the steep-sided canyon walls where the faster-moving currents bring in the day’s meal. Surprisingly, many are just as beautiful and colorful as their shallow-water counterparts, like this bamboo coral photographed at Mytilus Seamount during the NOAA OER US Northern Canyons mission last year.

This image was taken at Mytilus Seamount during the NOAA OER US Northern Canyons mission last year. Photo credit NOAA.
Bamboo Coral (Jasonisis sp.) Photo credit NOAA.

Though not the hot snorkeling destination, the Deep-Sea Corals in this region are important habitat providers as well as sensitive indicators of ecosystem health. They are long-living but slow-growing and do not recover quickly. Both bottom trawling and possible energy harnessing (off-shore wind farms and oil and gas acquisition) are possible threats to their survival.

Because bottom trawling is so detrimental to the coral communities, we’ll use TowCam to survey the area. Deploying the TowCam is a delicate process, with sensitive and pricey equipment on the line. After a few test deployments yesterday, the team began picking our dive locations. There is plenty to consider when finding a dive spot, including the topography of the sea floor and slope of the canyon walls. We also use the results generated by a habitat suitability model that predicts where deep-sea corals are likely to occur. Scientists must strike a balance between the steeper, high-probability cliffs and the gentler slopes.

The crew prepares TowCam for the first test run.
The crew prepares TowCam for the first test deployment.

Brian Kinlan using Fledermaus to plan our first dive.
Brian Kinlan using Fledermaus to plan our first dive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Log

Life aboard a ship is surely not easy. The constant rocking and clanging of cold metal will take a while to get used to, and I will sadly miss many daytime hours with our 12 hours on-12 hours off watch schedule. And while waking at 3 AM to greet a deathly dark ocean view may not seem like summertime fun to most, this first morning underway has convinced me that a couple weeks at sea is a treat I won’t soon forget.

photo (4)

Lynn Kurth: It’s Shark Week! July 31, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynn M. Kurth
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 9, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic
Date:  July 31, 2014

Lat: 30 11.454 N
Long: 80 49.66 W

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind: 17 knots
Barometric Pressure:  1014.93 mb
Temperature:  29.9 Degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log:
It would be easy for me to focus only on the sharks that I’ve  encountered but there is so much more science and natural phenomena to share with you!  I have spent as much time on the bow of the boat as I can in between working on my blogs and my work shift.  There’s no denying it, I LOVE THE BOW OF THE BOAT!!!  When standing in the bow it feels as if you’re flying over the water and the view is splendid.

BOW
My Perch!

From my prized bird’s eye view from the bow I’ve noticed countless areas of water with yellowish clumps of seaweed.  This particular seaweed is called sargassum which is a type of macroalgae found in tropical waters.  Sargassum has tiny chambers which hold air and allow it to float on or near the water’s surface in order to gather light for photosynthesis.  Sargassum can be considered to be a nuisance because it frequently washes up on beaches and smells as it decomposes.  And, in some areas it can become so thick that it reduces the amount of light that other plant species need to grow and thrive. However, the floating clumps of sargassum provide a great habitat for young fish because it offers them food and shelter.

IMG_2826
Sargassum as seen from “my perch”

IMG_2906[1]
Sargassum (notice the small air bladders that it uses to stay afloat)
We have hauled in a variety of sharks and fish over the past few days.  One of the more interesting species was the remora/sharksucker.  The sharksucker attaches itself to rays, sharks, ships, dolphins and sea turtles by latching on with its suction cup like dorsal fin.  When we brought a sharksucker on board the ship it continued to attach itself to the deck of the boat and would even latch on to our arm when we gave it the chance.

IMG_2944[1]
The shark sucker attaches to my arm immediately!
The largest species of sharks that we have hauled in are Sandbar sharks which are one of the largest coastal sharks in the world.  Sandbar sharks have much larger fins compared to their body size which made them attractive to fisherman for sale in the shark fin trade.  Therefore, this species has more protection than some of the other coastal shark species because they have been over harvested in the past due to their large fins.

Thankfully finning is now banned in US waters, however despite the ban sandbar sharks have continued protection due to the fact that like many other species of sharks they are not able to quickly replace numbers lost to high fishing pressure.  Conservationists remain concerned about the future of the Sandbar shark because of this ongoing threat and the fact that they reproduce very few young.

IMG_2928[1]
The first Sandbar shark that I was able to tag
Did you Know?

Sargassum is used in/as:

  • fertilizer for crops
  • food for people
  • medicines
  • insect repellant

Personal Log:
I continue to learn a lot each day and can’t wait to see what the next day of this great adventure brings!  The folks who I’m working with have such interesting tales to share and have been very helpful as I learn the ropes here on the Oregon II.  One of the friendly folks who I’ve been working with is a second year student at the University of Tampa named Kevin Travis.  Kevin volunteered for the survey after a family friend working for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) recommended him as a volunteer.  Kevin enjoys his time on the boat because he values meeting new people and knows how beneficial it is to have a broad range of experiences.

 

IMG_2798
Kevin Travis

Emina Mesanovic, Wet Lab: Something Fishy Is Going on Here, July 23, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emina Mesanovic

Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces

July 20 – August 2, 2014

Mission: Southeast Fishery- Independent Survey

Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina

Date: July 23, 2014

Weather Information from the Bridge

Air Temperature: 27.4 C

Relative Humidity: 85%

Wind Speed: 13 knots

 

Science and Technology Log

The goal of the Southeast Fishery Independent Survey (SEFIS) is to assess the location and abundance of different species focusing on snappers and groupers as well as collecting bathymetric data about the ocean floor that can be used in the future. The scientists are divided into day and night shifts, the night shift maps the ocean floor, while the day shift uses these maps to set traps and catch fish.

Traps on the back deck ready to go.
Traps on the back deck ready to go.

Each morning the scientists set up six chevron traps on the back deck of the Pisces, each trap is stocked with 24 menhaden, which serves as the baitfish. The traps contain the same amount of bait, two cameras one on the front and one on the back, and each trap stays underwater for 90 minutes. Chief Scientist Zeb Schobernd works in the dry lab to let the crew know when and where to drop the traps (more on this later).

Trap going down the rap into the water.
Trap going down the ramp into the water

When its time to retrieve the traps the crew of the Pisces works with chief scientist and the Bridge to retrieve the traps.  When you are on the deck waiting for the traps to be lifted on board you have to wear a safety helmet and life preserver. Once the traps on are on the deck the scientists really start to hustle. They remove the cameras from the traps and empty the trap into black bins.

IMG_0738
Chevron Trap being lifted onto the deck

Once we are in the wet lab the first step is to sort the fish by species. In the picture on below you will see 3 bins with red porgy, vermilion snapper, and trigger fish these are 3 of the 4 most common commercially important fish we catch the 4th is black sea bass.

Sorting the fish
Sorting the fish

Red Porgy, Vermillion, & Trigger Fish
Red Porgy, Vermilion Snapper, & Trigger Fish

Measuring the total length of the fish
Measuring the total length of the fish

Next we need to weight the sample in kilograms and record the total size of the fish in millimeters. The fish that are not being kept for further study are returned to the ocean. It can get very busy and messy in the wet lab when the traps produce a large catch. The goal is to process one trap before the next trap is brought on deck. The traps are dropped three times daily for a total of 18 traps caught per day; it is the scientist’s goal to completely process the traps before the completion of their 12 hours shift. Certain fish are of special interest to the scientists because they are commercially and recreationally important to the fishing community so these fish are set aside for further study. On Monday July 21st we caught a 10.47 kg Red Grouper, which is one of the fish that is studied in more detail.

Red Grouper caught on Monday July 21, 2014
Red Grouper caught on Monday July 21, 2014

For this fish in addition to recording the weight and total length, scientists also record the fork length and standard length. The scientists also collect the otoliths (ear bones) from the fish which are used to determine the age of the fish just likes rings on a tree are used to determine age. Finally scientists collect DNA and part of the gonads for additional study back at the laboratory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Log

My first few days on the Pisces have been busy and very exciting there is so much to see and learn. Everyone on board has been very friendly and welcoming. As I look out my window every morning all is see is blue for miles. Even though we are only 10-50 miles off the coast of North Carolina on any given day there is nothing out here but ocean. It’s impressive how vast the ocean is and how little we know about the geography of the ocean or the animals that inhabit the sea floor.

Leaving Morehead
Leaving Morehead City, North Carolina

Looking down from the top deck of the Pisces.
Looking down from the top deck of the Pisces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We set sail from Morehead City, North Carolina at 10am on Sunday July 20th and I had a great view from the top deck of the Pisces as we left the harbor. After lunch we practiced the abandon ship and fire drills, however I was not able to participate because I was seasick. Did you know that seasickness occurs when our brain receives conflicting information from our body. Onboard the Pisces it doesn’t look like anything is moving so my eyes sent my brain a message that there was no movement, but my inner ear, which is responsible for balance, sensed the motion of the boat and this conflicting information caused my seasickness. By Monday I was feeling much better and I was ready to get to work.

The bunks in our stateroom
The bunks in our stateroom

Life on the Pisces is very comfortable. I am sharing a stateroom with Mary who is a great roommate. We each have our own bunk with a curtain for privacy as well as lockers for storage. Additionally our bathroom is located in our room, which was a wonderful surprise because I thought that we would all be sharing a single bathroom. There is a lounge across from our room with large comfy chairs and an impressive DVD collection, however I have been too tired from working in the wet lab to enjoy it yet. There is also a gym somewhere on the ship but I don’t think that I will ever have enough balance onboard the ship to use the gym safely. Stay tuned, tonight I’m going to spend the night mapping the ocean floor and I’ll let you know how it goes.


SCIENTIST SPOT LIGHT

Zeb Schobernd : Chief Scientist

Education: Masters from Earlham College and a Masters from College of Charleston in Marine Biology

How long have you worked with NOAA? Since 2007, started this project in 2010

Chief Scientist Zeb Schonberned in the dry lab
Chief Scientist Zeb Schonberned in the dry lab

How important is collaboration in your research? Being able to share and work together is a large part of the marine biology community. On this cruise for example we are collaborating with scientists from Beaufort as well as with local universities we have 2 volunteers from the College of Charleston sailing with us.

How long have you participated in this survey? Since the start of the SEFIS survey in 2010, currently in its 5th season.

Does your team change every year? The core group of research scientists stays the same, but the volunteers and lab assistants’ changes year to year.

How does the Pisces compare to other ships? The Pisces is larger than other ships I have worked on. It’s more comfortable, there is more space for scientists to spread out and work. Additionally the Pisces has the equipment need to map the floor, which makes determining where to drop traps more efficient.

How many days a year do you go out to sea? I spend about 45 days out at sea. 

What do you do when you are not out at sea? I work on processing the videos that were collected on the cruise; we need to identify the fish species that are on caught on camera. The cameras are often more valuable then the fish that we trap because some fish may never go in the trap so these videos allow us a better picture of the underwater ecosystem.

What is the biggest challenge about doing research at sea? The biggest challenge would be bad weather that impacts sea conditions. Also time away from home can be challenge on long cruises.

What would be your dream research cruise? I would like to be able to use a submersible to record videos of tropical fish for further study.

Any advice you have for students interested in marine biology as a career? Gain hands on experiences in the field by doing internships while in college to determine if this is what you really want to do. What I do on a day to day basis is very similar to what I experienced on a research cruise while I was in grad school.

Coolest catch: 6 Gilled Shark

Favorite fish: Groupers

COOL CATCH OF THE DAY

Shark sucker attached to Kate's arm.
Shark sucker attached to Kate’s arm.

Kevin McMahon: Midnight Mapping! July 13, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kevin McMahon

Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces

July 5 – July 18, 2014

 

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina

Date: July 13, 2014

Weather Information from the Bridge

Air Temperature:            27.6 °C

Relative Humidity:         73%

Wind Speed:                  5.04 knots

 

Science and Technology Log

Someone is always working on the Pisces. When Nate Bacheler and the other fishery scientists have finished their work for the day collecting fish, it is show time for the hydrographers, the scientists who map and study the ocean floor. Their job is to map the ocean floor to help Nate find the best places to find fish for the next day.  Warren, Laura, David and Matt were kind enough to let me join them and explained how they map the ocean floor while on board the Pisces.

People have learned over the years that some fish like to hang out where there is a hard bottom, not a sandy bottom. These hard bottom areas are where coral and sponges can grow and it also happens to be where we usually find the most fish.

Instead of using a camera to find these hard bottom habitats, the mapping scientists use multibeam sonar. Here is a simple explanation on how sonar works. The ship sends a sound wave to the bottom of the ocean. When the sound wave hits the bottom, the sound bounces back up to the ship.

Since scientists know how fast sound travels in water, they can figure out how far it is to the ocean floor. If the sound wave bounces back quickly, we are close to the ocean floor. If the sound wave takes longer, the ocean floor is farther away. They can use this data to make a map of what the ocean floor looks like beneath the ship.

The neat thing about the Pisces is that it does not send down one sound wave only. It sends 70 waves at once. This is called multibeam sonar.

Single Beam versus Multibeam sonar.  Can you see why scientists like to use multibeam sonar?
Single Beam versus Multibeam sonar. Can you see why hydrographers like to use multibeam sonar? Credit: NOAA

So, now you know how sonar works in simple terms.

But it gets a little more complicated. Did you know that sound speed can be affected by the water temperature, by how salty the water is (the “salinity”), by tides, and by the motion of the ship?  Computers make corrections for all of these factors to help get a better picture of the ocean floor. But, computers don’t know the physical properties of our part of the ocean (because these properties change all the time) so we need to find this information and give it to the computer.

To find the temperature of the ocean water, the mapping scientists launch an “XBT” into the water.  XBT stands for “expendable bathythermograph.”  The XBT records the changes in water temperature as it travels to the ocean floor.  It looks like a missile.  It gets put into a launcher and it has a firing pin. It sounds pretty dangerous, doesn’t it!  I was excited to be able to fire it into the water.  But, when I pulled out the firing pin, the XBT just gently slid out of the launcher, softly plopped into the ocean, and quietly collected data all the way to the ocean floor.

 

Kevin McMahon nervously holding the XBT Launcher and waiting for the order to fire.
Kevin McMahon nervously holding the XBT Launcher and waiting for the order to fire.

                 

Kevin McMahon watches as the XBT gently plops out of the launcher.
Kevin McMahon watches as the XBT gently plops out of the launcher.

 

With the new data on water temperature, the hydrographers were able to create this map of the ocean floor.

Example of an Ocean Floor Map
Example of an Ocean Floor Map

 

In the map above, blue indicates that part of the ocean floor that is the deepest. The green color indicates the part of the map that is the next deepest. The red indicates the area that is most shallow.

Nate talks to the hydrographers early in the morning and then predicts where the hard bottom habitats might be. In particular, Nate looks for areas that have a sudden change in elevation, indicating a ledge feature.  If you had Nate’s job, where would you drop the 6 traps to find the most fish?  Look at the map below to see where Nate decided to deploy the traps.

 

The green dots are the spots where Nate dropped the traps in hopes of finding fish.
The green dots are the spots where Nate dropped the traps in hopes of finding fish.

 

To find out more about using sound to see the ocean floor and to see an animation of how this works, click on this link:

 NOAA: Seeing the Ocean Floor

               

Personal Log

 

We have now gotten into a regular routine on the ship.   The best part of the day for me is when we are retrieving the traps. We never know what we will see. Sometimes we catch nothing. Sometimes we find some really amazing things.

 

Here are a few of my favorites:

 

Closer view of sharksucker on my arm
Closer view of sharksucker on my arm

 

Somebody is crabby.
Somebody is crabby.

 

Sea stars with beautiful navy blue colors
Sea stars with beautiful navy blue colors

 

A pair of butterflyfish
A pair of butterflyfish

 

Did you know?

The ocean is largely unexplored.  Maybe someday you will discover something new about the ocean!

 

Kevin McMahon: GoPro Science! July 11, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kevin McMahon

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

 July 5 – July 18, 2014

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic area of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina

Date: July 11, 2014

Weather Information from the Bridge

Air Temperature:           28.1 °C

Relative Humidity:         86%

Wind Speed:                 17.08 knots

 

Science and Technology Log

As mentioned earlier, we are trying to collect data about fish populations in the Atlantic Ocean, off the southeast coast of the United States. One way to do that is to catch fish in traps. But, wait. What if some of the fish don’t go in the trap?

To help get a better estimate of fish populations, scientists use technology used by skateboarders, surfers, and snowboarders – the GoPro camera.

GoPro Camera on Chevron Trap
GoPro Camera on Chevron Trap

 

There are two cameras mounted on the top of the trap. One is placed on the front of the trap. Another camera is placed on the back of the trap.

Because the video file is so large, I won’t be able to upload it to this blog. But here are some screenshots of what we see on the video.

 

GoPro Camera and Trap Heading into the Ocean
GoPro Camera and Trap Heading into the Ocean

 

This is what the camera sees as it is sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
This is what the camera sees as it is sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

 

Hello pufferfish!  This is a view of what we can see with the video camera.
Hello pufferfish! This is a view of what we can see with the video camera.

 

Sometimes the video helps explain why we do not have many fish in our trap.  In this photo, a tiger shark is swimming in front of the camera.
Sometimes the video helps explain why we do not have many fish in our trap. In this photo, a tiger shark is swimming in front of the camera.

 

So, how do you count fish on the video?  The fish can be very fast and they zoom in and out of view. The scientists use a procedure called MeanCount. They look at the video from minute 10 to minute 30. Every 30 seconds, they stop the camera and count the number of fish of each species that they are studying.  They then find the average number of those fish in this twenty-minute video segment.  This MeanCount allows them to better estimate the fish population of that species.

Spotlight on Ocean Careers

I have been fortunate to meet many interesting people while at sea. One of those people is Adria McClain, the survey technician on the Pisces. Listed below are her answers to questions that I asked about her job.

 

Adria McClain holding a spottail pinfish
Adria McClain holding a spottail pinfish

 

Tell us your name and where you grew up.

My name is Adria McClain and I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California.

 

What is your job title and could you explain what you do.

Survey Technician. I am responsible for collecting, checking, and managing the ship’s meteorological data (temperature, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity, wind speed/direction) and oceanographic data (water temperature, salinity, current speed/direction, speed of sound in water). Additionally, I am responsible for the ship’s scientific equipment (e.g. conductivity, temperature, and depth (CTD) sensor, scientific seawater system) and the ship’s scientific software. I also assist the visiting Fisheries Biologists with sorting and measuring fish.

 

What got you interested in doing this type of work?

I’ve always liked science and knew from an early age that I wanted to be a scientist. I studied Biology in college and Oceanography in graduate school – this job allows me to do work in both fields.

 

How can a student prepare to do this type of work?

Take lots of science and math classes in high school and in college. Take lots of English classes too! In the sciences, it is important to be able to communicate verbally and in writing. I would also recommend taking a basic seamanship course to learn about navigation, shipboard communication, tying knots, and safety at sea.

 

Why do you think it is important to study the ocean?

The reasons are many, but to name a few, the ocean influences Earth’s climate and weather patterns, the ocean harbors yet undiscovered species, and the ocean provides food for humans and countless other life forms.
What was your favorite subject or subjects in school, and why were they your favorite(s)?

All of them! I’ve always had a passion for learning. If I had to pick a favorite subject, it would be a tie between science and foreign languages. I liked science because I was always fascinated with the natural world and wanted to understand and be able to explain what I observed in nature. I liked foreign language study because I wanted to be able to communicate in more than one language.

 

What are your hobbies?

Reading, science, and travel.  I am also a Batman enthusiast and collect Batman comic books, movies, TV shows, as well as books about the mythology, philosophy, and psychology of Batman.

 

Tell us about what it was like when you were in 6th grade.

In my school district, elementary school included sixth grade. We stayed with the same teacher all day and the subjects we studied included social studies, math, science, reading, writing, music, and physical education.

“International Day” was one of my favorite days – once per year, each of the school’s 12 classrooms featured the food, art, and history of another country or culture. Each student received a “passport” and could choose which countries to visit that day.

What is your favorite sea creature?

The Smooth Lumpsucker (Aptocyclus ventricosus)

This cute blob is a Smooth Lumpsucker. Credit: Adria McClain
This cute blob is a Smooth Lumpsucker. Credit: Adria McClain

Adria explained to me that the Smooth Lumpsucker won’t be found on our current trip. Too bad. It looks pretty cool. She said that you can find it in much colder water, like the North Atlantic Ocean. To find out more about the Smooth Lumpsucker, you can click on this link:

Smooth lumpsucker

 

Personal Log

It has been fun and challenging living on a ship. It is VERY different from living on land.

My room is comfortable and I sleep on the top bunk.  The greatest part of all is when it is time to sleep. While you are lying down in bed, the waves will roll you gently from side to side. At the same time, the head of the bed will rise up and down too. And, if that wasn’t enough movement, we sometimes feel the ship slide left and right.

Because my room is on the bottom floor, the water from the waves will crash against the window. It makes a sloshing sound. With all the rocking and sloshing, I sometimes think that I am sleeping in a washing machine. So far, it has been a relaxing way to fall asleep.

I spend much of the day in the wet lab. Yes, you are right. It is wet in there. In the picture below, I am standing in the entrance to the wet lab.

 

This sharksucker can stick to humans too.
This sharksucker can stick to humans too.

 

This is where we collect data on the fish, like their weight and size. It is also where the scientists collect samples to help determine the age and reproductive health of certain species.

My favorite part of the wet lab is the fish waterslide. The fish that are returned to sea are dropped down a hole in the wet lab where they land on a jet stream of water and get launched back home.

Triggerfish returning to sea from the ship's  "waterside".
Triggerfish returning to sea from the ship’s “waterslide”.

We also have a dry lab. Yes, you are right again! No fish are allowed in here. This is where the scientists have their computers and where the video cameras are kept when they are not in their waterproof containers. Our chief scientist, Nate Bacheler, works on 5 computers at once when it comes time to decide where and when to drop the traps.

 

Nate Bacheler in the Dry Lab. Can you see the 5 computers that he uses?
Nate Bacheler in the Dry Lab. Can you see the 5 computers that he uses?

 

Did you know?

A team of 5 seventh graders from Sacred Heart School in South Haven, Mississippi named our ship the Pisces. They won a contest to name the ship by writing an essay and explaining why NOAA should choose the name that they selected.

 

Carol Glor: The Adventure Continues, June 25, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Glor

(Soon to be aboard) R/V Hugh R. Sharp

July 5 – 14 2014

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey, Third Leg

Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Ocean

Date: June 25, 2014

Personal Log:

commander
Last summer I served as the Commander for our simulated mission during my week-long adventure at Space Camp.

Hello, my name is Carol Glor and I live in Liverpool, New York (a suburb of Syracuse). I teach Home & Career Skills at Camillus Middle School and West Genesee Middle School in Camillus, New York. Last summer, I was selected to participate in Honeywell’s Educators at Space Academy at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It was a week-long camp full of activities that use space to become more effective educators within science, technology, engineering and math. When one of my space camp teammates told me about her experiences as a Teacher at Sea, I knew that I had to apply.

I am so excited to have been chosen by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to be part of the 2014 Teacher at Sea field season. As a Home & Career Skills teacher, I have the opportunity to educate students about the connections between real-life skills in math, science, technology and engineering while learning about important topics such as conservation, career exploration and current events. The best way that I can learn to teach these skills is by practicing them myself. During my upcoming cruise, I will become a real scientist and learn more about the scientific research that is involved in keeping our oceans alive for generations to come.

Onondaga Lake
View from Onondaga Lake West Shore Trail Expansion.

Girls Varsity Crew
Liverpool High School Crew on Onondaga Lake

Sustainability is an important topic of concern for our oceans as well as our lakes and streams. I currently live less than a mile from Onondaga Lake. For many years it has been considered one of the most polluted bodies of water in the US. Since 2007, the Honeywell Corporation has implemented the Onondaga Lake Remediation Plan (slated for completion in 2015) to result in an eventual recovery of the lake’s habitat for fish and wildlife as well as recreational activities on and around the lake. Most recently, the West Shore Trail Extension was opened for the public to enjoy. Onondaga Lake Park has always been one of my favorite places to go to experience nature while walking, running, biking or watching my daughters’ crew races. Now I can enjoy it even more.

Science and Technology:

I will be sailing from Woods Hole, Massachusetts aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp to participate in an Atlantic sea scallop survey. The R/V Hugh R. Sharp is a coastal research vessel, built in 2006, is 146 feet long, and is part of the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment fleet.

R/V Hugh R Sharp
R/V Hugh R Sharp out at sea

The purpose of a sea scallop survey is to determine the scallop population on the east coast. This survey is important to protect the sea scallop from being over-harvested. By collecting digital video data and sea scallop samples, the science crew is able to advise which areas of the east coast are open for scallop fishing.

The Atlantic Sea Scallop
The Atlantic Sea Scallop

What I hope to learn:

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. While there, I experienced the beauty of the coastal island as well as savoring the bounty from the sea. As a casual observer, I noticed a few lobster boats, trawling vessels and pleasure cruisers. Each has a stake in the future abundance of sea life in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. I would like to learn first-hand the impact of over-harvesting on sea scallops and be able to observe them in their natural habitat. My work as a scientist will give my students a taste for the vast amount of research careers that are available to them.

Edgartown Lighthouse
Edgartown Lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard

Lobsterman
A Lobsterman hauling in his catch in Nantucket Sound.

David Murk, Why Are We Here? . . . . Wish You Were Here, May 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Murk
Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer
May 7 – 22, 2014.

 

Mission: EX 14-03 – Exploration, East Coast Mapping

Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, U.S. East Coast

Date: May 16, 2014

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

We are at 28⁰ N – 079⁰ W heading west from Cape Canaveral, Florida:

Weather:  Few clouds

Visibility: 10 miles

Wind : 20 knots out of the northwest.

Water  Depth: 444 fathoms or 812 feet.

Temperature: water : 27° Celsius

Air temperature: 22°Celsius (I heard there was snow in Illinois, so I’ll leave the temp. in Celsius)

Our location can also be found at: (http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/).

 

Science and Technology Log

Storms and subsequent rainbows with dolphins cavorting in the Okeanos Explorer’s bow wake get you asking the big questions.

Why are we here?

Not in the larger philosophical, sense but why is the Okeanos Explorer at 29⁰N, 79⁰W? With 95% of the ocean unexplored, why did NOAA choose the Blake Plateau (Stetson Mesa) to map? I went to Derek Sowers, the Expedition Coordinator for this cruise, to find out.

Derek is a Physical Scientist with NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER), which is the program that leads the scientific missions on the Okeanos Explorer. In preparation for the ship’s explorations this year, OER staff asked many scientists and ocean managers in the Gulf of Mexico and along the U.S. Atlantic southeastern seacoast for priority areas for ocean exploration.The main purpose for the Okeanos Explorer is to explore largely unknown parts of the ocean and then put the data and discoveries out there for other scientists to use as a foundation for further research and improved stewardship. OER staff boil all these ideas down to a few and talk about the pros and cons of the final exploration focus areas. Once an operation’s area is determined for a cruise, OER then asks scientists what additional science can be done in these areas while the ship is planning to go there.

Much of this “extra” science benefits other parts of NOAA – such as the scientists that study fisheries and marine habitat. To manage this extra scientific work, the ship often hosts visiting scientists. On the current cruise, Chris Taylor from NOAA Fisheries Oceanography Branch joined the cruise to lead the plankton tow and oceanographic measurement work to search for Bluefin Tuna larvae in this part of the ocean and to understand the ocean chemistry here. It is important to NOAA to multi task and utilize the ship 24/7 to accomplish numerous scientific objectives. During March and April, lots of details were nailed down and by the middle of April Derek knew that the expedition could include time to do the plankton tows and extra water sampling.

Top View of Bathymetric image of Blake Plateau
Top View of Bathymetric image of Blake Plateau

Now, just like a family vacation, things happen along the way that require everyone to make changes. A road could be closed, someone could get sick, the car could break down. These expeditions are no different. So, how do decisions happen at sea?

The crew of the Okeanos Explorer are responsible for safe operation of the ship and for supporting the visiting scientists in accomplishing their objectives for the cruise. The visiting scientists, as led by the Expedition Coordinator, must make decisions about how, where, and what needs to get done to accomplish the science objectives of the cruise. The Expedition Coordinator discusses these plans with the ship’s Operations Officer and she consults with the head of the various department on the ship (Deck, Engineering, Medical, etc.) and the Commanding Officer to most effectively support safely achieving the science team’s goals. There is a daily Operations Meeting for all of these leaders to meet and ensure coordination throughout the day so that things run smoothly on the ship. The Commanding Officer is responsible for making sure the crew implements their duties, while the Expedition Coordinator (often called the Chief Scientist) is responsible for making sure the scientists implement their duties.

For complex decisions, like our present decision whether or not to go inshore to get a replacement plankton net, lots of factors are weighed and the final call is with the Expedition Coordinator and the CO. The Expedition Coordinator weighs trading off seafloor mapping time with getting more plankton data and decides if it is worth it to go get the net. Commander Ramos must decide if it is safe and reasonable to do so and makes the final decision of where and what the ship does.

For seafloor mapping work that happens 24 hours a day, there are three teams of two people who “stand watch” on 8 hour work shifts (called a “watch”). Each watch has a watch leader that works at the direction of the Expedition Coordinator. The Watch Leader ensures the quality of the mapping work accomplished during their 8 hour watch. The ship’s Survey Technician, Jacklyn James, works closely with the visiting mapping scientists to run all of the complex computer systems under standard operating procedures.

Here is an example of how routine small decisions are made. Let’s say that Vanessa Self-Miller (see personal log) is on duty as the Watch Leader and wants to have the ship move over 500 meters to get better sonar coverage of the seafloor below.

Vanessa uses the intercom to call the deck officer on the bridge and tells the officer she would like the ship to move over 500 meters. The officer checks the AIS (see last blog) and sea conditions to see if this would be a safe maneuver for the ship. The reasons for not approving the mapping team’s request would almost always be safety based. Most of the time, the officer says “Sure Thing. Roger That.” and in the space of a few minutes the ship has changed course as requested.

The answer to “why are we here?”  is a complex, time-consuming endeavor, but when it works, like on this expedition, it is magic to watch unfold.

Personal log

Wish you were here.

http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/explorations/ex1304/dailyupdates/dailyupdates.htmlhttp://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/explorations/ex1304/dailyupdates/dailyupdates.htmlen.wikipedia.org

The storm was not one of those Illinois summer thunderstorms that come racing in from Iowa – gathering energy like a 5th grade class the last few weeks of school. Nope. No simultaneous lightning thunder howitzers that you feel in your spine; just some lightning and wind gusts to 50 knots, but I sure wanted to see how things looked from the bridge once I heard the foghorn. The bridge on the Okeanos Explorer is one of my favorite places on this ship. I always ask permission for entry and if the circumstances allow, the officer on duty will grant it.

Operations Officer Lt.Rose’s IPod was playing Pink Floyd while she divided her attention between the myriad of dials and screens and  talking navigation with mapping intern Kalina Grabb.   AB Tepper-Rasmussen and NOAA Corps Officer LTJG (Lieutenant Junior Grade) Bryan Begun peered into the foggy soup and monitored the AIS.

The irony of the moment struck me because while the crew unconsciously played percussion on the brass rail overhead or mumbled lyrics and David Gilmour and Roger Waters sang about not needing an education, there was so much education and proof of education going on in this little room. That is the defining image I’ll always have of this space on the Okeanos Explorer. It is a place where the acquisition and exhibition of knowledge are so evident and invigorating. You can’t spend more than 4 minutes in this space without learning something or being amazed at how smart these people are and how devoted they are to use that knowledge to carry out the science of this mission.   On this particular night, the skies lifted and we had hopes of seeing a launch at Canaveral, 40 miles to the west.   Lt. Rose announced to the whole ship that a double rainbow could be seen portside and even the dolphins responded to her call to educate the right side of our brains.

Dolphins after the storm (picture courtesy of John Santic)
Dolphins after the storm
(picture courtesy of John Santic)

Lieutenant Junior Grade Begun and Mapping Intern Kalina Grabb checking the error of the gyrocompass using the azimuth

 

What else have I been doing?

In addition to spending time on the bridge- I have been helping with the XBT launches, using the photometer to add data to the NOAA’s Aerosol Project – with the ever faithful Muffin from good ol’ Hampshire Elementary and preparing for a night launch of CTD and plankton tows – more on that next blog.

Launching the XBT – taken by Expedition Coordinator, Derek Sowers

Photo taken by mapping intern Danielle Lifavi
Photo taken by mapping intern Danielle Lifavi

Preparing for night launch of CTD and plankton tows.(photo taken by LTJG Bryan Begun)

DID YOU KNOW?

Vanessa Self-Miller
Vanessa Self-Miller

Like all women, Vanessa Self-Miller’s mom was great at multi-tasking. While she got things rolling for the evening in the household, Vanessa was her mom’s guinea pig for the next day’s science lessons for her 6th grade students at Jackson Middle School in Jackson, Louisiana. She also instilled a love of the scientific method in her daughter.

Her father was a math guy and found out early that Vanessa was going to be the 3rd wheel with her brother on typical father son activities that involved mechanics or being out in nature.   That nurturing and her work ethic prompted Vanessa to get a degree in physics at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She went on to work for the U.S. Navy as a hydrographer doing a lot of mapping harbors and near the shore. She received her masters degree in Hyrdrographic Science from University of Southern Mississippi.

Now she is thrilled to be a physical scientist/hyrdrographer for NOAA.   While it is a challenge to coordinate job related travel with her husband and two children, she loves working for NOAA. NOAA respects a work-life balance and that allows her to pursue her passions in life. She wants to encourage all students but especially the young girls to start early in their path to a career in science. She feels that how parents nurture their girls is important in their seeking employment in the fields of science.

On a personal note, any time a question came up from this naive teacher or any of the mapping interns, Vanessa was able to answer it completely and without pause. She encourages all the 5th graders out there, male or female, to pursue their scientific oceanographic dreams. NOAA will need today’s fifth graders to investigate sea level rise and all the Ocean Engineering energy products that our country will need twenty years from now. There will always be a need for scientists who love to explore and want to work for NOAA.

Kimberly Gogan: The Sounds of the Sea: Marine Acoustics: April 20, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Gogan
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
 April 7 – May 1, 2014

MissionAMAPPS & Turtle Abundance SurveyEcosystem Monitoring
Geographical area of cruise:  North Atlantic Ocean
Date: Sunday, April 20th – Easter Sunday!

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temp: 6.2 Degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 33.5 Knots
Water Temp: 10.1 Degrees Celsius
Water Depth: 2005.4 Meters ( deep!)

Genevieve letting me listen to the sounds of a Pilot Whale and explaining how the acoustics technology works.
Genevieve letting me listen to the sounds of a Pilot Whale and explaining how the acoustics technology works.

Science and Technology Log

As I explained in an earlier blog, all the scientist on the ship are here because of the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species, or AMAPPS for short. A multi-year project that has a large number of scientists from a variety of organizations whose main goal is “to document the relationship between the distribution and abundance of cetaceans, sea turtles and sea birds with the study area relative to their physical and biological environment.” So far I have shared with you some of the Oceanography and Marine Mammal Observing. Today I am going introduce you to our Marine Mammal Passive Acoustics team and some of their cool acoustic science. The two acoustic missions of the team are putting out 10 bottom mounted recorders called MARUs or Marine Autonomous Recording Units  and towing  behind the ship multiple underwater microphones called a Hydrophone Array to listen to the animals that are as much as 5 miles  away from the ship. The two different recording devices target two different main groups of whales. The MARU records low frequency sounds from a group of whales called Mysticetes or baleen whales: for example, Right Whales, and Humpback Whales. Once the the MARU has been programmed and deployed, it will stay out on the bottom of the ocean collecting sounds continuously for up to six months before the scientist will go retrieve the unit and get the data back.  The towed Hydrophone Array is recording higher frequency sounds made by Odontocetes or toothed whales like dolphins and sperm whales. The acoustic team listens to recordings and compares them with the visual teams sighting, with a goal of getting additional information about what kind and how many of the species are close to ship. Even though the acoustic team works while the visual team is working during the day, as long as there is deep enough water, they can also use their equipment in poor weather and at night.

Here are Chris and Genevieve preparing to deploy the MARU.
Here are Chris and Genevieve preparing to deploy the MARU.

Science Spot Light: The two Acoustic team members we have on the Gordon Gunter are Genevieve Davis and Chris Tremblay. Genevieve works at Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC)  doing Passive Acoustic research focusing on Baleen Whales. She has worked there 2 and a half years after spending  10 weeks as a NOAA Hollings Intern. Genevieve graduated from Binghamton University in New York. She is planning on starting her masters project looking at the North Atlantic Right Whale migration paths.  I have been been very lucky to have Genevieve as my roommate here on the ship and have gotten to know her very well. Chris is a freelance Marine Biologist. Chris recently helped develop the Listen for Whales Website and the Right Whale Listening Network. He also worked for Cornell University for 7 years focusing on Marine Bioacoustics. Chris is also the station manger at Mount Desert Rock Marine Research Station run by the College of the Atlantic in Maine. He actually lives on a sail boat he keeps in Belfast, Maine. Chris also intends of attending graduate school looking at Fin Whale behavior and acoustic activity.

Personal Log

So while most adults were worrying about their taxes on April 15th, I was having fun decorating and deploying Drifter Buoys. Before I left for my trip Jerry Prezioso had sent me an email letting me know that two Drifter Buoys would be available for me to send out to sea during my time on the ship.  Drifter buoys allow scientists to collect observations on earth’s various ocean currents while also collecting data on sea surface temperature, atmospheric pressure, as well as winds and salinity. The scientists use this to help them with short term climate predictions, as well as climate research and monitoring. He explained that traditionally when teachers deploy the buoys, they will decorate them with items they bring from home and that we would be able to track where they go and the data they collect for 400 days! The day before I left, I had my students and my daughter’s class decorate a box of sticky labels for me to stick all over the two Drifter Buoys. I spent the morning of the 15th making a mess on the lab floor peeling and sticking all of the decorations onto each of the buoys. Around mid-day we were at our most south eastern point, which would be the best place to send the buoys out to sea.  Jerry and I worked together to throw the buoys off the side of the ship, as close together as we could get them. A few days later we heard from some folks at NOAA that the buoys were turned on and floating in the direction we wanted them too.

If you would like to track the buoys I deployed, visit the site below and follow the preceding directions.

<http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/phod/trinanes/xbt.html> for near real time GTS data.

From the site, select “GTS buoys” in the pull-down menu at the top left. Enter the WMO number (please see below) into the “Call Sign” box at the top right. Then, select your desired latitude and longitude values, or use the map below to zoom into the area of interest. You can also select the dates of interest and determine whether you’d like graphics (map) or data at the bottom right. Once you’ve entered these fields, hit the “GO!” button at the bottom. Shortly thereafter, either a map of drifter tracks or data will appear.
ID            WMO#
123286    44558
123287    44559

Kimberly Gogan: Science Spot Light – Marine Mammal Observing, April 12, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kim Gogan
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 7 – May 1, 2014

MissionAMAPPS & Turtle Abundance Survey Ecosystem Monitoring
Geographical Area of Cruise:  North Atlantic Ocean
Date: April 12, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temp: 10.3 degrees Celsius
Wind Speed: 10.5 knots
Water Temp: 8,2 degrees Celsius
Water Depth: 145.65 meters

 

Jen Gatzke, Chief Scientist of AMAPPS Leg 2 aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.
Jen Gatzke, Chief Scientist of AMAPPS Leg 2 aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.

Science and Technology Log

In the last blog I talked about all the different scientists who are working on Gordon Gunter. Today I am going to explain why. First, all of the scientists are here working under a program called the  Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species, or AMAPPS for short. It is a multi-year project that has a large number of scientists from a variety of organizations whose main goal is “to document the relationship between the distribution and abundance of cetaceans, sea turtles and sea birds with the study area relative to their physical and biological environment.” The scientists are here working under the AMAPPS because of several government acts: the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act require scientists to do periodic checks of the populations of the protected species and the ecosystems they live in to make sure there have been no major human activities that have affected these species.

The National Environmental Policy Act also requires scientists to evaluate human impacts and come up with new plans to help the protected and endangered species. Finally the Migratory Bird Treaty requires that counties work together to monitor and protect migratory birds.  The project has a variety of activities that need to be conducted which is why all the different scientists are needed from the different groups like NOAA, Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), Navy, and NOAA Northeast  and Southeast Fisheries Science Centers.  The variety of activities that are being done over multiple years under the AMAPPS include: aerial surveys, shipboard surveys, tag data, acoustic data, ecological and habitat data,  developing population size and distribution estimates, development of technology tools and modes, as well as development of a database that can provide all the collected data to different users. The AMAPPS project is also collecting  in depth data at a couple of areas of  special interest to NOAA & BOEM where there are proposed Offshore Wind Farms  to be built in the ocean.

 

Two of the Observer Team working their shifts on the Fly Bridge in on the "
Two of the Observer Team members working their shifts on the Fly Bridge in on the “Big Eyes”

Science Spot Light

Let me introduce the Chief Scientist, Jen Gatzke and the Marine Mammal Observer Team. Chief Scientist Jen works with the Protected Species Branch at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). She primarily studies right whales.

Her main job here on the ship is to coordinate the teams of scientists so that each team is able to accomplish what it needs most efficiently while meeting the goals of the research mission. In this case the goal is to survey a large number of transect lines in a variety of marine habitats, both inshore and offshore.

She started sailing on NOAA ships 24 years ago in Pascagoula, Mississippi! Even thought Jen oversees all the science going on here on the Gordon Gunter, she is also part of the Marine Mammal Observer Team that does a rotating watch for mammals. The observer team starts its day at 7AM and works until 7PM except  for the 1 hour break at lunch when the daytime Oceanography team can conduct some of their sampling.

When they start their day observing it is called “on effort.” This means that the observer team and NOAA Corps are all ready to conduct the shipboard surveys the way they have determined would be best. This means a group of scientists that are all at their stations are ready to go and the NOAA Corps makes sure the ship stays on a particular designated course for a particular amount of time. When the team is “on effort” they have 4 rotating stations. There are two on the very upper deck, called the fly deck that watches with 2 very large (25×150) binoculars they call the “big eyes” on each side, port (left) and starboard (right) of the ship  Then there is another station on the lower starboard (right)  side deck that also use the “big eyes”  to scan for marine mammals as well. The last  station is the recorder who is located on the Bridge, or wheelhouse, where the NOAA Corps man the ship. The recorder is entering valuable data into a computer program designed specifically for this activity. Not only is the recorder keeping track of the different mammals that are spotted on the “big eyes,” they are also keeping track of important information about the weather, glare of the sun, and conditions of the ocean.

I learned the teams use some cool nautical terms during their observations and recordings. The first one is  the Beaufort Scale for sea state, or basically how calm or rough the seas are. Beaufort is measured by a numerical system with 0 being very calm and with no ripples to a 5 which is lots of white caps with foamy spray. Beaufort numbers go higher but it is very difficult to spot any sort of mammal evidence in seas that are rougher than a Beaufort 5. The team also measures the distance of the sighting using another measurement tool called a Reticle. The reticle is a mark on the inside of the “big”eye” binoculars. Its scale goes from 0 -20 and the 0 is always lined up with the horizon and allows the observer to give a quick reference number that can be used in a hurry to provide distance with a simple geometry equation.

The head shot of' "Thorny" the Right a whale taken by observer Todd Pusser on the Gordon Gunter AMAPPS Leg 2.
The head shot of’ “Thorny” the Right Whale taken by observer Todd Pusser on the Gordon Gunter AMAPPS Leg 2.

Although there are several other pieces of information the observers are looking for and giving to the recorder, the positive identification of the particular species of mammal is the most important. There are some species like the North Atlantic Right Whale, that is of particular interest to the team because they are the most endangered large whale in the North Atlantic Ocean. Not only is it exciting for the team and the rest of the ship as well to see sightings of them, their detected presence in particular areas could mean the implementation of tighter rules, like speed limits for ships that might be in the areas these animals are seen frequently. When the teams sights one of these whales, the ship is allowed to go “off effort” and follow the swim direction of the whales in order to get pictures with very large cameras that will allow the scientist to positively identify the particular whale.  Some of the other species seen frequently are humpback whales, fin whales, sei whales, minke whales, pilot whales, striped dolphins, common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, gray seals, harbor seals, loggerhead sea turtles, sharks and ocean sunfish.

Me on the Fly Bridge watching for whales and seals.
Me on the Fly Bridge watching for whales and seals.

Personal Log

So far for the first leg of the trip we have taken one very rough trip offshore and because of the weather we have been doing a string of transect lines that are close to the shore off Martha’s Vineyard, which is one of the areas of special interest to NOAA due to the projected offshore wind farm.

The day before yesterday, at just about dusk, the Chief Scientist Jen was the first to spot one of the North Atlantic Right Whales. I was in the lab at the time that Jen came running through yelling “we have right whales!”

She very quickly came back with a huge case which held the team’s camera used for close-ups of the whales. By the time I was on deck, so were many of the off duty scientists and the ship’s crew. Everyone was very excited and joined the frenzy of following, tracking and getting some good shots of the group of right whales. There ended up being 4 whales in all, which mean that there are enough to trigger a Dynamic Management Area (DMA), a management zone designed to provide two weeks of protection to three or more right whales from ship collisions. Ships larger than 65 ft are requested to proceed through the designated area at no more than 10 knots of speed.

One of the observers, Todd Pusser also had a large camera and was able to get a good head shot of one of the whales to send back to the lab. Allison Henry, another right whale biologist at NEFSC, was able to positively identify the whale as an adult male known as “Thorny”, aka EGNO (Eubalaena glacialis number) 1032, who has been seen only in the northeast since the 1980s! (click on “Thorny” to see the New England Aquarium Right Whale Catalog which houses and handles the identifications for all North Atlantic right whales.) It’s pretty cool that I actually got to see him too. Even thought it’s not the warmest job, it makes it all worth it just to see something as amazing as that!

Genevieve & I  up on the Fly Bridge on the "Big Eyes!"
Genevieve & I up on the Fly Bridge on the “Big Eyes!”

Did you know?

Did you know you can listen to Right Whale sounds and see where Right Whales are on the East Coast? Check out this page!  Click on this link for The Right Whale Listening Network.  NEFSC even has an Apple APP for seeing where the Right Whales are on the east coast and explains how to avoid them 🙂 Go to the app store – its free!

Me all dressed up in the "Mustang' suit helping the team keeping an eye out for whales.
Me all dressed up in the “Mustang” suit helping the team keep an eye out for whales.

Julie Karre: Back to My Reality, August 12, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013  

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Range of Cruise: Atlantic
Date: Monday August 12, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Sadly, I don’t know because I’m not there anymore.

The sunset on the last night. Exquisite. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman
The sunset on the last night. Exquisite. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

Post-Cruise Log

I have been back on land for three days now and all I want to talk about are my adventures aboard the Oregon II. I miss everyone I met and hope that we all remain friends. But now that I am not in the moment and experiencing the adrenaline rush of handling sharks, I have time to think about all that I have learned and how I will make this experience valuable to my students. Because, while it was a true honor and privilege to have been aboard the Oregon II for two weeks, the real honor and privilege of my life is spending 10 months with students of Baltimore City Public Schools. And they matter the most right now.

I begin school in two weeks. Two weeks from now I will be standing in my classroom setting up what I hope to be a remarkable year of learning with 40 or so 7th graders and 40 or so 8th graders. Just picturing their faces coming through the door and the hugs and the squeals of delight as we get excited about seeing each other makes me the happiest version of myself.

My Armistead Gardens 7th graders received homemade cookies as a New Years Gift. I look forward to seeing them for a new year beginning August 26th.
My Armistead Gardens 7th graders received homemade cookies as a New Years Gift. I look forward to seeing them for a new year beginning August 26th.

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So what am I going to do with this experience? How will I make two of the most meaningful weeks of my life meaningful for kids who were not involved? How will I make what was mine, theirs?

Those are the questions that bounce around in my head all of the time now. No amount of blog writing and sharing pictures on Facebook matters if I don’t do this justice to those kids. And in the meantime, I would really like to make the people who made this possible proud. From the NOAA employees who run Teacher at Sea to the crew and scientists on the Oregon II to the volunteers who cheered me on and supported me to my parents who watched my dog, I want to make them proud.

So the brainstorming begins and this is where it starts. Over the course of the cruise, I kept track of our latitude and longitude at 11am each day and at each of our stations. During a 1-2 week unit during my Ecosystems In and Out of Balance semester of study, we will be using the research from my cruise to celebrate Shark Week – Armistead Gardens Style. We will begin by plotting the course of the Oregon II from July 26 to August 8. We will study the written descriptions of the shark species I encountered and see if we can match them with pictures. We will hypothesize how the flow of energy works in the marine ecosystems where these sharks are found – will the students guess that some of the big sharks eat some of the little sharks? I didn’t know that. Then we will begin to study what struggles these species encounter in an out-of-balance ecosystem – things like fishing and hypoxia and oil spills.

Beyond the marine science, we will look at who makes marine science possible. I cannot wait to share with these students the opportunities that abound in marine careers, from becoming a scientist like Kristin to driving a ship like Rachel.

This is just a beginning and I look forward to sharing the final product as I continue to develop it.

Thank you so much to everyone who followed my adventure. Thank you so much to everyone who made this possible. I will not let you down.

The volunteers from the first leg take their leave of the Oregon II and head back to their other lives. Photo Credit: Amy Schmitt
The volunteers from the first leg take their leave of the Oregon II and head back to their other lives. Photo Credit: Amy Schmitt

And now I am home with my lovely dog, Maddox.
And now I am home with my lovely dog, Maddox.


Animals Seen Over Two Weeks

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

I handle an Atlantic Sharpnose in one of my last hauls aboard the ship. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess
I handle an Atlantic Sharpnose in one of my last hauls aboard the ship. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

Blacknose Shark

Nurse Shark

Scalloped Hammerhead

Bull Shark

Sandbar Shark

Night Shark

Silky Shark

Ribbonfish

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A ribbonfish makes an appearance. Quite the face it has.
A ribbonfish makes an appearance. Quite the face it has.

Grouper

Red Snapper

Black Sea Bass

A black sea bass makes a guest appearance in one of the final hauls on the Oregon II's first leg.
A black sea bass makes a guest appearance in one of the final hauls on the Oregon II’s first leg. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

Sea Turtles

Dolphins

Pilot Whales

Mahi Mahi

Mahi Mahi swim along as the night shift brings in the line. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman
Mahi Mahi swim along as the night shift brings in the line. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

Sea stars

Jelly fish

Sea Pansy

Paul Ritter: They Are Watching Us, July 29, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paul Ritter
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16– August 1, 2013 

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise: southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 29, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

7-28-13 ship data

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Happy Anniversary, Jodee!

Before I start my blog today I want to take a minute to say Happy Anniversary to my wife Jodee.  We have been married 18 wonderful years and I love her more today than ever before.  I am sorry that we can be together because  the team and I are chasing reef fish in the Atlantic Ocean.  Actually, now that I think about it this is the first time that we have not been together on our Anniversary.  That being said, there are some surprises that are being delivered to the house and I hope you like them.  I Love You,  Dear.

Science and Technology Log
Date: Monday July 29, 2013

I woke up around 5:30 this morning and it was a calm and beautiful day.  The water was as smooth as glass.  I never thought the water could be so still in the ocean.  After grabbing a cup of java, I ventured out to see the sunrise.  There sure is something about seeing a sunrise when there’s no land in sight.  It was breathtaking.

As I got ready to set out the day’s traps with my team, I went in to the dry lab to ask Zeb, our Chief Scientist, what our drop sites looked like on the bottom.  There is a lot of work that goes into preparing for our team to be able to set traps every day.  The acoustics lab / night team, consisting of  Warren Mitchell, Chief Investigator and a NOAA fisheries biologist, David Berrane a NOAA fisheries biologist, Matt Wilson a NOAA hydrographer, Dawn Glasgow a South Carolina Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, and Neah Baechler a college student studying Geology at the College of Charleston, SC, started around 5:00 the day before.   This team is amazing.  They stay up all night mapping the ocean floor utilizing a technology that we refer to as the ME70.  The Simrad ME 70 is basically a very high resolution scientific multibeam sonar system that is utilized for data collection from the water column and the ocean floor.

What is very cool is that the system is capable of very high resolution mapping allowing the night team to predict where it is that we will have the best chances to find reef fish habitat the following day.  This team is the best at finding natural hard bottom habitat that is the quintessential reef-a-palooza.  How does the ME 70 work?  The ship sends out a cone of sound (ping) to the ocean floor and it bounces off of the ocean floor and back to the ship.  From there the ship’s computer knows the total distance that sound traveled traveled.  The data is then interpreted into a map of the ocean floor.  This explanation is overly simplified but it works.  Each morning the team takes the raw data from the ME 70 and it is corrected for tides, sound speed, and vessel offset (brings data to the waterline).  The raw sounding data is then processed into a bathymetric model that represents the sea floor and is the map that Zeb then uses to pick our trap locations.  It is magic.

Here is a sonar system measuring the depth of the ocean...
Here is a sonar system measuring the depth of the ocean…

Personal Log

Date: Monday  July 29, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Paul Ritter with a “stowaway”

Have you ever thought that animals were watching you?  I think about this all of the time.  I will be doing something and it is like my dogs are always trying to find out what I am up to.  The cats are constantly checking to see if I am going to put food in their bowl.

I do not have any animal paranoia but I do think they are watching us.   Our expedition has made me a believer.  Today we started setting our traps and we noticed that at some point in night the NOAA Ship Pisces gained two stowaways, a little House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), and a little yellow Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum).  These two little guys were keeping very close tabs on what our team was doing while we were setting our first traps of the day.  Gradually, this little dynamic duo gradually became more brave as we put our set of six traps into the water.  As I looked at the little birds, I was thinking to myself, “I have seen my cats watch me like this.”

I quickly looked for something to feed them.  While the NOAA Ship Pisces does carry just about everything you can think of, there is no bird food to be found.  Jenny, one of the fisheries biologist on my team, quickly came up with the idea to give the hungry little buggers some flax seed.  No go.  They were not interested.  They were however interested in the water she had set out.  Eventually, they both became brave enough to jump onto my hand in hopes of finding something there.  Again no go.  It was as we were setting out our next set of traps that the birds both did something very cool.  They were picking up the leftover bits and pieces of the Menhaden that had fallen on the ground.  Man they could eat.  There was no way they were going to leave their new found buffet.

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Paul Ritter and an octopus

During the collection of our second series of traps we noticed that again we had a stowaway.  A Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris) had climbed aboard our trap and rode it all the way to the surface.  Upon arrival to the ship, this orange speckled cephalopod decided to abandon the trap and hit the deck.  Holy cow, it’s hard to pick up an octopus.  Their tentacles go everywhere and their suction cups hold on to everything they come in contact with, including my arm.  Once it grabbed my arm, our eyes made contact.  This little guy was watching me.  Maybe he was trying to figure out what exactly I was, or trying to figure out if I was going to eat him.  Nonetheless, he was not letting go.   Eventually, a number of us were able to hold him before he decided he was tired of the game and fell over the side of the ship, back to the depths below.  Ironically, our third set of traps also netted an octopus.  I suggested that we rename our expedition the cephalopod survey.  The team did not think that was funny.

Once on board, the second octopus also had its eyes keenly focused on everyone and everything that was going on.   It stared everyone down.  I always thought octopuses were very cool, but now after my encounters I think they are amazing.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Normally, our third series of traps on board would mean the end of the day; however due to our amazing results from the previous trappings Zeb decided we could set three more individual traps on a short run.  As we set the traps, we noticed that our ship was being followed.  A pod 4 of Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis) were playing on the waves around the ship and soon there would be more.   One by one, more dolphins showed up.  While we were bringing in the traps, the dolphins waited by the buoys to see what was going on.  We brought in the traps, emptied our catch of Black Sea Bass into our counting bins and Zach and I would roll the chevron traps back to the aft deck to be stored.  While we were walking back, I felt as if we were being followed.  Sure enough we looked down and there they were, following us to the back of the ship.  They truly were amazing to watch.  After the second trap was aboard, the bridge of the ship put the ship into reverse to get a better angle at the third and last trap.  I never thought a 209 foot ship could travel the same speed backward as forward.  It was exciting.  What was even more exhilarating was the fact that the dolphins were all on the back of the ship riding the wave as the ship pushed itself through the water.  I think my camera snapped fifty pictures before they disappeared under the Pisces.

This experience has been a life changing dream come true for me.  To be able to work, side by side, some of the most brilliant fisheries biologist, hydrographers, and geologist the planet has to offer has been humbling.  I am truly thankful to be able to be apart of  this crew and it is exciting to know that while we are exploring the different habitat and animals around us, they are watching us too.

Did You Know?

Did you know the word cephalopod means “head-footed”?

Did you know that octopuses can change their color using chromatophores? http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-do-squid-and-octopuse

The name octopus came from the Greek language which means eight footed.

Want to know more about the Atlantic Spotted Dolphin?

http://www.arkive.org/atlantic-spotted-dolphin/stenella-frontalis/

Julie Karre: A Day of No Fishing is Not a Day of Rest, July 27, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013 

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic
Date: July 27

Weather Data from the Bridge
W TO NW WINDS 5 TO 10 KNOTS
SEAS 1 TO 2 FT.

We departed Pascagoula yesterday with calm winds and steamy temperatures. Our team decided that with storms developing in and around the Gulf, it was best for us to head out to the Atlantic. So we’re all loaded in to hang out for a few days before the fishing begins.

Science and Technology Log

It would be easy to think of these traveling days as days of rest. But they are far from it. The ship’s crew and fishermen are hard at work each day keeping the ship running as it should. One of the tasks the fishing crew is responsible for is dealing with the rust that builds up on the ship. (Ok, seventh and eighth graders – why is rust such a problem for a ship?)

Because of the constant moisture, rust is a persistent problem on the ship, exacerbated by the salt. Whenever docked, the crew works tirelessly to get the ship into prime condition. Any of the deck equipment that can be removed gets taken to a workshop where it is sanded down to raw metal again and then galvanized. This increases the life of the equipment because galvanized steel doesn’t rust. That leaves all the parts that cannot be removed to be touched up piecemeal, as Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols said. On a day like today – calm sea, light wind, and no fishing – the guys set to work on designated areas of the ship. Once an area of rust is identified, the rust must be removed. After removing the rust and vacuuming up all the dust and particles, the area gets primer painted twice and then its topcoat. The end result is a nice clean look to the boat.

Opening on the starboard side of the ship getting its rust removal makeover.
Opening on the starboard side of the ship getting its rust removal makeover.

Removing rust from the railing on the starboard side.
Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway removing rust from the railing on the starboard side.

In addition to keeping the ship in tip-top shape, it is essential to make sure all of the equipment used during the survey works appropriately. Around 9:40am, the Oregon II stopped moving and deployed a CTD unit (conductivity, temperature, depth). These cylinder shaped units carry tanks that bring water samples back to the ship from designated depths while the sensors read the water for its temperature, depth, and salinity.

Alongside the crew hard at work, the science team is busy doing work on sharks that came with us from Pascagoula. According to scientist Lisa Jones, some of these sharks are from surveys done to collect sharks following the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf in 2010. Others are sharks that needed further identification and information from surveys like the one I am on. Each shark is weighed and measured, sexed, and then internal organs are removed for further analysis, tissue samples are taken, and the remains of the shark are thrown overboard to reenter the food chain.

Mike recording data as Lead Scientist Kristen Hannan dissects a Gulper Shark from a previous survey.
Scientist Mike Hendon recording data as Lead Scientist Kristin Hannan dissects a Gulper Shark from a previous survey.

During this down time I was treated to a visit to the bridge, where officers steer the ship, among other things. NOAA Corps Officer LTjg Brian Adornato was on duty and offered me a glimpse of the technology that keeps us headed in the right direction. The Oregon II has one propeller controlled by two engines, which are both running while we steam across the Gulf. The boat was on its version of autopilot while I was visiting, which means the navigational heading is programmed and the boat is steered on that heading automatically. Whether steered by hand or computers, the ship is rarely perfectly on its heading. (Come on seventh and eighth graders – what factors are also influencing the ship’s movement?)

All of the navigation equipment driving the Oregon II.
All of the navigation equipment driving the Oregon II.

The wind and water are factors in how close the ship’s course over ground is to its heading. The waves, currents, and wind are all pushing the ship.

Personal Log

While the ship is buzzing with work, there is also lots of time to sit and share stories. I feel very lucky to be aboard the Oregon II at all, but to be aboard with such welcoming and friendly people feels like I hit the jackpot.

I share a room with NOAA Corps Officer ENS Rachel Pryor. She is on duty from 8 am – noon and from 8 pm to midnight. During those hours it is her job to drive the ship. I am on duty from noon to midnight, but during these days prior to fishing, I have a lot of free time. I have been reading, taking pictures, and hanging out with the others. The sleeping on the ship is easy and comfortable. And the food is delicious. Chief Steward Walter Coghlan is an excellent cook.

Some of the things that have caught me off guard should make perfect sense to my lovely seventh and eighth graders, like why I had a blurry camera. (Ok, kiddos – the ship is an air-conditioned vessel kept at cool temperatures to relieve the crew and scientists from the heat of the Gulf. What happens if you keep your camera in your room and bring it out onto the hot deck to take pictures?)

CONDENSATION! The cool glass of the lens becomes immediately foggy with condensation from the high temperatures outside.

It only took me one time of making that mistake and missing some great pictures because of it to learn my lesson. I now keep my camera in a room closer to the outside temperature so it’s always ready to take pictures – like this one of me in my survival suit! I’m also thrilled I didn’t miss the sunset.

The Abandon Ship drill requires everyone on board to get into a survival suit. It's not easy.
The Abandon Ship drill requires everyone on board to get into a survival suit. It’s not easy. – Photo Credit: Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin.

A beautiful sunset on my first night out at sea.
A beautiful sunset on my first night out at sea.

The sunset glistening on the calm water the second night.
The sunset glistening on the calm water the second night.

Did You Know?

Fathoms are a unit of measurement commonly used to measure the depth of a body of water. One fathom is exactly six feet.

Animals Seen

Flying Fish

Pilot Whales

Paul Ritter: Lock and Load the XBT – The Joke is on Me, July 22, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paul Ritter
Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16– August 1, 2013 

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise: southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 22, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

7-22-13 ship data

Science and Technology Log

Yesterday was a very exciting day.  After we dropped off our first traps, the ship’s officers brought the ship to a full stop and it was time to release the CTD.  What is a CTD?  CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.  The CTD unit  is an array of sensors that is lowered to just above the bottom of the ocean to take a continuous profile of the water column.  Moments after the CTD reaches the bottom it is brought back to the surface and the deck hands bring it back on board the ship.  From here, the scientific crew can analyze the data from the CTD to determine the water conditions for the drop area.  On some expeditions, the CTD is fitted with a device that actually takes water samples at the different depths for chemical and biological analysis.   This information allows the scientists to get a complete picture of the water column where the traps are set and where the fish live.

What is a CTD? CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.

Another instrument that is used by the ship is the Expendable Bathythermograph or XBT.  This device was used by the military for many years to measure the temperature of the water at various depths.  The most interesting thing about this probe is how it is deployed.

Warren Mitchell, a fisheries biologist for NOAA’s Beaufort Laboratory, decided it would be a good idea for me to be trained firsthand to deploy this vital instrument.  The first thing I had to do was put on my hardhat and safety vest and step on to the recovery deck.  At that point Warren called up to the bridge to ask for permission to drop the XBT.  The officers on the bridge gladly gave us permission and Warren then got me into a launching position with my feet spread apart and my elbow braced on hip.  The CO then happened to walk by and asked me if I had my safety glasses on, to which I immediately said yes.

It was at this point that Warren gave me permission to launch the XBT.  I was excited.  I was ready.  I could not wait for Warren to give me the signal.  The only problem was I did not know the signal and I could not find the trigger.  I did not know what to do.  I was getting worried.  Warren then repeated the orders “launch”.  “How?” I replied.  Tip the barrel forward, lean forward, he replied, and the XBT slid out of the tube into the water.

The joke was on me.  Here I had been led to believe that this was going to be some grand launch something just shy of the space shuttle taking off into space.  The reality was that the XBT just falls into the water.  Very non-exciting for me but everyone on the boat laughed for hours.  So did I.  It is good to be treated like one of the family.  After our final set of traps for the day, I ventured out to see what it is like to work in the acoustics lab.

Warren Mitchell NOAA Scientist instructs Paul Ritter on the proper use of the XBT.
Warren Mitchell NOAA Scientist gives instruction to Paul Ritter on the proper deployment of the XBT.

Personal Log

Monday 7-22-13

Nurse shark outside chevron trap.
Nurse shark outside our chevron trap.

To this point this expedition has been so amazing.  Would you believe there are 3 people aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces that live or once lived within 60 miles from my home town? Crazy I know.  We have had only one medium sized squall to this point with 3 to 5 foot seas.  We have brought up traps with tons of jellyfish, in which I got a nematocyst (jellyfish stinging cell) to the hand.  It was not too bad but I did feel a slight burning sensation.

We have had a number of different types of starfish, all of which I have never seen.  One particular trap that we sent to the ocean floor, while upon retrieval did not have any fish, but did have a secret to share.  After Julie Vecchio, one of our volunteer scientists replayed the video cameras that are on the top of the trap, we discovered that a nurse shark had been trolling the area around our trap. I have seen so many amazing things.  Several days ago we were hauling traps and just as we brought our trap up there was a sea turtle that came up to the boat.  I snapped a couple of photos, as quick as I could and then went right back to work.  It was not two minutes later and I saw a baby sea turtle the size of a fifty cent piece.  Immediately, the first thing that came to my mind was thought of Crush and Squirt from Disney’s Finding Nemo talking to me.

Crush: Okay. Squirt here will now give you a rundown of proper exiting technique.

Squirt: Good afternoon “Paul”. We’re gonna have a great jump today. Okay, first crank a hard cutback as you hit the wall. There’s a screaming bottom curve, so watch out. Remember: rip it, roll it, and punch it.

 Paul: Whoa! Dude! That was totally cool!

Turtle off the port bow.
Turtle off the port bow.

Tuesday July 23, 2013

Somewhere in the middle of the night the wind picked up and so did the waves.  I share a stateroom with Zach Gillum a graduate student from East Carolina University.  This kid is amazing.  We really have become great friends.

One of the great things about this trip is to be totally immersed in an expedition with like-minded people. We will all hang around waiting for traps, or eating dinner and start conversations about some environmental issue or ecological principle.  I sure wished I lived closer to my new friends.  Anyway, our stateroom window is about 4 foot above the waterline.  Many times during the night, our window was under the water as a wave passed by.  When we woke up, the wind and waves increased.  A four to seven foot wave is enough to make many run for the toilet.  So far so good for me when it comes to sea sickness.

I just hope we don’t find any bigger waves.  We gathered on the aft deck as we usually do but we delayed deployment, waiting for improvement in weather conditions.  The major problem we had was with larger waves comes the possibility of the traps bobbing up and down on the ocean floor.  With adverse conditions on pick-up, we are also more likely to drag traps across the bottom.  We set the first six traps, pulled them up and just as we had suspected not many fish.  Around 1:00 P.M. Zeb Schobernd, our Lead Scientist, made the decision to head to another location.   It just goes to show you that when you are at sea, you need to follow the 3 F’s.  Flexibility, fortitude, and following orders.

Waiting to work.
Waiting to work.

Did You Know?

Did you know that a jelly fish’s nematocyst are like mini speargun?

These little stinging cells fire when they come in contact with the surface of and organism.  Some jellyfish tentacles can contain up to 5000 or more nematocyst.

Paul Ritter: Trap-Tastic – A Great Day in the Sun, July 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paul Ritter
Aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16– August 1, 2013 

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise: Southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 18, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge

7-18-13 ship data

Science and Technology Log

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Paul Ritter onboard NOAA Ship Pisces

Life at sea is crazy and amazing.  It is kind of like Forrest Gump would say “ you never know what you’re gonna get”.  Today we set out our first two sets of traps.  Six individual traps are baited up with a fish called Menhaden—Brevoortia tyrannus.

Menhaden are about 15 to 35 cm long and they very stinky.  They might stink more than any fish I have ever smelled.  Menhaden are high in oil and a major source of omega-3 fatty acids, which make them delicious to other fish and keeps them from having heart disease and Alzheimer’s.  It must work.  Think about it, I have never heard of a fish having a heart attack let alone Alzheimer’s.  Back to the traps….

Each trap gets four bait lines of Menhaden and then we cut up and throw in eight more just for good measure, kind of like they did in Jaws.  Once the bait is in, the trap door is shut, and cameras are put on tops of each trap.  One camera facing forward and one camera facing backwards completes the setup for the reef survey chevron trap.  The cool thing about the cameras on the traps is the front ones are Go Pro video cameras which are most often used in extreme sports.  I actually own two of them.  No. I am not really in to extreme sports.  We use them as helmet cams when we ride our four wheelers on trails.

The traps, which are individually numbered, are laid out on the aft deck (back) of the ship to prepare for sending them to the ocean floor.   An amazing feature of the ship is the ramp deck.  The moment Zeb “the chief scientist” gives the shout on the radio, Ryan “the skilled fisherman” (his actual title) pulls the lever and the back of the ship, or ramp deck, slides down.  It is at this point when the traps, cameras, and Menhaden are pushed off the back and all fly to the reef below.   It takes a little over a minute for the trap to reach the bottom which is around 70 meters or 223 feet deep.  Ninety minutes later we recover the traps one by one and inspect the catch.

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Menhaden bait fish dangling from stringers

Personal Log

Thursday July 18, 2013

Well, the great big exciting news for this expedition….  I don’t get sea sick.  Woo Hoo.  You might not think this is such an amazing thing but you have no idea how happy I am to be able to say this.  We had at least one person who got sick already and I am thankful not to have gone through it.

I woke up around 5:30 A.M. this morning to get ready for our first day of work.  Breakfast consisted of pancakes, sausage, bacon, eggs, and juice.   I am here to tell you that the Chief Steward (Moises) aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces might be one of the best things to happen to her.   While I have only been on board for 48 hours, it is readily apparent that the crew has been well taken care of when it comes to eating.  Delicious.

After breakfast our team made our way to set up our video/chevron live trap on the aft (back)deck to prepare for the day’s work.  At around 7:45, we got the call from Zeb (the chief scientist) in the dry lab to start dropping traps.  First set of six traps made it into the water with no trouble.   Ninety minutes later we hauled them all back in one by one.  We emptied the live fish from the traps into tubs and placed them into the wet lab.  Zack Gillum, a graduate assistant from East Carolina University and my roommate for this expedition, and I carried the traps back to the aft deck and prepared them for re-baiting.  With the ship in full gear it only took about a half hour for us to reach our second drop zone or sampling area.

After our ninety minute bottom time, the traps came up, the traps were cleaned out and we were done sampling for the day.  The main reason we were done is that it was going to take us quite awhile to travel to our next sample site.    During this time of cleaning up, we emptied the traps, which were very smelly, and filled with half eaten Menhaden.  Wow they even stink after they have been underwater for ninety minutes.  which included swabbing the deck.  The only thing I could think of when we were scrubbing away is a song I learned during my childhood… It goes something like this….

Maybe you've heard the expression, "Swab the Deck?" It just means "Mop the Floor."
Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “Swab the Deck?” It just means “Mop the Floor.”

If you’re a pirate and you know it, swab the deck (swish, swish),

If you’re a pirate and you know it, swab the deck (swish, swish),

If you’re a pirate and you know it, then your face will surely show it (swish, swish),

If you’re a pirate and you know it, swab the deck (swish, swish).

Trust me if you sing it once it will stick in your head the rest of your life, it has mine for the last 35 plus years.

Somewhere in the middle of about the 50th verse of the song, we had an emergency fire drill.  It was relatively easy.  We simply had to quickly make our way to our prearranged staging area.  No big deal.  Shortly after that the Captain of the Pisces called an emergency evacuation drill.  This drill was not quite as easy. We had to run to our stateroom, grab long sleeve t-shirts, long pants, a hat, and our survival suit.  Once on deck we had to don all of our gear in about sixty seconds.  Man that thing was hot and sweat was pouring off of me like water going over Niagara Falls.  What is worse, I looked like a giant red Gumby Doll.  After the drill we finished cleaning up our messes, and filleted all of our fish and whatever we do not need to keep for research, will get donated to the local food pantries.  NOAA is amazing and so are her people.

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Paul Ritter, in his ‘Gumby Suit’

 

Did You Know? 

Ships use different terms to describe direction on a ship.  They are easy to remember.

Port = left side

Starboard = Right side

Aft = Back

Christina Peters: Introduction, July 3, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Peters
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 10 – 19, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico, leaving from Pascagoula, MS
Date: July 3, 2013

Welcome to my NOAA blog!

A little about my background…

Christine Peters
Christine Peters

I am Christina (Chris) Peters, from Farmland Elementary School in Rockville, Maryland. I have been a fourth grade teacher at Farmland for the past eight years, after trying out some other careers. While my past teaching has included all subjects, I am excited to get to focus more on science this coming year as my team will be departmentalizing and I will be teaching two classes of science. We spend half the school year learning about life sciences and the environment.

I grew up only a few miles from where I teach today, and was the third of ten children in my family. My father loved to fish and used to take us fishing, in turns of course, in his seventeen foot motor boat. Most often we fished in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of New Jersey, where my family frequently visited. We also fished in the Chesapeake Bay on occasion. One of my favorite summer meals was fresh bluefish. These experiences taught me to love the water, and to care about protecting that environment.

My father and I after a fishing trip. I was about ten, the same age as many of my students.
My father and I after a fishing trip. I was about ten, the same age as many of my students.

In addition to learning about and participating in the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey, I will be learning something else completely new to me – how to blog! While I consider myself pretty technologically informed, I am new to blogging and am very excited, and a little nervous, about writing my own blog describing my Teacher at Sea experience.

Our mission on Oregon II

I will be flying to Mississippi next week and will be joining the crew of Oregon II on July 10 to participate in the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey. To see pictures of the Oregon II, and to learn more about the ship, you can visit the website that describes details of the ship, as well as the different past and present projects for which Oregon II has been used. We will be departing from Pascagoula, Mississippi and measuring data on groundfish in the Gulf of Mexico. The Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP) is a state/federal program designed to collect, manage and disseminate fishery-independent data in the southeastern U.S. I am excited to learn more about how the scientists and crew actually complete the surveys and record data. One of my goals is to pass along what I learn to everyone who reads my blog.

Furthermore, while the Groundfish Survey is the mission of the scientists and crew onboard Oregon II, I will have an additional goal of learning all about the jobs of the crew, and sharing much of that information with the readers of my blog. Hopefully, when you read about these exciting and important careers, many of you will consider the possibility of pursuing one similar to those described.

To all my upcoming fourth grade students, I am looking forward to adapting the data collection tools I learn about to our science activities in the coming year. I hope my past students will visit my blog and think about connections they can make to our fourth grade science units where we created and observed our own model ecosystems.

See you at sea!

Jennifer Petro: Getting Ready to Set Sail, July 1, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Petro
Aboard NOAA ship Pisces
July 1 – July 14, 2013

Mission: Marine Protected Area Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: South Atlantic United States
Date:  July 1, 2013

Weather Data:
Air temperature: 28 Degrees C (82 Degrees F)
Barometer: 1013.1 mb
Humidity: 74%
Wind direction: SW
Wind speed: 11.29 knots
Water temp: 29.6 C
Latitude: 30.39°N
Longitude: 81.43°W

Science and Technology Log

Hello from aboard NOAA ship  Pisces.  We are gearing up to set sail so I will take this opportunity to introduce myself before we get underway!  My name is Jennifer Petro and I am an 8th grade Science Teacher at Everitt Middle School in Panama City , Florida.  I am particularly excited about this mission as I am working alongside scientists from the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Lab located on Panama City Beach.  I will also be working with scientist from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute as well as Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. The focus of this mission is to survey fish and invertebrate populations in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) from Florida to North Carolina.  We will also be doing mapping of new areas to determine future MPAs.

The scientist have been busy setting up and calibrating their equipment.  We will be using an ROV, Remotely Operated (underwater) Vehicle, to view the MPAs.  There are several cameras attached to the ROV which the scientist will use to identify and count species.  There are many feet of wire and cables being set up in the dry lab.

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NOAA Scientists Stacey Harter and Stephanie Farrington setting up equipment for ROV dives during our Marine Protected Area surveys.

Personal Log

Currently we are still at port and are scheduled to set sail in a few hours.  The Pisces is a rather comfortable vessel.  We arrived yesterday afternoon so I already have one night’s sleep on board under my belt.  I imagine things will change when we are out at sea, but for the moment she is gently swaying in port.  I share a room with one of the scientists and we in turn share a bathroom.  Pretty great so far! The Pisces is currently moored at NAS in Mayport , FL and is dwarfed in size to all of the naval vessels that surround her!

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NOAA Ship Pisces

NOAA ship Pisces
NOAA ship Pisces

Today’s post is going to be rather short.  My excitement is definitely building.  we set sail in just about an hour so my next post will be from sea!

Fair weather and calm seas to all.

Sue Cullumber: Reflections – From the Atlantic to Arizona, June 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/26/2013
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

1stgroup
Our first group for the EcoMon Survey. Kat, Kevin, Holly, Chris, Tom, Sue, Chris, and Cristina.

Personal Log: Well I’m back in my home state of Arizona.  It is really hot, the forecast is for it to be above 110º, and I miss the cool breezes of the Atlantic Ocean.  I am happy to be back in Arizona, but I will miss all the people, the marine creatures and the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean.  I will remember  this experience for the rest of my life and look forward to sharing this exciting adventure with my students, friends and family.

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Our 2nd group for the EcoMon Survey. Tom, Kris, Cristina, David, Sue, Chris, Kevin and Sarah.

On the last two days onboard we finished up our EcoMon Survey and had time to add 23 more Bongo Stations.  These were completed in two areas with the first just east of Maryland and the second off the coast of North Carolina. As we headed east of North Carolina we went into the Gulf Stream and the water temperature started to increase. At these stations our samples contained more larval fish than previously. We even brought up some deep-sea fish in two of these samples. One was a species of Gonostoma and the second a Hatchet fish. Both were fairly small and black with iridescent colors and had large mouths with many teeth.

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A fish, from the species Gonostoma, that was brought up in our Bongo net.

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A Hatchet fish in our Bongo net sample.

Our drifter buoy, WMO # 44932,  has been showing some movement since being deployed (to track movement, put GTS buoy for data set and WMO # for platform ID).  Currently it is at latitude/ longitude:  38.73ºN, 73.61ºW.  It does appear to be moving inland, but hopefully it will catch the current and start moving further into the Atlantic.  We will be tracking it at Howard Gray over the next year.

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Margaret Coyle, our chief steward, serving Alaskan crab legs.

Last day on the Gordon Gunter, Margaret, the chief steward, prepared a special meal for all of us.  The spread included: Alaskan crab legs, roast duck with plum sauce, NY loin strip Oscar, grilled salmon, asparagus, red potatoes, Italian rolls, cream of potato and bacon soup (which I had at lunch, delicious) and cranberry cheesecake.  I choose the crab, duck, asparagus, potatoes, and cheesecake – heavenly!!!  I probably shouldn’t have had the cheesecake as well,  but it was just delicious!  Margaret always had so many great choices it was really hard to make up your mind.

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Bottlenose Dolphin at the bow of the Gordon Gunter.

Our last night on the Gordon Gunter was amazing. We had another unbelievable sunset with fantastic colors.  A friend of mine from Arizona said, “It makes our Arizona sunsets look very bland and I think they are some of the best I’ve seen.”  Then a group of Bottlenose dolphins visited the bow of the ship, so it was truly a remarkable night I will always remember.

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Our final sunset on the Gordon Gunter.

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Enjoying the cool breezes of the Atlantic Ocean.

Question of the day? :  Why do you think the deep-sea fish have such large mouths?

Eric Velarde: ¡Preparando Para el Viaje! (Preparing for the Trip!) June 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Eric Velarde
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
Wednesday, June 13, 2013 – Tuesday, June 24, 2013

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: Cape May – Cape Hatteras
Date: June 10, 2013

Personal Log

Mr. Velarde & Rudy (the family poodle)
Mr. Velarde & Rudy (the family poodle)

¡Hola! I am Mr. Eric Velarde, 9th-12th grade Honors Earth/Environmental Science, Honors Biology, and Physical Science teacher at The Early/Middle College at Bennett in Greensboro, NC. I have had the distinct honor of experiencing my first 3 years of teaching at a truly wonderful, unique learning community. The Early/Middle College at Bennett is located on the historic campus of Bennett College and serves as a nurturing learning environment for aspiring, young women. Our students are engaged in their learning through academic scholarship, leadership & character development, and service to others.

I am intensely excited about sharing this research experience with my students, colleagues, and the general public. It is my plan to create several interactive, engaging, and personalized learning modules from the experience that educators can easily access and adapt for their students. These learning modules will focus on utilizing NOAA’s research, 21st century technology, and collaborative learning strategies to leverage the participation of historically underrepresented groups in the atmospheric & ocean science fields in America. In addition, I plan to use my experience with photography to help unveil the details behind ocean science research careers to provide students with an in-depth experience of what it feels like to be a scientist at sea.

R/V Hugh R. Sharp
R/V Hugh R. Sharp (Image Courtesy of NOAA)

I will be aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp from June 13th-25th to assist the Ecosystems Survey Branch of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in a survey of the Atlantic Sea Scallop (Placopecten magellanicus) to determine distribution and abundance in the mid-Atlantic. Biological analysis will occur through ocean-floor dredging, sorting & categorization of specimens, and Hab-Cam photography. Data collected will be used to assess the abundance of the population, health of the population, and the sustainability status of the fishery.

The Grand Canyon in Summer 2009
The Grand Canyon in Summer 2009

Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona has instilled in me a deep, sincere love of Geology & Geography which I still hold today. Upon moving to Greensboro, NC I began to shift my interests towards Agriculture through involvement with the National FFA Organization. My undergraduate career consisted of juggling the study of Biology, Women’s Studies, and Photography at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As my 2010 graduation neared, I enrolled in the UNC-Baccalaureate Education in Science & Teaching (UNC-BEST) program to prepare for lateral entry licensure as a high school science teacher. Upon graduation I promptly earned employment with Guilford County Schools with my current school, where I worked for 2 years before earning my licensure with Guilford County Schools Alternative Certification Track (GCS-ACT). I am now a licensed educator and I plan on spending the rest of my life in education.

Sisters in Science & LSAMP Scholar Collaborative Lab
Sisters in Science & LSAMP Scholar Collaborative Lab

Working with our higher-education partner, Bennett College, has afforded me a significant amount of working time and space to facilitate character development within the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields with the Sisters in Science (SIS) mentorship program. Select Early/Middle college students who express interest in STEM are paired with a Bennett College Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) scholar to help foster their interest in STEM. Students perform laboratory experiments, participate in service learning initiatives, travel to scientific conferences, and attend scientific lectures with their mentors. SIS has now expanded to include Brothers & Sisters in Science (BSIS) for Middle School students, and continues to reap the benefits of funding from the Anne L. & George H. Clapp Charitable and Educational Trust Foundation.

Nowadays I find myself constantly reassessing how I’ve facilitated a culture of lifelong learning, college & career readiness, and scientific curiosity in my students. Through professional development with North Carolina New SchoolsNational Youth Leadership Council, and the numerous opportunities provided by my school administrative team I have been able to begin to focus on character development, a growing passion of mine.

It is clear that this will be a significantly enriching experience both for myself and for students. More opportunities like the Teacher at Sea program are needed to help leverage teacher understanding of the size and scope of the field of science if we are to continue to advance our education, technology, and ultimately, our humanity into the far reaches of the Universe.

All the best,

-Mr. V

Sue Cullumber: A Slight Delay and Eagerly Awaiting Departure, June, 5, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5–24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 6/5/2013
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time: 1800 (6 pm)
Latitude/ Longitude: 41 degrees 32 N, 71 degrees 19 W
Temperature:  19.5 C or 67 F.

Science and Technology Log:

sueonNOAA
Walkway to the Gordon Gunter. Photo by Kevin Ryan.

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Map of our Ecosystem Monitoring Survey.

I am currently onboard the Gordon Gunter, however we have been delayed a day due to an issue with the Automatic Steering Gear.  A part was to come in today, but the wrong part was shipped (twice) so we have to remain in port for another day.  We are currently at the Naval Station in Newport, Rhode Island and as soon as the part arrives, we will head up to the Gulf of Maine to start our Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. During the survey we will deploy our equipment and gather data at about 120 fixed stations and 25 random ones from the Gulf of Maine down to Norfolk, Virginia. At each station a Bongo Net (phytoplankton)  and/or CTD Rosette  (salinity, temperature, and density) equipment will be deployed which I will discuss in my upcoming blogs.

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The de-commisioned Aircraft Carrier, Saratoga, at the Newport Naval Base. You can see the Gordon Gunter on the far right.

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The diesel engines on the Gordon Gunter.

The Gordon Gunter: The NOAA ship Gordon Gunter was originally built in 1989 as the U.S. Naval Ship Relentless.  When first built it was designed to be used for ocean surveillance mainly hunting submarines. In 1993 it was transferred to NOAA and became the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter in 1998.  Because it was built for hunting submarines, it is a very quiet ship.  It runs off of four diesel generators that  power all the ship’s systems, which includes the ship’s two electrical propulsion motors and bow thruster.

The Gordon Gunter is 224 feet long with five levels above the water line. It can go at a top speed of 10 knots (about 11.5 miles per hour).  This does not sound very fast, but it is a good speed for completing scientific surveys (and hopefully avoiding getting seasick). Actually most of the trawling nets (like for phytoplankton) are dispatched at 3 knots (about 3.45 miles per hour).  The ship also has V-Sat (very small aperture transmission) satellite to provide connection to the internet and phone communications.

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Gordon Gunter Mess Hall

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The “Wet Lab”

The ship seems to have all the comforts of home!  There is the bridge (ship navigation), observation deck, state rooms (sleeping quarters – with a total of 35 bunks), a gym, movie room, TV room, mess hall, store, laundry area, dry lab,and wet lab.  The “dry lab” is essentially the computer lab and this is where data from the survey will be entered into the computer. The “wet lab” is the location of where the ocean samples will be processed.

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Operations Officer, Mark Weekley, gives us a tour and discusses safety drills.

Today we took a tour of the ship and learned about some of the important safety drills that are required onboard. The three main drills are: Fire and Collision, Man Overboard and Abandon Ship.  Each one has it’s own set of alarms that we need to be aware of.  The day we depart (hopefully tomorrow) we will be doing one or more of these drills to make sure we are ready!

Besides the scientists onboard, there is a NOAA crew that pilots and runs the ship. The Gordon Gunter is involved in many scientific voyages along the Atlantic Coast from as far north as Nova Scotia to down south along the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.  It’s home port is the Pascagoula Laboratory in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  Each of these expeditions has a different scientific crew, but the ship personnel usually remains the same.  This crew is essential to the smooth running of the ship and includes: Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, Operations Officer, Navigation Officer, Safety Officer, Junior Officer, Engineering personnel, Deck personnel, Stewards (meal preparation), and Electronics personnel.

The Bridge - ship operations and navigation.
The Bridge – ship operations and navigation.

 Personal Log:

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My stateroom on the Gordon Gunter.

I am getting to learn my way around the ship and am all moved into my stateroom. I was really surprised at how large it is!  I have a roommate – Kat, a graduate student, for the first leg of the trip and then Sarah, an intern, for our second leg.  We will make a stop in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on June 16th to drop a few people off and welcome aboard some new ones.  So far I have met several marine and bird scientists, a college volunteer, graduate student, and college intern. The science and NOAA crew are all very friendly and welcoming, but it is hard to sit here in port and am really looking forward to heading out to sea and learning all the science that I can share with my students.

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Sunset outside the Gordon Gunter – waiting to leave port.

Did you know?  NOAA has its beginnings in as far back as 1807, when the Survey of the Coast was started as the nation’s first scientific agency.

Sherie Gee: Preparing for Life at Sea, May 30, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sherie Gee
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 26 – July 7, 2013

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date:  May 30, 2013

Personal Log:

Hello, my name is Sherie Gee and I live in the big Lone Star State of Texas. I teach AP Environmental Science and Aquatic Science at John Paul Stevens High School in San Antonio, home of the Alamo and the Spurs. I have been teaching for 31 years and I am still thirsty for new knowledge and experiences to share with the students which is one of the reasons I am so excited to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea. I will get to be a “scientist” for two weeks collecting specimens, data, and using scientific equipment and technology that I plan to incorporate into the classroom.

I am also excited to be on this spectacular voyage because I feel very passionate about the ocean and all of its inhabitants. The ocean is a free-access resource which means it belongs to everyone on Earth so it needs to be taken care of. Overfishing, overharvesting and ocean pollution are global issues that I feel strongly about and feel that there has to be new ocean ethics. Teachers are in the best position to bring about ocean awareness to the students and the public. I feel very fortunate to be given this opportunity by NOAA to be part of an ocean conservation program. One of my favorite quotes is from Rachel Carson: “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” I truly believe this because in order for people to care for our Earth and environment and not destroy it, they have to understand it and appreciate it first.

For two weeks I will be collecting the Atlantic sea scallop to determine the distribution and abundance of these animals. This survey is conducted in order to assess these scallop populations in certain areas of the Atlantic Ocean and determine if they have been overharvested and need to be closed to commercial fishermen for a period of time. I am very relieved to know that there are such programs around the world that focus on ocean fisheries and sustainability. I will be describing this survey of the Atlantic sea scallop in greater detail in my blogs.

Atlantic Sea Scallop
Atlantic Sea Scallop
Courtesy of http://www.fishwatch.gov/seafood_profiles/species/scallop/species_pages/atlantic_sea_scallop.htm

This will definitely be an exciting ocean experience for me. I live three hours away from the nearest ocean (The Gulf of Mexico) and have always managed to venture to an ocean each year. Every year I take my students to the Gulf of Mexico on the University of Texas research vessel (The Katy) to conduct plankton tows, water chemistry, mud grabs and bottom trawls.  I love to see the students get so excited every time they bring up the otter trawl and watch the various fish and invertebrates spill out of the nets.

UT Marine Science Research Vessel, The Katy
UT Marine Science Research Vessel, The Katy

Student sorting through the otter trawl on the Katy
Student sorting through the otter trawl on the Katy

I know I will be just like the kids when they bring up the trawls from dredging. People who know me say I am a “fish freak”. Fish are my favorite animals because of their high biodiversity and unique adaptations that they possess. I am a scuba diver and so I get to see all kinds of fish and other marine life in their natural habitat. I am always looking for new fish that I haven’t seen before. The top two items on my “Bucket List” are to cage dive with the great white shark (my favorite fish) and to swim with the whale shark. I recently swam with whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez and would like to do that again in the Caribbean with adult whale sharks.

Juvenile 15 foot whale shark in the Sea of Cortez Photo by Britt Coleman
Juvenile 15 foot whale shark in the Sea of Cortez

Needless to say, I can’t wait to start sorting through all of the various ocean dwellers and discover all the many species of fish and invertebrates that I have never seen before. I hope you will share my enthusiasm and follow me through this magnificent journey through the North Atlantic Ocean and witness the menagerie of marine life while aboard the Research Vessel Hugh /R. Sharp.

R/V Hugh R. Sharp
R/V Hugh R. Sharp

http://www.ceoe.udel.edu/marine/rvSharp.shtml

Sherie Gee holding an Olive Ridley hatchling at the Tortugueros Las Playitas A.C. in Todos Santos, Mexico Photo by Britt Coleman
Sherie Gee holding an Olive Ridley hatchling at the Tortugueros Las Playitas A.C. in Todos Santos, Mexico
Photo by Britt Coleman

Melanie Lyte: May 29, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic 
Date: May 29, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 12.8 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit)
Surface water temperature: 11.8 degrees Celsius (53 degrees Fahrenheit)
Wind speed: 21 knots (25 miles per hour)
Relative humidity: 100%
Barometric pressure: 1023.5

Science and Technology Log

Right whale I saw on 5/28
Photo Credit: NOAA/NEFSC/Peter Duley under Permit #775-1875

We finally had a right whale sighting today! It was a juvenile and was quite close to the ship. It was exciting to see it frolicking.  

Allison Henry, chief scientist, recently told me that over 70% of the right whales they see have entanglement scars. The scars are due to entanglement in fishing lines.

Right whale with entanglement scars.
Photo Credit:; Mavynne under Permit # EGNO 1151
Right whale with entanglement scars.

Sometimes teams of scientists with special training attempt to disentangle a whale. It can be dangerous work. The video below shows a team working to remove fishing lines from a whale in 2011. The scientists first need to attach the small boat to the whale with lines so they can stay with it while it swims until it exhausts itself.  Only when the whale is tired, can the team work to cut away the entanglement.

Watch  this video of a whale disentanglement.

The other hazard is that whales tend to rest and feed near the surface of the water in the shipping lanes, and can be hit by ships.

During the day, from 7am-7pm, the scientists take turns on watch. This means we watch for whales using “big eyes” which are giant binoculars. We spend 30 minutes on left watch, 30 minutes in the center, and 30 minutes on the right watch.  At the center station we record sightings and update the environment using a computer program designed for this purpose.

The big eyes
photo credit: Barbara Beblowski

Recording data
phot credit: Peter Duley

I visited the Wheel House on the ship today. This is also called the bridge, and is the control center of the ship (similar to the cockpit of an airplane). The wheel house has many controls that the crew needs to know how to use, and it takes years of training to be able to command a ship. I spoke with Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey Taylor and Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Michael Levine about the workings of the Gunter.

Wheel or helm of the ship
Wheel or helm of the ship

Auto Pilot
Auto Pilot

This is the wheel or helm of the ship. The Gunter is one of the last NOAA ships with this type of helm. The newer ships have a helm that looks more similar to that which you find in a race car. Although the helm is still used to steer the ship at times, especially when docking, the steering is left to the auto pilot  the majority of the time.

ARPA radar
ARPA radar

I know some of you were concerned about how the officers could see to steer the boat in the fog. The ship has an ARPA radar system that shows where other boats in the area are in relation to our ship. The radar also shows the course our ship is taking and alerts the crew to anything that may be in the path of the ship.

Throttles
Throttles

The throttles control the speed of the ship. The maximum speed of ship is 10 knots which is about 12 miles per hour. The ship uses diesel fuel and it takes about 1,200 gallons of fuel to run the ship for a 24 hour period. At night they will sometimes shut down one engine which makes the ship go slower, but which saves about 400 gallons or $1,600 a day. This is one reason why we anchored for 3 days during the bad weather. The weather made surveying whales impossible so it didn’t make sense to run the ship during that time. The cost of running the Gunter is $11,000/day on average. This includes everything to do with sailing including salaries, food, etc.

Personal Log

I know that some of my first graders have been asking about where I sleep and eat on the ship. Below are pictures of my stateroom and the galley of the ship. Two very important places!

Stateroom (sleeping quarters)
Stateroom (sleeping quarters)

Galley on the Gordon Gunter
Galley on the Gordon Gunter

Melanie Lyte: May 26, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: May 26, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: 

Air temperature: 15.5 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit)
Surface water temperature: 12.01 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit);
Wind speed: 10 knots (12 miles per hour);
Relative humidity: 85%;
Barometric pressure: 1005.5

Science and Technology Log

Here we are on Sunday afternoon and we’ve been anchored off Provincetown since Thursday evening to wait out bad weather and unworkable conditions. When the fog cleared, the view of Provincetown was quite pretty from the ship, but I have seen enough of it, and am ready for some adventure . Luckily, we set sail this evening and will begin our watch for right whales again tomorrow morning. While Monday looks to be quite windy, Tuesday shows promise as a good day for whale sightings. All the scientists aboard are anxious to get back to work!

During our down time I was able to interview two people aboard with very different jobs – Peter Duley, one of the NOAA scientists, and Margaret Coyle, the ship steward.

Peter Duley NOAA scientist
Peter Duley NOAA scientist

Peter has worked for NOAA for 10 years, and has also worked for The National Science Foundation. He has literally been to the ends of the earth doing research. He did his under graduate work at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor Maine . Upon graduation  Peter did field work in Belize banding birds. While his first love was birds, he became interested in marine mammals and has done research work studying harbor porpoises in the Gulf of Maine, pilot whales in the mid Atlantic to the Gulf of Maine, bowhead whales in Alaska, right whales along the East Coast, and even spent time in Antarctica studying leopard seals. He now spends his summers on right whale survey cruises, and his winters doing aerial surveys of right whales.

While interviewing Peter I was struck by the passion and excitement he has for his work. It is obvious that he loves what he does and is very dedicated to saving the “giants of the sea”. All of the whales Peter studies are endangered and it is imperative  that scientists have a handle on the populations of these endangered whales so they can determine if the number of whales is rising or falling over a period of time, and what factors are influencing their survival. These scientists are so familiar with some of the right whales that they can identify the whales that have already been cataloged when they see them. They are cataloging all the whales using a number system that includes the year the whale was first seen, and another number that matches their mother if she is a whale that has previously been cataloged.

Peter’s favorite marine mammal is  the leopard seal.  He told me a story about the most dangerous situation he has been in while doing field work. He was in Antarctica in a small inflatable boat called a Zodiac and a leopard seal swam right up to the boat. He and his colleagues were excited and started taking pictures when the seal jumped out of the water and came down with its mouth on the side of the boat. The seal put a large hole in the boat. Fortunately, the boat had several different air compartments so the entire boat didn’t deflate in the frigid Antarctic waters, but Peter and his colleagues got back to shore as quickly as possible. My next question was, “What was your best research experience?” Peter said smiling, “The time the leopard seal put a hole in the boat!”

The other person I interviewed is Margaret Coyne, the ship steward. She  probably is one of the most important people on the ship because she keeps us all fed! Not only does she make three meals a day for everyone on board, we actually eat like we are at a 4 star resort. There is always an amazing variety of delicious food at every meal.

Margaret Coyle Ship's Chief Steward
Margaret Coyle
Ship’s Chief Steward

Margaret and her 2nd cook Tyrone  Baker, work 12 hour days from 5:30-6:30 with an hour break during the day. The galley is always buzzing with crew and scientists enjoying meals, snacks, leftovers, or anxiously awaiting for the homemade soup of the day to be brought out. There are always plenty of choices for all types of eaters – Margaret makes vegetarian options for each meal. She also makes her own yogurt, soy milk,  fresh salad, ice cream,  and a delicious dessert daily.

Lunch menu
Lunch menu

Spinach lasagna roll, squash and onions, black eye peas, and roasted potatoes
Spinach lasagna roll, squash and onions, black eye peas, and roasted potatoes

Spaghetti with meat sauce, pesto grilled chicken breast , squash and onions, and  a garlic bread stick
Spaghetti with meat sauce, pesto grilled chicken breast, squash and onions, and a garlic bread stick

Blueberry cobbler with whip cream
Blueberry cobbler with whip cream

Personal Log

I will be happy when we start moving again and get back to the mission of surveying right whales. It has been difficult to be stationary for such a long time, but luckily, the scientists and crew are all so friendly that there is always someone to talk to. It is really interesting to learn about other people’s lives, and what brought them to where they are today. Hopefully I will remember this experience because of all the amazing whales I will get to see, but if not, I know I will carry fond memories of all the people I met.

Melanie Lyte: May 24, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: May 24, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature 15.5 degrees celsius (60 degrees fahrenheit)
Surface water temperature 12.01 degrees celsius (54 degrees fahrenheit)
Wind speed 10 knots (12 miles per hour)
Relative humidity 85%
Barometric pressure 1005.5

Science and Technology Log

We are on the fifth day of our cruise and the weather is being very uncooperative! It has been foggy everyday which makes sighting whales very difficult. Before we started the cruise (it sounds strange to call it a cruise. It seems more like a mission),  an aerial survey team did a fly over and spotted some right whales in the area we’ve been combing, but we have been unable to find them. Now we have set anchor off Provincetown, Cape Cod to sit out some bad weather that has moved in. We will stay here in this protected area until Sunday. This morning the wind was blowing at 54 knots or 60 miles per hour. Did you know that a knot is about 1.2 miles per hour? We set anchor last night and the wind was so strong it dragged the  ship and anchor 300 yards!

While this is disappointing for me and for all aboard, I am amazed at the positive attitude and optimism shown by the scientists here. They take it all in stride, and are used to things not turning out as they had planned. I guess that’s the nature of field work. They are all extremely dedicated and passionate about their research.

The Gordon Gunter
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
Photo credit: NOAA

You can track the course of the Gordon Gunter by going to the NOAA ship tracker website: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html . The ship is always in pursuit of whales so the track will sometimes look like a zigzag with lines crossing back and forth over each other. You can keep checking back to see our progress once we set sail again.

Although I have not seen many marine mammals, I have seen some sea birds that are new to me. The first is the gannet. The gannet is known for its diving ability. It can plunge into the ocean head first and go down 30 ft. It is a sea-bird so it never rests on land other than when it goes to its breeding colony.

Northern gannet photo
Northern gannet
Photo credit: Marie C. Martin

Next, I saw a greater shearwater. This bird is also a sea-bird which means it doesn’t go to land unless it is breeding. They congregate on Nightingale Island to breed. Nightingale Island is located between the tips of Africa and South America. They have a very long flight during breeding season!

Great shearwater
Great shearwater
Photo credit: birdfroum.net

I also saw a Northern Fulmar. They are also sea birds and they nest in Scotland. These birds look much like sea gulls.

Northern Fulmar
Northern Fulmar
Photo credit: Andreas Trepte

Personal Log

Today is day 5 of our cruise. While it is disappointing that the weather has not cooperated, it is such a learning experience to be on a ship like this one. I am learning so much everyday about what it’s like to be a scientist in the field. Besides being patient and optimistic, scientists need to be careful and precise in recording their field work. It is a good lesson for me and for you (my first graders) to always work carefully, and give close attention to detail in your work because that is what being a scientist is all about. Start practicing doing your best and most careful work now so you will be ready to be scientists when you grow up.

At this point I can see Provincetown from the ship, but for 2 days there was no land in sight. I really got a sense of just how big the ocean is. When we’re not sailing there is not much to do on the ship. I am fortunate that there are many new people to befriend, books to read and listen to, and delicious food at every meal. I also enjoy all your comments so keep them coming!

Did You Know?

Did you know that some of the scientists on this cruise have dedicated their entire working lives to surveying and cataloging right whales? They migrate with the whales down south in the winter, and come back up north in the spring.

Did you know that the sea depth is measured in fathoms? 1 fathom equals 6 feet

Question of the day:

Here is a line from a famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge,

“Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink”

What do think that means? Why can’t they drink the water? Hint: The poem is written about sailors who are shipwrecked in a big storm out at sea

New  Vocabulary: Draw a ship and label all the parts below
Bow- front of the ship
Stern- rear of the ship
Starboard- right side of the ship
Port- left side of the ship
Aft- toward the back of the ship
Forward- toward the front of the ship

Melanie Lyte: May 22, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic 
Date:
May 22, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 12.01 degrees Celsius or 54 degrees fahrenheit
Wind Speed: 8.88kts
Relative Humidity: 97%
Barometric Pressure: 1,012.42mb

Scientific crew on the Gordon Gunter
Scientific crew on the Gordon Gunter
Photo credit: Mark Weekely

Science and Technology Log

FOG
(by Carl Sandburg)

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

And that’s just what we awoke to this morning – heavily clouded skies and fog. Unfortunately, it hasn’t moved on yet, and actually looks like it’s here to stay. This made visibility very poor. The fog horn had been blasting every few minutes all night so the fog didn’t come as a surprise, but was a disappointment. My first shift on watch was moved to the wheel house and we watched with the “naked eye” instead of the “big eye” (giant binoculars that are outside on the bridge).  Our primary mission is to search for right whales, but any sea life observed is recorded. I was lucky enough to see 6 white sided dolphins on my first watch after Allison Henry (chief scientist) pointed them out to me.  By mid-morning, the fog had lifted and the visibility improved. I am on 90 minute shifts from 7am-7pm with 90 minute breaks between shifts. While working we either watch for whales or record data as others watch for whales.

The scientists want to identify each whale they see. They do this by examining the unique patches of callosities the whales have on their  heads and backs. The whales’ callosities are categorized as either broken or continuous.

Callosity comparison
Diagram from New England Aquarium

They have cataloged 669 right whales using this method since they began the identification process in the late 70’s. The callosities are the same color as the whale’s skin, but appear white or yellow due to the presence of thousands of tiny crustaceans called cyamids, or “whale lice”.

Learning about dermal tags
Photo credit: Allison Henry

If we spot a right whales and the conditions are good (no fog and the seas are not too choppy) some of us will go in the “small boats” to photograph the whales, and to do a biopsy sample on the whale if it has not already been sampled.

Biopsy tag in right whale
Biopsy tag in right whale
Photo Credit: NOAA/NEFSC/Lisa Conger under Permit #775-1875

Another small boat will try to tag the whale. Tagging the whale is a sophisticated process and uses high tech equipment. Mark  Baumgartner from Woods Hole Oceanic Institute (WHOI) showed us the dermal tag he will be using on whales. He also showed us how the tagging equipment has evolved over the last few years. The tag is shot into the whale where it goes into the skin about 3 inches. It has a GPS attached to it so it can be recovered from the whale when it falls off (usually in 24 hours). The scientists can set it to come off the whale in a certain amount of time. The implantable dart stays in the whale’s skin until it eventually works its way out which they estimate to be in 3-4 weeks. This process startles the whale, but is not thought to cause them pain.

Personal Log

We have been out on the water for 24 hours at this point, and I feel like I am adjusting well to life at sea. No seasickness yet (knock on wood), and I slept very comfortably last night (I know that comes as no surprise to any of you who know the ease with which I sleep in any situation). Everyone on the ship has been very friendly and willing to share information with me. The food is excellent, with lots of vegetarian choices, great mixed greens salad, and even a pineapple upside down cake for dessert last night.

Did You Know?

Did you know that right whales are identified by the callosities on their heads and bodies?

Did you know that the North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered whales? It is estimated that there are only about 470 right whales alive today.

Question of the day: What is the smallest whale in the world?

Sue Cullumber: Can’t Wait to Head Out As a NOAA Teacher at Sea! May 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Cullumber
(Soon to be) Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
June 5– 24, 2013

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Date: 5/21/13
Geographical area of cruise:  The continental shelf from north of Cape Hatteras, NC, including Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, to the Nova Scotia Shelf

hikein
My students on a field-trip to the desert.

endofday
Howard Gray School in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Personal Log:

Hi my name is Sue Cullumber and I am a science teacher at the Howard Gray School in Scottsdale, Arizona. Our school provides 1:1 instruction to students with special needs in grades 5-12 and I have been teaching there for over 22 years!  In less than two weeks I will be heading out to the Atlantic coast as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I am so excited to have this opportunity to work with the scientists aboard the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter.

I applied to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for the following reasons:

First, I feel that directly experiencing “Science” is the best way for students to learn and make them excited about learning. To be able to work directly with NOAA scientists and bring this experience back to my classroom gives my students such an amazing opportunity to actually see how science is used in the “real world”.

GALAPAGOS, ECUADOR
Visit to Española Island – photo by Pete Oxford

IMG_5384
Students holding “Piggy” and our other baby Sulcata tortoises.

Secondly, I love to learn myself, experience new things and bring these experiences back to my students. Over the past several years I have had the opportunity to participate in several teacher fellowships.  I went to the Galapagos Islands with the Toyota International Teacher Program and worked with teachers from the Galapagos and U.S. on global environmental education. From this experience we built an outdoor habitat at Howard Gray that now houses four tortoises.  Students have learned about their own fragile desert environment, animal behavior and scientific observations through access to our habitat and had the opportunity to share this with a school in the Galapagos. I worked with Earthwatch scientists on climate change in Nova Scotia and my students Skyped directly with the scientists to learn about the field research as it was happening. Last summer I went to Japan for the Japan-US Teacher Exchange Program for Education for Sustainable Development. My students participated in a peace project by folding 1000 origami cranes that we sent to Hiroshima High School to be placed in the Hiroshima Peace Park by their students. We also  held a Peace and Friendship Festival for the community at Howard Gray.

cranesgroup-copy
Completion of the 1000 cranes before sending them to Hiroshima.

IMG_6468
Japanese teachers learn about our King Snake, Elvis, from the students.

This year we had a group of Japanese teachers visit our school from this program and students taught them about many of the sustainable activities that we are working on at school.  Each has brought new ideas and amazing activities for my students to experience in the classroom and about the world.

edgeofcanyon
Dusk at the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Lastly, Arizona is a very special place with a wide variety of geographical environments from the Sonoran Desert (home of the Saguaro) to a Ponderosa Pine Forest in Flagstaff and of course the Grand Canyon!  However, we do not have an ocean and many of my students have never been to an ocean, so I can’t wait to share this amazing, vast and extremely important part of our planet with them.

So now I have the chance of a lifetime to sail aboard the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter on an Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. We will be heading out from Newport, RI on June 5th and head up the east coast to the Gulf of Maine and then head back down to Norfolk, Virginia. Scientists have been visiting this same region since 1977 from as far south as Cape Hatteras, NC to the an area up north in the Bay of Fundy (Gulf of Maine between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia).  They complete six surveys a year  to see if the distributions and abundance of organisms have changed over time. I feel very honored to be part of this research in 2013!

Gordon Gunter
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter (photo credit NOAA)

One of the activities I will be part of is launching a drifter buoy. So students are busy decorating stickers that I will be able to put on the buoy when I head out to sea.  We will be able to track ocean currents, temperature and GPS location at Howard Gray over the next year from this buoy.  Students will be studying the water currents and weather patterns and I plan to hold a contest at school to see who can determine where the buoy will be the following month from this information. While out at sea my students will be tracking the location of the Gordon Gunter through theNOAA Ship Tracker and placing my current location on a map that one of my students completed for my trip.

IMG_9292
Spending time with my husband, Mike, and son, Kyle.

Outside of school, I love to spend most of my free time outdoors – usually hiking or exploring our beautiful state and always with my camera!  Photography is what I often call “my full-time hobby”.  Most of my photos are of our desert environment, so I look forward to all amazing things I will see in the ocean and be able to share with my husband and son, students and friends!  One of my passions is to use my photography to provide an understanding about the natural world, so I am really looking forward to sharing this fantastic adventure with everyone through my blog and photos!

wellearnedrest3
Enjoying the view during one of my hikes in the Sonoran Desert.

Angela Greene: “The Tale of My Whale” May 9, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Angela Greene
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 29-May 11, 2013

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole, MA
Date: May 9, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: Air Temperature- 12°C, Sea Temperature- 8.96°C, Wind Speed- 11.61 knots, Relative Humidity- 95%, Barometric Pressure- 1014.79mb.

Science and Technology Log:
Wednesday was beautiful.  The air was cold, the skies were blue, and the sea was calm.  Most importantly:  no fog.  Sei whales seemed to be popping up everywhere.  Then I saw it.  The classic “V” shaped blow, a North Atlantic Right Whale.  Not our first one of the trip, but the first in a few days.

blow
The classic “V” shaped blow of the North Atlantic Right Whale. Photo: NOAA/NEFSC Peter Duley,
collected under MMPA research permit number 775-1875

I sighted the blow at about 345° off the bow of the ship, and she was swimming toward us.  The frenzy began.  Our chief scientist, Allison Henry, grabbed the Canon Digital Camera with the 500 mm fixed zoom lens, and began capturing images of the right whale.  Remarkably, yet unofficially, she could identify the whale through the lens of the camera.  It was a female named Columbine.  She was not alone.  Columbine had a calf with her!

Side Blow
Side view of blow shot by me! Under NOAA Fisheries Permit # 775-1875

The calf swam very close to its mother and seemed to be rolling over on its back, flapping its flippers in the air.  The whales don’t seem to be bothered by our large ship being near them.

The small boats were not launched in pursuit of Columbine for two reasons.  Allison knew that both animals had already been biopsy sampled, so no need to repeat that process.  Also, it is not wise to tag and follow a whale that is raising a calf.

North Atlantic Right Whale (Columbine’s calf) Photo Credit- Allison Henry taken under NOAA fisheries permit # 775-1875
North Atlantic Right Whale (Columbine’s calf) Photo Credit- Allison Henry taken under NOAA fisheries permit # 775-1875

Allison contributes photos collected in the field to the North Atlantic Right Catalogue that is maintained by The New England Aquarium.  The aquarium maintains a searchable public database of right whale photos, sightings, and body descriptions.  There is also a quick whale identification activity to practice photo identification of right whales.

I was dazzled by the flips and turns of Columbine’s calf.  Giving a whale an official name is a complicated process that is the responsibility of The New England Aquarium and the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium.  However, I would like to unofficially name this baby “Arrow”.

Calf
North Atlantic Right Whale calf Photo Credit- Allison Henry taken under NOAA fisheries permit # 775-1875

Personal Log:  This is my final blog post as a 2013 NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I have learned a tremendous amount about marine mammals, but probably my most valuable lesson I have gained from this trip, a lesson I want to take back to my students, is about the nature of biological fieldwork.

I have learned that no two jobs are the same.  Biological fieldwork is as different as the organisms being studied or sampled.  I have put in some time looking at the way field biologist work, and each job has its own set of unique challenges and protocols.  The process of sampling North Atlantic Right Whales in a vast ocean couldn’t be further from the process of surveying Lake Erie Water Snakes, identifying tree species in an upland forest, trudging through fast moving rivers for Hellbender salamanders, rummaging through scat to identify elk, moose, and pronghorn, or scaling walls at night for arachnids.  I find it fascinating to look at the many faces of fieldwork.

Me and Allison
Me and my chief scientist, Allison Henry Photo Credit- Sarah Fortune

There is, however, one common characteristic among my collection of field biologists that I have noticed.  It’s an unusual sense of drive about the work.  You can see it in their eyes when they’re on the job.  No matter what the conditions, the fieldwork must get done, the sample must get collected, the photo must be shot, and the data must be recorded.  It’s a maniacal quest for answers.  It’s passion.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank so many people!  Thank you Allison Henry, my chief scientist, for all the lessons, the laughs, and the whales!  Thank you to all the NOAA scientists on board, Dave, Jen, Beth, Samara and Eric.  Thank you to all the WHOI scientists on board, Mark, Nadine, Lauren, Sarah, and Chris.  Thank you to the NOAA Corps officers, the Captain and Crew aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.  Thank you to everyone in the NOAA Teacher at Sea office.  Also I would like to thank all my blog followers, especially my Tecumseh Middle School 8th graders, and my family!  I will be home soon with another adventure under my belt!

Me
The end of my time on the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter, Teacher at Sea 2013- Photo Credit Dave Morin

Angela Greene: “I’ll have 3000 Big Macs, please.” May 7, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Angela Greene
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 29-May 11, 2013

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole, MA
Date: May 7, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: Air Temperature – 12.20°C or 54°F, Sea Temperature 10.16°C or 50°F, Wind Speed- 9.24 kts, Relative Humidity 94%, Barometric Pressure- 1021.05 mb.

Science and Technology Log: Whale work can be intense and exciting, or slow and frustrating. A good day at work is when the weather cooperates the same time the whales cooperate. So far no one is playing nice. Fog has been the enemy for the last two days, making flying-bridge operations nearly impossible. Unless a whale swims up to our ship and jumps in for lunch, we aren’t going to be able to see it. Our watch efforts get moved to the bridge where the ship is controlled, and while it’s a good time chatting with the NOAA Corps officers, I’d rather be sighting whales.

Fog
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
Carl Sandburg

For me however, this ship is like a small university on the sea with free tuition.  Everyone here knows much more than I do about science, so days like these are spent asking questions.  I wanted to focus this blog post on a question that came from my Tecumseh Middle School eighth grade students.  They have been following my blog and following the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter using the NOAA Ship Tracker.  The ship tracker can be used to locate any ship in the NOAA fleet on its current cruise or in the last twelve months.  Current weather data from the ship can also be displayed.

Ship Tracker
The current cruise of the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter. Screen shot courtesy of NOAA Ship Tracker

My students noticed that our ship was staying near the continental shelf, or Georges Bank, and wanted to know if it would be a better idea to look for whales in deeper ocean.  I turned to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientist onboard, Dr. Mark Baumgartner (yet another superhero), for answers.  He basically told me, the whales go where the food is most abundant.

Georges Bank
Georges Bank is a shallow off shore plateau. During the ice age it was above water. Image credit- NOAA

North Atlantic Right Whales eat a zooplankton named Calanus finmarchicus or just Calanus.  This tiny crustacean is packed with lots of calories in an internal structure called a lipid sac.  In order to grow and develop a hearty lipid sac, the Calanus require lots of phytoplankton.  In order to be a yummy and nutritious treat for the Calanus, the phytoplankton need nutrients in the form of nitrogen and phosphorous, water, and sunlight.  Nutrients and water are abundant for the phytoplankton, but in order to get the needed sunlight for photosynthesis, the phytoplankton must be as close to sunlight as possible.

Calanus
Northern Right Whale food- Calanus finmarchicus The lipid sac is clearly visible. Photo credit- C.B. Miller/K. Tande NOAA

Simply put the food chain links together like this:  sunlight (source of energy), phytoplankton (producer), Calanus (primary consumer), and right whale (secondary consumer).  The topography of the ocean near Georges Bank and the weather over the North Atlantic provide two things for this simple food chain: upwelling and wind.

Upwelling is a phenomenon that occurs in ocean waters when wind and a continental structure circulate water, allowing the cold nutrient rich water on the bottom to replace water on the top.  The phytoplankton at the bottom essentially get a free ride to the top of the ocean where they are able perform photosynthesis.  The Calanus can feed on the nutrient rich phytoplankton, and the whales can feed on the Calanus.  This cycling allows the whales to feed close to the surface, where they need to be in order to breathe.  If a whale has to dive deep for food, energy is wasted on the dive.  It is more efficient to be able to get a good meal as close to the surface as possible.

big mac
Right Whales need the caloric equivalent of 3000 Big Macs per day. I’m lovin it! Image credit- MacDonalds

According to Dr. Baumgartner, a Northern Right Whale needs to eat 1-2 billion Calanus per day.  This amount of zooplankton has the same weight as a wet Volkswagen beetle, and is the caloric equivalent of eating 3000 Big Macs per day.  So there you have it, TMS 8th graders.  The whales go where the food is…

Dr. Mark
Me with Dr. Mark Baumgartner
Photo Credit-Eric Matzen

Personal Log:  Still holding out for “The Big Day”, the day we can take the small boats out again.  If it doesn’t happen, I will be happy for the experience I had on the Gordon Gunter.  Sure would be awesome, though…

Melanie Lyte: On the Brink of an Adventure at Sea! May 7, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic 
Date: May 14, 2013

Personal Log

Hello, from Castleton, New York. My name is Melanie Lyte and I am a first grade teacher at Bell Top Elementary School . I am very fortunate to teach in a school of dedicated staff where creativity and innovation is fostered, and embraced. My principal, Jim McHugh, was the one who urged me to apply for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program, and I am grateful to him for his support and encouragement. Although Bell Top is a public school, many of the yearly activities our students are involved in are unique, especially in a public school setting. With funds from a NSTA administered Toyota Tapestry Grant we built a Learning Barn on our school grounds. The barn, built uniquely using both Dutch and English architectural styles so students can compare the two ways, houses an evaporator for a school wide maple sugaring project, as well as cider press for making apple cider in the fall.  We also have amazing parental support at our school, a very active PTO, and of course the best kids in the world walk through our doors each day!

Bell Top Elementary School,Troy, NY
Bell Top Elementary School, Troy NY

I originally applied to be a teacher at sea because I love science and adventure, and I love to bring my experiences outside the classroom back to enrich my students. In the last few years I have camped in the jungles of Sumatra, Indonesia, hiked and kayaked in Alaska,  visited the rain forests of Brazil, and traveled to China. I believe we must expose our children to the the broader world, and the natural world around them in order to foster a curiosity about far away places, and  love and appreciation for our earth. We need to feed every student’s innate sense of wonder and excitement for the world around them.

My friend Harold and I on top of a volcano in Sumatra, Indonesia.
My friend Harold and I on top of a volcano in Sumatra, Indonesia.

I think the opportunity to work with real scientists doing research will be a life changing event for me, and I am even more enthused because the mission of this voyage, conducting a right whale survey in the North Atlantic, is perfect for my first graders! What child doesn’t get excited about whales?!?! I am also very fortunate to teach with my partner in first grade, Sarah Lussier. She and I truly have a the best teaching partnership imaginable, and we, and our students, are enriched by it.  To prepare our students for my upcoming voyage, we have been learning all we can about right whales, and whales in general. We painted a  right whale and whale calf on the parking lot at school (that was an adventure in itself – think 42 first graders  with paint brushes and black concrete paint). The students also researched right whales, created diagrams of the whale, and developed informational posters of what they learned. I think the consensus of the students is that right whales are “really cool, but a little lazy, and kind of ugly.” (as one of my first graders so  eloquently put it). They are fascinated by the callosities on the whales and are saddened that the whales sit on top of the water so often and are in danger of being hit by boats. While I’m at sea the students in both our classrooms will be working on many other whale related activities, as well as following my blog.

Right whale calf created by first graders at BellTop Elementary School.
Right whale calf created by first graders at BellTop Elementary School.

Categorizing toothed and baleen whales by the first graders at Bell Top School
Categorizing toothed and baleen whales by the first graders at Bell Top School

Whale Facts by first graders at Bell Top School.
Whale Facts by first graders at Bell Top School.

Whale Sizes by the first graders at Bell Top School.
Whale Sizes by the first graders at Bell Top School.

Right whale (1980) Massachusetts Secretary of ...
The right whale became the official state marine mammal of Massachusetts in 1980. Photo credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/NOAA

So in less than two weeks my adventure at sea will begin! I will be joining head scientist Allison Henry and the crew of the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Gordon Gunter out of Boston MA. We will be conducting a North Atlantic Right whale survey, but I have been told we will see other whales as well such as humpback, sei, and minke. I can’t wait to explore the ocean with scientists, and learn all I can about the creatures who live there. I hope you will join me on my adventure by reading my blogs while I’m at sea.

Gordon Gunter
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter (photo credit NOAA)

Angela Greene: “Surface Active Groups and Good Medicine” May 5, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Angela Greene
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
April 29-May 11, 2013

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Woods Hole, MA
Date: May 5, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: Air temperature-8.4°C or 47°F, Sea temperature-8.4°C or 47°F, Wind Speed 14 knots, Winds are out of the northeast, Barometric Pressure- 1024.4 mb, wave height- 1-2 feet.

Science and Technology Log:  To say the environment aboard the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter changes when a right whale is spotted during a watch duty, would be a major understatement.  The goal is to find a Northern Right Whale, and when we do, the frenzy begins.

Me with Whale
Believe it or not, that white splash is a Northern Right Whale. Photo credit Mark Baumgartner

A quick decision must be made as to whether the small boats will be launched.  The small boats enable the scientists to get extremely close to the whales.  This proximity allows them the chance to photograph whales from many angles for later identification.  This distance may also provide an opportunity for scientists to use a crossbow to acquire a biopsy sample.  The sample will provide genetic information needed to determine the gender, parents, and siblings of the whale.  The biopsy also can give a toxicity level of the animal.

Crossbow
Holding the crossbow used to collect whale biopsy sample. Photo credit Eric Matzen

Being in the small boats also gives the team of four the opportunity to scoop a fecal sample from the ocean that a right whale may present.  Poop samples can give diet information and hormone levels.  Checking hormone levels enable scientists to determine the stress levels of the whale and whether or not the whale is pregnant.

Whale Poop
Whale Poop in a baggie.

Our team spotted a right whale, and the boats were launched.  The small boat was able to get extremely close to what is called a SAG, or “surface active group”.  This particular group of four Northern Right Whales was so close to the small boat that it looked as if the whales were performing a show for the scientists!  It was one of the most incredible events I have ever witnessed!