David Madden: Engines, Dolphins, and Sharksuckers, July 24, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019


Mission: South East Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

On board off the coast of South Carolina – about 50 miles east of Charleston (32°50’ N, 78°55’ W) – after a slight change of plans last night due to the approaching tropical depression.

Date: July 24, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 32°50’ N
Longitude: 78°55’ W
Wave Height: 3-4 feet
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: Out of the North
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 24.6°C 
Barometric Pressure: 1011.8 mb
Sky: Cloudy

Sunset over the Atlantic Ocean
Sunset over the Atlantic Ocean
NOAA Pisces Full Track 7-20-19
This is a map from the other day outlining the path of the ship. The convoluted pattern is the product of dropping off and picking up 24 (6 x 4) fish traps per day, along with the challenges of navigating a 209 foot ship in concert with gulf stream currents and winds.



Science and Technology Log

Life and science continue aboard NOAA Ship Pisces.  It seems like the crew and engineers and scientists are in the groove.  I am now used to life at sea and the cycles and oddities it entails.  Today we had our first rain along with thunderstorms in the distance.  For a while we seemed to float in between four storms, one on the east, west, north, and south – rain and lightning in each direction, yet we remained dry.  This good thing did indeed come to an end as the distant curtains of rain closed in around us.  The storm didn’t last long, and soon gathering the fish traps resumed. 

Dave with red grouper
Processing fish: measuring length and weight of a red grouper, Epinephelus morio.
Fish Count for July 23, 2019
Yesterday’s fish count. Compare to other day’s catches: Tons of vermillion snapper, tomtate, and black sea bass. And one shark sucker (read on for more). Thank you, Zeb, for tallying them up for me. 


The highlight of yesterday (and tied for 1st place in “cool things so far”) was a tour of the engine room lead by First Assistant Engineer, Steve Clement.  This tour was amazing and mind-blowing.  We descended into the bowels of the ship to explore the engine rooms and its inner workings.  I think it rivals the Large Hadron Collider in complexity. 

I kept thinking, if Steve left me down here I would surely get lost and never be found.  Steve’s knowledge is uncanny – it reminded me of the study where the brains of London cab drivers were scanned and shown to have increased the size of their hippocampus.  (An increase to their memory center apparently allows them to better deal with the complexities of London’s tangled streets.)  And you’re probably thinking, well, running a massive ship with all its pipes and wires and hatches and inter-related, hopefully-always-functioning, machinery is even harder.  And you’re probably right!  This is why I was so astounded by Steve’s knowledge and command of this ship.  The tour was close-quartered, exceptionally loud, and very hot.  Steve stopped at times to give us an explanation of the part or area we were in; four diesel engines that power electric generators that in turn power the propeller and the entire ship.  The propeller shaft alone is probably 18 inches in diameter and can spin up to 130 rpm. (I think most of the time two engines is enough juice for the operation).  Within the maze of complexity below ship is a smooth running operation that allows the crew, scientists, and NOAA Corps officers to conduct their work in a most efficient manner. 

Dave and Steve and engines
First Assistant Engineer Steve Clement and TAS Dave Madden in the Engine Room

I know you’ve all been wondering about units in the marine world.  Turns out, students, units are your friend even out here on the high seas!  Here’s proof from the bridge, where you can find two or three posted unit conversion sheets.  Makes me happy.  So if you think that you can forget conversions and dimensional analysis after you’re finished with high school, guess again!

conversions
Posted unit conversion sheets

Speaking of conversions, let’s talk about knots.  Most likely the least-understood-most-commonly-used unit on earth.  And why is that?  I have no idea, but believe me, if I were world president, my first official action would be to move everyone and everything to the Metric System (SI). Immediately. Moving on. 

Back to knots, a unit used by folks in water and air.  A knot is a unit of speed defined as 1 nautical mile/hour.  So basically the same exact thing as mph or km/hr, except using an ever-so-slightly-different distance – nautical miles.  Nautical miles make sense, at least in their origin – the distance of one minute of longitude on a map (the distance between two latitude lines, also 1/60 of a degree).  This works well, seeing as the horizontal lines (latitude) are mostly the same distance apart.  I say mostly because it turns out the earth is not a perfect sphere and therefore not all lines are equidistant.  And you can’t use the distance between longitude lines because they are widest at the equator and taper to a point at the north and south pole.  One nautical mile = 1852 meters.  This is equal to 1.15 miles and therefore one knot = 1.15 miles/hour. 

This next part could double as a neato fact: the reason why this unit is called a “knot” is indeed fascinating.  Old-time mariners and sailors used to measure their speed by dropping a big old piece of wood off the back of the boat.  This wood was attached to some rope with knots in it, and the rope was spun around a big spool.  Once in the water the wood would act kind of like a water parachute, holding position while the rope was let out.  The measuring person could then count how many evenly spaced knots passed by in a given amount of time, thus calculating the vessel’s speed. 



Personal Log

The scientists on board have been incredibly helpful and patient.  Zeb is in charge of the cruise and this leg of the SEFIS expedition.  Brad, who handles the gear (see morning crew last post), is the fishiest guy I’ve ever met.  He seriously knows everything about fish!  Identification, behavior, habitats, and most importantly, how extract their otoliths.  He’s taught me a ton about the process and processing.  Both Zeb and Brad have spent a ton of time patiently and thoroughly answering my questions about fish, evolution, ecology, you name it.  Additionally, NOAA scientist Todd, who seeks to be heroic in all pictures (also a morning crew guy), is the expert on fish ecology.  He has been exceptionally patient and kind and helpful. 

The fish we’re primarily working with are in the perches: Perciformes.  These fish include most of your classic-looking fish.  Zeb says, “your fish-looking fish.”  Gotcha!  This includes pretty much all the fish we’re catching except sharks, eels, and other rare fish. 

For more on fish evolution here are two resources I use in class.  Fish knowledge and evolution: from Berkeley, A Fisheye View of the Tree of Life.

Fish Tree of Life Berkeley
Fish Tree of Life, from University of California-Berkeley

And check out Neil Shuban’s Your Inner Fish series.


General Updates:

  1. Plenty of exciting animals lately.  Here’s a picture of those spotted dolphins from the other day.
  2. The weather has been great, apart from yesterday’s storm.  Sunrises and sunsets have been glorious and the stars have been abundant. 
  3. We found a common octopus in the fish trap the other day.  The photo is from crew member Nick Tirikos.      
  4. I’m missing home and family. I can’t wait to see my wife and son. 
  5. That tropical depression fizzed out, thankfully. 
spotted dolphins
Spotted Dolphins
common octopus
Common Octopus (Photo by crewmember Nick Tirikos)


Neato Facts =

Yesterday we caught a shark sucker in the fish trap.  I was excited to see and feel their dorsal attachment sucker on top of their head. 

Hold on.  I just read more about these guys and turns out that sucking disc is their highly modified dorsal fin!  That is the most neato fact so far.  What better way to experience the power of this evolutionarily distinct fish than to stick it to your arm?!  The attachment mechanism felt like a rubber car tire that moved and sealed against my skin. (Brad calls them sneakerheads).

Shark sucker
Shark Sucker on Dave’s Arm

Consider all the possible biomimicry innovations for the shark sucker’s ability to clasp onto sharks and fish and turtles while underwater.  This grasp and release adaptation surely has many cool possible applications.  Here are a few: Inspiring New Adhesives.  Robotic Sticky Tech.   Shark Sucker biomimicry

I’d love to hear your questions and comments!

Elizabeth Nyman: The Science Continues, May 31, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Nyman
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 28 – June 7, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: May 31, 2013

Weather Data:
Surface Water Temperature: 24.55 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 25 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1016.3 mb

Science and Technology Log

Work continues here on NOAA Ship Pisces. By the end of today, we’ll have sent the camera array down to 35 spots and caught at least 45 fish with the bandit reels. I’ve personally gotten to see some of the camera footage, as well as help the scientific crew with their analysis of the fish we caught.

Fish

Here’s a screen capture of some video taken yesterday from the Florida Middle Ground. The big fish on the left is a red grouper, the fellow poking his head up with the crazy eye is a spotted moray eel, and the yellow fish not far above him are reef butterfly fish. Note that “crazy eye” is not a scientific term. (Picture courtesy of NOAA.)

This work goes on for the entirety of daylight hours, beginning with our arrival at the first location sometime between 7 to 7:45 a.m., and not ending until around 6:30 to 7 p.m. It’s a long day, with 8-10 drops of the camera array and 4 different attempts to catch fish with the bandit reels. But the Pisces doesn’t sleep just because the sun goes down. When most of the ship goes to bed, the crew continues scientific work by driving the ship around in circles. The circles are actually well-plotted lines, and the route is chosen to allow the ship’s ME70, a multi-beam sounding unit, to map the sea floor.

Map

Here’s an example of the routes we do at night. It will take all night to do one of these three blocks pictured here. (Picture courtesy of NOAA.)

Every possible moment of time is devoted to gathering as much data as possible, whether it’s fisheries data from the camera array and the bandit reels, or the mapping data that goes on at night. It’s expensive and time consuming to send a ship out here, 60-80 nautical miles off the west coast of Florida, and so everyone has to work hard while we’re out at sea. I have nothing but admiration for the entire crew of the Pisces, from the officers to the scientific crew to the deck crew, stewards, and ship’s engineers, because they all are always hard at work making NOAA’s scientific mission possible. But you might be wondering, what’s the point of all this? Why are we out here taking pictures and video of fish, and catching them to take back to the lab for testing?

This voyage is part of the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey, which has been going on for over 20 years. The point is to gather information on the abundance of certain species of fish, which is why we need to see how many there are down there, through the cameras, and what their size, age, and fertility look like. This crew is based out of Pascagoula, MS, and that’s where the video taken of the fish is analyzed. They determine how many fish are present, and can actually measure the size of the fish by taking pictures with stereo cameras and using parallax, the difference in position from one camera to the next. They combine this data with the information that the Panama City lab generates from the ear bones and the sex organs, as well as any relevant external data from fishery observers and the like, to create a full a picture as possible about the overall health of the fish population.

Looking at numbers

Ariane Frappier, graduate student volunteer, examines NOAA reef fishery data from the Dry Tortugas for her thesis.

Cool. I like gathering data, and I definitely think that more knowledge of our fish and oceans is better than less. But we aren’t looking at fish out here just to look at fish, as awesome as that would be. This survey has a purpose. Data collected here is used by the SEDAR program, which stands for Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review. SEDAR will examine a particular species and analyze all the data collected about that species, before holding a series of workshops open to the public about that fish. At the end of the process, a series of experts will recommend how much fishing should be allowed for that population, in order to properly manage the fishery and prevent overfishing.

Personal Log

What we don’t get to record in our data, but is still pretty awesome, is the ability to view wildlife from the boat. I don’t mean the stuff we catch, though that’s pretty cool too, but the creatures that we just get to observe.

Me and Shark

Okay, some of the stuff we catch is really cool. This is me with a silky shark.

So far, I’ve seen loggerhead sea turtles, just kind of relaxing and swimming not too far from our boat. I also got to see a pod of Atlantic spotted dolphins – I saw several of them, but the way they were swimming around in the waves, it’s hard to be precisely sure how many. I missed seeing at least two other dolphins – the seas have been kind of choppy, and so they disappear from view pretty quickly.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins swimming very near the Pisces.

Then, pretty much right as I was writing this up, I got to see a leatherback sea turtle who surfaced for air pretty close to our boat. I didn’t get a picture, since you pretty much have to have the camera in hand for these things, they happen so quickly.

Sea turtle

So here’s a picture from NOAA for you. The zoom on my camera’s not that good anyway. (Picture courtesy of NOAA.)

Did You Know?

The leatherback sea turtle is an Appendix I creature under CITES, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. Appendix I creatures are those at risk of extinction, and international trade in these species or any part of these species is forbidden.

Christopher Faist: It Happened, July 27, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Faist
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 20 — August 1, 2011

Mission: Cetacean and Seabird Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: July 27, 2011

Weather Data
Air Temp:  17 ºC
Water Temp: 17 ºC
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Water Depth: 4365 meters

Science and Technology Log

Well it happened.  This morning I was taking care of a few things before heading to the observation post and while I was below deck they spotted Killer Whales.  By the time I got to the deck the animals were gone.  Initially, I was disappointed but the day continued with another sighting of Killer Whales, some Risso’s dolphins, a pod of Atlantic Spotted dolphins, a couple of Sperm Whales, a group of Sowerby’s Beaked Whales and a couple of Basking Sharks.  This list of animals is long but keep in mind this was over the course of 11 hours of observation.

Marine Mammal Observers use a variety of strategies to keep themselves “fresh” and able to look for animals for long periods of time through every weather condition.  The design of their survey procedure allows each observer to take a 30-minute break during each 2-hour session.  This gives them time to rest their eyes, get out of the weather and get something to eat.  Some of the other techniques to stay sharp may go unnoticed but are important and can only be learned from experienced observers.

Observer with Fireball

Observer with Fireball

Standing for hours and looking through binoculars on a rolling ship is not for everyone.   After spending some time observing animals at sea I can pass along a few tricks.  The days can be long but playing music can help keep the time moving.  Talking to other observers keeps your mind engaged and helps to stay focused.  When you start to feel like you need a jolt to stay awake try an Atomic Fireball.  These small candies pack a spicy reminder that you need to stay alert.  In this picture, one of the observers is holding her Fireball in her hand because she was not able to handle the intense heat.

To get a job as a Marine Mammal Observer you need to withstand these challenges while maintaining your ability to tell the difference between a splash and a white cap from three miles away.  Once you do detect the animal you still need to identify the animal with only a quick glimpse of the animal.  Below are a few pictures taken recently for you to test your skills.  Can you use the links above to correctly ID the animals?

RD ID

RD ID

AtSp ID2

AtSp ID2

SW ID

SW ID

BS ID

BS ID

Personal Log

Now that I have overcome my run in with seasickness, life at sea is great.  We are so far out, over 200 nautical miles, that we have lost our satellite TV connection and that is fine with me.  I have seen a variety of species for the first time and I am enjoying being surrounded by people who share my passion for the ocean and marine mammals.

Melinda Storey, June 21, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Melinda Storey
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 21, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0800 hours (8 am)
Position: Latitude: 28º 09.6 minutes N Longitude: 094º 18.2 min. W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: variable
Water Temperature: 30.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 27.5 degrees Celsius
Ship’s Speed: 5 knots

Science Technology Log

Atlantic Spotted dolphins are the graceful ballerinas of the sea. They are just incredible! The Gulf of Mexico is one of the habitats of the dolphin because they live in warm tropical waters. The body of a spotted dolphin is covered with spots and as they get older their spots become greater in number.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Here you can see the spots on an older Atlantic Spotted Dolphin. To read more about dolphins go to
http://www.dolphindreamteam.com/dolphins/dolphins.html

Because Dolphins are mammals they breathe air through a single blowhole much like whales. Dolphins live together in pods and can grow to be 8 feet long and weigh 200-255 pounds. Like whales, dolphins swim by moving their tails (flukes) up and down. The dolphin’s beak is long and slim and its lips and the tip of its beak are white. They eat a variety of fish and squid found at the surface of the water. Since dolphins like to swim with yellow fin tuna, some dolphins die by getting tangled in the nets of tuna fishermen.

Newborn calves are grey with white bellies. They do not have spots. Calves mature around the age of 6-8 years or when the dolphin reaches a length of 6.5 feet. Calving takes place every two years. Gestation (or pregnancy) lasts for 11 1/2 months and babies are nursed for 11 months.

While watching the dolphins ride the bow wave, Nicolle and I wondered, “How do dolphins sleep and not drown?” Actually, we found that there are two basic methods of sleeping: they float and rest vertically or horizontally at the surface of the water. The other method is sleeping while swimming slowly next to another dolphin. Dolphins shut down half of their brains and close the opposite eye. That lets the other half of the brain stay “awake.” This way they can rest and also watch for predators. After two hours they reverse this process. This pattern of sleep is called “cat-napping.”

Dolphins maintain a deeper sleep at night and usually only sleep for two hours at a time. This method is called “logging” because in this state dolphins look like a log floating in the ocean.

The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the hunting, capturing, killing or collecting of marine mammals without a proper permit. Permits are granted for the Spotted Dolphins to be taken if it is for scientific research, public display, conservation, or in the case of a dolphin stranding. The maximum fine for violating the MMPA is $20,000 and one year in jail.

Personal Log

Watching the dolphins playfully swim below us at the bow is like watching water nymphs. I can almost see them smiling. They spring out of the water just ahead of the ship and then peel off at a ninety degree angle. FAST doesn’t even begin to describe their movement. I especially enjoy watching some of them swim upside down, their white bellies gleaming. The CO is really good at spotting them far away. The dolphins swim straight toward the ship lickity-split as if someone just let kids out for recess and they run straight for the playground. We’ve seen some babies with their mothers as well as some older spotted dolphins. It is totally amazing to look straight down into their blowholes! You can even hear them “snort” when they come up for air. Never in my life did I think I would ever have an up-close and personal relationship with a dolphin!

Sunset

Sunset

Sunset

Sunset

The sunsets here are so spectacular. Check out the middle of the cloud on the left. If you look carefully you can see that the cloud has a heart-shaped opening. Last night’s sunset was purple and orange and just looked like a painting by one of the Masters. Our scientists have told us to watch for the “green flash.” If conditions are right and there aren’t many clouds, you can see a flash of neon green just as the sun plops below the horizon. We keep watching but so far no green flash.

The night is also spectacular. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. One night I went out to the bow about 12:00am and it was pitch black. Then when I looked up, it was if God had thrown diamonds into the night sky. The half moon glistened against the ocean and the lapping of the water against the bow made it just so peaceful. You don’t see that many stars at home because of all the city lights. This is almost indescribable.

One evening the ship’s crew was fishing with fishing poles off the stern (back) of the ship when one guy said his hook had gotten stuck on something. I find that amazing since they were fishing 60 feet deep. He yanked and pulled and yanked again and finally pulled up what you see here.

Crinoids

Crinoids

The orange mass that you see here is a lot of animals called crinoids. They’ve wrapped themselves around a wire coral, which you can see here at the left side and the top right hand corner. The wire coral is green. The cool thing is all of this was alive and moving. Holding it felt surreal. It was somewhat like holding a big batch of worms.

New Term/Vocabulary

Pod – a group of dolphins

Slipstream – the wake created by the dolphins as they swim

Echelon – the dragging of the babies in the slipstream

Logging – a type of dolphin sleep where they are floating and they look like a log

Cat-napping – a light stage of sleeping

Fluke – the tail of the dolphins

“Something to Think About”

Dolphins are “social animals,” which means they travel together. What would be the benefits for traveling in pods?

“Did You Know?”

Did you know that a mama dolphin doesn’t stop swimming for the first several weeks after the birth of its young? This is because a baby needs to sleep and rest and can only do that by sleeping beside its mother. The baby sleeps while its mother swims, towing the baby along in her slipstream, the drag behind the mom. This is called echelon swimming. If the mother stops swimming, the sleeping baby will sink below the surface and drown.