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.

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Sargassum as seen from “my perch”

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Kevin Travis

Alicia Gillean: Introduction, April 29, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alicia Gillean
Soon to be aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 27 — July 8, 2012

Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic Ocean
Date: Sunday, April 29, 2012

Personal Log

Alicia Gillean

Alicia Gillean, 2012 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hello from Oklahoma!  My name is Alicia Gillean and I am ecstatic that I was selected as a 2012 NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) Teacher at Sea!  I am passionate about adventure, lifelong learning, and the ocean.  I can’t wait to merge these three passions together for twelve days at sea this summer and to share my learning with all of my students and coworkers back in Oklahoma. I will be blogging about my adventure and learning while aboard the ship and you are invited to follow my journey and get involved by asking questions and posting comments. I’ll start by telling you a little bit about myself, then I’ll fill you in on the details of my Teacher at Sea adventure.

A Bit About Me

When I’m not pursuing adventure on the high seas, I am the school librarian (also known as a library media specialist) at Jenks West Intermediate School, a school of about 600 5th and 6th graders in the Jenks Public Schools District, near Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I might be a bit biased, but I believe that I have the best job in the school and that I work with some of the finest teachers and students in the world.

You are probably wondering, “How did a librarian from Oklahoma become part of an ocean research cruise?”  I’m glad you asked.  It just so happens that this blog entry answers that very question.

I’ll admit it; I was born and raised a landlubber. There just aren’t many opportunities to visit the ocean when you grow up in the Midwest.  Rumor has it that I touched the ocean once when I was about 3, but I didn’t touch it again until I was 21. More on that later.

My passion for the ocean began in high school when I took a Marine Biology class where my mind was blown by the diversity and beauty of life in the sea and the complex network of factors that impact the health of an ocean environment.  I took Marine Biology 2 and 3 the following years where I set up and maintained aquariums in elementary schools and taught ocean-related lessons for elementary students.

Aquarium newspaper photo

Alicia showing a shark jaw to a three year old at the Oklahoma Aquarium

I started to become a little obsessed with marine life, went to college to become a teacher, and did a happy dance when I learned that an aquarium was going to open in Jenks, Oklahoma.  I landed a job as a summer intern in the education department of the Oklahoma Aquarium and was overjoyed to be a part of the team that opened it in 2003.  When I graduated from college, the aquarium hired me as an education specialist, where I worked with learners of all ages to promote our mission of “conservation through education” through classes, camps, fishing clinics, sleepovers, animal interactions, crafts… the list goes on and on. 

In 2006, I became a 6th grade teacher in Jenks Public Schools, then I earned my Masters degree and became the school librarian in 2010.  I love to work with all the kiddos in my school as they learn to develop as thinkers, scientists, and citizens who have the power to impact the world.  They are just the kind of advocates that the environment needs and I want to help prepare them for this important role any way possible.  My experiences as a Teacher at Sea will certainly help!

Let’s go back to my actual experiences with the ocean for a moment.  After graduating from college and marrying my high school sweetheart David, I hightailed it to an ocean as fast as possible.  We honeymooned in Hawaii where we snorkeled, explored tidepools, went on a whale watch, and temporarily filled the ocean-shaped void in my heart.

Alicia in ocean

Alicia on a Maui Beach

I’ve been back to the ocean several times and each time I am reminded of the delicate balance that must be maintained for the fascinating world under the waves to survive and thrive.  It is critical we protect the oceans and that people realize that their actions impact the oceans.  Even in the landlocked state of Oklahoma, our actions matter.

So, that’s why a school librarian from Oklahoma will spend the summer of 2012 on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, counting sea scallops.  I can hardly wait for the adventure to begin!  Enough about me, let’s talk about the research cruise now.

Science and Technology Log

I’ll be participating in a sea scallop survey in the Atlantic Ocean, along the northeast coast of the United States, from Delaware to Massachusetts.  My adventure at sea will begin June 27, 2012 and end July 8, 2012.

What is a sea scallop?

A sea scallop is an animal that is in the same category as clams, oysters, and mussels. One way that sea scallops are different from other animals with two shells (bivalves) is that a sea scallop can move itself through the water by opening and closing its shells quickly.  How do you think this adaptation might help the sea scallop?  Watch these videos to see a sea scallop in action:

 

Importance of  Sea Scallops/Sea Scallop Survey

People like to eat scallops, so fishermen drag heavy-duty nets along the ocean floor (called dredging) to collect and sell them.  Most of them are harvested in the Atlantic Ocean along the northeastern coast of the United States. The United States sea scallop fishery is very important for the economy.

Sea Scallop Habitats

Map of sea scallop habitats from NOAA’s fishwatch.gov

The problem is that sometimes people can harvest too many scallops and the sea scallops can’t reproduce quickly enough before they are harvested again.  Eventually, this could lead to the depletion of the sea scallop population, which would be bad news for the ocean and for people.

This is where the NOAA Sea Scallop Survey comes in.  Every year, NOAA sends scientists out in a ship to count the number of Atlantic sea scallops (Placopecten magellanicus) in various parts of their habitat.  The sea scallops live in groups called beds on the ocean floor 100-300 feet deep, so scientists can’t just peer into the ocean and count them.  Instead, they have to dredge, just like the fisherman, to collect samples of scallops in numerous places.  The scientists record data about the number, size, and weight of sea scallops and other animals. Based on the data collected, decisions are made about what areas are okay for people to harvest scallops in and what areas need a break from harvesting for a while.  I’m considered a scientist on this cruise, so I’ll get to participate in this for 12 hours a day.  I hear it is messy, smelly, tiring, and fascinating.  Sounds like my type of adventure!  I think most good science is messy, don’t you?

The Ship

I’ll be sailing on the research vessel Hugh R Sharp. You can take a virtual tour of the ship here.  It was built in 2006, is 146 feet long (a little bit shorter than the width of a football field), and is used for lots of different scientific research expeditions. When I’m out at sea, you can see where I am on the journey and track the ship here.

RV Hugh R. Sharp

R/V Hugh R. Sharp; photo from NOAA Eastern Surveys Branch

What I hope to Learn

I’m very interested to experience what daily life is like on an ocean research vessel, how scientists use inquiry, data-collection, math, and other skills that we teach our students in a real-world setting.  Of course, I’m also hoping to see some fascinating ocean critters and get my hands dirty doing the work of a real scientist.

I’d love for you to join me on this adventure by following this blog and leaving your thoughts and questions in the comment section at the bottom of each blog entry.  Let’s make this a learning experience that we will all remember!

Jennifer Goldner: Safety and Tour of The Bridge, August 13, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Goldner
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
(NOAA Ship Tracker)
August 11 — August 24, 2011

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Southern Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 13, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 26.02 N
Longitude: 80.02 W
Wind Speed: 9.18 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 29.20 C
Air Temperature: 30.30 C
Relative Humidity: 70.00%

Science and Technology Log

Fire box on the bridge

Fire box on the bridge

The crew of NOAA Ship Oregon II are adamant about safety. Because of this, drills are performed in order to be prepared. First we did a fire drill. The alarm sounds then the Captain makes an announcement as to where the fire is located. I am in the scientist party, thus we went to the dry lab. In the event of a real fire, the fire box on the bridge would tell the Captain what area of the ship was in danger. Two of the crew members, Tim, Lead Fisherman, and Walter, Chief Boatswain, don their fire suits and go to the area to contain the fire.

Preparing for a fire drill

Preparing for a fire drill

Next we did a “man overboard” drill. When the alarm is sounded, everyone on board grabs their survival suit and life vest and heads to the bow. They must be put on in one minute or less.

The diving crew also did a proficiency dive and hull inspection. The proficiency dive is done in order to stay familiar with their gear in the event they need to go beneath the ship to fix something. For example, the longline could get entangled in the screw/propeller. During the hull inspection the diving team checks the intakes for growth of algae, etc.

The Captain announces that divers will be in the water, then the RHIB (Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat) is lowered. After they are in place, the divers can now get started. After the dive, the gear is brought back on board with a crane.

Lowering the RHIB for diving operations

Lowering the RHIB for diving operations

Me in my survival suit (a.k.a. gumby suit)

Me in my survival suit (a.k.a. gumby suit)

Preparing to dive

Preparing to dive

Sarah, Operations Officer, jumps overboard to perform dive operations

Sarah, Operations Officer, jumps overboard to perform dive operations while Tim, Lead Fisherman, waits in the water.

Executive Officer LDCR Jason Appler jumps into the water to perform dive operations

Executive Officer LDCR Jason Appler jumps into the water to perform dive operations

Gear being brought on board with a crane

Gear being brought on board with a crane

Radar with AIS overlay- NOAA Ship Oregon II is in the middle headed south, beach is at starboard and ship Rhea Bouchard is at port side.

Radar with AIS overlay- NOAA Ship Oregon II is in the middle headed south, beach is at starboard and ship Rhea Bouchard is at port side.

Automated Identification System

Automated Identification System (AIS)

There are multiple safety features on the bridge as well. AIS (Automated Identification System) is a tool to help identify other ships. Any ship that is 300 gross tons or more must register their ship. NOAA Ship Oregon II is 729 gross tons. Another important tool is the radar. The radars are $80,000/each. This ship has two. Commanding Officer, Master Dave Nelson, said he tells his crew, “This box is our world.” Whenever it is dark or there is severe weather this is their only “eyes” to tell them what is in their path.Another device used on the bridge is the fathometer. (Captain calls it the “fatho.”) This tells the depth of the water.

Fathometer

Fathometer

The bridge also has a radio system which is vital for communication. Channel 10 and 16 are working channels for marine travel ships. To speak on the radio you must have a license through the Federal Communications Commission. On the radio is a distress button. There are 5 different places which have distress buttons. In addition, there are 4 EPIRBs (Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon) on board. If the ship is in trouble, the Captain can activate it. It would then send signals with NOAA Ship Oregon II‘s position and name. If there isn’t enough time to activate the EPIRB, water pressure will activate it once it submerges. The Captain and his officers also keep track of the ship’s heading in degrees: 0000 is North, 090 is East, 180 is South, 270 is West.

Ship's Heading: 176 degrees means we are traveling south.

Ship's Heading: 176 degrees means we are traveling south.

Radio

Radio

The wheel used for steering

The wheel used for steering

Engine Control Panel- Pitch indicator is in the center on the right.

Engine Control Panel- Pitch indicator is in the center on the right.

Personal Log

Captain Dave Nelson calls me “Teach” and I call him “Cap.” I got to spend time this morning for a tour of the bridge with him. It was fascinating! In addition to all I learned above, he showed me the wheel and the engine controls which houses the pitch indicator (a.k.a. gas pedal).

Cap also told me the ship follows MARPOL Regulations. For example, food scraps can be dumped in the ocean as long as it’s 12 miles from the shore.

We have been steaming 25 miles out but moved within 3 miles of shore to get out of the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream flows from south to north. We’re headed south. Today it is moving at 3.5 knots. (It averages 4 knots.) Water is very powerful. Going into a current with 1 knot is the same as going into a 20 knot wind. Now that you know this, try to solve the question below.

In reference to the question on my last blog “How many gallons of diesel does NOAA Ship Oregon II hold?” The correct answer is 70,000 gallons! According to Sean, Chief Engineer, we will get to Mississippi with about 30,000 gallons remaining.

On another note, It was so neat to get to be close enough to the shore line to see Fort Lauderdale and Miami!

Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale

Captain’s Corner: Stories from NOAA Ship Oregon II

If only NOAA Ship Oregon II could talk . . . she would have some stories to tell of her journey in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic. We will let Commanding Officer (CO), Master Dave Nelson, tell the stories. Here is one he shared with me today.

It was about six years ago and they were headed north to do a survey on the east coast. The only individuals on board were those in the crew; 19 in all. They were in the Gulf Stream and it was rough. The seas had 15 foot waves. Because it was so rough, NOAA Ship Oregon II was being run slower than normal. At that time, Cap was the XO and he was at the bridge steering. A call came through from the Chief Engineer alerting the Captain to get to the engine room immediately. When he arrived he found the Chief Engineer standing in water that was now up to his belly button. He explained that a saltwater intake pipe, which funnels salt water in to cool the engines, had burst. Because the area was flooded, he still could not find the valve to shut it off. He continued searching, determined to find it. His diligence paid off because he found it and shut it down. Had he not found it, the ship would’ve lost power in 6-7 more minutes. A ship without power is bad news. The captain would’ve had to call “abandon ship.”

This story just goes to show that it is crucial to know your job and know it well. Clearly the Chief Engineer knew his job. He saved many lives that day at sea.

Christopher Faist: Endless Horizon, July 26, 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 26, 2011

Weather Data
Air Temp:  20 ºC
Water Temp: 20 ºC
Wind Speed: 3 knots
Water Depth: 4141 meters

Science and Technology Log

To quantify sea conditions, scientists use the Beaufort Scale.  Calm waters with no wind is a Beaufort state of zero but when the wind speed increases and white caps start to form the Beaufort state raises to a 4.  Good observation conditions for sighting marine mammals fall between sea state 0-3.  When the white caps form it gets difficult to distinguish between a white cap and a dolphin splash, decreasing our chances of seeing all the animals in our survey area.

Today, the sighting conditions were good with the sea state varying from a 1-3 over the course of the day.  While the conditions were good we did not see any animals for hours.  This was surprising to many of the scientists so we looked more closely at the conditions in the water to investigate the lack of sightings.

Bongo Net

Bongo Net being deployed

Three times a day (morning, noon and night) a system of nets with a probe attached is deployed to sample the water under the ship.  The net is called a Bongo net, due to its dual net design that looks similar to a Bongo drum.  The net is made of a fine mesh that catches small animals swimming below the ship.  The probe, attached to the net, is called a CTD, which stands for conductivity, temperature and depth.  Scientists can use the combination of the animals found in the net and the readings from the CTD to make conclusions about the productivity of the waters around the ship.  The data collected at our noon deployment gave great insight into our lack of visual and acoustic sightings.

During our noon Bongo net deployment an interesting phenomenon was seen in the data.  First, the nets that typically collect animals were nearly empty.  Secondly, the CTD data showed very little change in water density between the surface and 200m.  This lack of change tells scientists that there is very little mixing of the ocean currents in this area of the North Atlantic.  Mixing usually causes colder, nutrient rich water to move toward the surface supplying animals with the oxygen and nutrients they need to grow and reproduce quickly.  When mixing is absent small animals are not as abundant eliminating the food source for the rest of the food chain.  With no food, dolphins and whales move out of the area to more fertile waters.  Hopefully, we will move to more productive areas and increase our cetacean sightings.

Personal Log

Chris Processing Bongo

Chris Processing the Bongo Sample

We have been at sea for 5 days now.  I have figured out my routine and I am really enjoying being away from land.  Surprisingly for a ship, internet speeds are quick, DirectTV is crystal clear and the laundry facilities are efficient.  (It pays to be on one of the newer, technologically advanced ships in NOAA’s fleet. )  The food has been outstanding and I am making some new friends.  Getting up early, 5am, may bothersome, but the sunrises and clear air have made the mornings a great part of the day.  After dinner the crew has a variety of games to pass the time including ladder golf, bean bag toss and darts.  If you think these games are challenging on land, adding the roll of the ship adds a new level of difficulty.

Christopher Faist: Limited Visibility, July, 21 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 21, 2011

Weather Data
Air Temp:  21 ºC
Water Temp: 19 ºC
Wind Speed: 19 knots
Water Depth: 163 meters

Science and Technology Log
The purpose of cruise is to accurately count marine mammals and seabirds in the North Atlantic.  There are two separate groups of scientists: the marine mammal team and the seabird team.

Chris Faist using the "Big Eyes"

Chris Faist using the "Big Eyes"

Mammals
The first order of business on a trip to count marine mammals is to ensure that all observers (including myself) are familiar with the types of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) that may be seen during the survey.  Last night all of the marine mammal observers gathered in the conference room to review photographs and field guides depicting each of the species that might be seen on the trip.  Using high-resolution photographs, we reviewed length, coloration, body shape and behaviors that distinguish each dolphin and whale to the most specific level of classification, Genus and species.

To make sure that all (or as close to all as possible) animals in the study area are counted, observers will be using high power binoculars, or “Big Eyes”, to extend their ability to see and identify animals even at great distances (about 7 miles from the ship).

Observation Station

Observation Station

Two teams of four, highly experienced observers will work simultaneously during the survey time.  From two different locations on the ship, the flying bridge (top deck) and the roll tank deck (about 15 feet below the flying bridge) each team of observers will rotate stations every 30 minutes.  One observer will start on the port (left) “Big Eyes” to observe animals on that side.  The second observer will be at the computer to record what is seen and search for animals close to the boat without using binoculars.  The 3rd observer will start on the starboard (right) “Big Eyes”, while the 4th person is on break.

It is believed that this method, of two teams of 4 observers each, will allow observers to count all of the animals in the survey area.  After the cruise is over the scientists will use math equations to get estimates of animals within the North Atlantic.

Pencil Close Up

Pencil Close Up

Birds
Since the weather was windy today, the mammal team did not work but there is a team of seabird observers on-board as well.  Mike and Marie are here to count all of the seabirds that occur in the survey area.  They are able to spot seabirds in rougher conditions (higher wind speeds) allowing them to collect data during most daylight hours.  Today, Mike was showing me how to accurately judge the distance between the boat and birds.  While technology may help others Mike likes to use an old fashion “pencil method”.  If you look carefully at the picture you will see marks on the pencil.  When he holds the pencil at arm’s length and puts the top of the pencil at the horizon, each of the marks indicate a different distance.  The top mark is 300m from the ship, middle is 200m and the bottom mark indicates 100m.  This gives Mike and Marie a quick guide to accurately judge distance to record their seabird observations.

Personal Log

Due to foggy and windy conditions the marine mammal observers are waiting for better conditions to start surveying.  While this is bad for the scientists, it is great for me.  I have had some time to learn to navigate the ship, nap, get my “sea legs” and interview many of the scientists and crew.

What I am finding is a highly trained, experienced group of individuals that love the ocean.  Each person brings a unique set of talents and background forming a complete team with the same goal, accurately counting the numbers of protected species in the North Atlantic.  I am very excited to be a part of such a great team.