Tom Jenkins: Final Post, May 8, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Jenkins
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 10 – 27, 2018

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographic Area: Northeastern U.S. Coast
Date: May 3rd, 2018

Personal Log

When I applied to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I really didn’t know what to expect.  To learn more, I read through previous TAS blogs. It seemed that every teacher had a truly unique research cruise experience.  The type of mission, the ship (and it’s crew), and the composition of the science team were among other variables all factoring into their experiences.  To be truthful, the more I read, the more excited (maybe a tad anxious) I became about my upcoming adventure.

The ship that was utilized by the Northeastern Fisheries Science Center to carry out the Spring Bottom Trawl Survey was the Henry B. Bigelow.   Once onboard, I found this vessel so impressive, that I devoted an entire blog to the subject: https://noaateacheratsea.blog/2018/04/16/tom-jenkins-a-day-in-the-life-of-a-teacher-at-sea-april-15-2018/

What I didn’t know at the time was that her crew was equally impressive.  Every single crew member made me feel extremely welcome. The officers on the bridge provided a wonderful overview of how they run the ship, the engineers did a great job of allowing me to explore many of the moving parts within this floating city.  The cooks did an amazing job of providing us with seemingly endless amounts of a wide range of very tasty food. In retrospect, I laugh at the fact that I originally planned to diet during my 18 days at sea!

I was selected for a fisheries cruise.  This meant I would serve as 1 of the 14 member science team aboard the ship (Read more about the Spring Bottom Trawl Survey by reading this blog: https://noaateacheratsea.blog/2018/04/20/tom-jenkins-what-is-a-spring-bottom-trawl-survey-april-20-2018/).

NOAA ship Bigelow cruise tracks over lay on ocean map

NOAA ship Bigelow cruise tracks over lay on ocean map

While I did appreciate that few people have an opportunity to participate in this kind of study,  I couldn’t have imagined just how cool it was really going to be! Not only were there extremely large fish, but there was more diversity than I would have ever thought I would find off the coast of New England.  I found myself fascinated by fairly routine things: the length of a shrimp’s antenna, the dining habits of a lamprey, a skate’s eye, and the locomotion of an octopus. And that laundry list doesn’t even include the phronima that we found.  Did you know this intriguing little amphipod served as the inspiration for the namesake of the Alien movie franchise!? Obviously, I was able to witness wonders both large and small which stirred my intellectual curiosity and has inspired me to think of clever ways in which to incorporate these highly specialized adaptations into my curriculum.

After spending 16 nights aboard the Bigelow, I am convinced it’s the people that make the mission.  Not only was the ship’s crew great, but the science team was phenomenal! I can’t underestimate the value of this last statement as these were the people that shared almost every moment of my odyssey.  Without exception, they were knowledgeable, passionate, and all-around good people. I was encouraged to slow down as to better admire nature’s wonders. They were patient and took the time to explain ideas that would help me understand their scientific process.  These teachers helped me write blogs, answer my student’s questions, create video segments for an upcoming www.teachingchannel.org video, as well as brainstorm units of instruction for my classroom.  Their kindness as well as the aforementioned interactions quickly transitioned my initial role as an outsider (that was afraid to slow down the team) a to true member of the team that was also one of the gang.

To say my time spent as a Teacher at Sea was an incredible experience would be an understatement.   This immersive experience pushed me to grow in numerous ways. Thanks to this program, I am re-energized and find myself looking ahead to next school year.  While spending a significant amount time away from both my loved ones and students was a challenge, it was an adventure that I will never forget.

Me standing on the deck of NOAA ship Bigelow in front of a sunrise 

Me standing on the deck of NOAA ship Bigelow in front of a sunrise

Tom Jenkins: What is a Spring Bottom Trawl Survey? April 20, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Jenkins
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 10 – 27, 2018

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographic Area: Northeastern U.S. Coast
Date: April 20, 2018

Personal Log

A few months ago, I learned about my selection to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  When I learned I was offered a spot aboard the Henry B. Bigelow to help with the Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, my immediate reaction was “Yes!  I will do it!” I then quickly googled Spring Bottom Trawl Survey as I unsure exactly what I would be doing on my 18 day research cruise.

So, what is it?  The standardized Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) Spring Bottom Trawl Survey is annual event (an additional survey is conducted in the fall) that was initiated in 1968.  Its primary objective is to collect fishery-independent data during standardized research vessel surveys from Cape Hatteras to the Scotian shelf.   While out at sea, additional oceanographic and plankton data are collected. This allows for continuous monitoring of the health and status of marine resources and their habitat.

 

 

How is it planned?  The Chief Scientist will work with the ship’s officers to set a cruise track to a set of sampling locations that were randomly selected by a computer program (this eliminates bias).  A multitude of factors come into play while plotting the course for the day. These include: weather, time, the number of stations they would like to cover, the types of stations, as well as other factors.  Once the ship arrives at a station, several people aboard the vessel scout the location. A desirable sea floor (minimal slope, no obstacles, etc.), avoiding fixed gear (lobster pots for example), and minimal boat traffic are a few of the things that help them tow in a spot within the allowable radius from the original point.

 

 

What actually occurs once a towable spot is found?  Data from the location needs to be gathered as this will provide a reference for the scientists that will later be studying the organisms as well as the data mined from this specific spot.  This is done with a CTD (seen above). The ship’s crew will hoist this apparatus over the edge of the ship and lower this device to roughly 30 feet above the seafloor. Sometimes down to a depth of over 1,000 feet!   Knowing things like Conductivity, Temperature, and the Depth help researchers paint a more complete picture which will aid them in their effort to study and assess fish populations.

 

 

After both the preliminary data is gathered and the scouting is complete, the fisherman aboard the ship will kick it into high gear.  Fishing aboard the Henry B. Bigelow is an impressive feat of engineering.  Once in the water and fishing the net is about 36 feet across at the opening (the wings), and about 90 feet long; which is loaded with sensors, is fed out the back using a set of winches.  These reactive winches control the wires which manipulate the net to ensure the best trawl possible which will hopefully result in a representative sample for the science team to process (This system is known as “autotrawl” and it aims at maintaining equal pressure by both winches, enabling more consistent performance especially in rough weather, and also reduces the amount of damage due to of “hangs”).

 

 

Once out of the net, the organisms are then loaded into the checker pen.  A member of the science team will then slowly feed them onto the conveyor belt which then carries them inside the wet lab.  The other members of the science team will then sort the various species of marine life into buckets of various sizes. Each of the containers has an attached bar-code tag which is then scanned and associated with the species that is in the container.  This ensures that everything that comes off of the belt is accounted for during processing.

 

 

In the wet lab, there are three processing stations.  Once a bucket arrives at the work area, the tag will then be scanned into the computer will tell members of the science team the specific data as well as the specimens to gather.  Data includes things such as mass, length, sex, age structures (otoliths (a calcified part of the inner ear), illicium (the long fleshy filament attached to the forehead of anglerfish), & scales) and stomach contents whereas specimens can be the entire body or a specific part.  Examples of additional requested include things such as fin clips (DNA), and gonads (reproductive information).

 

 

After the specimens are processed, they are carefully preserved for later use.  Some things such as otoliths can preserved in an envelope whereas something like a stomach needs to be placed in a jar which is then filled with a fluid (formalin solution) that will keep its contents fresh.  Large freezers aboard the ship allow the science team to quickly freeze bagged specimens which will allow high quality samples to be shipped to research facilities; not only in northeast, but to laboratories all around the world.

20180420_081751

Night Shift Crew

(The amazing 12am-12pm team that teaches the Teacher at Sea)

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  As always, if you have any questions and/or comments, please feel free to post them below.

Tom Jenkins: A Day in the Life of a Teacher at Sea, April 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Jenkins
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 10 – 27, 2018

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographic Area: Northeastern U.S. Coast
Date: April 15, 2018

Personal Log

Stairwell

A ladder well on Henry B. Bigelow

The ladder wells.  On the Henry B. Bigelow these sets of steps will take you everywhere that you need to go throughout the day.  Life on a ship is interesting in the fact you don’t ever leave while on your mission.  This is where you sleep, where you eat, where you work and where you hang out with your friends.

One of the most frequently received questions from my students back home is about life on the ship.  Since the past couple of days have been relatively slow in terms of fishing (due to inclement weather), I have decided to highlight the areas of the ship where I spend the most of my time.

My room (likely about the size of your own room at home) happens to be a quad which means I share my room with 3 other people.  In addition to two bunk beds, we have a work area (w/a small TV) and a compact bathroom.  While it is definitely a bit cramped, the 4 of us are split between the 2 shifts (My shift is 12am-12pm.).   The end result is that there are no more than 2 people in the room at any time, so it ends up working out quite well.  Notice the handle in the shower.  This comes in handy when you are trying to clean up and not wipe out as sometimes the ship can move around quite a bit!  You may also notice the emergency billet  on the door.  This tells each member of the crew where to go and also what to do during emergency situations.

 

The food on the ship has been amazing.  As students in my classroom will attest, I swore I was going to go on a diet during this cruise .  While that would be possible, given there are always tons of healthy options, it’s not everyday when there is a BBQ spare rib option for lunch!  Additionally, when you are working off and on over the course of your 12 hour shift, eating food is sometimes a good way to pass the time.  While I don’t think I have gained weight, I definitely do not think I will lose weight over the final 12 days of the cruise.

 

The labs where the scientists work are obviously where we spend a large part of our day (or my case, night).  The picture to the left is where many of the fish are cataloged and processed.  The photo in the top right are where some of the specimens are preserved for later examination in not only NOAA facilities, but also other other research facilities around the world.  The area in the bottom is a planning/observation space where the science team goes to gather, plan and share information related to their research mission.

 

Finally, there is the lounge and fitness area.  The lounge is really nice with large recliners which are a wonderful way to relax after a long shift.  There is Direct TV which is nice for both sports and news and the ship also has an impressive collection of movies for the crew to enjoy.  The fitness area in the bottom right is my favorite space on the ship.  While neither expansive nor pretty, it is a great place to go to burn off steam.  There is a TV and enough equipment to break a sweat.  Although I must admit, its extremely challenging to use an elliptical during a storm with rough seas.  Especially with low ceilings! 🙂

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  As always, if you have any questions and/or comments, please feel free to post them below.

Tom Jenkins: Teacher at Sea, Not at Sea. Yet… April 14, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Jenkins
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 10 – 27, 2018

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographic Area: Northeastern U.S. Coast
Date: April 14, 2018

So…What to do when you are a NOAA Teacher at Sea, you are at the port and you are not yet out to sea?  You leverage your NOAA connections within the scientific community to learn more about things related to various aspects of NOAA’s mission.

On Thursday, I was fortunate enough to be part of a NOAA group that toured UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology.  This recently opened, cutting edge facility provided a wonderful insights into the study of marine life.

School for Marine Science & Technology

UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology

Tom at UMass Dartmouth

Me touring UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology

Lab at UMass Dartmouth

Lab at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology

While on our special tour, members of the NOAA Fisheries team were able to exchange knowledge with the team that helped build and is currently getting this amazing research space up and running to full capacity.

We learned about some of the various aquatic species that are indigenous to the region (see below) and the current research surrounding these impressive life forms.

Inside a Tank

Tank at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology

Tom and specimen

Me holding a specimen from the tank at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology

Inside of Tank 2

Tank at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology

And I also learned about some of the technologies that are utilized by fisherman including those similar to what we will use by the Henry Bigelow on our upcoming research mission.

Example net

Technologies that are utilized by fisherman including those similar to what we will use by the Henry Bigelow

More tech examples

Technologies that are utilized by fisherman including those similar to what we will use by the Henry Bigelow

While spending time around the dock, I took time to explore and learn more about some of the equipment that is used to gather data at sea.  Notice the NOAA environmental buoy to far left and the crane aboard the Henry Bigelow. While watching a Coast Guard Ship (with a similar crane) effortlessly load and unload these massive buoys, I couldn’t help but to start brainstorming an engineering design lesson that would help capture this really cool process.  Hopefully, ideas similar to these will continue to be developed over the next couple of weeks and will result in all kinds of new curricula for my classroom.

Tom on Buoy

Me on a NOAA environmental buoy

Crane on Bigelow

The crane aboard the Henry Bigelow

Tom and other buoys

Me in front of a row of navigational buoys

Tomorrow, we are once again set to sail out.  The past few days have allowed me to learn about the marine life that we will be gathering, the ways in which we will be doing it and has also allowed me to get to know the wonderful people I will be working with during my research mission.  To say that I am excited would be an understatement.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  As always, please feel free to leave any comments below.

Emily Whalen: Looking at Lobsters, Moving a 208-foot Boat, and Favorite Creatures, May 5, 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 5, 2015

Weather Data:
Air Temperature:  8.4°C
Water Temperature: 5.1ºC
Wind:  15 knots NW
Seas:  1-2 feet

Science and Technology Log:

Lobsters!

This is a large female lobster.  The claw on the right is called the crusher and the claw on the left is called the ripper.  For scale, consider that this lobster is inside a standard 5-gallon bucket!

This is a large female lobster. The claw on the right is called the crusher and the claw on the left is called the pincer. For scale, consider that this lobster is inside a standard 5-gallon bucket!

Not everything that comes up in the net is a fish.  One of the things that we have caught many of on this trip is Homarus americanus, commonly known as the lobster.  Lobsters are invertebrates, which means they don’t have a backbone or an internal skeleton.  Instead, they have a hard outer shell called an exoskeleton to give their body structure and protect their inner organs.  Because their exoskeleton cannot expand as the lobster grows, a lobster must molt, or shed its shell periodically as it gets bigger.  In the first few years of their lives, lobsters need to molt frequently because they are growing quickly.  More mature lobsters only molt yearly or even every few years.

Another interesting fact about lobsters can regenerate lost body parts.  After a claw or leg is lost, the cells near the damaged area will start to divide to form a new appendage.  The developing structure is delicate and essentially useless while it is growing, but after a few molts, it will be fully functional.

This lobster lost a claw and is in the early stages of regenerating it.  What challenges do you think a single-clawed lobster might face?

This lobster lost a claw and is in the early stages of regenerating it. What challenges do you think a single-clawed lobster might face?

This is a lobster  that has almost completed regenerating a lost claw.

This is a lobster that has almost completed regenerating a lost claw.

This is a lobster with two fully functional claws.  Why do you think each claw has a different shape?

This is a lobster with two fully functional claws. Why do you think each claw has a different shape?

When we catch lobsters, we measure and record the distance from their eye cavity to the posterior end of the carapace.  Many of the lobsters we have caught are similar in size to those you would find at the grocery store, which typically weigh about a little more than pound.  Commercial fishermen can only keep male lobsters that are over 101 millimeters.  Can you guess why?  We have seen some smaller lobsters that measure about 50 millimeters, and also some much larger lobsters that measure as much as 150 millimeters!

These are the calipers used to measure the carapace of each lobster.

These are the calipers used to measure the carapace of each lobster.

This is one of the larger lobsters that we have seen.  Some lobsters can live to be over a hundred, although everyone's best estimate for this one was about 20 years.  I put my hand next to the claw for scale.

This is one of the larger lobsters that we have seen. Some lobsters can live to be over a hundred, although everyone’s best estimate for this one was about 20 years. I put my hand next to the claw so that you could see how big it is!  I wasn’t brave enough to put my hand any closer!

One of the members of my watch is Dr. Joe Kunkel, who is doing something called ‘landmark analysis’ on some of the lobsters that we have caught.  This process involves recording the exact location of 12 specific points on the carapace or shell of each lobster.  Then he compares the relative geometry different lobsters to look for trends and patterns.  In order to do this, he uses a machine called a digitizer.  The machine has a small stylus and a button.  When you push the button, it records the x, y and z position of the stylus.  Once the x,y and z position of all 12 points has been recorded, they are imported into a graphing program that creates an individual profile for each lobster.

Here I am using a digitizer to pinpoint 12 different landmarks on this lobsters carapace, or shell.   So far, the offshore lobsters seem to have different geometry than the onshore lobsters, even though they are the same species.

Here I am using a digitizer to pinpoint 12 different landmarks on this lobsters carapace, or shell. So far, the offshore lobsters seem to have different geometry than the onshore lobsters, even though they are the same species.

So far, it appears that lobsters that are caught inshore have different geometry than lobsters that are caught further offshore.  Typically, an organism’s shape is determined by its genes.  Physical variations between organisms can be the result of different genes, environmental factors or physiological factors like diet or activity.  Dr. Kunkel doesn’t have a certain explanation for the differences between these two groups of lobsters, but it may suggest that lobsters have different activity levels or diet depending on whether they live near the shore our out in deeper waters.  In recent years, a shell disease has decimated lobster populations south of Cape Cod.  This study may give us clues about the cause of this disease, which could someday affect the lobster fishery.

This is a grid that represents the digitization of a lobster.

This is a grid that represents the digitization of a lobster.  The single point on the right hand side represents the rostrum, which is analogous to the nose, and the two points furthest to the left represent the place where the carapace or shell meets the tail.

Moving Forward

In order to move from station to station as we complete our survey, the Bigelow has a powerful propulsion system different from most other types of ships.  Typically, a ship has an engine that burns diesel fuel in order to turn a shaft.  To make the ship move forward (ahead) or backward (astern), the clutch is engaged, which causes the shaft to spin the propeller.  The throttle can then be used to make the shaft spin faster or slower, which speeds up or slows down the boat.   Throttling up and down like this affects the amount of fuel burned.  For those of you who are new drivers, this is similar to how your car gets better or worse gas mileage depending on what type of driving you are doing.

Like this class of ship, the Bigelow has a giant propeller at the stern which is 14 feet across and has 5 blades.  However, the unlike most ships, the propeller on the Bigelow is powered by electricity instead of a combustion engine.  There are four electricity-producing generators on the ship, two large and two small.  The generators burn diesel fuel and convert the stored energy into electricity.  The electricity powers two electric motors, which turn the propeller. While the electricity produced powers the propeller, it is also used for lights, computers, pumps, freezers, radar and everything else on the ship.  There are several benefits to this type of system.  One is that the generators can run independently of each other. Running two or three generators at a time means the ship makes only as much electricity as it needs based on what is happening at the time, so fuel isn’t wasted.  Since the ship can speed up or slow down without revving the engine up or down, the generators can always run at their maximum efficiency.
Also, there is much finer control of the ship’s speed with this system.  In fact, the ship’s speed can be controlled to one tenth of a knot, which would be similar to being able to drive your car at exactly 30.6 or 30.7 mph.  Finally, an added benefit is that the whole system runs quietly, which is an advantage when you are scouting for marine mammals or other living things that are sensitive to sound.

Personal Log

I have seen a lot of fish on this trip, but it would be a lie to say that I don’t have some favorites.  Here are a few of them.  Which one do you think is the coolest?

This is a sea raven.  Most of them are brown and green, but this one was a brilliant yellow.

This is a sea raven. Most of the ones we have seen are  brown and green, but this one was a brilliant yellow

Windowpane flounder.  We have seen many types of flounder, but I think these look the coolest.

Windowpane flounder. We have seen many types of flounder, but I think these are the coolest.

Last night we caught 1,700 kilograms of mackerel like these on the Scotian Shelf!

Last night we caught 1,700 kilograms of mackerel like these on the Scotian Shelf!

I find the pattern on this cod particularly striking.

I find the pattern on this cod particularly striking.

How can you not love this little spoonarm octopus?

How can you not love this little spoonarm octopus?

This is a particularly colorful four-beard rockling!

This immature cusk eel will lose these colors and eventually grow to be a dull grey color.

These squid have chromatophores, which are cells that can change color.  You can see them in this picture as the reddish purple dots.

These squid have chromatophores, which are cells that can change color. You can see them in this picture as the reddish purple dots.

This lamprey eel has circular rasping teeth that it uses to burrow into its prey.  Even as they ride along the conveyor belt, they are trying to bite into an unsuspecting fish!

This Atlantic hagfish has circular rasping teeth that it uses to burrow into its prey. Even as they ride along the conveyor belt, they are trying to bite into an unsuspecting fish!

You can see the gills of this goosefish by looking deep into its mouth.  This fish has a giant mouth that allows it to each huge meals.  Some of the goosefish we catch have stomachs that are larger than their whole bodies!

You can see the gills of this goosefish by looking deep into its mouth. This fish has a giant mouth that allows it to each huge meals. Some of the goosefish we catch have stomachs that are larger than their whole bodies!

We have only seen one of these little blue lumpfish.  While most fish feel slippery and slimy, this one has a rough skin.

We have only seen one of these little blue lumpfish. While most fish feel slippery and slimy, this one has a rough skin.

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.

Sue Zupko, Destination: Calibration, September 7, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Zupko
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Leg I
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean from Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC
Date: September 7, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat 41°31.3’N     Lon 071°20.8W
Present Weather PC
Visibility 10 nm
Wind 010° 9kts
Sea Level Pressure 1019.8
Sea Wave Height 1-2 ft
Temperature: Sea Water 22°C  Air 28°

Science and Technology Log

Flexibility is the key. Our sail date was changed several times due to mechanical issues. I’m ok with that. It beats getting out in the middle of the ocean and not having things work properly. We weren’t sure exactly when the Bigelow would sail as of Thursday, but were pretty sure it would be today at 10:00 am. NOAA had me fly out to get onboard.

Arrival at airport

Arrival at airport

 

What a blessing that was. I was able to get acclimated (used to) to the ship, meet some crew members, and organize my belongings.

Mrs. Zupko beside the Henry B. Bigelow.

Mrs. Zupko beside the Henry B. Bigelow.

That is a big deal since when docked, nothing is moving. Once we got underway, the ship rocks and rolls. Pencils loose in a drawer aren’t a good idea. Where to store the flashlight? Can I find my necklace in the morning? It’s about routine. The locker (my closet) is noisy to open and close and must be kept closed when underway. Try not to forget things since you have to open that door again–and you have to hold the door since it swings and will bang. Someone is always sleeping. Right now my roommate is sleeping so I am thankful I have a quiet keyboard. She has earplugs in and told me I wouldn’t bother her. I also got to pick my berth (bed), which is on the bottom. There will be four of us in the room when everyone arrives tonight–all scientists.

So far I have had no “duties” other than blogging. When we start trawling, I will work noon-midnight. One of the scientists on my watch, Nicole, gave me a tour today and explained what I will be doing. My foul weather gear consists of heavy orange bib coveralls, a heavy yellow jacket with super long sleeves, and big rubber boots which come up to my knees. I brought inserts to go in the boots since I’ll be standing–a lot. Bought some new shoes that are slip-ons so I can get out of my foul weather gear as soon as we are done processing the fish. I learned that we probably will have over 100 trawls on this leg of the Autumn Trawl Survey and we will climb in and out of our gear often.

Let me explain a bit about how things will happen. Over the ship’s intercom, which will be heard everywhere except our staterooms, the galley, and the lounge, there is a (Bing….Bong….) “Attention on the Bigelow. Streaming….” This means the nets are being let out and will be at the bottom about 20 minutes. What can I do for 20 minutes? Help me out and vote on my poll.

The blue trawl doors on the deck will be added to the net.

The blue trawl doors on the deck will be added to the net.

As the net is let out, blue “trawl doors” attached to the net sink to the bottom, holding the net down and keeping the mouth of the net open. Now, the amount of time it takes to bring the net up varies. The net could have been 24 m down or 350 m down. When they start bringing in the net, the NOAA crew will make an announcement (Bing….Bong….)”Haul back.” They will show me how to find the depth on the equipment so I will be able to judge when to be ready. When the net comes up, the fish will be dumped on a table called a checker. If there are too many, they get dumped on the deck (called a deck tow). I hope it fits in the checker since it will be less work. Imagine picking up all those fish from the deck and putting them in containers.

Once in the checker, they will be fed to a conveyor belt which takes them into the wet lab for processing. We will sort the critters and organic “trash” into buckets by species. (I cringed at the word trash being used for wonderful creatures such as sponges and corals. However, Nicole explained that these are just not our main animals of interest. It is similar to weeds. A weed is any plant you don’t want in a specific flower bed. I love wildflowers, but they don’t always work well in my garden.)

The person in charge (called the “watch” chief) will weigh and label the fish and send the container on. Some fish will be selected for extra information. Others will be released into the sea. Animals that we keep will be for further research.

The work we are doing is very important to monitor the ocean’s health. Health to the ocean, means health to us. If the ocean isn’t healthy, we had better find out why and correct it. It’s like a nurse takes your temperature and looks at your symptoms when you are sick. We are the nurses checking on the sea. Others will analyze the symptoms and come up with a plan to correct any problems. I will give more information on our work later.

Meet the NOAA Crew

Ensign Erick Estela Gomez is originally from Puerto Rico. Most of my dealings when I boarded the ship were with him since he was the OOD, Officer of the Deck, for the weekend. In between his filling in reports and checking on the ship’s systems, we had a chance to talk. He is very personable and has a brilliant smile. Maybe his smile is infectious since he just got engaged to be married and is very happy. Added to his many abilities, he speaks four languages. He explained that he received an Environmental Science degree from the University of Puerto Rico. Most NOAA officers have a science or engineering degree or 60 credit hours in math and science. I need to check my records and see if I have that much. Maybe I could be a NOAA Corps officer.

Ensign Estela’s favorite part of his job is steering the ship. I enjoyed doing that when aboard the Pisces. It is a challenge. While he was off doing a chore, I sat in one of the two tall chairs on the bridge (operations center of ship). When he was done, he explained, very politely, that it is ship’s custom that no one except the captain sit in those chairs. He has been an ensign 1.5 years and said he will not sit in one of those as a sign of respect until he has earned it himself by being appointed to be a captain of a ship. I guess I always figured it was like Captain Kirk leaving Scotty or Spock in charge and they would sit in his chair to give orders. But, Ensign Estela has a lot of respect for earning one’s rank and will sit there when appropriate. So, no cool chair for me on the bridge now.

Ensign Estela paused to really consider what tool he couldn’t live without when doing his job since he uses a lot of important tools. He decided on radar. It can be very foggy and this tool helps avoid collisions (crashes). If he invented a tool, it would be a fog-clearing machine to be able to see smaller vessels (boats) or obstructions.

There are collateral (other) duties for him. He is responsible for inventorying all the equipment on board. Every computer. Every pillow. He also needs to make sure things are in working order. If boots wear out, he needs to order more. That means managing a lot of paper so he needs organization skills. His main duty, however, is navigation officer. He checks the tides and currents and posts all that information on a white board on the bridge. Maintaining charts, ship’s routes, and flags indicating our status are part of his job.  I enjoyed learning a bit more from Ensign Estela on plotting the course using triangles. Triangles provide a nice straight edge.

His advice to my students, and any young person, is to keep up your math and science. Don’t sit in front of the TV or computer, get outside and do things. It’s obvious he does since he bicycles, fishes, and enjoys salsa dancing for relaxation. We call this Sharpening the Saw.

Personal Log

This is the ships call sign.

This is the ships call sign.

This week my students are studying how to communicate across distances on the ocean. How do ships communicate, for example? A ship might not have a radio. Flags work. There is a flag which states what country you are from. There are flags that say you have a net or a diver in the water. There are flags which tell your call sign if you want to speak by radio. There is even a flag for every letter of the alphabet. All these flags are up on the flying bridge, the highest deck on the ship.

Did You Know?

The ship usually uses true north for navigation. However, if that system fails, it uses magnetic north. North is 0°. That is like 90° on a coordinate grid. That is a bit confusing. We use degrees on maps all the time. Just remember that 0°N is used for navigation and wind direction.

Question of the Day 

Something to Think About

A tradition on board a ship is to remove one’s hat in the mess hall (dining area) and to not wear foul weather gear there. The mess hall was used during war as the hospital. People died on those tables and it is a sign of respect to remove one’s hat. Hats are often used to show respect. People remove their hats at a ball game to sing the national anthem. Men tip their hats to acknowledge a woman’s presence. People remove their hats in eating establishments. It is good to learn a country’s or culture’s (such as a ship) customs so as not to offend someone. That is also a sign of respect. When visiting churches while a tourist in Russia, I covered my head and wore a skirt, as is their custom. On board ship, once I leave my room for my watch, I shouldn’t return until my watch is over. That means carrying my computer, cameras, notes, jacket, phone, cup, water bottle, etc. with me so I don’t disturb those asleep. It’s just like being quiet in the halls at school. Guess what? They don’t want us talking in these halls either since someone is always sleeping. It is rude to disturb others, whether it be their sleep or learning.