Karah Nazor: The Glowing Dolphins of the Channel Islands and Interview with UCSC Graduate Student Ilysa “Ily” Iglesias, May 31, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: May 31, 2019

Game Plan and Trawling Line: Channel Islands San Nicolas Line

I am up on the flying bridge and I just saw two humpback whales spouting, an albatross soaring and a large Mola Mola on the sea surface.  In this blog I will write about an amazing once in a lifetime experience that from last night- May 31, 2019. The first haul was called off due to an abundance of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens, (as reported by the inside marine mammal watch prior to net deployment), so we motored on ahead to the second station, but dolphins chased the ship all the way there, too.  One strategy to encourage marine mammals to leave is for the ship to stop moving with the hope that the dolphins become disinterested and vacate the area. This pod was intent on having a party at the ship so Keith Sakuma encouraged everyone to just go outside to observe and enjoy the dolphins! 

Fishing on this survey takes place at nighttime (so the fish do not see the net) and Scripps graduate student Kaila Pearson and I stepped outside on the side deck into the darkest of dark nights. Kaila and I carefully placed one foot in front of the other because we couldn’t see our feet and where to step next. I was afraid I would trip. When I asked Keith Hanson if we should use a flashlight to safely make our way up to the top deck, he suggested that we stay in place for a few minutes to allow our eyes to adjust. Within 5 minutes or so objects around us started to present themselves to us within the black void.  We could eventually see our feet, each others faces, the dolphins, and even the finer features of the sea surface.

Within a few minutes Ily Iglesias reported seeing bioluminescence, a type of chemiluminescence that occurs in living things, such as the familiar green glow of lightening bugs in the Summer in the South.   This glow results from oxidation of the protein luciferin (present in photophore cells/organs) by the enzyme luciferase.  It its excited state, lucifern emits light.  This reaction is known to occur in some marine bacteria, dinoflagellates (single celled photosynthetic organisms), squid, deep sea fish, pyrosomes and jellyfish, and I am fortunate to have observed many of these creatures already on this research cruise (see photos below).  Some animals have photophore organs and generate their own luciferin, while others are hosts to bioluminescent bacteria.

deepsea longfin dragonfish
The large photo organ is a large green circle under the eye of the deepsea longfin dragonfish, Tactostoma macropus.
California lanternfish
California lanternfish, Symbolophorus californiensis, with photophores under the lateral line and the ventral surface.
California lanternfish photophores
California lanternfish photophores
Blue lanternfish
Blue lanternfish, Tarletonbeania crenularis, collected from a bongo net at 265 meters. Photophores line the ventral surface of the body.
Cranchia scabra
Cranchia scabra “baseball squid” with large photophores lining the eyes.
Chiroteuthis veranii squid
Chiroteuthis veranii squid

When dinoflagellates floating on the sea surface are agitated, they glow.  At first when I was trying really hard to see this, I noticed a couple of tiny flashes of green light, sort of like lightening bugs, but it wasn’t anything super obvious. In time, I noticed clouds of faint light, sort of like a glowing mist floating the water’s surface, that moved up and down with the swell.  I hypothesized that dinoflagellates on the sea surface were being agitated by the passage of waves through them and Ily suggested that it was caused by schools of anchovies.

Since the dolphins were intent on staying, we decided to head to the next station.  I knew that as the ship began to move that the bow would be breaking through surface water that had previously been undisturbed, and I predicted the bioluminescence would be much more intense.

As we took off, the dolphins began to bow surf and, as I predicted, the dinoflagellates were activated and this time their glow was a bright white.  As the dolphins surfaced to breath, their skin became coated with the glowing algal cells, creating an effect as if they were swimming in an X-ray machine.  The dolphins were literally glowing white swimming in a black sea! We were so entranced and excited by the beauty, we screamed in delight. I am sure the dolphins heard us cheering for them. They too, seemed excited and could see each other glowing as well.

Next we saw the faint cloud of dinoflagellates caused by Northern anchovies (Ily was right) up ahead of us. As the ship encountered the school of small (~ 3-6 inch) fish, they also started to glow really bright and it was easy to see all of the individual fish in the school. The dolphins could also see the glowing fish and split off in different directions to hunt them.  There were hundreds of fish that dispersed as they were being chased creating a pattern of short white glowing lines somewhat like the yellow lane markers on the highway.

The display was unlike anything I have ever witnessed. It was like the Aurora Borealis of the sea.  Despite our best efforts, our cell phone cameras were unable to pick up the bioluminescent signal, however, we do not need photos because the patterns of light will be forever embedded in our minds. The dolphins eventually tired from the surf and chase and departed. Ily said the experience was “an explosion of light that overwhelmed the senses” while Flora said it was “better than fireworks.”

With no marine mammal sightings at the third station, we completed a five minute haul in the deep channel and collected a huge white bin of anchovies (see photo of Keith Hanson with this catch below). In this catch we found a few Mexican lampfish, 3 king of the salmon, a lot of of large smooth tongues, a lot of salps, a few pyrosomes and one purple striped jellyfish.  The purple-striped jelly (Chrysaora colorata) is is primarily preyed upon by Leatherback turtles. Haul 2 was conducted over shallower water near San Nicolas Island and we only found salps and four small rockfish in the catch.  After these two hauls, we called it a night and wrapped up at 4:15 a.m.

Scientist Spotlight: Ilysa Iglesias, NMFS SWFSC FED/ University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC)

Ilysa “Ily” is a doctoral student who works in John Field’s Lab at UCSC.  She is studying the fish we are collecting on this cruise as part of her research. She is very knowledgeable about all of the survey research objectives. She is also one of the most positive and gregarious people I have every met. Ily grew up in Santa Cruz, CA, and enjoys surfing, hiking, gardening and raising chickens.   Ily is a fan of early marine explorer Jacques Cousteau, who often wore a red beanie/toboggan and a blue shirt. Ily came prepared and brought six red hats (that she knit herself) for each of the members of the sorting team. Ily’s favorite fish is the hatchetfish. She was thrilled when we found on in the catch!

Ilysa with hatchetfish
Ilysa Iglesias with deepsea marine hatchetfish
deepsea marine hatchetfish
A deepsea marine hatchetfish caught in the bongo which was deployed to depth of 265 meters.

Ily obtained a Bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley in integrated biology and a Masters Degree from the University of Hawaii in Zoology with a specialization in marine biology.  Her thesis was on the function of intertidal pools as a nursery habitat for near-shore reef fish. She compared otoliths (fish bone ears) of fish reared inside and outside of tide pools and compared their growth rates.  Otoliths can be used to the age of the fish much like counting rings on a tree and stable isotope analysis reveals information about where the fish were reared.

Ily, Flora and Kristin have all used otoliths in their research and taught me how to locate and collect the sagittal otolith from anchovies and myctophids. It is a tiny ear bone (one of three) that is positioned near the hindbrain of fish.  See photos below of the otoliths we collected. This is a technique that I will definitely take back to my classroom and teach my McCallie students.

Otoliths we collected and observed under the dissecting microscope.
Photomicrograph of otoliths
Photomicrograph of otoliths we collected from blue lanternfish (top) and Northern Anchovy (bottom) and observed under the dissecting microscope.

After obtaining her masters degree, Ily was Conservation Fellow for the Nature Conservancy in HI and worked in octopus fisheries before returning home to join NOAA’s salmon team and then the rockfish team as a Research Associate.  Ily has just completed the first year of her doctoral work in the Field Lab and expects to complete the program within 5 years.

On this cruise, Ily is collecting small fish called Myctophids for her research. These are small bioluminescent fish that live at depths of 300 and 1,500 m in the bathypelagic zone. In this survey, we encounter these deep sea dwellers during their nightly vertical migration up to the edge of the photic zone at depths we are targeting.  They are likely chasing their prey (krill) on this upward journey. It is amazing to me they are able to withstand the pressure change. Mcytophids are also known as lanternfishes and have bioluminescent photophores dispersed on their bodies. The fish sorting team analyzes the position of these organs to help distinguish between the different species. There are 243 known species of myctophids, making these little fishes one of the most diverse vertebrates on Earth.  They are so abundant in the sea that they make up 65% of the ocean’s biomass, but most people have never heard of them!

In 2014- 2015 there was an anonymously high sea surface temperatures off of the Pacific Coast known as The Blob.  Marine scientists are still elucidating the effect of the hot water had on fish populations and ecosystems. Ily explains that “atmospheric forcing caused changes in oxygen and temperature resulting in variability in the California current.”  The water was less nutrient dense and caused a reduction in phytoplankton. This disruption of primary production propagated up the trophic cascade resulting in die offs of zooplankton, fish, marine mammals and birds.  

Ily is using the catch records and acoustics data from the rockfish survey to study changes in distribution and abundance of myctophids from before, during and after The Blob (2013-2019).  She aims to understand if and how their trophic position of myctophids was affected by the unusually high sea surface temperatures.   Using elemental analysis isotope ratio mass spectrometry to analyze the Carbon and Nitrogen atoms incorporated into fish muscle, Ily can determine what the myctophids were eating each year.

Amanda Dice: Using Light for Survival, September 13, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Amanda Dice

Aboard Oscar Dyson

August 21 – September 2, 2017


Mission: Juvenile Pollock Fishery Survey

Geographic area of cruise: Western Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 13, 2017

Weather Data: Rainy, 76 F

Baltimore, MD

Science and Technology Log

Now that I am back home, I have some time to think about the variety of animals I saw on the cruise and do a little more research about them. Many of the animals we caught in our net have the ability to light up. This adaptation is known as bioluminescence. Different species use bioluminescence in different ways to help them survive.


Myctophids are a type of fish also known as a lantern fish. These small fish can occupy the same habitat as juvenile pollock, and we caught several of them at our sampling stations. I got a chance to look at them closely and I could see small spots, called photophores, along the sides of their bodies. In dark waters, these spots have bioluminescent properties. Lantern fish can control when to light them up and how bright the spots will glow.


There are many different species of lantern fish. Scientists have learned that each species has a unique pattern of bioluminescent photophores along the sides of their bodies. For this reason, it is believed that lantern fish use their bioluminescent properties to help them find a mate.

The photophores can be seen as white spots on this lantern fish. Image courtesy of NOAA.

Lantern fish also have bioluminescent areas on the underside of their bodies. This adaptation helps them achieve what is known as counter-illumination. In the ocean, a predator can be lurking in the dark waters below its prey. Since many things feed on lantern fish, it is important for them to have a way to camouflage into the environment. When a predator looks up, during the day, a fish that is lit up on the bottom will blend in with the lighter waters above it, making it hard to see.

counterillumination 2
The camouflaging effect of counter-illumination can be seen when this bioluminescent fish lights up its underside. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian.

Lots of animals use this technique to help them hide from predators, including squid. We pulled in many small squid in with our samples that had patterns of photophores on them. Depending on the species, squid also use bioluminescence to attract mates and to confuse predators.

squid NOAA 2
The pattern of lighted photophores can be seen on this squid. Image courtesy of NOAA.

In addition to fish and crustaceans, we also pulled in a variety of jellyfish. Jellyfish also have bioluminescence characteristics. Many jellyfish use light as a way to protect themselves from predators. When a jellyfish is threatened by a predator, it flashes in a rapid pattern. This signals other fish nearby that it is being hunted. This can alert larger predators, who may be hunting the predator of the jellyfish. The larger predator will then swoop in after the jellyfish’s predator, allowing the jellyfish to escape!

Jellyfish NOAA
Many jellyfish use bioluminescence to protect themselves from predators. Image courtesy of NOAA.

Personal log

I have been home for over a week and I think I finally have my land legs back again. Looking back on the experience, there were so many little surprises that came with living onboard a ship. One thing I noticed is that I got much better at walking around the longer I was there. I learned to always have one hand available to grab a railing or brace myself during any sudden movements. However, I never quite mastered getting a decent workout in on the treadmill! Another surprise is how relaxing the rocking of the ship could be when I laid down. I thought the movement would be distracting, but it actually helped me drift off to sleep!

Did you know?

There are many superstitions surrounding life on a ship. It is considered bad luck to have bananas on board and whistling is discouraged. Whistling onboard a ship is thought to bring on wind and storms!


Christine Webb: August 23, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christine Webb

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

August 11 – 26, 2017

Mission: Summer Hake Survey Leg IV

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA

Date: 8/23/2017

Latitude: 48.19 N

Longitude: 125.29 W

Wind Speed: 7.9 knots

Barometric Pressure: 1021.70 mBars

Air Temperature: 62.1 F

Weather Observations: Partially cloudy

Science and Technology Log

For today’s science and technology log, I interviewed my roommate Tracie. You only have to talk to Tracie for five seconds to learn that she’s passionate about marine chemistry and marine biology and marine physics…all things marine. She’s the HAB (harmful algal bloom) specialist on board, and she’s been squirreled away in the chemistry lab every day collecting lots of great samples as we travel up the coast. Before we left Newport, she taught me a bit about algae by taking me to the beach to see some bioluminescent dinoflagellates. When we stomped in the water, the dinoflagellates would glow! It looked like puddles full of blue lightning bugs, and it was amazing. One of her quotes from that night was, “I imagine this is what unicorn footprints would look like if they were traipsing over rainbows.” Everyone should have the chance to see that at some point in their life. It gave me a taste of why it makes sense to be so passionate about algae. So, without further ado, here’s your chance to learn a bit more about HABs from my friend Tracie!

  1. What is a HAB, and why should we care about them?

HABs are phytoplankton that have negative consequences either for us or the ecosystem. Some can release neurotoxins that can be damaging to mammals (including humans), amongst other things. A harmful algal bloom (HAB) can also create a dead zone by a process called eutrophication. Bacteria eat the phytoplankton once they begin to die, which removes oxygen from the water.

  1. What makes it a bloom?

A “bloom” is when there is so much algae that the ecosystem can’t support it and they start to die off. There aren’t enough nutrients available in the water. Some people call this a “Red Tide.” There are certain species, such as Alexandrium spp., where even one cell per liter would be enough to create a harmful effect.

  1. What made you decide to study HABs?

During a lab in college, we were allowed to go to the beach and sample phytoplankton. When we got back to the lab with our samples, we found a huge amount of Pseudo-nitzschia spp. It releases a neurotoxin that gives mammals amnesiac shellfish poisoning. That year, we couldn’t eat shellfish and crab from our area because of this bloom. There’s no antidote to this toxin, and it affects the brain function of mammals who eat it. Whales died that year because they forgot how to breathe. This made me super interested in studying more about these types of species.

  1. What are you specifically hoping to find in your research aboard this cruise?

We’re trying to find where blooms start, how blooms begin, and follow them within the California Current system. It’s part of an ongoing study of the California Current system and how species are transported. California fisheries have been dramatically affected by HABs.

  1. Have you been finding what you need so far?

It’s been really interesting…we’ve seen quite a few Dinophysis species (which I find to be the cutest), and some really interesting Pseudo-nitzschia spp., but no blooms. Close to the coast, within 15 nm of shore, I see a lot more diversity in my samples. This is mostly due to upwelling.

  1. Has anything in your research so far surprised you?

There are very few species that I haven’t recognized, which is interesting because we’re so far north. We have fjord-like environments up here by Vancouver Island, so I expected there to be a higher abundance of phytoplankton up here than I saw.

  1. What is a common misconception about HABs?

The term “HAB” itself – they’re called harmful because they’re harmful to us as humans and to various industries, however – they provide a huge amount of support to other animals as primary producers and as oxygen producers.

They’re basically plants that can swim, and they’re all food for something. They’re not harmful for most things, so the name is kind of a misnomer. In defense of the HABs, they’re just trying to survive. Phytoplankton are responsible for around 50% of the world’s oxygen, and they’re the primary producer for marine and freshwater ecosystems.

  1. Anything else you want people to know?

There’s still a lot that we need to learn, and I would like everyone at some point in their life to see how beautiful these fragile organisms are and appreciate how much they contribute to our world.

  1. If you weren’t a marine chemist, what would you be?

I would write nonfiction about the beauty of the world around us. Or maybe I’d be an adventure guide.

  1. What are some fun facts about you that not a lot of people know?

My motto for life is “always look down.” There’s so much around us, even the dirt under our toes, that is so full of life and beauty.

My art is on Axial Seamount, 1400 m below sea level, 300 miles off the coast of Oregon! I drew an octopus high-fiving ROPOS the ROV that placed it there!

Also, I’m a high school dropout who is now a straight-A senior in environmental science at the University of Washington, Tacoma. Other people’s perceptions of you don’t control your destiny.

Here are a couple pictures of some of the HABs Tracie has seen during this trip (she took these pictures from her microscope slides):

329 D. fortii
Algae under the microscope: D. fortii. Image by Tracie.

329 hobbit house 2
Algae under microscope. Image by Tracie.

Personal Log:

Since today’s science log was about Tracie, I’ll feature her in the personal log too! She’s my partner in the ship-wide corn hole tournament, and we won our first-round game yesterday. Look at these awesome corn hole boards that were specially made for the Shimada!

Shimada corn hole board!

We mostly credit our fabulous war paint for the win. Today we play against our fellow scientists Lance and Tim. Wish me luck!

corn hole victory
Christine and Tracie celebrate corn hole victory

Another down-time activity that Tracie (and all the scientists) enjoy is decorating Styrofoam cups. The cool marine biologist thing to do is to sink them to very low ocean depths (3000+ meters). Apparently the pressure at that depth compresses the Styrofoam and shrinks it, making the cup tiny and misshapen but still showing all the designs that were put on it. I’m not kidding: this is a thing that all the marine biologists get really excited about. Tracie even decorated a Styrofoam head (the kind that cosmetologists use) in advance of this trip and brought it with her to sink. Look how cool it is – she’s an amazing artist!

Styrofoam head, decorated by Tracie, for shrinking

There are shrunken heads in the lab already from other people who have done this. Sinking Styrofoam is a legit marine biology hobby. Well, as the saying goes, “When in Rome…” so I worked on a Styrofoam cup today. I’m making a hake tessellation, which takes longer than you might think. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Styrofoam cup decorated with hake tesselation

We’re having lots of fun at sea on this beautiful day. Someone just came over the radio and said there’s been a marine mammal sighting off the bow…gotta go!

Special Shout-out:

A special shout-out to Mrs. Poustforoush’s class in Las Vegas, Nevada! I just found out you’ve been following this blog, and it’s great to have you aboard. If you have any questions about algae (from this post) or about life on a ship, please feel free to e-mail me. I can hopefully get your questions answered by the right people. Work hard in Mrs. Poustforoush’s class, okay? She’s a great teacher, you lucky kiddos. Learn a lot, and maybe one day you can be a scientist and live on a ship too!

Cathrine Prenot: Lights in the Ocean. Thursday, July 21, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cathrine Prenot
Aboard Bell M. Shimada
July 17-July 30, 2016

Mission: 2016 California Current Ecosystem: Investigations of hake survey methods, life history, and associated ecosystem

Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast from Newport, OR to Seattle, WA

Date: Thursday, July 21, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat: 46º18.8 N
Lon: 124º25.6 W
Speed: 10.4 knots
Wind speed: 12.35 degree/knots
Barometer: 1018.59 mBars
Air Temp: 16.3 degrees Celsius


Science and Technology Log

The ship’s engineering staff are really friendly, and they were happy to oblige my questions and take me on a tour of the Engine Rooms. I got to go into the ‘belly of the beast’ on the Oscar Dyson, but on the tour of the Shimada, Sean Baptista, 1st assistant engineer, hooked us up with headsets with radios and microphones. It is super loud below decks, but the microphones made it so that we could ask questions and not just mime out what we were curious about.

I think the job of the engineers is pretty interesting for three main reasons.

On the way to see the bow thruster below decks
On the way to see the bow thruster below decks

One, they get to be all over the ship and see the real behind-the-scenes working of a huge vessel at sea. We went down ladders and hatches, through remotely operated sealed doors, and wound our way through engines and water purifiers and even water treatment (poo) devices. Engineers understand the ship from the bottom up.

One of four Caterpillar diesel engines powering the ship
One of four Caterpillar diesel engines powering the ship

Second, I am sure that when it is your Job it doesn’t seem that glamorous, but an engineer’s work keeps the ship moving. Scientists collect data, the Deck crew fish, the NOAA Corps officers drive the ship, but the engineers make sure we have water to drink, that our ‘business’ is treated and sanitary, that we have power to plug in our computers (the lab I am writing in right now has 6 monitors displaying weather from the bridge, charts, ship trackers, and science data) and science equipment.

I did not touch any buttons. Promise.
I did not touch any buttons. Promise.

Finally, if something breaks on the ship, engineers fix it. Right there, with whatever they have on hand. Before we were able to take the tour, 1st Assistant Engineer Baptista gave us a stern warning to not touch anything—buttons, levers, pipes—anything. There is a kind of resourcefulness to be an engineer on a ship—you have to be able to make do with what you have when you are in the middle of the ocean.

The engineers all came to this position from different pathways—from having a welding background, to being in the navy or army, attending the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, or even having an art degree.  The biggest challenge is being away from your family for long periods of time, but I can attest that they are a pretty tight group onboard.


In terms of the science that I’ve been learning, I’ve had some time to do some research of some of the bycatch organisms from our Hake trawls. “Bycatch” are nontargeted species that are caught in the net.  Our bycatch has been very small—we are mostly getting just hake, but I’ve seen about 30-40 these cute little fish with blue glowing dots all over their sides. Call me crazy, but anything that comes out of the ocean with what look like glowing sparkling sapphires is worthy of a cartoon.

So… …What is small, glows, and comprises about 65% of all deep-sea biomass? Click on the cartoon to read Adventures in a Blue World 3.

Adventures in a Blue World, CNP. Lights in the Ocean
Adventures in a Blue World, CNP. Lights in the Ocean


Personal Log

The weather is absolutely beautiful and the seas are calm. We are cruising along at between 10-12 knots along set transects looking for hake, but we haven’t seen—I should say “heard” them in large enough groups or the right age class to sample.  So, in the meanwhile, I’ve taken a tour of the inner workings of the ship from the engineers, made an appointment with the Chief Steward to come in and cook with him for a day, spent some time on the bridge checking out charts and the important and exciting looking equipment, played a few very poor rounds of cornhole, and have been cartooning and reading.

I was out on the back deck having a coffee and an ice cream (I lead a decadent and wild life as a Teacher at Sea) and I noticed that the shoreline looked very familiar. Sure enough—it was Cannon Beach, OR, with Haystack Rock (you’ll remember it from the movie The Goonies)! Some of my family lived there for years; it was fun to see it from ten miles off shore.

Chart showing our current geographic area. Center of coast is Cannon Bean, Oregon.
Chart showing our current geographic area. Center of coast is Cannon Beach, Oregon.

View of Tillamook Head and Cannon Beach. It looked closer in person.
View of Tillamook Head and Cannon Beach. It looked closer in person.


Did You Know?

One of the scientists I have been working with knows a lot about fish. He knows every organism that comes off the nets in a trawl down to their Genus species. No wonder he knows all the fish—all of the reference books that I have been using in the wet lab were written by him. Head smack.

Dan Kamikawa, our fish whisperer
One of the books written by Dan Kamikawa, our fish whisperer



My sister (thank you!) does my multi media research for me from shore, as I am not allowed to pig out on bandwidth and watch lots of videos about bioluminescence in the ocean.  This video is pretty wonderful.  Check it out.

If you want to geek out more about Lanternfish, read this from a great site called the Tree of Life web project.

Interested in becoming a Wage Mariner in many different fields–including engineering?  Click here.

Marsha Skoczek: Who’s Driving this Ship, Anyway? July 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marsha Skoczek
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 6 – 19, 2012

Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey
Geographic area of cruise:  Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of Georgia
Date:  July 9, 2012

Latitude:  31.30748N
Longitude:  79.43986W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature:  29.5C (84 F)
Wind Speed:   10.4 knots (11.9 mph)
Wind Direction:  From the SSW
Relative Humidity:  81%
Barometric Pressure:  1015.7
Surface Water Temperature:  27.88C (82.4F)

Science and Technology Log

Today, the current was too strong in the area we were going to send the ROV.  The boat and the ROV were not able to keep close enough to the assigned transect line, so the dives for today were cancelled.  Since we had some extra time until the Pisces was able to get us to our next location, I decided to spend some time on the bridge learning about how the Pisces works.

Myself and ENS Pawlishen working on the nautical charts.

Third Officer, Pete Langolis, was on duty when I got to the bridge, and he was nice enough to show me around.  After he let me ring the bell for the noon test of the master alarm system, we got started.  The Pisces is able to keep its course by using both a magnetic compass as well as a gyrocompass.  The magnetic compass has the potential for interference depending on the conditions around it such as the roof of the ship, the types of metals that make up the ship, etc.  To find the correct bearing for the Pisces to travel along, the officer on duty has to take into consideration four factors, where is true north, the variation from the compass rose on the nautical chart, where is magnetic north, and the deviation from magnetic north from the deviation card (this will be different from ship to ship).  This all calculates into the correct compass heading for the officer on the bridge to drive the ship.  Once the correct heading is calculated, it can be programmed into the ship’s tracking computers as well as the bow thruster which acts as an autopilot for the ship.  Every thirty minutes, the officer on deck has to verify with the paper nautical charts that the ship is still on the correct heading.  Any variations from the original heading can be corrected simply by changing the direction on the autopilot.  You can follow along with our current position using the NOAA Ship Tracker website.  Select Pisces from the box in the upper left.

When you are out in the middle of the open ocean, the last thing you want to do is run into another vessel.  The Pisces is equipped with two different radar systems that help look for other ships in the area.  The S-Band radar sends out a longer pulse signal which is good for locating ships that are further away and also seeing through dense fog.  The X Band radar sends out a short pulse signal which better helps to locate ships in closer proximity to the Pisces.

X band radar showing the location of ships near the Pisces

Both of these radars are tied to the Automated Information System (AIS) as well as the Global Positioning System (GPS).  The information about each ship identified on the radar screen can be pulled up and used to help steer the Pisces around other vessels such as cargo ships, commercial fishing vessels, or other military vessels. All targets located by the radar need to be visually confirmed by the officer on deck to insure that they are not on a course that will come too close to the Pisces.

Engine monitor screen on the bridge.

The Pisces has a single propeller  that is powered by two electric motors.  These motors are powered by four diesel generators.  Before we could leave port last Friday, we had to fuel up with 70,000 gallons of diesel fuel.  This took about six hours to complete.  This amount of fuel should last the Pisces several months at sea.  The whole propulsion system can be monitored electronically from the bridge to ensure that everything is running smoothly.

So, who actually drives the ship?  Three NOAA Corps officers share bridge watch in shifts of 4 hours on, 8 hours off.  This doesn’t mean they spend the other 8 hours sleeping. All of the officers on board Pisces have other responsibilities such as the Navigation Officer (NAV), the Operations Officer (OPS), Executive Officer (XO) and the Commanding Officer (CO).  Before a new junior ensign can be left on their own to be in charge of the bridge, not only do they complete a twenty-week training, they will also spend about six months shadowing a senior officer.  This lets them get hands on training and experience while still having someone watching over their shoulder double checking everything.  After all, the lives of everyone aboard the Pisces depend on them doing everything correctly.

Personal Log

Being out to sea away from land is not something I have ever done before.  I am struck by the vastness of the ocean.  Everywhere you

Lobate ctenophores are translucent and give off a bioluminescent glow. Bolinopsis infundibulum. Picture: OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP)
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

look, there is nothing but blue water.  It is truly hypnotizing.  Also, knowing that there might not be another vessel within hundreds of miles of us is a little weird.  Last night I went out with my roommate, Stephanie, to see the stars.  There is no light pollution out here in the open ocean, so we were able to see every star in the sky, including the Milky Way Galaxy.  It was an incredible view.  We also could see the bioluminescent organisms as they were getting turned up in the ship’s wake, animals such as jellyfish, copepods, and ostracods.  It was really neat to see bioluminescence in action.

Ocean Careers Interview

In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday.  Today I interviewed NOAA Corps officers Ensign Michael Doig and Ensign Junior Officer Douglas Pawlishen.

Ensign Michael Doig

ENS Doig, what is your job title?  I am the Navigation Officer for the Pisces and an Ensign in the NOAA Corps.

What type of responsibilities do you have with this job?  I am one of the officers that has bridge duty to steer the ship.  I also keep the nautical charts up to date, maintain the ship’s inventory, and train the new junior ensigns.

What type of education did you need to get this job?  I have a Bachelors’ Degree in Zoology from University of Hawaii and a Masters’ Degree in Science Education.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico on board the Pisces.  One of the coolest things I have seen is a pod of orca whales trying to kill a baby sperm whale in the Gulf of Mexico.  The baby sent out a distress call and all of the adult sperm whales encircled the baby to protect it.  The baby sperm whale was saved.

How is the NOAA Corps different from other jobs?  First, when you apply for the NOAA Corps, they look at all of the math and science courses you have taken in college.  They are looking for students with strong background in those fields.  After you are accepted and make it through training, you are assigned to a NOAA ship for two years.  After those two years, you can apply for a land assignment, but that will probably only last for about three years before you have to go back out to sea on a new ship.  You work year round and are granted thirty days of personal leave for the year.

Since your time on the Pisces is almost finished, what land assignment are you applying for at the end of your two years?  I have applied to work in the Miami NOAA branch studying coral reef restoration.

What is your best advice for a student wanting to become a scientist?  Companies are always looking for employees with strong backgrounds in science. Don’t be afraid of those upper level physics classes or upper level math classes.  Get in there and do it!!


Junior Ensign Douglas Pawlishen

Ensign Pawlishen, what is your job title?  I am an Ensign Junior Officer aboard the Pisces.  This is my first ship assignment in the NOAA Corps and I just started on the ship last Thursday.

What type of job responsibilities do you have on this ship? To shadow Ensign Doig so he can train me about life aboard the Pisces.

Why did you decide to join the NOAA Corps?  I wanted a job where I wouldn’t be stuck in an office all day every day doing the same thing over and over again.  With my science background, I thought the NOAA Corps offered me the opportunity to do something more hands on and different every day.

What type of education do you need to get this job?  I have a Bachelors’ Degree from University of Massachusetts  Amherst in Natural Resources and  a minor in both Criminal Justice and Wildlife Management.

What types of experiences have you had with this job?  Well, since I am brand new, I haven’t really been out to sea yet.  My best experience so far was aboard the Coast Guard Eagle, which is a massive sail boat confiscated in World War II from the Germans.  All of the NOAA Corps cadets along with the Coast Guard cadets have to spend two weeks on board sailing the Coast Guard Ship Eagle and developing our team work skills.

Andrea Schmuttermair: A Lesson in Chemistry, July 1, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3, 2012

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 1, 2012 

Ship  Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 2957.02N
Longitude: 8618.29W
Speed: 10 knots
Wind Speed: 9.65
Wind Direction: S/SE
Surface Water Salinity:35.31
Air Temperature: 28.2 C
Relative Humidity: 76%
Barometric Pressure: 1017 mb
Water Depth:  57.54 m

Science and Technology Log

water from CTD
Here I’m filling up the BOD jar with our salt water samples from the CTD cast.

Reminiscent of my days in high school chemistry, today I had the opportunity to work with our Chief Scientist, Brittany, on completing the daily titration. If you remember, getting readings on the dissolved oxygen in the water is an important part of this survey as we locate any hypoxic (less than 2 mg of oxygen per liter of water) zones or anoxic (no oxygen) zones. This is done with a computerized device on the CTD, but we want to make sure that our readings are accurate. Because “chemistry never lies”, this is how we ensure our readings are accurate.

With our CTD, we have the ability to collect water samples at various depths. We do not collect water samples at every CTD, but rather one or two a day during the daytime hours. We collect water from the bottom to see if there is any expansion of hypoxia.

orion meter
Using the Orion dissolved oxygen meter to measure the amount of dissolved oxygen in our sample.

When the CTD comes back up, we use an Orion dissolved oxygen meter, which is a handheld device, to get a dissolved oxygen reading from our samples. We put the probe on the end of the meter gently into the containers of water on the CTD to get our reading. We will use this number in conjunction with the information sent from the CTD to our dry lab to check against our titration results.

Once we have the reading with the probe, we are ready to take some samples for our titration. We then take the water samples in the cylinders, rinse out our 300 mL BOD (biological oxygen demand) glass bottles a few times with that water, and then fill the botttles up with the sea water from the bottom. These samples are brought back to our Chem Lab (short for chemistry, as I’m sure you figured out) where we will test the amount of dissolved oxygen.

adding manganese sulfate
Adding the manganese sulfate to our sample.

This is after I’ve added the manganese sulfate and iodide. Now we have to wait for it to settle.

We are using the Winkler method to find the amount of dissolved oxygen in our water samples. The first step in this process is to put 2mL of manganese sulfate into the bottle. After that, we also add 2 mL of azide- iodide. With those 2 chemicals added, we carefully replace the stopper and give the bottle a good shake. We then can wait about 10-15 minutes for the chemicals to settle at the bottom. Pipettes are used to add the liquids and allow us to be very precise in our measurements.

after settling 1
Here is our sample after it has settled.

After the particles have settled at the bottom, we add 2 mL of sulfuric acid (which can be a dangerous chemical if used inappropriately), replace the stopper, and shake the bottle again gently. The sulfuric acid “fixes” the solution. Finally we add 2 mL of starch to the solution, which is a blue indicator when we put it in but turns the solution a burnt orange color. Now we are ready to titrate!

adding to beaker
Our sample solution being poured into the beaker, ready for the titration. Inside the beaker is a magnetic stirrer.

finished titration
Now you can see the solution is clear in color, meaning our titration is finished. We are ready to determine the amount of dissolved oxygen.

Prepared beforehand was a burette filled with phenylarsine oxide, what we use to drip into the sample. We pour the sample into a beaker and place it on a magnetic plate. We’ve placed a magnetic stirrer in the beaker so it gently stirs the solution while we are titrating. We let the phenylarsine oxide slowly drip into the sample  until it turns clear. When it does this, we note the amount of phenylarsine oxide that we put in the sample (which is equivalent to the amount of oxygen in the water), and the number should match (or be very close) to the reading of dissolved oxygen that we received from the CTD and the Orion dissolved oxygen meter.

This process is quite simple yet yields important results and is just one of the ways scientists verify their data.


One other interesting thing happened the other night on one of our shifts. We had brought in a bongo tow and were looking into the codends to see what we got. When Alex began rinsing the sample with some salt water, the whole codend began to illuminate. Why did it illuminate? Bioluminescence.  Bioluminescence is essentially a chemical reaction that produces light. Many marine critters can produce bioluminescence, as seen below.

Bioluminescence in our bongo tow.

Personal Log

One of the things I’ve probably enjoyed the most about my trip so far are the relationships I’ve formed with the people on board. As a teacher, one of my top priorities is to build and maintain relationships with my students, both past and present. That became a bit more of a challenge to me this past year as I took on a new position and began teaching 600 students rather than the 30 I was used to.

Our watch leader, Alonzo, waiting to weigh our next catch.

I’ve come to love working with the scientists on the night watch, as each of them brings something to the table. Our watch leader, Alonzo, has a wealth of knowledge that he gladly shares with each of us, pushing us to learn more and find the answer for ourselves. I’ve improved immensely on identifying the different fish, crabs and shrimp we find (thanks to Lindsey, who is my partner in crime for making up silly ways to remember these crazy Latin names for all our species). Where I came in knowing names of very few if any types of Gulf critters, I can now confidently identify 15-20 different species. I’m learning more about how to look for the subtle differences between different species, and Alonzo has been able to sit back and be that “guide on the side” while we work and input all of our data. His patient demeanor has allowed all of us to become more self-sufficient and to become more confident in the knowledge we have gained thus far on this trip.

Alex with a sharksucker

Alex, another one of the scientists on my watch, shows an endless enthusiasm for marine science. He shares in my excitement when a trawl comes up, and the both of us rush out there to watch the net come up, often guessing how big we think the catch is going to be. Will it fill one basket? Two? Six? It’s even more exciting when we get inside and lay it out on the conveyor belt and can really examine everything carefully. His wish finally came true today as we are now in the eastern part of the Gulf. Alex is studying lionfish (Pterois volitans) for his research, and of course has been hoping to catch some. Today we caught 4, along with a multitude of other unique critters that we have not seen yet. Alex’s enthusiasm and passion for science is something I hope my students can find, whether it be in marine science, biology, or meteorology- whatever it is they love is what I hope they pursue.

Lindsey and Alex, getting ready to work.

Lindsey and Renee are both graduate students. Rene wanted to gain some experience and came on the ship as a volunteer. What a better way to get a hands-on experience! Lindsey has joined us on this cruise because she is doing research on Sargassum communities. She has been able to collect quite a few Sargassum  samples to include in her research for her thesis. Lindsey, like Alex, is very passionate and excited about what she does. I’ve never seen someone more excited to pull up a net full of Sargassum (which I’m sure you remember is a type of seaweed) in order to sift through and find critters. She has a great eye, though, because she always manages to find even the tiniest of critters in her samples. Just yesterday she found a baby seahorse that couldn’t have been more than a few millimeters long! Outside I hear her giggle with glee- I know this is because she has found a Sargassum fish, which is her all-time favorite.

deck crew
Our night shift deck crew- Tim, Chuck and Reggie

Our night watch would not be complete without the deck crew, Tim, Reggie and Chuck, who are responsible for helping us lower the CTD, Neuston and bongo tows, and for the trawl net. Our work could not be done without them.

William, one of our engineers, took me down into the engine room the other day. First impressions- it was hot and noisy! It was neat to see all the different machines. The ship makes its own water using a reverse osmosis system, which takes water from the ocean and converts it into drinking water for us (this water is also used for showers and sinks on board). One interesting note is that the toilets actually use salt water rather than fresh water so that we conserve our fresh water.

reverse osmosis
Our reverse osmosis systems.

I cannot believe how fast this leg has gone and that we only have a few more shifts to go before we return to the Oregon II’s  home port of Pascagoula. As we’ve moved into the eastern waters of the Gulf, we have seen a lot of different types of critters. On average, our most recent trawls have been much more brightly colored. We are near some coral reefs too- in our trawls we have pulled up a bit of coral and sponge. The markings on some of the fish are very intriguing, and even fish we’ve seen before seem to be just a little brighter in color out here.

Due to the fact that we are finding very different critters, my list of favorites for today has greatly increased! Here are just a few:

scorpion fish
The mouth of a scorpion fish. We’ve caught a bunch of these since we hit the eastern Gulf.

sea horse
A baby seahorse we pulled out of our Neuston tow. He was hiding in the Sargassum.

red snapper
One of our biggest red snappers.

box crab
This is another type of bashful crab, also known as the flame-streaked box crab (Calappa flammea).

This octopus sure liked my hard hat!

Justin Czarka, August 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Czarka
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II (tracker)
August 10 – 19, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic and Plankton Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA
Date: August 16, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 

Sunrise: 6:29 a.m.
Sunset: 20:33 (8:33 p.m.)
Weather: no significant weather (wx)
Sky: partly to mostly cloudy
Wind direction and speed: north-northwest 20-25 knots; (kt) gusts to 30 kt
Visibility: unrestricted, reduced to 1-3 nautical miles (nm) in mist
Waves: north-northwest 6-9 feet
Air Temperature: high 18°C, low: 12°C
Water Temperature: 15°C

Science and Technology Log 

Wow! I stayed up past 2:30 a.m. this morning, but it was well worth it.  I witnessed one of the most spectacular displays of nature’s beauty.  There was a bioluminescent bloom, where patches of ocean glowed as if hundreds of Halloween glow sticks floated in the ocean.  While bioluminescence happens from time to time, this display of a glowing sea was unique.  Crew and scientists aboard the McArthur II, some who have been on ships for 30+ years, say that they have never seen a bloom like this.  As far as the eye could see (12 miles in every direction), for over four hours, there were huge patches of ocean glowing blue green. As you scanned toward the horizon, it became nearly solid green-yellow.   And to think that I almost missed it!

The turbulence in the McArthur II’s wake shines blue-green during a bioluminescent bloom 175 nautical miles off the Oregon coast.  The ship was lit up as if by lamps lit underwater.
The turbulence in the McArthur II’s wake shines blue-green during a bioluminescent bloom 175 nautical miles off the Oregon coast. The ship was lit up as if by lamps lit underwater.

Scientists ad crew were in the lounge watching a movie when the XO (Executive Officer) LT John A. Crofts rushed in saying, “You have to check this out! Come up to the bridge.” We thought it was some joke, but we hurried up the stairs three levels, entering the pitch-black darkness of the Bridge.  Looking out, you could see a panoramic view of hundreds upon hundreds of floating, glowing patches on wave crests. On top of this, it was a clear, dark night where you could see the entire Milky Way galaxy and star clusters never seen near any human settlement (due to light pollution). It was a fantastic, otherworldly experience, as if we had sailed into the sunset, entered dark, and found ourselves in a new universe.  Words are insufficient.

In scientific terms, what we were spectator to was a bioluminescent dinoflaggellate bloom. Dinoflagellates are a type of plankton. When the water is disturbed, it excites the dinoflagellates, causing them to emit the colors at night.  They are often seen close to shore, but not this far out in the Pacific. Or it could be that not many observers on a regular basis get out this far to see…

Personal Log 

Justin Czarka and Morgraine McKibben try on their survival suits during drills aboard the McArthur II.
Justin Czarka and Morgraine McKibben try on their survival suits during drills aboard the McArthur II.

I had a good talk with Linda Halderman, the wiper aboard the McArthur II. A wiper is a person who does many different tasks in the engine department.  She was talking to me about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).  She mentioned that PPE has “become really big. I’ve just started learning about it while on the job, but it would be really good for students to learn from the start.”  It was a great conversation about safety equipment required for different jobs and the relevant cleanup. Safety has been of utmost important aboard the McArthur II. Alarms are tested daily.  Life jackets, safety harnesses, and hardhats are required during “ops” on the deck.  We even practice drills in the event that a fire would occur, someone fell overboard, or we would need to abandon ship. Everyone is delegated a role in the event of an emergency.


Dinoflagellate- a marine (ocean) plankton that propels itself with two flagella (bands around the organism) that provide propulsion and steering. Bioluminescence- “bio-“ meaning life; “-luminescence” meaning light.  An organism than emits light through an internal chemical reaction.

Did You Know?   

According to Bill Peterson, chief scientist, plankton (small plant and animal organisms in the ocean) are so prolific in quantity that the Long Island Sound is actually filtered completely every three days! In order to obtain nutrients from the ocean, these small organisms either pump water through their bodies or propel themselves through the water, and consequently the water through their bodies.  One doliolid filters about a liter of water every single day!  While small individually, these organisms truly play a significant role in the ocean ecosystem.  This is why the researchers are aboard the McArthur II.

Jennifer Fry, July 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman (tracker)
July 14 – 29, 2009 

Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from Monterey, CA to British Columbia, CA.
Date: July 16, 2009

Here is Dr. Chu using a sonar readout to determine where the hake are located.
Here is Dr. Chu using a sonar readout to determine where the hake are located.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind speed: 20 knots
Wind direction: 358°from the north
Visibility: foggy
Temperature: 15.2°C (dry bulb); 13.4°C (wet bulb)

Science and Technology Log 

We conducted several sea trawls for hake and other various fish species.   First, the scientists conduct an acoustic survey using 4 different frequencies. Then the nets are lowered and drug at depth. The fun begins when we don our rubber overalls, gloves, and galoshes and count, identify and, weigh the fish. The most numerous fish in the trawls were myctophids (see photo), bioluminescent fish with some species having 2 headlights in front of their eyes to help attract prey.

Here we are sorting the catch.
Here we are sorting the catch.

HAB/ Harmful Algal Blooms Test:  Throughout the day we took HAB samples, “harmful algae blooms”, which measures the toxins, domoic acid, and chlorophyll levels in the water (which correspond to the amount of plankton present). The HAB sample entails collecting sea water and putting it through a filtering process. Julia Clemons, a NOAA Oceanographer, and I conducted the HAB survey (pictured below).  Fifty milliliters of sea water is measured into a graduated cylinder then filtered.

This is a type of fish called a myctophid. They are bioluminescent.
This is a type of fish called a myctophid. They are bioluminescent.

Sea water is collected at specific times during each transect or line of study.  The sea water goes through a filtering process testing domoic acid and chlorophyll levels.  These results will be evaluated later in the lab. One thing that strikes me is the importance of careful and accurate measurement in the lab setting. The harmful algal bloom samples are conducted 5-6 times daily and accuracy is essential for precise and definitive results.  Later scientists will review and evaluate the data that was collected in the field.  It is very important that the scientists use the same measurements and tools so that each experiment is done the same way. Making accurate data collection makes for accurate scientific results.

Animals Seen Today 
Numerous albatross circling the stern of the ship, Viper fish, Octopi (approx. 6 inches in length), Squid (approx. 3 inches in length), and Myctophidae (see photo).


Here I am observing Julia as she filters a HAB sample.
Here I am observing Julia as she filters a HAB sample.

Lisbeth Uribe, August 5, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lisbeth Uribe
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 28 – August 8, 2008

Mission: Surfclam and quahog survey
Geographical Area: Southern New England and Georges Bank
Date: August 5, 2008

Chief Scientist Vic Nordahl, Chief Boatswain Jon Forgione and Chief Engineer Patrick Murphy discussing the best way to reattach the pump power cable to the dredge.
Chief Scientist Vic Nordahl, Chief Boatswain Jon Forgione and Chief Engineer Patrick Murphy discussing the best way to reattach the pump power cable to the dredge.

Ship Log 

In the last 48 hours the engineers, crew and scientists have had to re-attach the power cable to the dredge (see photograph), fix the cracked face plate of the pump, replace the blade and blade assembly, change the pipe nozzles that direct the flow of water into the cage, and work on the dredge survey sensor package (SSP). Dredging is hard on the equipment, so some mechanical problems are to be expected. The main concern is for lost time and running out of critical spare parts.  So far we have had great success with making the repairs quickly and safely.

Science and Technology Log 

Collecting Tow Event and Sensor Information for the Clam Survey 
Over the weekend I was moved up to the bridge during the towing of the dredge. I was responsible for logging the events of each tow and recording information about the ship and weather in a computerized system called SCS (Scientific Computer System). I listened carefully to the radio as the lab, bridge (captain) and crane operator worked together to maneuver the dredge off the deck and into the water, turn on the pumps, tow the dredge on the seafloor bottom, haul the dredge up, turn off the pump and bring the clam-filled dredge back on deck. It is important that each step of the tow is carefully timed and recorded in order to check that the tows are as identical as possible.  The recording of the events is then matched to the sensor data that is collected during dredge deployment. As soon as the dredge is on deck I come downstairs to help clean out the cage and sort and shuck the clams.   

Lisbeth is working on the bridge logging the events of each tow into the computer system.
Lisbeth is working on the bridge logging the events of each tow into the computer system.

My next job assignment was to initialize and attach to both the inside and outside of the dredge the two mini-logger sensors before each tow. Once the dredge was back on deck I removed both mini-loggers and downloaded the sensor data into the computers. Both sensors collect pressure and temperature readings every 10 seconds during each tow. Other sensors are held in the Survey Sensor Package (SSP), a unit that communicates with onboard computers wirelessly.  Housed on the dredge, the SSP collects information about the dredge tilt, roll, both manifold and ambient pressure & temperature and power voltage every second. The manifold holds the six-inch pipe nozzles that direct the jets of water into the dredge.  Ideally the same pump pressure is provided at all depths of dredge operation. In addition to the clam survey, NOAA scientists are collecting other specimens and data during this cruise.

Two small black tubes (~3 inches long), called miniloggers, are attached to the dredge. The miniloggers measure the manifold (inside) and ambient (outside) pressure and temperature during the tow.
Two small black tubes (~3 inches long), called miniloggers, are attached to the dredge. The miniloggers measure the manifold (inside) and ambient (outside) pressure and temperature during the tow.

NOAA Plankton Diversity Study 
FDA and University of Maryland Student Intern Ben Broder-Oldasch is collecting plankton from daily tows.  The plankton tows take place at noon, when single-celled plants called phytoplankton are higher in the water column. Plankton rise and fall according to the light. Plankton is collected in a long funnel-shaped net towed slowly by the ship for 5 minutes at a depth of 20 meters. Information is collected from a flow meter suspended within the center of the top of the net to get a sense of how much water flowed through the net during the tow. Plankton is caught in the net and then falls into the collecting jar at the bottom of the net.  In the most recent tow, the bottle was filled with a large mass of clear jellied organisms called salps. Ben then filters the sample to sort the plankton by size. The samples will be brought back to the lab for study under the microscope to get a sense of plankton species diversity on the Georges Bank.

An easy way to collect plankton at home or school is to make a net out of one leg of a pair of nylons. Attach the larger end of the leg to a circular loop made from a metal clothes hanger.  Cut a small hole at the toe of the nylon and attach a plastic jar to the nylon by wrapping a rubber band tightly around the nylon and neck of the jar.  Drag the net through water and then view your sample under a microscope as soon as possible.

Biological Toxin Studies 

NOAA Scientist Amy Nau hauls the plankton net out of the water using the A-frame. (Upper insert: flow meter; lower insert: plankton in the collection bottle after the tow).
NOAA Scientist Amy Nau hauls the plankton net out of the water using the A-frame. (Upper insert: flow meter; lower insert: plankton in the collection bottle after the tow).

Scientists from NOAA and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) are working together to monitor clams for biological toxins. Clams and other bi-valves such as oysters and mussels, feed on phytoplankton. Some species of phytoplankton make biological toxins that, when ingested, are stored in the clam’s neck, gills, digestive systems, muscles and gonadal tissues.  If non-aquatic animals consume the contaminated clams, the stored toxin can be very harmful, even fatal.  The toxin affects the gastrointestinal and neurological systems. The rate at which the toxins leave the clams, also known as depuration rate, varies depending on the toxin type, level of contamination, time of year, species, and age of the bivalve. Unfortunately, freezing or cooking shellfish has no effect on the toxicity of the clam. The scientists on the Delaware II are collecting and testing specimens for the two biological toxins that cause Amnesia Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) and Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP).

NOAA Amnesia Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) Study 
A group of naturally occurring diatoms, called Pseudo-nitzschia, manufacture a biological toxin called Domoic Acid (DA) that causes Amnesia Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) in humans.  Diatoms, among the most common organisms found in the ocean, are single-celled plankton that usually float and drift near the ocean surface. NOAA scientist Amy Nau collects samples of ocean water from the surface each day at noon. By taking water samples and counting the numbers of plankton cells, in particular the Pseudo-nitzschia diatoms, scientists can better determine if a “bloom” (period of rapid growth of algae) is in progress. She filters the sample to separate the cells, places the filter paper in a test tube with water, adds a fixative to the tube and sets it aside for further study in her lab in Beaufort, NC. 

Scientist Amy Nau filters seawater for ASP causing dinoflagellates.
Scientist Amy Nau filters seawater for ASP causing dinoflagellates.

FDA Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) Study 
Scientists aboard the Delaware II are also collecting meat samples from clams for an FDA study on the toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning. When clams ingest the naturally occurring dinoflagellate called Alexandrium catenella, they accumulate the toxin in their internal organs. When ingested by humans, the toxin blocks sodium channels and causes paralysis. In the lab, testing for the toxin causing PSP is a lengthy process that involves injecting a mouse with extracts from shellfish tissue.  If the mouse dies, scientists know the toxin is present. The FDA is testing the accuracy of a new quick test for the toxin called the Jellet Test Kit. After measuring and weighing a dozen clams from each station on the Georges Bank, Ben and Amy remove and freeze the meat (internal organs and flesh) from the clams to save for further testing by scientists back on land. At the same time, they also puree a portion of the sample and test it using the Jellet strips for a quicker positive or negative PSP result.

Personal Log 

Pilot whales sighted off the bow!
Pilot whales sighted off the bow!

The problems that we have experienced with regard to the dredge over the past few days are an important reminder of the need for the scientists and crew to not only be well prepared but also flexible when engaged in fieldwork. All manner of events, including poor weather and mechanical difficulties, can and do delay the gathering of data. The Chief Scientist, Vic Nordahl, is constantly checking for inconsistencies or unusual patterns, particularly from the dredge sensor readings, that might need to be addressed in order to ensure that the survey data is consistent and accurate. The time required to repair the dredge meant I was able to do a load of laundry. Dredging is very dirty work! Good thing I am using old shirts and shorts. I also caught up on a few emails using the onboard computers. Though the Internet service can be slow at times it is such a luxury to be able to stay in touch with friends and family on land. I still have two very special experiences that I wish to share before ending my log.

Late in the evening a couple of days ago, as we steamed toward our next tow station, I was invited to peer over the bow. The turbulence in the water was causing a dinoflagellate called Noctiluca to sparkle and glow with a greenish-blue light in the ocean spray.  The ability of Noctiluca and a few other species of plankton and some deep-sea fish to emit light is called bioluminesense. A few days later we had the great fortune to see five pilot whales about 100 meters away, gliding together, their black dorsal fins slicing through the water, occasional plumes of air bursting upward through their blowholes (nostrils located on the tops of their heads).

Answers to the previous log’s questions: 

1. What is the depth and name of the deepest part of the ocean? The Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean is 10,852 meters deep, (deeper than Mount Everest is tall – 8,850 meters).  Speaking of tall mountains, the tallest mountain in the world is not Mount Everest, but the volcano Mauna Kea (Hawaii).  It reaches 4,200 meters above sea level, but its base on the sea floor is 5,800 meters below sea level.  Its total height (above base) is therefore 10, 000 meters!

2.What is the longest-lived animal on record? In 2007, an ocean quahog was dredged off the Icelandic coast.  By drilling through and counting the growth rings on its shell, scientists determined it was between 405 and 410 years old. Unfortunately it did not survive the examination, so we do not know how much longer it would have lived if left undisturbed. This ancient clam was slightly less than 6 inches in width.

Elizabeth Eubanks, August 2, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Eubanks
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
July 22 – August 3, 2007

Mission: Relative Shark Abundance Survey and J vs. Circle Hook Comparison
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean, West of San Diego
Date: August 2, 2007

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility: 10+ miles
Air temperature: 20.3 degrees C
Sea Temperature at 500 m:
Sea Temperature at surface: 19.8 degrees C
Wind Direction: 280 W
Wind Speed:  17 kts
Cloud cover: partially cloudy–alto cumulus
Sea Level Pressure: 1015.7 MB
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 ft
Swell Wave Height: 2 ft

Bow Chamber
Bow Chamber

Science and Technology Log 

The Bow Chamber! Wow! The Bow Chamber is in the bulbous bow. It is located in the very front of boat where the V hull is. Basically this area breaks up the water pressure to create less drag. The chamber is actually a little room about 20 feet down below the main deck. It has port holes/windows so you can see aquatic life. Currently the windows have a lot of algae on them so it is hard to see out of them during the day. A group of us went down after dark and we could see bioluminescent creatures zipping by. We were seeing things such as dinoflagelletes/ plankton and jelly fish. It was so beautiful to watch.

Personal Log 

Doctoral student Dovi Kacev and NOAA Teacher at Sea Elizabeth Eubanks look down into the bow chamber.
Doctoral student Dovi Kacev and NOAA Teacher at Sea Elizabeth Eubanks look down into the bow chamber.

Great day. I got up at 5:30am to watch and learn a little more about the CTD, which I wrote about yesterday. We completed our 2 final sets and I gathered goodies to bring back to school. We had the perfect ending to our last set. One of the very last hooks we pulled in possessed a huge, enormous Blue Shark. He was the biggest that we had caught so far, in length (229 cm) and girth. He gave a huge fight while in the water and even threw up a little (but thankfully not his stomach) before they got him onto the cradle. The best part of this was that the rest of the scientists could watch the people on the platform work with the shark, because the long line hauling was finished. It was truly the perfect ending to the perfect adventure.

Question of the Day 

How do bioluminescent creatures shine? 

Question of the trip: Which hook, the J or Circle, will catch more sharks? 

Please make a hypothesis. Utilize resources to justify your hypothesis. ———Yes, you get extra credit for this. 

A big Blue Shark.  Graduate student Heather Marshall holds the tail while Dr. Jeff Graham helps Dr. Suzi Kohin with the bolt cutters as Dr. Russ Vetter retains the head.
A big Blue Shark. Graduate student Heather Marshall holds the tail while Dr. Jeff Graham helps Dr. Suzi Kohin with the bolt cutters as Dr. Russ Vetter retains the head.

Mary Cook, January 2, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
December 5, 2004 – January 7, 2005

Mission: Climate Prediction for the Americas
Geographical Area: Chilean Coast
Date: January 2, 2005

Location: Latitude 41°47.12’S, Longitude 73°33.42’W
Time: 0830

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Pressure (millibars) 1012.81
Relative Humidity (percent) 93.61
Wind Direction (degrees) 354.55
Wind Speed (knots) 7.03
Air Temperature (Celsius) 14.46
Water Temperature (Celsius) 11.62
Sunrise 0624
Sunset 2132

Question of the Day

What is a fjord?

Quote of the Day

“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.” King Solomon

Science Log

It’s raining! I haven’t seen rain since last year. The sky is thick with dark, billowing clouds and gray mist. Occasionally a patch of bright blue breaks through. But it only takes a few minutes until it’s eclipsed by a rain cloud. The land on both sides of the channel is shrouded in the mist and looks mysteriously enchanting. Only a few people onboard have ever been this way before and everyone is excited. Even these salty sailors are energized. Seals are popping up and playing all around. It looks like they’re chasing each other. We’ve passed a couple of small fishing villages and there are some ferryboats in the channel. The Chilean pilot told me that we’re in a very interesting place because of the strong current. Our ship is traveling against a three knot current at this time and they’ve brought more engines online just in case we need them. He said the current can get as high as eight knots! I heard Captain Wright say that the last time he was through here the ship was going with the current and traveling at 21 knots!

Bruce, the boatswain is now on constant anchor alert. There are many potential hazards when traveling the narrow channels so all hands must be prepared for anything.

I’ve been standing outside in a sheltered place under the ladderways for about an hour. At first it didn’t seem cold but as time went by I felt the chilly dampness in my muscles and had to zip up my jacket and put on my hood.

Something I’ve learned about this ship is that even when the scientists aren’t actively conducting research projects, science is always going on aboard the RONALD H. BROWN. At the top of every hour they always record the weather data, which includes about 50 entries, and then send it in to the National Weather Service every six hours. If the ship is within 200 miles of the coast of the United States or Canada or within 300 miles of a named tropical storm or hurricane they report every three hours. They record the ship’s location and speed, plus wind factors, temperatures, pressure, clouds, precipitation, wave size and directions, swells, and presence of ice. It seems to me that everything is written in code. They have the “Ship’s Synoptic Code Ready Reference” lying nearby and make use of it when filling out the charts. This information is entered into the National Weather Service computers and used for weather forecasting.

Personal Log

There’s a festive atmosphere throughout the entire ship. Everyone’s smiling and walking with a little extra spring in their step. These seasoned sailors are like little kids on Christmas morning, their eyes sparkling with anticipation. They’re out on the deck with their binoculars looking over the pastoral scenes of green rolling hills dotted with colorful houses and farms and churches connected by winding dirt roads. One of them said, “Just give me ten acres with a little house and I could settle down and live right here.” Several nodded in agreement. Then they spotted the big snow-capped mountains in the distance! Their dreams of settling down seemed to evaporate into thin air as their attention had been captured by the majestic and forbidding.

Our course is taking us through the Gulf of Corcovado and we’re just now passing the volcanic mountain for which the gulf is named. The pointy, snow-capped mountain is Mt. Corcovado and it stands 2300 meters in elevation which is about 7000 feet high.

The water is so smooth in this gulf that I can barely tell the ship is moving. It’s great! Seasickness is but a distance memory.

Officer Ayers just told me that I missed a fabulous display of bioluminescence last night about 0200. I said that I’d just stay up all night tonight so I could see that for myself. Then watch-stander Melton says, “Oh, now you want to be awake and out at 0600 tomorrow because we’ll be entering an extremely narrow channel. You can’t be sleeping through that.”

Decisions. Decisions.

Whales on the starboard bow! I ran out and saw three waterspouts and one tail. Pretty cool.

Tomorrow, my students and co-workers will be returning to school from their Christmas break. I hope they’ve all had a good vacation and come back with renewed energy and smiles. I can’t help thinking about them and wishing they could be out here in this never-ending, ever-unfolding story of exploration.

Until tomorrow,


Mary Cook, December 30, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Cook
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
December 5, 2004 – January 7, 2005

Mission: Climate Prediction for the Americas
Geographical Area: Chilean Coast
Date: December 30, 2004

Location: Latitude 36°21.31’S, Longitude 72°59.65’W
Time: 9:15

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature (Celsius) 14.33
Water Temperature (Celsius) 14.81
Air Pressure (millibars) 1015.24
Cloud Cover 3/8
Cloud Type: Stratus
Wind Direction (degrees) 325.6
True Wind Speed (knots) 1.26
Sunrise 636
Sunset 2112

Question of the Day

What is a light year?

Positive Quote of the Day

“The influence of each human being on others in this life is a kind of immortality.” John Quincy Adams

Science Log

Last night I went up to the bridge at about 2300 hours. Vickie, Jeff, and Jackie were stargazing in search of the Southern Cross. There it was, almost directly in front of the ship! It had just risen over the horizon and looked more like a baseball diamond than a cross. We also spotted Alpha and Beta Centauri. At about 4.3 light years away, these are among the closest stars to Earth other than our Sun. Vickie also pointed out Orion with his belt of stars and the seven sisters called Pleiades. I’m going to get out my textbook and read up on the Magellanic Clouds because I’m wondering if we can see those from here. Then Jackie looked over the edge of the ship in the wake and caught a glimpse of some momentary flashes of light! Bioluminescence! I stood there pressing my face against the window staring at the darkened waters waiting patiently for some more microorganisms to glow. Sure enough it happened. They looked like little sparks of lightening in a cloud. It happened several times. I’ll definitely be back on the bridge again in search of more wonders of the sea at night.

For this leg of the journey, I’ve been moved to a different stateroom. I’m now down below in the science quarters. The sounds are different down here. I can hear the water splashing up against the ship’s hull. It sounds like I’m in a perpetual carwash!

It’s a soothing sound, though. I slept like a bear in hibernation.

Today begins the science operations. Right now, the scientists are on the fantail preparing the drifting sediment trap with its radar-reflector, floaters and nighttime strobe light. We’ll deploy the instrument then leave it while we make a short transit to the next station for CTD casts and core sampling. Afterwards, we’ll return and retrieve the sediment trap. According to the work plan, we’ll do this same thing at six different locations across the continental shelf and slope off Concepción, Chile. Most of the CTD casts are in fairly shallow water with the deepest one going down to 980 meters. These scientists will be working 48 hours non-stop.

It’s beautiful here in the Bay of Concepción. The water is so smooth and glistening in the sunshine. We’re nearly surrounded by a crescent-shaped coastline and we can see houses, forests, and other ships. This afternoon, we saw several ghostly-white jellyfish pumping their way through the water. Jim pointed out little anchovies swimming nearby. Yum!

I spoke with Kevin Sullivan of the NOAA research branch in Miami and Jordan Watson from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. They patiently explained some of the science to me. And I really appreciate that.

This is how the drifting sediment trap works. After the instrument collects the sediments from the water near the surface and is retrieved, it will be set aside for a few hours to allow the sediments to settle to the bottom of the tubes. Then a lever is turned that empties the sediments into bottles containing a preservative. Sediments can be particles from the air like dust or particles from the ocean such as little deceased sea creatures called diatoms.

The Rhumor gravity core sampler is basically a one meter long hollow tube with heavy weights attached to the top. After being lifted by the winch, it is slowly lowered into the water. When the tube gets about 10 meters from the ocean floor it is lowered very quickly and gravity rams it into the mud. In this process, the mud layers fill the hollow tube and as the core sampler is raised the pressure closes a valve that keeps the mud from coming out.

I’ve noticed on the SeaBeam readout that the depth here is only about 100 meters. That’s a huge contrast to a couple of weeks ago when we were in waters with a depth of 5000 meters!

It is my understanding that the rationale for their research is to explore the effects of nitrogen distribution and how that affects the marine algae nutrient usage in the present day water column. They are conducting the sampling in this location because of the upwelling that occurs which brings nutrients to the surface and because there are algae present that utilize the nutrients in these upwelling plumes. Likewise, they are interested in evaluating the amount of nitrogen left in the sedimentary record. This will help scientists better understand the history of the oceans.

Personal Log

Today has been a quiet but interesting day. All the science was new to me so I had to pay attention and ask lots of questions. It’s very rewarding to have people around who are eager to share with me what they are doing and the significance of it all in the whole scheme of things. I’ve learned a tremendous lot and my brain is kind of tired. Plus, I miss my mentor. She’s got enough energy for two people! I did take some time to go to the ship’s bow and watch the water skim by and look around for animals. I saw lots of birds and jellyfish. I like watching jellyfish because I never see jellyfish in Arkansas. To me they are intriguing critters because they are transparent. I can see right through them!

Well, I’m headed for the exercise room to rest my brain and work off that cake with chocolate icing that I ate for dessert. Then, after dark, up to the bridge for more stargazing in the Southern Hemisphere!

Until tomorrow,


p.s. Congratulations Brandon and Becky!

Diane Stanitski: Day 14, August 24, 2002

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Diane Stanitski

Aboard NOAA Ship Ka’imimoana

August 16-30, 2002

Day 14: Saturday, August 24, 2002

The FOO’s quote of the day: 

“I believe because it is impossible.” – Tertullian

Weather log:
Here are our observations at 0900 today:
Latitude: 4°40.8’N
Longitude: 139°58.7’W
Visibility: 12 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 180° (constantly shifting)
Wind speed: 16 kts
Sea wave height: 3-4′
Swell wave height: 5-7′
Sea water temperature: 27.7°C
Sea level pressure: 1011.3 mb
Cloud cover: 7/8, Cumulus, Stratocumulus

Science Log:

Another buoy was repaired this morning because its anemometer wasn’t functioning. The anemometer is the highest object on the buoy and, therefore, is the most vulnerable. Because it’s not as protected and is a moving part, it can be easily damaged by people fishing the area, or by extreme weather. Dave was out on the buoy sitting in the horseshoe (a square opening on the starboard side of the buoy deck permitting you to work on the bottom of the buoy from the deck below) today testing and preparing it for deployment tomorrow. This will be our first buoy replacement, which means that when we retrieve the next buoy there will be oodles of work to do on the ship, including counting the thousands of barnacles that have attached themselves to the bottom of the brace. I can’t wait to smell the deck after they’re removed from the bottom – mm, mm!

On the agenda today is a full tour of the ship. John taped me both inside and outside explaining every part of the ship as we walked from deck to deck and bow to stern. I learned so much through that process. John first explained what we were looking at and then I provided my version as I tried to incorporate the technical terms. We also prepared some fun clips interviewing people about what they do on board.

Despite volunteering to do a CTD launch at 3°N tonight at 1930, the device wasn’t working. The 0130 reading at 2.5°N tomorrow morning was also cancelled because Larry and Jason need to switch out a major part that is malfunctioning. It will soon be time to rise and shine for a buoy retrieval (my first!) and deployment.

Personal Log:

I awoke this morning to sunshine streaming through our porthole. This is an unusual occurrence since it has been so cloudy. I walked outside and smelled FISH! The guys had pulled in the tow lines and they caught 4 gorgeous silvery mahi mahi fish, one over 20 lbs. When I went downstairs, they were filleting them in the kitchen for lunch and hopefully dinner! Wow! This is what I call fresh. They found tuna in one of the stomachs of the largest mahi mahi. I’ll have to make sure that I’m around when they pull in the next group.

Lobo, the Chief Engineer on board the ship, provided John, Takeshi (scientist from France), and me with a tour of the engine room this afternoon. The most fascinating thing to me is how fresh water is produced on the ship. We use approximately 3,000 gallons of fresh water per day, which means that we are each allotted about 100 gallons. This is plenty per person. The majority of the water is used for the CTD cast because fresh water has to be used to spray down the winch, wire, and cylinders after they are brought out of the water (see photo log for picture), and also for cooking and laundry. It is an extremely comfortable ship. The CO was saying today at lunch that the main halls are much wider than many ships and the staterooms are also more roomy. I was surprised at how decadent my room seems to be. Check out the photo log for a picture of my stateroom.

It is hard to believe how close we are to the equator. We continue moving southward along 140°W. I’m getting a little bit nervous about the fact that there are at least 6 people who have never crossed the equator before in a boat/ship. This means that we are called pollywogs. If time permits, there might be a ceremony at the crossing for all first timers, after which you become shellbacks. It’s not quite that easy, though. There is a certain amount of harassment (all in fun, of course) that must first take place to ensure that the wogs EARN the right to cross. Rumors are spreading that something might happen soon. I’ll keep you updated.

You would not have believed the bioluminescence in the water tonight! Kirby and Don spotted it first and suggested that I go up to the bow to peer over the edge at the bottom of the bow as it plows through the water. The phytoplankton become disturbed, which causes them to glow. There are often patches or clumps of these species that are visible making them look like a glow stick in the water. We may have also seen some jellyfish glowing, but only because they’ve eaten the bioluminescent phytoplankton. It’s so interesting. I love hanging my arms over the railing of the bow watching it carve out the water far below.

The sunset and moon rise were incredible tonight. The sun’s rays continued to light up the sky for about an hour after the sun actually set. The colors of light blue growing into bright pink were beautiful. We also had low cumulus clouds far beneath high cirrus clouds that turned pink. It was a spectacular scene (see photo log). I wish that I could have captured the moon rise over the ocean. It looked HUGE and was bright orange. There were thin clouds in the foreground that created an eerie, yet beautiful glow. The moon is almost full and illuminates the ocean surface like a huge flashlight. The Milky Way is in full view and the constellations are brilliant. We were looking for the Southern Cross tonight and think that we may have spotted it. Aaaahhhh!

I’ll write more tomorrow.