David Madden: Immersed in the Seascape July 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Madden: July 18th, 2019

 

On board off the coast of North Carolina – about 35 miles east of Cape Fear, 40 miles south of Jacksonville, NC.  (33º50’ N, 77º15’W)

Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

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

Here’s our location from the other day, courtesy of windy.com.  And here is a good Gulf Stream explanation from our friends at NOAA:

Date: July 19, 2019

Science and Technology Log

Being at sea has got me thinking; about life at sea, the lives and careers of the men and women on board, and about the marine organisms around us.  Pause there for a minute.  Nature’s beauty and abundance on land is readily seen, so long as you travel to the right location and you’re patient.  The ocean, however, hides its multitudes beneath the waves.  I’ve found myself drawn to the ocean my whole life, and here on the cruise, I am drawn to staring at and contemplating the ocean and its life – the great hidden beneath.  You know the stats: the earth is covered by ~70% water, the deep ocean has been explored less than outer space, the ocean is warming and turning more acidic, etc.  I’m not saying that you and I don’t already know these things.  I’m only saying that you feel them differently when you are in the ocean, when you are immersed for days in the seascape.   

The goal is this cruise is to survey fish.  (SEFIS = Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey).  The science crew repeats a similar protocol each day of the cruise.  It looks something like this:

  1. Chief scientist, Zeb Schobernd, determines the site locations using NOAA sea floor maps. 
  2. The science team (broken into day and night shifts) baits six traps with menhaden fish bait, and starts the two GoPros that are attached to the traps.   
  3. The Pisces crew then deploys the traps, 1-6, at pre-determined locations (see step 1).  They do this by sliding them off the back of the ship.  Traps are attached to buoys for later pick up.
  4. Wait for around 75 minutes.
  5. Pisces Senior Survey Technician, Todd Walsh, along with crew members, Mike and Junior, drop the CTD [Conductivity, Temperature, Depth] probe.  See picture below. 

                *Stay tuned for a video chronicling this process. 

6. After ~75 min, NOAA Corps officers drive back to retrieve the traps, in the order they were dropped. (1-6)

7.  Crew members Mike and Junior, along with scientists, collect the fish in the trap and sort them by species.

8.  All fish are measured for weight and length. 

9. Depending on the species, some fish contribute further information, most notably, their otoliths (to determine age) and a sample of reproductive organs to determine maturity. 

10. Rinse and repeat, four times each day, for the length of the cruise. 

I mostly work with the excellent morning crew.

The most excellent and experienced morning crew.

Mike and Junior, running the CTD, and supporting their favorite NFL teams.

Here’s a view into yesterday’s fish count – more fish and more kinds of fish:

Here is a view off the back of the boat, called the stern, where the traps are dropped. 

On Wednesday the GoPros on one of the fish traps collected footage of a friendly wandering tiger shark.  Our camera technician, Mike Bollinger, using his stereo video technique, determined the size of the shark to be ~ 8.5 feet.  I added the location’s CTD data to the picture.  This is part of an upcoming video full of neat footage.  See below. 

Tiger Shark at 64.55 meters, footage from fish trap GoPro.

Personal Log:

Things continue to be exciting on board.  My mission to film flying fish flying continues (local species unknown/not really sure; probably family: Exocoetidae). But not without some mild success!  I managed to get some of ‘em flying off the port side near the bow.  Man are they quick.  And small.  And the seas were rough.  Yet I remain undeterred!  Here’s a picture of me waiting and watching patiently, followed by a picture of an unlucky little flying fish who abandoned sea and was left stranded at ship.  Poor little fella. 

Waiting patiently for the flying fish to fly. And fly right where I was aiming and focused.

General Updates:

  1. The seas have picked up quite a bit.  Rising up to 5-6 feet.  That may not seem terrifically high, but it sure does rock the ship.  Good thing seas were flat at the start, allowing me to get used to life at sea.   
  2. I just saw some dolphins!  Yippie!  Pictures and video to come.    
  3. Though not legal, I’m dying to take a swim in these beautiful blue waters.    
  4. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching the ocean.  *short of being stranded at sea, I suppose.  See “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” – a true story and great book that’s may have served as inspiration for Moby Dick.  I loved the book, haven’t seen the movie.  Or check out the lost at sea portions of the, hard-to-believe-it-actually-happened, “Unbroken” – great book, okay movie. 

Neato Facts =

NOAA Ship Pisces won NOAA ship of the year in 2018.  This is no doubt due to the most excellent crew, seen below.  Congratulations!

We’ve caught a number of moray eels in the fish traps.  They’re super squirmy and unfriendly.  Turns out they also have pharyngeal mouth parts.  Essentially a second mouth that shoots after their first one is opened.  Check out this fascinating look into the morey eel’s jaw biomechanics.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. 

Carmen Andrews: A Fishing Expedition in the Atlantic, Continued, July 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Daytona Beach, Florida
Date: July 13, 2012

Latitude:      29 ° 19.10   N
Longitude:   80
° 24.31’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 28.3° C (82.94°F)
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Wind Direction: from Southeast
Surface Water Temperature: 27.48 °C (81.46°F)

Weather conditions: Sunny and Fair

Science and Technology Log

Catching bottom fish at the reef

As the fish trap lies at the bottom of the ocean at the reef site, fish can enter and exit freely through the opening.

Red snapper swimming near a fish trap

Red snapper swimming near a sunken fish trap

 

At the end of approximately 90 minutes, the R/V Savannah returns to the drop site and begins the process of raising the trap with whatever fish remain inside. The six traps are pulled up in the order in which they were dropped.

Scientists and crew waiting to arrive at a trap location

Scientists and crew waiting to arrive at a trap location

The crew member on watch in the wheelhouse will maneuver the boat toward the paired poly ball buoys at a speed of about 5 knots. The boat draws alongside each pair on the starboard side.

R/V Savannah approaching poly ball buoys on the starboard side

R/V Savannah approaching poly ball buoys on the starboard side

One of the scientists throws a grappling hook toward the line that links the  poly balls.

Throwing the grappling hook to secure buoys

Throwing the grappling hook to secure buoys

The line is hauled in and passed to a waiting scientists, who pull the poly balls on deck. There is substantial hazard associated with this step. Undersea currents can be very powerful near the bottom where traps are set. As scientists are pulling in the cable by hand, unexpected current force can yank the trap cable, rope and buoys out of their hands and off the deck in an instant. If personnel on deck aren’t mindful and quick to react, the speeding rope can cause serious rope burn injury.

Nate is pulling poly balls and rigging onto the deck, as Adam P. gets ready to take the line

Nate is pulling poly balls and rigging onto the deck, as Adam P. gets ready to take the line

The cable connecting the fish trap and the poly balls is pulled in and threaded through the pulley system of a pot hauler. The pot hauler is an automated lifting tool that is operated by the second crew member on watch. At this time the first crew member on watch has left the wheel house and is piloting the boat from a small cab on deck above the pot hauler, so he can monitor the action below.

Pot hauler hoisting the fish trap to the boat

Pot hauler hoisting the fish trap to the boat

The pot hauler makes a distinctive clicking sound as it draws the trap toward the surface at an angle. It can take one to five minutes to raise the trap to the deck, depending on the depth of the water.

Tight cable raising submerged fish trap

Tight cable raising submerged fish trap

As the fish trap becomes visible, shimmering rapidly changing shapes can be seen as  fishes’ bodies catch and reflect sunlight.

Fish trap breaking the surface of the water

Fish trap breaking the surface of the water

The trap clears the water and gets pulled aboard.

Grabbing the fish trap

Grabbing the fish trap and pulling it aboard

Very quickly, and with two scientists holding each side, the trap is upended onto its nose and suspended above the deck. A third scientist opens the trap door at the bottom and the fish are shaken into a plastic bin.

Orienting the fish traps to ready them for dumping into bins

Orienting a fish trap to ready it for dumping the catch into a bin

Freshly caught red snapper and black sea bass

Freshly caught red snapper and black sea bass

 

Ice pellets are shoveled onto the fish and a cover is snapped on the bin. If the catch is small, fish may be placed in a bucket or tub and cover with ice.

Fish are covered in ice before the bin cover is snapped on

Fish are covered in ice before the bin cover is snapped on

A numbered tag is removed from the trap and tied onto the bin to identify specimens from each catch. The containers holding the day’s catch are set aside for later processing.

Every so often, unexpected sea life is brought up in the traps. The catch has included sea stars, sea urchins, several kinds of tropical fish and many moray eels.

Moray eel slithering on the deck.

Moray eel slithering on the deck. A moray’s bite can be very severe.

Video cameras are also removed from the top of the trap. Their data cards will be downloaded. Fish behavior and surrounding habitat videos will be analyzed, along with anatomical specimens and size data taken from the fish themselves in the wet lab.

Personal Log

Every day brings more wildlife encounters and sightings. I am dazzled by the many fascinating organisms I’ve been able to see up close. Sometimes I am quick enough to grab my camera and put the animal into my view finder, focusing clearly enough to catch a great image. Here are a few of those images (including some new friends from the cruise):

Adam P. holding a barracuda

Adam P. holding a barracuda

Daniel with a wahoo

Daniel with a wahoo

Trolling with a hooked dolphinfish

Trolling with a hooked dolphinfish

Sea stars

Sea stars

A sheerwater -- bird found in open water

A sheerwater — bird found in open water

Sheerwaters dive beneathe the surface to catch fish.

Sheerwaters dive beneath the surface of the water to catch fish. This bird is consuming a fish with its wings open to balance itself on the water.

Other times I have to capture a memory. Last night I tried reef fishing. I have no experience fishing. At all. Adam P. handed me his own rod and reel. The hook was baited and the line was already lowered to the bottom, down at around 40 meters (more than 120 feet).

Shortly after I took it, the tip of the rod began to bend downward and pull. I asked Adam if that meant something had been hooked.  He said, “Go ahead. Reel it in.” That’s when I discovered that even recreational fishing is tough work – particularly this unfamiliar technique of holding the rod with the right hand and reeling in with the left. Neophyte to fishing is me.

When the fish got to the surface, Adam took the big, beautiful black sea bass off the hook for me. On the deck it splayed out the spines of its dorsal, caudal and pectoral fins defensively. I was concerned because the fish’s air bladder was hanging out of its mouth from its rapid ascent to the surface. Adam punctured the air bladder to deflate it. He threw the fish back into the sea at my request, and assured me that the fish will go on with its life.  I’m optimistic it will.

Carmen Andrews: News from Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean off the Coast of Georgia, July 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – July 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coasts of Georgia and Florida
Date: July 9, 2012

Location Data:
Latitude: 30 ° 54.55’   N
Longitude: 80 ° 37.36’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 28.5°C (approx. 84°F)
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wind Direction: from SW
Surface Water Temperature: 28.16 °C (approx. 83°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log

Purpose of the research cruise and background information

The Research Vessel, or R/V Savannah is currently sampling several species of fish that live in the bottom or benthic habitats off the coasts of Georgia and Florida.

Reef fish study area

The coastal zone of Georgia and Florida and the Atlantic Ocean area where the R/V Savannah is currently surveying reef fish

These important reef habitats are a series of rocky areas that are referred to as hard bottom or “live” bottom areas by marine scientists. The reef area includes ledges or cliff-like formations that occur near the continental shelf of the southeast coast. They are called ‘reefs’ because of their topography – not because they are formed by large coral colonies, as in warmer waters. These zones can be envisioned as strings of rocky undersea islands that lie between softer areas of silt and sand. They are highly productive areas that are rich in marine organism diversity. Several species of snapper, grouper, sea bass, porgy, as well as moray eels, and other fish inhabit this hard benthic habitat.

Reef fish

Hard bottom of reef habitat, showing benthic fish — black sea bass is on left and gray trigger fish is on right side of image.

It is also home to many invertebrate species of coral, bryozoans, echinoderms, arthropods and mollusks.

Bottom organisms pulled up with fish traps

Bottom-dwelling organisms, pulled up with fish traps deployed in the reef zone.

The rock material, or substrate of the sea bottom, is thought to be limestone — similar to that found in most of Florida. There are places where ancient rivers once flowed to a more distant ocean shoreline than now. Scientists think that these are remnants of old coastlines that are now submerged beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Researchers still have much to discover about this little known ocean region that lies so close to where so many people live and work.

The biological research of this voyage focuses primarily on two kinds of popular fish – snappers and groupers. These are generic terms for a number of species that are sought by commercial and sports fishing interests. The two varieties of fish are so popular with consumers who purchase them in supermarkets, fish markets and restaurants, that their populations may be in decline.

Red snapper close up

Red snapper in its reef habitat

At this time, all red snapper fishing is banned in the southeast Atlantic fishery because the fish populations, also known as stocks, are so low.

How the fish are collected for study

The fish are caught in wire chevron traps. Six baited traps are dropped, one by one from the stern of the R/V Savannah. The traps are laid in water depths ranging from 40 to 250 feet in designated reef areas. Each trap is equipped with a high definition underwater video camera to monitor and record the comings and goings of fish around and within the traps, as well as a second camera that records the adjacent habitat.

Chevron fish trap

Fish swimming in and out of a chevron fish trap

I will provide the details of the fish trapping and data capture methods in a future blog.

Who is doing the research?

When not at sea, the R/V Savannah is docked at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SKIO)on Skidaway Island, south of Savannah, Georgia. The institute is part of the University of Georgia. The SKIO complex is also the headquarters of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The facility there has a small aquarium and the regional NOAA office.

The fisheries research being done on this cruise is a cooperative effort between federal and state agencies. The reef fish survey is one of several that are done annually as part of SEFIS, the Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey. The people who work to conduct this survey are located in Beaufort, North Carolina. SEFIS is part of NOAA.

The other members of the research team are from MARMAP, the Marine Research Monitoring Assessment and Prediction agency, which is part of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources . This team is from Charleston, South Carolina.

Carmen, suited up to retrieve fish from traps

Mrs. Andrews, on deck near the stern of the R/V Savannah, getting ready to unload fish traps

NOAA also allows “civilians” like me — one of the Teachers at Sea– as well as university undergraduate and graduate students to actively participate in this research.

Kristy Weaver: The Sea is All I See, May 23, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristy Weaver
Aboard R/V Savannah
May 22, 2012-June 1, 2012

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Savannah, GA
Date: May 23, 2012

Current Weather: 85 and Sunny

Hello from the Atlantic Ocean!  Right now we are about 75 miles off the coast of Savannah, GA.  and there is water all around me!  The last time we saw land was about an hour after we left the dock yesterday.

Sunset on our first night at sea

Before I left many of you asked that I be careful while I am out here.  I wanted to tell you that I am safe and that safety seems to be a very important part of being a scientist, especially when you are on a ship.  I took photographs of a lot of the safety equipment and information throughout the ship.  We even had a safety meeting before we went out to sea.  The first mate (he does a lot of work on the ship) showed us how to put on a survival suit, which is something you wear that covers your whole body and has a hood.  This suit will keep you warm and floating if something happens and you need to go into the water.

After the meeting we had a fire drill just like we have at school, except we didn’t leave the boat.  The captain (he is the leader of the ship) sounded the alarm and we all put on life vests and met on the deck.  The deck is the back of the ship–the part that is outside.  A life vest is also called a life jacket or life preserver.  A life vest is put on like a jacket, but it doesn’t have any sleeves.   It’s bright orange and gets buckled and tied around you so that you can float if you go in the water.  You can see a picture of me in my life vest in the safety video that I made.

Many children asked what type of marine life is in the water here.  Here is a list and pictures of the animals I have seen so far.

Scamp Grouper

Scamp

Black Sea Bass

Black Sea Bass

Red Porgy

Red Porgy

After we empty the traps we sort the fish by family. Jennifer (a scientist) and I are sorting Red Porgy in this picture.

After we empty the traps we sort the fish by family. Jennifer (a scientist) and I are sorting Red Porgy in this picture.

The Red Snapper is the large pink fish. The black fish is a Shark Sucker.

If you look closely you can see that the Shark Sucker has a flat head with deep pockets on it that work like suction cups.

Spotted Dolphin

Spotted Dolphin

Gray Trigger Fish

One of the fishermen caught a shark with a fishing pole.  We had to get a picture of it quickly so that we could get it back into the water as soon as possible!

AND…to answer the #1 question that I have received…(drumroll please) YES!  Someone did catch a small shark today!

Did you know that you do things in science class that I have seen real scientists do  on this ship?  What things do you think you do that make you like a real scientist?  Check my next blog to find out how you already are a student scientist!

Channa Comer: Crabs and Stars, May 15, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Channa Comer

On Board Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
May 11 — 22, 2011

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Leg 1
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: Monday, May 15, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 16.2C, Mostly Cloudy
Wind Speed: 11.6 knots
Water Temperature: 13.4C
Swell Height: 1.0 meters

Science and Technology Log
Question of the Day (See the answer at the end of the post)
How do you count a basket of crabs?

It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the halfway mark of the cruise. Since my last log, we’ve covered a total of 966 nautical miles. Today, we’ve traveled from Hudson Canyon which is 60 nautical miles east of Atlantic City to about 50 nautical miles from the coast of Point Pleasant, NJ.

Bucket of Crabs

Bucket of Crabs

Each day, the boat stops at predetermined points along the route. At each stop, the scallop dredge is lowered to the ocean floor at depths ranging from 15 to 60 fathoms. The dredge is then towed for 15 minutes at a speed of 3.8 knots. When 15 minutes has passed, the dredge is brought up and the catch is dumped onto a platform were we all wait anxiously to see what comes up. Once the empty dredge is secure, we get to work sorting the catch. Scallops and fish get separated, with everything else collected into baskets, cataloged as “trash” and returned to the ocean. The scallops are measured, and the fish are sorted by species, then counted, weighed and in some cases saved for further scientific study back at NOAA labs. Once everything has been counted, weighed and measured, it’s time for my favorite activity – shucking! Scallops are shucked and if there’s time, washed bagged and placed in the deep freezer for Paul to use in the galley for meals. To date, we’ve completed 90 tows and dredged 23,212 scallops.

What comes up at each catch depends on the location of the tow. The southernmost, areas that have been open, or those areas that have recently been closed will usually yield fewer scallops. Scallop yields increase as we head northward and in areas that are closed to fishing. In addition to scallops, our tows have included a variety of deep sea fish, starfish, lots of live sand dollars (with their accompanying green slime), and very often, mud.

At select tows, representative samples of scallops are processed beyond the usual length measurements. The shells are scrubbed clean and weights are recorded for the meat and gonad (reproductive organ). The shells are then labeled and bagged for transport to the lab where they will be aged. The age of scallops are determined by counting the number of growth rings on the shell – similar to counting rings on a tree.

Every three tows is my favorite – Crabs and Stars!! In this tow, in addition to the usual sorting and measuring, all Cancer crabs are collected, counted and weighed and a representative sample of starfish are sorted by species, then counted and weighed. Astropecten, a small starfish is a predator of scallops and the most abundant species of starfish that we’ve counted. Usually, a tow that has large numbers of Astropecten has very few scallops. Being a stickler for detail, having the job of counting starfish has been perfect for me.

Did you know?
Starfish eat a scallop by attaching themselves to the scallop in numbers, forcing the shell open, then extruding their stomachs into the shell and digesting the meat.

Animals Seen
Dolphins
Red Hake
Sea Mouse
Chain Dogfish
Little Skate
Four Spot Flounder
Red Sea Robin
Sea Urchin
Snake Eel
Ocean Pout
Sand Dollar
Sand Lance
Goosefish
Starfish
Gulf Stream Flounder
Black Sea Bass
Hermit Crab
Sea Raven

Personal Log
Day 3 – Thursday, May 12, 2011
With my sea sickness over after the first day and having adjusted to my new sleep schedule — I actually get to sleep a full 8 hours! — the days are starting to take on a nice flow. It’s been great being part of a team. We’re like a well-oiled machine. Everyone in my crew continues to be generous, sharing the best shucking techniques and giving me a little extra time to take photos and collect samples. We’ve jokingly renamed the “crabs and stars” tow to “crabs, stars and mud”. It’s really hard to count starfish when they’re covered in mud. Dinner was especially delicious today with salmon in pesto sauce with potatoes and broccoli.

Day 4 – Friday, May 13, 2011
The day started out cloudy and overcast, but the sun made an appearance late in the afternoon. The first tow of the day was my favorite — Crabs and Stars!! — with accompanying mud. As part of the Teacher at Sea program, in addition to my logs, I am required to write a lesson plan. I’ve started to draft what I think will be a great unit using the sea scallop as a springboard to explore issues in ecology and the nature of ecological science. Highlights will be an Iron Chef style cooking competition using scallops and a design challenge where students will have to build a working model of a scallop dredge. Vic has been great with providing whatever data, materials and background information that I need for my lessons. Lunch today was chicken burritos with fresh, spicy guacamole.

Day 6 – Sunday, May 15, 2011
Since its Sunday, I decided to take it easy and instead of trying to get a lot done before my shift and during the breaks, I took it easy and watched a little TV. With satellite TV and a large selection of DVDs, there are always lots of options. Although the guys tend to prefer sports or reality TV. The first few tows were back to back which meant little time for breaks, or snacks, or naps. Just enough time to clean up, shuck and be ready for the next tow.

Day 7 – Monday, May 16, 2011
The trip is half over. It’s hard to believe. The tows were once again, back to back with a fair amount of scallops, but I think after today, we won’t need to shuck anymore. Yay! Today was the day that the animals fought back. I was chomped by a scallop and a crab! The scallop was more of a surprise than a pain, but the crab clawed right through my glove. After days with no restrictions, we received the warning from the engineers today that we have to be careful with the faucets. Dripping faucets waste water and it takes time for the water to be converted through condensation in the condenser to usable water. If we’re not more careful, we’ll be faced with restrictions on how much water we can use……… I hope that doesn’t happen since I think we all officially smell like fish. Lunch today was cream of asparagus soup, yummy and reminiscent of my recent trip to Peru. The only thing missing was Quiona. And finally, today was the day that I’ve been waiting for. I found my favorite ice cream. I’ve been rationing myself to one per day, but after I found my favorite – butter pecan ice cream sandwiches – I could not resist a second.

Answer to Question of the Day: Very carefully!