And We’re Fishing…

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 21, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 27o 15.5’ N

Longitude: 97o 01.3’ W

Haze

Visibility 6 nautical miles

Wind SE 15 knots

Sea wave height 3-4 feet

Sea Temperature: 29.6o Celsius

Note: Just a month ago Hurricane Harvey was bringing 20 foot seas to this area, but today we’re enjoying the 3-4 foot swell.

Science and Technology Log:

Well, we’ve gotten to the fishing grounds, and we’ve gone from waiting to very busy!  We put out the first lines starting at around 8 pm on Tuesday evening.  The process involves first baiting 100 hooks with Atlantic mackerel.  When it’s time for the line to be deployed, first there is a tall buoy with a light and radar beacon (called a high flyer) on it that gets set into the water, attached to the monofilament fishing line.  Then there’s a weight, so the line sinks to the bottom, a series of 50 baited hooks then get clipped onto the line as the monofilament is being fed out.

Those 50 hooks are referred to as a “skate”.  This confused me last night when I was logging our progress on the computer.  I kept thinking that there was going to be some kind of flat, triangular shaped object clipped on to help the line move through the water…not really sure what I was imagining.  Anyway, Lisa Jones, the field party chief and fisheries biologist extraordinaire, has so kindly humored all my questions and explained that skate is just a term for some set unit of baited hooks.  In this case, the unit is 50, and we’ll be deploying two skates each time.

After the first skate comes another weight, the second skate, another weight and then the last high flyer.  Then the line is set loose and we wait.  It’s easy to locate the line again, even at night, because of the radar beacons on the high flyers.

Why are we collecting this data?

As mentioned in my previous post, one of the tasks of NOAA, especially the National Marine Fisheries Service Line Office, is to collect data that will help with effective fisheries management and assist with setting things like catch quotas and so forth.  A catch quota refers to the amount of a particular species that can be harvested in a particular year.  Fisheries management is incredibly complicated, but the basic idea is that you don’t want to use up the resource faster than it is replenishing itself.  In order to know if you are succeeding in this regard, you must go out and take a look at how things are going.  Therefore, the Oregon II goes out each year in the fall and samples roughly 200 sites over about eight weeks.  The precise locations of the sampling sites change each year but are spread out along the SE Atlantic Coast and throughout the U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

We’ve put out three long lines so far.  Last night, we caught a single fish, but it was a really cool one.  It’s called the Golden Tilefish but has an even better species name: Lopholatilus chamealeonticeps.  As Lisa was explaining that they dig burrows in the sea floor, I realized that I had seen their cousins while snorkeling around coral reefs but would never have made the connection that they were related. This guy was big!

 

Tilefishp3

Golden tilefish (Lopholatilus chamealeonticeps) caught in first longline of the trip

This afternoon, things got really hectic.  Of our 100 hooks, 67 had a fish on it, and 60 of those were sharks.  As we were pulling in the last bit of line, we pull on a shark that was missing its back half!  Another had a bite taken out of it.  And then on hook number 100, was a bull shark.  This shark had been snacking along the line and got caught in the process.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bull shark caught on the last hook of a very productive bout of fishing (Photo courtesy of Lisa Jones, NOAA)

And I haven’t even mentioned the red snappers.  I will save them for another post, but they are absolutely beautiful creatures.

MeasuringSnapperp3

Red snapper being measured

 

Personal Log:

I definitely continue to feel out of my element at times, especially as we were pulling in all these hooks with sharks on them, and I could barely keep up with my little job of tracking when a fish came on the boat.  All the sharks started running together in my mind, and it was definitely a bit stressful.  Overall, I feel like I’ve adjusted to the cadence of the boat rocking and have been sleeping a lot more soundly.  I continue to marvel at how amazing it is that we’re relatively close to shore but, except for a few songbirds desperate for a rest, there is no evidence of land that my untrained eyes can detect.  Lastly, I’ve realized that a 12-hour sampling shift is long.  I have a lot of respect for the scientists and crew that do this for months on end each year with just a few days break every now and then. Well, it time to pull in another line.  Next time, we’ll talk snapper.

 

Denise Harrington: A Shark A Day, September 29, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Denise Harrington

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 16-30, 2016

Mission: Longline Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Thursday, September 29, 2016

Science Log

The cruise is coming to a close. Looking back at my three experiences with NOAA, hydrography (mapping the ocean), fisheries lab work, or shark and snapper surveys,  I couldn’t decide which was my favorite.  Like the facets of a diamond, each experience gave me another perspective on our one world ocean.

Just like different geographic locations and work, each shark species give me a lens through which I can appreciate the mysteries of the ocean.  Every day, I held, measured, kissed, or released a different species of shark. In the Gulf of Mexico, there are 44 shark species frequently caught.  Fortunately, I saw quite a few, and will share some, in the order in which I met them.

Our first night fishing, we caught many Atlantic sharpnose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae).  They are named for their long flat snout and sharp nose. It seemed whenever we caught one, a bunch more followed. They were abundant and kept us busy.

p1080163

Paul Felts, Fisheries Biologist, records measurements while Kevin Rademacher, Fisheries Biologist, wrestles and measures the shark. Matt Ellis, NOAA Science Writer, took amazing pictures throughout the cruise.

Day two, we caught a deep water Cuban dogfish (Squalus cubensis).  

 

p1090143

The Cuban dogfish’s huge iridescent eyes were entrancing.

On September 2o, we almost caught a bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas).  We brought the cradle down, but the shark thrashed its way off, refusing to be studied. The bull shark, along with the tiger shark, are “one of the top three sharks implicated in unprovoked fatal attacks around the world.”

Within a couple days of catching the Cuban dogfish, we caught another shark with iridescent eyes. It turns out this similar looking shark was not a Cuban dogfish, but a rare roughskin spiny dogfish (Cirrhigaleus asper).  

p1080318

Dr. Trey Driggers, Field Party Chief, and prolific shark researcher, surprised us all when he reported this was the first roughskin spiny dogfish he had ever caught!

The beautifully mottled, sleek, immature tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) caught on September 23 had remarkable skin patterns that apparently fade as the shark ages. Adult sharks can get as large as 18 feet and 2,000 pounds.  Along with the bull shark, it is one of the top three species implicated in unprovoked, fatal attacks worldwide.

September 24 we caught a fascinating scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini).  The flat extended head of this hammerhead is wavy, giving it the “scalloped” part of its name.  Its populations in the Gulf have drastically decreased since 1981, making it a species of concern.

 

img_0430

Here, Kevin measures one of several scalloped hammerhead sharks we caught on Leg IV of the survey.

We also caught a silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis). Like other Carcharhinus sharks, the silky shark has a sharp “Carchar,” nose “hinus” (Greek derivation), but also has a silky appearance due to its closely spaced dermal denticles.

img_2294

I instantly felt the silky was the most beautiful shark I’d seen. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

 

We  saw two of the three smoothhound species present in the Gulf.  On September 25, we caught a Gulf smoothhound, (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), a species named less than 20 years ago. Much is left to learn about the ecology and biology of this recently discovered shark.

img_2575

Getting ready to weigh the gulf smoothhound, Kevin Rademacher, Fisheries Biologist, stops for a photo.                                                      Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

Then, I watched the night crew catch, measure and tag a dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo: NOAA Fisheries

On September 26, we caught a sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus).  Despite its size,  the sandbar shark poses little threat to man.

img_2889

The sandbar shark’s large fin to body ratio and size make them a prime target for commercial fisheries. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

Due to over-fishing, sandbar shark populations are said to have dropped by as much as 2/3 between the 1970’s and the 1990’s. They are now making a comeback, whether it be from fishing regulations, or the decreased populations of larger sharks feeding on juvenile sandbar sharks.

img_3128

This sandbar shark attacked a blacknose shark that had taken our bait. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

We tagged many sharks during my two weeks on the Oregon II.  If you never catch one of those sharks again, the tag doesn’t mean anything.  But this week, we also caught a previously tagged sandbar shark!  Recapturing a wild marine animal is phenomenal.  You can learn about its migration patterns, statistically estimate population sizes, and learn much more. The many years of NOAA’s work with this species in particular demonstrates that thoughtful, long term management of a species works.

 

On September 27, we almost caught a nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum). The barbels coming from its mouth reminded me of a catfish or exotic man with a mustache.

Today, September 29, was our last day of fishing, a bittersweet day for me.  That nurse shark that got away, or more likely, another one like it, came up in our cradle.

Every day we caught sharks, including a few other species not mentioned here.  Only once our line came back without a fish.  The diverse characteristics and adaptations that allow each of these species to survive in a challenging marine environment inspire biologists as they try to categorize and understand the species they research.   While catching so many different species of sharks gives me hope, many members of the crew reminisce about times gone by when fish were more abundant than they are now.

Personal Log

I am the kind of person who always struggles to return from an adventure.  I have learned so much, I don’t want to leave.  Yet I know my class at South Prairie is waiting patiently for my return. I hope to share these many marine species  with my class so that we all may view every moment with curiosity and amazement.

 

 

 

 

Julie Karre: Back to My Reality, August 12, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013  

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Range of Cruise: Atlantic
Date: Monday August 12, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Sadly, I don’t know because I’m not there anymore.

The sunset on the last night. Exquisite. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

The sunset on the last night. Exquisite. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

Post-Cruise Log

I have been back on land for three days now and all I want to talk about are my adventures aboard the Oregon II. I miss everyone I met and hope that we all remain friends. But now that I am not in the moment and experiencing the adrenaline rush of handling sharks, I have time to think about all that I have learned and how I will make this experience valuable to my students. Because, while it was a true honor and privilege to have been aboard the Oregon II for two weeks, the real honor and privilege of my life is spending 10 months with students of Baltimore City Public Schools. And they matter the most right now.

I begin school in two weeks. Two weeks from now I will be standing in my classroom setting up what I hope to be a remarkable year of learning with 40 or so 7th graders and 40 or so 8th graders. Just picturing their faces coming through the door and the hugs and the squeals of delight as we get excited about seeing each other makes me the happiest version of myself.

My Armistead Gardens 7th graders received homemade cookies as a New Years Gift. I look forward to seeing them for a new year beginning August 26th.

My Armistead Gardens 7th graders received homemade cookies as a New Years Gift. I look forward to seeing them for a new year beginning August 26th.

IMG_0914

So what am I going to do with this experience? How will I make two of the most meaningful weeks of my life meaningful for kids who were not involved? How will I make what was mine, theirs?

Those are the questions that bounce around in my head all of the time now. No amount of blog writing and sharing pictures on Facebook matters if I don’t do this justice to those kids. And in the meantime, I would really like to make the people who made this possible proud. From the NOAA employees who run Teacher at Sea to the crew and scientists on the Oregon II to the volunteers who cheered me on and supported me to my parents who watched my dog, I want to make them proud.

So the brainstorming begins and this is where it starts. Over the course of the cruise, I kept track of our latitude and longitude at 11am each day and at each of our stations. During a 1-2 week unit during my Ecosystems In and Out of Balance semester of study, we will be using the research from my cruise to celebrate Shark Week – Armistead Gardens Style. We will begin by plotting the course of the Oregon II from July 26 to August 8. We will study the written descriptions of the shark species I encountered and see if we can match them with pictures. We will hypothesize how the flow of energy works in the marine ecosystems where these sharks are found – will the students guess that some of the big sharks eat some of the little sharks? I didn’t know that. Then we will begin to study what struggles these species encounter in an out-of-balance ecosystem – things like fishing and hypoxia and oil spills.

Beyond the marine science, we will look at who makes marine science possible. I cannot wait to share with these students the opportunities that abound in marine careers, from becoming a scientist like Kristin to driving a ship like Rachel.

This is just a beginning and I look forward to sharing the final product as I continue to develop it.

Thank you so much to everyone who followed my adventure. Thank you so much to everyone who made this possible. I will not let you down.

The volunteers from the first leg take their leave of the Oregon II and head back to their other lives. Photo Credit: Amy Schmitt

The volunteers from the first leg take their leave of the Oregon II and head back to their other lives. Photo Credit: Amy Schmitt

And now I am home with my lovely dog, Maddox.

And now I am home with my lovely dog, Maddox.


Animals Seen Over Two Weeks

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

I handle an Atlantic Sharpnose in one of my last hauls aboard the ship. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

I handle an Atlantic Sharpnose in one of my last hauls aboard the ship. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

Blacknose Shark

Nurse Shark

Scalloped Hammerhead

Bull Shark

Sandbar Shark

Night Shark

Silky Shark

Ribbonfish

IMG_0977

A ribbonfish makes an appearance. Quite the face it has.

A ribbonfish makes an appearance. Quite the face it has.

Grouper

Red Snapper

Black Sea Bass

A black sea bass makes a guest appearance in one of the final hauls on the Oregon II's first leg.

A black sea bass makes a guest appearance in one of the final hauls on the Oregon II’s first leg. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

Sea Turtles

Dolphins

Pilot Whales

Mahi Mahi

Mahi Mahi swim along as the night shift brings in the line. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

Mahi Mahi swim along as the night shift brings in the line. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

Sea stars

Jelly fish

Sea Pansy

Julie Karre: A Weekend with the Wind and Wild Sharks, August 2-4, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean off the Coast of Florida
Date: Friday, August 2 – Sunday, August 4, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Friday – SW WINDS 10 TO 15 KNOTS
SEAS 3 TO 5 FEET
SCATTERED SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS

Saturday – SW WINDS AROUND 15 KNOTS
ISOLATED SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS MAINLY AFTER MIDNIGHT
SEAS AROUND 4 FEET

Sunday – W WIND 5 TO 7 KNOTS BECOMING VARIABLE AND LESS THAN 5 KNOTS
A CHANCE OF SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS MAINLY AFTER 10PM
SEAS AROUND 3 FEET

Science and Technology Log
In this log we’ll take a closer look at the sharks we’ve brought on board:

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark:

Volunteer Arjen Krigsman works on a Sharpnose on his birthday!

Volunteer Arjen Krijgsman works on a Sharpnose on his birthday!

The Atlantic Sharpnose has been the most abundant shark on our survey and will continue to be abundant for the rest of the cruise, even in the Gulf of Mexico. It is in fact one of the species that is on the Least Concern list in terms of its vulnerability. It is often a victim of by-catch and makes up 1/3 of the commercial landings of sharks in the United States. But being capable of producing offspring in abundance, the Sharpnose remains a steady species with moderate population growths. As indicated by its name the Atlantic Sharpnose is found all along the U.S. Atlantic coast and even as far as New Brunswick, Canada. When the Oregon II makes its way back into the Gulf of Mexico, it will likely continue to make an appearance on deck.

Blacknose Shark

Blacknose Shark Photo Credit: Claudia Friess from her 2009 Longline cruise on the Oregon II. Unfortunately, when we caught the Blacknose it was too dark to get a good picture.

Blacknose Shark
Photo Credit: Claudia Friess from her 2009 Longline cruise on the Oregon II.  When we caught a Blacknose on this cruise it was too dark to get a good picture.

The Blacknose Shark shares a similar body with the Sharpnose, but is marked by a (drumroll please) black mark on its nose. Unfortunately, the Blacknose doesn’t share its abundance with the Sharpnose. The Blacknose is listed as Near Threatened due to its high mortality rates in shrimp trawl nets. The Blacknose is suffering a decline in its population. The Oregon II has only seen 5-6 Blacknose during this leg of the survey.

Nurse Shark

Nurse Shark Photo Credit: Claudia Friess from her 2009 Oregon II cruise. Unfortunately, it was too dark to get quality photos from our Nurse Shark.

Nurse Shark
Photo Credit: Claudia Friess from her 2009 Oregon II cruise. Again, it was too dark to get quality photos of our Nurse Shark.

The Nurse Shark, the first big shark we cradled, is characterized by sedentary and relatively docile behavior. They are still relatively mysterious in their migratory behavior and the gene flow between populations. Recently, it has been shown in population decline in certain areas perhaps due to its vulnerability to catch, but also perhaps because of habitat alteration.

Scalloped Hammerhead

Measuring a Scalloped Hammerhead.

Measuring a Scalloped Hammerhead.

The Scalloped Hammerhead has been my favorite so far. A friend of mine characterized it as the hipster of the shark world. There is something truly magnificent about those wide-set eyes. Unfortunately, the Scalloped Hammerhead is Endangered. The Scalloped Hammerhead can be found in coastal temperate waters all around the world. In each of these regions, it is threatened by capture, mostly as by-catch in fishing gear, gillnets, and longlines. Hammerhead shark fins are also more valuable than other species because of their high fin count. The species is in decline.

Bull Shark

Bull Shark! 232 pounds!

Bull Shark! 232 pounds!

The Bull Shark is a unique shark species because it can survive in freshwater for extended periods of time. This ability has caused it to be categorized as Near Threatened because it often gets caught in fisheries, but it is not a target species the way others are. Here’s what Kristin Hannan had to say: “Bull sharks’ ability to tolerate greater salinity extremes means that it is likely to be in more productive areas like at the input of rivers.  The rivers which dump high levels of nutrients into the system spur on production, high nutrients means more phytoplankton, more phytoplankton means more small critters eating and so on up.  These areas also mean hot spots for fishing activities as productivity means more fish, more fish means more predators, more interaction with gear, more possibilities for shark mortality.”

Sandbar Shark

A Sandbar Shark coming up on the cradle.

A Sandbar Shark coming up on the cradle.

The Sandbar Shark, which we caught in abundance one night, is a widespread species in warm temperate waters. Studies have found that it is a long-lived species, but it does not reproduce quickly so it has become Vulnerable due to overfishing. The species is currently in decline. The Sandbar is considered valuable because of their fins, which are large.

Tiger Shark 

A medium sized Tiger Shark was brought on deck to be measured and tagged. Kristin Hannan stands waiting for it to stop moving.

A medium sized Tiger Shark was brought on deck to be measured and tagged. Kristin Hannan stands waiting for it to stop moving.

The Tiger Shark is commonly found world wide in tropical and warm coastal waters. Aside from the Sandbar, it is the largest shark we have caught the most of. Fortunately, it is considered a fast-growing species with the ability to reproduce abundantly. It is not considered at a high risk for extinction, but the desire for fins makes the risk of further population decline a distinct possibility.

Night Shark

This Night Shark was the only of its kind we brought up so far.

This Night Shark was the only one of its kind we’ve brought up so far.

We have only caught 1 Night Shark during our survey. It is a Vulnerable species. It is prized mostly for its fins and meats and is caught in abundance off the coast of Brazil. Studies have shown that most of the Night Sharks landed were below 50% maturity, which is 8 years for males and 10 years for females. In the United States, the Night Shark is listed as a prohibited species.

When talking to Kristin about these sharks, she shared this about their reproduction, “All sharks are considered K-selected species like humans; we are late to mature, grow slowly and reproduce relatively few young comparatively to say a bony fish that might produce thousands of babies in its lifetime (s-selected).  So when we talk about a tiger [shark] vs. a sandbar [shark] being more or less productive, it is definitely in relation to each other and not all fish. A tiger [shark] does produce more young than some other species but way less than the red grouper he goes after for dinner.  This is why all sharks are so sensitive to fishing pressures; they have a considerably longer bounce back time.”

Personal Log
It’s hard to believe that over a week has passed, but given how much we have seen and done, it makes sense.

As I get more and more comfortable handling sharks and working on the boat, I have noticed a few things. My sister-in-law Elizabeth noticed a few years ago that my family has a love for responding to each other (and often friends and acquaintances) with movie quotes. The most commonly quoted movies in our family include The Big Lebowski, The Princess Bride, Blues Brothers, To Kill A Mockingbird, and many more. I am no exception to this family trend.

So while we’re all eagerly awaiting the call that a shark is on the hook, it occurred to me that this movie-quoting affliction had not escaped this trip. When a fish or shark is caught on one of our hooks, the fishermen call out “Fish on” to notify those of us handling to come over and retrieve the animal. I realized that this was no common call in my head, though. Each time I hear the “Fish on” I hear it more in the call of “Game Ooon” from Wayne’s World. I suppose that’s a hazard of anyone growing up in the 90s. What proves I am truly a Karre though is that when I’m talking to the shark I’m handling, asking and sometimes begging it to be still so I can remove the hook quickly and reduce its harm and pain, in my head the shark is responding “Oh I’m cooperating with you” in the voice of William H. Macy from the movie Fargo.

"Fish ooonnn" - A Sharpnose comes up to join us.

“Fish ooonnn” – A Sharpnose comes up to join us.

"Oh I'm cooperating with you" says the Sharpnose that has just come aboard the Oregon II.

“Oh I’m cooperating with you” says the Sharpnose that has just come aboard the Oregon II.

Did You Know?
There are over 6000 known coral species around the world. We have brought up several pieces of coral on our clips. Kevin found a bright red piece of coral, which prompted a lesson for us about how many red corals release an irritant that will make our skin burn and sting. Fortunately, that’s not what Kevin brought up!

The sun is setting on my trip and all I can say is that it has been extraordinary.

The sun is setting on my trip and all I can say is that it has been extraordinary.

Jennifer Goldner: Sharks 101, August 18, 2011

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

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Southern Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 18, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 26.05 N
Longitude: 84.05 W
Wind Speed: 5.20 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 30.30 C
Air Temperature: 31.20 C
Relative Humidity: 67.00%

Science and Technology Log

Living in the landlocked state of Oklahoma, I am unfamiliar with sharks.  Thus today, with the help of the scientists, I’m going to give some basics of sharks that I have learned this week.  Class title:  Shark 101.  Welcome to class!

Let me start by telling you the various sharks and amount of each we have caught this week in the Gulf of Mexico. We have caught 7 nurse sharks, 2 bull sharks, 4 sandbar sharks, 73 Atlantic sharpnose sharks, 15 blacknose sharks,  5 blacktip sharks, 5 smooth dogfish, 2 silky sharks, and 4 tiger sharks.  For those of you that took the poll, as you can see the correct answer for the type of shark we have caught the most of is the Atlantic sharpnose shark.   The sharks ranged in size from about 2 kilograms (Atlantic sharpnose shark) to 100 kilograms (tiger shark). Keep in mind a kilogram is 2.24 pounds. 

In addition to the sharks caught we have also caught yellowedge, red, and snowy grouper, blueline tilefish, spinycheek scorpionfish, sea stars, and a barracuda.

From the last post you now know that we soak 100 hooks at a time. Throughout the survey we have had as little as no sharks on the line in one location and up to 25 on the line in other locations.

Me holding a spinycheek scorpion fish

Me holding a spinycheek scorpionfish

Blueline tile fish

Blueline tilefish

Drew, Scientist, holding a barracuda

Drew, Scientist, holding a barracuda

yellowedge grouper

Yellowedge grouper

When a shark is brought on board, it is measured for total length, as well as fork length (where the caudal fin separates into the upper and lower lobes).  The sex of the shark is also recorded.  A male shark has claspers, whereas a female shark does not.  The shark’s weight is recorded.  Then the shark is tagged. Lastly, the shark is injected with OTC (Oxytetracycline) which can then be used to validate the shark’s age.  It should be noted that for larger sharks these measurements are done in the cradle.  For perspective, I had Mike, fisherman, lay in the cradle to show the size of it. Also on this trip, some of the scientists tried out a new laser device.  It shoots a 10 cm beam on the shark.  This is then used as a guide to let them know the total length.  Thus, the shark can actually be measured in the water by using this technique.

Do you see the 2 laser dots on the shark?  This 10 cm increment helps scientists estimate the length of the shark.

Mike, Fisherman, in the shark cradle- It is approximately 8 feet long.

Mike, Fisherman, in the shark cradle — It is approximately 8 feet long.

Shark diagram

Shark diagram

Mark Grace, Chief Scientist, weighs a shark

Mark Grace, Chief Scientist, weighs a shark

Male shark on the left (with claspers), female shark on the right (no claspers)

Male shark on the left (with claspers), female shark on the right (no claspers)

Mark Grace, Chief Scientist, and Adam, Scientist, measure a nurse shark in the cradle

Mark Grace, Chief Scientist, and Adam, Scientist, measure a nurse shark in the cradle

Mark Grace, Chief Scientist, assists me tagging an Atlantic sharpnose shark

Mark Grace, Chief Scientist, assists me tagging an Atlantic sharpnose shark

Tim, Lead Fisherman, holds the bull shark while I tag it!

Tim, Lead Fisherman, holds the bull shark while I tag it!

Giving antibiotics to an Atlantic sharpnose shark

Injecting OTC into an Atlantic sharpnose shark

Here are some things I learned about each of the sharks we caught.

1.  Nurse shark:   The dorsal fins are equal size.  They suck their food in and crush it.  Nurse sharks are very feisty.  See the attached video of Tim, Lead Fisherman and Trey, Scientist, holding a nurse shark while measurements are being taken.

The skin of nurse sharks is rough to touch.  Incidentally, all  types of  sharks’ skin is covered in dermal denticles (modified scales) which is what gives them that rough sandpaper type feeling.  If you rub your hand across the shark one way it will feel smooth, but the opposite way will feel coarse.

Dermal denticles, courtesy of Google images

Dermal denticles, courtesy of Google images

Cliff, Fisherman, getting a nurse shark set to measure

Cliff, Fisherman, getting a nurse shark set to measure

2.  Bull shark– These are one of the most aggressive sharks.  They have a high tolerance for low salinity.

Bianca, Scientist, taking a blood sample from a bull shark

Bianca, Scientist, taking a blood sample from a bull shark

bull shark

Bull shark

sandbar shark

Sandbar shark

3. Sandbar shark– These sharks are the most sought after species in the shark industry due to the large dorsal and pectoral fins.  The fins have large ceratotrichia that are among the most favored in the shark fin market.

4.  Atlantic sharpnose shark– The main identifying characteristic of this shark is white spots.

Atlantic sharpnose shark

Atlantic sharpnose shark

5.  Blacknose shark– Like the name portrays, this shark has black on its nose.  These sharks are called “baby lemons” in commercial fish industry because they can have a yellow hue to them.

blacknose shark

Blacknose shark

Me holding a blacknose shark

Me holding a blacknose shark

6.  Blacktip shark- An interesting fact about this shark is that even though it is named “blacktip,” it does not have a black tip on the anal finThe spinner shark, however, does have a black tip on its anal fin.

Jeff and Cliff getting a blacktip shark on board

Jeff and Cliff getting a blacktip shark on board

Tagging a blacktip shark

Tagging a blacktip shark

7. Smooth dogfish– Their teeth are flat because their diet consists of crustaceans, such as crabs and shrimp.

Travis, Scientist, weighing a smooth dogfish

Travis, Scientist, weighing a smooth dogfish

8. Tiger shark– Their teeth work like a can opener.  They are known for their stripes.

A large tiger shark got tangled in our line.  Notice the 2-3 foot sharpnose shark. The tiger shark is about 5 times larger!

A large tiger shark got tangled in our line. Notice the 2-3 foot sharpnose shark at the left. The tiger shark is about 5 times larger!

Me with a tiger shark

Me with a tiger shark

Daniel, Scientist, holding a tiger shark

Daniel, Scientist, holding a tiger shark

9.  Silky shark- Their skin is very smooth like silk.

Daniel, Scientist, holding a silky shark

Daniel, Scientist, holding a silky shark

Another thing I got to see was shark pups because one of the scientists on board, Bianca Prohaska, is studying the reproductive physiology of sharks, skates, and rays.  According to Bianca, there are 3 general modes of reproduction:

1.  oviparous–  Lays egg cases with a yolk (not live birth).  This includes some sharks and all skates.

2.  aplacental viviparous – Develops internally with only the yolk.  This includes rays and some sharks.  Rays also have a milky substance in addition to the yolk.  Some sharks are also oophagous, such as the salmon shark which is when the female provides unfertilized eggs to her growing pups for extra nutrition.  Other sharks, such as the sand tiger, have interuterine cannibalism (the pups eat each other until only 1 is left).

3. placental viviparous– Develop internally initially with a small amount of yolk, then get a placental attachment.  This includes some sharks.

Yet another thing that scientists look at is the content of the shark’s stomach. They do this to study the diet of the sharks.

Skate egg case, Courtesy of Google images

Example of oviparous- Skate egg case, Courtesy of Google images

Placental viviparous

Example of placental viviparous

Dogfish embryo, courtesy of Google images

Example of aplacental viviparous- Dogfish embryo, courtesy of Google images

Contents from the stomach of a smooth dogfish (flounder and squid)

Contents from the stomach of a smooth dogfish (flounder and squid)

Personal Log

Anyone who knows me realizes that I appreciate good food when I eat it.  Okay, on NOAA Ship Oregon II, I have not found just good food, I have found GREAT cuisine!   I am quite sure I have gained a few pounds, courtesy of our wonderful chefs, Walter and Paul.  They have spoiled us all week with shrimp, steak, prime rib, grilled chicken, homemade cinnamon rolls, turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and gravy, and the list goes on!   Just talking about it makes me hungry!

Walter is a Chef de Cuisine.  I want to share with you two of the wonderful things, and there are many more, he has prepared for us this week.  The first is called ceviche.  On our shift we caught some grouper.  Walter used these fish to make this wonderful dish.

Grouper used to make ceviche

Grouper used to make ceviche

In addition to the grouper, the ingredients he used were lemon juice, vinegar, onions, jalapeno, kosher salt, and pepper.  He mixed all the ingredients together.  The citric acid cooks the raw fish.  It has to be fresh fish in order to make it.  Instead of lemon juice, apple juice or orange juice can be substituted.  All I know is that since I arrived on NOAA Ship Oregon II, I heard from the entire crew about how great Walter’s ceviche was and it did not disappoint!

Walter, Chef de Cuisine, with his award winning ceviche

Walter, Chef de Cuisine, with his award winning ceviche

Walter's maccaroons

Walter’s macaroons

Another thing Walter is famous for on board NOAA Ship Oregon II are his macaroons.  These are NOT like ANY macaroons you have ever tasted.  These truly melt in your mouth.  Amazingly, he only has 4 ingredients in them: egg whites, powdered sugar, almond paste, and coconut flakes.  They are divine!!

On another note, I would like to give a shout out to my 5th grade students in Jay Upper Elementary School!  (I actually have not had the chance to meet them yet because I am here as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I would like to thank my former student, Samantha Morrison, who is substituting for me.  She is doing an outstanding job!!)

Dolphin swimming alongside the ship

Dolphin swimming alongside the ship

Jay 5th Grade:  I cannot wait to meet you!  Thank you for your questions!  We will have lots of discussions when I return about life at sea.  Several of you asked if I have been seasick.  Fortunately, I have not.  Also, you asked if I got to scuba dive.  Only the dive crew can scuba dive.  We are not allowed to have a swim call (go swimming) either.  As you can see, there is plenty to do on board!  Also, you may have noticed that I tried to include some pictures of me tagging some sharks.  Lastly, this dolphin picture was requested by you, too.  Dolphins LOVE to play in the ship’s wake so we see them every day.

Enjoy the view!

I LOVE the scenery out here!  I thought I’d share some of it with you today.

I thought these clouds looked like dragons. What do they look like to you?

I thought these clouds looked like dragons. What do they look like to you?

The vertical development of clouds out here is amazing!

The vertical development of clouds out here is amazing!

Starboard side at sunset

Starboard side at sunset

Sunset from the stern

Sunset from the stern

Sunset in the Gulf of Mexico aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

Sunset in the Gulf of Mexico aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

Sunset, port side

Sunset, port side

Annmarie Babicki, August 20, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date  August 20, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude:  28.52 degrees North
Longitude:  85.52 degrees West
Clouds: partly cloudy
Winds:  10.37 kts.
Waves:  2-3 Feet
Air Temperature: 31.3 degrees C or 88 degrees F
Water Temperature:  29.7 degrees C or 85 degrees F
Barometric Pressure:  1014.28

Bull shark in the cradle

Science and Technology:

  There have been a couple of times when we have worked through a station and have not caught a fish.  That has been very discouraging and rather boring.  However, we had several stations that made up on it and we could barely keep up with bringing in the catch.  One catch, we caught seven sharks that needed to be put in the cradle because they were so large.

Underside of a bull shark

Bull sharks can be dangerous in the Gulf area because they swim in shallow waters where recreational activities take place.  They are one of the most abundant species of sharks, so you do have to be watchful of them.  It is fairly easy to recognize them because of the width of their midsection is and by their rounded nose.  The bull shark was a big male weighing 130 lb.  The black lines you can see just behind his head are the gills slits.  It’s amazing to think that he was enticed with a three inch piece of mackerel. This was only  second bull shark we have caught on our trip thus far.  The night shift also caught one and they were as excited as we were.
We also caught three sandbar sharks, which is the most common large shark we are catching out here.  They ranged in weight from 82 lb. to 136 lb.  Their colors vary from being a light sandy color to a grayish brown.  We had one fighter that thrashed around in the cradle.  The scientists was able  to calm it down, so that it did not hurt itself.  I made a video of one of the catches and it took the scientist and his assistants three min. to weigh, measure, tag and get the hook out of that shark.  I did tag a sandbar shark, but generally do not handle the really big ones.  This expert shark scientist is so skilled at handling sharks and the collecting of data he needs without stressing the sharks. I am in awe of his work and I very much admire the work he is doing to protect the shark populations in the Gulf.
We have caught several little sharks from the dogfish family that are not easily identifiable just by observing them. In order to identify them, the scientist takes a biopsy punch, which takes a small piece     (approx. .8 cm.) of skin just below the dorsal fin. It doesn’t hurt the shark and does not go deep into the muscle tissue. When the DNA testing is completed, the scientist will have the correct genus and species of the shark, which they can then enter into their data base.  Having accurate data is a must.  Without valid data, the shark populations will not be managed properly, which impacts sharks and fisheries.

Two embryos from a sharpnose shark

Another small shark that we caught was the sharpnose shark, which we dissected a few days ago.  Once again it was dissected and the data was collected on the female and her embryos.  They were measured and were old enough that the sex could be determined.  That was amazing to me as they were so small and translucent.  I will be bringing two of the embryos home with me.  I am sure my students will be excited them because you really can see their shark features.
In addition to the scientists on board, we have two contracted bird watchers, who have come to observe birds in the Gulf.  What has brought them here is in part the impact of the oil spill on the birds in open waters.  The other reason is that there have been few studies of Gulf birds, so at the very least they have begun to set a baseline for the species and populations.  Early on in our trip, we saw a very small bird called a cliff swallow that was migrating south to Argentina, which is its home.  It was fun to watch how they glided as they circled the ship.  It was aerodynamics at its best.  I was told that in February or earlier, it flies to North America where is mates and bears its young.  These birds travel this distance every year, which may account for why they live only 2 or 3 years.

A cliff swallow

 Personal Log

I have interviewed many of the officers and members of the science team since I arrived.  They come from diverse backgrounds and their journeys coming on the Oregon II are also very different.  Everyone has been very helpful and kind, even though I have so many questions that are both personal and professional in nature.  I look forward to sharing their stories with my students.
Sleeping has been a little more difficult for the past couple days.  I think it is the constant running of the engines.  I have not experience any soundless time, which I often have at home.  It will be nice to get home where it is quiet.  The crew has informed me that the lack of noise may bother me because it does them whenever they return from a trip.  They also stated that I will need a couple of days to adjust to land life.  I hope not since I start school on Thursday!
I will complete one more blog
“Animals Seen Today”  blacktip shark tiger shark, sharpnose.  yellow wedge grouper, golden tile fish, king snake eel.
Did You Know” that if a  hook is left in a shark’s mouth, it will rust out and the shark will expel what is left.