Heidi Wigman: Fisheries Sciences, June 8, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Heidi Wigman
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 27 – June 10, 2015

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico (24°29.956’N 083°320.601’W)
Date: June 8, 2015

Weather: 83° @ surface, E-SE winds @ 10-15 knots, seas 2-3 ft, average depth 123m

Science and Technology Log:

NOAA’s mission is three-fold: science, service, and stewardship.  By utilizing fisheries, hydrographic, and oceanographic scientists in the field, NOAA’s goal is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, while also putting forth a conservation effort towards coastal and marine ecosystems. This knowledge is shared with businesses, communities, and people, to inform on how to make good choices to protect our fragile earth.

sunset on the Gulf

Sunset on the Gulf

sunrise

Sunrise on the Gulf

The specific mission, for our current voyage, on the Pisces, is to survey fisheries at pre-determined sites throughout the Western portion of the Gulf of Mexico. The data from these surveys will be brought back to the lab in Pascagoula, Miss. and analyzed. Then determinations will be made for future surveys and studies. According to Chief Scientist, Brandi Noble, “These fishery independent surveys increase our knowledge of natural reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. We get a better picture of what’s down there and work with outside agencies to determine how to maintain the health of the fisheries.  Data gathered will be used in future stock assessments for the Gulf of Mexico.”

DSC_1071

Bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf

The methods used to gather data on this cruise are through the use of the camera array and the bandit reels.  The camera arrays are deployed at sites that have been mapped and sit at the bottom for a total soak time of 40 minutes.  This footage is analyzed and processed by scientists to determine what the conditions of the reef are and the species of fish present in the area and their abundance.  This gives a partial picture, but to get a complete and accurate report, fish need to be studied more closely.  The “Bandit Reels” provide a more hands-on approach and allow the scientists to get data on sex, maturity stage, and age of species.  Some of the fish are released after some initial measurements, but the commercially important species are dissected and samples are taken for further lab analysis.  Initial measurements made with anything brought aboard include total length (TL), fork length (FL), standard length, SL (from nose to caudal fin), and weight.

Removing the otolith to determine the age of the fish

Removing the otolith to determine the age of the fish

removing organs to determine sex and maturity

Removing organs to determine sex and maturity

A closer look at the data allows scientists to make predictions on fish populations and growth over time.  Some of the data we got on this trip were for the Lutjanus campechanus (red snapper) and for the Pagrus pagrus (red porgy).

sheet1

Lutjanus campechanus “Red Snapper”

sheet2

Pagrus pagrus “Red Porgy”

There are several ways to disaggregate the data to determine differences and similarities based on region, time, species, etc.  For our purposes, we’ll make some observations involving probability, proportion, and statistics.

Math Problem of the day: You are a scientist and have brought data back from the Gulf of Mexico to analyze in your lab.  You have three tasks: a) to get an average fish size based on weight (species specific) b)  to determine what the proportion is of the Standard Length to the Total Length of each species (hint: ratio of SL/TL; find average) c) determine the theoretical probabilities that the next Red Snapper will be  >1,100g, and that the next red Porgy will be <1,000g (hint: how many times does this happen out of the total catches?)

Coming Soon . . . Meet some of the crew behind the Pisces

Previous Answers:

Trigonometry of Navigation post: 18 m/s @ 34°SE

Bandit Reels post: about 14.6 nautical miles

The STEM of Mapping post: layback = 218m, layback w/ catenary = 207m

Underwater Acoustics: about 163 sq. meters

SCUBA Science: letter group A

Lesley Urasky: Smile and say, “Squid!”, June 20, 2012

 NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

 Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 20, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 18.1937
Longitude: -64.7737

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 28°C (83°F)
Wind Speed:  19 knots (22 mph), Beaufort scale: 5
Wind Direction: from N
Relative Humidity: 80%
Barometric Pressure: 1,014.90  mb
Surface Water Temperature: 28°C (83°F)

Science and Technology Log

The cameras are a very important aspect of the abundance survey the cruise is conducting.  Since catching fish is an iffy prospect (you may catch some, you may not) the cameras are extremely important in determining the abundance and variety of reef fish.  At every site sampled during daylight hours, we deploy the camera array.  The cameras can only be utilized during the daytime because there are no lights – video relies on the ambient light filtering down from the surface.

Camera array – the lens of one of the cameras is facing forward.

Deployment of the array at a site begins once the Bridge verifies we are over the sampling site. The camera array is turned on and is raised over the rail of the ship and lowered to the water’s surface on a line from a winch that has a ‘quick release’ attached to the array.  Once over the surface, a deck hand pulls on the line to the quick release allowing the array to free fall to the bottom of the ocean. Attached to the array is enough line with buoys attached. The buoys mark the array at the surface and give the deck hands something to aim for with the grappling hook when it is time for the array to be retrieved.  Once the buoys are on deck, a hydraulic pot hauler is used to raise the array from the sea floor to the side of the ship.  From there,  another winch is used to bring the array on board.

Vic, Jordan, Joey, and Joe deploying the camera array.

When the array is deployed, a scientist starts a computer program that collects the time, position and depth the array was dropped at. The array is allowed to “soak” on the bottom for about 38 minutes. The initial 3-5 minutes are for the cameras to power up and allow any sediment or debris on the bottom to settle after the array displaces it. The cameras are only actually recording for 25 of those minutes. The final 3-5 minutes are when the computers are powering down.  At one point in time, the cameras on the array were actual video cameras sealed in waterproof, seawater-rated cases. With this system, after each deployment, every individual case had to be physically removed from the array, opened up, and the DV tape switched out.  With the new system, there are a series of four digital cameras that communicate wirelessly with the computers inside the dry lab.

We did have a short-lived problem with one of the digital cameras — it quit working and the electronics technician that takes care of the cameras, Kenny Wilkinson, took a couple of nights to trouble shoot and repair it.  During this time period, we reverted back to the original standard video camera.  Throughout the cruise, Kenny uploads the videos taken during the day and repairs the cameras at night so they will be ready for the next day’s deployments.

Squid (before being cut into pieces) used for bait on the camera array

Besides the structure of the camera array which is designed to attract reef fish, the array is baited with squid.  A bag of frozen, cut squid hangs down near the middle.  The squid is replaced at every site.

Adding bait to the camera array.

In addition to the bait bag, a Temperature Depth  Recorder (TDR) is attached near the center, hanging downward near the bottom third of the array. The purpose of the TDR is to measure the temperature of the water at various depths.  It is also used to verify that the depth where the camera comes to rest on the ocean bottom and is roughly equivalent to what the acoustic sounding reports at the site.  This is important because the camera generally doesn’t settle directly beneath the ship.  Its location is ultimately determined by the drift as it falls through the water column and current.  The actual TDR instrument is very small and is attached to the array near the bait bag.  After retrieving the array at each site, the TDR is removed from the array and brought inside to download the information.  To download, there is a small magnet that is used to tap the instrument (once) and then a stylus attached to the computer is used to read a flash of light emitted by an LED.  The magnet is then tapped four times on the instrument to clear the previous run’s data.  The data actually records the pressure exerted by the overlying water column in pounds per square inch (psi) which is then converted to a depth.

TDR instrument

Computer screen showing the data downloaded from the TDR.

The video from each day is uploaded to the computer system during the night shift.  The following day, Kevin Rademacher (chief scientist), views the videos and quickly annotates the “highlights”.  The following things are noted:  visual clarity (turbidity [cloudiness due to suspended materials], what the lighting is like [backlit], and possible focusing issues), substrate (what the bottom is made of), commercially viable fish, fish with specific management plans, presence of lionfish (an invasive species), and fish behavior.  Of the four cameras, the one with the best available image is noted for later viewing.

Computer data entry form for camera array image logs

Once back at the lab, the videos are more completely analyzed.  A typical 20-minute video will take anywhere from 30 minutes to three days to complete. This is highly dependent upon density and diversity of fish species seen; the greater the density and diversity, the longer or more viewing events it will take.  The experience of the reader is also an important factor. Depending upon the level of expertise, a review system is in place to “back read” or verify species identification. The resulting data is entered into a database which is then used to assign yearly data points for trend analysis. The final database is submitted to the various management councils.  From there, management or fisheries rebuilding plans are developed and hopefully, implemented.

Spotted moray eel viewed from the camera array.  He’s well camouflaged; can you find him?

Coney with a parasitic isopod attached below its eye.

Two Lionfish – an invasive species

Personal Log

Today, we are off the coast of St. Thomas and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  We traveled from the southern coast of  St. Croix, went around the western tip of the island and across the straight.  When I woke up I could see not only St. Thomas and St. John, but a host of smaller islands located off their coastline.

Map of the Virgin Islands. St. Croix and St. Thomas are separated by 35 miles of ocean. It took us about 3 hours to cross to our next set of sampling sites.

Around dinner time last night we had an interesting event happen on board.  They announced over the radio system that there was a leak in the water line and asked  us not to use the heads (toilets).  A while later, they announced no unnecessary use of water (showers, etc.); following that they shut off all water.  It didn’t take long for the repairs to occur, and soon the water was returned.  However, when I went to dinner, I discovered that the stateroom I’m sharing with Kelly Schill, the Ops Officer, had flooded.  Fortunately, the effects of the flooding were not nearly as bad as I had feared.  Only a small portion of the room had been affected.  The crew did a great job of rapidly assessing the problem and fixing it in a timely manner.  After this, I have absolutely no fear about any problems on board because I know the crew will react swiftly, maintain safety, and be professional all the while.

Last night was the first sunset I’ve seen since I’ve been on board.  Up until this point, it has been too hazy and cloudy.  The current haze is caused by dust/sand storms in the Sahara Desert blowing minute particles across the Atlantic Ocean.

St. Thomas sunset

Today has been a slow day with almost nary a fish caught.  We did catch one fish, but by default.  It was near the surface and hooked onto our bait.  We immediately reeled in the line and extracted it.  It was necessary to remove it because it would have skewed our data since it was caught at the surface and not near the reef.  This fish was a really exciting one for me to see, because it was a Shark Sucker (Echeneis naucrates).  These are the fish you may have seen that hang on to sharks waiting for tasty tidbits to float by.  They are always on the lookout for a free meal.

Shark sucker on measuring board

One of the most interesting aspects of the shark sucker is that they have a suction device called laminae on top of their heads that looks a little like a grooved Venetian blind system.  In order to attach to the shark (or other organism), they “open the blinds” and then close them creating a suction-like connection.

The “sucker” structure on the Shark Sucker. Don’t they look like Venetian blinds?

I got to not only see and feel this structure on the fish, but also let it attach itself to my arm!  It was the neatest feeling ever! The laminae are actually a modified dorsal spines; these spines are needed because of the roughness of shark’s skin. When the shark sucker detached itself from me, it left a red, slightly irritated mark on my arm that disappeared after a couple of hours.

Look, Ma, No Hands! Shark sucker attached to my arm.

Tomorrow we’ll be helping place a buoy in between St. Croix and St. Thomas.  It will be interesting to see the process and how the anchor is attached.

With all the weird and wonderful animals we’re retrieving, I can’t wait to see what another day of fishing brings.

Anne Marie Wotkyns, July 9, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Marie Wotkyns
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 7 – 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Anne Marie Wotkyns
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, July 9, 2010
Latitude: 27⁰51.20
Longitude: 91⁰48.60

Weather Data from the Bridge

Air Temperature: 29.6 ⁰ C
Water Temperature: 30.5⁰C
Wind: 2 knots
Other Weather Features:
70% humidity, approx. 30% cloud cover
Swell Height: .3 meter
Wave Height: .2 meter

Science and Technology Log

Friday started bright and early as we met in the dry lab on the Pisces to plan our day. Today would be the first day of work on the SEAMAP reef fish survey, the main purpose of our cruise.

The Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP) is a long term survey of offshore reef fish designed to provide an index of the relative abundance of fish species associated with topographic features such as banks and ledges located on the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico in the area from Brownsville, Texas to the Dry Tortugas, Florida. For this cruise, the sampling occurred off the coast of Louisiana.

The SEAMAP offshore reef fish survey began in 1992. Bathymetric mapping (as was conducted yesterday on the Pisces) provided scientists with contour maps of the ocean floor, then sampling sites measuring 10 nautical miles by 10 nautical miles (“blocks”) were selected in areas with known topographic features. Within each “block”, specific sampling sites are chosen randomly.

The main equipment used in the survey are 4 camera units housed in a special metal “cage”. Each camera unit holds two black and white still cameras and a digital video camera, for a total of 8 still cameras and 4 video cameras which download images to a 1ZTB GB hard drive. The camera pod is lowered to the bottom and left for 45 minutes. The cameras record for 25 minutes of bottom time. Each night the images and videos are downloaded onto another external hard drive, then later recorded onto blue ray discs. Scientists view the video to identify and count all fish observed.

Camera Array

Camera Array

Close up of they camera array

Close up of they camera array

Capturing video from camera Array

Capturing video from camera Array

During a sampling day, some sites are randomly chosen to collect fish for measurement and sampling. One method used is a chevron fish trap, a large wire cage which is baited with squid, lowered to the bottom, and left for 60 minutes. Another collection method is the bandit reel, which deploys a vertical line strung with 10 hooks baited with mackerel pieces. This line is lowered over the side until the bottom weight touches the substrate and left for 10 minutes, then reeled back in.

Chevron Trap

Bandit Reel

Bait

Bait

When fish are caught in the chevron trap or on the bandit reel, they are identified, measured, weighed, and gender is determined. Then if the fish is a species commercially or recreationally fished, it is frozen and returned to the NOAA National Seafood Inspection Lab to be available for further analysis.

Holding a Red Snapper

Holding a Red Snapper

Measuring a red snapper

Measuring a red snapper

So now that I’ve explained the science behind the reef fish survey, here’s a description of our first day assisting Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher and Joey Salisbury, Field Party Watch Leader. Liz and I arrived in the dry lab (headquarters for the surveying and sampling activities) at 7:00 am, excited to begin working. The Pisces arrived at the first site and the camera array was lowered at 7:17 am (one hour after sunrise.) The camera “cage” was lowered using a hydraulic A-frame which extended over the starboard side of the ship. For the first “drop” we watched through windows from inside the lab, as well as on a video monitor. Then as the camera “soaked” for 45 minutes, the crew deployed a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth recorder.)More about the CTD in the next journal entry!

By the second site, or “station” we were outfitted with a hard hat and PFD (personal flotation device), required attire when working on deck. As the day went on, we learned to reset the cameras after each station, assist with fish collection and measurement, and enter data collected from the TDR (temperature-depth recorder) into the computer. Throughout the day, we followed a routine of

1) deploy cameras

2) deploy and retrieve CTD

3) on selected stations, move to second site and drop chevron fish trap

4) return to first site, retrieve cameras

5) on selected stations, use the bandit reel to deploy a vertical fishing line

We repeated this process for 7 stations.

No fish were caught in the chevron traps, however, fish were caught both times the bandit reel was used. Each reel station brought in a red snapper Lutjanus campechanus and a red porgy Pagrus pagrus. Liz measured and weighed the fish and Joey determined the sex of the fish. The snapper were frozen to be taken back to NOAA’s National Seafood Inspection Lab.

When there was no work to do on deck, we spent time reading fish identification books, learning about other aspects of the reef fish survey, visiting the bridge, checking in with the bird observers, and watching for dolphin or whales. On one break we took turns using a handline to fish off the side – I caught 2 blue runners, Caranx crysos and Liz caught one. We worked until approximately 7:15 pm. The cameras do not use any artificial light, so the work stopped as dusk fell. We’ll see what tomorrow’s stations bring!

Personal Log

After the first night’s rough seas, I was thrilled to wake up to calm seas on Friday, with the crew promising even smoother seas to come. I really enjoyed the variety of work we assisted with. We were initially disappointed after the first fish trap came up empty. After waiting for an hour while the trap soaked, then donning our hard hats and PFD’s, when the empty trap emerged from the dark depths, we compared it to being “all dressed up with no place to go!” But Kevin reminded us that “The hardest thing to learn about science is that ‘0’s are numbers too!”

I am somewhat “technologically challenged” so I was happily surprised how quickly I learned to log the TDR (temperature depth recorder) data. I was also happy that I remembered much of the physical oceanography I learned years ago.

Liz and I are becoming familiar with the ship-the lab and galley are on the main deck, our cabin is on the 01 deck, other cabins are on deck 02, the bridge is the 03 deck, and above the bridge is the 04 deck. And there are decks 2, 3, and 4 below the main deck, Each deck can be accessed by indoor or outdoor ladders (not stairs!) that are much steeper than your stairs at home. The interior doors are heavy and it’s hard to remember whether to push or pull, this has been a source of much amusement for us! The hatches (doors to outside decks) are very heavy and secured with a wheel that often takes two hands and a lot of muscle to open or close. And don’t forget to step up over the approximate 13” step. There are many reasons we only wear closed-toe shoes!

Hatch

Hatch

Opening hatch

Opening hatch

Ladder

Ladder

After we finished with our fish survey work, Liz and I went out to the back deck with our laptops to work on our journals. Some of the crew started fishing with fishing rods off the side of the ship. Within a few minutes they had caught a small mahi-mahi and a few other fish when one of the deck hands slowly started reeling in something big. Of course, our computers were put aside so we could watch as he slowly hauled in a 55+pound greater amberjack – it was huge!!!Lots of excitement and picture taking followed! Then he caught another one – just a bit smaller! Another rod brought in a large yellowedge grouper. I have never seen such large fish! It was very exciting to watch! We thought maybe since we didn’t catch much during the day, we saved our fishing “luck” for the evening! The fishing ended around 9:00 for the night as the ship needed to start moving to tomorrow’s location. We headed up to the bridge to take the CO up on his offer to steer the ship. More on this in the next journal entry!

55 lb greater amberjack

55 lb greater amberjack

Holding the amberjack

Holding the amberjack

Even Pascy the Penguin agreed this was one big fish!

amberjack and yellow-edge grouper

Amberjack and yellow-edge grouper

While I’ve been working with the science team, Pascy has been exploring the Pisces. Look at all the places he’s been!


This was the only thing we caught in the fish trap today!


This was the only thing we caught in the fish trap today! Pascy wants to ride on the block when they raise the large A-frame on the back deck.


In case of emergency, report to your life raft station!


Which flags are we flying today, Pascy?


I’m the KING OF THE WORLD!!

Melinda Storey, June 25, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, June 25, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1000 hours (10 am)
Position: latitude = 27°53.9 N longitude = 093º 51.1 W
Present Weather: 5/8 cloudy (cumulonimbus/cumulus clouds)
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: E Wind Speed: 4 knots
Wave Height: 1 foot
Sea Water Temp: 30.5°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.2°C, wet bulb = 26.3°C

Science and Technology Log

Video from the Camera Array

Video from the Camera Array

Echosounder

Echosounder

The technology on this ship is amazing! The picture on the left is video of what the camera array filmed yesterday. The fish just swim around and sometimes they even come right up to the camera like they are “kissing” it. Then they back away and swim off. It’s beautiful to watch. The picture on the right is the EK60 Echo Sounder. The red line that you see shows the bottom of the seafloor. The blue above the red line is the water itself and the white specks that you see are fish. The most recent reading is located on the right side of the screen. The echo sounder sends a “ping” to the computer and that “ping” is a fish. Sometimes we can see definite shark outlines in the images below our ship. If you look at the bottom right hand corner of the echo sounder photo, you will see a large white speck along the red line. This indicates a large fish (possibly a shark) trolling the bottom of the ocean. When we came upon the dead sperm whale, the Electronics Technician (ET) came to the lab and told us there were a lot of “large fish,” most likely Mahi Mahi or even sharks, swimming under the ship.
The Pisces would not be able to operate without the engineers who make sure that everything onboard is functioning properly, including the 4 massive diesel generators that power the ship, the freshwater generators that convert seawater into fresh drinking water, and the hydraulics that power the cranes to lift the cameras in and out of the water. Chief Engineer Garet Urban leads the team of engineers, oilers, and electrical experts who take care of all the mechanical issues on board the ship.

First Engineer, Brent Jones, took us on a tour of the very impressive engine room on the lower deck of the Pisces. He showed us the incinerator which burns all the trash, oil filters, and other waste at a temperature of 1200°C (2192°F). Paper, plastic, and aluminum is brought back to shore and recycled. Before entering the engine room, we were told to put in earplugs because the sound can damage your eardrums. In addition to not being able to hear a thing inside the engine room, the heat is incredible! The engineers need to be careful to stay hydrated while working in these conditions.

Engine room

Engine room

Diesel Generators

Diesel Generators

The Pisces is powered by 4 diesel fuel generators which generate electricity that drives two large electric motors. The photo above on the right shows one of the generators in yellow. The engineers are constantly monitoring the mechanics of the ship to make sure everyone on board has a safe and productive voyage while conducting scientific research on board.

Personal Log

All this technology on board makes me drool! The Pisces is certainly a beauty of the NOAA fleet. Each morning Chris Gledhill, our fishery biologist, looks at the video from the camera array and I’m hanging just over his shoulder watching all the coral and fish. It’s really interesting to see the fish swim by the camera and now I can even identify some of them. I never knew there was a type of coral called “wire coral.” It looks like curly-cue wire used in floral arrangements. One of our deck hands caught some on his fishing pole one night and when I held it, the coral moved! Wire coral is a living creature so, of course it moved!

What I thought was really funny was watching a big grouper swim by the camera and then we caught it on the Bandit Reel. Nothing like seeing your fish before you catch it! Here you can see Paul Felts and me holding the 21 pound grouper.

Big Grouper

Big Grouper

Big Grouper caught

Big Grouper caught

Just like school, the Pisces has drills – fire drills, man overboard drills, and abandon ship drills. It’s always good to be prepared. When we have an abandoned ship drill we have to put on our “Gumby Suit.” This survival suit would protect us by keeping us afloat and warm if we really had to go into the water. The Gumby Suit is not exactly the latest fashion but I would certainly want it if I have to abandon ship.

Gumby Suit

Gumby Suit

Teacher at Sea in their Gumby suits

Teacher at Sea in their Gumby suits

The day after this Abandon Ship drill, we had a REAL fire drill. Over the PA system we heard, “This is not a drill. This is not a drill.” The forward bow thruster was smoking. We “mustered,” or gathered, on the second deck, but when we got there we could really smell smoke. So, we were sent down to the main deck for precaution. Fortunately, we have an outstanding crew who fixed the problem immediately.

New Term/Vocabulary

Muster – to gather

“Something to Think About”

While on the bridge last night, I heard on the radio another ship broadcast they were “taking on water.” What would you do if you were on a boat in the Gulf and it suddenly started taking on water?

Melinda Storey, June 23, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 23, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1000 hours (10 am)
Position: latitude = 27°51 N longitude = 093º 51 W
Present Weather: 7/8 cloudy (cumulus/cirrus clouds)
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: SSE Wind Speed: 8 knots
Wave Height: > 1 foot
Sea Water Temp: 31°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 31.4°C, wet bulb = 28°C

Science and Technology Log

Because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, most of the fish we are catching in the Chevron Trap or Bandit Reel is being weighed, measured, and frozen for the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) to be tested for oil or toxin contamination. After the NSIL completes its testing, the fish are sent back to the NOAA Pascagoula Laboratory where the scientists determine the sex of the fish and remove the otolith, or ear bone, which can be analyzed to determine its age. The otoliths are sliced very thin and examined under a microscope. Rings can be seen that help the scientists age the fish, similar to reading tree rings to determine the age of a tree. Age data is analyzed to contribute to the fishery-independent stock assessments which help determine the health of the fish population and how many can be taken out of the water. This also helps establish the size restriction of fish for the commercial and recreational fishing industry.

Otoliths

Red Snapper Otoliths

Occasionally, the fish trap will catch more than 10 fish at a time. If this happens, the first 10 fish are frozen for NSIL. Any remaining fish are dissected on board the ship to determine their sex and their otoliths are removed and placed in a labeled envelope for later analysis. The picture above shows the otoliths taken out of a red snapper.

Video Footage from Sampling Station

Video Footage from Sampling Station

The video footage taken at each station will also be analyzed in depth back at the NOAA Pascagoula Laboratory; however after each station, the footage is spot checked to ensure that the cameras recorded properly. The scientists make sure that the cameras are positioned correctly and not pointing upward in the water column or down on the ocean floor, that the field of view is not obstructed by an object like a rock, and that the water is clear enough to view the fish in sight. When we first began the Reef Fish Survey, most of the fish we saw were red snapper. As we have moved up in latitude toward the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary, the diversity of fish has increased.

There are 14 federally designated marine sanctuaries in the United States and the Flower Garden Banks is the only one located in the Gulf of Mexico. The Banks are essentially three large salt domes that were formed about 190 million years ago when much of the Gulf evaporated into a shallow sea. When the salt deposits were covered in layers of sediment, the pressure and difference in density caused the salt domes to rise and corals began to form on them about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. (This information was obtained from the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary website. For more information, visit this informative and interesting website at http://flowergarden.noaa.gov )

Grouper

Yellowmouth Grouper

Grouper

Grey Triggerfish

Most of the fish we catch in these waters seem to be Red Snapper. We have also seen a variety of groupers including the giant Warsaw grouper, a Marbled Grouper, a Scamp Grouper, and a very rare Yellowmouth grouper shown in the upper left photo. We have also caught a few Grey Triggerfish shown on the right, Longspine and Red Porgies, Tomtate, Vermillion Snapper, and a very small and colorful Reef Butterflyfish.

As stated earlier, we do not view the entire recording from the camera arrays, but as we were spot-checking the footage from one of the cameras, one of the scientists came across an image of the Marbled Grouper that was later caught in the bandit reel. Looking closer at the image shows the variety of species found in these coral reef ecosystems including a Squirrelfish, a Yellowfin Grouper that has spots resembling a cheetah, and to our delight, a Spotted Moray eel!

From the Camera Array

From the Camera Array

Personal Log

I was amazed that fish could be aged by the rings in their ear bones! I watched one of the scientists extract the otiliths from a snapper and it was real work! Chief Scientist, Paul Felts, explained that the age of sharks can be determined by growth rings found in their vertebrae. Sometimes when they catch sharks, scientists inject a dye into the spines of sharks. This makes their growth rings more easily seen. Then they quickly tag the sharks and release them again into the ocean. If these sharks are ever caught again by NOAA, scientists could get new measurements and determine survival data.

Another interesting fact about sharks has to do with blood in the water. Most people know that blood attracts sharks. However, if you cut open a shark and throw it into a group of sharks, the other sharks scatter. Seems like they don’t like the smell of shark blood.

Fishing "kissing the camera"

Fishing “kissing the camera”

I love watching video of the fish at the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary. I’m fascinated seeing the variety of fish as they swim by and I really like to see them “kiss” the camera. It’s a whole different world down there.

New Term/Vocabulary

Otolith – ear bone,

NSIL – the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory

Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary – only sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico

“Did You Know?”

Did you know that sharks aren’t always able to digest what they eat. I guess it’s hard to digest a can or a boot. Well, if that happens, the shark will either vomit or turn its stomach inside out.
Marbled Grouper
Yellowfin Grouper
Squirrelfish
Spotted Moray eel

Melinda Storey, June 17, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 17, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1000 hours (10:00am)
Position: latitude = 26.52.6 N, longitude = 096.46.7 W
Present Weather: 3/8 cloudy
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.5 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.2 degrees Celsius, wet bulb = 27.5 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log

We reached our first research station 40 miles off the coast of Southern Texas sometime in the early morning. To maximize the use of daylight, the scientists begin collecting data one hour after sunrise (around 0730 hours) and work until one hour before sunset (around 1930 hours). At each station, a camera array is lifted and lowered by a crane into the water column, down to the ocean floor.

Camera Array

Camera Array

Camera Array being "dropped" into the ocean by a crane

Camera Array being lowered into the ocean by a crane

The depth of the ocean varies at each station but today the depth was somewhere around 68 meters (223.04 feet). The camera array has 4 sets of cameras pointing in each direction. Each set of cameras contains one video recorder and two still-shot cameras that take turns snapping pictures, sort of like closing your right eye, then your left eye, then your right eye, and so on. The purpose of the still-shots is to help the scientists, along with the use of lasers, to estimate the length of the fish in the images. The cameras stay submerged for 45 minutes and then they are hauled back up to the surface.

The next thing that happens at each station is the lowering of a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) into the water column. The CTD measures the changes in salinity (salt level), temperature, and dissolved oxygen as it passes through the water column.

CTD

CTD

CTD being lowered into the water

CTD being lowered into the water

This data is transmitted directly to a computer graph where a technician watches and monitors to make sure the CTD is working properly and stays within 2 meters of the ocean floor.

CTD data on monitors

CTD data on monitors

The camera array and CTD are lowered at every station, but two stations are chosen randomly to drop a Chevron trap and two stations are chosen randomly to lower a Bandit Reel. The Chevron trap is baited with squid and physically picked up and thrown over the deck. The trap is fitted with weights on the bottom to make sure it lands in the right position on the ocean floor and soaks for one hour before being hauled back to the surface. During the first drop of the trap, we hauled in a giant Warsaw Grouper weighing over 16 kilograms (35.2 pounds)!

Chevron trap

Chevron trap

Mackeral bait for chevron trap

Mackerel bait for chevron trap

The Bandit Reel is like a long line sent straight down to the bottom of the ocean. It has 10 hooks that are baited with fresh mackerel and lowered to soak for 10 minutes.

Bandit Reel

Bandit Reel

Luck was on our side again as the first drop of the bandit reel hooked 9 Red Snapper! This was our first look at the fish that is the main subject of our Reef Fish Survey.

Red Snapper

Red Snapper

Red Snapper

Red Snapper

Personal Log

WHOOO HOOOOO! I’ve just done REAL NOAA science!!!!! Today we are dropping the CTD and the camera ray and then dropping the Bandit Reel line that has 10 hooks. The first Bandit Reel drop we caught 9 big red snapper. The largest one was 1.89 kilos (4.15 lbs).

CTD

CTD

Camera Array

Camera Array

This is the camera array – four cameras take footage of the fish down there.

The next time we dropped the line, they let ME take the snapper off the hook, weigh them, and then measure them. I measured the total length, the fork length, and the standard length. Then I bagged them all up and put them in the freezer to take back to the Pascagoula lab.

Measuring a red snapper

Bagging a Red Snapper

Bagging a Red Snapper

Measuring a red snapper

Measuring a red snapper

Me and a Red Snapper

Me and a Red Snapper

I also got to hold a sucker fish that accidently got caught on the line. Its sucker was on the top of the head. It looked like someone had stepped on his head and left tennis shoe marks! The sucker fish attaches itself to the bottom of a shark and rides along with him. We saw 2 sharks hovering around as we brought up the line which is baited with mackerel. The next time we deployed the Bandit Line they let me bait the hooks with mackerel and then put the hooks on the line. It was great! I love getting messy!

Suckerfish

Suckerfish

Suckerfish

Suckerfish

This is a sucker fish that attaches to shark.

This afternoon the crew got out their personal fishing poles and fished off the stern. The XO caught a shark but he didn’t bring it on board. It was impressive to me. Then we threw out the fish trap that was sunk to the bottom of the ocean. We caught a HUGE Warsaw grouper in the trap. One of the scientist said it was the largest grouper he’d ever seen – 16 kilos (35.2lbs). Its eyes were bulging and its mouth was huge! Teeth and all! Nicolle and I were left alone with it in the bay when it started flopping and flipping all over the place. We squealed like little girls!

Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

Warsaw Grouper

So far we’ve had two “never seen before” experiences! This is GREAT!

New Term/Vocabulary

Camera array

CTD – conductivity, temperature, and depth

Bandit Reel

“Something to Think About”

Why do you think it’s important to take measurements and weights of the fish for NOAA research? What are they doing with all that research?

“Did You Know?”

Boyle’s Law at Sea

Did you know that when the fish are brought up from the deep (60-70 meters) the decrease in pressure causes the swim bladder to expand? That’s because the swim bladder is full of air and if you’ll remember Boyle’s Law, a decrease in pressure creates an increase in volume. Here you see a swim bladder that came out of the mouth.

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 17, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle von der Heyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Dates: Thursday, June 17

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1000 hours (10:00am)
Position: latitude = 26.52.6 N, longitude = 096.46.7 W
Present Weather: 3/8 cloudy
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.5 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.2 degrees Celsius, wet bulb = 27.5 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log

We reached our first research station 40 miles off the coast of Southern Texas sometime in the early morning. To maximize the use of daylight, the scientists begin collecting data one hour after sunrise (around 0730 hours) and work until one hour before sunset (around 1930 hours). At each station, a camera array is lifted and lowered by a crane into the water column, down to the ocean floor. The depth of the ocean varies at each station but today the depth was somewhere around 68 meters (about 224 feet). The camera array has 4 sets of cameras pointing in each direction. Each set of cameras contains one video recorder and two still-shot cameras that take turns snapping pictures, sort of like closing your right eye, then your left eye, then your right eye, and so on. The purpose of the still-shots is to help the scientists, along with the use of lasers, to estimate the length of the fish in the images. The cameras stay submerged for 45 minutes and then they are hauled back up to the surface.

Camera Array

Camera Array

Camera Array

Camera Array

The next thing that happens at each station is the lowering of a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) into the water column. The CTD measures the changes in salinity (salt level), temperature, and dissolved oxygen as it passes through the water column. This data is transmitted directly to a computer graph where a technician watches and monitors to make sure the CTD is working properly and stays within 2 meters of the ocean floor.

CTD

CTD

Data from CTD on Computer Monitors

Data from CTD on Computer Monitors

CTD

CTD

The camera array and CTD are lowered at every station, but two stations are chosen randomly to drop a Chevron trap and two stations are chosen randomly to lower a Bandit Reel. The Chevron trap is baited with squid and physically picked up and thrown over the deck. The trap is fitted with weights on the bottom to make sure it lands in the right position on the ocean floor and soaks for one hour before being hauled back to the surface. During the first drop of the trap, we hauled in a giant Warsaw Grouper weighing over 16 kilograms (35.2 pounds)!

Chevron Trap

Chevron Trap

Bait

Bait

The Bandit Reel is like a long line sent straight down to the bottom of the ocean. It has 10 hooks that are baited with fresh mackerel and lowered to soak for 10 minutes. Luck was on our side again as the first drop of the bandit reel hooked 9 Red Snapper! This was our first look at the fish that is the main subject of our Reef Fish Survey.

Bandit Reel

Bandit Reel

Bait

Bait

Personal Log:

Before venturing on this journey out to sea, I wasn’t sure if I would experience the dreaded sea-sickness caused by the constant motion of the ship rolling back and forth in the waves. Even the most seasoned of seafarers can suffer from this ailment caused by imbalances sensed by the inner ear bones. Ensign Schill, who has suffered from sea-sickness on past cruises, recommended that I be safe rather than sorry. I took medicine to prevent sea-sickness the first two days and decided to skip it on the third day. The rolling of the ship increased on the third day but as of now, I haven’t experienced anything unpleasant from the motion. In fact, I find it soothing and have slept well since being at sea. I hope this lasts for the rest of the trip!

Me on the Pisces

Me on the Pisces

Thursday morning I woke up early to make sure I wouldn’t miss anything on the first day of the survey. Immediately upon stepping out on the deck, one of the deckhands handed me a hard hat and a life vest. This is necessary anytime the crane is in operatioRaising and lowering the equipment can be dangerous with ropes and cables that quickly unravel and follow the cameras as they sink into the water. I tried to stay out of the way as the deckhands, scientists, and officers on the bridge coordinated to place the instruments in just the right location. Things moved a little slowly at first but after a few drops everyone seemed to get into a rhythm and the pace picked up.

Certainly the most exciting time of the day is setting out the trap or lowering the Bandit Reel. Everyone waits in anticipation to see what rises from the depths of the ocean. When the first trap came up I couldn’t believe my eyes at the size of what was inside! I thought it was a shark at first. The opening to the trap is not very big and I could not believe a fish that large was able to swim inside. It was quite a struggle to get the giant Grouper out of the trap and into the wet lab to weigh and measure. It was even more of a sight to see the fish flip flop itself completely on its side while on the lab table. This was one of the biggest fish I have ever seen – outside of the water that is. It was also exciting to see our first Bandit Reel haul in 9 Red Snappers. Some of them had their air bladders popping out of their mouths because of the drastic pressure change from the ocean floor – a sight I had to quickly get used to as we worked to take weight and length measurements of all the fish we caught.

"Giant" Grouper

“Giant” Grouper

Melinda Storey with Red Snappers

Melinda Storey with Red Snappers

Animals Seen Today:

Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)

Warsaw Grouper (Epinephelus nigritis)

Sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates): Caught on Bandit Reel before it sank into the depths. It was released – after Melinda had a chance to kiss it goodbye. The picture on the right is of the top of its head.

Melinda Storey with shark sucker

Melinda Storey with shark sucker

Melinda Storey with sharksucker

Melinda Storey with sharksucker