Cecelia Carroll: In an Octopus’s Garden, May 3, 2017


NOAA Teacher At Sea
Cecelia Carroll
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B Bigelow
May 2 -13, 2017

MissionSpring Bottom Trawl Survey

Date: May 3, 2017

Latitude: 42 32.790N

Longitude: 070 01.210

Science Log: 
Last night we passed through the Cape Cod Canal.  It was exciting to go under the bridges I have traveled over many years for a summer vacation.  It was a clear night with plenty of stars shining.  We collected our first haul to survey just after arriving in the bay.   I was surprised by the variety of fish that we sorted, weighed, measured and took samples.  The scientists I am working with are a very dedicated, professional, hard working and friendly bunch.  By the time we finished it was midnight and I was done with my day assignment.

I awoke to a view of Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod in the distance.  About two dozen right whales were spotted in the area.  Later, I was able to observe the nets being lowered into the sea.  The instruments placed along the opening of the net will measure the depth and opening area of the net. The nets are in the water for 20 minutes. The catch also included skates, lots of red hake, a few cod, lobsters of all sizes, a few star fish, alewife, mackerel and others I hope to learn more about.  Sorting is done along a conveyor, 6 of us each at our stations. In my wet weather gear and rubber gloves, I place the fish in an array of buckets and baskets. I never would have imagined me holding a handful of small octopi!  There must’ve been 8-10 of them!

The first octopus
A few small octopi


Missed the bucket!  An octopus lands on my sleeve!


Once the full catch is sorted, I assist alongside scientist Christine by recording the data she is collecting into the computer.  We work with one species at a time, then onto the next basket or bucket.

The specimen that is mostly retained for further study is the otolith, a small bone within the fish’s ear. It determines the fish’s age much like the ring on a tree. The bone acquires a growth ring everyday for at least the first six months of the fish’s life.  (The haddock otoliths I observed were between 1 – 2 cm, depending on the size/age of the particular haddock)  (Image Compana Lab: http://www.uni.hi.is/compana/ )

Filing tray of the Otolith Specimens    Note the various names of the fish.


Why Age Fish?

“Once the ages are known for a sample of fish, scientists can measure the rates of various processes affecting these fish. For instance, data on fish size can be combined with age information to provide growth rates. Also, the decrease in abundance from one year (age) to the next gives a measure of mortality rates (due to the combination of fishing and natural causes). Finally, age data can be used to determine how long it takes individuals of a species to mature. Any of these vital rates may change over time, so it is important to examine age samples regularly.
Knowledge of fish age also allows scientists to learn more from capturing and measuring fewer fish. It is impossible to catch all the fish in the ocean. However, if a small portion of the fish are captured and aged, the relative abundance of fish at each age can be determined. These age data, with data from other sources, can then be expanded to estimate the total number of fish in the wild. Population models, using such data, enable scientists to monitor trends in the size of fish populations and to predict potential effects of fishing on those populations. The most detailed models include age-specific estimates of weight, mortality, and growth; this requires that larger numbers of fish be aged.” (1)

Personal Biography

How did I hear about the Teacher At Sea Program?
Last summer, I was fortunate to attend the Maury Project, a summer teacher development program of the American Meteotological Society held at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.  A few other teachers in attendance had been Teachers at Sea and sang its praises. Teachers inspiring other teachers!

What a coincidence:
The Maury Project mentioned above is named for Matthew Fontaine Maury  (1806- 1873) the Father of Oceanography and the NOAA ship I am aboard is the Henry B. Bigelow (1879-1987) named for the Modern Father of Oceanography.



  1.  https://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/fbp/basics.htm

Melanie Lyte: May 24, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melanie Lyte
Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
May 20 – 31, 2013

Mission: Right Whale Survey, Great South Channel
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: May 24, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature 15.5 degrees celsius (60 degrees fahrenheit)
Surface water temperature 12.01 degrees celsius (54 degrees fahrenheit)
Wind speed 10 knots (12 miles per hour)
Relative humidity 85%
Barometric pressure 1005.5

Science and Technology Log

We are on the fifth day of our cruise and the weather is being very uncooperative! It has been foggy everyday which makes sighting whales very difficult. Before we started the cruise (it sounds strange to call it a cruise. It seems more like a mission),  an aerial survey team did a fly over and spotted some right whales in the area we’ve been combing, but we have been unable to find them. Now we have set anchor off Provincetown, Cape Cod to sit out some bad weather that has moved in. We will stay here in this protected area until Sunday. This morning the wind was blowing at 54 knots or 60 miles per hour. Did you know that a knot is about 1.2 miles per hour? We set anchor last night and the wind was so strong it dragged the  ship and anchor 300 yards!

While this is disappointing for me and for all aboard, I am amazed at the positive attitude and optimism shown by the scientists here. They take it all in stride, and are used to things not turning out as they had planned. I guess that’s the nature of field work. They are all extremely dedicated and passionate about their research.

The Gordon Gunter
NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
Photo credit: NOAA

You can track the course of the Gordon Gunter by going to the NOAA ship tracker website: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html . The ship is always in pursuit of whales so the track will sometimes look like a zigzag with lines crossing back and forth over each other. You can keep checking back to see our progress once we set sail again.

Although I have not seen many marine mammals, I have seen some sea birds that are new to me. The first is the gannet. The gannet is known for its diving ability. It can plunge into the ocean head first and go down 30 ft. It is a sea-bird so it never rests on land other than when it goes to its breeding colony.

Northern gannet photo
Northern gannet
Photo credit: Marie C. Martin

Next, I saw a greater shearwater. This bird is also a sea-bird which means it doesn’t go to land unless it is breeding. They congregate on Nightingale Island to breed. Nightingale Island is located between the tips of Africa and South America. They have a very long flight during breeding season!

Great shearwater
Great shearwater
Photo credit: birdfroum.net

I also saw a Northern Fulmar. They are also sea birds and they nest in Scotland. These birds look much like sea gulls.

Northern Fulmar
Northern Fulmar
Photo credit: Andreas Trepte

Personal Log

Today is day 5 of our cruise. While it is disappointing that the weather has not cooperated, it is such a learning experience to be on a ship like this one. I am learning so much everyday about what it’s like to be a scientist in the field. Besides being patient and optimistic, scientists need to be careful and precise in recording their field work. It is a good lesson for me and for you (my first graders) to always work carefully, and give close attention to detail in your work because that is what being a scientist is all about. Start practicing doing your best and most careful work now so you will be ready to be scientists when you grow up.

At this point I can see Provincetown from the ship, but for 2 days there was no land in sight. I really got a sense of just how big the ocean is. When we’re not sailing there is not much to do on the ship. I am fortunate that there are many new people to befriend, books to read and listen to, and delicious food at every meal. I also enjoy all your comments so keep them coming!

Did You Know?

Did you know that some of the scientists on this cruise have dedicated their entire working lives to surveying and cataloging right whales? They migrate with the whales down south in the winter, and come back up north in the spring.

Did you know that the sea depth is measured in fathoms? 1 fathom equals 6 feet

Question of the day:

Here is a line from a famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge,

“Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink”

What do think that means? Why can’t they drink the water? Hint: The poem is written about sailors who are shipwrecked in a big storm out at sea

New  Vocabulary: Draw a ship and label all the parts below
Bow- front of the ship
Stern- rear of the ship
Starboard- right side of the ship
Port- left side of the ship
Aft- toward the back of the ship
Forward- toward the front of the ship