Janelle Harrier-Wilson: Toro’s Tour and the Process of Fishing, October 2, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Janelle Harrier-Wilson
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 3 

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg II
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean from the Mid-Atlantic Coast to S New England
Date: October 2, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat: 41° 16.5′ N  Lon: 071° 06.3′ W
Present Weather: Cloudy
Visibility: 6-8 nm
Wind:  020 at 28 knts
Sea Level Pressure: 1017.4 mb
Sea Wave Height:  2-3 ft
Temperature Sea Water: 18.4  C
Temperature Air:  14 C

Science and Technology Log

The Henry Bigelow before we left port last week.

The Henry Bigelow before we left port last week.

Have you been wondering how we fish? I know I have shared a lot about sorting the catch, measuring the length and weight of the fish, and taking other data from the fish, but I haven’t shared a lot of details about how we fish. It’s a pretty cool process that involves a lot of science and engineering to get to a place where we have fish coming down the belt in order for us to sort. Let’s take a look at what happens.

  1. Before the season begins, points are randomly predetermined where we will fish. Each of these points is called a station. The captain and the chief scientist work together to plan out which stations will be visited on each leg of the trip and in what order. We are currently on Leg II of the Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey. There are usually four legs each year.
  2. Once we arrive on station, the ship’s officer scouts for the best place to release the nets. The nets need a relatively flat bottom of the ocean floor with no obstacles like rocks that the net could get caught up on. How does the scouting take place? The ship is equipped with both single beam and mutli-beam sonar. The multi-beam sonar is used to create a three-dimensional map of the ocean floor. This map is used to find the best place for us to trawl.
  3. Next, we take data about that particular spot of the ocean. We either send down the CTD, which measures conductivity, temperature, and density of the water, or we do a bongo. The bongo is a set of nets that streams off the ship to collect plankton from the area of the ocean on station. The survey techs are in charge of conducting these tests and collecting the data from them. Before the cruise began, the stations that would have CTDs or bongos were predetermined.
  4. Once the CTD or bongo test has been conducted, we are ready to set out the nets. The nets are set out by the deck crew and involve a complex series of machinery and computers. Our chief scientist, Jakub Kircun shares this about the system and sensors: “Autotrawl System and Scanmar Sensors: Autotrawl is specifically designed to keep the tensions between port and starboard towing wires equal, therefore keeping the net from fishing crooked. Autotrawl will also be able to assist with hangs as it will automatically release wire during a tension spike. The (Scanmar) sensors on the net are used to check the geometry of the net, however that data is not directly tied with Autotrawl. Instead we monitor the sensors to check on a variety of net mensuration parameters, such as wing-spread, door-spread, headrope-height, headrope-depth, bottom-contact, and water-speed-through-trawl. All those parameters are analyzed by a computer program after each tow called TOGA (Tow Operation Gear Acquisition). If all the parameters are within the per-determined tolerances the tow is considered a representative tow. However if the values are outside of these tolerances then the tow would fail the validation and would need to be retowed.”
  5. Once the net is in the water, we  begin streaming. While we are streaming, we are moving slowly in the water, dragging the net behind us. We stream for 20 minutes. We can check the progress of the trawl by watching the sensor readouts. There are sensors in the net that send back live data to the ship.
  6. After we have streamed for 20 minutes, we then haul back the nets. This is the reverse process of when we set the nets out. The net slowly comes back in and begins to be wrapped up and stored. The deck crew puts ropes around the part of the net where the fish are and attaches the net to a crane. The crane moves the net over to the checker.
  7. Once the net is over the checker, the net is opened and the fish are dropped into the checker.
  8. From that point, the watch chief looks through the checker and decides what we will run. This means we don’t collect these things off the conveyor belt instead letting them collect at the end. This is done for the things we caught in large quantities.
  9. From that point, the fish from the checker are loaded onto the conveyor belt and up into the wet lab for us to sort through and process. While we are sorting and processing the fish, the ship is on its way to the next station. The distance between stations varies. We’ve had some that were just over a mile away and others that have been 20 or more miles away. Yesterday, we had a long steam (travel) between stations because the next station was 52 miles away. It took us several hours to steam to that station.

Personal Log

Are you wondering what it’s like to live on a ship? It’s actually pretty cool. I mentioned before that we are on 12-hour watches. While we are on watch, we pack up what we will need for the day in backpacks or other bags. Why? Well, we share rooms with people on the night watch. My stateroom has four bunks. Two of us are on day watch and two of us are on night watch. While the day watch is working, the night watch is sleeping. We don’t want to disturb them so they can get good “night” of rest, so we do not go back to the state room while the night watch is off duty. When we are off duty, they do not come back to the room, either. While we are on watch, we can be really busy sorting and working up a catch. However, depending on how many times we fish during a watch, we may have some free time as well. We have some down time while we are steaming to the next station, during the CTD and bongo tests, and while we are streaming. We jump to work once we start hauling back the nets. We had one day where we were really busy because we visited seven stations during our watch. Sometimes, we have more free time between steams. During that time we can read, have a snack, work on blog posts like I am doing, or sometimes watch a movie. We also have time to eat our meals on watch.

The galley cooks up three meals a day for us. I have only made it in time for breakfast the first day before we started our 12-hour watches. We eat lunch before our watch starts and we eat dinner during our watch. The food is amazing. Dennis Carey is our head steward and chief chef, and he prepares awesome meals for us with his assistant, Luke. However, the galley is open all day, even when a meal is not being served. There are always snacks available like goldfish crackers, Chex mix, cereal, fresh fruit, and ice cream. Plus, there is bread, peanut butter, and jelly to make sandwiches. Sometimes there are pastries, cookies, or other desserts available, too. As you can see, we don’t have to worry about going hungry on the Henry Bigelow!

There is a lounge on board with six recliners and a television set. We can watch satellite TV and movies while we are here. There is also a television in the mess deck. It’s a tradition to watch The Price is Right during lunch time, for instance! We also have an exercise room that has weights, a treadmill, and a bicycle. I haven’t used the gym, but I have worked out with some of the other scientists on board. We can also do laundry, which is pretty important. We pack lightly since we don’t have a lot of room in our staterooms. As you can imagine, our clothes get a little smelly from working with fish all day, so it is nice to be able to do our laundry on board!

Careers at Sea

Ensign Estella Gomez shows volunteer Eric Smith how he plots the ship's course on the chart.

Ensign Estela Gomez shows volunteer Eric Smith how he plots the ship’s course on the chart.

Have you ever considered a career as a commissioned officer? Did you know that the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven branches of the U.S. uniformed services? We have several officers on board including our commanding officer (the ship’s captain) and the executive officer. I had a chance to visit the bridge the other day, and Ensign Erick Estela Gomez shared what it is like to be part of NOAA’s Commissioned Officer Corps. Most of the officers have a background in science or math that aligns with NOAA’s scientific vision and purpose. To be part of the Corps, you have to have a science or math degree and apply to the program. If you are accepted, you go to training with the Coast Guard. Usually, there are 60 people as part of each training class, 40 from the Coast Guard and 20 from NOAA. The training is like boot camp and includes learning about how to be an officer as well as the science aspects of NOAA. One interesting thing Ensign Estela Gomez shared is that only about 10% of Coast Guard officers actually go out to sea. If you want to be out at sea and be a part of science, the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corp might be for you. Officers move through the ranks starting at ensign. Once an officer has passed training and certification, they can become an Officer On Deck (OOD), which means they can be on watch running the ship on their own.

Lt. Kuzirian takes the oath to accept his new rank as Lt. Commander.

Lt. Kuzirian takes the oath to accept his new rank as Lt. Commander.

As an officer on the bridge, there is a lot to do in terms of monitoring the different gauges and screens. There are radar monitors, engine and generator monitors, ship’s location, and mulitbeam sonar screens just to name a few. Also, the officer on deck has to watch the horizon for other ships and fishing gear in the water. Although there are computer systems to monitor the ship’s track and location, the ship’s location is still plotted on a paper chart. This is a backup in case of computer errors or other problems.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to watch one of the officers, Lt. Stephen Kuzirian be promoted to Lt. Commander. This does not happen on board ship every day, so it was really cool to be a part of this ceremony. Lt. Commander Kuzirian has a background in oceanography. He currently works in Washington, D.C., but he joined us on this trip for a chance to be at sea and to assist the Henry Bigelow.

Toro’s Tour

Toro won the votes to make the trip on the Henry Bigelow. He thought you might like a tour of the some of the areas on board the ship. As he was working up the tour, the Captain was worried that Toro was a stowaway since he has not fulfilled any science duties while aboard ship!

Did You Know?

The Atlantic Torpedo is an electric ray. It is the largest growing electric ray, and can deliver a shock up to 220 volts!

Atlantic Torpedo Ray

Atlantic Torpedo Ray

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