Stephen Tomasetti: Gone Fishin’, August 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Tomasetti
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 11 – 25, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
You can view the geographical location of the cruise here at any time: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/
Date: Friday, August 15, 2014

Weather Data from Bridge:
Air Temperature: 30.5 Degrees C
Water Temperature: 30.3 Degrees C
Wind Speed: 10.2 Knots
Barometric Pressure: 1015.9 Millibars

Science and Technology Log:

On this ship’s longline survey we are trying to examine fish, sharks in particular, to monitor trends in population abundance and examine distributional patterns. In order to do all of that, you first have to catch them. I figured for this blog I’ll walk us through the process of catching sharks (before tagging them and returning them to the water).

You start with prepping everything on the deck. We have two barrels filled with 100 hooks in total that are pre-connected to gangions which are twelve feet in length each and will eventually be connected to the mainline that goes in the water. The first step is to bait the hooks. In this case we use mackerel, cut in half, so that one mackerel is used as bait for two hooks.

Barrels of bait on hooks

Barrels of bait on hooks

Once all of the hooks are baited, the ship is maneuvered to the location where the data is to be collected. The first thing to come off the ship is called a “hi-flyer”. It is basically a buoy that marks the end of the fishing line.

Samantha deploying the hi-flyer

Volunteer Samantha deploying the hi-flyer

Next some weights attached to the line are tossed into the water in order to take the mainline to the bottom. Then the individual gangions with the hooks and bait are numbered with tags and attached to the mainline that continually extends as the ship moves forward.

Eloy attaching the baited line to the main line

Fisherman Eloy Borges attaching the gangion to the mainline

I love slinging bait. It’s basically the process of tossing the baited gangions off the side before connecting it to the mainline. There’s a rhythm to it, and a groove that you get with a little practice. You have to toss it far enough while making sure not to drop the line. You also try to keep up with the proper pace so that the hooks accurately correspond to a given distance in the water.

Once all of the hooks are in the water, more weights go in, the line is cut, knotted, and attached to the second hi-flyer which is tossed in the water. All the while someone is at a computer marking when each hi-flyer, weight and hook hits the water. That’s the process. Then it’s about an hour wait before hauling in your sharks!

For the next update we’ll talk all about sharks.

Tre and I handling a smooth dogfish shark

Scientist and Director of Animal Operations Andre Debose and I handling a smooth dogfish (shark)

Personal Log:

We’ve been fishing for two days out in the Gulf and I’m getting real comfortable out here. I work 12pm – 12am daily with sporadic breaks out on deck. Slingin’ bait. Taggin’ sharks. Data. Music. Laughs. Can’t complain.

Prior to arriving in the Gulf, we spent about two days cruising down the coast of Florida. This large ship can start to feel pretty small when you go two days without working. Many of us and the crew members speed through books (I just finished a book called Long Division…check it out), watch movies, and hang out on deck. The first night many of us watched the sunset together as dolphins played in the wake of the ship. It was fantastic.

On the second day we participated in our emergency drills. These drills consist of a fire drill, a man overboard drill, and an abandon ship drill where we get to don these mammoth survival suits called “immersion suits”.

Immersion Suit Success

Immersion Suit Success

I’m sure volunteer Sarah Larsen would agree it takes some muscle to fit into these. One tip to help put these on quickly is to save your strong arm and put that in the suit last. That way you can maneuver yourself through the suit with your strong arm before you zip up.

The Gulf waters have been surprisingly smooth out here, which isn’t always the case. And small flying fish zip across the surface leaving streaks that resemble those of a knife in a tub of butter. I know I should be taking more photos of moments like these but it’s hard to remove myself from the moment, dig through my bags, get the camera out, and finally take a photograph (which still won’t do it justice). I keep thinking about my students in Brooklyn, and how privileged I am to be able to have this experience, which really challenges me to find meaningful ways to share it with them. They deserve to be here and be a part of this.

Rachel Pryor

LTJG(sel) Rachel Pryor

Crew Highlight: Meet LTJG(sel) Rachel Pryor

Job: Navigation Officer

How did you get involved with NOAA: Rachel was interested in science from a young age. She heard about NOAA Corps while working for the Environmental Protection Agency, and found out more while being an observer in the Northeast.

What is your favorite part of the job: Rachel loves standing up on the bridge, looking out the window at the open ocean and driving the ship. There are times when the job can become tense, for instance in heavy ship traffic, but in those moments she says she takes a deep breath and reflects on how lucky she is to not be stuck in a cubicle.

Did you Know? The smooth dogfish has blunt teeth that really can’t harm a human. More on sharks next time!