Allison Irwin: Art and Science, July 22, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Allison Irwin

NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

July 7-15, 2019


Mission: Coastal Pelagic Species Survey

Geographic Area: Northern Coast of California

Date: July 22, 2019

Weather at 1200 Pacific Standard Time on Monday 22 July 2019

When I walk outside onto the deck, the sky is a stunning shade of blue matching the color of Frost Glacier Freeze Gatorade. The sun is warm against my skin – I’m finally not wearing a jacket – and bright, but not so bright that I have to squint against the reflection of the water. I put my sunglasses on anyway since the polarized lenses help me see more defined colors in bright sunlight.  The instruments show 15° Celsius right now with 25 knot winds. The horizon has a funny haze along its whole length even though the sky above me is absolutely clear. When I look over the long distance, I’m seeing cumulative aerosols – dust, water vapor, and other particles suspended in the air to form a haze along the horizon. I can’t see it directly above me even though it must be there.

PERSONAL LOG


One of the most beautiful things I’ve seen this whole trip, even when you take the coastline into account, are the squid. Never thought I’d write that sentence. But they sparkle and change colors! Last week we found a tiny octopus in something called a bongo tow (I’ll explain that in the science section). That little critter was even more awe inspiring. It had big turquoise eyes that reminded me of peacock feathers.

Juvenile Octopus
Juvenile Octopus – Species Unknown

While I was in Newport, Oregon before the ship left, I was walking around Newport Marina and found a couple of guys painting a mural. The one who designed the mural is an art teacher at Newport High School. We started talking about his mural and the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. In addition to his career as an art teacher, Casey McEneny also runs his own art studio called Casey McEneny Art. The other guy helping him, Jason, has an art studio called Jay Scott Studios.

By painting the commissioned mural, he was connecting his career with his love of art and his community. His son even participated in the process by filling in a small portion of the mural while Casey worked on outlining the rest of it. Later he’ll go back and overlay the mural with color so it pops off the wall.

  • Casey McEneny with his son
  • Full mural
  • Jason from Jay Scott Studios


THE SCIENCE


Ok, so the bongo tow. Do you remember as a kid (if you were a kid in the movies) when you used to run through fields of flowers catching butterflies in a butterfly net? I’m imagining a 6 year old girl with a flowing sundress. Well, take two oversized white butterfly nets and attach them to a metal frame that look like spectacles. Each hoop in this frame has a 71 centimeter diameter. These mesh nets each have a codend just like the trawl nets, except these codends are less than 1 foot long and are made out of extremely fine mesh. They’re designed to catch zooplankton – copepods, krill – and other smaller things that the net collects while traveling through the water column.

Bongo Net Ready to Deploy
Bongo Net Ready to Deploy

The juvenile octopus we found in the bongo tow last week was too difficult to identify at that young stage. It was only about 1 inch long. I searched through their identification books in the lab and tried to figure it out, but even the scientists said that the science community just doesn’t know enough yet about cephalopods (think octopus and squid species) to identify this beautiful creature until it’s an adult. We do know, since it has 8 arms and a fused mantle, that it’s at least an octopus and not a squid. Squid are not octopods, they’re decapods – in addition to the 8 arms they also have 2 long tentacles.

There are two species of octopus living in this area that look very similar even as adults. They are the Enteroctopus dofleini (Pacific Giant Octopus) and the Octopus rubescens (East Pacific Red Octopus). As adults, they’re both a dark red color almost like rust or brick. The artist I mentioned earlier, Casey, included a Pacific Giant Octopus in his mural at Newport Marina. But those are just two of many, many species of octopods in this area. Our little guy is probably neither of those. Still, I’m hoping it is a baby Octopus rubescens since they have a high density of chromatophores that make them sparkle!

Pacific Giant Octopus
Pacific Giant Octopus from Casey McEneny’s Mural

The chromatophores are cells that both reflect light and contain different colors (pigment). They come in all different patterns and are distinct enough to use as identification tools for different species. They can be individually large or small and show up either in dense patches or scattered like freckles. Octopus and squid species contract and expand these special cells to change color based on necessity, if they need camouflage for example, or it’s thought that they even use color to communicate their mood. I’ve seen them sparkle in brilliant colors like a kaleidoscope but that’s probably, unfortunately, an expression of their agitated state since we’re catching them.

While there’s no way to tell exactly what they’re thinking, it is well known that octopus species are highly intelligent compared to other animals found in the ocean. They are curious, they sometimes play pranks on divers, and they seem to be more intentional than fish in their actions. Their intelligence made me think they’d have long lives, that they gained experience and personality over time, but octopus species typically only live a few years. Females will usually only reproduce once in their short life spans.

TEACHING CONNECTIONS


There are so many ways to connect cephalopods to the classroom! First, research shows octopus species may plan ahead and that they can learn and adapt to their surroundings. They’re problem solvers. They’re curious by nature. How often do I wish my students were more curious about learning and literacy! By reading about the resiliency and learning capabilities of an octopus, maybe it will inspire my students to see themselves as more capable of persevering through difficult challenges and adapting their learning styles to meet the needs of different disciplines. I can drive home the point that studying for biology might not look the same as studying for their upcoming test in civics, and that the more academic learning tools they have to employ from their toolbox, the more they’ll be able to master this whole “being a student” thing.  If you’re at a loss for how to bring an octopus into the classroom, try starting with this activity from the NY Times Learning Network called Learning with “Yes, the Octopus is Smart as Heck. But Why?”.

Casey, the art teacher from Newport High School, shared an interesting activity from his art class. He recommends using images of zooplankton under microscope (we found plenty of these in our bongo tow!) to inspire abstract art projects similar to how Carl Stuwe intertwined science with art at the beginning of the 20th century.  English teachers could share the same images to get students writing creative fiction or a mini lesson on imagery.  Science and art provide a natural blend and plenty of opportunities for teachers to collaborate and combine our instructional force so we can integrate important concepts across the disciplines.

As a literacy teacher, I can’t help but think about how awesome it would be to teach my students the Latin prefixes and root words that are commonly used to name sea creatures. Names like Doryteuthis opalescens, Rossia pacifica, Octopus californicus, or Thysanoteuthis rhombus.  Then, let them loose to name, design, describe, and share their own octopus species – yet to be discovered! While I’m sure their imaginations would come up with some elaborate ideas, few things are ever as fantastical as reality. Check out the Vampyroteuthis infernalis living in the deep, dark depths of the ocean.

Vampire Squid
Vampire Squid Source: https://marinebio.org

We wouldn’t have found this creature or been able to capture its image without technology like Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and underwater submersible vehicles. There are clearly ways to link instruction to technology courses in addition to art, science, and literacy. Maybe students could take a sea creature that already exists and use mixed media to present an artistic representation of it like the Oregon Coast Aquarium did for their Seapunk exhibit. They could get their mixed media supplies from scrap leftover in the tech wing.

TEACHING RESOURCES

Jennifer Fry: March 17, 2012, Oscar Elton Sette

These crustaceans are sorting into a tray then measured for length (mm), volume (ml), and mass (g).

Mission: Fisheries Study
Geographical area of cruise: American Samoa
Date: March 17, 2012

Pago Pago, American Samoa

Cobb Trawl Day 6

Location: Wet Lab

Poetry into the Wee Hours of the Night

Here’s the data from Cobb Trawl Day: 6.1                                                                                        Total mass of trawl: 490 g

Name of fish: Numbers Count Volume (milliliters) Mass (grams)
Myctophids 124 140 150
Non-Myctophids 58 80 75
Crustaceans 14 negl negl
Cephalopods: 10 30 30
Gelatinous zooplankton 59 104 100
Misc. zooplankton n/a 60 97

Animals seen:

Lizard fish

Light fish

Mantis shrimp

Ctenophore/ comb jellies

Stomatopod

This coronet fish, in its larval form, was found in the Cobb trawl net.

The snipe eel is one the longer fish we caught measuring 150 mm.

The snipe eel mouth is shown close-up.

Scientists sort the nightly catch after each Cobb trawl. Trays are used to divide into each catagory: myctophids, non-myctophids, crustaceans, cephalopods, gelatinous zooplankton, and misc. zooplankton

Cob Trawl Day 6.2 :Total Mass 1035 g

Name of fish: Numbers Count Volume (milliliters) Mass (grams)
Myctophids 385 300 232
Non-Myctophids 51 60 70
Crustaceans 17 6 7
Cephalopods: 32 26 55
Gelatinous zooplankton 122 400 405
Misc. zooplankton n/a 240 225

Animals seen:

Trumpet / coronet fish

Snip eel

Salps

Balloon squid

Fulmar bird

This fulmer bird landed on the deck of the ship during nighttime Cobb net trawling.

Poetry into the Wee Hours of the Night: A collaborative effort:

“The Cobb Trawl Net” / With my week nearly over working  on the Cobb Trawl Net, I asked the scientists to join me in writing some scientific poetry about the operation.   The Cobb Trawl Net operation is overseen by John Denton and Aimee Hoover. The net is brought out of the water twice during the wee hours of the night, using a large noisy winch which certainly disturbs the slumber of those light-sleepers on the ship.  Coinciding with the Cobb Trawl Net activities are  nightly Plankton Tows.

 “I Wander Lonely as a Plankton” and “Plankton Mother”  honor the various types of plankton and microplastics that Emily Norton and Louise Giuseffi are studying.  We have been towing in different regions of American Samoan seas.  One area is called 2% Bank.  The other banks are called Northwest Bank and  Southbank.

“Myctohpids” / Since most of the bio-mass of the ocean is taken up by the little myctohpid fish, they are represented with an acrostic poem.  The poems show a passion for science and the research being conducted here in American Samoa.  I truly thank these scientists, John, Aimee, Emily, and Louise for their teachings, patience, and sheer enthusiasm for their scientific projects.

The Cobb Trawl Net

inspired by” The Fog” by Carl Sandberg

The trawl net comes in on thundering howl

The great black maw

Grinding and snarling brings in its folded catch,

The ocean’s toothy offering from the liquid, teeming abyss.

I Wander Lonely as a Plankton

Inspired by “I Wander Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth

I wander lonely as a copepod

That floats high and low in the sapphire blue water column ofAmerican Samoa

When all at once I saw a school

A host of dog tooth tuna

Along the 2% Bank

Beneath the NOAA ship OscarElton Sette

Thunniform undulation and escaping through the gently rolling waves.

Plankton Mother

 

Meticulously, she guards her catch

A treasure trove of tiny beasts

Carefully each dish is filled for observation.

Peering through the powerful microscope the

Blinking, pulsing Cephalopods, the cobalt Copepods, and spiral, conical Pteropods

So fragile to the touch

Tweezers carefully coax each delicate specimen into position

Checking for morphological traits

Does it have…

…Mysterious dark organ on its tiny body?

…Pointy sword-like structure on its rostrum?

The newly found charge is preserved in a viscous solution

Our link to plankton’s DNA

 transcriptome: all our DNA used to make proteins,

the building blocks of life

life’s basic units for construction

Myctophids

 

 Multitudes of  photophores, cup-shaped light emitting organs of epidermal origin.  Many many  millions of  blinking dots

Yellow irises look  with dreamy eyes like a  glazed over donut.

Clues to many different species found in the mesopelagic layer of the deep, ebony ocean.

The ctenoid scales possessing sharp, spiky spines

Out of the obsidian shoots the silver sprites, the beautiful slender fish

Prickly long-tailed myctophids with their stern-chasers, supracaudal/infracaudal luminous organs

Hungry for krill, small crustaceans, copepods and other planktonic creatures

Iridescent

Densly packed balls of gleaming, pulsing Actinopterygians A.K.A.  Actinops

Schooling,  synchronistic swimmers, tiny voices of light circumgloabally distributed around the world, cosmopolites.

A collaboration by:

John Denton, Emily Norton, Aimee Hoover,  Megan Duncan, Louise Guiseffi, and Jennifer Fry

Jennifer Fry: March 15, 2011, Oscar Elton Sette

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry

Onboard NOAA Ship, Oscar Elton Sette

March 12 – March 26, 2012

Mission: Fisheries Study
Geographical area of cruise: American Samoa
Date: March 15, 2012

Pago Pago, American Samoa

Science and Technology Log:

Nighttime Cobb Trawling : Day 4

We began the trawling around 8:30 p.m.  The data we collect tonight will replace the previous trawl on day 2 which was flawed in the method by which the experiment was collected. The Day 2 experiment was when the winch became stuck and the trawl net was left in the water well over 2 ½ hours, long past the 1 hour protocol.

Here’s is what the science team found.

Tonight the trawl nets went into the ocean and were timed as all the other times.

During the sorting we found some very interesting species of fish which included:

  • Pyrosomes: chordate/Tunicate
  • Two Juvenile cow fish (we placed them into a small saltwater tank to observe interesting species caught in the net.)

This is a great place to make further observations of these unique animals.

The data collected included:

Name of fish: Numbers Count Volume (milliliters) Mass (grams)
Myctophids 120 700 650
Non-Myctophids 148 84 115
Crustaceans 77 28 40
Cephalopods: 16 64 50
Gelatinous zooplankton 71 440 400
Misc. zooplankton n/a 840 900

The Cobb trawl net was washed, rinsed and the fish  strained through the net. They were then brought inside the web lab for further sorting.

The white-tailed tropic bird is a regular visitor to the South Pacific islands.

We were close to finishing the sorting, counting, and weighing when suddenly we heard something at the back door of the lab.  Fale, the scientist from American Samoa went to the door and proceeded to turn the latch, and slowly opened the door.  There huddled next to the wall, near some containers was a beautiful black and white Tropic bird, a common bird of this area.  Its distinctive feature was the single white tail feather that jutted out about 1 foot in length.  He looked just as surprised to see us and we were of him.  He did not make a move at all for about 10-15 minutes .  We took pictures and videos to mark the occasion, yet he still didn’t budge or act alarmed.

With a bit more time passing, he began to walk, or more like waddle like a duck. His ebony webbed feet made it difficult to maneuver over the open slats in the deck.  He attempted flight but appeared to get confused with the overhanging roof.

I quickly found a small towel and placing it over his head, gently carried him to a safe spot on the aft deck where he would have no trouble flying away.

The time was about 2:00 a.m. when we were distracted by the ship’s fire alarm, and  we quickly reported to our muster stations.  Luckily, there was no fire and  we returned resuming our trawl data collection.  Upon reaching the wet lab, we noticed at the stern of the ship, our newly found feathered friend had flown off into the dark night.

It was a great way to end our night with  research and early hour bird watching.  How lucky we all are to be in the South Pacific.

Animals Seen:

Ppyrosome

Pictured here is a Pyrosome which many came up in our Cobb net.

Cow fish

Our trawl net caught three juvunile cow fish specimans which were quickly placed in our observation tank for further study.

Tropical bird

The Tropic bird, with its distinctive long tail feather, is common in the South Pacific.