NOAA Teacher at Sea Cathrine Prenot Aboard the Bell M. Shimada July 17-July 30, 2016
Mission: 2016 California Current Ecosystem: Investigations of hake survey methods, life history, and associated ecosystem
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast from Newport, OR to Seattle, WA
Date: July 18, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge: Lat: 45º19.7 N
Lon: 124º21.6 W
Speed: 17.1 knots
Air Temp: 16.4 degrees Celsius
Barometer (mBars): 1019.54
Relative Humidity: 84%
Science and Technology Log
It is exciting to be out to sea on “Leg 2” of this cruise! The official title of our research is “2016 California Current Ecosystem: Investigations of hake survey methods, life history, and associated ecosystem.” One of the key portions of this leg of the trip is to collect data on whether or not a piece of equipment called the “Marine Mammal Excluder Device” (MMED) makes any difference in the fish lengths or the species we catch. Here is how it works (all images from Evaluation of a marine mammal excluder device (MMED) for a Nordic 264 midwater rope trawl):
Why is this important? For example, if all of one type of fish in a trawl escape through this MMED, we would be getting a different type of sample than we would if the equipment was off the nets. Our lead scientist, Dr. Sandy Parker-Stetter explained: “If all the rockfish go out the top escape panel, how will we know they were there?” To collect data on this, we will be doing a lot of trawls—or fishing, for those non-sea faring folk—some with the MMED and others without it. These will be small catches, we need about 300-400 fish, but enough to be able to make a determination if the equipment effect the data in any way.
We have done a few trawls already, and here are some of the photos from them:
All of this reminds me of why we are so concerned with accurately estimating the population of a little fish. To illustrate, let me tell you a story—a story of a fishery thought too big to fail—the Great Banks Atlantic Cod fishery. Why don’t you click on Issue 2 of Adventures in a Blue World: A Fish Tale, Too Big to Fail.
Cod populations decreased to such a degree (1% of previous numbers), that the Canadian Government issued a moratorium on Cod fishing in 1992. Our mission—to investigate of hake survey methods, life history, and associated ecosystem—is designed to prevent such a devastating result. We don’t want Hake or other species to go the same route.
We left the left the dock on Sunday at 1145, and made our way under the Newport Bridge and out to sea. It was really wonderful to watch the ship leave the harbor from way up on the Flying Bridge—the top-most deck of the ship. There are four tall chairs (bolted to the deck) at the forward end of the deck, an awning, and someone even rigged a hammock between two iron poles. It is rather festive, although again, there were no drinks with umbrellas being brought to us.
I didn’t have any problems with seasickness on my last voyage, but I did take some meds just in case. One of the researchers said that he doesn’t take any meds any more, he just gets sick once or twice and then feels much better. If you are interested, here is a link to my previous cartoon about why we are sea-sick, and how and why ginger actually works just as well as other OTC drugs. All I can say now is that I’m typing this blog in the acoustics lab, and the ship does seem to be moving rather alarmingly from fore to aft–called pitching. Maybe I should find a nice porthole. In the meanwhile, you can read “Why are we seasick.”
Did You Know?
The end of the fishing net is called the codend. Who knew? This and many more things can be learned about fishing from reading this handy reference guide.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Emily Whalen Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow April 27 – May 10, 2015
Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine Date: May 5, 2015
Weather Data: Air Temperature: 8.4°C
Water Temperature: 5.1ºC
Wind: 15 knots NW
Seas: 1-2 feet
Science and Technology Log:
Not everything that comes up in the net is a fish. One of the things that we have caught many of on this trip is Homarus americanus, commonly known as the lobster. Lobsters are invertebrates, which means they don’t have a backbone or an internal skeleton. Instead, they have a hard outer shell called an exoskeleton to give their body structure and protect their inner organs. Because their exoskeleton cannot expand as the lobster grows, a lobster must molt, or shed its shell periodically as it gets bigger. In the first few years of their lives, lobsters need to molt frequently because they are growing quickly. More mature lobsters only molt yearly or even every few years.
Another interesting fact about lobsters can regenerate lost body parts. After a claw or leg is lost, the cells near the damaged area will start to divide to form a new appendage. The developing structure is delicate and essentially useless while it is growing, but after a few molts, it will be fully functional.
When we catch lobsters, we measure and record the distance from their eye cavity to the posterior end of the carapace. Many of the lobsters we have caught are similar in size to those you would find at the grocery store, which typically weigh about a little more than pound. Commercial fishermen can only keep male lobsters that are over 101 millimeters. Can you guess why? We have seen some smaller lobsters that measure about 50 millimeters, and also some much larger lobsters that measure as much as 150 millimeters!
One of the members of my watch is Dr. Joe Kunkel, who is doing something called ‘landmark analysis’ on some of the lobsters that we have caught. This process involves recording the exact location of 12 specific points on the carapace or shell of each lobster. Then he compares the relative geometry different lobsters to look for trends and patterns. In order to do this, he uses a machine called a digitizer. The machine has a small stylus and a button. When you push the button, it records the x, y and z position of the stylus. Once the x,y and z position of all 12 points has been recorded, they are imported into a graphing program that creates an individual profile for each lobster.
So far, it appears that lobsters that are caught inshore have different geometry than lobsters that are caught further offshore. Typically, an organism’s shape is determined by its genes. Physical variations between organisms can be the result of different genes, environmental factors or physiological factors like diet or activity. Dr. Kunkel doesn’t have a certain explanation for the differences between these two groups of lobsters, but it may suggest that lobsters have different activity levels or diet depending on whether they live near the shore our out in deeper waters. In recent years, a shell disease has decimated lobster populations south of Cape Cod. This study may give us clues about the cause of this disease, which could someday affect the lobster fishery.
In order to move from station to station as we complete our survey, the Bigelow has a powerful propulsion system different from most other types of ships. Typically, a ship has an engine that burns diesel fuel in order to turn a shaft. To make the ship move forward (ahead) or backward (astern), the clutch is engaged, which causes the shaft to spin the propeller. The throttle can then be used to make the shaft spin faster or slower, which speeds up or slows down the boat. Throttling up and down like this affects the amount of fuel burned. For those of you who are new drivers, this is similar to how your car gets better or worse gas mileage depending on what type of driving you are doing.
Like this class of ship, the Bigelow has a giant propeller at the stern which is 14 feet across and has 5 blades. However, the unlike most ships, the propeller on the Bigelow is powered by electricity instead of a combustion engine. There are four electricity-producing generators on the ship, two large and two small. The generators burn diesel fuel and convert the stored energy into electricity. The electricity powers two electric motors, which turn the propeller. While the electricity produced powers the propeller, it is also used for lights, computers, pumps, freezers, radar and everything else on the ship. There are several benefits to this type of system. One is that the generators can run independently of each other. Running two or three generators at a time means the ship makes only as much electricity as it needs based on what is happening at the time, so fuel isn’t wasted. Since the ship can speed up or slow down without revving the engine up or down, the generators can always run at their maximum efficiency.
Also, there is much finer control of the ship’s speed with this system. In fact, the ship’s speed can be controlled to one tenth of a knot, which would be similar to being able to drive your car at exactly 30.6 or 30.7 mph. Finally, an added benefit is that the whole system runs quietly, which is an advantage when you are scouting for marine mammals or other living things that are sensitive to sound.
I have seen a lot of fish on this trip, but it would be a lie to say that I don’t have some favorites. Here are a few of them. Which one do you think is the coolest?
NOAA Teacher at Sea Emily Whalen Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow April 27 – May 10, 2015
Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine Date: May 1, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Winds: Light and variable
Air Temperature: 6.2○ C
Water Temperature: 5.8○ C
Science and Technology Log:
Earlier today I had planned to write about all of the safety features on board the Bigelowand explain how safe they make me feel while I am on board. However, that was before our first sampling station turned out to be a monster haul! For most stations I have done so far, it takes about an hour from the time that the net comes back on board to the time that we are cleaning up the wetlab. At station 381, it took us one minute shy of three hours! So explaining the EEBD and the EPIRB will have to wait so that I can describe the awesome sampling we did at station 381, Cashes Ledge.
Before I get to describing the actual catch, I want to give you an idea of all of the work that has to be done in the acoustics lab and on the bridge long before the net even gets into the water.
The bridge is the highest enclosed deck on the boat, and it is where the officers work to navigate the ship. To this end, it is full of nautical charts, screens that give information about the ship’s location and speed, the engine, generators, other ships, radios for communication, weather data and other technical equipment. After arriving at the latitude and longitude of each sampling station, the officer’s attention turns to the screen that displays information from the Olex Realtime Bathymetry Program, which collects data using a ME70 multibeam sonar device attached to bottom of the hull of the ship .
Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges in trawling has been getting the net caught on the bottom of the ocean. This is often called getting ‘hung’ and it can happen when the net snags on a big rock, sunken debris, or anything else resting on the sea floor. The consequences can range from losing a few minutes time working the net free, to tearing or even losing the net. The Olex data is extremely useful because it can essentially paint a picture of the sea floor to ensure that the net doesn’t encounter any obstacles. Upon arrival at a site, the boat will cruise looking for a clear path that is about a mile long and 300 yards wide. Only after finding a suitable spot will the net go into the water.
The ME70 Multibeam uses sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean at specific points. It is similar to a simpler, single stream sonar in that it shoots a wave of sound down to the seafloor, waits for it to bounce back up to the ship and then calculates the distance the wave traveled based on the time and the speed of sound through the water, which depends on temperature. The advantage to using the multibeam is that it shoots out 200 beams of sound at once instead of just one. This means that with each ‘ping’, or burst of sound energy, we know the depth at many points under the ship instead of just one. Considering that the multibeam pings at a rate of 2 Hertz to 0.5 Herts, which is once every 0.5 seconds to 2 seconds, that’s a lot of information about the sea floor contour!
The stations that we sample are randomly selected by a computer program that was written by one of the scientists in the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, who happens to be on board this trip. Just by chance, station number 381 was on Cashes Ledge, which is an underwater geographical feature that includes jagged cliffs and underwater mountains. The area has been fished very little because all of the bottom features present many hazards for trawl nets. In fact, it is currently a protected area, which means the commercial fishing isn’t allowed there. As a research vessel, we have permission to sample there because we are working to collect data that will provide useful information for stock assessments.
My watch came on duty at noon, at which time the Bigelowwas scouting out the bottom and looking for a spot to sample within 1 nautical mile of the latitude and longitude of station 381. Shortly before 1pm, the CTD dropped and then the net went in the water. By 1:30, the net was coming back on board the ship, and there was a buzz going around about how big the catch was predicted to be. As it turns out, the catch was huge! Once on board, the net empties into the checker, which is usually plenty big enough to hold everything. This time though, it was overflowing with big, beautiful cod, pollock and haddock. You can see that one of the deck crew is using a shovel to fill the orange baskets with fish so that they can be taken into the lab and sorted!
At this point, I was standing at the conveyor belt, grabbing slippery fish as quickly as I could and sorting them into baskets. Big haddock, little haddock, big cod, little cod, pollock, pollock, pollock. As fast as I could sort, the fish kept coming! Every basket in the lab was full and everyone was working at top speed to process fish so that we could empty the baskets and fill them up with more fish! One of the things that was interesting to notice was the variation within each species. When you see pictures of fish, or just a few fish at a time, they don’t look that different. But looking at so many all at once, I really saw how some have brighter colors, or fatter bodies or bigger spots. But only for a moment, because the fish just kept coming and coming and coming!
Finally, the fish were sorted and I headed to my station, where TK, the cutter that I have been working with, had already started processing some of the huge pollock that we had caught. I helped him maneuver them up onto the lengthing board so that he could measure them and take samples, and we fell into a fish-measuring groove that lasted for two hours. Grab a fish, take the length, print a label and put it on an envelope, slip the otolith into the envelope, examine the stomach contents, repeat.
Some of you have asked about the fish that we have seen and so here is a list of the species that we saw at just this one site:
Red deepsea crab
I think it’s human nature to try to draw conclusions about what we see and do. If all we knew about the state of our fish populations was based on the data from this one catch, then we might conclude that there are tons of healthy fish stocks in the sea. However, I know that this is just one small data point in a literal sea of data points and it cannot be considered independently of the others. Just because this is data that I was able to see, touch and smell doesn’t give it any more validity than other data that I can only see as a point on a map or numbers on a screen. Eventually, every measurement and sample will be compiled into reports, and it’s that big picture over a long period of time that will really allow give us a better understanding of the state of affairs in the ocean.
It seems like time is passing faster and faster on board the Bigelow. I have been getting up each morning and doing a Hero’s Journey workout up on the flying bridge. One of my shipmates let me borrow a book that is about all of the people who have died trying to climb Mount Washington. Today I did laundry, and to quote Olaf, putting on my warm and clean sweatshirt fresh out of the dryer was like a warm hug! I am getting to know the crew and learning how they all ended up here, working on a NOAA ship. It’s tough to believe but a week from today, I will be wrapping up and getting ready to go back to school!
NOAA TEACHER AT SEA JASON MOELLER ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011
NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 25-27, 2011
Latitude: 55.58 N
Longitude: -159.16 W
Surface Water Temperature: 7.2 degrees C
Air Temperature: 9.0 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 90%
Anyone who has seen the show Deadliest Catchknows how dangerous crab fishing can be. Fishing for pollock, however, also has its dangers. Unfortunately, we found out the hard way. One of our deck hands caught his hand between a cable and the roller used to pull up the trawl net and hurt himself badly.
Fortunately, the injuries are not life threatening and he will be fine. The injuries did require a hospital visit, and so we stopped at Sand Point to treat him.
We stayed at Sand Point for nearly 48 hours. What did we do? We fished, of course! We used long lines and hooks, and had a great time!
A one-day fishing license in Alaska costs $20.00. We had internet, so five of us went online and bought the fishing passes. Was it worth it?
We filleted it and had the cooks make it for dinner. With the halibut, we also cut out the fleshy “cheeks” and ate them as sushi right on the spot! It doesn’t get any fresher (or tastier!) than that!
Science and Technology Log
Today we will look at the acoustic system of the Oscar Dyson! Acoustics is the science that studies how waves (including vibrations & sound waves) move through solids, liquids, and gases. The Oscar Dyson uses its acoustic system to find the pollock that we process.
The process begins when a piece of equipment called a transducer converts an electrical pulse into a sound wave. The transducers are located on the underside of the ship (in the water). The sound travels away from the vessel at roughly 1500 feet per minute, and continues to do so until the sound wave hits another object such as a bubble, plankton, a fish, or the bottom. When the sound wave hits an object, it reflects the sound wave, sending the sound wave back to the Oscar Dyson as an echo. Equipment onboard listens to the echo.
The computers look at two critical pieces of information from the returning sound wave. First, it measures the time that it took the echo to travel back to the ship. This piece of information gives the scientists onboard the distance the sound wave traveled. Remember that sound travels at roughly 1500 feet per minute. If the sound came back in one minute, then the object that the sound wave hit is 750 feet away (the sound traveled 750 feet to the object, hit the object, and then traveled 750 feet back to the boat).
The second critical piece of information is the intensity of the echo. The intensity of the echo tells the scientists how small or how large an object is, and this gives us an idea of what the sound wave hit. Tiny echos near the surface are almost certainly plankton, but larger objects in the midwater might be a school of fish.
One of the things that surprised me the most was that fish and bubbles often look similar enough under water that it can fool the acoustics team into thinking that the bubbles are actually fish. This is because many species of fish have gas pockets inside of them, and so the readout looks very similar. The gas pockets are technically called “swim bladders” and they are used to help the fish control buoyancy in the water.
Reader Question(s) of the Day
Today’s questions come from Kevin Hils, the Director of Chehaw Wild Animal Park in Chehaw, Georgia!
Q. Where does the ship name come from?
A. Oscar Dyson was an Alaska fisheries industry leader from Kodiak, Alaska. He is best known for pioneering research and development of Alaska’s groundfish, shrimp, and crab industry. Dyson was a founding partner of All Alaskan Seafoods, which was the first company actually controlled by the fishermen who owned the vessel. He also served on the North Pacific Fisheries Management council for nine years. He is in the United Fishermen of Alaska’s hall of fame for his work. The ship was christened by his wife, Mrs. Peggy Dyson-Malson, and launched on October 17, 2003.
Q. How do you see this helping you teach at Knoxville Zoo, not an aquarium?
A. This will be a long answer. This experience will improve environmental education at the zoo in a variety of different ways.
First, this will better allow me to teach the Oceanography portion of my homeschool class that comes to the zoo every Tuesday. For example, I am in the process of creating a hands on fishing trip that will teach students about the research I have done aboard the Oscar Dyson and why that research is important. Homeschool students will not just benefit from this experience in Oceanography, but also in physics (when we look at sound and sonar) and other subjects as well from the technical aspects that I have learned during the course of the trip.
Scouts are another group that will greatly benefit from this experience as well. The Girl Scout council wishes to see a greater emphasis in the future on having the girls do science and getting real world experiences. While the girls are still going to desire the animal knowledge that the zoo can bring, they will also expect to do the science as well as learn about it. My experience aboard the Dyson will allow me to create workshops that can mimic a real world animal research experience, as I can now explain and show how research is done in the field.
The same can be said of the boy scouts.
In addition, one of the most common badges that is taught to boy scout groups that come in is the fish and wildlife merit badge. In the past, the badge has primarily focused on the wildlife aspect of this topic. However, I now have the knowledge to write and teach a fisheries portion for that merit badge, as opposed to quickly covering it and moving on. This will enrich future scouts who visit the zoo for this program.
A major focus for all scouts is the concept of Leave No Trace, where scouts are supposed to leave an area the way they found it. The fisheries research being done aboard the Dyson is focused toward that same goal in the ocean, where we are attempting to keep the pollock population as we found it, creating a sustainable fishery. The goal aboard the Dyson is similar to the goal in scouting. We need to be sustainable, we need to be environmentally friendly, and we need to leave no trace behind.
School children on field trips will greatly benefit, especially students in the adaptations section. There are some bizarre adaptations that I never knew about! For example, sleeper sharks slow, deliberate movement coupled with their fin and body shape basically make them the stealth fighter of the fish world. They can catch fish twice as fast as they are! Lumpsuckers are neat critters too! This knowledge will enhance their experience at the zoo during field trip programs.
Finally, I can pass the knowledge from this experience on to my coworkers. This will not only better the experience of my students, but it will also improve the outreach programs, the bedtime programs, the camps, and other programming done at the zoo.
Q. Are you old enough to be on a ship? You look like you’re 13???!!!!
A. SHHHHHHH!!!! You weren’t supposed to tell them my real age! They think I’m 24!