Andria Keene: The sun is setting on my adventure! October 21, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Andria Keene

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

October 8 – 22, 2018


Mission: SEAMAP Fall Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: October 21, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge
Date: 2018/10/21
Time: 12:52
Latitude: 029 23.89 N
Longitude 094 14.260 W
Barometric Pressure 1022.22mbar
Air Temperature: 69 degrees F

The isness of things is well worth studying; but it is their whyness that makes life worth living.
– William Beebe


Last sunset
My last sunset aboard the Oregon II.

Science and Technology Log

Today is our last day at sea and we have currently completed 53 stations!  At each station we send out the CTD.   CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature and Depth.   However, this device measures much more than that.  During this mission we are looking at 4 parameters: temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen and fluorescence which can be used to measure the productivity of an area based on photosynthetic organisms.

science team with the CTD
Some of the science team with the CTD.

Once the CTD is deployed, it is held at the surface for three minutes.  During this time, 4,320 scans are completed!  However, this data, which is used to acclimate the system, is discarded from the information that is collected for this station.

CTD Collage
The crane lifts the CTD from the well deck and deploys it into the water.

Next, the CTD is slowly lowered through the water until it is about 1 meter from the bottom.  In about 30 meters of water this round trip takes about 5 minutes during which the CTD conducts 241 scans every 10 seconds for a grand total of approximately 7,230 scans collected at each station.

CTD Graph
The computer readout of the data collected at one of the stations.

Our CTD scans have gathered the expected data but during the summer months the CTD has found areas of hypoxia off the coast of Louisiana and Texas.

Summer Hypoxia Zones
Data from CTD scans was used to create this map of hypoxic zones off the coast of Louisiana in summer of 2018.


Personal Log

The gloomy weather has made the last few days of the voyage tricky. Wind and rough seas have made sleeping and working difficult. Plus, I have missed my morning visits with dolphins at the bow of the ship due to the poor weather.  But seeing the dark blue water and big waves has added to the adventure of the trip.

Dark clouds lifting
The gloom is lifting as a tanker passes in the distance.

We have had some interesting catches including one that weighed over 800 pounds and was mostly jellyfish.  Some of the catches are filled with heavy mud while others a very clean. Some have lots of shells or debris.  I am pleasantly surprised to see that even though I notice the occasional plastic bottle floating by, there has not been much human litter included in our catches.  I am constantly amazed by the diversity in each haul.  There are species that we see at just about every station and there are others that we have only seen once or twice during the whole trip.

Catch collage
A few of the most unique catches.

I am thrilled to have had the experience of being a NOAA Teacher at Sea and I am excited to bring what I have learned back to the classroom to share with my students.  


Challenge Question:

Bonus points for the first student in each class to send me the correct answer!

These are Calico Crabs, but this little one has something growing on it?  What is it?

Calico crabs
Calico crabs… but what is that growing on this small one?

Did you know…

That you can tell the gender of a flat fish by holding it up to the light?

Flatfish collage
The image on the top is a female and the one of the bottom is the male. Can you tell the difference?


Today’s Shout Out! 

Kudos to all of my students who followed along, answered the challenge questions, played species BINGO, and plotted my course!  You made this adventure even more enjoyable!  See you soon 🙂

Steven Frantz: Critters at Sea, August 5, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Frantz
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the coast of Florida
Date: August 5, 2012

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Air Temperature (degrees C): 29.0
Wind Speed (knots): 10.28
Wind Direction (degree): 138.68
Relative Humidity (percent): 076
Barometric Pressure (millibars): 1022.33
Water Depth (meters): 28.45
Salinity (PSU): 35.612

Location Data:
Latitude: 3323.40N
Longitude: 07808.17W

Critters at Sea

On my last blog I introduced you to five species of shark found so far. I think you can tell which one is my favorite, which is yours?

Even though our mission is to collect data on sharks, you never know what might come up on the end of a hook (or tangled in the line!). Data is still collected on just about everything else we catch. For today’s blog I have put together a photo journey on the so many other beautiful creatures we have caught.

Basket Starfish
Basket Starfish with pieces of soft red coral
Black Sea Bass
Black Sea Bass
Blue Line Tile Fish (Unfortunately damaged by a shark)
Blue Line Tile Fish (Unfortunately damaged by a shark)
Box Crab
Box Crab
Clearnose Skate
Clearnose Skate
Conger Eel
Conger Eel
Red Grouper
Red Grouper
Mermaid's Purse (egg case from a skate or ray)
Mermaid’s Purse (egg case from a skate or ray)
Candling the Mermaid's Purse reveals the tail and yolk of the animal
Candling the Mermaid’s Purse reveals the tail and yolk of the animal
Scallop Shell
Scallop Shell
Scomberus japonicus (Can you come up with a common name?)
Scomberus japonicus (Can you come up with a common name?)
Sea Urchin
Sea Urchin
Spider Crab
Spider Crab
Red Snapper (10Kg)
Red Snapper (10Kg)

There you have it. I hope you enjoy the pictures of just some of the beauty and diversity in the Atlantic Ocean. Be sure to visit my next blog when we tie up loose ends!


Jason Moeller: June 25-27, 2011

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

Ship Data
Latitude: 55.58 N
Longitude: -159.16 W
Wind: 14.11
Surface Water Temperature: 7.2 degrees C
Air Temperature: 9.0 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 90%
Depth: 85.61

Personal Log
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.

The cable and the roller.

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.

This is the town of Sand Point.
Clouds hang over the hills at Sand Point. The airstrip is in the left edge of the photo.

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!

Bill and Alex cast fishing lines in the harbor. We tied the lines off on the boat and hauled them up from time to time to check the bait.
Alex with a flounder that he caught! He also caught several cod and a 32-lb Pacific halibut!
Cod and the flounder in a bucket!
As with every fishing trip, we also managed to catch things that we didn't mean too! Tammy (the other NOAA Teacher at Sea) especially liked the kelp!
A few visitors always hitched a ride on the kelp we caught. Here is a tiny sea urchin.
This crab was another hitchhiker on the kelp.
We were bottom fishing for Halibut, and a starfish, the largest one I've ever seen, went after the bait!

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?

You bet it was! This is the 25-lb halibut I caught! It was AWESOME!!!

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.

good fishing
An image of the computer screen that shows a great number of fish. This was taken underneath the boat as we were line fishing in Sand Point.
poor fishing
The same spot as above, but with practically no fish.
An image of the screen during a trawl. You can actually see the net--it is the two brown lines that are running from left to right towards the top of the screen.

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.

Swim bladder of a fish.

Species Seen
Northern Fulmar
Pacific Halibut
Sea Urchin

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.

Oscar Dyson
The launching of the Oscar Dyson

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!

Jason Moeller: June 21-22, 2011

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 21-22, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 55.03N
Longitude: -163.08W
Wind: 17.81 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 6.7 degrees celsius
Air Temperature: 10.10 degrees celsius
Humidity: 85%
Depth: 82.03 meters

Personal Log
Welcome back, explorers!

June 21
Today has been the calmest evening since I boarded the Oscar Dyson. The night shift did not fish at all, which meant that I basically had an evening off! Even the evenings we have fished have been relatively calm. It takes us about an hour to an hour and a half to process a haul of fish, and up to this point we average about one haul per night. That gives me quite a bit of down time! When I am on shift, that down time is usually spent in one of two places.

computer lab
The first spot is the computer lab in the acoustics room. This is the room where we wait for the haul to be brought in. I write the logs, lesson plan, check emails, and surf the web during quiet times.
This is the lounge. The cabinet under the TV has over 500 movies, and a movie is usually playing when I walk in. Behind the couch is a large bookshelf with several hundred books, so I have done a fair amount of pleasure reading as well.

When I am not sitting in one of these two places, I am usually running around the ship with my camera taking nature photos. Below are the best nature photos of the past three days.

One of the coolest things about the Aleutian islands has to be the number of volcanoes that can be seen. This is the one on Unimak Island.
A second picture of the same volcano.
This is just a cool rock formation off of the coast. The Oscar Dyson has been hugging the coast the entire trip, which has been great for scenery.
A gull skims the water by the Oscar Dyson.
A gull wings toward the Oscar Dyson

June 22
We resumed fishing today! These trawls brought in quite a few species that I had not seen before, along with the ever plentiful pollock.

The net, filled with fish!
Jason by belt
Jason waits for the net to load the fish onto the conveyor belt.
Jason with flounder
Here, I am separating the arrowtooth flounder from the pollock.
We managed to catch a skate in the net! Skates are very close relatives to sharks. We quickly measured it and then released it into the ocean.
skate 2
A second photograph of the skate.
Do you remember the little lumpsucker from a few posts back? This is what an adult looks like!
The lumpsucker was slimy! I tried to pick it up with my bare hands, and the slime gummed up my hands so that I couldn't pick it up! Even with gloves designed for gripping fish I had trouble holding on.
A closeup of the lumpsucker
This fish is called a sculpin.
I finally saw a crab! None of us know what was attached to it, but the scientists believe that it was an anemone.
This is a starfish the net pulled up.

Science and Technology Log
There is no Science and Technology Log with this post.

Species Seen
Humpback Whales
Northern Fulmar
Walleye Pollock
Arrowtooth Flounder
Atka Makerel

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Today’s question comes from James and David Segrest, who are two of my homeschool students!

Q. What do you eat while you are on your adventures? Do you get to catch and eat fish?

The food is great! Our chef has a degree in culinary arts, and has made some amazing meals!

I wake up at 2:30 pm for my 4 pm to 4 am night shift, and usually start my day with a small bowl of oatmeal and a toasted bagel. At 5 pm, about two hours after breakfast, dinner is served, and I will eat a huge meal then too. Every meal has two main courses, a vegetable, a bread, and dessert. We have had a wide variety of main courses which have included bratwurst, steak, gumbo with king crab, fish, chicken parmesan, spaghetti with meatballs, and others!

We will often eat some of the fish we catch, usually salmon and rockfish since those provide the  best eating. The salmon disappears to the kitchen so quickly that I have not actually been able to get a photo of one! We have not caught a halibut in the trawl net yet, otherwise we would likely have eaten that as well. Yum! We have not yet eaten pollock, as it is viewed as being a much lower quality fish compared with the rockfish and salmon.

I’m out of questions, so please email me at with those questions please!

Kathryn Lanouette, August 1, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathryn Lanouette
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 21-August 7, 2009 

Mission: Summer Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: August 1, 2009

This sonar-generated image shows walleye pollock close to the sea floor. The red line at the bottom of the image is the sea floor. The blue specks at the top of the image are jellyfish floating close to the water’s surface.
This sonar-generated image shows walleye pollock close to the sea floor. The red line at the bottom of the image is the sea floor. The blue specks at the top of the image are jellyfish floating close to the water’s surface.

Weather Data from the Ship’s Bridge 
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Wind direction: variable
Wind speed:  less than 5 knots, light
Sea wave height: 0 feet
Air temperature: 7.9˚C
Seawater temperature: 8.6˚C
Sea level pressure: 30.1 inches Hg
Cloud cover: 7/8, stratus

Science and Technology Log 

In addition to the Aleutian wing trawl (which I explained in Day 5 NOAA ship log) and Methot (which I explained in Day 8 NOAA ship log), scientists also use a net called an 83-112 for bottom trawls. The 83-112 net is strong enough to drag along the sea floor, enabling it to catch a lot of the animals that live in, on, or near the sea floor. This afternoon, we conducted the first bottom trawl of our cruise. Bottom trawls are usually conducted in two situations: if the walleye pollock are too close to the sea floor to use an Aleutian wing trawl or if the scientists want to sample a small amount of fish (because the 83-112’s net opening is smaller than the Aleutian wing trawl’s net). From the looks of the sonar-generated images, it appeared that most of the walleye pollock were swimming very close to the bottom so the scientists decided it would be best to use the 83-112 net.

Here I am holding one of the skates that was caught in the bottom trawl
Here I am holding one of the skates that was caught in the bottom trawl

Once the fish were spotted, we changed our course to get ready to trawl. Usually the trawl is made into the wind for stability and net control. Once the ship reached trawling speed, the lead fisherman was given the “OK” to shoot the doors. Slowly, the net was lowered to 186 meters below the surface, the sea depth where we happened to be. The water temperature down there was about 1˚C (compared to 7˚C on the sea’s surface).  I had heard from a previous Teacher At Sea that bottom trawls brought up a wide variety of animal species (compared to the relatively homogenous catches in mid-water trawls). And sure enough, when the net was brought up, I couldn’t believe my eyes!

All told, we sorted through over 7,000 animals, a total of 36 different species represented in the total catch. It took 4 of us over 4 hours to sort, measure, and weigh all these animals. There were over 350 walleye pollock in this catch as well as skates, octopi, crabs, snails, arrowtooth flounder, sea anemones, star fish, and dozens of other animals. Some of them were even walking themselves down the table.

During this catch, I also learned how to take the ear bones, or otoliths, out of a walleye pollock. Why ear bones you might ask? Using the ear bones from a walleye pollock, scientists are able to determine the exact age of the fish. Misha Stepanenko, one of the two Russian scientists on board the Oscar Dyson, showed me how to cut partially through the fish’s skull and take out two large ear bones. Once they were taken out, I put them in a solution to preserve them. Back in NOAA’s Seattle lab, the ear bones are stained, enabling scientists to count the different layers in each ear bone. For every year that the fish lives, a new layer of bone grows, similar to how trees add a layer for each year that they live. By learning the exact age of a fish, scientists are able to track age groups (called “cohorts”), allowing more precise modeling of the walleye pollock population life cycle.

A diagram of an otolith, or ear bone, of a fish.  You can see that it’s a lot like looking at tree rings!
A diagram of an otolith, or ear bone, of a fish. You can see that it’s a lot like looking at tree rings!

Personal Log 

So far this trip, we have sailed within 15 miles of Cape Navarin (Russia) on at least two different occasions but fog and clouds prevented any glimpse of land both times. It was a frustrating feeling knowing that land was so close, yet impossible to see. After 12 days of looking at nothing but water and sky, seeing land would have been a welcome treat.

Despite not seeing land, I still felt like I was in Russia just from listening to different fishing vessels communicate with one another. On our first night in Russian waters, we sailed through a heavy fog, with 7 or 8 different boats fishing nearby. I was impressed with how Ensign Faith Opatrny, the Officer on Deck at the time, communicated with various vessels, using collision regulations (“the rules of the road”) to navigate safely. On a culinary note, I got my first chance to eat some of a catch. After most trawls, we discard remaining inedible specimens overboard. After our bottom trawl however, one of the scientists filleted some of the cod. The next day, the stewards cooked it up for lunch. It tasted great and it felt good to be eating some of the fish that we sampled.

A graph showing the adult walleye pollock biomass estimates from 1965 to 2008.
A graph showing the adult walleye pollock biomass estimates from 1965 to 2008.

As the cruise starts to wind down, I also want to express my gratitude to all the NOAA scientists and Oscar Dyson crew. Everyone in the science group took time to explain their research, teach me scientific techniques, and answer my many questions. On numerous occasions, the deck crew explained the mechanics of fishing nets as well as the fishing process. The engineering crew gave me a tour of the engine rooms, describing how four diesel engines power the entire boat. The survey techs explained how different equipment is operated as well as the information it relays back to the scientists. The NOAA Corps officers showed me how to read weather maps, take coordinates, and explained ship navigation. The ship’s stewards described the art and science behind feeding 33 people at sea. And the USFWS bird observers patiently showed me how to identify numerous bird species. From each of them, I learned a tremendous amount about fisheries science, fishing, boats, sailing, birding, and life in the Bering Sea. Thank you!

Answer to July 28 (Tuesday) Log: How has the walleye pollock biomass changed over time? 
In the past few years, the walleye pollock biomass has decreased (according to the acoustic-trawl survey, the survey that I joined.) It should be noted that there is a second complementary walleye pollock survey, the eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey. This survey studies walleye pollock living close to the sea floor. As walleye pollock age, they tend to live closer to the sea floor, thus the bottom trawl survey sometimes shows different biomass trends than the acoustic-trawl survey. Both surveys are used together to manage the walleye pollock stock.

An up-close look at one of the squid’s tentacles
An up-close look at one of the squid’s tentacles

Animals Seen 
Auklet, Arrowtooth flounder, Basket star, Bering skate, Cod, Hermit crab, Fin whale, Fur seal, Octopus, Sculpin, Sea mouse, Sea slug, Shortfin eelpout, Snow crab, Squid, and Tanner crab.

New Vocabulary: Bottom trawl – fishing conducted on and near the bottom of the sea floor. Catch – fish brought up in a net. Shoot the doors – a fishing expression that means to lower the 2 metal panels that hold open the fishing nets in the water. Stewards – the name for cooks on a ship. Table – nickname for the conveyor belt where the fish are sorted for sampling. Vessels – another word for ships. 

Jeff Lawrence, June 9, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Lawrence
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009 

Mission: Sea scallop survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 9, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
S winds 5-10KT
Seas 1-2ft
Barometric pressure 1029mb
Air Temperature 78˚F
Visibility clear
Cold front moving offshore towards us later today, rain expected.

The contents of the dredge are emptied onto the sorting table.
The contents of the dredge are emptied onto the sorting table.

Science and Technology Log 

The sorting table is full of activity as soon as the dredge is pulled aboard the ship. After the crew secure all lines and dump the load the volunteers and scientist begin to sort through the biological that has been brought up from the bottom or the Atlantic Ocean.  Each dredge can bring a varied amount of sea life on the ship.  We are always looking for scallop, yet every third dredge we also sort for crabs. All fish are also sorted and counted.

After all the sorting is done the fish, scallops, and crabs are weighed and measured for length. They are then logged into the onboard computer for analysis of results for each catch.  We are trawling along closed areas for scallops. These areas have been closed for commercial fishing to ensure that the population has time to recover in that area. Scallop surveys are carried out by the R/V Hugh R. Sharp, in three phases during the summer.  Duane and I are on the second leg, which encompasses the area to the east of Delaware, areas around Long Island, and the area around Martha’s Vineyard south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Personal Log 

You may find some interesting creatures during sorting.
You may find some interesting creatures during sorting.

The work aboard the ship can be very long and laborious. The days are long, as each member of the cruise will do a 12-hour shift.  My shift is from noon to midnight.  The conditions can vary greatly during a shift. During the day the sun may be out with light winds and it gets very warm with all the wet weather gear that is worn during sorting. It is necessary to leave the gear on between dredges, since they occur so often. As soon as the sun goes down the temperatures can drop very rapidly.  It is important to keep a hooded sweatshirt and other warm weather gear nearby for the changing conditions.  All gear must be taken with you when you leave your cabin so that the other shift can sleep uninterrupted.  The days are long, with the goal of all who are onboard to get the science completed in a timely fashion.  Keeping a ship stored with goods and running is very expensive so the goal is to get as much science completed in the allotted time as possible.

Question of the Day 
What other bottom dwelling species in the Atlantic are under protection from over-fishing?

Animals Seen Today 
Scallops, eels, crabs, starfish, clams, silver dollars, urchins, goose fish, and many varieties of bottom dwelling fish.

Elise Olivieri, May 10, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elise Olivieri
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp 
May 9 – 20, 2009 

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic
Date: May 10, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Air Temperature: 16.3 Degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1019 mb
Humidity: 78%

Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp

Science and Technology Log 

Today around 08:00 we set sail to begin the Sea Scallop Survey that will be conducted on this cruise.  This annual series of quantitative data is collected to determine the distribution and abundance of Sea Scallops. This survey will randomly collect sea scallops from Virginia all the way to Canadian waters. The Chief Scientist and his field operations officers randomly selected stations with in depth boundaries called strata. These selections are either in closed areas where commercial fishing is prohibited, or open areas where commercial fishing is allowed. Areas may be closed to protect the population growth for 2-3 years.  The government will most likely allow closed areas limited access with recommendations from NOAA.  Samples of sea scallops are taken randomly by using a dredge.

The dredge is 8 feet wide and 20 feet long.  It has a metal frame with a ring bag off the back.  Each ring is 2 inches in diameter and the bag is lined with a 1.5 inch twine mesh liner.  The bag is closed on the top and open on the bottom.  This survey consists of three Legs.  Leg I will complete approximately 200 tows.  Each tow is deployed to the bottom of the sea floor.  An inclinometer is used to ensure the dredge is completely at the bottom of the sea floor. This instrument measures time on the bottom.  If you know your average speed and multiply it with time this equals the distance towed on the bottom. Timestamps are matched up between the data collected at FSCS and the inclinometer.  Each tow lasts for 15 minutes at a speed of 3.8 knots.  Tows can be as shallow as 20 meters, and as deep as 150 meters.  After a tow is pulled up from the sea floor, 4 to 6 people manually sort through the catch and pull out Sea Scallops, Starfish, Cancer Crabs, and all fish.  All samples that are collected are placed into baskets.  The baskets are weighed and sea scallops and fish are measured. 

Personal Log 

Sorting scallops brought up by the dredge
Sorting scallops brought up by the dredge

Today I spent most of the day feeling sea sick.  I thought it would never end.  Now I feel like a million bucks.  It took me a little while to get my sea legs. Today I learned so much.  I spent most of the day asking a lot of questions and watching everyone closely.  I work the night shift from 12:00 AM to 12:00 PM. There is much excitement when a tow comes in and is emptied on the sorting table. The crew gets excited to see what we brought up. Today we deployed 9 tows on my shift.  We had quite a few clean tows and many muddy tows. A clean tow has many scallops and very few mud clumps.  Life at sea is not easy, it is hard work. The living conditions are great on the Sharp. The galley is stocked with anything you can imagine.  Meals are excellent and snacks are a part of sea life. My stateroom is very comfortable and the showers are very nice too.

I really enjoy sea life. The scenery is incredible.  At night you can see the moon so clearly and the light gently reflects off the rolling waves.  During the day there is blue sea for miles.  It is very relaxing.  Everyone is so nice and willing to explain how things are done.  I feel great and I am looking forward to resting for a while.

Animals Seen Today 

Sea Scallops, Starfish, Black Sea Bass, Hermit crab, Spider Crab, Sea Squirts or Tunicates, 4 Spot Flounder, Goosefish, Northern Sea Robin, and Scup.

Maggie Flanagan, July 7, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Flanagan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean; Necker Island
Date: July 7, 2007

A turkeyfish and white spotted toby found in lobster traps.
A turkeyfish and white spotted toby found in lobster traps.

Science and Technology Log – Bycatch 

Though spiny and slipper lobsters are our target species for sampling, many other interesting creatures are interested in our bait, and wind up in our traps.  Some of the smaller creatures spend a little time in our on board aquarium for observation and acclimation.  These fish are upside down because their swim bladders, which regulate buoyancy in the ocean, have not yet adjusted to the surface (barotrauma).  They wouldn’t survive if they were immediately released. The turkeyfish, aka Hawaiian lionfish, Dendrochirus barberi, is red/orange with large fins. It has venomous spines in its dorsal (back) fin, and will lunge pointing them at a threat.  We used a net instead of gloves to observe this one. This fish in known to enjoy a meaty diet, eating other smaller fish. The Hawaiian white spotted toby, Canthigaster jactator, is a sharp nose puffer, brown with white spots. This toby is endemic to Hawaii, found naturally only in Hawaii.  These fish can make themselves swell in size to ward off predators by filling their stomachs with water. They carry a toxin in their skin, which can harm other aquarium creatures if released.

Swimming crab (Charybdis paucideutis?) and hermit crab (Dardanus brachyops)
Swimming crab (Charybdis paucideutis) and hermit crab (Dardanus brachyops)

The red figure in the background of the above photo is a sea hare, Aplysioidea, aka sea slug. These invertebrates are hermaphroditic, carrying both male and female sex organs. We also encounter a variety of crabs with a variety of adaptations.  Hermit Crabs, Dardanus,  have been the most numerous in our traps, and there are reported to be up to 2000 species of hermit crabs world-wide.  They take over the shells of marine snails and keep their soft abdomens tucked inside. Many of the hermit crabs we’ve found in the North West Hawaiian Islands take protection even one step further – they keep anemones on their shells. The anemones eject bubble-gum-pink stinging threads called acontia when threatened. We wear gloves when handling the crabs to protect ourselves. Scientists have discovered that the anemones don’t live on the shells when the snail is alive, and that hermit crabs will actually move their anemones from shell to shell as they move to new shell homes.  They figure that the anemones benefit from mobility with the crab and from food particles spread by the hermit crabs as they rip and shred.

Swimming Crabs, Charybdis, are the most aggressive crab in the trap.  In both body and behavior they’re similar to the blue claw crabs of my home waters, so I was prepared for their quick attempts to pinch and slice my fingers.  Their last pair of legs is oval like a paddle – perfect for swimming. On board, we call the box crab, Calappa calappa, the Vader crab. Its claws fold perfectly into its oval body, making it look like the face mask of that notorious space villain. These crabs can be mean too; those wide claws are powerful and help the crab eat mollusks.  Imagine how well camouflaged it is folded up down in the sand.

A box crab (Calappa calappa), a.k.a., the Vader crab
A box crab (Calappa calappa), a.k.a., the Vader crab

Personal Log 

During our lobster survey work, we catalogue the other animals that also get in the traps, and release them as healthy as possible. The creatures that you catch unintentionally are generally called bycatch. A current issue in commercial fishing is animals killed and wasted because they’re caught as bycatch, and not sold or eaten.  Many times they’re dumped back in the sea dead.  It’s a complicated issue on a global scale considering the definitions of what makes bycatch, all the different kinds of fishing gear, the variety of marine ecosystems, applications of technology, and the multiple political and economic groups involved.  There are many figures being reported, from 30% to over 50% of the take winding up as wasted bycatch, or perhaps 28 million metric tons world-wide. But, statistics on this topic are difficult to determine, which makes solving the problem even more difficult.  Technology has innovated some fishing gear which particularly reduces the bycatch of sea turtles and marine mammals, and recent focus on bycatch by type of fish and type of gear may inspire more solutions to this serious problem.

David Riddle, July 17, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Riddle
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
July 13 – 28, 2006

Mission: Sea scallop survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: July 17, 2006

A seahorse that came up with the dredge
A seahorse that came up with the dredge

Science and Technology Log

It’s almost halfway through my watch now, and I have a little down time.  The day started with several stations that were close together, which kept us busy. Now the sampling stations are farther apart, and I’ve had time to work on some photographs of shells.

Our catches turn up lots of interesting creatures.  Some I recognize from my college invertebrate zoology course (oh, so many years ago!)  Others I’ve only seen pictures of.  There are occasional sea squirts, bulbous little creatures that squirt a stream of water when squeezed.  We find an occasional “sea mouse”, a polychaete worm, bristly-looking on the backside and shaped sort of like, well, a mouse.  Underneath you can see the segments.  Hermit crabs are abundant; many of them simply abandon their shells when they’re dumped onto the deck. This is probably not a good survival strategy, since they get dumped back overboard only to drift slowly to the bottom without any protection at all. Oh well, most everything in the ocean is somebody else’s lunch anyway. We find other species of crabs as well.  The larger ones are set aside and are sitting in a bucket which has seawater continually being pumped through it to keep them alive. I wonder whose lunch they’ll turn out to be?  We’ve caught a few small dogfish sharks, under two feet in length.  I’m told on some of the ground fish surveys they catch tons of them (literally). Considerably smaller were two needlefish, about 6 inches long and ••• inch wide.

I find myself wondering things like, “What must it be like to be that small, living in this huge ocean?”  Them I’m reminded of our little planet’s location in our galaxy, and the Milky Way’s tiny place in a universe with millions of other galaxies.  OK. Humility is a good thing.

Then too, I’m reminded that small is not always equivalent to unimportant.  Do you like breathing?  Well, consider that roughly 3 out of every 4 breaths you take come to you courtesy of the phytoplankton in the oceans of the world.  There they are, soaking up the sunshine and the carbon dioxide and pumping out huge quantities of oxygen every single daylight hour. They’re microscopic, but their importance in the overall scheme of life on this planet is enormous. I suppose it would be helpful to remember, while we’re busy saving the whales, we should take care of the little guys too.  But then, how would “Save the Plankton” look on a T-shirt or bumper sticker?

On a more practical note, we’re due to reach our turn-around point in 5 more stations.  We will have reached our southernmost latitude, which will put us due east of the North Carolina-Virginia border.  Then we’ll begin making our way back up the coast, stopping at the stations in shallower waters.  I flew to Boston from my home in western NC to take part in this Teacher at Sea experience.  So this is the closest to home I’ll be for the next 12 days.

I keep thinking I’m done with my log for the day and then something else happens.  At station 99 we caught a seahorse!  The depth was 24 fathoms, and I seriously doubt it was on the bottom, but when the dredge came up, there it was on deck.

Sightings: The osprey was still here this morning, but as of late afternoon it was gone.

Jacob Tanenbaum, June 15 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacob Tanenbaum
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman
June 1 – 30, 2006

Mission: Bering Sea Fisheries Research
Geographic Region: Bering Sea
Date: June 15, 2006

Jacob holds a monkfish
Holding up the catch

Weather Data from the Bridge

Visibility: 14 miles
Wind Speed:19.5 miles per hour
Sea Wave Height: 4 foot
Water Temperature: 44.4 degrees
Air Temperature: 44.2 degrees
Pressure: 1018.8 Millibars

Personal Log

main_engine-702351I got to thinking the other day that the engines on this ship have been running since we left port almost two weeks ago now. I started to wonder how they could stay running for so long and so I decided to ask Chief Engineer Steve Bus to tell me more about them. So put on your ear protection, and lets go to the engine room. The engine room on NOAA Ship MILLER FREEMAN is like a small city below the deck. In addition to the 2100 horsepower diesel engine that moves the ship forward, there are generators sufficient to power a small town. A research vessel, after all, needs a lot of electricity to run all the electronics we need. In addition, the engine room has equipment to make it’s own drinking water out of sea water. We cannot drink sea water because it has too much salt for our bodies to handle. The machines in the engine room take the salt out of the water and, clean it, and make it possible for us to drink it.

sewage-793154There are boilers to heat water and make steam to keep the ship warm. There are also machines that process waste water. Finally, there is shaft alley. This is the part of the engine room where a long metal shaft connects the diesel engine to the propeller. Take a look at this video to see shaft alley. The ship burns 2100 to 2200 gallons of fuel on an average day. Who keeps it all running? Chief Engineer Steve Bus and his crew. They are responsible for the ship from bow to stern.
How do you prepare for an emergency at sea? The same way you do in school. By drilling over and over. Today, we had a fire drill where the some of the crew got into firefighting gear and practiced what they would do in an actual emergency. Want to come along? Click here for a video.

water-737525Science Log

We had some interesting returns on the echosounder this morning. Take a look at the screen. You can clearly see the top and bottom of the water column. You can clearly see the different groups of fish. The echosounders can tell us so much information. When we put the nets down near the surface, we knew exactly what to expect. We did a trawl along the bottom of the sea floor last night and brought up some of the most interesting creatures I’ve ever seen. Here are a few.

This is a basket star, a kind of sea star. Its branches are hard and are divided into many different branches. The basket star uses all of these to catch plankton. In the center is the mouth.

This is a basket star, a kind of sea star. Its branches are hard and are divided into many different branches. The basket star uses all of these to catch plankton. In the center is the mouth.

crab-726932 Next, we have a lyre crab. Have you ever seen a hermit crab without a shell? This one lost his on the way up from the bottom.


This next photo includes a huge sea star, a sea urchin, a hermit crab without its shell, a tanner crab and several fish called poachers. These fish have scales that are hard, almost like bone or a shell.
h-crab-706029 This last one is my personal favorite. The fish at the top of the screen is called a big mouthed sculpin. It has the biggest mouth of any fish I’ve ever seen. This fish stays on the bottom waiting for smaller fish to come by, and then… watch out! When it came up in the net, it had a smaller fish in its mouth.

Finally, we brought up a creature called a brittle star. It is a kind of sea star with soft tentacles. It moves very fast for a sea star. The arms can break easily, but don’t worry, they grow back. That’s why they call it a brittle star. Here is a video of a brittle star moving across the lab table.

Later on the same day, our ship was visited by some dall’s porpoises. Click here for a video

Question of the Day

Look at the answer to yesterday’s question. Let’s try another one. If our ship wants to do a trawl 50 meters below the surface, how much wire would it need.

Answer to Yesterday’s Question

How much wire would the ship need to let out if it wanted to put the nets 200 feet below the surface? Make sure to watch the video on nets before you try to answer the question.

The ship must put out two feet of wire for every one foot of depth. So you have to multiply 200 x 2 which gives 400 feet of wire. Wait, we are not finished yet. Each net has, not one, but three wires holding it to the ship. So you would need 3 wires. All three are 400 feet in length. That gives us 1200 feet of wire to do our trawl.

Answers to Your Questions

Hello to all who wrote today.

The MILLER FREEMAN does seem like home to me now. I have gotten used to the constant rocking of the ship and the routines of the day. I really enjoy being at sea. By the way, they had pizza for lunch, but I asked the cook to make me some fresh pollock that we caught and filleted last night.

Do people eat jellyfish? I asked our chief cook, Mr. Van Dyke. He told me many species of jellyfish are poisonous. Even those that are safe to touch with your hands. So, no, we don’t’ eat them here, but in some countries they do. We have caught many tons of fish, but more importantly, we have seen many fish without catching them using our echosounder. This device allows us to survey fish without capturing so many.

There are 34 people on board with us for this cruise. That will change next week when we get to port.

The squid felt slimy, but not much more slimy than most fish seem. I don’t recall it spraying anything.