Crystal Davis, Female, Male? How do you tell? July 2, 2014

Common Octopus
This Common Octopus was found in a 7-Up can.

NOAA Teacher at Sea The fish board that measures the length of marine organisms

Crystal Davis

Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II

June 23-July 7, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Wednesday July 2, 2014

Weather: Clear and sunny with isolated showers and thunderstorms

Winds:   5-10 knots

Waves:   2-3 feet

Science and Technology Log:

Shortly after boarding the Oregon II, the science crew had orientation with the Operations Officer LTJG Thomas reviewing  basic procedures for emergencies on board. But what stuck out for me the most, was when Operations Officer LTJG Thomas said we were on a S.A.D. boat. It turns out that S.A.D. means no sex, alcohol or drugs are allowed on the Oregon II. This ensures that the boat is safe and reduces the number of accidents on board. This is the opposite of SAD and makes me feel much safer on board. But luckily for KISS fans, rock and roll is still allowed and is on consistently. Sometimes there’s so much rocking and rolling that I fall on the floor, but that’s happening less frequently as I’ve found my sea legs.

In the Groundfish Survey, after the organisms are separated by species, they are sexed. Overall, this gives the scientists an idea of what future generations will look like. Although all the organisms vary in the way you differentiate their gender, the following are some of the most common organisms found in the groundfish survey.

Sexing Shrimp

Brown Shrimp Female (top) Male (bottom)
Paneaus Aztecas Shrimp Female (top) Male (bottom)

As shown in the pictures on the left, male shrimp have a set of claspers (they look like an extra set of legs) called the petasma that is the equivalent of a penis. Females do not have a petasma.

In young (juvenile) shrimp, it can be difficult to identify the males from females as the petasma is very small and not easily visible. At this age they can easily be confused for females. When this is suspected, they are input into the computer as unknown so as not to generate inaccurate data.

Sexing Crabs

When you pick up a crab you have to be very careful to stay away their claws (cheliped). I have found that they like to grab onto you as soon as you pick them up. My roommate had a large blue crab grab her finger that would not let go and she still has bruises from it.

Shame Faced Crab
Shame Faced Crab

Mature female crabs are called a “Sook” and have a dome or bell shaped abdomen.  This is shown in the top row and looks like the U.S. Capitol Building.

Male crabs are called a “Jimmy” and have a T-shaped abdomen that looks like the shape of the Washington Monument.

To mate, the male crab will carry the female until her shell softens and she is able to mate. During mating, the female stores the males sperm to fertilize her eggs later. Once her shell hardens, the male releases her and she will fertilize her eggs later.

Female Lesser Blue Crab with eggs
Female Lesser Blue Crab with eggs

After fertilization, the eggs are stored outside the female’s abdominal area and look like a sponge. They’re very squishy when you touch them. Although this shows orange eggs, they can also be a gray or black color. I have been told that the darker the egg color, the closer to hatching the offspring are. I am not sure that this is scientifically valid and am still trying to verify this.




Sexing Flatfish

Photos courtesy of Robin Gropp
Photos courtesy of Robin Gropp

Flatfish include fish such as flounder, halibut and turbot. These fish begin their life swimming vertically in the water. However, as they get older they sink to the bottom and their eyes move to one side of their body. They then spend the rest of their life on the bottom of the ocean floor. Luckily their top half matches the ocean floor and they are easily camouflaged from predators. The bottom half of the flounder on the ocean floor is clear or white.

The easiest way to sex a flatfish is to hold them up to a bright light. When doing this you will see that the female has a long curved gonad while the male does not.

A Confused Flounder
A Confused Flounder (right) Normal Flounder (bottom left)

This Flounder is very confused. He should be a clear or light white on the bottom but as you can see his bottom half matches his top half. This could be due to a mutation but no one on the boat is exactly sure why he looks this way. This is one of the most interesting things I have seen so far. In fact, no one on the boat had seen this before.





Sea Jellies

Sea Jellies
Sea Jellies

Sea Jellies differ from most of the other marine organisms discussed so far. Sea jellies reproduce both sexually and asexually depending on what stage of life they are in. In an early stage of life sea jellies are called a polyp and they attach to a rock. The polyps reproduce asexually by cloning themselves and breaking off (budding). Imagine 300 people that came from you and look exactly like you. It’s actually pretty creepy.  But back to the sea jellies. Eventually the sea jelly will develop into an adult (medusa) that reproduces sexually with sperm and egg.


Personal Log:

I have a three day backpacking trip to Mt. Silliman scheduled almost immediately after my NOAA trip is over. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t worry, but after spending two weeks not hiking or training, I’m a little concerned. Luckily there are weights and a rowing and elliptical machine on board, so I have been able to do a bit of training. Being on a ship that’s moving has made working out even more intense. I have to stabilize every time the boat moves, so I don’t fall over. But even if I did, or have, how could I complain with this view.

Boat Personnel of the Day

Holland waiting for a trawl to come in
Holland on the stern

Holland McCandless-Lamier

Holland is my roommate on the Oregon II and is a member of the scientific party. She was contracted by Riverside in response to the Deep Water Horizon (BP) blowout in 2010. She attended the University of Mississippi and majored in marine biology. During college, Holland had an internship in Florida where she led students (from 4th grade to college) in marine science activities. This included snorkeling, visiting coral reefs and other hands on activities.

After college, Holland met an individual from the NOAA Corps at a job fair. They put her in touch with NOAA FIsheries MSLabs Groundfish Unit, where she began volunteering as a participant on surveys. This hands on experience led to her current job. Holland currently spends most of her time in the NOAA South East Fishery Science Center (SEFSC) Pascagoula lab where she works with plankton. Her current project is updating decapod (crustacean) taxonomy.

Did You Know?

A female sunfish can lay 300 million eggs each year. Each egg is smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.

Carol Schnaiter, Science is Not Always in a Lab! June 18, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Schnaiter

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 7 – 21, 2014

Thursday morning!

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 18, 2014

Winds: 20 knots

Waves: 3-4 ft

Latitude: 2804.78N

Longitude: 09440.95W


Science and Technology Lab:

Well, by the title you probably guessed that we will be discussing the reason we are on this ship. The NOAA Ship Oregon II is involved with SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) which is a state/federal program to collect, manage, and disseminate fishery independent data. This program has been around for a very long time and the commercial fishermen depend on the information to plan where they will sail.

NOAA Fisheries does surveys of sharks, groundfish, plankton, and reeffish in the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA uses the data collected on the ship and it is sent to the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission. This information is sent out to everyone that would like to see it. To see the first preliminary data for the 2014 SEAMAP summer shrimp go to this site:

The real-time plots on the website show the station locations and total catches for the pink, white, and brown shrimp . The number of shrimp found and the size of the shrimp is important data that goes out to the public.  The stations that are tested are randomly selected by the depth strata (<20 fathoms, and >20 fathoms) and by statistical zone (aka:area).

map reading
Taniya showing me where the stations are on the map.

There are many species of shrimp. The three species of Penaeid shrimp that NOAA collects data for are the white, pink, and brown shrimp. Shrimp is one of the most valuable products, with 97% of brown shrimp harvested in the Gulf.

All of the shrimpers are waiting to hear when the shrimp season will begin. The date will be determined based on the data collected here on the NOAA Ship Oregon II and from the State vessels.



Scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II:

There are five scientists aboard the ship, two are NOAA scientists and three are contractors. They work 12 hour shifts, either noon to midnight or midnight to noon, seven days a week

Kim Johnson
Lead Scientist Kim Johnson at work.

Kim Johnson is the Chief Scientist, which means she is the one in charge of the other scientists. She is a residential fishery biologist for NOAA. Chief Scientist Johnson graduated with a degree in Marine Fishery, which focuses on fish, and has her Master’s Degree in Marine Biology, which focuses on everything in the water.

scientists on the NOAA Oregon II
Andre, Kim, and Taniya in the “dry” lab.

She started as a contractor for NOAA in 2001 and was hired by NOAA in 2003. At the beginning of her career she would spend up to 200 days out at sea, but now goes out for groundfish survey only.

As the Chief Scientist, she is responsible for all the data that is being collected. She needs to know what is happening at each station and sometimes she needs to “clean” up the data. That means Kim looks for any errors in entering the data and checks to see what it should be. Her job requires her to have a vast knowledge of computer programs to enter the information and be able to work with people under all types of situations. (She was my main nurse while I was seasick!)

Kim's children
Here are three of Kim’s children before we sailed.

Kim said the important parts of her job are checking the health of the environment and the fish, and the population of many different species. The best part of her job is the fishing time and the worst part is leaving her husband and wonderful four small children. (I had the pleasure of meeting Kim’s family before we sailed and her children are ADORABLE!)

Taniya Wallace is the NIght Shift. She works for Riverside and is a contractor worker for NOAA. She has been doing this for four years. Taniya  graduated with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. She enjoys the adventure of this job and likes to try new things. In the future she hopes to advance in this field. Taniya is great at identifying fish, crabs, and shrimp. She uses her computer skills to enter information and must be able to read a map to know where the stations are located. During her watch she is in constant communication with the Bridge and the Lead Fisherman on duty.

Taniya Wallace
Taniya entering data into the computer.

Andre DeBose is a NOAA employee. He graduated with honors with a Major in Biology. Right after college he worked for a company called Sea Chick for six months in the aquaculture business before being hired as a contractor for NOAA. After four years as a contractor, Andre was hired full-time by NOAA. He came on to the reef fish team and worked with them for three years. He then moved to the trawl team and is happy where he is now.


Andre and Robin
Andre and Robin on deck.

Andre said the best part of the job is working with people, and the worst part is being away from home. Andre said for his job you need science, math, English and good writing skills in order to communicate with others. He feels that in his job he is using every aspect of his biology degree.

Andre is a great singer and has entertained us with songs when the night gets long.

I only see the day team for a few minutes at noon or midnight as we switch jobs, but they all seem to work well together.

the day crew
Lee, Trisha, Rebecca, and my bunk mate, Chrissy.

Personal Log

working in the chem lab
Here I am working in the chem lab. Photo by Robin Gropp

Each day on the ship I am learning more and more. Taniya and Andre are very encouraging and patient with me asking a million times, “What is this again?”

The deck crew all have been very helpful explaining how and why everything is done the way it is. You really can not believe how much team work there is on this ship!

It is hard to believe that in just a few days I will be leaving the ship. I am already missing the people that I have met and the wonderful learning experience that NOAA Teacher at Sea has allowed me to experience. What a great learning adventure this has been….from learning to identify fish, crabs, shrimp…to measuring species….to doing transfers… I have learned so much!

ear of salmon
Fish ear’s, called an Otolith, can be used to age the fish.
Lion fish
I’m not lying, this is a Lion Fish!

Carol Schnaiter, Water? June 17, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Schnaiter

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 7 – 21, 2014

SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Gulf of Mexico

June 17, 2014

Winds 10-15 knots

Mostly sunny

Waves 2- 4 feet

NOAA Ship Tracker ( for our location

Enjoying the waves!
Enjoying the waves on the ship!

Science and Technology Log

You may wonder how a ship with 30 people can have enough drinking water for a cruise for 15 days. The ship leaves port with about 7,000 gallons of fresh water. Each day the ship uses over 1000 gallons of water, which means in about six or seven days the fresh water will be used up.

In order to have fresh water for drinking, washing, and cooking the NOAA Ship Oregon II uses two desalinators in a process called reverse osmosis.  This means it uses pressure to push the water through a very fine mesh that does not allow the salt to pass through.

Simply said, reverse osmosis is removing salt from the seawater. This also takes out the other minerals and chemicals that are found in the water. It changes undesireable water into water free of contaminants and changes it into water we can use.

making fresh water
Here is the machine that makes the seawater safe for us to drink.

This process of reverse osmosis is not only used on this ship, but it is also used in space, at water treatment plants, at ice making plants, in the dairy industry, and even in making maple syrup.

Careers Spotlight today- more on the crew.

CO Nelson
Here is CO Nelson in charge of the ship.

Master Dave Nelson – The NOAA Ship Oregon II is led by Master (same as Commanding Officer) Dave Nelson. He is a Civilian Merchant Mariner and he is the overall commander of the ship, which means he supervises the work of all the other officers and the crew.

There are only two civilian Masters in the entire NOAA fleet. The other CO’s are all members of the NOAA Corps.

Master Nelson has been sailing for the past 35 years. After high school he worked on commercial fishing-shrimping ships, then in the 80’s worked on oil rig supply ships. This is when a ship takes supplies out to the oil rigs.

On Jan. 4, 1993, he joined the NOAA fleet as a fisherman on deck. He has worked nearly every job on the ship, which is a great advantage when anything goes wrong on the ship. With promotions he was able to move up in ranks. He was the 1st Mate (or second in command) for three years.

Master Nelson said studying for the USCG Master’s license was difficult since he had been out of school for a long time, but with his experience and studying he was able to pass the test the first time and earned his Master’s or Mate’s license. This allowed him to move up to be the Commanding Officer.

He said the best part of this job is the security and when things go well. The most difficult part is when there are problems, because everything goes back to being his responsibility.

XO (Executive Officer) LCDR Eric Johnson

XO Eric Johnson
XO LCDR Eric Johnson

We all have heard about the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marine Corps, but did you know there are two other Active Duty Uniformed services? The US Public Health Service and the NOAA Corps! If you wanted to learn more about the NOAA Corps, LCDR Johnson is the person for you.

LCDR Johnson has a wealth of information about the history of the NOAA Corps and in speaking to him, you can see why he was a recruiter for the NOAA Corps.  He is a NOAA Corps Officer along with three other NOAA Corps Officers on the ship. LCDR Johnson is originally from Maryland, and has been a NOAA Corps officer since 2002. He has a BS in Marine Biology from the University of Maryland and a MPA in Maritime Affairs from American University.

The NOAA Corps has formally been in existence since 1970, but before that it can be traced back to 1807, when it was a civilian organization used to do nautical surveys for President Thomas Jefferson.

The NOAA Corps is one of two uniformed services (other is the US Public Health Service) that have only commissioned officers, with no enlisted members. The NOAA Corps is under the US Dept. of Commerce and focuses on researching the oceans and atmosphere.

LCDR Larry Thomas enjoys the traveling and life onboard the ship and his future goal is to become a CO of a ship.

LTJG Larry Thomas is a NOAA Corps officer. He has gone through basic training and has had over 150 days of training with the CO and XO. He explained that with the NOAA Corps you are assigned sea and land duties. This means you will be at sea for 2-3 years and then be transferred to a land duty for 3 years. After that you are transferred back to sea for 2-3 years and again back to land for 3 years. This rotation happens four times if you stay with the NOAA Corps the full 20 years.

LTJG Larry Thomas has just returned from his land duty which took him to Alaska. He said it was beautiful there, but is glad to be back onboard the ship. He does not know where his next land assignment will be.

In order to be accepted into the NOAA Corps you must have at least a college undergraduate degree with an emphasis on science. LTJG Thomas graduated from college and was working on his Master’s Degree when he decided to apply for the NOAA Corps. He had worked on shrimping ships, which he said was very hot and hard work. He knows what the crew goes through each day.

Ensigns Pryor and Dwyer
The female officers onboard the ship.

The other two NOAA Corps officers on the Oregon II are Ensigns Rachel Pryor and Laura Dwyer. Ensign Pryor has been with the NOAA Corps since January 2013. She graduated from University of West Florida with a Major in Environmental Science and then received a Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies. Ensign Pryor started working as a Fishery Observer in the NE for one year before applying and being accepted into the NOAA Corps. The best part for her is being underway and driving the ship, while the downside is working everyday-no vacation when you are at sea.

Ensign Dwyer graduated from college with a degree in International Studies. She then traveled and became a scuba diver instructor. When she returned home, she remembered hearing about the NOAA Corps from her father and applied. Ensign Dwyer was one of a small group that was accepted and completed the training. She is working on completing her hours required to be a qualified officer of the Deck (OOD) so she can stand her own watch and enjoys the traveling. She said everyone on the crew is very respectful to the females on the ship, and it feels like they are her big brothers.

Night Crew

There are three crew members that work the night shift with the four scientists. Their job is very important since they help with the recovery of the organisms. It is very interesting to listen to each of them tell where they are from, why they are here, and their future plans.

Night Crew
Mike, Chris, me and Chuck-the Night Crew! Photo by Robin Gropp

Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols has traveled the world on ships. After high school Chris joined the Navy and was active for six years. He then became a Merchant Mariner and has been doing that for the past 15 years. As the Lead Fisherman, he splits the 24 hour shift with the boatswain (Tim) and his duties include operating the machinery on deck: nets, winches, and cranes. He has many great stories of sailing.

Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway was in the Navy for four years and 25 years as a Merchant Mariner (water transportation worker) working with NOAA. He has been on hydrographic surveys, deep ocean surveys, and all over the world. His favorite place so far has been the Antarctica!

Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin graduated from college with a Major in History and earned his Master’s Degree in  Wild Life. He spent 10 years in the Coast Guard and has been with NOAA for 15 years. Chuck has been on three NOAA ships and said the best part of this job is the paycheck and the environment.

These three men have great stories of the sea. They make the 12 hours from midnight to noon go by very quickly!

They spend time discussing the world news, the next meal or what their plans are for the next port.

Personal Log

I really am a people person, I love to hear why people do what they do and this ship is so full of interesting people. The three night shift crew men all sound as if they should be teaching college level classes on world history. They all have great stories to share about the sea and have opinions on world matters that they share each night. The CO and four NOAA Corps officers that I spoke with are also very interesting and unique people. Each one has traveled a different road to be on the NOAA Ship Oregon II, yet they all work so well together. The ship had a minor engine problem today so we had to drop anchor while they worked on it. I sat on the stern of the ship and watched the waves. Funny, just over one week ago I was seasick and could not handle even the thought of waves and now I am loving the rocking motion of the ship.

The lab is so busy, both day and night, I really am learning so much and feel more like a scientist!

Now for the fun part of this blog…. here are so new pictures of what we caught!

Valerie Bogan: June 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Valerie Bogan
Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II
June 7 – 20, 2012

Mission: Southeast Fisheries Science Center Summer Groundfish (SEAMAP) Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
: Sunday June 17, 2012

Weather Data from the bridge:
Sea temperature 28 degrees celsius, Air temperature 26.4 degrees celsius, calm seas.

Science and Technology Log

The last piece of equipment I’m going to discuss is the trawl net.  This is a very large net which is towed along the bottom for thirty minutes collecting all of the fish and invertebrates in its path.  At the end of the time allotment a crane is used to pull the net off of the bottom and ropes are pulled to bring it on deck.  The bottom of the bag is tied very tightly to keep it from coming open during the run and also to keep the dolphins from pulling it open so they can steal the catch.  I have often seen dolphins swimming alongside the ship. I always thought it was just because they were friendly, but I learned today that it is because they want to get our fish.  Once the bag is on deck the bottom is untied and the creatures are released into baskets so the total weight of the catch can be measured.  Once the catch has been weighed it is taken into the wet lab and sorted by species.  Each species is then weighed and measured so the health of the population can be determined.

Inputting trawl data
The catch from the trawl must be processed and the data inputed into the computer.

Alonzo Hamilton is the watch leader for my shift and has been a NOAA employee for the last thirty years.  He studied science in college and currently holds an Associate arts in science degree, a bachelor of science degree in biology, and a master of science degree in biology.  His role at NOAA is chief scientist for the deep water survey and chemical hygiene officer for the Pascagoula lab.  He enjoys his job but sees places for improvement.  For example he wishes that NOAA would implement a whole ecosystem management plan instead of the current plan of managing one species at a time. The part of his job he enjoys the most is when he talks to a group of people about his work and witnesses the light of understanding pass across their faces.  He finds that so rewarding because his real joy comes from sharing his knowledge with other people and leading them to a love of the natural world.  When asked what his advice for a middle school student would be he replied, “Figure out what you love to do and find a way to get paid for it.  You don’t have to make a lot of money to be successful, just pick something you love and make enough so you can support yourself.”

Alonzo Hamilton
Alonzo verifying the trawl data.

I recently spent some time talking to LT Sarah Harris about her position in the NOAA Corps.  This part of NOAA is responsible for supplying each ship with a bridge crew whose officers are charged with protecting the ship and all crew members.  Lt. Harris graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Science and after a couple of years looking for the right position she decided to look into joining the NOAA Corps.  Luckily for her, one of their requirements is that applicants have to have a college degree in science or engineering, so with her marine science degree she was set.  She was accepted to the program and set off for the three-month officer training course which is held at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, New York.  During the training the recruits learn maritime and nautical skills, shipboard operations and management, small boat handling, marine navigation, ship handling, seamanship and related subjects.  Toward the end of training each student is given a list of possible placements and allowed to choose their top three assignments.  The NOAA officials then look through the choices and assign each student based on need and student choice.  Sarah was really lucky because she received her first choice which was a ship that sailed out of Hawaii.  In the NOAA Corps your sea assignment lasts between two and two and a half years.  After that first assignment you are given a land assignment which lasts for three years.  During land assignments you are expected to help with administrative duties and training.  After the land assignment you are given another sea assignment and the cycle continues.

Lt. Sarah Harris
LT Sarah Harris, the operations officer of the Oregon II.

Personal Log

Today is Father’s Day so I would like to take a moment to wish my dad a happy Father’s Day.  While it is necessary for these scientific cruises to take the scientists and crew out to sea for weeks on end it is difficult for them to be away from the people they love.   So if you are at home and your dad is nearby let him know how much he means to you.

Me with a crab from the trawl net
Here I am holding a large crab we got from the trawl net.

Anne Mortimer: Fishing, July 7, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Mortimer
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011 

Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 7, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 9.53 C, Foggy
Sea temperature: 8.19 C
Wind direction: 145
Wind Speed: 18.73 knots
Barometric pressure: 1013.22 mbar

Science and Technology Log

Last night, we attempted a bottom trawl for walleye pollock. The way scientists know that fish are present is by using acoustic sampling. The centerboard of the ship is set-up with sound emitting and recording devices. When a sound wave is emitted toward the bottom, it will eventually be returned when it hits a fish or the ocean bottom. This is called echo-sounding and has been used by sport & commercial fisherman and researchers for many decades. The sound waves are sent down in pulses every 1.35 seconds and each returned wave is recorded. Each data point shows up in one pixel of color that is dependent on the density of the object hit. So a tightly packed group of fish will show as a red or red & yellow blob on the screen. When scientists see this, they fish!

This echogram shows scientists where fish can be found.

The scientists use this acoustic technology to identify when to put the net in the water, so they can collect data from the fish that are caught. The researchers that I am working with are specifically looking at pollock, a mid-water fish. The entire catch will be weighed, and then each species will be weighed separately. The pollock will all be individually weighed, measured, sexed, and the otolith removed to determine the age of the fish. Similar to the rings on a tree, the otolith can show the age of a fish, as well as the species.

pollock otolith
A pollock otolith.
Pollock otolith in my hand

These scientists aren’t the only ones that rely on technology, the ships navigation systems is computerized and always monitored by the ship’s crew. For scientific survey’s like these, there are designated routes the ship must follow called transects.

globe chart
This chart shows the transects, or route, that the ship will follow.
This chart shows the route (white line) of the ship once fish were spotted. When scientists find a spot that they want to fish (green fish symbol), they call up to the bridge and the ship returns to that area. As the ship is returning, the deckhands are preparing the net and gear for a trawl.

Personal Log

I think that I must have good sea legs. So far, I haven’t felt sick at all, although it is very challenging to walk straight most times! I’ve enjoyed talking with lots of different folks working on the ship, of all ages and from all different places. Without all of the crew on board, the scientists couldn’t do their research. I’ve been working the night shift and although we’ve completed a bottom trawl and Methot trawl, we haven’t had a lot of fish to sort through. My biggest challenge is staying awake until 3 or 4 am!

Did you know?

That nautical charts show depths in fathoms.  A fathom is a unit of measurement that originated from the distance from tip to tip of a man’s outstretched arms. A fathom is 2 yards, or 6 feet.

Species list for today:

Humpback Whale

Northern Fulmar

Tufted Puffin

Stormy Petrel

Fish biologist Kresimir found this petrel in the fish lab; attracted to the lights it flew inside by accident. The petrel is in the group of birds called the tube-nosed sea birds. They have one or two "tubes" on their beak that helps them excrete the excess salt in their bodies that they accumulate from a life spent at sea.

In the Methot net:

Multiple crab species including tanner crabs

Multiple sea star species, including rose star


Juvenile fish

Brittle stars


Multiple shrimp species including candy striped shrimp

shrimp variety
These are some of the shrimp types that we found in our Methot net tow.

Bruce Taterka, July 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Bruce Taterka
NOAA Ship: Oregon II

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sexing the Catch

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1630 (4:30 pm)
Position: Latitude = 28.20.93 N; Longitude = 095.58.98 W
Present Weather: Could cover 100%
Visibility: 4-6 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 18 knots
Wave Height: 6-8 feet
Sea Water Temp: 28.9 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 27.2 C; Wet bulb = 25.3 C
Barometric Pressure: 1011.56 mb

Science and Technology Log

As you can tell from our previous blogs, we spend a lot of our time on the Oregon II counting, measuring and weighing our catch and loading the data into FSCS. These data are critical to NOAA and the states in managing fish stocks and the Gulf ecosystem. In addition to knowing population size, weights, and lengths of individuals it’s also important to know the sex of the organisms. Information on the male:female ratio helps NOAA and the states assess the ability of the population to reproduce, and to establish sustainable catch levels for commercial fishing.

But how do you determine the sex of marine organisms? For most fish and invertebrates you can only tell the sex by internal anatomy, which almost always requires cutting the animal open. This is time consuming and not always practical when we have a large catch to process and other tasks take priority, such as preparing samples to be analyzed for contamination from the oil spill which is our top priority right now.

For some organisms, however, sex can be determined externally. One of the things we’ve learned in the past week is how to determine the sex of shrimp, flatfish, crabs, sharks, skates and rays. Here’s how:

Shrimp: the males have a pair of claspers (called petasma) on their first set of legs.The petasma are absent in females. The males use the petasma during mating to grasp the female and transfer the sperm sac.

Male – arrows show the petasma
Female – petasma are absent


Crabs: On most crab species females have wide plates curving around the rear of the abdomen, while males have a long narrow plate or plates. On females, the eggs develop under the curved plate.

Female with eggs


Flatfish: When you hold a flatfish up to the light you can see through it, which enables you to do an internal examination without cutting it open. On female flatfish, the gonad extends in a dark red, curved wedge which is absent in the male.

Female showing long curved gonad
Male – long gonad is absent

Sharks, skates and rays. Males have external claspers that they use in mating, while in females the cloaca is smooth and claspers are absent.

Male Angel shark – arrows point to claspers
Female Angel shark – claspers are absent

Personal Log

A tropical depression moved through the Gulf yesterday evening, making it too rough and windy to fish. So instead of counting, measuring and loading data into FSCS, my watchmates and I cleaned the lab, secured our gear, and headed up to the lounge to watch Shutter Island on the large-screen TV. Last night my bunk was like a roller coaster, tossing me from side-to-side and head-to-toe as the ship rolled and pitched in the big swells. Today has been a slow day for the scientists on board, waiting for the storm to pass so we can start trawling again, while the crew and officers remain as busy as ever.

Lollie Garay, May 10, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lollie Garay
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
May 9-20, 2009 

Mission: Sea scallop survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: May 10, 2009

The dredge is hoisted to the sorting table
The dredge is hoisted to the sorting table

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Stationary front persists
West winds 10-20KT Seas 4-6 ft

Science and Technology Log 

We began our shift today sampling in an area called Del Marva Closed Area, which is an area currently closed to scallop fishing. We conducted 8 dredge hauls last night in spite of the turbulent weather that pursued us. But today, we had calmer seas and beautiful blue skies.

The serious work of sorting and measuring the catch begins right after the dredge is brought up and secured. As it is coming up, someone on either side of the dredge uses a rake to shake the net which allows the catch to fall out. After the net is secured, readings are taken using from a sensor mounted to the dredge. The sensor is called an inclinometer; it measures the dredge angle during the 15minute tow.  This allows the scientists to calculate the amount of time the dredge is on the bottom. Then I hop on the table to hold a whiteboard with the pertinent station information written on it next to the catch which is photographed for documentation. Then the frenzy begins! I leave and someone else gets on the sorting table to rake the catch towards waiting sorters who have several buckets and baskets ready.

The sorting begins!
The sorting begins!

The catch is a mixture of scallops, crabs, fish, lots of starfish, assorted other specimens and sometimes sand. We are primarily sorting out sea scallops and fish, but have had some stations that require us to sort out crabs as well. We work quickly to separate the catch which is then taken into the wet lab for measurement. I have been working with Larry Brady from NOAA Fisheries, learning how to measure scallops using the FSCS system. The FSCS is the Fisheries Scientific Computer System which is a collection of integrated electronic devices used to gather and store station and biological data. FSCS uses touchscreen monitors, motion compensation scales and electronic measuring boards. I feed Larry the scallops one after the other as he measures them using a magnetic wand. This information is automatically recorded into the data base. Last night we had a large number of scallops to process. However, today we have seen less and less; in fact we had one catch with none! The fish are not as plentiful either although we have seen various different specimens.

Starfish are plentiful on this catch!
Starfish are plentiful on this catch!

There are also special scallop samples that need to be processed. First, the scallops are cleaned with wire brushes. Then they are weighed in their shells. After this is recorded, they are opened to remove the meat and gonads, which are weighed separately. This information provides us with the gender of the scallop and can approximate their age. I dry the shells and number them. Then I put them into a cloth sack, tag them with identifying information and put them into the deep freeze.

The fish are also weighed and their species is recorded. Sometimes specimens need to be counted (I counted small crabs today).  Once all the measurements are taken, everything is washed down! That includes the deck, the sorting table all the catch buckets, the FSCS measuring boards and the lab floors. We are then ready for the next dredge haul which follows approximately 20-30 minutes later. This pace continues throughout the shift, barring any mechanical or weather issues.

Personal Log 

Lollie and Larry Brady scrub scallop shells for special samples.
Lollie and Larry Brady scrub scallop shells for special samples.

I am very impressed by the precision of the work that the science team does. As I waited for the dredge to unload a catch this evening I reflected on how everyone does their job quickly and efficiently. It’s something I never fully appreciated – that there are people out on the seas doing this very thing all the time! Already in one full day, they have taught me so much about how the fisheries system works, and they have expanded my knowledge of different marine organisms. Even as we sort quickly through the catch, they are always identifying specimens to me and answering my questions.

Loligo Squid
Loligo Squid

One of the most amazing sights for me has been the incredible number of starfish that each catch brings up! I have never seen so many, and I am learning about the different types. I am also learning how to shuck scallops for the galley for dinner. So far this has not been strength of mine, but I am determined to master this skill! By the way, our lunch today was scallop soup! The beautiful sunset today gave way to the almost-full moon shining on the seas. My shift is over for tonight, I’d best get some sleep.

Animals Seen Today 

Dolphins—made a quick but too brief appearance alongside the ship today. I caught a glimpse as they raced by. Polka dot Kuskeel; Baby Goosefish; Loligo Squid (pronounced Lollie go!) Snake Eel; and Clear Nose Skate.

Linda Depro, August 9, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Linda Depro
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
July 31 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: Georges Bank, New England
Date: August 9, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

The dredge caught a monster lobster today.  The scientists seemed to think it was more than twenty years old. When held up it was the size of an adult’s length from shoulders to knees, and two hands were needed to hold it!  A spiny dogfish (looks like a shark) was also caught. I held it to have my picture taken and I plan to hang it on my classroom door! Otherwise the catches were the usual—some with lots of rocks, some with sand, others with many star fish or skates.  All these fantastic sea creatures that I have only seen in books have become part of my life here on board the ALBATROSS IV.  The star fish and hermit crabs are my favorites, skates are cool to look at and pick up by the tail and put in the bucket, goosefish (known as monk fish in the grocery store) have a face that “only a mother could love”, and the scallops, even though I’ve seen thousands of them are each a little different.

Personal Log 

Sunset was beautiful again tonight and the moon is spectacular.  With my binoculars the craters were very clear. A lone seagull followed us for a while; his white body against the black sky would have inspired me to write a poem if I were a poet.  Hard to believe the adventure is coming to an end, and what an adventure it was.  The crew has been super, very kind, and willing to talk and answer questions.  The scientists have an important job collecting and recording data; they are an interesting group to work with.  Thanks to all for making my time on the ALBATROSS IV the adventure of a lifetime.

Linda Depro, August 7, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Linda Depro
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
July 31 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: Georges Bank, New England
Date: August 7, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

It’s a small world here on the ALBATROSS IV.  Chad Meckley is a 1996 Wilson High School graduate. Wilson is in Berks County and I live in Lancaster County, less than forty minutes away.  If you want to talk to Chad, look on the bridge.

Chad earned a geography/environmental science degree from Shippensburg University and moved to Colorado to be near the mountains.  After working several years in sales, Chad happened to be talking to a friend who knew about the NOAA Corps.  He applied, was accepted, and began training in February 2006.

We are on Leg 2 of the Sea Scallop Cruise and it is Chad’s third cruise with NOAA.  He enjoys being on the ocean and plans to continue his NOAA career.  Chad has two goals: to become Officer of the Deck (so he can command the ship) and to experience his first winter at sea.

It is evident that Chad enjoys what he’s doing; you can see it in his smile.  Best Wishes, Chad!

Last watch was not quite as busy as the night before.  We had two stations that were mostly Brittle Stars, very interesting little starfish.  They are a tannish color about the diameter of a coffee mug, with long thin arms that visibly move. When they were shoveled into laundry size baskets each time we had two baskets full, and that’s a lot of Brittle Stars!

Personal Log 

Yesterday, Sunday, was an absolutely, drop dead gorgeous day on the ocean.  The sun was out and the water was calm.  Whales were sighted, but in the distance.  I did see them surfacing and took pictures. Imagine a 4×6 all bluish-green and a fourth-inch dot of black. Sunset was working on spectacular, but just as the sun reached the water it went behind a layer of clouds. We are almost at full moon and the night time was just as beautiful in its own way.

Linda Depro, August 5, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Linda Depro
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
July 31 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: Georges Bank, New England
Date: August 5, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

Yesterday was quite a day—many stations, lots of scallops, and BIG rocks.  I am amazed that the trawl net liner was not damaged.  Last night, though, a rock the size of a small car was hauled onto deck—that one did tear the liner.  It’s interesting to watch the winch drop it in the ocean.

My new special position (I’m still sorting, shoveling, and measuring) is taking the inclinometer, or bottom contact sensor, reading.  To you landlubbers, it’s a device attached to the trawl that gathers data and tells the scientists whether the net was parallel to the bottom of the ocean. So when the net comes up with very little the information from the inclinometer is helpful.

Here’s what I do. I have an optic shuttle (about the size of a hot dog) that I secure in the inclinometer located on the trawl.  Each part has sensors and when put together properly the inclinometer sends the data to the optic shuttle (like a zip) and when all information is received and a little green light flashed I take in into a computer and transfer the data onto the hard drive. It’s an important piece to the mission.

What I have been doing here is an example of how important hands-on learning really is for understanding and transfer. I could have read all about this experience (like you are with this journal), but until I held the fish, scrubbed the scallops, cut into a Monk fish to discover the ovaries, etc., I had no real understanding.  Amazing!

Personal Log 

The weather remains beautiful, the people are great, and the food is delicious.

Linda Depro, August 4, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Linda Depro
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
July 31 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: Georges Bank, New England
Date: August 4, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

If you are observant you will notice that I’m on my second Friday in a row.  Time is a hard thing to keep track of here on the ocean.  Last watch, Thursday I think, we entered Canadian waters. I was looking for a sign the said “Welcome to Canada”, but I must have missed it.

I am a scallop scrubber!  With each haul five scallops are chosen at random to gather in-depth data on (all other scallops are weighed and measured only).  The shells are scrubbed clean so the scientists on shore can determine the age.  Scallop shells are a little like a tree trunk. Age is determined by growth rings.  The larger scallops can be five years and older. The scallop is measured for length and weighed individually then opened. The sex is entered into the computer next.  Male scallops have a white gonad and females have a pink gonad.  The gonad is weighed, and then the muscle (what we would call the “scallop”) is cut out and weighed.  The shell is dried and numbered to match the data, bagged, and frozen.  Some scallops are very clean, but others can have barnacles, “weeds”, sponges, and/or slime (don’t know the scientific term!) growing on their shells. As a shell scrubber you get to know these things and the best way to remove them!!  Finally the whole station is hosed down for the next haul.

Personal Log 

The noise of the engines and the rocking of the ship are becoming second nature.  The weather has been kind and swells small.  I am really, really hoping that is stays this way.  Laundry is my goal for the morning.  The washer and drier are behind a metal door called a hatch. There are six dogs (big metal latches) that must be closed when the ship is at sea. I have opened and closed those six dogs so many times I’ve given them names: King, Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Lady, Spot, and ToTo!  So many things to learn.

Linda Depro, August 3, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Linda Depro
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
July 31 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: Georges Bank, New England
Date: August 3, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

Life happens here aboard ALBATROSS IV in twelve-hour intervals. My watch is from twelve noon until twelve midnight and the other watch is from twelve midnight until twelve noon.  I feel fortunate to have the “day watch” because at midnight I fall into bed dead tired and let the ocean rock me to sleep.  After breakfast I have time to write in my journal, read, do laundry, or sit and talk to the many interesting people who are aboard.  Lunch at 11:15 and then it’s off to work at 11:50.  If the stations are close together that means there is not much steam time and hauls can come in in 45 minutes or less.  So far that has been enough time to log all the data from the previous haul, freeze any biological samples to be worked up at the on shore lab, and clean up.  If steam time is longer I can read a book, get a snack (there is always fresh fruit out – I am a happy camper!), or eat dinner.

Personal Log 

Yesterday morning I was showering before breakfast.  As I was soaping I looked out the port hole that is in the shower. It was one of those “wow” moments.  Where else can a person take a shower with white caps splashing against the window?  I recounted my experience with the watch chief. She said, “Wait until the porthole is underwater.”  I certainly will be holding on the grab bars!

I’ve talked to the head cook and his assistant several times, both very kind men who obviously enjoy their jobs. Their food is excellent.  Each meal includes two entrees and many sides.  One lunch entree was unbelievable – blackened scallops prepared by using the scallops that had been part of the biological sampling in the wet lab.  Talk about fresh – and were they delicious!!

Linda Depro, August 1, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Linda Depro
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
July 31 – August 11, 2006

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical Area: Georges Bank, New England
Date: August 1, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

To quote that famous seaman, Popeye, “A sailor’s life for me!!”  I’m thinking about joining him and changing careers – this experience is fantastic.

The ALBATROSS IV is conducting the second leg of the Atlantic scallop survey, and we are in Georges Bank off the coast of New England.  In specific stations (areas of the ocean) the scientists are keeping data;  the number of scallops, their size, and weight, the number and kind of fish, the volume of the entire catch, and at specific stations the number of crabs, or the number of starfish.

The vessel steams to each station where the dredge is lowered and then AIV trawls for fifteen minutes.  The haul is brought in and emptied onto the aft deck where the scientists, volunteers, and me (teacher at sea) sort through and put the scallops and fish into different baskets. With that completed we go back and shovel all unneeded shells, sand, etc. into baskets that are recorded (for volume) and returned to the sea.  The scallops and fish are taken into the wet lab where they are counted, weighed, and measured.  Five random scallops are chosen to be individually surveyed.  The shells are scrubbed clean (one of my jobs) so their age can be determined later; each is measured, weighed, and opened. The sex of the scallop is recorded, the gonad weighed, and the abductor muscle weighed.  Finally the shell is numbered to correspond to the data (in a computer) for each.  The shells are bagged, marked, and frozen for later study.

Personal Log 

All my expectations about this adventure pale to the experience that it has been so far.  When Patti Connor (the other Teacher at Sea) and I saw the ALBATROSS IV for the first time we were awe-struck.  My excitement at that moment wiped away any worries or fears about the adventure. Tony, the first bo’sun, was on deck and welcomed us aboard.  He was the first, and with each new crewmember, from the steward to the engineer to the captain we met I felt more and more “at home.”

The staterooms hold three scientists; my bed is on the bottom of the bunk bed.  We have two portholes for light, a sink, two closets, and some storage drawers.  The head and shower are shared with the next stateroom.  The room is pretty much for sleeping and showering because I cannot go in while one roommate on the opposite watch is sleeping.  It is amazing how the roll of the boat puts me to sleep, and so far I have been sleeping quite well.

Sorting through the piles that are brought up from the bottom of the sea is very exciting.  Even those who have been doing this for a while are enthusiastic about the catch.  I am picking up REAL LIVE hermit crabs, flounder, scallops, crabs, starfish, sand dollars, and more!