Gail Tang: And We’re Off! Aug 8, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gail Tang

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

August 4, 2023 – September 1, 2023

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey (HICEAS)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaiian archipelago

Date: Tuesday August 8, 2023 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Temperature: 26.97°C

Latitude: 27.428517 N

Longitude: -167.325400 W

Science and Technology Log

Scientific results reach the general public as a nice package of carefully curated nuggets designed to attract the average reader. It’s not unlike watching a production (movie, play, etc) in its final form. The audience is glamoured by the show or results; we aren’t usually privy to the behind-the-scenes efforts in putting together these massive operations. With this view, there is an illusion of perfection that can hide the true nature of knowledge production. This is often the case in a traditional mathematics classroom that utilizes lecture-based teaching; the instructor works out a problem beforehand and presents the solution to the students. The students do not witness the creative process of trial and error, idea generation, incubation, evaluation of each step, decision-making, or any possible collaboration involved. In brief, the beauty of doing science or math is largely hidden for the general public. I believe that the opportunity for growth lies in the process of discovery just as much as the discovery itself. My access to the data collection process of this project is one of the main reasons I am so thoroughly enjoying myself on this HICEAS (Hawaiian Islands Cetacean Ecosystem Assessment Survey) mission. 

Today is our fifth day at sea. Every moment is invigorating. During our first two days underway, we searched for the elusive Cross Seamount beaked whales (BWC). These whales have been identified acoustically, but not visually or genetically. The acoustics team heard them throughout the night on our first night, and the visual team had a sighting of a suspicious unidentified beaked whale during the third day but we didn’t get close enough for any species or individual identification. There was a lot of excitement on the ship. To learn more about beaked whales check out my roommate and lead acoustician, Jennifer McCullough’s, newest paper: 

Though I missed it, there was an important bird sighting of the Hawaiian bird, the nēnē. This is a notable sighting because it was formerly endangered (now listed as threatened). After conservation efforts, the population increased from 30 in 1950 to 3,862 in 2022. To read more about the nēnē, visit: 

The most exciting sightings for me were the rough-toothed dolphins and the bottlenose dolphins. They came by to ride the ship’s bow waves. It was utterly magical. In a conversation with Marine Mammal Observers Andrea Bendlin and Suzanne Yin, I learned a little bit about these two species that I’ll share here.

You might recognize the bottlenose dolphin from Flipper, a popular TV show from the 60s or the movie version in the 90s. You may have also seen these dolphins at the aquarium as they can survive in captivity better than other dolphin species. They are described as the golden retrievers of the ocean. In the wild, they are regularly observed hanging out with other species.

An interesting observation of an interaction between a mother humpback whale and a bottlenose dolphin was captured by scientists and written up in a paper. They hypothesize three reasons for this interaction 1) aggressive whale response towards the dolphin 2) epimeletic (altruistic behavior towards a sick or injured individual) whale response towards the dolphin 3) they were playing!

To read the paper check out:

Three bottlenose dolphins swim through bright blue water. Two have breached the water's surface, giving us a clear view of their dorsal sides. A third is visible swimming underwater, underneath the two breaching.
Bottlenose dolphins came to say hi! (Permit #25754) Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries Gail Tang

Rough-toothed dolphins are named for their rough teeth. They have a more reptilian sloped head. These animals communicate via whistles and clicks. Echolocation clicks are primarily used for sensing surroundings and searching for prey vs. communication. According to roomie and Lead Acoustician Jennifer McCullough, usually whistles look like a smooth increasing and then decreasing function, however, their whistles look like “steps” and are named stair step whistles (see the pictures below).

A graph of frequencies (measured in kilohertz) over time (measured in seconds). It is titled: Figure 1. Spectrogram of whistles produced by Steno bredanensis (44.1 kHz sample rate, 1,024 FFT, Hann window.) The background of the graph is gray with white speckles - looks like 'fuzz' - but distinct black lines trace the stair-shaped patterns of rough toothed dolphins' whistle frequencies.
Figure from Rankin et al. (2015, p.5)

Rough-toothed dolphins can take a while to identify because their echolocation signals (clicks) are outside the general frequencies for dolphins (e.g. bottlenose, striped, spinner, spotted) and “blackfish” (e.g. killer whale, false killer whales, pygmy whales, melon-headed whales). Blackfish signals go from 15-25kHz, dolphins go from 30-50kHz, while rough-toothed dolphins bridge these two ranges at 20-35kHz. For reference, the frequency range of adult humans is 0.500 kHz and 2 kHz.

Rough-toothed dolphins playfully riding the ship’s bow waves. Permit #25754.


Rankin, S., Oswald, J., Simonis, A., & Barlow, J. (2015) Vocalizations of the rough-toothed dolphin, Steno bredanensis, in the Pacific Ocean. Marine Mammal Science. 31 (4), p. 1538-1648.

Career Highlights

As I mentioned earlier, the information I’m receiving about the animals are from the scientists on board. In this particular post, Marine Mammal Observers Andrea Bendlin and Suzanne Yin (who goes by Yin), and Lead Acoustician Jennifer McCullough gave me insight to the dolphins. I’d like to share some of their background to give students an idea of their career trajectories. 

Andrea Bendlin double majored in zoology and psychology at University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a focus on animal behavior. For the first 4 years after college, she worked on several different field projects including, 4 winters of humpback whale research, one summer study on bottlenose dolphins, and several summers in Quebec studying large whales. Then she started working on boats doing snorkel trips and whale watches. I can attest to Andrea’s snorkeling expertise as I had my favorite snorkeling experience in Hawaii when I was following her around. She pointed out my favorite snorkeling sighting which was an egg sack of a Spanish dancer nudibranch! As you can see in the picture below, it looks like a ribbon wound around itself. For math folks, it is a hyperbolic surface! Since then, Andrea has collected data for many cruises with cetacean research programs.

this egg sack, perched on a rock underwater, consists of elegant reddish-pink folds - from a distance it looks like a flower, like a carnation
Spanish Dancer Egg Sack. Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Yin studied biology at Brown University. After school, she worked at Earth Watch, and also did field work on humpback whales, spinner dolphins, and bowhead whales. These projects were conducted on what they call “small boats” (less than 50 ft long) as opposed to a ship like the one we’re currently on, which is is 224 ft long. On these small boats, Yin drove, took photos for species and individual identification, collected acoustic data, and used theodolites to measure angles.  Later, she attended graduate school at Texas A & M University for her Masters degree. She studied wildlife and fisheries science with a focus on acoustics of dusky dolphins and tourist impact on them.  

Gail, in front, takes a selfie with Andrea (to her right) and Yin (to her left) inside a stateroom. We can see bunk beds, luggage, a fan, metal lockers.
Andrea Bendlin, Gail Tang, Suzanne Yin in my Leg 1 stateroom

Jennifer McCullough is the Lead Acoustician on HICEAS 2023. She first started at Hubbs Sea World Research on killer whales where she learned acoustics. She participated in a joint polar bear project with the San Diego Zoo. She then completed a Master’s thesis on the giant panda breeding vocalizations through the San Diego Zoo and China Wolong Panda Reserve. She spent 6 months over 2 years in the Sichuan region. We talked about the Sichuan peppercorn for a bit since I love them so much. She prefers them whole, while I prefer them ground up. After that she worked at Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California and later moved to the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu, Hawaii and was the Acoustics Lead during HICEAS 2017. With the exception of a HICEAS project year, she is at sea for 30-60 days a year and the rest of the time she is ashore analyzing data from previous missions and constructing equipment for future ones! She loves the balance between the equipment work (technical side), field work (data collection), and lab work (data analysis). As a side note: she makes amazing quilts!

Jennifer holds up a quilt with both hands to show off the design: an abstract, feathery shape made from a fabric of many blue shades, sown onto a white background.
Jennifer McCullough with the quilt she just finished!

Personal Log

Life at sea reminds me a bit of my college dorming-days; you’re sharing a room and you leave your door open to invite others in! I share my room with really great roommates. Dawn Breese is a seabird observer and creates a nice vibe in the room with flowers she picked ashore and some sweet feathers taped to the wall. Alexa Gonzalez is an acoustician with whom I do crosswords and play “road-trip”-type games. Jennifer McCullough, highlighted above, is going to teach me how to watercolor!

All in all, I am fairly comfortable on the ship. I spend time bouncing between the acoustics lab, the flying bridge (where the visual team observes), the local coffeeshop—The Forward Mess—(where I do most of my work), and the grated deck, stern, and wet lab (where the plankton team works). The acousticians and visual observers work from dawn to dusk, while the plankton team works from dusk until a few hours before dawn. This means I have very long days and have succumbed to the napping culture aboard the ship!

When not checking in on the scientists, I have been spending my free time getting know the people on board, learning knots, riding the stationary bike on the boat deck, and attempting pull ups. It’s a wonderful life!

Oh and please enjoy this photo of me in my “gumby” suit (a protective suit in case of abandon ship).

Gail in a red survival suit, thumbs up. She's in an interior room of the ship.
Gail Tang in gumby suit. Photo Credit: Suzanne Yin.

Food Log

To be honest, due to limited physical activity on board, I stopped eating breakfast or even going down to the mess at that time because I have no self-control when it comes to food! The oxtail udon is the highlight so far. It was incredible! Third assistant engineer, Jason Dlugos, requested it and even brought his own rice cooker with his own rice down to dinner.

Jamie and Jason sit at a table. Jamie rests her chin on crossed arms above empty plates. Jason sips from a travel cup in his left hand, and with his right, holds a spoon over his bowl of udon and rice. The rice cooker is on the table in front of him.
Jamie Delgado (Medical Officer), Jason Dlugos (3rd Assistant Engineer) and his personal rice cooker.

Catch of the Day!

Ichthyoplankton researchers Jessie Perelman and Andrea Schmidt caught two squaretail fish (Tetragonuridae), one live fish and one in its larval stage. Not much is known about this fish. One thing we do know is that these fish live inside (!) the body of an invertebrate called salp. Below is a picture of some fish living in a salp.

three small, likely juvenile, fish swim inside a gelatinous blog called a salp. the fish in front is rounder, while the two fish flanking it are narrower.
Fish inside salp. Photo credit: Rich Carey/

David Madden: Engines, Dolphins, and Sharksuckers, July 24, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019

Mission: South East Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

On board off the coast of South Carolina – about 50 miles east of Charleston (32°50’ N, 78°55’ W) – after a slight change of plans last night due to the approaching tropical depression.

Date: July 24, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 32°50’ N
Longitude: 78°55’ W
Wave Height: 3-4 feet
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: Out of the North
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 24.6°C 
Barometric Pressure: 1011.8 mb
Sky: Cloudy

Sunset over the Atlantic Ocean
Sunset over the Atlantic Ocean
NOAA Pisces Full Track 7-20-19
This is a map from the other day outlining the path of the ship. The convoluted pattern is the product of dropping off and picking up 24 (6 x 4) fish traps per day, along with the challenges of navigating a 209 foot ship in concert with gulf stream currents and winds.

Science and Technology Log

Life and science continue aboard NOAA Ship Pisces.  It seems like the crew and engineers and scientists are in the groove.  I am now used to life at sea and the cycles and oddities it entails.  Today we had our first rain along with thunderstorms in the distance.  For a while we seemed to float in between four storms, one on the east, west, north, and south – rain and lightning in each direction, yet we remained dry.  This good thing did indeed come to an end as the distant curtains of rain closed in around us.  The storm didn’t last long, and soon gathering the fish traps resumed. 

Dave with red grouper
Processing fish: measuring length and weight of a red grouper, Epinephelus morio.
Fish Count for July 23, 2019
Yesterday’s fish count. Compare to other day’s catches: Tons of vermillion snapper, tomtate, and black sea bass. And one shark sucker (read on for more). Thank you, Zeb, for tallying them up for me. 

The highlight of yesterday (and tied for 1st place in “cool things so far”) was a tour of the engine room lead by First Assistant Engineer, Steve Clement.  This tour was amazing and mind-blowing.  We descended into the bowels of the ship to explore the engine rooms and its inner workings.  I think it rivals the Large Hadron Collider in complexity. 

I kept thinking, if Steve left me down here I would surely get lost and never be found.  Steve’s knowledge is uncanny – it reminded me of the study where the brains of London cab drivers were scanned and shown to have increased the size of their hippocampus.  (An increase to their memory center apparently allows them to better deal with the complexities of London’s tangled streets.)  And you’re probably thinking, well, running a massive ship with all its pipes and wires and hatches and inter-related, hopefully-always-functioning, machinery is even harder.  And you’re probably right!  This is why I was so astounded by Steve’s knowledge and command of this ship.  The tour was close-quartered, exceptionally loud, and very hot.  Steve stopped at times to give us an explanation of the part or area we were in; four diesel engines that power electric generators that in turn power the propeller and the entire ship.  The propeller shaft alone is probably 18 inches in diameter and can spin up to 130 rpm. (I think most of the time two engines is enough juice for the operation).  Within the maze of complexity below ship is a smooth running operation that allows the crew, scientists, and NOAA Corps officers to conduct their work in a most efficient manner. 

Dave and Steve and engines
First Assistant Engineer Steve Clement and TAS Dave Madden in the Engine Room

I know you’ve all been wondering about units in the marine world.  Turns out, students, units are your friend even out here on the high seas!  Here’s proof from the bridge, where you can find two or three posted unit conversion sheets.  Makes me happy.  So if you think that you can forget conversions and dimensional analysis after you’re finished with high school, guess again!

Posted unit conversion sheets

Speaking of conversions, let’s talk about knots.  Most likely the least-understood-most-commonly-used unit on earth.  And why is that?  I have no idea, but believe me, if I were world president, my first official action would be to move everyone and everything to the Metric System (SI). Immediately. Moving on. 

Back to knots, a unit used by folks in water and air.  A knot is a unit of speed defined as 1 nautical mile/hour.  So basically the same exact thing as mph or km/hr, except using an ever-so-slightly-different distance – nautical miles.  Nautical miles make sense, at least in their origin – the distance of one minute of longitude on a map (the distance between two latitude lines, also 1/60 of a degree).  This works well, seeing as the horizontal lines (latitude) are mostly the same distance apart.  I say mostly because it turns out the earth is not a perfect sphere and therefore not all lines are equidistant.  And you can’t use the distance between longitude lines because they are widest at the equator and taper to a point at the north and south pole.  One nautical mile = 1852 meters.  This is equal to 1.15 miles and therefore one knot = 1.15 miles/hour. 

This next part could double as a neato fact: the reason why this unit is called a “knot” is indeed fascinating.  Old-time mariners and sailors used to measure their speed by dropping a big old piece of wood off the back of the boat.  This wood was attached to some rope with knots in it, and the rope was spun around a big spool.  Once in the water the wood would act kind of like a water parachute, holding position while the rope was let out.  The measuring person could then count how many evenly spaced knots passed by in a given amount of time, thus calculating the vessel’s speed. 

Personal Log

The scientists on board have been incredibly helpful and patient.  Zeb is in charge of the cruise and this leg of the SEFIS expedition.  Brad, who handles the gear (see morning crew last post), is the fishiest guy I’ve ever met.  He seriously knows everything about fish!  Identification, behavior, habitats, and most importantly, how extract their otoliths.  He’s taught me a ton about the process and processing.  Both Zeb and Brad have spent a ton of time patiently and thoroughly answering my questions about fish, evolution, ecology, you name it.  Additionally, NOAA scientist Todd, who seeks to be heroic in all pictures (also a morning crew guy), is the expert on fish ecology.  He has been exceptionally patient and kind and helpful. 

The fish we’re primarily working with are in the perches: Perciformes.  These fish include most of your classic-looking fish.  Zeb says, “your fish-looking fish.”  Gotcha!  This includes pretty much all the fish we’re catching except sharks, eels, and other rare fish. 

For more on fish evolution here are two resources I use in class.  Fish knowledge and evolution: from Berkeley, A Fisheye View of the Tree of Life.

Fish Tree of Life Berkeley
Fish Tree of Life, from University of California-Berkeley

And check out Neil Shuban’s Your Inner Fish series.

General Updates:

  1. Plenty of exciting animals lately.  Here’s a picture of those spotted dolphins from the other day.
  2. The weather has been great, apart from yesterday’s storm.  Sunrises and sunsets have been glorious and the stars have been abundant. 
  3. We found a common octopus in the fish trap the other day.  The photo is from crew member Nick Tirikos.      
  4. I’m missing home and family. I can’t wait to see my wife and son. 
  5. That tropical depression fizzed out, thankfully. 
spotted dolphins
Spotted Dolphins
common octopus
Common Octopus (Photo by crewmember Nick Tirikos)

Neato Facts =

Yesterday we caught a shark sucker in the fish trap.  I was excited to see and feel their dorsal attachment sucker on top of their head. 

Hold on.  I just read more about these guys and turns out that sucking disc is their highly modified dorsal fin!  That is the most neato fact so far.  What better way to experience the power of this evolutionarily distinct fish than to stick it to your arm?!  The attachment mechanism felt like a rubber car tire that moved and sealed against my skin. (Brad calls them sneakerheads).

Shark sucker
Shark Sucker on Dave’s Arm

Consider all the possible biomimicry innovations for the shark sucker’s ability to clasp onto sharks and fish and turtles while underwater.  This grasp and release adaptation surely has many cool possible applications.  Here are a few: Inspiring New Adhesives.  Robotic Sticky Tech.   Shark Sucker biomimicry

I’d love to hear your questions and comments!

Karah Nazor: The Glowing Dolphins of the Channel Islands and Interview with UCSC Graduate Student Ilysa “Ily” Iglesias, May 31, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: May 31, 2019

Game Plan and Trawling Line: Channel Islands San Nicolas Line

I am up on the flying bridge and I just saw two humpback whales spouting, an albatross soaring and a large Mola Mola on the sea surface.  In this blog I will write about an amazing once in a lifetime experience that from last night- May 31, 2019. The first haul was called off due to an abundance of Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, Lagenorhynchus obliquidens, (as reported by the inside marine mammal watch prior to net deployment), so we motored on ahead to the second station, but dolphins chased the ship all the way there, too.  One strategy to encourage marine mammals to leave is for the ship to stop moving with the hope that the dolphins become disinterested and vacate the area. This pod was intent on having a party at the ship so Keith Sakuma encouraged everyone to just go outside to observe and enjoy the dolphins! 

Fishing on this survey takes place at nighttime (so the fish do not see the net) and Scripps graduate student Kaila Pearson and I stepped outside on the side deck into the darkest of dark nights. Kaila and I carefully placed one foot in front of the other because we couldn’t see our feet and where to step next. I was afraid I would trip. When I asked Keith Hanson if we should use a flashlight to safely make our way up to the top deck, he suggested that we stay in place for a few minutes to allow our eyes to adjust. Within 5 minutes or so objects around us started to present themselves to us within the black void.  We could eventually see our feet, each others faces, the dolphins, and even the finer features of the sea surface.

Within a few minutes Ily Iglesias reported seeing bioluminescence, a type of chemiluminescence that occurs in living things, such as the familiar green glow of lightening bugs in the Summer in the South.   This glow results from oxidation of the protein luciferin (present in photophore cells/organs) by the enzyme luciferase.  It its excited state, lucifern emits light.  This reaction is known to occur in some marine bacteria, dinoflagellates (single celled photosynthetic organisms), squid, deep sea fish, pyrosomes and jellyfish, and I am fortunate to have observed many of these creatures already on this research cruise (see photos below).  Some animals have photophore organs and generate their own luciferin, while others are hosts to bioluminescent bacteria.

deepsea longfin dragonfish
The large photo organ is a large green circle under the eye of the deepsea longfin dragonfish, Tactostoma macropus.
California lanternfish
California lanternfish, Symbolophorus californiensis, with photophores under the lateral line and the ventral surface.
California lanternfish photophores
California lanternfish photophores
Blue lanternfish
Blue lanternfish, Tarletonbeania crenularis, collected from a bongo net at 265 meters. Photophores line the ventral surface of the body.
Cranchia scabra
Cranchia scabra “baseball squid” with large photophores lining the eyes.
Chiroteuthis veranii squid
Chiroteuthis veranii squid

When dinoflagellates floating on the sea surface are agitated, they glow.  At first when I was trying really hard to see this, I noticed a couple of tiny flashes of green light, sort of like lightening bugs, but it wasn’t anything super obvious. In time, I noticed clouds of faint light, sort of like a glowing mist floating the water’s surface, that moved up and down with the swell.  I hypothesized that dinoflagellates on the sea surface were being agitated by the passage of waves through them and Ily suggested that it was caused by schools of anchovies.

Since the dolphins were intent on staying, we decided to head to the next station.  I knew that as the ship began to move that the bow would be breaking through surface water that had previously been undisturbed, and I predicted the bioluminescence would be much more intense.

As we took off, the dolphins began to bow surf and, as I predicted, the dinoflagellates were activated and this time their glow was a bright white.  As the dolphins surfaced to breath, their skin became coated with the glowing algal cells, creating an effect as if they were swimming in an X-ray machine.  The dolphins were literally glowing white swimming in a black sea! We were so entranced and excited by the beauty, we screamed in delight. I am sure the dolphins heard us cheering for them. They too, seemed excited and could see each other glowing as well.

Next we saw the faint cloud of dinoflagellates caused by Northern anchovies (Ily was right) up ahead of us. As the ship encountered the school of small (~ 3-6 inch) fish, they also started to glow really bright and it was easy to see all of the individual fish in the school. The dolphins could also see the glowing fish and split off in different directions to hunt them.  There were hundreds of fish that dispersed as they were being chased creating a pattern of short white glowing lines somewhat like the yellow lane markers on the highway.

The display was unlike anything I have ever witnessed. It was like the Aurora Borealis of the sea.  Despite our best efforts, our cell phone cameras were unable to pick up the bioluminescent signal, however, we do not need photos because the patterns of light will be forever embedded in our minds. The dolphins eventually tired from the surf and chase and departed. Ily said the experience was “an explosion of light that overwhelmed the senses” while Flora said it was “better than fireworks.”

With no marine mammal sightings at the third station, we completed a five minute haul in the deep channel and collected a huge white bin of anchovies (see photo of Keith Hanson with this catch below). In this catch we found a few Mexican lampfish, 3 king of the salmon, a lot of of large smooth tongues, a lot of salps, a few pyrosomes and one purple striped jellyfish.  The purple-striped jelly (Chrysaora colorata) is is primarily preyed upon by Leatherback turtles. Haul 2 was conducted over shallower water near San Nicolas Island and we only found salps and four small rockfish in the catch.  After these two hauls, we called it a night and wrapped up at 4:15 a.m.

Scientist Spotlight: Ilysa Iglesias, NMFS SWFSC FED/ University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC)

Ilysa “Ily” is a doctoral student who works in John Field’s Lab at UCSC.  She is studying the fish we are collecting on this cruise as part of her research. She is very knowledgeable about all of the survey research objectives. She is also one of the most positive and gregarious people I have every met. Ily grew up in Santa Cruz, CA, and enjoys surfing, hiking, gardening and raising chickens.   Ily is a fan of early marine explorer Jacques Cousteau, who often wore a red beanie/toboggan and a blue shirt. Ily came prepared and brought six red hats (that she knit herself) for each of the members of the sorting team. Ily’s favorite fish is the hatchetfish. She was thrilled when we found on in the catch!

Ilysa with hatchetfish
Ilysa Iglesias with deepsea marine hatchetfish
deepsea marine hatchetfish
A deepsea marine hatchetfish caught in the bongo which was deployed to depth of 265 meters.

Ily obtained a Bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley in integrated biology and a Masters Degree from the University of Hawaii in Zoology with a specialization in marine biology.  Her thesis was on the function of intertidal pools as a nursery habitat for near-shore reef fish. She compared otoliths (fish bone ears) of fish reared inside and outside of tide pools and compared their growth rates.  Otoliths can be used to the age of the fish much like counting rings on a tree and stable isotope analysis reveals information about where the fish were reared.

Ily, Flora and Kristin have all used otoliths in their research and taught me how to locate and collect the sagittal otolith from anchovies and myctophids. It is a tiny ear bone (one of three) that is positioned near the hindbrain of fish.  See photos below of the otoliths we collected. This is a technique that I will definitely take back to my classroom and teach my McCallie students.

Otoliths we collected and observed under the dissecting microscope.
Photomicrograph of otoliths
Photomicrograph of otoliths we collected from blue lanternfish (top) and Northern Anchovy (bottom) and observed under the dissecting microscope.

After obtaining her masters degree, Ily was Conservation Fellow for the Nature Conservancy in HI and worked in octopus fisheries before returning home to join NOAA’s salmon team and then the rockfish team as a Research Associate.  Ily has just completed the first year of her doctoral work in the Field Lab and expects to complete the program within 5 years.

On this cruise, Ily is collecting small fish called Myctophids for her research. These are small bioluminescent fish that live at depths of 300 and 1,500 m in the bathypelagic zone. In this survey, we encounter these deep sea dwellers during their nightly vertical migration up to the edge of the photic zone at depths we are targeting.  They are likely chasing their prey (krill) on this upward journey. It is amazing to me they are able to withstand the pressure change. Mcytophids are also known as lanternfishes and have bioluminescent photophores dispersed on their bodies. The fish sorting team analyzes the position of these organs to help distinguish between the different species. There are 243 known species of myctophids, making these little fishes one of the most diverse vertebrates on Earth.  They are so abundant in the sea that they make up 65% of the ocean’s biomass, but most people have never heard of them!

In 2014- 2015 there was an anonymously high sea surface temperatures off of the Pacific Coast known as The Blob.  Marine scientists are still elucidating the effect of the hot water had on fish populations and ecosystems. Ily explains that “atmospheric forcing caused changes in oxygen and temperature resulting in variability in the California current.”  The water was less nutrient dense and caused a reduction in phytoplankton. This disruption of primary production propagated up the trophic cascade resulting in die offs of zooplankton, fish, marine mammals and birds.  

Ily is using the catch records and acoustics data from the rockfish survey to study changes in distribution and abundance of myctophids from before, during and after The Blob (2013-2019).  She aims to understand if and how their trophic position of myctophids was affected by the unusually high sea surface temperatures.   Using elemental analysis isotope ratio mass spectrometry to analyze the Carbon and Nitrogen atoms incorporated into fish muscle, Ily can determine what the myctophids were eating each year.

Jill Bartolotta: Sea You Later, June 13, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jill Bartolotta

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

May 30 – June 14, 2019

:  Mapping/Exploring the U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin and Blake Plateau

Geographic Area of Cruise: U.S. Southeastern Continental Margin, Blake Plateau

Date: June 13, 2019

Weather Data:

Latitude: 29°44.7’ N

Longitude: 080°06.7’ W

Wave Height: 2 feet

Wind Speed: 21 knots

Wind Direction: 251

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 26.6° C

Barometric Pressure: 1014.4

Sky: broken

As I sit here on the bow, with the wind blowing in my face, as we travel back to land, I think about the past two weeks. I think about all the wonderful people I have met, the friendships I have made, the lessons I have learned, and how I have grown as a person. The sea is a truly magical place and I will miss her dearly. Although I am excited to trade in some tonnage and saltwater for my paddleboard and Lake Erie, I will really miss Okeanos Explorer and everyone aboard.

My time aboard Okeanos Explorer has been wonderful. I learned so much about operating a ship, the animals we have seen, and about ocean exploration. I have stared into the eyes of dolphins as they surf our bow, watched lightening displays every night, seen Jupiter’s moons through binoculars, watched huge storm clouds roll in, seen how sound can produce visual images of the ocean floor, had epic singing and dancing parties as we loaded the XBT launcher, done a lot of yoga, learned a lot about memes, eaten amazing food, taken 3 minute or less showers, smacked my head countless times on the ceiling above my bed, watched the sunrise every night, done laundry several times because I didn’t bring enough socks, looked at the glittering plankton on the bow at night, and laughed a lot.

Words cannot express it all so below are some of my favorite images to show you how awesome this entire experience has been. I will not say goodbye to the sea and all of you but I will say, “Sea You Later. Until we meet again.”

Sunrise one morning.
Jill's Birthday Cake
Blowing out the candles on my birthday cake. Still so touched by the kind gesture. Photo Credit: Lieutenant Commander Kelly Fath, PHS
Jahnelle and ROV
Meeting the ROV, Deep Discoverer. Pictured is Explorer in Training, Jahnelle Howe.
Looking at dolphins
Looking at the dolphins on the bow.
Jill looks at dolphins
Watching the dolphins surfing the bow waves. Photo Credit: Kitrea Takata-Glushkoff
dark storm cloud
The calm before the storm.
final sunset
The final sunset with some of the amazing people I met at sea. Pictured from left to right: Jill Bartolotta (Teacher at Sea), Kitrea Takata-Glushkoff (Explorer in Training), and Jahnelle Howe (Explorer in Training). Photo Credit: Lieutenant Commander Faith Knighton

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald: That’s Why They Call It Fishing, September 30, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15 – 30, 2018

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 30, 2018



Science and Technology Log

The past three days were light catch days.  One day, we only caught a snake fish, which, as you can see, is a pretty tiny little guy.  But, the data from a catch that brings up nothing is just as important as a catch that brings up 50 fish.  As the saying goes, “If we always caught something, we would call it catching, not fishing.”  We have brought up a few Sandbar sharks and Tiger sharks, some of them large enough to have to cradle.  I have gotten to tag a few of the Sandbar sharks, which is still an amazing experience.

Snakefish, our only catch one day

While we did not see many sharks, I had fun seeing the other organisms at the surface.  There have been a lot of moon jellyfish as we have been pulling the line in, and it was clear enough that I was able to get a picture of a few of them as they floated by.  One night, there were flying fish next to the ship, and one of them jumped onto the deck, so I was able to see one up close.  One of the days, a pod of dolphins joined us on a run, and followed the boat for quite a while.  So, while we did not see many sharks, I was able to see some awesome animals throughout the past few days.

Moon Jellyfish
Moon Jellyfish




The last night on the ship, I finished cleaning my shark jaws.  Overnight, they soaked in hydrogen peroxide to whiten them, and today I set them to dry.  I’m looking forward to taking them home and sharing them with all of my students.


Drying Shark Jaws
Drying Shark Jaws


It was an amazing two weeks.  On Friday night, we set our last line, and it was bittersweet.  Over the past two weeks, I have been able to fish with an amazing group of people.  They allowed me to be a part of the team, and attempt each job setting and pulling in the line.  I was able to put out the high flyer, sling bait, place numbers, clean barrels, and keep data on the computer.  I learned how to tie a double-overhand knot, handle small sharks, tag sharks of all sizes, and had lots of fun doing it.  I’m excited to head back to T-STEM Academy at East High School, but I will always fondly remember my time on the Oregon II.


Day Shift Group Photo
Day Shift Group Photo


Personal Log

One of the things that the night shift has done a few times is midnight hot dogs.  Chris, the night shift lead fisherman, brings different types of hot dogs on the boat and will cook them at midnight for the shift change.  It gives the night shift members something to eat before breakfast at 7 AM, and gives the day shift something to eat before bed.  They go all out, with a condiment bar and gourmet buns.


Did You Know?

Once the Oregon II returns to port from this fourth leg of the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey, they will spend a week cleaning and preparing the ship to return to the Gulf of Mexico on a Groundfish Survey that will run from October 8-November 21.  NOAA Groundfish surveys allow for the collection of data on the distribution of flora and fauna within the target region through the use of trawl nets.


Quote of the Day

The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.
~ John Buchan


Question of the Day

Sharks have teeth that are constantly being replaced.  How many teeth will the average shark go through in their lifetime?

Meredith Salmon: Remarkable ROVs, July 25, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meredith Salmon

Aboard NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

July 12 – 31, 2018


Mission: Mapping Deep-Water Areas Southeast of Bermuda in Support of the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation

Date: July 25, 2018

Latitude: 28.37°N

Longitude: 63.15°W

Air Temperature: 27.8°C

Wind Speed:  9.7 knots

Conditions: partly sunny  

Depth: 5236.01 meters


Science and Technology Log

Since the Okeanos Explorer is known as “America’s Ship for Ocean Exploration,” it is equipped with two important vehicles that allow scientists to study normally inaccessible ocean depths. Deep Discoverer (D2) is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that is mechanically designed with software and video engineering programs that generate precise images and videos. A total of nine cameras, including a Zeus Plus camera with impressive zoom capabilities, produce high-definition images that give scientists and those on shore insights about deep-sea ecosystems. The 9,000 pound ROV contains approximately 2,400 feet of intricate wiring as well as specially designed Kraft predator hand that can hold up to 200 pounds. The hand is especially useful for deep-sea sampling and allows scientists to bring certain organisms to the surface for further analysis. D2 can dive up to 30 meters per minute and is designed to withstand pressures almost 600 times that at sea level.  

Deep Discoverer
Front view of the Deep Discoverer featuring the Zeus Plus Camera

Side view of D2
Side view of D2 (Check out the intricate wiring and size of the circuit board!)

Rear view of D2
Rear view of D2

D2 does not operate alone during the eight-hour dives. Instead, it relies on assistance from Seirios, another 4,000-pound machine known as a camera sled. This device is powered and controlled by the Okeanos Explorer and offers the pilots and scientists a wide-angle perspective as they navigate the ocean floor. Seirios is tethered to the Okeanos Explorer and illuminates D2 from above to allow for increased visibility. The frame of this machine is relatively open which increases the distance cameras can be separated from the mounted lighting. This design reduces the light that reflects off particles in the water (optical backscatter) and results in high-quality images.

This camera sled, known as Seirios, is used to illuminate D2 during ROV dives.

All of the deep ocean images and video collected by D2, Seirios, and the Okeanos, can be transmitted to the rest of the world by satellite. The Okeanos is fitted with telepresence technology that enables everyone involved in the operation to provide scientific context to the public. The ability to broadcast this exciting information requires effective collaboration between the Engineering Team, NOAA ship crew, and scientists both onboard and onshore. It is amazing that anyone with Internet connection can be involved the expedition and science in real time.

Mapping Team
The Mapping Team learning about Seirios!


Personal Log

In order to make it back to Norfolk on time for dry dock, we will have to finish our mapping our survey area on the 27th. In the meantime, we have been continuing to process data, collect sunphotometer readings, launch XBTs, and play cribbage. Our cribbage tournament will conclude on Friday night! Everyone aboard is excited about the data we’ve collected and looking forward to a successful end of the expedition.

bow picture 1
The Mapping Team was on the lookout for dolphins!

Dolphins playing on the waves near the bow!

sunset photo
Another fantastic end to the day!


Did You Know?

The first fully developed ROV, POODLE, was created by Dimitri Rebikoff in 1953. However, it was not until the US Navy took an interest in ROVs that this unique technology became very popular. In 1961, the US Navy created the Cable-Controlled Underwater Research Vehicle (CURV).


Deep Discoverer and Seirios

Melissa Barker: Navigation and People of the Oregon II, July 2, 2017

P1030109NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II

June 22-July 6

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 2, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 28 37.91 N

Longitude: 89 19.41 W

Air temp: 30.5 C

Water temp: 31.7 C

Wind direction: 340 degrees

Wind speed: 4 knots

Wave height: 0 meters

Sky: partly cloudy


Science and Technology Log

Point plotted on electronic chart. We are the little green boat icon on the screen.

I spent some time on the bridge with LT Reni Rydlewicz learning about how the ship is navigated. The officers and crew are reliant on technology to navigate the Oregon II from station to station. There are many obstacles here off the coast of Louisiana that must be avoided including rigs, oil field traffic, shipping boats and shrimpers. The radar, electronic charts and weather screen are vital to successfully navigating the Gulf. The first step in navigation is using the electronic chart to plot a line to the station.


Radar is critical to navigation in a busy Gulf


We keep at least one mile away from any rigs or other obstacles. The officer on duty will check the radar and then visually confirm what they see out on the water. They may also radio any nearby vessels to discuss their routes and make sure we can safely pass.




Melissa at the helm being instructed by LT Rydlewicz



Next, the officer will turn the helm to the proper heading using degrees, like on a compass.  Zero degrees is due north. Once on the proper heading, we will go to the way point of the set track-line monitoring for obstructions and vessels along the way.




Plotting our location on the chart


About every thirty minutes to one hour, the officer will drop a fixed position on the paper chart to track our progress based on our latitude and longitude.

Wind direction indicator







You can see us sitting on the south edge of the storm cell on the weather screen




Another vital piece of technology is the WXWorks weather screen that shows weather patterns and lightning strikes.






Currently, the water is calm and we are cruising to a station near the mouth of the Mississippi River. The image below shows the route we have taken thus far as we zig zag our way from station to station.

You can see our route as of 7/1/17 marked in blue. The Oregon II is the little green boat on the map.

The pitch and RPM’s can be adjusted to change the speed of the ship. The Oregon II has two engines, but we usually operate on one to save wear and tear and to have a backup engine just in case. Our average cruising speed is about 8 knots. With both engines, we can cruise at 10-11 knots.

When conducting a CTD, the officer often uses one of the side stations to control the speed and rudder so they can see what is happening with the CTD instrument. They must keep the ship as still as possible, which can be challenging in some conditions. Before the trawl is lowered into the water, the officers must plot a course making sure they can trawl continuously for about 1.5 miles at 2.5-3 knots within 5 miles radius of the station. The bridge, deck crew and FPC are in radio communication when setting the trawl. At night, the bridge operates with red screens and lights so the officers can keep their night vision. There is also video feed that shows the bow and stern decks and engine room to keep an eye on folks when they are out doing their work.

I can only imagine how overwhelming it must have been for ENS Parrish, when she started on the Oregon II in December, trying to learn how to use all the technology that helps her and the other officers navigate the ship as well as actually learning how the ship moves in the water.


Interviews with the People of the Oregon II

I’ve spent some time talking with people who work on the ship from the different departments trying to understand their jobs and their desire to work at sea. I have posted three interviews here and will post more in the next blog.


ENS Chelsea Parrish

ENS Chelsea Parrish holding a cobia

Chelsea is a Junior Officer learning to stand her own watch on the bridge. She reported to the Oregon II in December and needs to have at least 120 hours at sea, become proficient navigating the ship and have the Commanding Officer’s blessing to become an Officer Of the Deck. In addition to learning the details of navigation and fishing operations, she also is the Environmental Compliance Officer, completes chart corrections weekly and heads up social media for the ship. You can learn more about the NOAA Corps here.

What did you do before working for NOAA?

I earned my masters in marine science and then applied to the NOAA Corps. The training for NOAA Corps is nineteen weeks, seventeen of which are spent at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT training and taking classes.

ENS Chelsea Parrish in her Service Dress Blues. (photo credit: Chelsea Parrish)

Why did you join the NOAA Corps?

I heard about it in graduate school and it sounded like a great way to serve my country and help scientists do their work. I consider the NOAA Corps a hidden gem because not that many people know about it. We are stewards of our oceans and atmosphere by contributing to oceanographic, hydrographic and fisheries science. I will spend two years at sea and then three years on land and continue that rotation. We even have a song, check it out here.

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

The balance between work and personal life can be a challenge on the ship, but I’m finding a routine and sticking to it.

What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

I love watching the sun rise and set over the ocean each day and the mystery of what we will find in the ocean each day.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

Be adaptable and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t be afraid to go against the norm and follow your passion.


Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols

In Chris’ role as Lead Fisherman, he is second in charge of on the deck crew and leader of the night watch. He operates the cranes and is responsible for fishing operations on the ship. He also stands a look out watch on the bridge. His other responsibilities involve mending fishing nets and handling the sharks (especially during the shark survey). Chris has many certifications that give him additional responsibility such as being a surface rescue swimmer, NOAA working diver and one of the MPIC’s (medical person on duty).

What did you do before working for NOAA?

Lead Fisherman Chris Nelson

I was a charter fishing boat captain, an able body seaman with the Merchant Marines and had a navigation job with the Navy.

Why work for NOAA?

My specialty is big game fish, so I was initially attracted to the NOAA shark surveys. I’ve been at sea since 1986 and am always up for another adventure.

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

I have a lot of additional duties besides being a Lead Fisherman. The upkeep of all of my certifications takes a significant amount of time.

What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

The camaraderie of the people. We have a great steady group of people and our repeat ports are nice places to visit. I really enjoy working with the scientists and the fish too.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

Embrace adventure. I was inspired by early on by reading adventure stories like Tom Sawyer. Work has taken me all around the world. And definitely take those math courses, especially algebra and calculus. I use math every day in my work.


Chief Steward Valerie McCaskill

For two years Valerie has been the Chief Steward who keeps everyone on the ship well fed. She and her assistant, Arlene, attempt to satisfy 30 different appetites three times per day.

Valerie’s welcoming smile

What did you do before working for NOAA?

I worked oil industry first in food service, but wanted to work for NOAA. I have a small catering business and like to experiment with food.

Why work for NOAA?

I love running a kitchen without the unreliable schedule and endless hours of land based restaurants.

One of the amazing meals from the galley

Tell me about one challenging aspect of your job?

Trying to please everyone is a big task. It can also be challenging to meet people’s dietary restrictions with the limitations of the kitchen.

What do you enjoy most about working on the Oregon II?

I enjoy the people. Even if the boat is rocking and people are tired, I try to being comfort through food.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for my students?

Never let fear of failure stop you.




Personal Log

Chart of the turn I made

A few days ago, we were on weather hold and I went up to the bridge to see what was going on. I was starting to feel a little sick from all the movement. Being in the bridge, where I could see the horizon, helped sooth my stomach and distract me from the motion. We were running “weather patterns”, which means that we are running a course for the best ride possible while waiting for the weather system to pass. Then we can go back to the station we need to sample. Reni let me turn the ship which was a pretty cool experience. She directed me to turn the helm to 40 degrees to the port side, then as we started to turn, she had me easy back to 30, 20, 10 and finally back to zero to complete our 180 degree turn back towards the station.

Yesterday between trawls, David, Sarah and I went up to the forward most part on the bow. We peered over the railing to see four bottlenose dolphins playing on the bow wake. It was incredible to see them so close. As they were swimming at 7-8 knots right alongside the ship, they rotated position allowing each to take a turn coming to the surface for air. It was similar to bikers rotating in a peloton to stay out of the wind. Once I’m back on shore, I’ll post some video, but here is a still shot for you.

Bottlenose dolphins riding the bow wake

Standing at the forward most part of the bow

Looking back from the bow to the bridge

View from the flying bridge


I’ve been waking up a few hours before my shift starts to work on my blogs and get a little exercise. I never know what the weather is like when I wake up because I sleep on the lower deck. Technically I sleep under water and hear the water slapping the side of the ship as I’m drifting off to sleep. This morning I decided to go to the flying bridge, which is at the top of the ship, to do a little workout. The sea was glass-like and the visibility was over 10 nautical miles. I decided it was the perfect location for some yoga. I enjoyed the extra challenge of holding poses on the moving ship.




Did You Know?

The northern two-thirds of the continental US and part of Canada drains into the Gulf of Mexico. These rivers bring accumulated runoff from cities, suburbs, rural areas, agriculture and industry and have the potential to influence the health of the Gulf.  (source:

Rivers that drain into the Gulf of Mexico (photo credit:

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

Are you going to see sharks? (Gemma, Sylvia, Mae, Finn)

We have caught two small sharpnose sharks so far on this cruise. The Oregon II does a shark survey in the late summer where they focus on catching sharks.

How long does the whole process of catching fish take? (Sam)

Once we come upon the station, they set the trawl for 30 minutes. Depending on how deep we are sampling, it might take 10-20 minutes to bring the net back in.

What classes or skills would you have to master to become a marine biologist? (Rowan, Ava, Julia) 

I asked this question to a room full of students studying some sort of marine biology or science and here is what they said…

It depends on your area of interest, but reading and writing skills are critical. It would be helpful to take courses in biology, chemistry, comparative physiology and anatomy, biological and ecological systems and applied math like calculus and statistics. In David’s program at University of Miami, he had to choose a concentration like biology, physics, or chemistry with his marine science degree.


David Amidon: All Aboard for Science, June 12, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Amidon

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

June 2 – 13, 2017

Mission: Pelagic Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean off the California Coast

Date: June 12, 2017


Science Log: 

A Chrysaora colorata  jellyfish with an anchovy

As I end my journey on the Reuben Lakser, I wanted to prepare a post about the people on the ship. As in any organization, there are a lot of different people and personalities on board. I interviewed 15 different people and, looking back, I am particularly amazed by how much “Science” drives the ship. The Chief Scientist is involved in most of the decisions regarding course corrections and the logistics. It is really promising as a science teacher — NOAA offers a place for those interested in science to enjoy many different careers.  

The people working on the ship can be grouped into broad categories. I have mentioned the science crew, but there are also fishermen, deck crew, engineers, stewards and, of course, the ship’s officers. If you like to cook, there are positions for you here. Same thing if you want to be an electrician or mechanic. Each of those positions has different responsibilities and qualifications. For example, the engineers need proper licenses to work on specific vessels. All of the positions require ship specific training. For some, working on the ship is almost a second career, having worked in the private sector or the Navy previously. Kim Belveal, the Chief Electrical Technician followed this path as did Engineer Rob Piquion. Working with NOAA provides them with a decent wage and a chance to travel and see new places. For young people looking to work on a ship, these are great jobs to examine that combine different interests together. IMG_1930

All of the officers on the ships are members of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, one of the nation’s seven uniformed services. They have ranks, titles and traditions just like the Navy and Coast Guard. Commander (CDR) Kurt Dreflak, the Commanding Officer, or CO and Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Justin Keesee, the Executive Officer, or XO, are in charge of everything that happens on the Reuben downloadLasker. To reach these positions, someone must work hard and be promoted through the NOAA Corps ranks. They make the ultimate decisions in terms of personnel, ordering, navigation, etc. The XO acts as most people think a First Mate would work. What impressed me was how they responded when I asked about why they work for NOAA and to describe their favorite moment at sea.  They both responded the same way: NOAA Corps provides a chance to combine science and service – a “Jacques Cousteau meets the Navy” situation. They also shared a similar thought when I asked them about their favorite moments at sea – they both reflected about reaching the “Aha” moment when training their officers.  This is definitely something I can relate to as a teacher.

Other NOAA Corps officers have different responsibilities, such as the OPS or Operations Officer, and take shifts on the bridge and on the deck, driving the ship, coordinating trawls and keeping the ship running smoothly in general. Most of the NOAA Corps has a background in marine science, having at least a degree in some science or marine discipline. When I asked them why they decided to work for NOAA, the common response was that it allows them to serve their country and contribute to science. Again, this is an awesome thing for a science teacher to hear!

A Butterfish

To emphasize how important science is to the organization, two NOAA Corps officers, LTJG Cherisa Friedlander and LTJG Ryan Belcher, are members of the science crew during this leg of the Juvenile Rockfish Survey. They worked with us in the Science Lab, and did not have the same responsibilities associated with the ship’s operations.


Cherisa provided a lot of background about the NOAA Corp and the Reuben Lasker  in particular. I am including her full interview here:

  • What is your name?
    • Lieutenant Junior Grade Cherisa Friedlander
  • What is your title or position?
    • NOAA Corps Officer/ Operations Officer for the Fisheries Ecology Division in Santa Cruz,CA
  • What is your role on the ship?
    • I used to be the junior officer on board, now I am sailing as a scientist for the lab. It is kind of cool to have sailed on the ship in both roles! They are very different.
  • How long have you been working on the Reuben Lasker?
    • I worked on board from 2013-2014
  • Why did you choose to work on the Lasker?
    • I originally listed the RL as one if the ships I wanted after basic training in 2012 because it was going to be the newest ship in the fleet. It was very exciting to be a part of bringing a new ship online. I got to see it be built from the inside out and helped order and organize all of the original supplies. The first crew of a ship are called the plankowner crew of the ship, and it stems from olden times when shipbuilders would sleep on the same plank on the deck while they were building the ship. It is a big task.

      Cherisa (far right) when the Reuben Lasker was commissioned From:
  • What is your favorite moment on the ship or at sea?
    • I was the first Junior Officer the ship ever had and got to plan and be on board for the transit through the Panama Canal!
  • Why do you work for NOAA?
    • I love my job! I come from a service family, so I love the service lifestyle the NOAA Corps offers while still incorporating science and service. I like that every few years I get to see a new place and do a new job. Next I head to Antarctica!
  • If a young person was interested in doing your job someday, what advice would you give them?
    • Explore lots of options for careers while you are young. Volunteer, do internships, take courses, and find out what interests you. The more activities you participate in, the more well rounded you are and it allows you to find a job you will love doing. It is also appealing to employers to see someone who has been proactive about learning new ideas and skills.
  • Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work or experiences at sea?
    • Working at sea can certainly be challenging. I can get very seasick sometimes which makes for a very unhappy time at sea. It can also be hard to be away from family and friends for so long, so I make sure to spend quality time with those people when I am on land. 🙂


Wrapping up a trawl – measuring & bagging

The remainder of the science crew is at different points in their careers and have followed different paths to be a part of this cruise. Students motivated in science can take something from these stories, I hope, and someday join a field crew like this.   

San Diego red crabs last haul 1703.JPG
Last Haul- off coast of San Diego  Photo by Keith Sakuma

Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma has been part of the Rockfish Survey since 1989. He started as a student and has worked his way up from there. Various ships have run the survey in the past, but the Reuben Lasker, as the most state-of-the-art ship in the fleet, looks to be its home for the near future.

An octopus

Thomas Adams is an undergraduate student from Humboldt State University. He has kept his eyes open and taken advantage of opportunities as they come up. He has been part of the survey for a few years already and looks to continue his work through a Master’s degree program.

Maya Drzewicki is an undergrad student from the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. She was named as a Hollings Scholar -in her words this is: “a 2 year academic scholarship and paid summer internship for college students interested in pursuing oceanic or atmospheric sciences. I am a marine biology major and through this scholarship program I have learned so much about ocean sciences and different careers.”

Measuring Northern Lampfish

Rachel Zuercher is a PhD student associated with the University of California- Santa Cruz. She joined the survey in part because the group has provided her samples in the past that she has used for her research.

Mike Force is a professional birdwatcher who was able to make a career out of something he loves to do. He has been all over the globe, from Antarctica to the South Pacific helping to identify birds. As a freelance contractor, he goes where he is needed. His favorite time at sea was also a common theme I came across- there is always a chance to see something unique, no matter how long you have been on ship.


Ken Baltz is an oceanographer who ran the daytime operations on the ship. He was associated with NOAA Fisheries Santa Cruz lab – Groundfish Analysis Team. As advice to young people looking to get in the field, he suggests they make sure that they can handle the life on the ship. This was a common theme many people spoke to – life on a ship is not always great. Seas get rough, tours take time and you are working with the same group of people for a long time. Before making a career of life on a ship, make sure it suits you!


Personal Log

Sunday, June 11th

I experienced a truly magical moment on the Flying Bridge this evening as we transited off the coast near Santa Barbara. For a good 20 minutes, we were surrounded by a feeding frenzy of birds, dolphins, sea lions and humpback whales. It was awesome! The video below is just a snippet from the event and it does not do it justice. It was amazing!




Monday, June 12th

Sad to say this is my last night on the ship. We had plans to do complete 4 trawls, but we had a family of dolphins swimming in our wake during the Marine Mammal Watch. We had to cancel that station. After we wrapped up, it was clean up time and we worked through the night. The ship will arrive in San Diego early tomorrow morning.

Thank you NOAA and the crew of the Reuben Lasker for an awesome experience!!!




Emily Sprowls: Shark Bait, March 28, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emily Sprowls

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

March 20 – April 3, 2017


Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: March 28, 2017


Weather Data from the Bridge

Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)

13:00 hours

29°09.3’ N 88°35.2’W

Visibility 10 nm, Scattered clouds

Wind 8 kts 170°E

Sea wave height <1 ft.

Seawater temp 22.9°C


Science and Technology Log

In addition to experimenting by sampling deeper, we are varying the fishing gear and using different kinds of bait. We have switched to hooks on a steel leader so that even a strong, big shark cannot bite through the line. We are rotating through squid and mackerel as bait in order to see which species are more attracted to different bait. In addition to many species of sharks, we have also caught and measured eels, large fish and rays.

Nick hooks
Nick prepares hooks for longline gangions.

One of the scientists on board specializes in fishing gear, and helps keep maintain all our gear after it gets twisted by eels or looped up on itself. He also works on turtle exclusion devices for trawling gear.


Personal Log

Last night the line pulled in a huge tangle of “ghost gear.” This was fishing line and hooks that had been lost and sunk. It would have been much easier to just cut the line and let the mess sink back to where it came from, but everybody worked together to haul it out so it won’t sit at the bottom tangling up other animals.

Ghost gear
Lost or “ghost” gear that tangled in our lines.

This is just one example of the dedication the scientists and crew have to ocean stewardship. I have been so impressed by the care and speed with which everybody handles the sharks in order to get them back in the water safely.


Kids’ Questions

  • Is there any bycatch of dolphins?

Deep seastar
A few seastars come up with uneaten bait as bycatch.

Today we saw dolphins for the first time! They were only a few of them pretty far from the boat, so they did not affect our sampling. Had they decided to come play by riding in our wake, we would have postponed our sampling to avoid any interactions between the dolphins and the gear. One of the reasons that we only deploy the fishing gear for one hour is in case an air-breathing turtle or mammal gets tangled (they can hold their breath for over an hour). However, since dolphins hunt live fish, they don’t try to eat the dead bait we are using.

  • Can sharks use echolocation? How do they find their food?

Sharks do not use echolocation like marine mammals, but they do have an “extra” sense to help them find their food. They can detect electrical current using special sense organs called ampullae of Lorenzini.

  • What are the chances of getting hurt? Why don’t they bite?

While there is a chance of the sharks accidentally biting us as we handle them, we are very careful to hold them on the backs of their heads and not to put our fingers near their mouths! “Shark burn” is a more likely injury, which occurs when a shark wiggles and their rough skin scrapes the person handling them. Sharks do not have scales, but are covered in tiny, abrasive denticles that feel like sandpaper.




Trevor Hance: Life, As You (Already) Know It… June 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Trevor Hance
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 12 – 24, 2015

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area: New England/Georges Bank
Date: June 21, 2015

Teacher at Sea?
Teacher at Sea?

Science and Technology Log

The rhythm of a ship rocking and rolling through varied wave heights while catching some zzzz’s in a small, curtain-enclosed bunk provides an opportunity to get some really amazing deep sleep.  Last night I had a dream that one of my childhood friends married Dan Marino.  It seemed completely bizarre until I remembered we saw lots of dolphins yesterday.

Dan? Mrs. Marino? Is that you?
Dan? Mrs. Marino? Is that you?

Seas have calmed substantially from the ride we had a couple of days ago, and for the past few days the ride has been so smooth I feel more like a “Teacher at Pond” than “Teacher at Sea.”  Unfortunately, it looks like that awful weather system my friends and family have been dealing back home in Texas is about to make its way to us here off the coast of New England (what many Texans consider “the southern edge of Santa-land”) and there’s even a chance today might be our last full day at sea.

At the helm: Estoy El Jefe!
At the helm: Estoy El Jefe!


Operationally, we’ve shifted back and forth from dredge to HabCam work and it is a decidedly different experience, and as with everything, there are pros and cons.


As mentioned in an earlier blog, the HabCam requires two people to monitor two different stations as pilot and co-pilot, each with several monitors to help keep the system running smoothly and providing updates on things like salinity, depth and water temperature (currently 4.59 degrees Celsius – yikes!!!).

Views of the screens we monitor: from 6 o’clock, moving clockwise:  the winch, altitude monitor, cameras of back deck, sonar of the sea floor and photos being taken as we travel
Views of the screens we monitor: from 6 o’clock, moving clockwise: the winch, altitude monitor, cameras of back deck, sonar of the sea floor and photos being taken as we travel

The pilot gets to drive the HabCam with a joystick that pays-out or pulls in the tow-wire, trying to keep the HabCam “flying” about 2 meters off the sea floor.  Changes in topography, currents, and motion of the vessel all contribute to the challenge. The co-pilot primarily monitors and annotates the photographs that are continually taken and fed into one of the computers in our dry-lab.  I’ll share more about annotating in the next blog-post, but essentially, you have to review, categorize and sort photos based on the information each contains.

The winch has its own monitor
The winch has its own monitor

Driving the HabCam gives you a feeling of adventure – I find myself imagining I am driving The Nautilus and Curiosity, but, after about an hour, things get bleary, and it’s time to switch and let one of the other crew members take over.  My rule is to tap-out when I start feeling a little too much like Steve Zissou.


Dredge work involves dropping a weighted ring bag that is lined with net-like material to the sea floor and towing it behind the vessel, where it acts as a sieve and filters out the smallest things and catches the larger things, which are sorted, weighed and measured in the wet lab on the back deck.

Close up of the dredge material
Close up of the dredge material; HabCam in the background

Dredge work is a little like the “waves-crashing-across-the-deck” stuff that you see on overly dramatized TV shows like “Deadliest Catch.”  As my students know, I like getting my hands dirty, so I tend to very much enjoy the wind, water and salty experience associated with a dredge.

Yours truly, sporting my homemade jolly roger t-shirt after a successful dredge
Yours truly, after a successful dredge, sporting my homemade Jolly Roger t-shirt

While the dredge is fun, my students and I use motion-triggered wildlife cameras to study the life and systems in the Preserve behind our school, and I fully realize the value those cameras provide — especially in helping us understand when we have too much human traffic in the Preserve. The non-invasive aspects of HabCam work provide a similar window, and a remarkable, reliable data source when you consider that the data pertaining to one particular photograph could potentially be reviewed thousands of times for various purposes.  The sheer quantity of data we collect on a HabCam run is overwhelming in real-time, and there are thousands of photos that need to be annotated (i.e. – reviewed and organized) after each cruise.

More Science

Anyway, enough of the operational stuff we are doing on this trip for now, let’s talk about some science behind this trip… I’m going to present this section as though I’m having a conversation with a student (student’s voice italicized).

Life needs death; this is a shot of 8 or 9 different crabs feasting on a dead skate that settled at the bottom. Ain't no party like a dead skate party...
Life needs death; this is a shot of 8 or 9 different crabs feasting on a dead skate that settled at the bottom. Ain’t no party like a dead skate party…

Mr. Hance, can’t we look at pictures instead of having class?  I mean, even your Mom commented on your blog and said this marine science seems a little thick.

We’ll look at pictures in a minute, but before we do, I need you to realize what you already know.

The National Wildlife Federation gives folks a chance to support biodiversity by developing a “Certified Wildlife Habitat” right in their own backyard.  We used NWF’s plan in our class as a guideline as we learned that the mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds we study in our Preserve need four basic things for survival:  water, food, shelter and space (note:  while not clearly stated in NWF’s guidelines, “air” is built in.)

This same guide is largely true for marine life, and because we are starting small and building the story, we should probably look at some physics and geology to see some of the tools we are working with to draw a parallel.

Ugh, more water and rocks?  I want to see DOLPHINS, Mr. Hance!

Sorry, kid, but we’re doing water and rocks before more dolphins.

Keep in mind the flow of currents around Georges Bank and the important role they play in distributing water and transporting things, big and small.  Remember what happened to Nemo when he was hanging out with Crush? You’ll see why that sort of stuff loosely plays in to today’s lesson.

Let There Be Light! And Heat!
Let There Be Light! And Heat!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Georges Bank is a shallow shoal, which means the sea floor has a lot more access to sunlight than the deeper areas around it, which is important for two big reasons. First, students will recall that “light travels in a straight line until it strikes an object, at which point it….” (yada, yada, yada).  In this case, the water refracts as it hits the water (“passes through a medium”) and where the water is really shallow, the sunlight can actually reflect off of the sea floor (as was apparent in that NASA photo I posted in my last blog.)

Also important is the role the sun plays as the massive energy driver behind pretty much everything on earth.  So, just like in our edible garden back at school, the sun provides energy (heat and light), which we know are necessary for plant growth.

Okay, so we have energy, Mr. Hance, but what do fish do for homes?

The substrate, or the sediment(s) that make-up the sea floor on Georges Bank consists of material favorable for marine habitat and shelter.  The shallowest areas of Georges Bank are made mostly of sand or shell hash (“bits and pieces”) that can be moved around by currents, often forming sand waves.  Sand waves are sort of the underwater equivalent of what we consider sand dunes on the beach.  In addition to the largely sandy areas, the northern areas of the Bank include lots of gravel left behind as glaciers retreated (i.e. – when Georges Bank was still land.)

Moving currents and the size of the sediment on the sea floor are important factors in scallop population, and they play a particularly significant role relating to larval transportation and settlement.  Revisiting our understanding of Newton’s three laws of motion, you’ll recognize that the finer sediment (i.e. – small and light) are easily moved by currents in areas of high energy (i.e. – frequent or strong currents), while larger sediment like large grains of sand, gravel and boulders get increasingly tough to push around.

Importantly, not all of Georges Bank is a “high energy” area, and the more stable areas provide a better opportunity for both flora and fauna habitat.  In perhaps simpler terms, the harder, more immobile substrates provide solid surfaces as well as “nooks and crannies” for plants to attach and grow, as well as a place for larvae (such as very young scallop) to attach or hide from predators until they are large enough to start swimming, perhaps in search of food or a better habitat.

With something to hold on to, you might even see what scientists call “biogenic” habitat, or places where the plants and animals themselves make up the shelter.

Substrate samples from one of our dredges; sand, rocks/gravel/pebbles,
Substrate samples from one of our dredges; shells, sand, rocks/gravel/pebbles, “bio-trash” and a very young crab

There is one strand of a plant growing off of this rock we pulled up.  Not much, but it's something to hold on to!
There is one strand of a plant growing off of this rock we pulled up. Not much, but it’s something to hold on to!

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm, rocks and one weed, huh… I wonder what’s happening at the pool…

Whoa, hold on, don’t quit — you’re half way there!

Before you mind drifts off thinking that there are coral reefs or something similar here, it is probably important that I remind you that the sea floor of Georges Bank doesn’t include a whole lot of rapid topography changes – remember, we are towing a very expensive, 3500 lb. steel framed camera at about 6 knots, and it wouldn’t make sense to do that in an area where we might smash it into a bunch of reefs or boulders.  Here, things are pretty flat and relatively smooth, sand waves and the occasional boulder being the exceptions.

Okay, our scallops now have a place to start their life, but, what about breathing and eating, and why do they need “space” to survive?  Isn’t the ocean huge?

As always, remember that we are trying to find a balance, or equilibrium in the system we are studying.

One example of a simple system can be found in the aquaponics systems we built in our classroom last year. Aquaponics is soil-less gardening, where fish live in a tank below a grow bed and the water they “pollute” through natural bodily functions (aka – “poop”) is circulated to the grow bed where the plants get the nutrients they need, filter out the waste and return good, healthy water back to the fish, full of the micronutrients the fish need to survive.  I say our system is simple because we are “simply” trying to balance ammonia, nitrates and phosphates and not the vast number of variables that exist in the oceans that cover most of our Earth’s surface.  Although the ocean is much larger on the spatial scale, the concept isn’t really that much different, the physical properties of matter are what they are, and waste needs to be processed in order for a healthy system to stay balanced.

Our simple classroom system
Our simple classroom system

Another aspect of our aquaponics system that provides a parallel to Georges Bank lies in our “current,” which for us is the pump-driven movement of water from the fish to the plants, and the natural, gravity-driven return of that water to the fish.  While the transportation of nutrients necessary to both parties is directionally the exact opposite of what happens here on Georges Bank (i.e. – the currents push the nutrients up from the depths here), the idea is the same and again, it is moving water that supports life.

But, Mr. Hance, where do those “nutrients” come from in the first place, and what are they feeding?

Remember, systems run in repetitive cycles; ideally, they are completely predictable.  In a very basic sense where plants and animals are concerned, that repetitive cycle is “life to death to life to death, etc…”  This is another one of those “here, look at what you already know” moments.

When marine life dies, that carbon-based organic material sinks towards the bottom of the ocean and continues to break down while being pushed around at depth along the oceans currents. Students will recognize a parallel in “The Audit” Legacy Project from this spring when they think about what is happening in those three compost bins in our edible garden; our turning that compost pile is pretty much what is happening to all of those important nutrients getting rolled around in the moving water out here – microscopic plants and animals are using those as building blocks for their life.

Our new compost system
Our new compost system

Oh wait, so, this is all about the relationship between decomposers, producers and consumers?  But, Mr. Hance, I thought that was just in the garden?

Yes, “nutrient rich” water is the equivalent of “good soil,” but, we have to get it to a depth appropriate for marine life to really start to flourish.  Using your knowledge of the properties of matter, you figured out how and why the currents behave the way they do here.  You now know that when those currents reach Georges Bank, they are pushed to the surface and during the warm summer months, they get trapped in this shallow(ish), warm(ish) sunlit water, providing a wonderful opportunity for the oceans’ primary producers, phytoplankton, to use those nutrients much like we see in our garden.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, I think I’m starting to see what you mean. Can you tell me a little more about plankton?

The term plankton encompasses all of the lowest members of the food chain (web), and can be further divided into “phytoplankton” and “zooplankton.”  Yes, “phyto” does indeed resemble “photo,” as in “photosynthesis”, and does indeed relate to microscopic plant-like plankton, like algae.  Zooplankton pertains to microscopic animal-like plankton, and can include copepods and krill.

Plankton are tiny and although they might try to swim against the current, they aren’t really strong enough, so they get carried along, providing valuable nutrients to bigger sea creatures they encounter.  Just like on land, there are good growing seasons and bad growing seasons for these phytoplankton, and on Georges Bank, the better times for growing coincide with the spring-summer currents.

Dude, Mr. Hance, I didn’t know I already knew that…. Mind…. Blown.

Yeah little dude, I saw the whole thing. First, you were like, whoa! And then you were like, WHOA! And then you were like, whoa…  Sorry, I got carried away; another Nemo flashback. While I get back in teacher-mode, why don’t you build the food web. Next stop, knowledge…

You've got some serious thrill issues, dude
You’ve got some serious thrill issues, dude

But, Mr. Hance, you are on a scallop survey.  How do they fit into the food web? You told us that you, crabs and starfish are their primary natural predators, but, what are they eating, and how?

Scallops are animals, complete with muscles (well, one big, strong one), a digestive system, reproductive system, and nervous system.  They don’t really have a brain (like ours), but, they do have light-sensing eyes on their mantle, which is a ring that sits on the outer edge of their organ system housed under their protective shell.  Acting in concert, those eyes help scallops sense nearby danger, including predators like those creepy starfish.


Scallops are filter feeders who live off of plankton, and they process lots of water.  With their shells open, water moves over a filtering structure, which you can imagine as a sort of sieve made of mucus that traps food.  Hair-like cilia transport the food to the scallop’s mouth, where it is digested, processed, and the waste excreted.

The text is small, but, it describes some of the anatomy of the scallop. Click to zoom.


But, Mr. Hance, do they hunt? How do they find their food?

Remember, scallops, unlike most other bivalves such as oysters, are free-living, mobile animals; in other words, they can swim to dinner if necessary.  Of course, they’d prefer to just be lazy and hang out in lounge chairs while the food is brought to them (kind of like the big-bellied humans in my favorite Disney film, Wall-E), so can you guess what they look for?

Gee, Mr. Hance…. Let me guess, water that moves the food to them?

Yep, see, I told you this was stuff you already knew.

I highlighted the shadows in one of the HabCam photos to show you proof that scallop swim.
I highlighted the shadows in one of the HabCam photos to show you proof that scallop swim.

While plankton can (and do!) live everywhere in the shallow(ish) ocean, because they are helpless against the force of the current, they get trapped in downwellings, which is a unique “vertical eddy,” caused by competing currents, or “fronts.”  Think of a downwelling as sort of the opposite of a tug-o-war where instead of pulling apart, the two currents run head-on into one another.  Eventually, something’s gotta give, and gravity is there to lend a hand, pushing the water down towards the sea floor and away, where it joins another current and continues on.

Those of you who have fished offshore will recognize these spots as a “slick” on the top of the water, and there is often a lot of sea-foam (“bubbles”) associated with a downwelling because of the accumulation of protein and “trash” that gets stuck on top as the water drops off underneath it.

Those “smooth as glass” spots are where currents are hitting and downwellings are occurring

This particularly large group of birds gathered together atop a downwelling, likely because the water helped keep them together (and because fishing would be good there!)
This particularly large group of birds gathered together atop a downwelling, likely because the water helped keep them together (and because fishing would be good there!)

Because plankton aren’t strong enough to swim against the current, they move into these downwellings in great numbers.  You can wind up with an underwater cloud of plankton in those instances, and it doesn’t take long for fish and whales to figure out that nature is setting the table for them.  Like our human friends in Wall-E, scallops pull up a chair, put on their bibs and settle at the base of these competing fronts, salivating like a Pavlovian pup as they wait on their venti-sized planko-latte (okay, I’m exaggerating; scallops live in salt water, so they don’t salivate, but because I’m not there to sing and dance to hold your attention while you read, I have to keep you interested somehow.)

If you become a marine scientist at Woods Hole, you’ll probably spend some time looking for the “magic” 60m isobaths, which is where you see scallop and other things congregate at these convergent fronts.

Before you ask, an isobaths is a depth line.  Depth lines are important when you consider appropriate marine life habitat, just like altitude would be when you ask why there aren’t more trees when you get off the ski lift at the top of the mountain.

Um, Mr. Hance, why didn’t you just tell us this is just like the garden!  I’m immediately bored.  What else ya got?

Well, in the next class, we’ll spend some time talking about (over-)fishing and fisheries management, but for now, how about I introduce you to another one of my new friends and then show you some pictures?

I don’t know, Mr. Hance, all of this talk about water makes me want to go swimming.  I’ll stick around for a few minutes, but this dude better be cool.

Lagniappe: Dr. Burton Shank

Today, I’ll introduce another important member of the science crew aboard the vessel, Dr. Burton Shank.  As I was preparing for the voyage, I received several introductory emails, and I regret that I didn’t respond to the one I received from Burton asking for more information.  He’s a box of knowledge.

That's Burton, on the right, sorting through a dredge with lots and lots of sand dollars.
That’s Burton, on the right, sorting through a dredge with lots and lots of sand dollars.

Burton is a Research Fishery Biologist at National Marine Fisheries Service in Woods Hole working in the populations dynamic group, which involves lots of statistical analysis (aka – Mental Abuse To Humans, or “MATH”).  Burton’s group looks at data to determine how many scallops or lobsters are in the area, and how well they are doing using the data collected through these field surveys.  One of my students last year did a pretty similar study last year, dissecting owl pellets and setting (humane) rat traps to determine how many Great Horned Owls our Preserve could support.  Good stuff.

Burton is an Aggie (Whoop! Gig ‘Em!), having received his undergraduate degree from Texas A&M at Galveston before receiving his master’s in oceanography from the University of Puerto Rico and heading off as a travelling technical specialist on gigs in Florida, Alaska and at the Biosphere in Arizona.  For those unfamiliar, the biosphere was a project intended to help start human colonies on other planets, and after a couple of unsuccessful starts, the research portion was taken over by Columbia University and Burton was hired to do ocean climate manipulations.  Unlike most science experiments where you try to maintain balance, Burton’s job was to design ways that might “wreck” the system to determine potential climate situations that could occur in different environments.

As seems to be the case with several of the folks out here, Burton didn’t really grow up in a coastal, marine environment, and in fact, his childhood years were spent in quite the opposite environment:  Nebraska, where his dad was involved in agricultural research.  He did, however, have a small river and oxbow like near his home and spent some summers in Hawaii.

It was on during a summer visit to Hawaii at about 9 years old that Burton realized that “life in a mask and fins” was the life for him.  On return to Nebraska, home of the (then!) mighty Cornhusker football team, many of his fellow fourth grade students proclaimed that they would be the quarterback at Nebraska when they grew up.  Burton said his teacher seemed to think being the Cornhusker QB was a completely reasonable career path, but audibly scoffed when he was asked what he wanted to be and said he would be a marine biologist when he grew up.  I welcome any of you young Burton’s in my class, anytime – “12th Man” or not!


Sheerwater, I loved the reflection on this one

Such a nice day
Such a nice day

You'll never look at them the same, will you?
You’ll never look at them the same, will you?

Cleaning up after a dredge
Cleaning up after a dredge; shot from vestibule where wet-gear is housed.  We spent lots of time changing.

So fun to see lobsters and crabs when
So fun to see lobsters and crabs when “HabCam’ing.” They rear back and raise their claws as if to dare you to get any closer.

Good night!
Good night!

Playlist:  Matisyahu, Seu Jorge, Gotan Project, George Jones

Okay, that’s it, class dismissed.  Get outta here…

Mr. Hance

DJ Kast, Interview with the Marine Mammal Observers, May 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise: East Coast

Date: May 21, 2015, Day 3 of Voyage

Interview with the Marine Mammal Observers

Marine Mammal Observers Marjorie and Brigid Photo by: DJ Kast
Marine Mammal Observers Marjorie and Brigid
Photo by: DJ Kast

Marjorie and Brigid on the Flying Bridge.

Whale Observer Station on the Flying Bridge. Photo by: DJ Kast
Whale Observer Station on the Flying Bridge. Photo by: DJ Kast

These two marine mammal observers are on the Flying Bridge of the ship.

I asked them what they were looking for and they said blows. I thought I spotted one at 11 o’clock and asked if it was supposed to look like a puff of smoke. They turned their cameras and binoculars to that direction and there were two whales right there. Marjorie turned to me and said, “you make our job look very easy”.

I spent some time interviewing the two of them today on May 21st, 2015.

Tell me a little bit about your background:

Marjorie Foster:

“I went to Stetson University and majored in biological sciences and concurrently worked with aquariums and sea turtle and bird rehab. Started flying aerial surveys for right whales, and was pulled into the world of NOAA in 2010. I’ve worked on small boats for bottlenose dolphin surveys as well.”

Brigid McKenna:

“I went to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and received my degree in biology, because I originally wanted to go into veterinary school, and worked in the aquarium medical center as an internship. Afterwards, I realized that veterinary school was not for me and I started an internship with the whale watch, and worked with spinner dolphins. Then I worked with scientists for Humpback Whales in Provincetown. Afterwards, I became a Right whale vessel observer and pursued my masters in Marine Mammal Science at St. Andrews. Afterwards, I became an aerial observer for right whales. This means I got to be in planes above the ocean looking for whales.”

Shoutout to Jen Jakush for keeping up with my blog in Florida.

What is your exact job on this research cruise?

Marine Mammal Observers are contracted by NOAA. We keep an eye out for whales and dolphins from the top of the ship and collect information about what we see.

How do you get trained to be Marine mammal observer?

Field experience is vital. The more you have seen, the more you can easily narrow down behavioral and visual cues to define a species. Also, conversations with other scientists in the field can really help expand your knowledge base.

For me:

Bridget- internship on a whale watch boat

Majorie- working with right whales

What do you enjoy about your job?

Marjorie: Being outside, and getting the opportunity to see things that people don’t normally get to see. Every day is exciting because there are endless possibilities of amazing things to witness. I feel very lucky to collect data that will be used in larger conversation efforts to help preserve these animals.

Brigid: Everything is dynamic, every project is new, I love being outside on the ocean. We can do aerial and vessel observations. We get to travel a lot. It’s a small world in the marine mammal community, so you get to know a lot of cool people.

What are the most common mammals you have seen on this cruise?

Common dolphins: white patch on sides and dark gray on top, and v shaped saddle.

Dolphin spotted by the observers on the side of the boat. Photo by: DJ Kast
Dolphin spotted by the observers on the side of the boat. Photo by: DJ Kast

Bottlenose dolphins: light gray and dark gray on top

Common Bottlenose Dolphin. Photo taken by DJ Kast from the Marine Mammals of the World book.
Common Bottlenose Dolphin. Photo taken by DJ Kast from the Marine Mammals of the World book.

Couple of mola mola – largest of the bony fish


Fin whales

Pilot whales.

Sei Whale

Humpback in the distance.

Marjorie: On the ledge and on the shelf there should be much more life than we have been seeing. And that will be in about an hour or two.

Up North- in the Gulf of Maine.

Northern waters are more abundant with the small marine life large whales like to eat. We are expecting to see a lot of baleen whales in the Gulf of Maine later on in this project. Further south we will see more dolphins and other toothed whales. We expect to see bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales, and possibly Risso’s dolphins.

Did you know?

Right Whale’s favorite copepod is Calanus finmarchicus, which bloom in Cape Cod waters. The Right whales know when the copepods are in a fatty stage and will only open their mouths if the calorie intake is worth it.

Did you know?

Different humpbacks have different hunting techniques.

The hunting technique specific to the Gulf of Maine is bubble-net feeding with lob-tailing. This means that they make bubbles around a school of fish and then hit the water with their tail to stun them.

Did you know?

Sad Fact: 72% of right whales have been entangled at least once, which we can tell from the scars that remain on their body.

What do you do when you site a marine mammal?

  1. One of us points
  2. Keep track of it. Both of our eyes on it
  3. Take pictures and look through binoculars for a positive identification of the species of marine mammal.
  4. How far they are, what direction they are swimming in, and what behaviors they are exhibiting.
  5. We have a system on our Toughbook computer called Vissurv. The data we input into this system includes:
    • Which side of the boat, and how many meters, and what direction are the animals are swimming to help us keep track of them
    • Our main objective is to ID them to species and count how many of them there are, which is called the pod size.
    • Some example behaviors include: swimming, breaching, porpoising, bow riding
    • Our computer is constantly recording GPS and environmental conditions. This information will ultimately be tied to the sightings. Environmental conditions include: swell, glare, wind, sea state etc.

Sarah Boehm: Home Again, July 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013 

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 10, 2013

Personal Log

The Oregon II pulled into port Sunday morning after a successful 2 week leg of the summer groundfish survey. The first thing I wanted to do when we got to land was to go for a walk. It did feel great to stretch my legs and move more than 170 feet at a time. Being on land again felt funny, as if the ground was moving under me. I thought this “dock rock” would pass quickly, but even two days later I had moments of feeling unsteady. On Monday I made my way back home to Massachusetts, arriving after 12 hours of planes and cars to a delightfully cool evening (although I hear it had been very hot while I was gone.)

I still have some photos and videos I wanted to share, so I thought I’d put together one more blog post with some amazing and fun creatures we saw.

We saw sharks swimming near the boat a few times, but this video shows the most dramatic time. This group of at least 8 sharks attacked the net as it brought up a bunch of fish, ripping holes in the net and spilling the fish. They then feasted on all that easy food floating in the water.

Adult puffer fish on the left from a groundfish trawl and a baby puffer from a plankton tow on the right

jelly nets
Icicles? Nope. Those are jellies that got caught in the net.

small flying fish
A very small flying fish with its “wings” extended.

One of my favorite fish is the flying fish. These fish have very long pectoral fins on the side of their bodies that act like wings. They can’t really fly, but they can soar an impressive distance through the air. We sometimes caught them in the Neuston net as it skimmed the top of the water. They are great fun to watch as groups of them will take to the air to get out of the way of the boat. Even more fun was watching dolphins hunting the flying fish! I was unsuccessful at getting a video, but you can watch them in this BBC clip.

flying fish
It must be the end of watch. Me with a flying fish.

Another cool animal we found were hermit crabs. The ones we caught were bigger than any I had found at a beach. The shell they live in was made by a gastropod (snail). As the hermit crab grows it has to find a bigger shell to move into.

hermit crab
A large hermit crab in its shell.

hermit crab without its shell
We had to take the hermit crab out of its shell to weigh it. The head and claws have a hard shell, but the back part is soft and squishy.

hermit and anemones
This hermit crab has sea anemones living on its shell.

Look closely at the spots of color on this video of a squid. You can see how the color and patterns are changing.

A few more cool critters we found:

This stargazer looks like a dragon, but fits in the palm of your hand. It buries itself in the mud and then springs out to grab prey.

mantis shrimp
We found many mantis shrimp. It gets its name because those front legs are similar to those of the praying mantis. Those legs are incredibly fast and strong to kill its prey.

I knew there were many oil rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico, but I was surprised by just how many we passed. There are almost 4,000 active rigs in the waters from Texas to Alabama. While we went through this area there were always a few visible. They reminded me of walkers, the long legged vehicles from the Star Wars movies, with their boxy shapes perched above the water. By comparison, the waters near Florida were deserted because offshore oil drilling is not allowed and there were few other ships.

oil rig
Oil rigs

evening rig
Work on an oil rig also goes on 24 hours a day.

It was fabulous spending this time out on the groundfish survey with the scientists and crew of the Oregon II. Now I have a greater understanding of the Gulf ecosystem and science in action.  I truly appreciate the time people on board spent to teach me new things and answer all my questions. I also have enjoyed all my students’ comments and questions. Keep them coming!

storm approaching
A storm approaches as we pull in to Pascagoula.

Adam Renick, Searching for Cetaceans and Wrapping Up, June 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Adam Renick
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12–26, 2013 

Mission: Kona Integrated Ecosystems Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: The West Coast of the Island of Hawaii
Date: Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Weather Data
Current Air Temperature: 77° F
Sea Surface Temperature: 77° F
Wind Speed: 3 knots

Finding the Cetaceans…
In the final days of our research cruise we set out to get an assessment of cetacean activity in the Kona area that we have been studying. In addition to the ongoing active acoustics, CTD and DIDSON sampling, we have added two new tasks to the science team to find as many cetaceans as possible. We have set up a hydrophone, which is a sound recorder that sits in the water and is pulled by the ship, to listen for the clicks, whistles and any other sounds dolphins and whales might make.

For examples of sounds cetaceans make please check out this website. When the sounds from the cetaceans are received the wave frequencies are recorded using some very interesting software that helps us determine the type of marine mammal it is and where it is located. Specifically locating and identifying the cetaceans requires the cooperation of many people and is not necessarily as simple as I am making it sound here.

The recording of a pod of approximately 150 Melon-Headed Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

The sounds of Pilot Whales. Credit: Ali Bayless

While the acoustics team and the ship’s crew are listening and seeking out the animals we also assist in the effort by making visual observations from the highest deck of the boat called the “flying bridge”. Here one or two people who are in communication with the science team below use binoculars and “big eyes” to visually find and identify marine mammals.

Blog5 013
Looking through the “big eyes”

Some of my personal observing highlights of this operation include a sperm whale, a pod of approximately 150 melon-headed whales and smaller pods of spinner dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, rough-toothed dolphin and pilot whales.

SE 13-04 Melon Heads
Visual observations of the Melon-Headed Whales.
Photo: Chad Yoshinaga

Rough Toothed Dolphins
Photo: Ali Bayless

Wrapping Up the Journey…
I cannot express enough gratitude to the members of the science team and the crew of the Sette for making my NOAA Teacher At Sea experience so rewarding. There are so many elements of this trip that are worth pause, reflection and appreciation. My emotions ranged from excitement just being at sea for 15 days and living a lifestyle that is unique and different than my own, the contemplative awe of the vast and complicated ocean ecosystem and the exhilaration when one of its own breaches the surface to give us a peek at it. In the end, I think my greatest appreciation gained along this journey was learning to slow myself down to the pace of nature in order to better observe and understand it.What’s next for me? NASA Teacher In Space… 2014 here I come!

Just kidding (is that even possible?) Until then I guess I should practice my moon-walking on Kilauea crater until I head back to my amazing wife and life in San Diego. Thanks for reading and, whatever you are doing out there in the world today, make a memory.

Marla Crouch: Hello Dutch Harbor, Alaska, June 8, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marla Crouch
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 8-26, 2013

Mission:  Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 8, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: as of 1900
Wind Speed 9.57 kts
Air Temperature 6.84°C
Relative Humidity 81.00%
Barometric Pressure 1,030.5 mb

Latitude:  53.52N   Longitude: 166.34W

Science and Technology Log

The Oscar Dyson is harbored in Captains Bay and there is much to do aboard before we set sail on our cruise.  Some equipment needs to be off loaded and stored while other equipment needs to be loaded and secured.  The Science Team checks their berth (room) assignments, drop off their gear, and begin the task of readying the equipment.

“What are the properties of sea water?”  Are you thinking liquid?  There are three properties that scientists routinely check, they are temperature, salinity and density.    The Dyson’s crew deploys an instrument referred to as the CTD.  The CTD contains sensors which continuously measure the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth of the water. The CTD is sent to the bottom to create a profile of the temperature and salinity (as measured by how well the water conducts electricity or its ‘conductivity’) and then is brought back to the surface.  On the way back up water samples are collected at per determined depths, in the grey bottles. The collected water samples are measured to calibrate the sensors on the CTD.  This information is then used to calibrate the sonar.

There are five grey water sample bottles on this CTD.
There are five grey water sample bottles
on this CTD.

Sonar uses sound waves called pings that bounce off objects creating echoes.  The echoes are recorded and used to create pictures of the sea floor and other object, such as schools of fish.  To calibrate the sonar a round shiny ball that reflects the pings is submerged beneath the ship. The scientists know the expected strength of the echo from the sphere given the water temperature and salinity, allowing them to calibrate the sonar. Sometimes fish interfere with the calibration process. Fish are curious creatures and want to investigate the shiny sphere, getting in the way of the pings and slowing down calibration.

When the calibrations have been completed we set sail.  As the Dyson sailed out of Captains Bay, we encountered dolphins jumping out of the water and whales surfacing. Perhaps they were feeding on the large school of fish seen in the sonar.

The sonar shows the sea floor, the band of blue, yellow and red. The schools of fish are the pink groupings.   The water depth is 123.23m.
The sonar shows the sea floor, the band of blue, yellow and red. The schools of fish are the pink groupings.
The water depth is 123.23m.

Personal Log 

Before leaving Seattle, I was told my luggage might not be on the same flight as I was on into Dutch Harbor.  The airport in ‘Dutch’ has a short runway and is serviced by turbo prop aircraft that seat 33 passengers.  When I checked in, I was asked for my weight and any carry-on.  The airline uses the total loaded weight of the aircraft to calculate how much runway is needed to take off and how much fuel is needed to reach the next refueling point.  Upon boarding the plane, the passengers were told that 87 pounds of luggage would not make the flight and more than likely the bags would be on tomorrow morning’s freighter– weather and volcanic activity permitting!  I kept my fingers crossed that my bag was in the cargo hold.  A little over an hour into the flight, we landed in King Salmon for refueling.  Shortly after landing, we were once again airborne for the 1 ½ hour flight to Dutch Harbor.  In route along the volcanic chain of Aleutian Islands, you can see peaks visibly venting steam and Mt. Pavlof’s snowy surface is blackened with fresh ash.  The Oscar Dyson will sail past several of these active volcanoes.  Looks like I’ll be adding a volcanic eruption to my list of “want to see” while aboard the Dyson. I am also hoping to see the Aurora Borealis and pods of Humpback and Orca whales.  Landing at Dutch Harbor I realized why weather is a crucial factor for safe touch downs.  A section of Mt. Ballyhoo has been blasted away to make room for the runway.  Peering out the window, one gets the feeling that the tip of the wing is barely whisking past the face of the cliff.  On the other side of the runway is the water of Iliuliuk Bay.  Good news, my luggage and I landed at the same time!

Dutch Harbor attracts many bird watchers, as bald eagles, puffins, rock ptarmigans and other birds are abundant here.  Juvenile bald eagles are dappled brown and white and blend into the rocky shore and crags of the steep cliffs.  This time of year, signs warning of nesting eagles are also abundant.  As birds tend to use me for target practice I am very mindful of the warnings.

Thankfully, I was not dive bombed by any eagles or other birds!
Thankfully, I was not dive bombed by any eagles or other birds!

At least 3 eagles are in this picture one adult  and two juveniles.  Can you find all three?
At least 3 eagles are in this picture one adult
and two juveniles. Can you find all three?

Before boarding the Oscar Dyson I visited the Museum of the Aleutians.  The exhibits feature information about life and culture in the Aleutians and how WWII impacted the people.  One of the displays featured several handmade parkas constructed from the gut (intestine) of seals and walruses.  The material is both light weight and water proof.

Parka made of gut.
Parka made of gut.

Just south of the museum is Bunker Hill towers above Dutch Harbor, and one can still see the zigzag pattern of the WWII  trenches etched into the landscape.  There is a trail to the bunker atop the hill; I think I’ll go for a walk.  Almost to the top of Bunker Hill about 700 feet above Dutch Harbor the panoramic vistas of Captains Bay, Dutch Harbor and the City Unalaska are spectacular.

Taken about half way up Bunker Hill.
Taken about half way up Bunker Hill.

Bunker atop Bunker Hill
Bunker atop Bunker Hill

Dutch Harbor with Mt. Ballyhoo in the background.

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Alaska helps to generate much of the seasonal rainfall along the west coast of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.  The strong surface currents, as high as 1.7kph (1.9mph) in the southern reaches combine with the cold arctic air to create these weather systems that affect our weather and climate.

Deborah Campbell: May 18, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deborah Campbell
Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster
May 14 – May 24, 2012

Mission:  Collecting Zebra Arc Shells and Multibeam Mapping
Geographical Area:  Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary
Date: Friday May 18th, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:  Skies are overcast.  Temperature 75 degrees

Science and Technology Log

Teacher At Sea Deborah Campbell aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster

Today I want to talk about two research projects that are going on aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster. The first project is the Arca zebra collection.

Zebra Arc Shell collected by scientist J.D. on a dive mission.

Scientist, J.D. has completed eleven dives to collect ten samples of the Arca zebra, which are also known as “turkey wing” shells.  By collecting the arc shells, scientists can examine the soft tissue inside the shell to determine the ecological conditions at Gray’s Reef.  Human activities such as using pesticides can make their way to the reef.  If you have read “The Lorax”, by Dr. Suess, you know that human activities could cause habitat destruction.  By monitoring Gray’s Reef, scientists can assess how healthy the reef is.  Two thirds of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary are used by recreational boaters, however no anchors can be used.  Anchors could damage habitats on the reef.  One third of the reef is used solely for scientific research.

Scientist J.D., Zebra Arc Shell Mission

The second research project is Multibeam Mapping of the ocean floor using the N.O.A.A. ship NANCY FOSTER multibeam sonar system.  Three people on board the ship monitor the computers for the mapping in the dry lab.  The dry lab and wet lab are next to each other.  No food or drinks are allowed in dry lab, because of the equipment.  Samantha Martin is the Senior Survey Technician and is in charge.  Kacey Johnson just graduated from the College of Charleston with a Bachelor’s degree in Geology.  Walter Potts is a Survey Technician.  All three rotate in shifts to monitor the mapping.

Samantha Martin (left) and Kacey Johnson

During the Multibeam Mapping, the  NANCY FOSTER is moving.  The multibeam sonar system is sending out “pings” into the water.  The pings travel through the water until they reach a surface that reflects sound, such as the sea floor.  Then the sound travels back to the receiver.  The receiver can calculate the depth measurement for each “ping”.

The Multibeam Mapping can be compare to dolphins “echolocation”.  Dolphins send out sound wave that sound like a click, which hits an object and then bounces back.  Dolphins’ sound waves gauge the distance of the object, and also the shape.

Dolphin swimming alongside the Foster.

Personal Log

Friday’s dives were suspended early due to rough ocean conditions.  The crew told us stories about times the sea got rough.  There are railings on beds.  There is also an extra board you can slide on the side of your mattress to insure that you stay in the bed.  One crew member told me that they went airborne.  It has been raining on and off.  We may not be able to go on small boats on Saturday, unless seas calm down.

Quote: “Unless someone like you cares a whole lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not”.  (The Lorax, by Dr. Suess)

Ocean Riddles:What do fish and maps have in common? They have scales…

Why are fish so smart? Because like Locke School students, they are in a school…

What has a beginning, middle, or end and touches every continent? The Ocean

What do you get when you graduate from scuba diving school? A Deep-loma

Dave Grant: Terra Nova, February 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 13, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26.30N Latitude – 71. 55W Longitude
Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South (bearing 189 deg)
Air Temperature: 23.2 C / 74 F
Atm Pressure: 1013.9 mb
Water Depth: 17433 feet
Cloud Cover: 30%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Personal Log

After an uneventful flight from New Jersey and an eventful trip from the airport at Charleston and through security at the naval base (Taxi drivers don’t like to have their vehicles inspected…), I am setting up my bunk on the Brown. There is a skeleton crew since I have arrived early and everyone else is expected to report tomorrow. Crates of equipment are still being loaded, so it is advisable to stay off the outside decks, and after a quick orientation by every  ship’s most important crew member (the chef),  I will have the evening free to find my way around the ship and explore the dock.
First order of business: Pick up bedding from the laundry down below.
Next: PB&J sandwich (Since the galley doesn’t open until tomorrow).
Finally: Grab the camera to catch the sunset and an amazing assortment of cloud types.

South Carolina’s estuaries are noted for their fine “muff” mud and oyster banks and the tideline at the docks is covered with a dense ring of oysters. Besides filtering great quantities of water and improving its quality, oyster “reefs” provide a secure habitat for a myriad of marinelife, and food for many creatures. (As a frustrated oyster farmer in South Jersey once remarked: “There ain’t much that lives in the ocean that doesn’t like to eat oysters!”)

Oyster Chain
Oyster Chain




The prettiest bird around is the red-breasted merganser, another diving fish eater. Hunters nicknamed mergansers “saw-bills” since their bills have tooth-like notches for snaring fishes. The word merganser comes via Latin mergere meaning “diver” and “to plunge.” Curiously, one of my favorite students always mixes up the word and somehow it comes out as Madagascar (!).

(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

The most secretive and uncommon bird around the piers is the pied-billed grebe. It also dives for its dinner, but on the bottom. When frightened (or pestered by a photographer trying to get close in the fading light) it discreetly sinks straight down and disappears like a submarine. Locally, this trick earned the grebe the nickname water witch, and by Louisiana sportsmen Sac de plomb (bag-of-lead).


By far the noisiest birds around and the only ones onboard, are boat-tailed grackles. The iridescent, purple-black males are hard to ignore when gathering for the night on our upper rigging. A common bird of Southeastern marshes; since the 1960’s boat-tails have been expanding their range north along the Eastern seaboard beyond Delaware Bay, and now breed all along the New Jersey coast. (A normal extension of their population, or perhaps a response to warming climate? Time will tell.)

Just before dark a peregrine falcon surprised me as it glided past the ship – undeniably the most exciting sighting of the day and a great way to end it.

 “Oh end this day,
me the ocean.
When shall I see the sea.
May this day set me in emotion
I ought to be on my way”
(James Taylor)

Dave Grant: The Ship Was Cheered, the Harbor Cleared…, February 15, 2012

 NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 15, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South/Southeast
Air Temperature: 23.9 deg C/75 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.5 deg C/76 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1016.23 mb
Water Depth: 4625 meters/15,174 feet
Cloud Cover: less than 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Personal Log

Crew and scientists are reporting for duty and everyone is to be onboard by sunset for a scheduled departure tomorrow morning. There are many boxes of equipment to unload and sampling devices to assemble, so everyone is busy, even during meal times.

Tall ships had miles of rope and lines for handling enormous amounts of sail.
The Brown is also carrying miles of line and cable too, but not for sailing. This is coiled neatly on reels and will be used to anchor moorings of monitoring equipment that will record water temperatures and salinities for an entire year until they are recovered on the next cruise. These moorings are anchored with ship recycled chain and old railroad wheels and their long lines of sensors rising to the surface from 5,000 meters form the electronic “picket fence” spaced between Florida and Africa across the 26.5 degree North Latitude line we are sailing.

On our last night ashore we went downtown to enjoy dinner at one of the many nice restaurants in the historic district. It was a good time to update each other on different projects and make any last minute purchases. Everyone is anxious to get started. As captains like to say:

 “Ships and sailors rot at port.”
(Horatio Nelson)

Day 3 
We are leaving the dock on schedule and heading down river.

Old sailors’ superstitions say that a small bird or bee landing on the deck of a departing vessel foretells good luck on a voyage, and a tangled anchor line forecasts bad luck. Glancing around, I observe our noisy grackles preparing to depart neighboring ships at dock –  so I hope they qualify as small birds. And huddled out of the wind on deck is a crane-fly – not a bee, but a harmless bug that looks like a giant mosquito. Perhaps no guarantee of good luck, but since all our lines and chain are neatly stowed, I am confident that an old “salt” – seeing how ship-shape the Brown is – would concur that we shouldn’t unnecessarily envision any bad luck on our cruise.


Dolphin "X"

Sailing down river we receive a great treat and are guided to the sea by small groups of dolphins surfing underwater in our bow wave. These are Tursiops – the bottle-nosed, the most common and well-known members of the dolphin family Delphinidae. Tursiops is Latin for “dolphin-like.”  Their comradeship is another reassuring sign of good luck to suspicious sailors. It is a remarkable spectacle and entertainment to everyone, even the veteran crew members, who, like the ancient mariners, have reported it many times. Although they seem to be taking turns at the lead, one dolphin that keeps resurfacing has a small cross-shaped scar on the port side (Left) of the blowhole; proving that at least one member of the pod has kept pace with us for the entire time.

Ship mates. (Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

Curiously, they know to abandon us near the river mouth to join other “bow riders” that have caught the wave of a freighter that is entering the river and heading upstream. Noteworthy is the bulbous bow protruding in front of the freighter. Reminiscent of the bottle nose of a dolphin, the bulb modifies the way the water flows around the ship’s hull, reducing drag – which increases speed, range, fuel efficiency and stability – things dolphins were rewarded with through evolution. And what a show the dolphins make riding the steeper bow wave! Actually launching out of the vertical face of it like surfers.

Bow rider!

Passing historic Ft. Sumter we receive an impromptu lecture by some of the crew on Charleston’s rich history from the days of Blackbeard the pirate, up through the Civil War. There is an interesting mix of people on board, from several countries and with extraordinary backgrounds. There is also a great assortment of vessels using the bay – freighters, tankers, tugs, patrol boats, cranes, sailboats and a huge bright cruise ship. I am reminded of Walt Whitman’s Song for All Seas, All Ships:

Of ships sailing the seas, each with its special flag or ship-signal,
Of unnamed heroes in the ships – of waves spreading and spreading
As far as the eye can reach,
Of dashing spray, and the winds piping and blowing,
And out of these a chant for the sailors of all nations…



 I note a transition here from the river to bay ecosystems reflected in the birdlife observed. Grebes and mergansers are replaced by pelicans and gulls.

The bay mouth is protected from wave action by low rip-rap jetties, and outside of them in a more oceanic environment are loons, scoters, and our first real seabirds – northern gannets. Loons spend the summer and nest on pristine northern lakes like those in New Hampshire (Reminding me of the movie On Golden Pond) but migrate out to saltwater to winter in ice-free coastal areas.

Scoters (Melanitta) are stocky, dark sea ducks that winter over hard bottoms like the harbor entrance, where they can dive down and scrape mussels and other invertebrates from the rocks and gravel.

Gannets are cousins of the pelicans but much more streamlined. They too dive for food but from much greater heights, sometimes over 100’. They also plunge below the surface like javelins to snare fishes. They are wide-ranging visitors along the East and Gulf coasts, wintering at sea, and returning to isolated cliff nesting colonies known as a “gannetry”  in Maritime Canada

The ship was cheered, the harbor cleared,
Merrily did we drop,
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

 Sullivan Island lighthouse
Latitude: 32.75794
Longitude: -79.84326

The odd triangular shaped tower of Sullivan Island lighthouse originally had installed the second brightest light in the Western Hemisphere. (Said to be so powerful that keepers needed to wear asbestos welding gear when servicing the light)
At 163 feet, its unusual flash pattern is tricky to catch on camera, but it is our last visual link to the mainland, and it will be the only land feature we will see until we are off the lighthouse at Abaco, Bahamas, after ten days at sea. A lighthouse keeper at the lens room, watching us sail away, could calculate at what distance (in miles) we will disappear over the horizon with a simple navigator’s formula:

The square root of 1.5 times your Elevation above se level.
Try it out:  √1.5E’ = _____ Miles 

√1.5 x 163′  = _____ Miles  to the horizon

(Images on the Ron Brown by Dave Grant)

Dave Grant: Going “Blue Water”
, February 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dave Grant
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 17, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South/Southeast
Air Temperature: 23.9 deg C/75 deg F
Water Temperature: 24.5 deg C/76 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1016.23 mb
Water Depth: 4625 meters/15,174 feet
Cloud Cover: less than 20%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Science/Technology Log

Sailors used to describe their trips as short-haul or coastal,
or “long seas” which also was described as going “Blue Water”

We are off to a great start after passing the harbor lighthouse and breakwater, and the seas are calm and winds gentle. The Low Country and barrier islands of South Carolina disappear quickly over the horizon, and the most striking change for me is the color of the water. As we have transited from the sediment rich waters upriver, to the estuary, and out to the ocean, its color has gone from grayish, to green to blue.

Bay/Estuary water in Charleston

Gulf Stream water

As a rapid indicator of what’s going on within it biologically, oceanographers use the color of the water. To quantify their observations for other scientist to compare results, a white secchi disc is lowered just below the surface and the observer compares the ocean’s color with tinted water in a series of small vials – the Forel-Ule Scale. (Francois Forel was an oceanographer and his end of the scale is the bluest; and Willi Ule was a limnologist and his end of the scale is darker, reflecting the fresh waters he studied.) The 21 colors run the gambit of colors found in natural waters and modified by the plankton community and range from brownish-to-green-to-blue. This gives you a quick measure of productivity of the waters and the types of phytoplankton predominating. For example: Diatom blooms are brownish and Dinoflagellate blooms form the notorious red tides. Clear, less productive waters look blue, and we are sailing into waters that are a deeper blue with every league we sail.

I lack a secchi disk and we can’t stop the ship to lower one anyway, so I am using instead a scupper on the side as a photographic frame to document this well-studied and interesting phenomenon.

“Being on a boat that’s moving through the water, it’s so clear.
Everything falls into place in terms of what’s important, and what’s not.”
(James Taylor)

Before departing on the trip I came across Richard Pough’s bird map of the Atlantic. On it he divides the ocean into 10-degree quadrants and indicates the average water temperature and number of birds he sighted daily. The good news is we are heading southeast into warmer waters. The bad news is, he does not indicate a very productive hunting ground for bird watching. For example, Cape Hatteras, NC, where the Gulf Stream skirts North Carolina, shows 40 birds. Off the highly productive sub-polar regions like Iceland where there are great breeding colonies of seabirds like gannets, he indicates scores of birds. Regardless, I am hopeful we will find some true seabirds to photograph on our voyage; and perhaps have some migrating songbirds drop in for a rest.

Gulf Stream sunset

Today, as our colleague Wes Struble discusses on his blog, we retrieved our first samples with the CTD rosette. Water is retrieved from predetermined levels between the surface and 4,500 meters sealed in bottles for salinity and dissolved oxygen analysis. These two physical features, along with temperature, are the benchmarks physical oceanographers rely upon to track the ocean circulation.

For an understanding of this process and an overview of the project, I met with Molly Baringer in her office – a large bench that the ship’s carpenter built on deck. It seats three and is similar to a lifeguard stand, so it can give a view of the water and fit over the [dis]array of equipment constantly being shifted around the fantail by various scientists and deck hands. With the calm seas and sunny weather, it is the perfect spot on the ship to sit with a laptop to outline daily assignments for all of us, review the mass of data streaming in, and relax to watch the sunset.

“When I am playful,
I use the meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude for a seine,
and drag the Atlantic Ocean for whales!”

Mark Twain

Scientists and crew prepare to retrieve a mooring before the next big wave!

Chief scientist Dr. Baringer is a physical oceanographer and so is interested less in the creatures moving around in the ocean and more about the water currents that are moving them around, and particularly the vast amount of heat that is transferred from the Equator to the Polar Regions by “rivers in the sea” like the Gulf Stream.

 Currents and storms in our atmosphere produce our daily weather patterns, which of course change seasonally too. Ocean currents work on a much longer time scale and the text book example of the turnover time of warm water moving Pole-ward, cooling and returning to the Tropics as “centuries.” This timeframe infers that dramatic fluctuations in climate do not occur.

However, by analyzing ice cores from Greenland, scientists recently have detected evidence of abrupt changes in climate – particularly a significant cooling event 8,200 years ago – that could be associated with vacillations in the Gulf Stream. Although lacking a blackboard at her impromptu lecture hall on deck, a patient Dr. Baringer was artful in walking me through a semester of climatology and modeling to highlight the implications of an oscillating Gulf Stream and its deepwater return waters – the Deep Western Boundary Current.

Surface water is driven from the southern latitudes towards the Poles along the western side of the Atlantic, constantly deflected in a clockwise pattern by the Earth’s rotation. Bathing Iceland with warm and saltier water and keeping it unusually mild for its sub-polar latitude, the Gulf Stream divides here with some water flowing into the Arctic Sea and the rest swirling down the Eastern Atlantic moderating the climate in Great Britain, France and Portugal. (This explains the presence of a rugged little palm tree that I once saw growing in a Scottish garden.)

Perturbations in the northward flow of heat by meanderings of the Gulf Stream or the smothering of it of it by lighter fresh waters from melting ice in Greenland and Canada appears play a significant role in occasionally upsetting Europe’s relatively mild and stable climate – which is bad enough. What is more alarming is new evidence that these changes don’t necessarily occur gradually over centuries as once assumed, but can take place rapidly, perhaps over decades.

There is more bad news. The surface of the sea is dynamic and even without wind and waves, there are gentle hills and valleys between areas. I remember my surprise when our physical oceanography teacher, Richard Hires, pointed out that because of warmer water and displacement by the Earth’s rotation, Gulf Stream waters are about a meter higher than the surrounding ocean…that to sail East into it from New Jersey, we are actually going uphill. If these giant boundary currents are suppressed in their movements, it will exasperate an ongoing coastal problem as those hills and valleys of water flatten, resulting in rising sea levels and erosion along northern coastlines.

This explains why we are “line sailing” at 26.5 North, sampling water and monitoring sensors arrayed on the parallel of latitude between Africa and the Bahamas. To measure change, it is necessary to have baseline data, and the stretch of the Atlantic is the best place to collect it.

Snap shots of the water column are taken using the CTD apparatus as we sail an East-West transect, but at $30-50,000. Per day for vessel time, this is not practical or affordable. Here is where moorings, data recorders and long-life Lithium batteries come into play. By anchoring a line of sensors in strategic locations and at critical depths to take hourly readings, year-long data sets can be recorded and retrieved periodically. Not only does this save time and money, it is the only way to generate the ocean of data for researchers to analyze and create a model of what is happening over such a vast region – and what may occur in the future.

For more specific details, check out the project overview.

Deep Western Boundary Current Transport Time Series to study:
-the dynamics and variability of ocean currents;
-the redistribution of heat, salt and momentum through the oceans;
-the interactions between oceans, climate, and coastal environments; and
-the influence of climate changes and of the ocean on extreme weather events.
Information at:

We hear that “The package is on deck” and it is time to collect water samples from the 24 different depths the Niskin bottles were fired (Remotely closed). As any aquarist will assure you, as soon as seawater is contained it begins to change, so we always start with the bottom water and work around to the top water since dissolved oxygen levels can drop with rising temperatures and biological activity from planktonic creatures trapped along with the water samples.

Although as oceanography students we read that most ocean water is quite cold (~3.5C)  because only the top 100 meters soaks up the warmth from sunlight, it is still an awakening for me to fill the sample bottles with even colder bottom water. After a half hour of rinsing and filling bottles, my hands are reminded of the times I worked in an ice cream parlor restocking containers from the freezer and filling soft-serve cones. It is a delight to get to the last several bottles of warm (25C) surface water.

Once the DO and salinity bottles are filled, they are removed to the chemistry lab and the Niskins are all mine. By holding a small plankton net under them as they drain excess water, I try my luck at catching whatever has almost settled to the bottom. There is an extra bonus too. A patch of floating Sargassum weed that tangled in the rosette was retrieved by the technician and set aside for me to inspect.

Windrows of Sargassum weed drift past the Ron Brown

Here is what I found under the microscope so far:

From depth:

The bottom water is absolutely clear with no obvious life forms swimming around. However a magnification of 50x’s and the extra zoom of my handy digital camera set-up reveals a number of things of interest I am sorting into AB&C’s:
Abiotic: Specks of clear mineral crystals. Are these minute sediments washed from the mainland or nearby Caribbean islands? Or is it possible they are quartz grains carried from much greater distances, like the Saharan dust that satellite images have proven are swept up by desert winds and carried all the way across the Atlantic?

Biotic: Although I can not find anything living, the silica dioxide skeletons (frustules) of at least two species of diatoms are present. These fragile fragments of glass accumulate in deep sediments below highly productive zones in the sea and different species are useful to paleontologists for determining the age of those deposits. On land, fossil diatom deposits are mined for diatomaceous earth – used as an abrasive and cleaner, pool filter material, and even in nanotechnologyresearch applications. There is other detrital material in the samples, but nothing identifiable.

Celestial(?): One tiny round particle caught my attention under the microscope. It looks like the images I’ve seen of microtektites – glassy and metallic meteor particles that have been molded by the heat of entry into the atmosphere. The Draxler brothers, two science students in Massachusetts, collect them and I hope they will confirm my identification when I see them again.

Dust particle (Right) and foraminifera (Center)

From the surface:

The warm, sunlit surface water here is covered with Sargassum weed, a curious algae that sustains an entire ecosystem in the waters mariners named the Sargasso Sea. On board the Brown it is simply called “weed” in part because it can be a minor nuisance when entangled with equipment. The Sargassum’s air bladders that support it at the surface reminded Portuguese sailors of their sargazagrapes and they named the gulfweed after them.

Can you spot the two Sargassum shrimp next to the air bladder?

Floating Sargassum weed harbors a great variety of other creatures including baby sea turtles, crustaceans and especially bryozoan colonies. The film of life encrusting the weed is sometimes called aufwuchs by scientists and is a combined garden and zoo.

A quick rinse in a plastic bag revealed two species of bryozoan and numerous tiny crustaceans. The Phylum Bryozoa is the “moss animals” a puzzling colonial creature to early biologists. Bryozoans are an ancient group with a long fossil record and are used by paleontologists as an “index” species to date sediments.

Byozoan colony

To my delight there were also some foraminifera in the samples. “Forams” as they are called by researchers, are single celled protozoa with calcium carbonate skeletons. They are abundant and widespread in the sea; having had 330 million years to adjust to different habitats – drifting on the surface in the plankton community and on benthic habitats on the bottom.

It is not necessary for you to go to sea with a microscope to find them. I have seen their skeletons imbedded in the exterior walls of government buildings in Washington, DC; and our own lab building at Sandy Hook, NJ has window sills cut from Indiana limestone – formed at the bottom of the warm Mesozoic seas that once covered the Midwest. In the stone, a magnifying glass reveals pin-head sized forams cemented among a sea of Bryozoan fragments. Some living forams from tropical lagoons are large enough to be seen without a magnifier, and  are among the largest single-celled creatures on the planet. With a drop of acid (The acid test!) our Geology students confirm that our window sills are indeed made of limestone as the drops fizzing reaction releases carbon dioxide sequestered when the animal shell formed.

Living foraminifera eat algae, bacteria and detritus and are fed upon by fishes, crustaceans and mollusks. Dead forams make contributions to us by carrying the carbon in their skeletons to the bottom where it is sequestered for long geological periods.

Geologists also use different species of forams as “index” species to fix the date of strata in sediment cores and rocks. The appearance and demise of their different fossil assemblages leave a systematic record of stability and change in the environment; and paleoclimatologists use the ratios of Carbon and Oxygen isotopes in their skeletons document past temperature ranges.

Our first plankton samples extracted from the deepest samples retrieved from the Niskin bottles at 4,000 meters (2.5C) did not produce any forams. This may be because in deep, cold water, calcium carbonate is more soluble and the skeletons dissolve. Presumably why we identified only the glassy tests of diatoms.

Foraminifera shell at 100x’s

Tiny Paramecia swarm over the detritus in my slide and taking a closer look at that and the growth associated with the weed I am reminded of Jonathon Swifts jingle:

Big fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite ’em
And little fleas have lesser fleas

And so, ad infinitum 

Sunset over the Sargassum Sea

The Chief Scientist:

A day in the life of our chief scientist involves: checking with her staff to evaluate the previous day’s collections, consulting with visiting scientists on their needs and any problems that might arise, checking with the deck hands and technicians about equipment needs and repairs, advising the ship’s officers of any issues, and making certain we are on course and schedule for the next station.

And then rest? Hardly!

Even when off duty there are inquiries to field from staff, scientists and crew; equipment repairs to be made; and software that needs to be tweaked to keep the data flowing.

How does one prepare for a career like this?
Physically: the capacity to function on little sleep so you can work 12-hour shifts and be on-call the other twelve. (And there is little escape at mealtimes either, where the conversation never stays far from the progress of the cruise.)Mentally: the capability to multi-task with a variety of very different chores.
Emotionally: the flexibility to accommodate people with many different personalities and  needs, while staying focused on your own work.
Also, excellent organizational skills, since months of planning and preparation are crucial.
And perhaps most importantly, a sense of humor!


Midnight shift.
Chief Scientist Dr. Molly Baringer prepares to fire the XBT
off the stern for an 800 meter profile of temperature and pressure.

Wes Struble: Arrival and Departure, February 19, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Wes Struble
Aboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown
February 15 – March 5, 2012

Mission: Western Boundary Time Series
Geographical Area: Sub-Tropical Atlantic, off the Coast of the Bahamas
Date: February 19, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: 26 deg 30 min MN Latitiude & 71 deg 55 min Longitude
Windspeed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: South (bearing 189 deg)
Air Temperature: 23.2 deg C / 74 deg F
Atm Pressure: 1013.9 mb
Water Depth: 17433 feet
Cloud Cover: 30%
Cloud Type: Cumulus

Personal Log

With some minor travel changes in Seattle and a redeye flight into Charleston, South Carolina I arrived at NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown at about 10:30 am Tuesday morning – tired but grateful. We left port mid-morning the next day and headed south/southeast. On the way out of port we were treated to a dolphin escort – five or six dolphins surfed our bow wave for half an hour or more. I share a stateroom with another teacher, David Grant. My stateroom  is comfortable and I will be sleeping on the upper bunk – a somewhat tight fit and something I haven’t done since my brother and I were sharing a room while we were in junior high school.

The Ronald H. Brown docked at the pier before our departure

David Grant, my fellow teacher-at-sea, working in our stateroom

A Dolphin escort off the bow of the Ron Brown as we head out of Charleston

The Ron Brown is the largest ship in the NOAA fleet. She was commissioned in 1997 and is named in honor of Ronald H. Brown, Secretary of Commerce under the Clinton Administration who died in a plane crash on a trip to Bosnia. With a length of just under 280 feet the Ron Brown has ample deck space for hauling all the various amounts of materials and equipment needed for a research cruise.  The ship’s captain is Captain Mark Pickett, the Executive Officer is Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Jones, the operations officer is Lieutenant James Brinkley, the medical officer is Lieutenant Christian Rathke, with Ensign Aaron Colohan, and Ensign Jesse Milton making up the remaining officers. The entire ship’s complement is divided up between the NOAA Corps crew members, the merchant marines, and the science staff. For this trip we have approximately 50 people on board including the crew and the scientists.  From the science group there are four of us that will be dividing up the CTD watch: David Grant, Shane Elipot, Aurélie Duchez, and myself. As I mentioned earlier, David Grant is my Teacher at Sea colleague for this cruise. He hails from Sandy Hook, New Jersey which is considered the most northern sandy beach in the state. David teaches a variety of science courses at a community college. Shane & Aurélie are from France (although they both currently work in the UK for the Natural Environment Research Council).

A Coast Guard Ship shared the pier with the Ron Brown

The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge over the Cooper River, Charleston SC - a fine example of a graceful Cable Stay Bridge

A view of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge from below as the Ron Brown passes under the bridge

A view of Fort Sumter - one of the icons of the War between the States

A mass of sargassum (floating seaweed) - from which we derive the name of this part of the Atlantic Ocean - the Sargasso Sea

After the Brown got underway we had the first of many drills. All of the science crew met in the main lab where one of the NOAA Corps officers, ENS Jesse Milton, reviewed the proper use of the rescue breathing apparatus, the Gumby suit, and the PFD (personal flotation device). When the meeting was over we had three practice drills: Fire/Emergency, Abandon ship, and Man Overboard. Each of these emergency situations has their own alarm bell pattern and all those aboard have particular responsibilities and particular muster stations to which they are to report.

A Fire/Emergency is identified by a long (10 seconds or more) continuous alarm bell. When the bell sounds everyone is to move to their assigned stations. The science crew is to go to the main lab and await instructions. If the main lab is actually where the fire or emergency is located our second muster point is the mess.

A series of short blasts (at least 6) followed by a long continuous blast indicates Abandon ship. When this alarm sounds you are to drop whatever you are doing return to your stateroom and retrieve your PFD and Gumby suit and report to your muster station. In addition to the life saving articles, you should be wearing long pants, a long sleeve shirt, and a hat (to protect you from exposure while drifting at sea in the life boat). For this emergency situation I am to report to fire station 15 with a number of other members of the crew and be ready to load into a lifeboat.

Three long alarm bells announce a man overboard. During this emergency different groups of people are assigned different positions around the ship to look for and point to the person who has gone overboard. When the floating person is spotted, all those on deck are to indicate the overboard person’s position by pointing with their outstretched arm. A person floating in the water produces a very low profile and can be very difficult to see from a small boat bouncing in the waves. If the rescue team has trouble locating the floating person they can look up at the ship and see where all the spotters are pointing. This can direct them toward the overboard person’s location.

Elizabeth Bullock: Day 5, December 15, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Bullock
Aboard R/V Walton Smith
December 11-15, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida Coast and Gulf of Mexico
Date: December 15, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 3:15pm
Air Temperature: 23.6 degrees C
Wind Speed: 15.8 knots
Relative Humidity: 56%

Science and Technology Log

Liz takes a water sample
Here I am taking a water sample from the CTD.

Let’s talk about the flurometer!  The flurometer is  a piece of equipment attached to the CTD which is being used on this cruise to measure the amount of chlorophyll (specifically chlorophyll_a) in the water being sampled.  It works by emitting different wavelengths of light into a water sample.  The phytoplankton in the sample absorb some of this light and reemit some of it.  The flurometer measures the fluorescence (or light that is emitted by the phytoplankton) and the computer attached to the CTD records the voltage of the fluorescence.

The flurometer can be used to measure other characteristics of water, but for this research cruise, we are measuring chlorophyll.  As you know, chlorophyll is an indicator of how much phytoplankton is in the water.  Phytoplankton makes up the base of the marine food web and it is an important indicator of the health of the surrounding ecosystem.

At the same time that our cruise is collecting this information, satellites are also examining these components of water quality.  The measurements taken by the scientific party can be compared to the measurements being taken by the satellite.  By making this comparison, the scientists can check their work.  They can also calibrate the satellite, constantly improving the data they receive.

Combined with all the other research I’ve written about in previous blogs, the scientists can make a comprehensive picture of the ecosystem with the flurometer.  They can ask: Is the water quality improving?  Degrading?  Are the organisms that live in this area thriving?  Suffering?

Nelson records data from the CTD
Nelson records data from the CTD.

Collecting data can help us make decisions about how better to protect our environment.  For example, this particular scientific party, led by Nelson Melo, was able to inform the government of Florida to allow more freshwater to flow into Florida Bay.  Nelson and his team observed extremely high salinity in Florida Bay, and they used the data they collected to inform policy makers.

Personal Log

Today is my last full day on the Walton Smith.  The week went by so fast!  I had an amazing time and I want to say thank you to the crew and scientific party on board.  They welcomed me and taught me so much in such a short time!

Thank you also to everyone who read my blog.  I hope you enjoyed catching a glimpse of science in action!

Answers to Poll Questions:

1)      In order to apply to the Teacher at Sea program, you must be currently employed, full-time, and employed in the same or similar capacity next year as

a. a K-12 teacher or administrator

b. a community college, college, or university teacher

c. a museum or aquarium educator

d. an adult education teacher

2)      The R/V Walton Smith holds 10,000 gallons of fuel.  By the way, the ship also holds 3,000 gallons of water (although the ship desalinates an additional 20-40 gallons of water an hour).

Elaine Bechler: Phenomenal Feeding Frenzy, July 25, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elaine Bechler
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 21 – 26, 2011 

Mission: Survey of Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones NMS
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Off the California Coast
Date: July 25, 2011 

Science and Technology Log

Humpbacks performing vertical lunge feeding

Cool stuff today.  While transiting between one transect and another, the R/V Fulmar happened upon a major feeding event.  While approaching, hundreds of birds could be seen flying and diving along with evidence of many humpback whale spouts.  It turned out to be a furious feeding frenzy of myriads of birds, dolphins, pinipeds and whales.  Very dramatic was the vertical lunge feeding of the humpback whales.  We could see their huge mouths open and pointed upward as they gobbled silvery fish.  The whales would release huge loud exhales over and over.  A pod of 20 Pacific white-sided dolphins would lunge and dive down randomly seeking the swift swimmers.  Entering from the north side came a pod of Northern-right whale dolphins so sleek and moving in a group as if choreographed.  Thousands of seabirds including Sooty and Pink footed Shearwaters, Northern Fulmars, Black-footed Albatrosses, Western Gulls, Fork-tailed Storm Petrels and Common Murres were diving and competing for the fish.  We could hear the feet, wings, beaks and calls from their interactions on the surface.   It was remarkable to see the shearwaters swimming after the prey.  The feeding group would move and change as the school of fish darted about from below.  It was a tumultuous feast.

Bird feeding frenzy

shearwater feeding under water
Shearwater feeding under water

What we witnessed was the food web in action!  Each of these animals was supported by the fish they were eating.  Those fish were supported by a smaller food source such as smaller fish and zooplankton.  Those small organisms rely on the phytoplankton to capture the solar radiation from the sun and to use the deep water nutrients which were upwelled to the surface waters.   Create 5 food chains 5 organisms long that could have been in place in the ocean that day.

Dall's Porpoise
Dall's Porpoise

Earlier I noted a Western Gull spy a white object in the water and attempt to land on it for feeding only to find it was a piece of paper.  I had never observed the interaction of a marine animal with marine debris until now.  It was obvious that the debris caught the gull’s attention from a good distance away and had attracted it to the surface of the water.  How could this action affect the food web?

I feel fortunate to have been chosen to experience this cruise and all that went along with it.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat (with sufficient amounts of  seasickness medication!).  Thank you R/V Fulmar crew, ACCESS team, PRBO Conservation Science , TAS team and NOAA for this opportunity.  Thank you Sophie Webb for all of the photos of the frenzy on this page.

Pacific White-sided dolphins and Kaitlin
Pacific White-sided dolphins and Kaitlin

Caitlin Fine: Endings and beginnings, August 9, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Fine
Aboard University of Miami Ship R/V Walton Smith
August 2 – 7, 2011

Mission: South Florida Bimonthly Regional Survey
Geographical Area: South Florida and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 9, 2011

Personal Log

The last days of the survey cruise followed a pattern similar to the first days. Everyone got into the schedule of working 12-hour shifts and everyone accepted their role and responsibilities as a member of the team.

We all (morning and night shifts) ate dinner together and often (if there were no stations to be sampled) sat together to play board games, such as Chinese checkers.

Maria and I in the "stateroom" we shared

The scientific team plays Chinese checkers

We also all watched the sunsets together — each one was spectacular!

Science team at sunset

On the night of August 6th, we were towing the Neuston net through an area that had so many jellyfish that we could not lift the net out of the water. We had to get another net to help lift the heavy load. We all took bets to see how many jellyfish we had caught. I bet 15 jellyfish, but I was way off — there were over 50 jellyfish in the net! There were so many, that as we were counting them, they began to slide off the deck and back into the water. I have a great video that I cannot wait to share with you in September!

Moon jellies sliding off the deck!

Science equipment in the truck

The ship arrived back in Miami on Sunday night around 7:30pm. It was amazing how quickly everyone unloaded the scientific equipment and started to go their separate ways. Because the NOAA building (Atlantic Oceanographic and Meterological Laboratory, AOML) is located right across the street from where the Walton Smith docks, we loaded all of the equipment into a truck and delivered it to the AOML building.

This was great because I got a quick tour of the labs where Lindsey, Nelson and others run the samples through elaborate tests and computer programs in order to better understand the composition of the ocean water.

Lindsey in one of the NOAA labs

In reflecting upon the entire experience, I feel extremely fortunate to have been granted the opportunity of a lifetime to participate in Teacher at Sea. I was able to help with all aspects of the scientific research from optics, to chemistry, to marine biology as well as help with equipment that is usually reserved for the ship’s crew, such as lowering the CTD or tow nets into the water.

There were many moments when I felt like some of my students who are struggling to learn either English or Spanish. There are a lot of scientific terms, terms used to describe the equipment (CTD and tow net parts), and basic boat terminology that I had not been exposed to previously. I am thankful that all of the members of the cruise were patient with my constant questions (even when I would ask the same thing 3 or 4 times!) and who tried to explain complex concepts to me at a level that I would understand and be able to take back to my students.

I am using the GER 1500 spectroradiometer

It makes me reflect again on everything I learned during my MEd classes in Multicultural/Multilingual Education — a good educator empowers students to ask questions, take risks, ask more questions, helps students access information at their level, is forever patient with students who are learning language at the same time that they are learning new concepts, provides plenty of hands-on experiments and experiences so students put into practice what they are learning about instead of just reading or writing about it.

A porthole on the R/V Walton Smith

As we sailed into Miami, a bottlenose dolphin greeted us – sailing between the two hulls of the catamaran and coming up often for air. It was so close, that I could almost touch it! Even though I was sad that the survey cruise was over, it was as though the dolphin was welcoming me home and on to the next phase of my Teacher at Sea adventure: I return to the classroom in September loaded with great memories, anecdotes, first hand-experiences, and a more complete knowledge of oceanography and related marine science careers to help empower my students so that they consider becoming future scientists and engineers. Thank you Teacher at Sea!

Survey cruise complete, returning to Miami

Walter Charuba: Red Skies at Night: July 21st, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Walter Charuba
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 18 — 29, 2011

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 21, 2011

Science and Technology Log

There is an old sailor’s proverb: “Red Sky at night, it will be bright” or “sailors take flight“ or something like that. I just know that I live by this saying and it has caused many a captain to throw away their weather charts. There was a beautiful red sunset last night and I stood at the bow or stern (I am down to two boat locations now) in complete admiration. However, when I started my shift in the morning there was a front moving in with rain clouds and lightning. I must admit I have been pretty calm most of the trip and this has not been due to the Dramamine. Seeing these clouds caused my imagination to get the better part of me, which of course would be the part that includes my brain.  I had images of “The Great Wave” by Hokausai racing in my head.  This outlook was ridiculous because there weren’t even white caps on the waves. The storm never hit us and the day turned out to be excellent.

Dolphins chasing flying fish at night

Another reason last night was special was because I was able to view some dolphins at a very close distance.  First Mate, Michael Richter, made it quite clear that no one was supposed to walk around the boat alone at night, especially the dark upper deck , and especially on the railings. So after daylight, we are limited to the lighted lower deck.  As I was reviewing my constellations, the light seemed to attract these flying fishes. I do not know if this is true, because correlation isn’t always causation, but it looked true.  As I was staring at the flying fishes, a large splash startled everyone. It was a spotted dolphin and a calf jumping for the flying fishes. The dolphins jumped around for about twenty minutes until we took off to our next destination. It was kind of like our own little Sea World, except natural. It was a perfect way to end the night.

Here I am (right) preparing to help with the trap collection

Morning was the time to not only see, but capture, new creatures. My last blog described the deployment of traps, but now I will write about the retrieval of traps. Science Watch Chief, David Berrane termed this “action time.”  The two flotation buoys we drop are significant because, after “soaking” a trap for 90 minutes, the boat returns to these devices and a crew member has to throw a grappling hook at a line between the buoys. We then quickly pull the buoys in next to the boat.  The buoys are lifted up, the line is connected to a “hauler,” and a trap is pulled on board. This may sound simple but it is actually a five person task. The task is very intense and focused because people may trip over the buoys or ropes, or the trap’s line can snap due to weight or current. Hopefully the trap will be filled with fish and the cameras will record useful data from depths ranging from 25 to 83 meters. As soon as the trap is brought on board, the fish are collected and the cameras are disconnected.

The cameras used on the fish traps

The video survey of the reef is just as important as capturing fish, as cameras can assess the population of species that do not go in traps. Zeb Schobernd, the video watch commander, and I do salute him, downloads all the data on board for further viewing during the off season. Imagine all the viewing that has to be done? For instance fifteen videos were taken in one day of our ten day cruise, and there are four or five missions a year. To avoid reef video insanity, the data is viewed in thirty second intervals which is still a great deal of work.

Fish brought on board are immediately classified to species, and then measured individually. Measurement data are called “length frequency,” and hundreds of fish could be measured from one trap. According to a random tally sheet, certain fish are kept to collect “age and growth” data. Again, this could be hundreds of fish. In the ship’s “wet lab,” fish are then dissected. Most fish have a pair of “otolith” bones (i.e., ear stones) in their head.  Otoliths are collected at sea, but sent to a lab where they will be examined under a microscope.  When otoliths are cut by a delicate saw, visible rings tell the age of a fish, similar to how the rings visible on a tree stump can tell the age of a tree. Fish are further dissected to check the condition of their reproductive systems.

In the next blog I will I write about the “CTD” device.

Walter Charuba: Trap Deployment, July 21st, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Walter Charuba
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 18 — 29, 2011

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Southeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 21, 2011

Science and Technology Log

Dear Blog Aficionados,

Cumulonimbus clouds on the horizon
Cumulonimbus clouds on the horizon

Today I saw two different types of sea turtles, a bunch of jelly fishes, dolphins, and the people on the boat. It has been a beautiful day and I am trying to rest up because it is going to be a long day and night of setting up traps and categorizing fish. The weather here is hot and somewhat clear. I believe there is a high pressure system over us at this time. However, when you look over the coast of Florida there are these extremely large rain clouds, which are cumulonimbus clouds, rising into the sky.  The sky is clear all around the boat and suddenly there is this large mass of clouds. Last night was very memorable when a lightning storm intermittently made this region glow. I stood at the bow, stern, port side, or starboard side in wonder of this spectacle. (Hopefully I will learn locations by the end of the trip.)

The last time I wrote about myself I was a bit nauseated, which does not do much for the self-esteem. My name is Walter Charuba and I have been teaching for a number of years. (This is code for not wanting to give you a specific number.) I am lucky to work for Grosse Pointe Schools at a great school called Brownell Middle School. I am also lucky to live in Grosse Pointe Farms and I actually live about a half a block from my school. This makes my carbon footprint sort of a toe print.

I have won numerous teaching awards such as Best Dressed Teacher, Youngest Looking Teacher (I hand out treats for this one.) and Teacher Who Lives Closest to School. After filling out the forms and passing the physical, and these examples from my wonderful resume, I was lucky enough to be chosen for the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. Seriously, I do feel very fortunate to be part of this program and learning from these scientists.

You now may be wondering what exactly am I doing on this wonderful boat called the Savannah?  (If you are not wondering about it, could you change your focus, because this concerns my next paragraph!)  I am assisting in a very large fisheries survey by setting up fish traps, deploying of fish traps, and collecting data about the fish. When laid flat, the fish traps are six by five feet across and two feet deep. In these traps we place 24 menhaden bait fish, which are a close relative to the herring, if that means anything to you.

Then 5 to 6 traps are dropped off the back of the boat with special cameras to record activity around the trap. These cameras take about ninety minutes of footage. The traps also have two buoys connected to them to assist in collection. The areas where the traps are dropped are designated by the Chief Scientist, Warren Mitchell. Using sonar, Warren has to consider depth, currents, distance, topography, and a time schedule. Not an easy decision.

Setting the fish traps with bait
Setting the fish traps with bait

Science Watch Chiefs, Sarah Goldman and David Berrane, have to make certain the drop offs go smoothly. They have to make certain there are enough bait in the traps, and if all materials are ready for a perfect drop. Trap and data collection are another major responsibility of the chief scientists, and this will be the topic of the next blog.

Thanks for reading,

Walt (Mr. Charuba to my students.)

We caught a shark
We caught a shark


Sue Zupko: 4 Winning Answer #1

The first creature I saw when I boarded the Pisces was the Laughing Gull.  Almost everyone who answered this survey said Sea Gull would be the first creature I would see.  Good job!  The gulls were flying all over the harbor.  Ironically, this is the picture I chose to use in my first entry to this blog.  Later that day I saw Dolphins, Mullet, a Brown Pelican, Sargassum, a Loggerhead Sea TurtleFlying Fish, and Moon Jellies.  Still waiting on a whale and the Lophelia.  We have only been out a short time.

Gull silhouette landing on a ship stair in the evening
Gull landing at dusk

New survey.  What do you think these are?

pink and yellow rods lying side by side
What is this #2?

Channa Comer: Crabs and Stars, May 15, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Channa Comer

On Board Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
May 11 — 22, 2011

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Leg 1
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: Monday, May 15, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 16.2C, Mostly Cloudy
Wind Speed: 11.6 knots
Water Temperature: 13.4C
Swell Height: 1.0 meters

Science and Technology Log
Question of the Day (See the answer at the end of the post)
How do you count a basket of crabs?

It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the halfway mark of the cruise. Since my last log, we’ve covered a total of 966 nautical miles. Today, we’ve traveled from Hudson Canyon which is 60 nautical miles east of Atlantic City to about 50 nautical miles from the coast of Point Pleasant, NJ.

Bucket of Crabs
Bucket of Crabs

Each day, the boat stops at predetermined points along the route. At each stop, the scallop dredge is lowered to the ocean floor at depths ranging from 15 to 60 fathoms. The dredge is then towed for 15 minutes at a speed of 3.8 knots. When 15 minutes has passed, the dredge is brought up and the catch is dumped onto a platform were we all wait anxiously to see what comes up. Once the empty dredge is secure, we get to work sorting the catch. Scallops and fish get separated, with everything else collected into baskets, cataloged as “trash” and returned to the ocean. The scallops are measured, and the fish are sorted by species, then counted, weighed and in some cases saved for further scientific study back at NOAA labs. Once everything has been counted, weighed and measured, it’s time for my favorite activity – shucking! Scallops are shucked and if there’s time, washed bagged and placed in the deep freezer for Paul to use in the galley for meals. To date, we’ve completed 90 tows and dredged 23,212 scallops.

What comes up at each catch depends on the location of the tow. The southernmost, areas that have been open, or those areas that have recently been closed will usually yield fewer scallops. Scallop yields increase as we head northward and in areas that are closed to fishing. In addition to scallops, our tows have included a variety of deep sea fish, starfish, lots of live sand dollars (with their accompanying green slime), and very often, mud.

At select tows, representative samples of scallops are processed beyond the usual length measurements. The shells are scrubbed clean and weights are recorded for the meat and gonad (reproductive organ). The shells are then labeled and bagged for transport to the lab where they will be aged. The age of scallops are determined by counting the number of growth rings on the shell – similar to counting rings on a tree.

Every three tows is my favorite – Crabs and Stars!! In this tow, in addition to the usual sorting and measuring, all Cancer crabs are collected, counted and weighed and a representative sample of starfish are sorted by species, then counted and weighed. Astropecten, a small starfish is a predator of scallops and the most abundant species of starfish that we’ve counted. Usually, a tow that has large numbers of Astropecten has very few scallops. Being a stickler for detail, having the job of counting starfish has been perfect for me.

Did you know?
Starfish eat a scallop by attaching themselves to the scallop in numbers, forcing the shell open, then extruding their stomachs into the shell and digesting the meat.

Animals Seen
Red Hake
Sea Mouse
Chain Dogfish
Little Skate
Four Spot Flounder
Red Sea Robin
Sea Urchin
Snake Eel
Ocean Pout
Sand Dollar
Sand Lance
Gulf Stream Flounder
Black Sea Bass
Hermit Crab
Sea Raven

Personal Log
Day 3 – Thursday, May 12, 2011
With my sea sickness over after the first day and having adjusted to my new sleep schedule — I actually get to sleep a full 8 hours! — the days are starting to take on a nice flow. It’s been great being part of a team. We’re like a well-oiled machine. Everyone in my crew continues to be generous, sharing the best shucking techniques and giving me a little extra time to take photos and collect samples. We’ve jokingly renamed the “crabs and stars” tow to “crabs, stars and mud”. It’s really hard to count starfish when they’re covered in mud. Dinner was especially delicious today with salmon in pesto sauce with potatoes and broccoli.

Day 4 – Friday, May 13, 2011
The day started out cloudy and overcast, but the sun made an appearance late in the afternoon. The first tow of the day was my favorite — Crabs and Stars!! — with accompanying mud. As part of the Teacher at Sea program, in addition to my logs, I am required to write a lesson plan. I’ve started to draft what I think will be a great unit using the sea scallop as a springboard to explore issues in ecology and the nature of ecological science. Highlights will be an Iron Chef style cooking competition using scallops and a design challenge where students will have to build a working model of a scallop dredge. Vic has been great with providing whatever data, materials and background information that I need for my lessons. Lunch today was chicken burritos with fresh, spicy guacamole.

Day 6 – Sunday, May 15, 2011
Since its Sunday, I decided to take it easy and instead of trying to get a lot done before my shift and during the breaks, I took it easy and watched a little TV. With satellite TV and a large selection of DVDs, there are always lots of options. Although the guys tend to prefer sports or reality TV. The first few tows were back to back which meant little time for breaks, or snacks, or naps. Just enough time to clean up, shuck and be ready for the next tow.

Day 7 – Monday, May 16, 2011
The trip is half over. It’s hard to believe. The tows were once again, back to back with a fair amount of scallops, but I think after today, we won’t need to shuck anymore. Yay! Today was the day that the animals fought back. I was chomped by a scallop and a crab! The scallop was more of a surprise than a pain, but the crab clawed right through my glove. After days with no restrictions, we received the warning from the engineers today that we have to be careful with the faucets. Dripping faucets waste water and it takes time for the water to be converted through condensation in the condenser to usable water. If we’re not more careful, we’ll be faced with restrictions on how much water we can use……… I hope that doesn’t happen since I think we all officially smell like fish. Lunch today was cream of asparagus soup, yummy and reminiscent of my recent trip to Peru. The only thing missing was Quiona. And finally, today was the day that I’ve been waiting for. I found my favorite ice cream. I’ve been rationing myself to one per day, but after I found my favorite – butter pecan ice cream sandwiches – I could not resist a second.

Answer to Question of the Day: Very carefully!

Mechelle Shoemake, June 23, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mechelle Shoemake
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 19 – 30, 2010

Mission:  SEAMAP Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Northwestern Gulf of Mexico
Date:  Friday, June 25, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1300 hours (1:00pm)
Position: Latitude = 30.22.02 N; Longitude = 088.33.80 W
Present Weather: partly cloudy
Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp:  30.9 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 32.7 degrees Celsius; Wet bulb = 23.2 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log
Hello everyone!  I am Mechelle Shoemake from Laurel, MS.  I am a teacher at South Jones Elementary school.  I was chosen by NOAA to participate in their TAS (Teacher at Sea) program.  I was chosen to sail aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Here I am aboard the Oregon II, ready to sail!

The Oregon II conducts a groundfish cruise in the summer and fall across the northern Gulf of Mexico from Alabama to the Mexican Border in depths between 5 and 60 fathoms.  The Oregon II conducts strong bottom trawling.  This is a type of fishing where you drag a net along the sea floor.  The primary sampling objective in the summer is to determine the abundance and distribution of shrimp by depth.  Since shrimp are animals that live near the sea floor, bottom trawling is the best way to catch them.  Due to the recent Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill, we will be gathering samples of oiled shrimp and fish for further testing to be done.

We will be studying three types of shrimp:  white, pink and brown shrimp.   For more information about these shrimp, go to  This website explains how to identify the different species.

The bow (front) of the Oregon II, as she sits tied to the dock in Pascagoula.

We have had a slow start on the Oregon II due to repairs being made to the vessel that were necessary to keep  her in service for the next 6-8 years.  Our date of departure changed many times. We finally set sail on Wednesday, June 23, 2010.  Before we reached our destination, we started having some small problems with the vessel.  We turned around and we are now sailing back home to Pascagoula so repairs can be made.   Although we had to come back to port, we did sail for many hours.  During that time I had a lesson in line tying.  Line is the word used for rope when you’re on a ship.  This is task that many skilled and experienced sailors learn.  Believe me, it is harder than it looks.

Learning to tie line knots is harder than it looks!

I also had a lesson on how to read nautical charts and how to chart the longitude and latitude of a certain point. My first morning on the ship was breathtaking. The sunrise was beautiful, as you can see in the picture below.   Personal Log My first few hours at sea were not the greatest in the world.  I came prepared for sea sickness…maybe a little TOO prepared.  I was beginning to wonder if I would make it on the Oregon II.  But, thanks to Lindsey, our XO, she suggested that I remove my “sea patch” from behind my ear.  Wow, what a miracle!  I was no longer sick!  Lesson to the wise:  don’t overdose with the medicine.  Question of the Day How many feet are in a fathom?

Animals Seen Today: Dolphins, Pelicans

Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico

Anne Byford, June 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Anne Byford
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 8 – 15, 2010

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographic Location:  off the coast of New England
June 8, 2010

Weather Data at 6pm EDT: Calm, Clear, 23˚C
Location at 6pm EDT:
Lat: 39 42.68 N
Long: 73 24.98 W
Water Depth: 86.4m

First day at sea

The first day was mostly spent steaming to the first dredge site, about 14 hours away from Lewes, Delaware. In the morning, all of the safety information was covered and those of us who had not tried an exposure suit before put one on. After the ship reached the ocean, we did a test dredge to ensure that all of the equipment was working and that we all knew what to expect.

The process is basically the same for all dredges on the Sea Scallop survey. Each tow is at a specific, pre-selected random site, using the same type of dredge, at the same angle to the bottom for the same amount of time and at the same speed as all other tows. This ensures that the data gathered is comparable from tow to tow and particularly from year to year. Once the dredge is pulled back up, it is dumped onto a sorting table on the rear deck of the ship. Everything is sorted into 4 categories: scallops, fish and squid, sea habitat (which is anything that is not scallops or finfish), human trash. Once the initial sorting is done, the sea habitat is counted by the bucket-load and dumped back into the ocean; the fish are sorted by species and weighed and counted. Some species (skates, flounder/flukes, and goosefish, also called monkfish) are also measured for length. Scallops are weighed, counted and measured. Some specific samples may be kept for researchers on shore and the rest is thrown back. Human trash is kept aboard for proper disposal later. After all of the sorting and measuring is finished, the buckets are rinsed and stacked for the next dredge, which isn’t usually that long in coming.


Fortunately, we are not measuring things with a tape measure or having to manually input lengths into the computer. The ship has 3 “fish boards” that are electronic magnetic measuring devices that automatically send the data to the shipboard computers. Operators choose the species of fish being measured and then each fish is put on the board and a magnetic wand is used to mark the end of the tail of the fish. Each length is sent to the computer and stored. Historically, the data was collected on paper and the lists sent to a prison to be hand entered into a database. The database then had to be proofread and corrected if necessary. While the data still must be audited, it is much faster and easier, and less prone to error, to take the hand written stage of data collection out of the process.

Fish Board

Species Seen:

At the dock in Lewes: Osprey pair and at least one chick in the nest, Sea gulls

At sea: Pod of dolphins playing in the ship’s wake, jellyfish, pelicans

In the dredge: Squid, gulfstream flounder, windowpane flounder, summer flounder, spotted hake, sea robins, small skates, clearnose skates, several kinds of crabs (spider and rock), moon snails, sea stars, sand dollars, whelks, sea urchins, scallops, sea mice (polycheate worms)

Personal log:

We couldn’t have asked for better weather, clear and calm. After the safety meeting and test dredge, there was a great deal of down time until we reached the first site at about 10pm. I am on the day watch from noon to midnight and so got to sort the first real dredge. We did find scallops, ranging from about 1 inch across to about 5 inches across, but we found more sand dollars. After spending countless hours walking beaches to find even a few sand dollars, it was amazing to see hundreds or thousands on the sorting table to be tossed back as sea trash. I also discovered that you can easily loose track of time simply sitting in the sun on the deck watching the world go by.

Julianne Mueller-Northcott, May 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julianne Mueller-Northcott
Onboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
May 11 – 22, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Julianne Mueller-Northcott
University of Delaware R/V Hugh R. Sharp
Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey: Leg III
Port of Departure: Lewes, Delaware
Location:  Off the coast of Maryland
Date: May 15, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temp: 16.6⁰C, clear skies, 10% cloud cover

Water conditions
SST: 13.16⁰C, Salinity: 31.7ppt

Science and Technology Log
Got sea stars?
We have pulled up some impressive loads of scallops so far on this trip!  Our largest load included 2,083 scallops (which is about 750 lbs).  When they come up in the dredge you can hear them coming.  They clatter in the net as they get hauled out and dumped out onto the deck.  But even when we are so tired of counting the scallops and lifting the heavy baskets, the scientists and crew members have said, “Just wait!  You haven’t seen anything yet!” referencing the fact that there were many more scallops to come.

But today, in a location where in years past have been home to a large numbers of scallops, we didn’t find many.  In fact at our last station, there were only five.  Instead, the net bulges with the sea star, Astropectin. “Where are all the scallops?” is a question that the scientists keep asking themselves because this data is so surprising to them.  Today we passed many fishing boats, in fact at one point there were at least five on the horizon surrounding us.  I had thought that was an important clue that meant we were bound to find lots shellfish, but that hasn’t been the case.  Because this data is surprising, it has the scientists asking another question “Is there a problem with the collection gear?”  Fortunately, there are many systems set in place to guarantee that everything is working properly.

During experiments at school, we try to make sure that students know to standardize the procedure and limit variables so that they can be sure the results they attain are based on the one variable they isolated and not due to some other environmental factor.  That principle couldn’t be more true on this scallop survey.  It is of the utmost importance that all the data that is collected, is collected the same way at each location, and as it was collected in previous years.  For this reason, all the specifications about the dredge (the size of the dredge, the size of the rings that let small organisms out, but trap the larger organisms) are kept the same throughout each leg of the survey and each year. In addition to this, they also measure the angle of the dredge with an inclinometer. This way they can make sure that the dredge is always in the same position as it moves along the seafloor.  The tow is always for the same length of time, going at the same speed, and going in a straight line.  You can see that if a tow was down for a longer amount of time that would change the amount of organisms being caught. To double check all of these procedures, we mounted a camera on to the dredge.  This camera had a timer on it as well.  It was really fun to watch the video; the dredge fell through the water column and then settled on the sea floor in a puff of mud.  The dredge sped along the substrate and we could see little sea stars falling back into the net. Watching the footage, the scientists were able to double check that the angle on the dredge and the amount of time it spent on the bottom was consistent with the measurements they were getting from the inclinometer.  Since this data is helping to manage such a valuable economic resource, the scientists need to be extremely confident in the data collection methods.  Using this data, decisions will be made about the fishing regulations in the area which ultimately impacts people’s jobs and income.

Because these scientists have carefully and deliberately eliminated so many variables they can be sure that their equipment is working properly and that they can trust their data.  But that still leaves the question, where are they scallops?  Have all of the scallop fishing boats that we can see in the distance totally wiped this area clean?  Or is it to do with the incredible numbers of sea stars that we have seen, gorging themselves on their favorite delicacy? Hopefully, this particular region is isolated and we will have been luck finding scallops tomorrow.

Jack C’s question was, “Did you catch any sharks?” And yes we have!  We have caught a bunch of a small type of shark called a chain dogfish.  They have a very cool pattern on their skin that looks like a chain link fence and they are usually around a foot or so long.  We also caught a shark that was a little bigger called a smooth dogfish.  What is great about these guys is that they are a little more resilient that some of the other fish that we catch.  They make it back to the water without a problem and we watch them swim away.

My patrol of the bow of the boat certainly paid off today.  I saw so many dolphins!  The past couple of days I have been in awe of the handful of dolphins we have seen and by the sunfish.  But, honestly, I was a little surprised that we hadn’t seen more mammals. Well, the dolphins found us today! On and off today, dolphins would stop by the boat for a few minutes to play in the wake or up near the bow.  They would leap and splash a couple of times and then be on their way.  It was a different species than the dolphins that had visited us at night—these were grey on the top, then a tan color on the sides and white underneath. This afternoon a couple were near the back of the boat when we had a break between hauls.  Knowing that the dolphins especially like to play near the bow of the boat, I went to see if maybe some of their friends were up front.  Sure enough, surging through the water, weaving between each other were at least a dozen dolphins.  Then I happened to look up—and there coming towards the boat were even more dolphins.  They were porpoising through the water coming from ahead of the boat.  You could see them coming from at least a ½ mile away by the repetitive, white splash of the water.  It was like a dolphin convention was happening at the Sharp!  They would meet each other at the bow and enjoy being pulled along by the drag in the water created by the ship.  Probably the most amazing part was not only watching them but listening to them as well.  Because they were so close, just about 12 feet below me as I stood on the deck of the ship, I could hear their clicks and high-pitched whistles.   Watching their fun dance in the water, I noticed that many of the dolphins would swim for a few seconds together, belly to belly.  Then they would speed off and find a new dance partner; I thought it was very sweet and adorable.  It took me a minute to figure it out, but then I realized that they were doing a little more than just “dancing” together.  Oh….They were truly enjoying themselves!

Personal Log
I didn’t realize how long it had been since I had watched the sun set.  Not just the casual, driving in your car and you notice the daylight fade, but when you sit down with the intention of taking in a real sunset.  When you watch from the first signs of an orange sky until the last smidge of brilliant red slips gently down over the horizon.  I had the chance to watch one of those sunsets today, start to finish.  It reminded me of summers out at the Shoals Marine Lab when we would actually stop teaching class just to sit out on the porch and admire something that happens every day, but is nevertheless spectacular.   I am always surprised how quickly it happens.  All day long, it is impossible to notice our movement relative to the sun, but it only takes a few minutes to transition from day to night.  And the real highlight is not the exact moment that the sun disappears, but minutes after the sun has set, when the entire sky glows red. Tonight was the first moon that I have seen on the trip, and it was curved into a smile hanging in the sky.  It grinned next to a bright star (or maybe a planet?) on the pink backdrop, above the midnight water with a large tanker drifting by in the distance.

One of my favorite parts of this adventure so far is just being able to spend all day outside.  I wake up in the morning—usually around 9:00 (I haven’t slept in so late since before Madelyn was born—but it is because my night shift ends at midnight—and maybe because the gentle rocking of the ship helps me sleep so fitfully!).  I hurry to get dressed and then head right for the bow of the boat.  There I search for dolphins and sunfish for about an hour or so before it is time to get ready for work.  The past two days have been so beautiful, that I haven’t wanted to be inside the boat at all during the day—for fear that I might miss something spectacular!  Because of this, I haven’t had the chance to do as much writing as I would like.  I tried using the laptop outside—but the glare is too great. It just doesn’t work!  After a long and draining winter/spring, it feels so good to get recharged by the solar energy!

Julianne Mueller-Northcott, May 12, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julianne Mueller-Northcott
Onboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
May 11 – 22, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Julianne Mueller-Northcott
University of Delaware R/V Hugh R. Sharp
Mission:  Sea Scallop Survey: Leg III
Port of Departure: Lewes, Delaware
Location: Off the coast of Virginia
Date: May 12, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Air temp: 13.72⁰C, 85% humidity, overcast

Science and Technology Log
When the dredge gets pulled up the ramp of the ship, I always strain to try to see past the chain and netting to see what amazing creatures might have gotten caught in the dredge.  I can see the pale-as–a-ghost face on the underside of skates and flounders.  The sea stars fall to the table in a big mound and you can see the crabs trying to climb the net.  And of course the scallops!  They get dumped out onto the table in a wave.  The pile of creatures undulates as organisms try to right themselves and seek cover.  Each dredge so far has been different.  Some are chock full of sea stars such as Asterias forbesii and Asterias vulgaris which we have at home, but by far the most abundant sea star species is Astropectin sp.   There was one dredge that was all sand dollars and they tumbled out onto to the deck, like hundreds of poker chips, hockey pucks and small frisbees.  I noticed that all of the fish in the dredge were green and then everything else started turning green. Apparently, sand dollars turn everything green! No one was quite sure why—this will be something to investigate once I get home.

So you can imagine how exciting it is to see hundreds (in some cases maybe thousands) of your sea friends, dumped out in front of you to examine!  I think about all the hours toiling at Odiorne Point with my students searching under rocks and peeling back algae in the intertidal zone looking for a hidden gem.  Here on the sorting table at the back of the boat there are so many species, so many things waiting to be discovered.  I think about my marine biologists at home and how excited they would be to have some of these critters for our tank!  (And while the thought has crossed my mind to try to kidnap some, that might be a difficult situation to explain going through security at the airport—a cooler full of crabs, sand dollars, sea stars and scallops!) The object here is not to study all the cool creatures for hours under a microscope which is what I would love to do (there isn’t even a microscope on the ship!) but instead, to sort.  My job, with 5 other people, is put out all the scallops and fish.  Those get measured and counted and everything else goes back into the water.  It all happens very quickly.  Because the goal is to do so many dredges in a relatively short amount of time, the faster you process everything the faster we can move on to our next sampling location, which means the more data that can be collected.  Also time is money on this high tech ship we are on.  For the scientists to use the R/V Hugh R. Sharp it costs $12,000 a day.  So it is imperative to work quickly to get the job done. But I am learning some tricks so that I can spend a little more time with the creatures I really want to check out.  I usually sneak a couple of neat things to photograph off to the side and after we are finished with the work at hand take a few minutes to study them.  And the scientists have figured out that when they have an organism that we haven’t seen yet, they have to show it to me before it gets tossed back overboard!

We were just pulling up a dredge last night when Ben pointed to the starboard side of the ship.  There in the starlight were about eight dolphins riding in the wake of the boat.  They were porpoising in and out of the water.  They were gray, with speckled black dots—we don’t have a mammal field guide on board—so I am not sure which species it was.  It was the first night that we could see stars, other than the sea star variety. I thought of Kat S. who was the first person who got me excited about the prospect of seeing stars at night from the boat.  Between the starlight and the spotlights on the ship, the sea below sparkled.  Even in the dark water you could see the water shimmer and change to a light green color, letting you know where the dolphins were just before they surfaced.  I have a list of top wildlife encounters in my life (swimming with whale sharks and eagle rays, saving stranded pilot whales in the keys, viewing humpbacks breech in a storm in the Bay of Fundy, nesting sea turtles Mexico, watching baby orcas play in the San Juan Islands, etc) but even with this list, watching the dolphins at night beneath the stars was pretty magical!

Captain Bill nonchalantly mentioned that he had seen an ocean sunfish (Mola mola) yesterday morning.  “What?!” I guess I hadn’t made it clear that I wanted to witness any such animal encounters.  I had told my students that the ocean sunfish was the one species I was really looking forward to seeing on this trip.  I had seen them in various aquariums but never in the wild. The ocean sunfish has always seemed to me a freak of natural selection.  How could something so big, clumsy and awkward looking have survived evolution?  Something about the way it lazes around without a care in the world has always appealed to me.  This morning, I took my usual watch on the bow of the boat (as I do every morning before my watch begins at 12:00). There, about 50 ft from the boat, I saw two large fins, flopping this way and that without an apparent purpose.  It was Mola mola! We didn’t get very close and our boat was traveling fast but through my binos I at least got a glimpse of its round, disc body.  And a couple of hours later, I saw another—this one a little further away.  So I know there are lots out there—now the goal is to get an up-close view and hopefully a photo!

Personal Log
It is pretty awesome now that the weather is brightening and we are seeing some beautiful species!  I love being on the top decks watching the sunlight dance on the water.  I love that everywhere I look all I see is ocean.  Yesterday we saw many other ships on the water—but today it is really just us steaming along. At first it was a little hard to get used to seeing lots of dead fish in the dredge and lots of animals that don’t survive the sampling.  There is a lot more by catch than I would have expected. It is going to take a little more time for me to process my thoughts about it all, but I am starting to understand that for now this is the best way for the data to be collected.  While it might not be the best thing for individual organisms, these sampling techniques are important for protecting the fisheries and ultimately the ecosystem.

Megan Woodward, July 12, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Megan Woodward 
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 1 – 18, 2009

Mission: Bering Sea Acoustic Trawl Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea/Dutch Harbor
Date: Tuesday, July 12, 2009

Any bycatch in a haul has to be measured and weighed if there are more than 25 of the same species caught.
Any bycatch in a haul has to be measured and weighed if there are more than 25 of the same species.

Position: N 60.35.172; W 174.08.187
Air Temp: 6.1 (deg C)
Water Temp: 5.24 (deg C)
Wind Speed: 25 knots
Weather: Overcast, rain

Science and Technology Log 

How is all the data collected from a trawl and acoustic lab used?  By collecting data about weight and length from a sample, scientists are able to connect the size of fish caught to the amount of return seen in the acoustic lab. The return is assigned a name (PK1, PK2, etc.) and all schools showing a similar acoustic pattern are given the same name.  In the end, scientists can estimate the number of fish and their size for a given area based on the acoustic and fish lab data collected.  This is repeated throughout the survey resulting in an estimate for the total number of fish in the survey area.  

Both during and after the survey estimates of abundance in the same location over the past several years are compared.  Scientists evaluate the data and determine if the pollock population in the survey area is increasing, declining or stable.  Their conclusions are used to make a recommendation about pollock fishing limits for the upcoming year. In the past few years the pollock population has been lower than in previous years.  Due to the decline, the fishing quota has been reduced.  However, the 2006 year-class is proving to be strong. At 4 years of age pollock are considered mature and fishable.  Therefore, the fishing quota is predicted to rise in the next year or two.

Screen shot 2013-03-24 at 11.32.34 PM

Personal Log 

While discussing the acoustic survey project with the scientists on board, I was quite surprised to hear the pollock survey had been going since 1979.  Acoustic technology has changed and improved, but in essence the project has remained the same. Modern computer technology has allowed collection and analysis of enormous data sets and greatly reduced the amount of paper work needed for the project’s success.

The concept of strong vs. weak year-class is also quite interesting.  There doesn’t seem to be a direct connection between a year-class’ success and environmental factors.  Environmental factors that are potentially influential are water temperature, available zooplankton, ice cover, storms and predators.  The fish currently being caught by commercial fisherman are 5-7 years old. Can you figure out which year classes those fish are from?

We continue to spot plenty of seabirds and a few more minke whale pods.  I was able to watch a group of Dall’s porpoises play in the wake of the bow for half an hour yesterday.  There haven’t been any new animal sightings during the past few days.
We continue to spot plenty of seabirds and a few more minke whale pods. I was able to watch a group of Dall’s porpoises play in the wake of the bow for half an hour yesterday. There haven’t been any new animal sightings during the past few days.

Although we are out here working in the best interest of pollock, I have found it difficult to watch thousands of pollock come through the fish lab.  I have to remind myself that sampling the fish is truly for the good of the order. In addition, after being measured the fish are sent back into the ocean where they become food for other organisms such as crab or birds. One of their natural predators is having a good meal, something that was likely to happen anyway.

Animal Sightings 

  • Seabirds
  • Dall’s porpoises

New Vocabulary 

Bycatch  – Anytime something is caught during a trawl other than pollock it is labeled bycatch.  Jellyfish has been the most common form of bycatch.

Year-class – All the fish born in a given year are members of that year-class.  We have caught a lot fish from the 2008 year-class (1 year old fish).

Nicole Macias, June 1, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicole Macias
Onboard NOAA Vessel Oscar Elton Sette 
May 31-June 28, 2009 

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 1, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Location: 22° 35.7’ N, 162° 32.4’ W
Wind Speed: 5 kts.
Swell waves: 2-4 ft.
Water Temperature: 26.7°C
Air Temperature: 26°C

This is "the pit" where the lobster traps are pulled into the ship. My job setting up was to bolt the legs together.
This is “the pit” where the lobster traps are pulled into the ship. My job setting up was to bolt the legs together.

Science and Technology Log 

Since the ship is still in transit to our first location the science team did not have much to do today. All we did was set the tables up in the “pit”. This is the section of the boat where the traps, or “pods”, are pulled up out of the water. Once they are pulled out of the water they are cracked open and everything is placed in a corresponding bucket to be taken to the wet lab to be measured and recorded. Everything in pod 1 would be placed in bucket one and so on. The only organism that does not go into the buckets are eels. My job today was to bolt the tables in the pit together. They needed to be bolted together in case we hit rough seas. While half of us were working on the tables the other half was inflating buoys that will be used to mark the beginning and end of a set of traps.

I also was able to release a message in a bottle that another teacher had sent to me before my trip asking if I would release it for him. The man, Jay Little, has had over 225 message bottles released all over the world. His goal is to raise awareness for the global efforts needed to preserve the integrity of oceans and inspire people to take action. The message in the bottle explains his goal and also asks that whoever finds the bottle to send him back artifacts from the location it ended up in. He uses these artifacts to make sculptures that reflect the contributions of people from around the world. Out of the 225 bottles released to date 21 have been found. The 19th bottle found had an incredible journey having circumnavigated the world in 23,000 miles. The latest discovery was in Matrouh City on the Mediterranean coast of Northern Egypt in 2007. Hopefully our bottle number 285 will land somewhere new and deliver an important message.

Here I am throwing the message in the bottle over the stern of the boat.
Here I am throwing the message in the bottle over the stern of the boat.

Personal Log 

One of the perks of being out to see are the incredible sunrises and sunsets that happen every day and the wild life that comes with it. In the morning a huge pod of either Pacific white-sided dolphins or Dusky dolphins, passed by the ship. They are very similar and some scientists believe that they might be the same species. In the evening, while on top of the bridge to watch the sunset, two red-footed booby birds decided to perch on the weather vain to watch too. They are the smallest of all the booby species and nest on land, but feed at sea. They are strong flyers and can travel up to 93 miles at a time and can dive up to 98 ft. to pursue prey.

The food is really good. Last night the cook made chocolate cake with a pecan and coconut frosting. It was very delicious. It is a good thing the boat has an exercise room so I can burn off the calories from three full meals a day. They also have a freezer that is stocked with ice cream and available 24 hours a day.

A beautiful sunset on the Pacific
A beautiful sunset on the Pacific

“Did You Know?” 

Prior to the Revolutionary War, dockworkers in Boston went on strike protesting that they had to eat lobster more than 3 times a week!

“Animals Seen Today” 

The Red Footed Booby (Sula sula) Pacific White-sided Dolphin: (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens) 

Jacob Tanenbaum, October 14, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacob Tanenbaum
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow
October 5 – 16, 2008

Mission: Survey
Geographic Region: Northeast U.S.
Date: October 14 2008

Here is Doctor Kunkel collecting samples with Watch Chief Mel Underwood.
Here is Doctor Kunkel collecting samples with Watch Chief Mel Underwood.

Science Log

Dr. Joseph Kunkel from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is investigating a mystery on board our ship. In the last few years, fisherman and biologists have all noticed that lobsters are disappearing from waters south of cape cod near shore. This includes Narragansett Bay and our own Long Island Sound. Why? Thats’ what Dr. Kunkel is trying to find out.

He and other scientists have found that the lobsters are infected with a bacteria. Dr. Kunkel has a hypothesis. He believes that some lobsters get the bacteria because their shells are not as strong as other lobsters and don’t protect them as well. He is here collecting samples to test his hypothesis.

Shellfish are affected by acid rain
Shellfish are affected by acid rain

He has even made a discovery. He and another scientist, named Dr. Jercinovic, discovered that this shell fish actually has boney material in certain places in the shell. The boney material helps make the lobster strong enough to resist the bacteria. Effected lobsters may not have as much bone, so their shells are weaker. Why are the shells weaker? There may be a few reasons. The water South of Cape Cod is warmer than it normally is. Climate change may be to blame. The water has a lot of pollution from cities like New York and Boston. There are many streams and rivers pouring into the area that are Affected by acid rain. All of these things may effect the lobsters in the sea. They may effect other creatures in the sea as well. Can you think of things that are happening in our neighborhood that may contribute to this problem? Post your ideas on the blog and I will share them with Dr. Kunkel. What does shell disease look like? Can you see the red spots on the photo on the right? That is shell disease. It can get much worse. Thanks Dr. Kunkel for sharing your work and your photograph.

Cups are ready!
Cups are ready!

The art teachers, Mrs. Bensen in CLE and Mrs. Piteo in WOS had groups of students decorate Styrofoam cups for an experiment on the ship involving technology, water pressure in science and perspective in art. You probably have felt water pressure. When you swim to the bottom of the deep end of a pool, you may have felt your ears pop. This is water pressure. It is caused by the weight of the water on top of you pushing down on you. Well, a pool is only 10 or 12 feet deep. Just imagine the pressure at 600 feet down. We wanted to do an experiment with water pressure. Since Styrofoam is has a lot of air in it, we wanted to see what happened when we sent the decorated cups to the bottom of the sea. Click here for a video and see for yourself. If you decorated a cup, you will get it back when I come in next week.

Here are some more interesting creatures that came up in our nets overnight. We have been in deeper water and some some of the creatures have been quite interesting.

This “sea pen” is a type of soft coral.
This “sea pen” is a type of soft coral.

Two sea-hags
Two sea-hags

This is a sea-hag. It is a snake-like fish that has some amazing teeth. We put one inside a plastic bag for a few minutes to watch it try to eat its way out. Take a look at this video to see what happened.

Spoon Arm Octopi
Spoon Arm Octopi

Here are three Spoon Arm Octopi. Each octopi has three hearts, not one. One pumps blood through the body and the other two pump blood through the gills. There are three octopi in this photo. How many hearts to they have in all?

Red fish

This redfish are also an interesting criters. When they lay eggs, you can see the babies inside. They live in deep water. We caught this one at a depth of 300 meters. How many feet is that?

Squid and sea star
Squid and sea star

Here is a bobtail squid and a sea-start. The squid looks like an octopus, but it is not.

Skate case with a baby skate inside
Skate case with a baby skate inside

This skate case had a baby skate inside. Here is what it looked like as the tiny creature emerged.

Crab and eggs
Crab and eggs

Finally, the red on the underside of this crab are the eggs. Biologists call them roe.

Zee and Snuggy paid a visit to the ship’s hospital to take a look around. The hospital is amazing. They are able to treat a wide variety of injuries and ailments without having to call for help. They can even put in stiches if they need to. In cases of serious injury, however, the Coast Guard would have to take the patient to land with the helicopter or fast boat. Zee and Snuggy had a great time touring the hospital, and all three of us are just fine.


Jacob Tanenbaum, October 10, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jacob Tanenbaum
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow
October 5 – 16, 2008

Mission: Survey
Geographic Region: Northeast U.S.
Date: October 10, 2008

IMG_6354-743446Science Log

Did you figure out the answer to yesterday’s question? Those creatures were the real cast of Sponge Bob Square Pants TV Show. We saw a sponge, like Sponge Bob, and sea stars like Patrick, plankton, like Sheldon Plankton, some squid like Squidward, a crab like Mr. Krabs next to a sand dollar (because Mr. Krabs loves money), a lobster like Larry the Lobster and a snail like Gary. All the creatures in the program actually exist in the sea, except for squirrels, and we have seen them all on this adventure. Amazing creatures keep coming up in our nets day after day. Let’s take a look at a creature called a skate. The skate makes those funny black rectangles that you find on beaches. Take a look at where those rectangles come from and what is inside of them. Click here for a video!

Skates also have interesting faces. They live along the bottom of the sea. Their eyes are on top of their head to spot predators and their mouthes are below to eat what is on the bottom. They have two nostril -like openings above their mouth called spiracles. They look just like eyes but actually help the skate breathe. Here are a few interesting skate faces.


This sea robin uses three separate parts of its pectoral fin, called fin-rays to move, almost like its walking along the bottom of the sea as it looks for food. This helps is move very quietly, making it able to sneak up on prey unobserved.

Sea Robin
Sea Robin

These two baby dog-fish show different stages of development. This one is still connected to an egg sack. The other has broken loose from it, but you can still see where it was attached just below the mouth. Usually in this species, just like most fish in the shark family has eggs that develop inside the mother’s body. She gives birth to the pups when they have hatched from their eggs and are ready for the open sea.

Dogfish egg sack
Dogfish egg sack

IMG_6374-789593Many people have asked me about garbage. Here is some of what we have found so far. We caught part of someone else’s fishing net. Here is a Styrofoam cup and here is a plastic bag, which we caught 140 miles from the nearest land. How do you think it got here?

Finally, we were visited by some dolphins last night. They were eating smaller fish and as they came in for their attack, you can see the smaller fish jumping straight out of the water into the air to try to avoid being caught. Click here for a video.


IMG_6383-764446Snuggy and Zee decided to visit the kitchen today. Here are Zee and Snuggy with our chief Steward Dennis M. Carey and our 2nd cook, Alexander Williams. The food here is fantastic. See how large the kitchen is? We have a lot of people to feed on this ship, and the cooks here work hard. You have seen a few of the many different jobs that people can do on a ship like this. You have seen the scientists at work in the labs, you have seen the engineers who make the engine go. You have been to the bridge where the NOAA Corp officers run the ship. You have been to the kitchen where the cooks keep us so well fed. Tomorrow, you will see how the deck crew trawl our sample nets through the water. Keep checking the blog this weekend. There will be lots to see.


Now, some answers to your questions and comments:

Hi to KD and to Derek Jeter. We are staying safe. Thanks for writing.

Hello to St. Mark School in Florida. I’m glad you are enjoying the blog. I really enjoyed your thoughts about what these fish have in common. Great work. Here are some answers:

If a ship hit a drifter, the drifter would probably be broken. But the ocean is a big place, and that does not happen very often.

Can your school adopt a drifter? Of course! Take a look here: In the mean time, you are welcome to follow the adventures of our buoy. Keep checking this website!

I have Snuggy because some of my kindergarten classes asked me to take a bear with me to sea. So I did!

How heavy are the drifters? It weight 30 pounds or so, I would guess. Enough to make me work to pick it up.

I knew the whale was dead because part of it was decomposing. We could see it and we could smell it. Yuck.

Did any fish try to bite me? Yes. One scallop closed its shell on my finger. I had to be quick to get my hand out of the way in time. Other than that, no.

At 8 knots per hour, the ship could travel 192 knots, or about 220 miles in a day.

Congratulations to all who calculated correctly. The truth is that we have to stop for sample trawls every hour or two, so we seldom make our top cruising speed when we do work like this. So, we usually travel less than we could.

Oh, and to all those who asked, so far I have not gotten sick. Yet.

Thanks all for writing. Keep checking the blog!

Mary Anne Pella-Donnelly, September 18, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Anne Pella-Donnelly
Onboard NOAA Ship David Jordan Starr
September 8-22, 2008

Mission: Leatherback Use of Temperate Habitats (LUTH) Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean –San Francisco to San Diego
Date: September 18, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 3543.3896 N Longitude: 12408.3432 W
Wind Direction: 129 (compass reading) SE
Wind Speed: 7.8 knots
Surface Temperature: 17.545

Blue shark seen on 9/18
Blue shark seen on 9/18

Science and Technology Log 

Today was an exciting one scientifically. The team has been examining all of the oceanographic data so far in order to pinpoint frontal edges for further data collection. They selected a point last night that might contain a biologically rich layer and hopefully, with jellies. After closely looking over every thing they have learned on this trip so far and plotting a destination to sample, we traveled to that station. We found an ocean water ‘river’ full of kelp, moon jellies, sea nettles and pelagic birds! It was exactly where the team predicted there might be a biotic stream!! This confirmed that offshore habitats can be found using oceanographic data and satellite imaging.  There certainly were offshore areas that would give leatherbacks a chance to eat their fill.  And through that period, the sun came up!  With only a slight breeze, the flying deck was warm and relaxing. It put us all into excellent spirits.

Personal Log 

Ray Capati shows off his Turtle Cake. (photo by Karin Forney)
Ray Capati shows off his Turtle Cake.

A few days ago, the chief steward made a cake- there are daily baked goods offered in the mess hall. This cake, however, was decorated for the LUTH Survey with turtles, kelp and jellyfish!  Today would have been another good day for that treat.  It is also time to get some pictures with C.J. our school mascot.  He was pretty happy to get out and see the ship.  He even tried to help up on the flying bridge, but without thumbs, it was hard for him to enter in observation comments.

Animals Seen Today 
Moon jellies Aurelia labiata, Sea nettle jellies Chrysaora fuscescens, Salps Salpida spp., Sea gooseberries Pleurobrachia bachei, Red phalaropes Phalaropus fulicaria, Cuvier’s beaked whales Ziphius cavirostris, Common dolphins Delphinus delphis, Blue sharks Prionace glauca, and Arctic terns Sterna paradisaea.

C.J. helps out on the flying bridge.
C.J. helps out on the flying bridge.

Questions of the Day 

  1. What might be some oceanographic conditions that would create a water mass filled with kelp and jellyfish?
  2. What other organisms (than we observed) might be attracted to such a water mass?

Mary Anne Pella-Donnelly, September 10, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Anne Pella-Donnelly
Onboard NOAA Ship David Jordan Starr
September 8-22, 2008

Mission: Leatherback Use of Temperate Habitats (LUTH) Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean –San Francisco to San Diego
Date: September 10, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 3736.6398 N Longitude: 12336.2210 W
Wind Direction: 220 (compass reading) SW
Wind Speed: 11.3 knots
Surface Temperature: 14.638

This moon jelly was captured with the mid-water net.  Its bell was 35.5 cm wide.   The purplish pattern represents the gonads, which the turtles love to eat.
This moon jelly was captured with the mid-water net. Its bell was 35.5 cm wide. The purplish pattern represents the gonads, which the turtles love to eat.

Science and Technology Log

The mid-water net was just deployed.  This is a new net for the research team to use.  On the trip north, during the first part of this cruise, the last net became mangled during use.  A new, larger net was obtained and the crew is working out how best to deploy it.  After three tries, they seem to have determined the best way to lay it out, release it, and winch it back in. The David Starr Jordan is now heading over to the off shore area outside of Point Reyes, where the plan will be to deploy it for only one to two minutes.

The jellyfish there are usually so numerous that they will fill the net immediately.  Leatherbacks eat jellyfish of many kinds, but they love the types in the Pelagiidae family.  These are the types with long hanging arms, which the turtles snack on until they get up into the body cavity. The jellyfish are then eaten from the insides, with a soft-bodied bell left behind. The bell-shaped body of this family can be as large as 55 cm.    The favorite of leatherback, so the one we will hope to find in abundance, is the Sea nettle, Chrysaora fuscescens. These are most numerous in August and September in specific locations off the California coast, so it can be anticipated that leatherbacks will also be found there.  The predictability of this occurrence is the reason leatherbacks have evolved to travel the Pacific Ocean from Asia every year. 

Unidentified songbird, hopping a ride aboard the Jordan.
Unidentified songbird, hopping a ride aboard the Jordan.

The ship, David Starr Jordan, was built in 1965, so is among the oldest of the fleet of NOAA research ships.  The age can be found in the cabinet design, the flooring material and little features. Never the less, it has been built for sustained trips at sea for up to 23 days in length. There is a steward on board who creates elaborate lunches and dinners daily. Last night’s dinner included Filet Mignon, shrimp in butter sauce, two soups, sautéed vegetables, and at least four other hot dishes. There is always a salad bar set up and 24-hour hot beverages, cereal, toast, ice cream, yogurts and fruit. Everyone eats well.

In the crew’s lounge, drawers of over 200 current films are stored, including new releases. They have been converted to 8 mm tape to accommodate the video system on board.  There is also a small gym with a treadmill, stationary bicycle and bow-flex machine.  A laundry room completes the ‘home’ environment. At least three showers are available.  The ship has a system to desalinate water, which is a slow process, so water conservation is suggested.  This means:  wet yourself down, turn off the water, soap up and scrub, then turn the water on and rinse off.  Repeat if necessary. There are no water police, but we all have an interest in enough water being available.

Although the food has looked great, I have found that until I get my ‘sea legs’ I need to stay away from most food.  Yesterday evening, I discovered that the lunch and dinner I ate; did not look as good coming out as it did going down.  Today is better, but I will stick to yogurt, oatmeal, and tea for a bit.

Animals Sighted Today 
Sea nettle jellies Chrysaora fuscescens
Moon jellies Aurelia aurita
Egg yolk jellies Phacellophora camtschatica
Ocean sunfish Mole mole
Humpback whale Megapterea novaeangliae
Blue whale Balaenoptera musculus
Common murre Uria aalge
Black phoebe Sayornis nigricans
Red phalarope Phalaropus fulicaria
Buller’s shearwater Puffinus bulleri
Sooty shearwater Puffinus griseus
Brown pelican Pelecanus occidentalis
Brandt’s cormorant Phalacrocorax penicillatus
Dall’s porpoise Phocoenoides dalli 

Questions of the Day 

  1. What type of data is considered ‘oceanographic’ data?
  2. What types of organisms produce chlorophyll in the ocean?

Mary Anne Pella-Donnelly, September 10, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Anne Pella-Donnelly
Onboard NOAA Ship David Jordan Starr
September 8-22, 2008

Mission: Leatherback Use of Temperate Habitats (LUTH) Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean –San Francisco to San Diego
Date: September 10, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Latitude: 3737.3158 N Longitude: 12337.1670 W
Wind Direction: 234 (compass reading) SW
Wind Speed: 9.7 knots
Surface Temperature: 14.638

Deck crew setting up the mid-water net to be deployed off the back deck.
Deck crew setting up the mid-water net to be deployed off the back deck.

Science and Technology Log 

Two consistent methods of data collection on the survey include netting and collecting oceanographic data. Up to three times a day a mid-water net is carefully dropped off the back, and towed at the surface. The last two times the net has been pulled in one or two moon jellies have been caught. Each specimen is weighed and measured, then tossed back. Every evening, two hours after sunset, a bongo net is deployed off the side of the boat. With weights added, it is designed to drop as far as 300 m below the surface. Since there are two nets collecting, the scientists are able to retrieve and preserve the contents of one, to be analyzed for species composition later, and examine the second here on the boat.  This is done two hours after sunset since many organisms come much closer to the surface after dark, when their predators are less likely to find them.

Another important tool that is used to collect oceanographic data is the CTD.  This CTD has eight chambers and can collect samples from eight different water depths.  It is carefully dropped down to 500 m (or more if needed), and then a chamber is opened at intervals determined by the scientist collecting the samples. Every waking hour the temperature of the ocean is sampled using a XBT “gun” that shoots out a 760 meter long copper wire. XBT stands for Expendable Bathy thermograph. The weighted wire is kept in the ocean until a stable reading is obtained.  This gives an indication of the temperature gradient from the surface down to 760 meters in the immediate area. 

Personal Log 

Two Dall’s porpoise gliding next to the ship.
Two Dall’s porpoise gliding next to the ship.

The first 24 hours were smooth sailing through overcast but calm seas.  We have had two visits by common dolphins who have seen the boat, told their 4 or 5 best buddies, and come over to ‘ride the bow.’ They glide under the surface, leap up through the waves and glide some more.  They are having a blast. The second time was less convenient for the research, since the mid-water net could not be deployed with marine mammals in the area. And the dolphins wouldn’t leave!! So deployments had to wait 45 minutes for the dolphins to get tired and go find another playground. Yesterday a net drop deployment was almost postponed again, for a large pod of white-sided dolphins spotted behind the boat. They swam perpendicular to the ship however, and stayed a good distance away. It was estimated that there were

180 of them! That was it for yesterday. The first afternoon, we saw one humpback whale spouting and then it showed its fluke as it went under.  Another four were seen in the distance. We are all looking forward to more sightings.  The primary job that I and another ship visitor have, is to act as observers up on the flying bridge, one half hour before the net is scheduled to be dropped, and stay until the net is retrieved.  Because of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, all activity that could put these animals at risk must not be done if any marine mammals are in the area. So I sit up on the highest deck, and watch.  There is a walkie-talkie next to me, a computer set to log any sightings of interest, including jellies that float by and high-powered binoculars to scan the surface.  With snacks and beverages always handy in the mess hall, I can be quite cozy.

Animals Seen So Far 
Humpback whale Megapterea novaeangliae
Common dolphin Delphinus delphis
Pacific white-sided dolphin Lagenorhynchus olbiquidens
California Sea lion Zalophus californianus
Moon jelly Aurelia labiata
Egg yolk jelly Phacellophora camtschatica
Sooty shearwater Puffinus griseus
Buller’s Shearwater Puffinus bulleri  

We also have a few lost, confused song birds on board-who are happily eating up insects for us Western tanager Piranga ludoviciana Townsend’s warbler Dendroica townsendi 

Questions of the Day 

  1. What is the purpose of scientific names in international research?
  2. To become a marine scientist, what fields of science are required as background?

Alex Eilers, August 24, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

In the picture, the “Big Eyes” are covered and on the left side of the picture, the antennas are directly above me.
In the picture, the “Big Eyes” are covered and on the left side of the picture, the antennas are directly above me.

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: August 24, 2008

Today we were in assembly mode and I spent the majority of my time on the flying bridge (top deck). With the help of several scientists, we cleaned and replaced the viewing seats, installed the “Big Eyes” – (the largest pair of binoculars I’ve ever seen), and assembled and tested the Turtle tracking antennas.  The “Big Eyes” will be used to help track and identify marine mammals, leatherbacks and birds near the boat.  This is especially important prior to and during the times scientists have equipment in the water so we don’t catch or injure these animals. The receiver will be used to track the Leatherback Sea Turtles who have a transmitter attached to their carapace. The good news is we are receiving reports that there is a Leatherback approximately 110 miles off the coast of Monterey – the bad news is he may not be there when we arrive.

Safety training During our first true “day at sea” we had two practice safety drills; a fire in the galley (kitchen) and an abandon ship.  The crew handled both drills quickly and efficiently.  The abandon ship drill was exciting. When the bell rang, everyone was responsible for his or her own billet (job duty). My billet required me to grab my life preserver and survival suit and muster to the O1 deck (report to an area for role call).

Survival suit
Survival suit

Training to be a VO – visual observer We started the day on the flying bridge. Karin Forney, marine mammal researcher, trained us on how to be a marine animal visual observer or VO for short.  During the first observing session, we only saw a few animals – sea lions and various birds.

I’m getting fairly good at spotting kelp beds (seaweed), however, the scientists are not interested in them, so I still need more practice identifying marine mammals.

By the afternoon, we started to see more marine life.  A large pod of common dolphins swam playfully near the ship.  This was a beautiful sight to see but not ideal for net testing. We waited 30 minutes without a mammal sighting then successfully tested the nets. As the scientists were pulling the nets aboard we spotted another smaller pod of common dolphins, some California sea lions and a small mola mola (sun fish).  All in all it was a good day!

Watching for kelp
Watching for kelp

Rebecca Bell, August 23, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Bell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II 
August 14-28, 2008

Mission: Ecosystems Monitoring Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic
Date: August 23, 2008

Alison, Shrinky Cup Project Director, with the cups before being sent beneath the water.
Alison, Shrinky Cup Project Director, with the cups before being sent under.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Time: 1919(GMT)
Latitude: 4219.5N Longitude: 6812.5 W
Air Temp 0C: 20.7
Sea Water Temp 0C: 19.6

Science and Technology Log 

The Shrinky Cup Caper 

A trip to sea is not complete without the classic experiment on ocean depth and pressure— Styrofoam cup shrinking. Styrofoam cups are decorated with markers, and then lowered in a bag attached to the cable during a vertical cast. In our experiments, pressure is measured in decibars (dbar). This means that 1 dbar equals about 1 meter of depth. So 100 dbars = 100 meters; 1000 dbars =1000 meters. For every 10m (33ft) of water depth, the pressure increases by about 15 pounds per square inch (psi). At depth, pressure from the overlying ocean water becomes very high, but water is only slightly compressible. At a depth of 4,000 meters, water decreases in volume only by 1.8 percent. Although the high pressure at depth has only a slight effect on the water, it has a much greater effect on easily compressible materials such as Styrofoam.

Attaching the bag of cups to cable Over they go!
Attaching the cups

Styrofoam has air in it. As the cups go down, pressure forces out the air. See the results of the experiment for yourself. The depth of the cast was 200 meters or about 600 feet. (You can now calculate the total lbs of pressure on the cups). Addendum: Alison discovered that putting one of the shrunken cups down a second time resulted in an even smaller cup. The cups were sent to 200 meters again. Below right is a photo of the result of reshrinking the cup. Apparently, time has something to do with the final size as well. Resources: NOAA Ocean Explorer Web site – Explorations; Submarine Ring of Fire. AMNH Explore the Deep Oceans Lessons.

Over they go!
Over they go!

Personal Log 

There is a noticeable difference in the amount of plankton we pull in at different depths and temperatures. I can fairly well predict what we will net based on the depth and temperature at a sample site. I’ve also noticed that the presence of sea birds means to start looking for whales and dolphins. I assume that where there is a lot of plankton (food) there are more fish and other lunch menu items for birds and dolphins. A high population of plankton means we are more likely to see more kinds of larger animals.

Animals Seen Today 

  • Salps
  • Krill
  • Amphipods
  • Copepods
  • Ctenophores
  • Chaetognaths (arrow worms)
  • Fish larvae
  • Atlantic White-sided Dolphins
  • Terns
  • Minke whales
  • Pilot whales
  • Mola mola (4)

The results of what happened to the cups at a depth of 200 meters. The white cups are the original size.
The results of what happened to the cups at a depth of 200 meters. The white cups are the original size.

Left, a cup shrunk 2 times; center 1 time; and right, the original size
Left, a cup shrunk 2 times; center 1 time; and right,
the original size

Robert Lovely, April 5, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Robert Lovely
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
March 31 – April 12, 2008

Mission: Reef Fish Ecological Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pulley Ridge and the West Florida Shelf, Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 5, 2008

This sea anemone was part of a remarkably diverse community found on Pulley Ridge at a depth of about 212 feet.
This sea anemone was part of a remarkably diverse community on Pulley Ridge at about 212 feet.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility: 7-8 miles
Wind Direction:  140 degrees (SE)
Wind Speed:  13 knots
Sea Wave Height:  1-2 feet
Swell Wave Height:  2-3 feet
Seawater Temp.: 24.7 degrees C.
Present Weather:  Clear

Science and Technology Log 

Today we made three two-hour ROV dives on Pulley Ridge.  We documented an impressive amount of biodiversity along three transects at depths that ranged from about 190 to 225 feet. Downward still images of the bottom were taken at regular four minute intervals; forward facing still shots were taken whenever something of interest presented itself; and a continuous forward-looking video recording was made of the entire transect.

Agaricia sp., a hermatypic (reef-building) coral we found at about 215 feet.
Agaricia sp., reef-building coral we found at 215 feet.

The ideal cruising speed for the ROV video recording is a very slow one-half knot, which presents significant challenges for the people on the bridge. In fact the Commanding Officer, LCDR Brian Parker, remarked on how good a training exercise this cruise is for his team.  Upon our return to port, and for weeks afterwards, fishery biologist Stacey Harter will analyze the video to derive density estimates for the fishes observed.  She will determine the area covered by each video transect and count individuals of each species that intercepted our transect line.  Abundance estimates then can be extrapolated per unit area.  Others will use similar techniques to determine the aerial extent of living corals.  These data, in turn, will be useful to authorities responsible for managing the fisheries. Pulley Ridge is a drowned barrier island system that formed about 14,000 years ago, when sea levels were lower because a larger portion of the Earth’s water was locked up in glacial ice. While the presence of photosynthetic corals, such as Agaricia spp. was patchy on our dives, we did encounter large fields of green algae in relatively high densities.

The green algae, Anadyomene menziesii, dominated large areas in the southern portion of Pulley Ridge.
The green algae, Anadyomene menziesii, dominated large areas in the southern portion of Pulley Ridge.

This species no doubt is the Anadyomene menziesii described by Robert Halley and his group at the USGS. These striking seascapes resembled large fields of lettuce.  At the southern end of Pulley Ridge this green algae dominated the seabed.  As we moved northward from station to station, however, it occurred in much lower densities, and we began to see higher proportions of the calcareous green algae Halimeda spp. Various species of red coralline algae were also common on Pulley Ridge. Apart from the abundance of Anadyomene menziesii, the other striking observation one makes on this deep coral reef is the presence of conical-shaped mounds and pits.  These structures are almost certainly constructed by fish, such as the sand tilefish (Malacanthus plumieri) and red grouper (Epinephelus morio). Sand tilefish in particular burrow into the coral rubble and pile it up for cover. Red grouper are also industrious excavators.

 A red grouper (Epinephelus morio) at rest in a small pit on Pulley Ridge.

A red grouper at rest in a small pit on Pulley Ridge.

The mounds and pits introduce an element of topographic relief into an otherwise flat seascape along the top of Pulley Ridge.  Because so many other species of fish are attracted to these structures, I would suggest that (at least among the fish) sand tilefish and red grouper represent keystone species in this unique ecosystem.  The removal of these two species would have a significant impact on the rest of the community. Other fauna we observed today were typical of what one might encounter on a shallow-water reef, including sponges, tunicates, lobsters, bryozoans, amberjacks, angelfish, reef butterflyfish, snapper, barracuda, and a loggerhead turtle.

Personal Log 

My favorite place on the ship is the boatswain’s chair way up on the bow. No one else seems to know about it, for I have yet to find it occupied when I want to use it.  It is the quietest, most scenic spot on the ship.  Whenever I get a chance, I sneak up there to watch the flying fish. They are flushed by the ship, and some of them can remain in flight for long periods, perhaps 20 seconds or more. If I am especially lucky, I also get to watch dolphins riding our bow. This is a real treat because they seem so playful.

Our ROV disturbs the nap of a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta).
Our ROV disturbs the nap of a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta).

A pod of dolphins bow-riding the GORDON GUNTER.
A pod of dolphins bow-riding the ship. 

Chris Monsour, June 15, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Monsour
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 15, 2007

Frigate bird

Science and Technology Log 

Yesterday we entered The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (formerly the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument). I found from talking to the crew it is the largest Marine Protected Area in the world. The new native Hawaiian name, Papahānaumokuākea reflects Hawaiian traditions relating to the birth of the Islands. Papahanaumoku is the goddess who birthed the islands.

I spent most of today on the observation deck above the bridge looking for birds and waiting for French Frigate Shoals to appear on the horizon.  A part of our mission was to deliver supplies to Fish and Wildlife personal on Tern Island, which is part of the shoal. Tern Island was formed into a runway to serve as a refueling stop for planes enroute to Midway during World War II. Some of the buildings remain and could be seen with a pair of binoculars.

This image of La Pérouse Pinnacle was taken by Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour as OSCAR ELTON SETTE approached the French Frigate Shoals to deliver supplies.
This image of La Pérouse Pinnacle was taken by Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour as OSCAR ELTON SETTE approached the French Frigate Shoals to deliver supplies.

I found through some investigating that French Frigate Shoals is an open atoll consisting of a large, crescent-shaped reef surrounding numerous small, sandy islets. The first object that stands out as soon as one reaches the shoal is the steep-sided pinnacle that sticks up out of the water. It is the first land I have seen in 3 days so it may not seem like much, but it was a welcome sight. The pinnacle is named “La Pérouse Pinnacle” after Compte de La Pérouse, who visited the atoll in 1786. As I did some research on the shoals I found that in the moonlight the pinnacle so resembled a full-rigged sailing ship that it lured more than one vessel to her doom on the shoals.

On deck we were preparing the tables and traps for tomorrow as we will set traps tomorrow at 1700 (or at 5:00 p.m.)  I asked Garrett who has been on this trip 5 times if I could get bait duty first. This consists of taking a Mackerel and making three cuts so that the muscle is exposed to attract the lobsters and any other organism that may venture into the trap. We will then collect the traps at 0800 Sunday morning.  We have set up an assembly line on the side of the ship, which consists of several tables end to end.  As a trap comes up, the cracker will open up the trap and take out the organisms that made it in and the old bait. The trap is then rebaited and sent toward the back of the ship.  The organisms that were collected will be placed in a bucket and sent to the wet lab to be measured and processed.  All of the lobsters that are collected will be returned after data such as carapace length are recorded.  The lobsters are not just tossed off the side of the boat, but are placed in a special cage and dropped to the bottom.  This prevents any predators from eating the lobster before they make it back to the bottom.

Personal Log 

The days have been going by pretty quickly.  I am ready to do some work though.  The major event of the past two days has been the meals and watching movies.  The food is excellent so I m sure my plan of losing weight on the trip will not come to be.  The good part now is that I have the chance to get to know the people I’m living with a lot better.  My roommate Mike is a student at the University in Hawaii and knows a great deal about sharks and I learned quite a bit about the behavior of the shark and especially about some of the sharks we may see.  I am learning to tie knots that will not come undone when we have large waves and I got to put on my survival suit for the first time during the abandon ship drill. I hope to have a picture to share of that.

It has become a common sight for Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour to see in the skies large, black birds, hovering lazily in place.  This is the frigatebird. The name “frigatebird” calls to mind the sails of ships and, indeed, frigatebirds sail gracefully in the air currents overhead. Their wingspan is some 7.5 feet and their deeply forked scissor-like tails afford them ultimate maneuverability. Their other common name, however, the “man-o’-war” bird, reflects the way in which they use their flying and maneuvering skill. Frigatebirds are pirates who harass incoming birds until the victim is so upset that it disgorges its catch. The frigatebird then drops with amazing speed and plucks the bolus out of the water, or even catches it before it hits.

Animals Seen Today 

Terns, Frigate birds, Shearwaters, and Dolphins.

Question of the Day 

During World War II what impact might the battles (Midway) that were fought near these islands have had on the ecosystem? Could there still be impact today?

Aloha… Chris

Chris Monsour, June 13, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Monsour
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 13, 2007

Science and Technology Log 

I have been in Hawaii for three days already to acclimate myself to the time change, learn about the job ahead of me, and to get to know the crew.  There are 11 members of the scientific crew including myself, all of us with a background in biology formally or informally.  Our adventure over the next 30 days will be to visit some of the islands that make up the Hawaiian Archipelago to see how the populations of two species of lobster have changed in the past year. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) are an uninhabited archipelago that extends 1200 miles across the Central Pacific Ocean.  The area supports many marine species including lobsters, bottomfish, and monk seals.  The two species of lobster that we will be studying are the slipper lobster and the spiny lobster. Both species of lobster were fished for about 15 years in the waters of the NWHI Six years ago the lobster fishery was closed and data suggests that the populations have not recovered appreciably.  The areas where the lobsters will be collected are Maro Reef and Necker Island. One of the interesting facts that I learned from the chief scientist is that the lobsters were not separated when they were collected; they were grouped together as lobster, even though there are major anatomical differences between the two. The data suggests that the slipper lobster population has done better in terms of increased population. I will be doing various jobs over the next four weeks such as baiting the traps, measuring the carapace of the lobsters, and collecting samples for DNA/ genetic research that one of the grad students is working on.  Essentially, he will be doing a population genetics study. I have not asked what type of information he is looking for and should do that tomorrow.

Another area that we others in the group will be studying is the bottomfish fishery.  Bottomfish are fish that are found at deeper depths and include pink snapper, flower snapper, red snapper, and the Hawaiian snapper. I am not sure how the bottomfish sampling will occur because there is a limit on the number of bottomfish that can be taken because the NWHI was declared a Marine National Monument in June of 2006.  With this status new restrictions have now been placed on what can and cannot be done within the Monument.  Another question I need to find the answer to is, “What is the difference between a monument and a sanctuary?”

Personal Log 

I have spent most of the day getting use to the rocking of the boat and settling into my stateroom, which I am very happy with and should be quite comfortable for the next 30 days. If the beginning of the trip is any prelude to the rest, it will be an amazing experience. I am looking forward to getting to know the rest of the scientific crew and learning from them, just as I hope they learn from me.

Animals Seen Today 

Terns, Shearwaters, and Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins.

Question of the Day 

What type of interactions might be occurring between the spiny and slipper lobster that could explain the differences in their populations?  Is one a generalist/specialist?

Aloha… Chris

A rainbow is seen over Pearl Harbor as the OSCAR ELTON SETTE sets sail for its 30 day mission to survey the lobster population of the NWHI.
A rainbow is seen over Pearl Harbor as the OSCAR ELTON SETTE sets sail for its 30 day mission to survey the lobster population of the NWHI.

Tara Fogleman, June 1, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tara Fogleman
Onboard NOAA Ship John N. Cobb
June 1 – 14, 2007

Mission: Alaskan Harbor Seal Pupping Phenology and Site Monitoring
Geographical Area: Southeast Alaska
Date: June 1, 2007

The boat set sail today as we headed for our first haulout sites.  Because this first day was a traveling day, where no sampling would be conducted, I had a chance to explore the JOHN N. COBB, speak with the crew, and become better acquainted with life at sea.

Our Boat, the JOHN N. COBB— 

The JOHN N. COBB is the oldest vessel and the only wooden ship in NOAA’s research fleet. She was built in 1950 and named after John Nathan Cobb, the first dean of the University of Washington School of Fisheries.  The boat is 93 feet long, has a beam of 26 feet, and a draft of 12 feet. The JOHN N. COBB typically cruises at speeds of around 10 knots, propelled by a 325 hp diesel engine. She has a crew of 8 and can carry up to 4 scientists.

The JOHN N. COBB spends most of her time in the waters of southeast Alaska, supporting the research of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  The ship can collect fish and crustacean specimens using a trawl and longline, or sample fish larvae, eggs, and plankton using plankton nets and surface or midwater larval nets.  Marine mammal studies, such as the one that I will be part of, are conducted aboard or by the use of smaller boats stored on the JOHN N. COBB.

Daily Life on the JOHN N. COBB— 

Life on board the JOHN N. COBB is exciting but intimate—the entire crew and scientists must work together to keep the ship clean and in working order so that the scientific research can be done. As mentioned earlier, the ship has several crew members, and each of the crew has important responsibilities that are integral to the proper working of the ship.

  • The Commanding Officer—Our Commanding Officer, Chad, has authority over all other crew members and ship personnel.  He drives the ship on alternating 6-hour shifts and is responsible for medical care in the event that anyone were to get hurt.
  • The Executive Officer—Dan is the Executive Officer (also referred to as the XO) for the JOHN N. COBB on this cruise.  He is the direct representative of the Commanding Officer, and is therefore responsible for executing the policies and orders issued by the Commanding Officer.  He also drives the ship for 6-hour shifts, alternating with the Commanding Officer.
  • The Chief Marine Engineer—Del, or “Chief”, serves as our Chief Marine Engineer.  Because his main responsibilities are to oversee the Engineering Department and fix any problems with the mechanical or electrical systems on the ship, he is usually down below in the engine room.
  • The Chief Steward—Bill, our Chief Steward, is in charge of the galley, or kitchen, of the ship. He provides the crew and scientists with three meals everyday, all cooked on a diesel stove. Because the galley on the JOHN N. COBB is very small, it is very important that those onboard the ship are clean and respect the requests made by the Chief Steward.

Bill, the Chief Steward of the JOHN N. COBB, cooks a delicious dinner for the crew.
Bill, the Chief Steward of the JOHN N. COBB, cooks a delicious dinner for the crew.

There are also other crew members that are responsible for duties such as relieving the Chief Engineer, keeping the boat clean, and driving the skiffs stored on the JOHN N. COBB during scientific operations.  The crew members and scientists sleep in various locations on the boat—though some have it better than others! Most of the crew members, with the exception of the Commanding Officer and Executive Officer, sleep in one large room at the front of the boat. Their room includes bunks, drawers and storage space for their clothing, a small sink, and a couple of benches that also serve as storage units.  Because there is always someone sleeping aboard the ship, curtains can be pulled across each bunk to block light and provide privacy. The scientists are housed in staterooms located just behind the galley, and these rooms provide more space to allow the scientists to work.  Each stateroom has two bunks, a small desk, a sink, and a couple of storage units for clothes and other personal belongings. The bathrooms, or heads, are located in the hallway and are shared by all on board, and there is one community shower for all crew and scientists to use. All of our meals are served in the galley at specific times of the day.  Bill, the Chief Steward, rings a bell when a meal is served, and we each take a designated seat at the table. Meals are served family-style, where the dishes are placed on the table and we serve ourselves. The crew generally consists of some big guys, and so there’s a lot of eating at each meal!  At the end of the meal, we clear our plates, thank the Steward, and head off to do our daily work.

However, life on the JOHN N. COBB isn’t always just about work—the crew enjoy their time off by fishing when the boat is anchored, reading magazines, watching movies, or playing games such as cribbage or solitaire.  There is even a treadmill and rowing machine for those crew members that want to fit a workout into their busy schedule.  Often, the scientists are busy with entering their data and preparing for the next day’s operations. Because there are always some crew members who are sleeping on the boat, it is important that noise is kept to a minimum at all times.

Safety First: Preparing for Emergencies at Sea— 

Tara Fogleman, a NOAA Teacher-at-Sea participant, hangs out in her bottom bunk aboard the JOHN N. COBB.
Tara Fogleman hangs out in her bottom bunk.

It is standard practice for the crew and scientists to perform safety drills during the first 24 hours at sea, and this cruise was no exception.  After lunch, we practiced the “Abandon Ship” drill and the “Fire” drill.  During the “Abandon Ship” drill, everyone aboard was required to report to a life raft and bring (and put on) their survival suit, gloves, and hat. The survival suit is a bright orange outfit intended to cover nearly your entire body (excluding the face), provide insulation from the cold water, and provide floatation. It also has several safety features, including a strobe light and whistle.  During the “Fire” drill, everyone aboard the ship plays a crucial role—many of the crew don protective fire gear and prepare the fire hose, while others assist as needed.  Because everyone plays a role in these emergency situations, it is important that the scientists become familiar with their responsibilities before performing the drills.

Dolphins and Humpbacks and Bears, Oh My!— 

Alaska is beautiful—rugged mountains topped with snow, extensive spruce forests, and dark-blue water that can be so calm in the bays that it appears we’re on a lake.  There were two exciting finds on the way out of Gastineau Channel—we saw the spray of a humpback whale off in the distance (though I can’t truly say I’ve seen a humpback yet) and I saw a group of Dall’s porpoises riding the waves at the bow of the boat.  The Dall’s porpoises are very different from the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins that I commonly see off the coast of Georgia—they are black and white in color (like an orca), they have a smaller dorsal fin, and they are nearly 8 feet in length—but their behavior is similar, as they travel in groups and enjoy riding the waves.  We also spotted two brown bears, most likely a mother and her cub, and several bald eagles while we were anchored in a bay.  Bald eagles are fairly common here, and they are easy to spot because their bright, white heads easily stand out among the dark green of the spruce trees and the grayish-black color of the rocks.

Tomorrow, we’ll begin traveling to haulout sites at low tide (which falls in the morning, between 8 AM and 10 AM) to count harbor seals and their pups.  So with that in mind, I’m off to bed—we have a busy morning tomorrow and I need my rest!

This photo of two brown bears was captured by Chief Scientist Dave Withrow as the JOHN N. COBB anchored in Gut Bay, Alaska.
This photo of two brown bears was captured by Chief Scientist Dave Withrow as the JOHN N. COBB anchored in Gut Bay, Alaska.

Scott Dickison, September 30-October 11, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Scott Dickinson
Onboard Research Vessel Shearwater
September 30 – October 11, 2006

Mission: Quantitative Finfish Abundance
Geographical Area: Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas
Date: September 30 – October 11, 2006

Santa Barbara, seen from the ship
Santa Barbara, seen from the ship


The cruise that I participated on was a multi-part project that spanned several weeks. I came on board for the final, and most interesting part of the project. Those parts you can read about in my log entries, however some background and technical information may be useful to better understand the operation.

The cruise took place onboard the NOAA R/V Shearwater. The project was called a Quantitative Finfish Abundance and Exploration of the Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas. A cooperative Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) study with the California Department of Fish and Game, Marine Applied Research and Exploration, and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

When I arrived, the bulk of the work had been completed and it was time for the experimental portions of the project to take place. These experiments were designed to ensure the reliability, precision, and accuracy of the quantitative data collected by ROV survey. The basic operations involved live boating the ROV along predetermined track lines. That is, the RV Shearwater would proceed along a predetermined line on the surface that the ROV was also independently operating on at the ocean floor. The ROV had a range of 50 meters from the stern of the RV Shearwater. The ROV pilot had on-screen-display (OSD) from the video cameras mounted on the ROV, as well as an OSD that displayed the ROV position relative to the mother ship. This display is generated with the use of a sonar beacon mounted on the ROV and a sonar receiver lowered over the side of the mother ship.

On to the logs…

Deploying the ROV
Deploying the ROV

Saturday 9/30

Arrive at the R/V Shearwater. Got the lay of the land.

Sunday 10/1

Head out of the Santa Barbara Harbor in transit to Santa Cruz Island to pick up the research crew. With the team of scientists on board, we head out for our destination of East Point on Santa Rosa Island for the first deployment of the ROV.

The weather turned on us, with the winds blowing and the rain pounding. The seas got rough and the going was slow. This being the first day out, the sea legs had yet to be adjusted. This was the cause for a quick retreat to the head…

Finally made it to our testing location. Weather was dismal as the ROV was launched. Today’s mission was to “paint” fish with lasers mounted along side the ROV camera.  This was a very interesting procedure designed to measure fish length. Essentially capturing a fish on video and “painting” it with two laser dots at the known distance of 11 cm. Total fish length can then be calculated either by determining fish camera fish length and laser dot space, or by using the screen width and the fish length in comparison.

This day I became umbilical tender and hydraulic operator for launching and retrieving the ROV. I also observed the underwater video and fish painting process. This was a very interesting day becoming part of the crew and assisting in the work. Due to a couple of technical issues, we returned to Santa Barbara for the night.

Watching and operating the launch
Watching and operating the launch

Monday 10/2 

While crewmembers were working on correcting the technical issues, I assisted others with setting up lines for the next set of experiments. This required setting up vinyl covered steel cables at a length of 110 meters and marking them with colored flags every 10 meters that would be easy to view through the ROV cameras. These cables were also set up with loops on each end for linking together, or for securing weights. The cables were then spooled for ease of deployment and stowed for later use.

The technical issues as well were repaired and again we set out to sea. This day’s destination was Anacapa Island. With some sonar scanning, a sight was selected for the next sets of experiments, to determine accuracy of transect distance precision across the spatial dimension.

For this experiment, the 110 meter cables were laid across the bottom with high relief profiles.  This distance of cable would provide a length of 100 meters to run with the ROV. Divers also swam the line and took depth readings along the cable. The cable ran up and down over rocks and various substrates that are considered fish habitat. The concept being that there were more lineal feet of fish habitat in this relief than straight line distance.  The ROV recorded this distance, but this was a means to determine if those recordings were an accurate measurement.

The sight we were working was spectacular. We were on the southern tip of Anacapa Island. The shoreline of the island was shear rocky cliffs. The cliffs are a major nesting and roosting sight for the endangered California Brown Pelicans, they were everywhere both on the cliffs and circling in the sky. The area was also populated with sea lions. They were very amusing swimming around the boat and with their barks echoing off the cliffs of the island.  After the work here was done, we headed north for a protected cove to drop anchor for the night.

Brown pelican nesting area on the high cliffs
Brown pelican nesting area on the high cliffs

Tuesday 10/3

This day we headed back toward Anacapa to continue the track line experiments. Another shallow depth sight was selected toward the North end of the island. The same procedures were used here laying out the cable lengths that were then checked by divers and then run with the ROV.

The water was thick with small baitfish that was being fed on by schools of Bonita. This was a sight to see, and was particularly amusing to see the pelicans dive-bombing into the water also feeding on the baitfish.  This went on for most of the day.  Operations went well today and when complete the gear was collected and stowed. We headed off to another protected cove for the nights anchorage.

Wednesday 10/4 

We continued the track line experiments today. Work was going well so we started preparations for the next upcoming experiment. The preparations consisted of setting up fish models of various sizes and securing weights to then to enable deployment of them floating various heights off the bottom.  The fish models were constructed of a flat piece of neoprene with color copied pictures of the local significant fish species laminated and attached to the sides.

The sight of the day was a pod of dolphins leaping out of the water and splashing around in some sort of frenzy. We assumed the must have been feeding, but were not really close enough to tell exactly what was going on. Today’s tasks went well and I went out on the Avon to retrieve the cables and the divers. With all back onboard, we headed off to the nights anchorage.

On the zodiak
On the zodiac

Thursday 10/5 

Today we set out for a deep water site to continue the track line experiment. The previous sites had been in the 10 to 20 meter depth zones. Today we would run the track line experiment in a 50 meter depth zone.  This posed a different set of circumstances.  The tracking cable was spooled into a basket for deployment. It was then deployed skillfully and precisely by the well experienced deck officer. With the cable in place, the ROV was launched to run the line. This depth was to deep to send divers down, so the ROV did all the work.  Tracking went well and the ROV was brought back on board.

Recovery of the gear was a bit more difficult.  We had to haul back the cable and weights with a power winch as opposed to winding it back by hand in shallow water. After we got about half of the length back, it got jammed and snapped so fast my head spun. At least the experiment was completed.

After gathering and comparing the ROV data with the diver collected data it was apparent that the ROV collected nearly identical data to the diver collected data. This experiment seemed to be a success. ROV use and procedures seemed to be a reliable means to determine transect distance across the spatial dimension by my observations. Naturally the collected data would be reviewed later by the scientists on board to accurately determine the results.

Full moon rising
Full moon rising

During the day we continued to prepare the fish models for deployment tonight. With the track line experiments complete, we headed for a location suitable for the fish model experiment. This experiment was conducted in the evening to simulate the light conditions in the typical habitat depth of 50 meters.  The point of the experiment was to determine the accuracy of fish length as determined by ROV survey. The ROV survey used both paired lasers and distance sonar to determine fish length. When these procedures are utilized on fish models of known length, the scientists could determine if the process could be accurate when video capturing wild fish in the test zone.

As we arrived at the experiment location, the sun was setting and a most beautiful full moon was rising over a distant horizon. Divers were used to strategically deploy the models to simulate populations of wild fish.  The ROV was deployed and ran the line of fish models while video capturing the images. Tonight I had an opportunity to pilot the ROV. I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity and spent some time observing some flat fish scurrying about the bottom as I waited for the divers to collect the fish models. Soon all was complete, the divers came back on board, and we recovered the ROV safely.  We remained at this location for the night, it was quite beautiful.

Friday 10/6…the final day.  

Today was a public relations day. We returned to Anacapa and met up with the California Dept. of Fish and Game boat, the R/V Garibaldi. They had brought some local writers and reporters out to cover the project. We still went on with the normal operations of surveying fish populations. It was another great day on board the NOAA  R/V Shearwater as a participant in the Teacher at Sea Program! Back to Santa Barbara we cruised.


Karen Meyers & Alexa Carey, August 18, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Karen Meyers & Alexa Carey
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
August 15 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring
Geographical Area: Northeast U.S.
Date: August 18, 2006

Science and Technology Log 

I visited the bridge this morning and plan to go back again for another visit because there’s so much to learn there. There’s an amazing amount of equipment up there and Captain Steve Wagner made an attempt to explain some of it to me.  There are two radar units of different frequencies. The higher frequency unit is a 3 cm unit (I assume 3 cm is the wavelength) and has greater resolution so it can be used when entering harbors, for instance.  The other is a 10 cm unit that can cover a larger area.  They have to have two of every instrument in case one malfunctions.  They have the same program – NobelTec – as Jerry uses. It shows the charts for all the areas we are cruising through.  On the chart, our course is plotted and every station is marked with a square that becomes a star when you click on it. The ship appears as a little green, boat-shaped figure that the program calls the SS Minnow (after the boat in Gilligan’s Island).  The program can tell you the distance to the next station and the ETA (estimated time of arrival) as well as the time to reach the station.  You can zoom in or out and scroll around. It shows depths in fathoms.  The program works with a GPS unit to monitor position.  On another monitor, they get online weather information.  The site on the screen had a graphic which shows the area we’re heading into marked all over with the little icons used in weather maps to show wind speed and direction. It was easy to see the low-pressure system which I’d heard was weakening off the coast of South Carolina.  They also get weather data through a little machine called a NAVTEX (Navigational Telex), similar to a FAX, that prints out a continuous strip of paper about 4 inches wide and gives weather data for various segments of the coast, e.g., Fenwick Island to Cape Hatteras or Cape Hatteras to Murrells Inlet. The information comes from stations at several points along the coast.  The machine checks the accuracy as it prints out and gives an error rate at the top right.  If it’s too high, it stops and starts over. I can sympathize with Captain Wagner when he talks about how difficult it is to keep up with the new technology.  I feel the same way as a teacher. The big difference is that he has lives in his hands.  At the same time, he adds that the technology available makes his job much easier.

Personal Log – Alexa Carey 

Dolphins…enough said. The most amazing thing is seeing a massive pod of dolphins riding the wake less than 25 feet directly below you.  Tamara, Karen, Barbara, Jerry and I all clambered around the bow of the deck desperately snapping photos and avoiding wet paint as we safely peered over the edge. ENS Chris Daniels spied several areas with dolphins and flying fish and quickly pointed every spot out as he tried many different ways to get our attention.

We did another EPA station, which we do every five stations.  A great many of the crew joined us after our shift to play a game of ‘Set’; there were about 8 people pulling, pushing, and looking either dazed or confused at the visual card game.  I’ve been learning a lot about life on the East Coast and oceanography from Carly Blair, URI graduate student, while she sunbathed outside on the Hurricane deck.  Many activities occur out on the Hurricane deck like exercising on several of the available machines, sunbathing, whale watching, etc. It’s good to know that we still have our fun after working shift.

The two people who I admire extremely at this point are Don Cobb and Jon Hare, both East Coast natives. They are so knowledgeable on every subject that arises and work probably more than 18 hours a day.  Don came out to teach Barbara and me the procedures for each test and he spent an extra shift answering all questions and supervising our actions. Jerry taught me most of the computer and paperwork, and I was pretty confused for a while. Later that night, I sat in with Jon as he ran everything.  Every step of the way, he’d pause and explain how the system works and how to operate it. It’s something I appreciate beyond words.

I can’t believe how many great people are concentrated into such a small area.  I just don’t want to head home soon.

Personal Log – Karen Meyers 

I agree with Alexa – the dolphins were inspiring!  It’s amazing that they can swim faster than the ship – twice as fast, according to Jon.  I feel like I’m getting to know the people on the ship better and they’re an entertaining bunch.  They work so hard – Tim Monaghan just told us that someone figured out that a mariner works 7 years longer in a lifetime than an onshore worker because they work round the clock 7 days a week.  It makes my life seem awfully easy by comparison!

Barney Peterson, August 16, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 16, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 12 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 234˚
Wind speed: 0 – 3 knots
Sea wave height: 1’
Seawater temperature: 11.7˚C
Sea level pressure: 1011.8 mb
Cloud cover: 8/8 Height: 2000 -3000’ Type: Stratus

My first view of the NOAA ship RAINIER at the dock in Seward, AK.
My first view of the NOAA ship RAINIER at the dock in Seward, AK.

Science and Technology Log 

Yesterday I spent time in the Plot Room learning about the technology used to survey the surface of the earth underneath the ocean (bathymetry).  For each survey the computers must  have accurate, real-time information about the behavior of the ship on the sea surface (pitch, roll, speed) because all of this can affect the accuracy of sonar readings.  The sonar (sound waves) is beamed from the bottom of the survey vessel and spreads out in a cone shape to the undersea surface. Bottom features that stick up closer to the sea surface reflect sonar waves and return echoes sooner so they show up as more shallow spots.  Echoes from deeper places take longer to return, showing that the bottom is farther away at those places.

The data from each day’s survey is downloaded into computers in the Plot Room.  Survey technicians review the data line by line to be sure it all fits together and to “clean up” any information that is questionable.  They use information about the temperature and conductivity of the water where the survey was taken to understand how fast the sonar waves should be expected to travel. (This information is critical for accuracy and is collected every 4 to 6 hours by a device called the CTD.  The CTD is lowered from the ship and takes readings at specified depths on its way down through the water.)

Ensign Megan McGovern and crew partner in full firefighting bunker gear for our first Fire/Emergency Drill.
Ensign Megan McGovern and crew partner in full firefighting bunker gear for our first Fire/Emergency Drill.

When survey work is in deep water, it is done from the ship using equipment that can cover a wider area in less detail.  The launches are used for shallow water work where it is more important to navigation to have finer detail information on water depths and underwater features of the earth surface. Bonnie Johnston, a survey technician, spent about an hour explaining how the system works and showing me how they clean up data before it is sent off for the next stage of review, on its way to becoming part of a navigational chart.  Computers used have two screens so survey technicians can see a whole survey line of data and look closely at information on tiny spots at the same time without losing their place on the big screen.  This helps to judge whether changes of depth are accurate according to trends on the sea bottom, or spikes that show an error in the echoes received by the sonar. The software also allows them to see data as 2-D, 3-D, color models, and to layer information to give more complete pictures.

Tomorrow we are scheduled to begin our actual survey work in the Shumagin Islands.  In between making new surveys the technicians are kept very busy working with the data they have on hand. There are many steps to go through to insure accuracy before data is ready to use for charts.

This is the 4.5 foot dogfish shark caught by a crewmember.  This shark has no teeth even though it looked ferocious.  released it after taking pictures.
This is the 4.5 foot dogfish shark caught by a crewmember. This shark has no teeth even though it looked ferocious. released it after taking pictures.

Personal Log 

My first two days aboard the RAINIER have been a swirl of new faces and places.  The only name I knew for sure before I arrived was Lt. Ben Evans who had exchanged email with me about the gear I would need. I was met at the Seward RR station by and welcomed onto the ship by Ensign Megan McGovern.  She gave me a quick tour of the ship, including where to put my gear. I felt like a mouse in a maze: up and down steps, around blind corners, and through doorways. It has been much easier so far to find my way than I thought it would be.  Reading books that use nautical terms has helped give me a background to understand port, starboard, fore, aft, head, galley, bridge, fantail, and flying bridge. Now I just need to remember where they all are.

Monday was taken up with a safety briefing, checking out equipment such as my flotation coat, personal flotation device (life jacket) for use in survey boats, hard hat, and immersion suit.  I spent several hours reading Standing Orders that all persons aboard must read before being allowed to stay. I talked with the medical officer, and discovered where to eat and the times meals are served. Tuesday we had a Fire/Emergency Drill at about 1030 (10:30 am) for which I reported as fast as I could to my assigned station on the fantail.  We were checked off on a list and some crew members practiced with fire fighting equipment.

Just as we finished that drill, the Executive Officer called an Abandon Ship Drill.  Everyone rushed to quarters to get immersion suits, hats and any assigned emergency gear before reporting to muster stations.  Again we were checked off and all accounted for before anyone could return to what they were doing before. These drills are an important part of shipboard life. They are required once a week and always within 24 hours of the ship sailing from port.

I am sleeping and eating well.  The food is like camp and so are the bunk beds.  So far I have seen lots of salmon: the stream in Seward was full of migrating Coho (silvers); the sea at Twin Bays was alive with jumping Pinks. Monday night one crew member, fishing from the fantail while we were anchored, caught and released a 4.5’ dogfish (shark).  The next day someone caught an 8 lb. silver.  There are sea lions, otters, gulls, eagles, puffins and dolphins to watch. I hate to close my eyes to sleep because I know I will miss seeing something wonderful.

Question of the Day 

What is the speed of sound through air?  Does sound travel faster or slower through water?

David Riddle, July 14, 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 14, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea David Riddle holds a medium-size goosefish.
NOAA Teacher at Sea David Riddle holds a medium-size goosefish.

Science and Technology Log

My first shift involved getting accustomed to the job. It seems like an incredible amount of detailed instructions and procedures at first, but over time, the routine emerges.  The dredge goes out and tows for 15 minutes.  Then it comes back in and the inclinometer data is downloaded. The inclinometer is attached to the frame of the dredge and measures the angle of the dredge in relation to the bottom. This data allows verification that the dredge was towing at the proper angle. Then the dredge frame is moved, the net is dumped, and I take a photo of the catch with Amanda holding a sign telling which tow and which location. Then we dig through the pile, on hands and knees, sorting out scallops, clappers (recently dead scallops with the shell halves still hinged), all fish species, and every third station we save and count crabs and do a random sample count to estimate the number of starfish.  Starfish are scallop predators. Also, at every third station before we do a tow the CTD measuring device is lowered over the side. CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Density, and these numbers are used to calculate salinity. The temperature data from the CTD helps establish the conditions which scallops may or may not prefer.  CTD data is not only related to the Scallop Survey, but NOAA ships regularly collect data that is used by scientists working on other projects.

The location of each tow is selected randomly by computer within various strata which vary by depth. There’s a navigational chart posted on the wall that shows the precise location of all the areas being sampled.  Some samples are taken from areas that are closed to commercial fishing, for resource management purposes.  Some areas may be closed indefinitely while others are rotated or allow fishing on a “restricted access” program.

Sightings: In the afternoon, whales were blowing on the horizon, too far away to see any more than that.  I counted five spouts together in one place, then two more a little farther behind. Hammerhead shark, reported from the bridge.  I saw the fin. Dolphins alongside in the dark: they look silver-gray, in the reflection of the ship’s lights.

Personal Log 

I awoke feeling fine, and went around taking some video of fishing operations.  But I felt uneasy from late morning on.  Twelve hours is a long time to work when feeling queasy, but interestingly, when I was focused on a specific task, even something as simple as shucking scallops and talking, I was less aware of my discomfort.  I was tired toward the end of my 12-hour shift, tired of feeling queasy, tired of the half-asleep feeling that comes from the anti-nausea medication.  A shower and bed were most welcome!

Heather Diaz, July 11, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Heather Diaz
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
July 6 – 15, 2006

Mission: Juvenile Shark Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: U.S. West Coast
Date: July 10, 2006

This is a view of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island, CA.
This is a view of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island, CA.

Science and Technology Log 

They set a swordfish line at around midnight, and we hauled it in around 6am. We caught one blue shark and one pelagic ray. We then set the first shark set at around 8am.  We hauled in the line around noon.  We caught one blue shark and 6 mako sharks, though one of the makos escaped with the gangion, leader, and hook still attached.

After that set, we headed for Santa Catalina Island where we would have liberty ashore.  We were taken over to the port at Avalon by João Alves on the skiff, I went over with Natalie Spear, Karina De La Rosa-Mesa, and Chico Gomez.  Everyone, except those on watch, was allowed to go ashore. Even the CO, Alexandra Von Saunder was able to make a quick visit to Avalon.  Most people shopped and/or had dinner in a restaurant.  A few people even went swimming at the beach!  Everyone had to be back aboard the ship by 11pm.  Karina De La Rosa-Mesa and I went back to the ship with Sean Suk and João Alves on the skiff at 9:45pm.

Personal Log 

Again, sea lions and dolphins were playing nearby today.  I tried to get pictures/video of them, but it doesn’t come out well on tape.  I love watching them…they are so graceful, and they really look like they are having a great time playing!  One sad thing happened today during our sets…one shark got away.  Someone dropped the leader line in the water and he took off. We can only hope that he is able to work the hook out on his own, soon.

Everyone was very excited to be given liberty ashore tonight in Avalon.  There are several people who have had the chance to come to Catalina before, so they are especially looking forward to this excursion. Catalina has changed so much since I was there 25 years ago!  There are many more houses and condos now near the harbor. Though, the town and the touristy areas are pretty much the same.  We enjoyed shopping and walking through the tiny streets.  And, seeing the golf carts everywhere was very amusing.  The Wrigley Mansion, which sits above the harbor is very beautiful, and many of the homes on the hill over the harbor are just fantastic. The moonrise was amazing, as it came over the hill…I think it was a full moon. Everyone in town seemed to be having a great time, and it was nice to be walking on land for a change (though, it did feel like the whole island was still moving with the rolling of the waves, even though I know it wasn’t!). I am looking forward to finding the pictures we took of the island when I was a child to compare them to today…I bet a lot has changed!

Kimberly Pratt, July 16, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kimberly Pratt
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II
July 2 – 24, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Wildlife Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Northwest
Date: July 16, 2005

Humpback Fluke – white and black
Humpback Fluke – white and black

Weather Data from Bridge

Latitude: 3650.918 N
Longitude: 12159.753 W
Visibility: < 1
Wind Direction: 280
Wind Speed: 3 knots
Sea Wave Height :< 1
Swell Wave Height: 3-4 feet
Sea Level Pressure: 1011.6
Cloud Cover: Foggy/light drizzle
Temperature: 16.7 c

Scientific Log 

Our days lately have been mostly foggy and drizzly, making marine mammal observations very difficult. During the times that observations were made, we’ve seen Humpback Whales, Fin Whales, Harbor Porpoise, a Blue Whale, Pacific White-sided Dolphins, Grampus Dolphins, and Sea Lions.  I’ve attached pictures that show Humpback Whale flukes.  The scientists are using the pictures to ID them.  Yesterday, Fin Whales surfaced approx. 200 meters off our bow and swam with the ship for a little while.

Humpback Fluke – all black
Humpback Fluke – all black

We observed Harbor Porpoise as we entered Monterey Bay. They are a small porpoise and are identified by their small pointy dorsal fin.  Observation of Harbor Porpoise is difficult and you can only get a fleeting glance at their dorsal fins before they are gone.

At first you might mistake Grampus dolphins for Killer Whales by looking at their dorsal, but upon closer inspection you’ll find they have a light body marked by scratches or lines. Two nights ago, we did a Bongo Net drop and were able to collect 7 jars full of krill, plankton and myctophids (small Lantern fish).  This showed that the area was very healthy and full of abundance. As far as birds go, we observed part of the Monterey Bay flock of Sooty Shearwaters numbered at approximately 250,000. Today we picked up Scientist Rich Pagen in Santa Cruz, joining us after being ill and we hope to continue observations as we head back out to sea from Monterey Bay.

Humpback Fluke – barnacle marking
Humpback Fluke – barnacle marking

Personal log

We’ve had quite a bit of down time enabling me to answer e-mail, do logs, and interviews. When we are “on effort” I am on the Flying Bridge helping with data entry, observations and trying to video our sightings. At night I help the Oceanographers, Mindy Kelley and Liz Zele doing the Bongo Net Tows and we are often out until 10:30 or 11:00 pm.  Today, we were close to shore, so we had cell service to call friends and loved ones.   I’m still having a really good time, the whales and dolphins are breathtaking. I envy your hot weather!

Sea Lions
Sea Lions

Kevin McMahon, August 7, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin McMahon
Onboard NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown

July 26 – August 7, 2004

Mission: New England Air Quality Study (NEAQS)
Geographical Area:
Northwest Atlantic Ocean
August 7, 2004

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat. 42 deg 33.05 N
Lon. 68 deg 23.03 W
Heading 349 deg
Speed 0 kts
Barometer 1007.91 mb
Rel Humidity 83.96 %
Temp. 16.68 C

Daily Log

0800 hours. The past evening was spent steaming to this point where we are on station. The ship will remain here for all of the morning and part of the afternoon. We will await a fly over by the J31 as well as the NASA DC8. Many of the scientists onboard will also set their equipment with the use of a satellite due to pass overhead in the early afternoon.

My morning was spent helping Dan Wolfe, one of the NOAA meteorologists repair an electrical problem which had disabled the sensors that relay air temperature and relative humidity to computers aboard ship. As you can see from the photos, this was not something you would find in the job description for meteorologists. To solve the problem Dan had to climb up to a crows nest like platform on the masthead near the bow of the ship and then perform a diagnostic test on the electrical circuitry for the systems.

It was finally discovered that a switch box had allowed moisture to enter through leaky gasket. In all, the task it took several hours to complete.

During the time we were engaged with the repair we started to notice a small school of dolphins moving closer to the ship. At first they seemed to keep a distance of about 100 yards but after time, small pods of four or five would move in closer to the ship and investigate our presence in their world. I believe that this type of dolphin is known as the Atlantic White Sided Dolphin. As we were stationary in the water, a flock of shearwaters could be seen loitering off our stern and starboard side. They are a wonderful seabird to watch as they seem to effortlessly propel themselves through the air with a continuous glide, using a ground effect air flow created by an updraft of the sea waves. The dolphins would at times glide under the floating shearwaters and make them alight from the water. They seemed to enjoy this form of teasing as they repeated the act over and over.

During the afternoon I helped Drew Hamilton take more sun readings with his Sunphotometer. As I stated in yesterdays log, the sunphotometer measure the intensity of the suns direct radiation. Because we had a couple of aircraft fly over us today, the J31 and the DC8, and because those platforms contain the same equipment as that aboard the ship, we were able to validate our readings.


Why is it important to have standardized equipment when conducting the same types of experiments by different people in different locations?