Marsha Lenz: The Octopus and the CTD, June 21, 2017

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Marsha Lenz

Aboard Oscar Dyson

June 8-28, 2017

 

Mission: MACE Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 21, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 54 38.9 N

Longitude: 161 39.2 W

Time: 0800

Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: 185

Wind Speed: 9 Knots

Sea Wave Height: 3-4 foot swell

Barometric Pressure: 1003.4 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 7.4°C

Air Temperature: 7.0°C

Science and Technology Log

Every morning when I come to start my shift, the scientists on the previous shift are in the middle of doing “DropCam’s.”   The DropCam is a camera that drops down to the ocean floor and takes pictures of what is going on down there. We have been getting some amazing pictures from the DropCam. The camera goes down about 150 meters (depending on the depth of the ocean floor). Sometimes, the ocean is very sandy and has very little (that we can see) activity going on. Other times, the video feed is full of fish and other marine life. We have seen so much diversity on the ocean floor.

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Since being on the Oscar Dyson, we now have seen two octopuses on the boat (well, one was on the DropCam); one was in the juvenile stage and one in the adult stage of life. I’d like to take a moment to talk about how amazing an octopus is. First of all, let’s talk about how they can change color to match their surroundings. They use special pigment cells in their skin to change colors. They have the ability to even blend into patterned rocks and corrals. When we caught the baby octopus, we saw it change its color to white to blend into the white cup we were holding it in.

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An octopus can fit through spaces as small as the size of its beak (photo credit: factsandideas.com).

They are considered to be very intelligent animals. They have been known to be able to open jars, escape from enclosures, solve mazes, and squirt water at targets. They have the ability to squeeze through things that are as small as the size of their beaks. In aquariums, they have also been known to mimic (and actually learn from) other octopuses.

Even though they can get up to be 16 feet long and weigh up to 110 pounds, they only live to be about 4 years old. That is a very short lifespan. After the females lay their eggs (they lay about 100,00 eggs), they brood over them for many months. During this time, they often do not eat. She protects her eggs for 6-7 months, and then she dies shortly after they are born.

When they are looking over their eggs they do eat, they primarily eat shrimp, fish, clams, and lobsters. They have a beak-like mouth that they can use to puncture and tear fish. They have also been known to eat sharks and birds. During the first 3 months of their lives, they eat plankton. Plankton are small and microscopic organisms that drift or float in the sea. They consist of diatoms, protozoans, small crustaceans, and the eggs and larval stages of larger animals.

The CTD

After the last DropCam is retrieved, a CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) is usually deployed, which collects data from various depths of the oceans. The primary function of the CTD is to measure the conductivity and temperature of the water column at various depths. Conductivity is related to the salinity, or saltiness, of the water. Studying the salinity of the water is a very critical part of studying the ocean, which is made up of salt water. The conductivity, along the temperature and depth, provide scientists with profiles of various parts of the ocean.

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The CTD is attached to a larger frame called a rosette.   This holds various water-sampling bottles and other sensors that measure the physical and chemical properties of the water at various depths. With this information, scientists can make inferences about changes that they may be seeing in the data and this can give them a better understanding about the oceans.  The data collected daily from the CTD is analyzed by Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory at the end of the survey.

Personal Log

Things on the boat are definitely becoming more routine. We continue to work in 12-hour shifts (mine starting at 4 am). The days consist of getting up, having coffee and a bagel, coming down to the Chem Lab to relieve the night shift, where we take over doing DropCams.  After our DropCams, we get to watch the sunrise or other spectacular views.

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We then will go up for breakfast at 7. I have really been enjoying having someone else (Lenette and Kimrie) not only make meals for me every day, but also do my dishes. What a luxury! After breakfast, we’ll “go fishing” and suit up to analyze the catch. (I’ll go into details about in the next blog) and then we’ll go have lunch. After lunch, we brainstorm the plans for the afternoon and take care of small projects. Before we know it, 4 pm rolls around and the next crew starts their shift.

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Chief Scientist, Darin Jones, shows me how to conduct a trawl.

I make it to dinner at 5, and then I slowly make my way back to the stateroom.  If it is  nice out, I will go up to the bridge to look for marine animals or walk around looking at the amazing landscape.  I find myself extremely tired around 7 and get ready for bed.  I am usually asleep by 8. It’s “good night” and sweet dreams for me!

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Despite the occasional wind, the views are breathtaking.

Did You Know?

 The oldest octopus fossil is from an animal that lived 296 million years ago — millions of years before the dinosaurs lived.

Question for my class:

 What is the name of this weather instrument?

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This year we learned about various tools to help measure weather. I saw this on the bridge of the ship. It measures the speed and direction of the wind. Do you remember what it is called?

 answer:  A  ___ ___  M  ___ ___  E  ___ ___  R                                                                                      

Interview with Darin Jones

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Darin analyzes backscatter from a recent transect.

What role do you play on this survey?

I am the Field Party Chief which means that I am the member of the science party that is responsible for making sure as much of our original objective gets completed as possible and I also serve as the main contact between the officers that operate the ship and the science party when important decisions or changes in the plan occur.

What inspired you to pursue this as a career?

I was a contract observer for the National Marine Fisheries Service following college and dreamed about one day working directly for them.  I thought that would be an awesome career and I feel lucky to have had my dreams realized.

How long have you been working in this field?

I have been in my current position for 10 years but have been in the marine biology field for the last 25 years.

What sort of training/education did you receive?

I got my Undergraduate degree in Marine Biology and a Masters of Science in Fisheries Resources.  I was also an observer aboard commercial fishing vessels for 5 years which provided invaluable sea going experience and knowledge.

Are fisheries something that more people need to know about? Why?

I think fisheries and the health of the oceans is something that people should know more about because they are vital to life on land and important indicators of the status and health of our climate and planet. The oceans are the heart of the earth and drive many other processes.

 

What interests you most about the data collected on this survey?

The data that we collect is directly used to sustainably manage the pollock fishery so I am proud to contribute to that.  It’s neat to be able to track a fish population as it grows through the years and watch how many survive from one year to the next. We are also collecting interesting data on the percentage of certain rockfish species in different types of habitat that can be used to help determine the abundance of those species.

What is the most challenging part of your job?  The most rewarding?

The most challenging part of my job is being away from my family for long periods of time. Another challenging aspect is the time management of planning and executing the survey objectives in a finite amount of time. Plans have to be constantly monitored and adjusted depending on weather, equipment malfunction, and other unexpected circumstances. The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I am contributing to the scientific knowledge that is helping to sustainably manage fisheries.

What words of advice do you have for my students if they want to pursue a career is biology or the sciences?

Math skills are a very important part of biology and the sciences so learn as much as you can.  Also getting experiences in fields that you are interested in is very important so volunteer with organizations that interest you and unexpected opportunities will open up.

 

 What is your favorite marine animal?

I think my favorite marine animal is the Pacific viperfish.  It is a creature from the deep and has very long teeth and looks very ferocious, however they only grow to a maximum of about a foot long, but I’ve only seen specimens that were about 2 inches long. It amazes me how creatures can survive in the dark depths and immense pressures of the deep ocean.

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The Pacific viperfish can be found 200-5,000 feet below the ocean surface. (photo credit: Earthguide & Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

Do you have anything else that you would like to add or share?

Do your homework and get all the extra credit that you can, kid!

 

 

Andrea Schmuttermair, Underwater Adventures, July 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 6 – 25, 2015

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 17, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 58 02.3N
Longitude: 152 24.4W

Sky:  some clouds, clear

Visibility: 10nm
Wind direction: 261 degrees

Wind speed: 10 knots
Sea wave height: 2ft

Swell wave direction: 140 degrees

Swell wave height: 1ft

Sea water temp: 12.1C
Dry temperature: 16.2C

Science and Technology Log

In addition to the walleye pollock survey, there are also a few side projects taking place on the ship. One of the instruments we are trying out on this survey is the DropCam. With some upgrades from a previous version of the camera, this is the first time this camera has come on the pollock survey. It was initially created for a NOAA project studying deep sea corals. Now that the study is over, we are using it for a project funded by North Pacific Research Board. The goals of this project are two-fold: habitat classification and tracking fish densities in untrawlable versus trawlable areas.

My students would be excited to learn that this is very similar to the tool they designed with our underwater ROVs. The DropCam is made up of strobe lights and 2 cameras- one color and one black and white- contained in a steel frame. We’ve been deploying it twice each night in areas where we see the most fish on the echogram. The ship pauses when we get to a point we want to put the camera in, and the camera itself will drift with the current. The DropCam is attached to a cable on deck, and, with the help of the survey tech and deckhand, we lower it over the side of the ship and down into the water. Once it gets down to 35m, we make sure it connects with our computers here in the lab before sending it all the way down to the ocean floor. Once it is down on the ocean floor, it’s time to drive! While controlling the camera with a joystick in the lab, we let it explore the ocean floor for 15 minute increments before bringing it back up. I’ve had the opportunity to “drive” it a few times now, and I must admit it’s a lot of fun for a seemingly simple device. We’ve seen some neat things on camera, my favorite being the octopus that came into view. One night in particular was an active night, and we saw plenty of flatfish, rockfish, krill, shrimp, basket stars and even a skate.

Here are a couple of photos taken from our DropCam excursion.

A skate trying to escape the DropCam

A skate trying to escape the DropCam

An octopus that we saw on the DropCam

An octopus that we saw on the DropCam

Personal Log

We have hit some rougher weather the last couple days, and we went from have 2ft swells to 6 ft swells- it is a noticeable difference! Rumor has it they may get even bigger, especially as we head out into open water. We did alter our course a little bit so we could head into Marmot Bay where we would be somewhat protected from rough waters. It is quite interesting to walk around the ship in these swells. It feels like someone spun you around blindfolded 30 times and then sent you off walking. No matter how hard you try to walk straight, you inevitably run into the wall or stumble your way down the stairs. The good thing about this is that everyone is doing it, even those who have been on the boat longer, so we can all laugh at each other.

Two humpback whales breaching near our ship.

Two humpback whales breaching near our ship.

Because the weather changes just as quickly here in Alaska as it does in Colorado, the clouds lifted this evening and the sun finally came out. We had a great evening just off the coast of Afognak Island with sunshine, a beautiful sunset, and lots of whales! I stayed up on the bridge a good portion of the evening on lookout for blows from their spouts. Some were far off in the distance while a few were just 50 yards away! We were all out on deck when we saw not one, but two whales breeching before making a deeper dive.

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Longnose skate

Our trawl today was a little sad as we caught a huge longnose skate. We didn’t notice him initially in our catch until he got stuck in all the pollock as we were lowering the fish down into the wet lab. We paused in our processing to try and get him out. He was about 90lbs with a wingspan of 1.5 meters, so he was difficult to lift out. It took 2 of our deck crew guys to pull him out, and then we got him back into the water as fast as we could. Hopefully he made it back in without too much trauma. While he was exciting to see, I felt bad for catching him in our net.

 

Meet a NOAA Corps Officer: ENS Justin Boeck

ENS Justin Boeck on the bridge

ENS Justin Boeck on the bridge

There are 5 NOAA Corps officers and a chief mate on board the Oscar Dyson for this leg of our survey: ENS Gilman, ENS Kaiser, ENS Boeck, LT Rhodes, LT Schweitzer, and Chief Mate Mackie. I have a lot of respect for the officers on our ship, as they have a great responsibility to make sure everything is running smoothly. They are one of the reasons I enjoy going up to the bridge every day. ENS Boeck picked me up from the airport when I first arrived in Kodiak, and gave me a short tour of the ship. He works each night during part of my shift, and it’s fun to come up on the bridge and chat with him and ENS Gilman. I had the opportunity to interview ENS Boeck, the newest officer on the Dyson, to learn a little more about the NOAA Corps and what they do on the ship.

Can you give me a little background on how you came to the NOAA Corps?

Before coming into the NOAA Corps, I received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Wisconsin. After my undergraduate degree, I was in the Peace Corps in Senegal, West Africa for 3 years. I was an environmental advisor teaching classes to both students and teachers in addition to grant writing and funding. I lived in a village of 500 people, and taught 90 kids and 5 teachers. While I was there we built a wall to protect the garden from animals, helped village members increase their nutrition through micro-gardening, and ran seed bank projects and mosquito net distributions.

In 2015 I went into training with the Coast Guard, and also went through BOTC/OCS (Basic Officer Training Class/Officer Candidate School) at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. There were 14 NOAA Corps officer candidates along with about 50 coast guard officer candidates, and we went through the same program with some of our academics varying slightly.

How long have you been in the NOAA Corps? One month, fresh out of BOTC (basic officer training class). I reported to the Oscar Dyson on June 4th.

Have you worked on other ships? If so, which one(s)? This is my first sea assignment. I’ll be at sea on the Dyson for 2 years, and will then move to a land assignment for 3 years.

What made you choose the NOAA Corps? I grew up near Lake Michigan and enjoy the water. I followed NOAA for job postings for a while, and I found out about the NOAA Corps through my last job working at a lab, so I contacted NOAA Corps officers to get more information about the NOAA Corps. I wanted to be on the water, drive a large ship, and get to SCUBA dive on a regular basis. I enjoy science and also working with my hands so this was a great way to be involved and be at the source of how fisheries data is being collected.

What’s the best part of your job? Driving the ship. The Oscar Dyson is the largest scale ship I’ve driven. It’s pretty amazing. I love being on the boat. The Oscar Dyson is considered the gold standard of the fleet, because it is a hardworking boat, running for 10 months of the year (most ships run for about 7 months out of the year) and a lot of underway time.

What is the most difficult part of your job? Getting used to the work and sleep schedule. We work 12 hours a day; 4 hour watch, 4 hours of collateral work, and then another 4 hour watch. We’re also short on deck so I spend some of my time helping out the deck crew. Because I’m new, I’m also learning the different duties around the ship. I need to know all the parts of the ship in order to become OOD (officer of the deck) qualified. I also need to have a specific amount of sea days, an interview with the commanding officer, and the trust of the commanding officer. Right now I’m learning more about the engineering on the ship.

What is something you wish more people knew about the NOAA Corps? With only 321 officers, it is still relatively unknown. We are aligning our training with the Coast Guard, which is creating more awareness and strengthening our relationship with the Coast Guard.

What advice would you give students who are interested in joining the NOAA Corps? Get boating experience and see if it’s something you’re into. Also having a solid understanding how a ship works. Get your experience early, and learn about weather, tide, swells, and ship processes. During BOTC, you get to fill out a request letter for what kind of ship you want to go on- fisheries, oceanographic, or hydrographic. Because my degree is in biology, I wanted to be on a fisheries boat, so I could get immediate experience in ship handling and still be involved with the fisheries data collection.

Did you know? The NOAA Corps is one of the 7 Uniformed Services, which include the US Army, US Navy, US Marine Corps, US Air Force, US Coast Guard,  US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps.

Where’s Wilson?

Or, rather, what sea creature is Wilson hanging out with in this picture? Write your answer in the comments below!

Where's Wilson?

Where’s Wilson?