Phil Moorhouse: The Rest of the Story, September 22, 2019

airport meal

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27, 2019 – September 15, 2019

Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: September 22, 2019

Weather Data from Richmond, Virginia

Latitude: 37 44.36 N
Longitude: 77 58.26 W
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Wind Direction: 195 degrees
Air Temperature: 31 C
Barometric Pressure: 1018 mBar
Sky:  Clear


Wow, it’s hard to believe that my time on the waters of Alaska aboard the Oscar Dyson are over.  It was an experience I will never forget.  I just hope that I can instill in my students the idea that all kinds of things are possible when you follow your interests. 

It has taken me several days to reacclimatize to life on land.  Standing in front of my class, I have caught myself swaying.  It also took several days to readjust my sleep schedule.  (I don’t get rocked to sleep anymore and my hours are completely different.)

There were so many things I will miss and never forget: all of the unique experiences and sights I got to see, starting with my side trip to Barrow and swimming in the Arctic Ocean before the start of the expedition, getting to explore some of Kodiak before we left port, all of the open sea and species that were part of the random samples, the little coves we snuck into when storms were approaching, getting a “close-up” of the Pavlof volcano, and getting to explore the native land around Dutch Harbor where we were able to watch Salmon spawning and Bald Eagles doing their thing. 

It was also interesting talking to and learning from the ship crew.  There are some interesting stories there about how they got to NOAA and what they have experienced since then.

At the top of the list though would have to be the connections I made with the scientists I spent almost three weeks with.  Being able to go out into the field with them and talking about what they have seen and learned over years of research has really reenergized my love for science in general.  Starting my shift looking forward to seeing what each Bongo station would bring up or what each trawl would bring to the sorting table, made for an expedition that went much too quickly.  It was interesting listening to my fellow scientists comparing how the numbers and ages of pollock caught at the various stations compared to what they had found in the Spring and in previous years. 

airport meal
The science crew all had the chance for one last meal together at the Anchorage airport before parting ways. I am very thankful for being accepted so well and for everything I have learned.

Overall, this has been an experience I will never forget.  I have learned so much about Alaska, the ocean, marine species, global warming, and scientific technology.  My time as a Teacher at Sea aboard the Oscar Dyson is something I will never forget and hope I can pass the excitement and experiences on to my students.

Meg Stewart: Aleutian Islands, Bald Eagles, Wildflowers, and Bunkers, July 8, 2019

Bunker Hill bald eagles

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Meg Stewart

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather

July 8 – 19, 2019

Mission: Cape Newenham Hydrographic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Aleutian Islands, Bering Sea

Date: July 8, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 54° 59.104 N
Longitude: 166° 28.938 W
Wind: 21 knots SE
Barometer: 1006.6 mb
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Temperature: 53° F or 11.5° C
Weather: Partly cloudy, no precipitation

Science and Technology Log

Today, we left the port at Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska and headed toward Cape Newenham. The mission for the Cape Newenham project is to gather detailed ocean depth data in order to knit together a comprehensive and highly detailed surface chart of the seafloor near Cape Newenham. I will talk about that process in my next post.

view of Dutch Harbor
A view of Dutch Harbor, Unalaska. The surrounding hills are volcanic, with just a thin layer of soil, and not a tree to be seen.

Dutch Harbor is a small town with a relatively deep port. The Ship Fairweather has a draft of 15.5 feet. “Draft” is the vertical length between the surface of the water and the bottom of the ship, which is called the hull. A ship’s draft determines the minimum depth of water a vessel can safely navigate and dock at a port. However, though the Fairweather has a 15.5 foot draft, the crew prefers a 20 foot depth of water at a port.

Map of Bering Sea
This overview map shows where Dutch Harbor is in relation to Alaska, the Pacific Ocean, the Aleutian Islands, the Aleutian Trench and Russia. The A-B line is shown for the cross sectional line in the next figure. Cape Newenham is out next destination.

Dutch Harbor is part of Unalaska Island, which is one of the string of Aleutian Islands. The Aleutian Islands are part of the notorious Ring of Fire that marks the edge of the Pacific tectonic plate. As the Pacific Plate moves and grinds past some plates (like along the North American Plate at the San Andreas Fault) or pulls away from other plates (like the Antarctic and Nazca plates, creating the East Pacific Ridge) or plunges beneath other plates (like the Philippine and Indian-Australian plates, where we get deep ocean depressions called the Mariana Trench and Tonga Trench, respectively), we see active volcanism (which is the “fire”) but also lots of earthquakes. The Aleutian Islands are volcanic in origin – the island chain is a volcanic arc – and are a result of oceanic crust of the Pacific Plate being subducted under the oceanic crust of the North American plate. The deep depression at this tectonic boundary – also called a subduction zone – is called the Aleutian Trench.

Aleutian Trench
Referring to the A-B line shown in the overview map above, this cross section shows the mechanics of the subduction zone at the Aleutian Trench at Unalaska Island.
Aleutian Trench tectonic map
This is a tectonic map of the Aleutian Trench area (the symbol shown as a dark black curved line indicates a subduction zone). The map shows the relative motion of the Pacific and North American plates. It is clipped from the New York State Earth Science Reference Table

Looking at a schematic drawing of the side-view, or cross section, of the Aleutian subduction zone, we can visualize what this looks like beneath the surface. The older and more dense oceanic crust of the Pacific Plate is plunging under the younger oceanic crust of the North American Plate – the more dense material sinks down or subducts – and the less dense material stays floating on top, and this process is all due to gravity. With time, as the oceanic material is drawn deeper into the subduction zone, it becomes hotter, starts to melt and then comes back up to the surface as volcanic material and a string of volcanoes forming parallel – and in this case, forming an arc – to the boundary between the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate.

Personal Log

Arriving at NOAA Ship Fairweather
Arriving at NOAA Ship Fairweather

I arrived at Dutch Harbor on July 6, after 14 hours and three legs of air travel. Fortunately, I made all my connections and my luggage arrived at the tiny Dutch Harbor airport. I was picked up by welcome smile for a nice person from the Ship Fairweather, got to the port and settled in to my stateroom. The “stateroom” is my sleeping quarters or room. I have it all to myself, it is very comfortable with a sink, a small bed, drawers and a closet to fit all my stuff, and there’s a TV that I haven’t yet figured out how to work.

My stateroom
My stateroom or sleeping quarters. Caution: panoramic photos make everything look larger than they really are.

Did You Know?

On my second day in Dutch Harbor, I went out with some new friends from the ship on a lovely hike on nearby Bunker Hill. I saw so many beautiful wildflowers along the trek and an enormous number of bald eagles. I had no idea that bald eagles would be so plentiful here, but they were everywhere. It was amazing! But the other interesting thing about this hike were the bunkers.  In June 1942, Dutch Harbor was bombed by the Japanese Navy (six months after Pearl Harbor) during World War II. At the time of the raid, Alaska was a U.S. territory, and following the bombing, the bunkers of the now-known-as Bunker Hill were built to help defend not only Alaska but the west coast of mainland U.S. And here I thought Dutch Harbor was only known for Deadliest Catch!

Quote of the Day

“Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume. Everyone, everywhere is inextricably connected to and utterly dependent upon the existence of the sea.” Sylvia Earle

Lee Teevan: The Unexpected Happens, July 13, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lee Teevan

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 1-10, 2018

Mission: Acoustic Pollock-Trawl

Geographic Area of Cruise: eastern Bering Sea

Date: 13 July 2018

View of the Oscar Dyson on our last morning in Dutch Harbor, AK
View of the Oscar Dyson on our last morning in Dutch Harbor, AK


Weather Data from Norfolk, VA

Latitude: 36.8508° N

Longitude: 76.2859° W

Tide Heights: 2.76 ft & 3.35 ft

Wind Speed: 19 km/h

Wind Direction: NE

Air Temperature: 28°C, 82°F

Barometric Pressure: 1028.1 mb

Sky: Clear

Humidity: 76%

“If you’re awake at 6:00 a.m., you’ll get to see the Oculus as I prepare it to glide around in the Bering Sea!”  With this promise from Dr. Chris Bassett, I made sure I was ready at the appointed time on our last day on the ship.

Dr. Chris Bassett preparing the Oculus.
Dr. Chris Bassett preparing the Oculus.

The launching of the Oculus was not on Chris’ schedule for that day beforehand; our expedition was ending earlier than expected.  That setback, however, did not diminish the drive to pursue science.  The resilience and perseverance of the science team to readjust was apparent.  Through the mist of  disappointment, the scientists continued to do as much as possible to continue our mission of the pollock survey.


Science and Technology Log

Developed at Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in partnership with the University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean and the University of Washington Seaglider Fabrication Lab, the Oculus is an ocean glider which samples abiotic factors in the ocean such as temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen at different depths.

Inner component of the Oculus which regulates buoyancy.
Inner component of the Oculus which regulates buoyancy.

After setting the Oculus upright, Chris connected it via the Internet to a computer operated by a scientist at the University of Washington.  This scientist is going to be sending coordinates to the Oculus and guiding it at various depths in the Bering Sea.  Chris explained that the Oculus has the ability to adjust its buoyancy quickly and is able to carry out a more reliable survey than other gliders.  Through the data remotely sent by the Oculus, scientists can gather a more accurate picture of ocean dynamics such as water column layers and ocean mixing.

Unfortunately, I was not able to observe the launch of the Oculus as I had to leave for the airport.

Personal Log

View from dock in Dutch Harbor, AK.
View from dock in Dutch Harbor, AK.

The week I spent on the ship was a whirlwind of experiences. I was just hitting my stride being completely awake for my 4:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. work shift and efficiently measuring the length of the pollock in each trawl.

Pollock and jellyfish in trawl.
Pollock and jellyfish in trawl.

At the end of the last trawl, I held a pollock, out of its element of water. Its dense, streamlined body shimmered with iridescence.  One eye stared, unfocused on the strange surroundings.   I too would be out of my element were it not for the 208.6 ft. boat on which I was standing.  Being on the boat was a constant reminder that my species is alien to this ocean habitat and that to explore it, we have to use technology such as the Oculus, underwater cameras, and acoustic technology as well as physical trawls.  Together, these different means of exploring combine information so that we can evaluate our interactions with the ocean and its inhabitants.

The view of the horizon from the deck of the Oscar Dyson.
The view of the horizon from the deck of the Oscar Dyson.

At times, the ocean had a disorienting effect.  When on the deck, I looked out from all directions and saw nothing but ocean capped by a dome of stratus clouds.  Under this lid of heavy clouds, the sun gave no clue to discern our direction or time of day.

Marine Careers

Karla Martinez, Junior Unlicensed Engineer, on duty on the Oscar Dyson.
Karla Martinez, Junior Unlicensed Engineer, on duty on the Oscar Dyson.

With her philosophy of focusing on the positive, Karla Martinez enjoys her time on and off duty on the Oscar Dyson.  As a Junior Engineer, Karla is responsible for ship upkeep and repairs.  On our last day of the trip, I spoke to her as she changed air filters in all of the staterooms.  Karla began working as a NOAA Junior Engineer three years ago after seven years in the U.S. Navy.  Since working for NOAA, she has traveled extensively and makes sure she visits each place the Oscar Dyson docks.  Karla is on the ship for at least 7-8 months of the year, and she makes the ship feel like home by getting to know people.

Karla Martinez, Tourist, off duty in field of flowers, Unalaska, AK.
Karla Martinez, Tourist, off duty in field of flowers, Unalaska, AK.

For young people who are interested in a career like Karla’s, she advises asking many questions and studying technology as much as possible. In high school, students should take the ASVAP test before entering the military.  Once admitted to the military, students should get trained. Karla states that students should talk to their counselors and find out all they can.

Lacee Sherman: Teacher Grudgingly Back On Land, June 29, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lacee Sherman

 NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 6, 2018 – June 28, 2018


Mission: Eastern Bering Sea Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date:  June 29, 2018


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Weather Data from the Bridge of the California-based whale watching boat Islander on 7/2/18 at 08:29

Latitude: 34° 13.557 N

Longitude: 119° 20.775 W

Sea Wave Height: 2 ft

Wind Speed: 5-10 knots

Wind Direction: NW

Visibility: 15 miles (seems a little off to me, but that is what I was told)

Air Temperature: 65° F (ish)

Water Temperature: not recorded

Barometric Pressure:  not recorded

Sky:  Grey and cloudy

leaving Dutch Harbor
View from the plane leaving Dutch Harbor, Alaska

Personal Reflection

Wow! What an incredible experience! When I was first accepted into this program I knew that it would be great and I knew that I was going to be working on research, but I feel like I ended up getting way more than I had expected. While filling out my application for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program we were given the opportunity indicate a preference for locations and types of research. I indicated that I would have been happy with any of them, but I was honestly hoping to be on a fisheries cruise, and my first choice of location was Alaska. That’s exactly what I got! I could not have picked a more perfect match for myself.

When I first received my specific cruise offer to join NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson it was pointed out to me that 23 days at sea was a LONG cruise, and I was a little bit worried about being at sea for that long when I had never even slept on a ship like that before. What I didn’t realize, was that the hardest part of this research cruise, would be leaving at the end of it. Saying goodbye to the scientists and friends that I had worked closely with for the past 3+ weeks was pretty tough.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The natural beauty of Alaska, and Unalaska specifically, is breathtaking. I kept saying that I can’t believe that places like that existed in the world and people weren’t tripping over themselves to live there. This is a part of Alaska that very few ever see. I loved getting to explore Dutch Harbor and see some of the beaches and do a little hiking while in port, and seeing the different islands and volcanoes while at sea. I also was incredibly excited to see all of the wildlife, especially the foxes, eagles, and of course, whales.


Video of a whale swimming and then diving in the distance.

From the moment that Sarah and Matthew picked me up from the airport, I knew that I was in great company. They immediately took me in and invited me to join the rest of the science team for dinner. Bonding happened quickly and I am so happy that I got to work with and learn each day from Denise, Sarah, Mike, Nate, Darin, Scott, and Matthew every single day. I looked forward to (and now miss) morning coffee chats, and dancing in the fish lab together. I have so many positive memories with each of them, but here are a few: sitting and reviewing and discussing my blogs with Denise, taking photos of a stuffed giraffe with Sarah, go pro fishing (scaring the fish) with Mike, watching Scott identify and solve problems, listening to Darin play the guitar, fishing with Nate on the Bridge, and exploring on land with Matthew. These are just a few of the things that I will remember and cherish about these wonderful people.

I know that it happens in all workplaces eventually, but it’s weird to think that the exact same group of people on the ship will never again be in the same place at the same time because of rotations and leave, and whatnot. I feel very grateful that I was on the ship when I was because I really enjoyed getting to know as many people on the ship as possible, and to have them teach me about what they do, and why they do it.

Not only did I learn about the Scientific work of the MACE (Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering) team, I learned so much about the ship and how it functions from everyone else on the ship. Every single time that I asked someone a question or to explain how something works, I was always given the time for it to be answered in a way that was understandable, and meaningful. I learned about: charting and navigation (thanks Aras), ship controls (thanks Vanessa), The NOAA Corps (thanks CO and Sony), ship engines and winches (thanks Becca), fancy ship knots (thanks Jay), water data collected by the ship (thanks Phil)… I could go on and on.

After landing back in port in Dutch Harbor, I got off of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson and turned and looked at it, and my perception of it had changed completely from the beginning of the cruise. It sounds totally cliché, but it wasn’t just a ship anymore, it was somewhere I had called home for a short time. As I looked at the outside of the ship I could identify the rooms behind each window and memories that I had in that space. It was surreal, and honestly pretty emotional for me. On the last day, once we got into port, my name tag was taken off of my stateroom door and it was replaced with the names of the new teachers heading to sea.  It was sad to realize that I really was leaving and heading home.  It’s weird to think that the ship will continue on without me being a part of it any longer.

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson in port in Dutch Harbor, AK

A valuable part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program was me stepping back from being a teacher, and actually being reminded of what it feel like to be a learner again. I was reminded of the frustrations of not understanding things immediately, and also the exciting feeling of finally understanding something and then being able to show and explain it. I loved learning through inquiry and asking questions to lead to newer and better questions.  These are the things that I am trying to implement more in my classroom.

While on the ship I was able to come up with 3 new hands on activities that I will be trying out in my classes this year.  This is in addition to the one that is directly related to my research.  The new labs that I have created will help me to focus my efforts and give my students the skills that they will benefit from in the future.  I am also even more excited to go and pursue my Master’s Degree in the near future than I was before, even though I am more confused on what to go back to school for.

I love being able to participate in research in addition to teaching.  I really feel like it makes me a better teacher in so many ways.  It really reminds me what is important to try and teach my students.  In the world of Google searches and immediate information, learning a bunch of facts is not as practical as learning skills like how to test out a question, collect data, and share knowledge learned.  I am so grateful for this opportunity and I really hope that I am able to continue to find other research experiences for myself in the future.  I would love to be able to further my research experiences with MACE by visiting them in Seattle, and I would be happy to hop back on the Oscar Dyson, or another NOAA ship, at any time (hint, hint, wink,wink).  Thanks for the memories.


Video of TAS Lacee Sherman on the deck of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
[Transcript: Ok so right now it is 9 o’clock at night and the sun is still way up in the sky. It will not go down until like almost midnight. And that’s why they call it the midnight sun!]


TAS Lacee Sherman
TAS Lacee Sherman with her dog, Chloe after getting back home

Lacee Sherman: Teacher on Land and Teacher Leaving Port June 7, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lacee Sherman

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 6, 2018 – June 28, 2018

Mission: Eastern Bering Sea Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date:  June 4, 2018

Unalaska Sign
A sign hanging in the airport when I landed in Dutch Harbor.  If this is where I started and my most recent coordinates are below, which way have I been traveling?

Weather Data from the Bridge on June 7th, 2018

Latitude: N 55° 22.897

Longitude: W 164° 20.546

Sea Wave Height: 2-3 ft

Wind Speed: 13 knots

Wind Direction: 270 degrees

Visibility: 8 knots

Air Temperature:  7.5° C

Sky:  Grey and Cloudy

NOAA Ship, Oscar Dyson
Photo of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson at port in Dutch Harbor, AK.

Science and Technology Log

On this leg of the Research Cruise in the Eastern Bering Sea I will be helping a team of NOAA scientists collect data about a fish species called Pollock.  The data that are collected will help to set the limits for how much pollock the fishing boats are allowed to catch. The data also allow scientists to track the populations of the pollock to look for patterns.  For additional information on Pollock, visit the NOAA fisheries website here.

During the survey, acoustic (sound) signals will be sent into the water by transducers at different frequencies and these acoustic signals will bounce off of the objects in the ocean and bounce back to the ship where the echoes will be picked up by the transducers. The data collected from each echo is presented visually to the science team.  When we reach a spot where a lot of the acoustic signals returning to the boat indicate the presence of fish, a trawl sample will be taken at that location. A trawl survey includes putting a large net into the water and scooping up a sample of all of the living things in that location. Once the trawl haul is brought onto the boat, it is taken to the fish lab where the fish are identified and measured.  

Fish Lab
Photo of the Fish Lab on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

The area being surveyed is the Eastern Bering Sea and for this study is divided up into 28 different transects have been mapped out and are spread 20 nautical miles apart.  We will start at northern point of the first transect and travel south until we reach the bottom of it. Once we reach the bottom of the first transect we will travel 20 nautical miles west to the southern tip of the second transect.  We will then travel north along this second transect until we reach the top and then travel the 20 nautical miles west until we reach transect 3. This will continue throughout my time on the ship, and on the 2 other legs of this journey.  On this first leg of the research cruise, the aim is to survey and sample from 16.3 of the transects which will total a journey of 2627 nautical miles on the transect lines.

According to the NOAA National Ocean Service Website, “A nautical mile is based on the circumference of the earth, and is equal to one minute of latitude. It is slightly more than a statute (land measured) mile (1 nautical mile = 1.1508 statute miles). Nautical miles are used for charting and navigating.”

Map of Transect Lines
Map of transect lines for NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson over the 3 legs of the Eastern Bering Sea Pollock survey. Current location is shown by the yellow boat. Can you find it?  Hint:  It’s near the vertical lines on the right.  First transect is the farthest on the Eastern (right in this photo) side.

Personal Log

TAS Lacee Sherman on Oscar Dyson deck
Photo taken on the stern of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.  Photo Credit:  Sarah Stienessen

It was a long trip getting to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, but it has already been worth it!  I am on the Island of Unalaska, which is a part of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. The main port city is called Dutch Harbor, or commonly just “Dutch”.  This is such a beautiful place that I probably never would have seen otherwise. There are mountains filled with grasses, berry bushes, and wild orchids as well as snow-topped peaks and natural waterfalls.  There are bald eagles everywhere and foxes that are so fluffy they almost appear to be dogs from far away. Looking into the water you can see a few scattered otters floating on their backs and the occasional harbor seal.


OSI Morning photo
This photo was taken from the bow of NOAA ship Oscar Dyson at port in Dutch Harbor, AK.

As soon as I landed in Dutch, I was greeted by two of the scientists that I will be working with, Matthew and Sarah.  They took me to NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson to drop off my luggage before we all went out to dinner.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I actually had my own stateroom.  Due to the number of female scientists and us being on the same work shift, we were both able to have our own rooms.  The rooms are so much nicer than I had anticipated them to be! The mattresses are comfortable, I have a desk space, there’s a television (that I will probably never watch) and I have my own bathroom as well.  


After we had dinner and returned to the ship, I went on a mini hike with one of the members of the science team and we went to view this amazing natural waterfall.  You wouldn’t know it was there if you weren’t looking for it. There is so much more that you can do when the sun is up for most of the day. At 11:30pm (the latest i’ve stayed up so far) it is still light outside.  There are so many clouds that the sky looks pretty grey, and there are a ton of clouds, often hiding the tops of the mountain peaks.


Lacee Sherman Dutch Harbor Waterfall
Photo of TAS Lacee Sherman in front of a waterfall in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

The next morning I woke up and went for a nice long walk along Captain’s Bay and sat and had coffee on the rocks and just admired the incredible view.  It is so much more beautiful here than I had imagined. Later a few of us went for a drive around the island and a few people surfed in the ocean, but I wasn’t brave enough to get in the cold water this time.

Unalaska beach
Photo taken on Unalaska

Since we will be on the ship for a while (23 days) we stopped at the grocery store to bring a few things onboard that we want to have in addition to our regular meals prepared on the ship by the stewards.  I decided that I wanted to bring some fresh fruit, not realizing that I would be paying way more than I expected for them! Everything is expensive here!

Expensive fruit
$26 dollars worth of fruit in Dutch Harbor, AK.

Did You Know?

Even though we think of Bears and Moose being found all over Alaska, they are not found on the Island of Unalaska at all!  

Animals Seen

6/4/18 – Bald Eagles, Fox, Otters

6/5/18 – Bald Eagles, 4 Foxes, Otters, Harbor seal, Jellyfish (3 different species)

6/6/18- Bald Eagles, Jellyfish (2 species), Humpback Whales!!


Fox in Dutch Harbor
A fox spotted on 6/5/18 in Dutch Harbor


Bald Eagles on Crab Pots
These are crab fishing “pots” that are used by Alaskan Fisherman to catch crab.  How many bald eagles do you see in this photo?


Gregory Cook, The Dance, August 7, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gregory Cook

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: August 7, 2014

Science and Technology Log: Abiotic Factors in the Bering Sea

Ecosystems are made up of biotic and abiotic factors. Biotic is just another word for “stuff that is, or was, alive.” In a forest, that would include everything from Owl to Oak Tree, from bear to bacteria, and from fish to fungi. It includes anything alive, or, for that matter, dead. Keep in mind that “dead” is not the same as “non-living.”

Salmon and Black-Legged Kittiwake
The salmon and the black-legged kittiwake are both biotic members of the sub-arctic ecosystem.

“Non-living” describes things that are not, cannot, and never will be “alive.” These things are referred to as “abiotic.” (The prefix a- basically means the same as non-). Rocks, water, wind, sunlight and temperature are all considered abiotic factors. And while the most obvious threat to a salmon swimming up river might be the slash of a bear’s mighty claw, warm water could be even more deadly. Warm water carries less dissolved oxygen for the fish to absorb through their gills. This means that a power plant or factory that releases warm water into a river could actually cause fish to suffocate and, well, drown.

Bering Panorama
A 90 degree panorama of the Bering Sea from atop the Oscar Dyson. I’d show you the other 270°, but it’s pretty much the same. The sea and sky are abiotic parts of the sub-arctic ecosystem.

Fish in the Bering Sea have the same kind of challenges. Like Goldilocks, Pollock are always looking for sea water that is just right. The Oscar Dyson has the tools for testing all sorts of Abiotic factors. This is the Conductivity Temperature Depth sensor (Also known as the CTD).

CTD Deployment
Survey Technicians Allen and Bill teach me how to launch The Conductivity Temperature Depth Probe (or CTD).

The CTD sends signals up to computers in the cave to explain all sorts of abiotic conditions in the water column. It can measure how salty the water is by testing how well the water conducts electricity. It can tell you how cloudy, or turbid, the water is with a turbidity sensor. It can even tell you things like the amount of oxygen dissolved in the ocean.

To see how abiotic factors drive biotic factors, take a look at this.

The graph above is depth-oriented. The further down you go on the graph, the deeper in the water column you are. The blue line represents temperature. Does the temperature stay constant? Where does it change?

I know, you may want to turn the graph above on its side… but don’t. You’ll notice that depth is on the y-axis (left). That means that the further down you are on the graph, the deeper in the sea you are. The blue line represents the water temperature at that depth. Where do you see the temperature drop?

Right… The temperature drops rapidly between about 20 and 35 meters. This part of the water column is called the Thermocline, and you’ll find it in much of the world’s oceans. It’s essentially where the temperature between surface waters (which are heated by the sun) and the deeper waters (typically dark and cold) mix together.

OK, so you’re like “great. So what? Water gets colder. Big deal… let’s throw a parade for science.”

Well, look at the graph to the right. It was made from another kind of data recorded by the CTD.

Fluoresence: Another depth-oriented graph from the CTD… the green line effectively shows us the amount of phytoplankton in the water column, based on depth.

The green line represents the amount of fluorescence. Fluorescence is a marker of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are plant-like protists… the great producers of the sea! The more fluorescence, the more phytoplankton you have. Phytoplankton love to live right at the bottom of the thermocline. It gives them the best of both worlds: sunlight from above and nutrients from the bottom of the sea, which so many animals call home.

Now, if you’re a fish… especially a vegetarian fish, you just said: “Dinner? I’m listening…” But there’s an added bonus.

Look at this:

CTD Oxygen
Oxygen data from the CTD! This shows where the most dissolved oxygen is in the water column, based on depth. Notice any connections to the other graphs?

That orange line represents the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water. How does that compare to the other graphs?

Yup! The phytoplankton is hanging down there at the bottom of the thermocline cranking out oxygen! What a fine place to be a fish! Dinner and plenty of fresh air to breathe! So here, the abiotic (the temperature) drives the biotic (phytoplankton) which then drives the abiotic again (oxygen). This dance between biotic and abiotic plays out throughout earth’s ecosystems.

Another major abiotic factor is the depth of the ocean floor. Deep areas, also known as abyss, or abyssal plains, have food sources that are so far below the surface that phytoplankton can’t take advantage of the ground nutrients. Bad for phytoplankton is, of course, bad for fish. Look at this:

The Cliff and the Cod
The blue cloud represents a last grouping of fish as the continental shelf drops into the deep. Dr. Mikhail examines a cod.

That sloping red line is the profile (side view of the shape of the land) of the ocean floor. Those blue dots on the slope are fish. As Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko, a visiting Pollock specialist from Vladivostok, Russia, puts it, “after this… no more Pollock. It’s too deep.”

He goes on to show me how Pollock in the Bering Sea are only found on the continental shelf between the Aleutian Islands and Northeastern Russia. Young Pollock start their lives down near the Aleutians to the southeast, then migrate Northwest towards Russia, where lots of food is waiting for them.

Pollock Distribution
Alaskan Pollock avoid the deep! Purple line represents the ocean floor right before it drops off into the Aleutian Basin… a very deep place!

The purple line drawn in represents the drop-off you saw above… right before the deep zone. Pollock tend to stay in the shallow areas above it… where the eating is good!

Once again, the dance between the abiotic and the biotic create an ecosystem. Over the abyss, Phytoplankton can’t take advantage of nutrients from the deep, and fish can’t take advantage of the phytoplankton. Nonliving aspects have a MASSIVE impact on all the organisms in an ecosystem.

Next time we explore the Biotic side of things… the Sub-arctic food web!

Personal Log: The Order of the Monkey’s Fist.

Sweet William, a retired police officer turned ship’s engineer, tells the story of the order of the monkey’s fist.

William and the Monkey's Fist
Sweet William the Engineer shows off a monkey’s fist

The story goes that some island came up with a clever way to catch monkeys. They’d place a piece of fruit in a jar just barely big enough for the fruit to fit through and then leave the jar out for the monkeys. When a monkey saw it, they’d reach their hand in to grab the fruit, but couldn’t pull it out because their hands were too big now that they had the fruit in it. The monkey, so attached to the idea of an “easy” meal wouldn’t let go, making them easy pickings for the islanders. The Monkey’s Fist became a symbol for how clinging to our desires for some things can, in the end, do more harm than good. That sometimes letting go of something we want so badly is, in the end, what can grant us relief.

Another story of the origin of the monkey’s fist goes like this: A sea captain saw a sailor on the beach sharing his meal with a monkey. Without skipping a beat, the monkey went into the jungle and brought the sailor some of HIS meal… a piece of fruit.

No man is an Island. Mt. Ballyhoo, Unalaska, AK
No man is an Island. Mt. Ballyhoo, Unalaska, AK

Whatever the true origin of the Order is, the message is the same. Generosity beats selfishness at sea. It’s often better to let go of your own interests, sometimes, and think of someone else’s. Onboard the Oscar Dyson, when we see someone committing an act of kindness, we put their name in a box. Every now and then they pull a name from the box, and that person wins something at the ship store… a hat or a t-shirt or what have you. Of course, that’s not the point. The point is that NOAA sailors… scientists, corps, and crew… have each other’s backs. They look out for each other in a place where all they really have IS each other.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

Kacey Shaffer: Preparing for an Adventure, July 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kacey Shaffer

(Almost) Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: July 16, 2014

Hello from beautiful Southern Ohio! My name is Kacey Shaffer and it is an honor to be an NOAA Teacher at Sea for the 2014 Field Season. I am thrilled to be sharing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with you. In a few days I’ll be flying across North America to spend nineteen days aboard the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson. Our mission will be to assess the abundance and distribution of Walleye Pollock along the Bering Sea shelf.

Next month I’ll begin my eighth year as an Intervention Specialist at Logan Elm High School in Circleville, Ohio. I teach Biology and Physical Science resource room classes and also co-teach in a Biology 101 class and Physical Science 101 class. Three summers ago I was able to participate in Honeywell’s Educators at Space Academy, held at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. That experience enabled me to bring a wealth of information and activities back to my students and colleagues. Because I had such a wonderful experience at Space Academy, I knew I would soon be seeking out other opportunities to perform hands-on work and gain knowledge not available in my geographic area. I was very excited when I found the NOAA Teacher at Sea program and applied immediately. When the congratulatory email arrived I acted like a little girl on Christmas morning, jumping up and down and squealing!

For our first team mission, I served as CapCom. I was the communication link between Mission Control and the shuttle.
In 2011, I attended Honeywell’s Educators at Space Academy. For our first team mission, I served as CapCom. I was the communication link between Mission Control and the shuttle. (Photo credit: Lynn of Team Unity)

Not only do I love adventure that is related to my teaching career, I love adventure in general! Two summers ago I had the privilege of joining one of Logan Elm’s Spanish teachers and four of her recent Spanish 4 graduates on a nine day tour of Spain. We were immersed in culture and history in several cities from Madrid to Barcelona. It was a wonderful experience and I really hope to travel abroad again. Last month the same Spanish teacher escorted four more recent graduates to Puerto Rico for a five day stay. Thankfully she felt I had behaved well enough in Spain to be invited on this trip! Our trip to Puerto Rico was very different from our travel in Spain. We were able to go ziplining in La Marquesa, hiking in El Yunque (which happens to be the U.S. National Park Service’s only tropical rain forest), and kayaking in Laguna Grande near Fajardo. The most amazing experience was kayaking at night in Laguna Grande. Why would you kayak at night? Because that is the home of a bioluminescent bay! You can learn more about this ocean phenomena here. I am very thankful to be able to travel as much as I do!

Last month I kayaked in a bioluminescent bay near Fajardo, Puerto Rico. I shared a kayak with my friend Megan, right.
Last month I kayaked in a bioluminescent bay near Fajardo, Puerto Rico. I shared a kayak with my friend Megan, right. (Photo credit: Luiz, our tour guide)

If I were driving to the Oscar Dyson, it would be about a 5,000 mile trip one way! I’m really glad the journey will be via airplane. I’ll be meeting the ship in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Does that name sound familiar? Dutch Harbor is the home base of the Discovery Channel’s “The Deadliest Catch.” It is a very small town on one of the many islands that are collectively called the Aleutian Islands. From Dutch Harbor we will sail into the Bering Sea and begin our work. From the information I’ve read, we’ll spend our days gathering information about Walleye Pollock. Through my preparations I’ve gathered this is important because Walleye Pollock is one of the largest fisheries in the world. Why would Walleye Pollock be important to me or my students? This fish is often used in imitation crab or fried fish fillets. We could be eating this species the next time we have fish sticks for supper! For greater detail on Alaskan Walleye Pollock check out the NOAA’s FishWatch page here.

This is a basket of pollock from a previous survey. (Photo courtesy of NOAA files)

Goodbye Oscar Dyson!
See you in Dutch Harbor, Oscar Dyson! (Photo courtesy of NOAA files)


The next time I write to you I’ll be aboard the mighty Oscar Dyson. In the mean time I’ll continue to gather warm clothes and search for a box of seasickness medicine. As I’m packing I may need some advice. If you were leaving home for three weeks, what is the one item you wouldn’t leave without? Remember, I’ll be at sea. My cell phone will be rendered useless and my access to the internet will be limited.


Mary Murrian: Getting Ready to Fly to Alaska, July 1, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mary Murrian

(Almost) Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 19- July 22, 2014


Mission:  Annual Pollock Survey

Geographical area of cruise: Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 1, 2014

Personal Log

Greetings from Dover, Delaware, the first state to ratify the United States Constitution!  My name is Mary Murrian and I teach math and science to a wonderful group of fifth grade students at William Henry Middle School.  My journey will begin early in the morning on Wednesday, July 2, 2014.  My son, Robert–an upcoming junior at the University of Delaware, is driving me to the Philadelphia airport at 3:00 am in the morning.  After transferring planes in Chicago, Illinois and then again in Anchorage, Alaska, I will finally make land at my final destination, Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

disney trip 2014 009

If you are a Deadliest Catch fan you will recognize Dutch Harbor as the home base for the popular television show on the Discovery Channel.  I will be aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) ship.  I have the wonderful opportunity to work  with the crew and scientists aboard the Oscar Dyson to research and determine the abundance and health of walleye pollock, one of the largest fisheries in the world.  If you have ever eaten fish sticks or imitation seafood, most likely you have tried pollock!

Thanks to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program, I am afforded this wonderful opportunity to work hands-on, learning the science involved in research aboard a NOAA ship. I currently teach a unit on ecosystems, where my students learn about the ecosystem around them and the interrelationships between organisms in an environment focusing on food chains, food webs, and environmental factors that play a role in an ecosystem. This experience will enhance my knowledge of marine ecosystems and the important role the fish play in supporting a healthy and sustainable environment.  I look forward to learning and growing through my participation with experts in their field.  I want to gather as much information as possible, in order to bring it back to my classroom and share my real life experience with my students this upcoming school year and years to come.  What a wonderful way to bring real-life data and experiences to my students.

I have been asked numerous times if I am scared or nervous to be aboard a ship sailing on the Bering Sea.  My response, NO!  I am thrilled.  I cannot wait for my journey to begin.  I have cruised to Alaska before, however not as far north as the Dutch Harbor area and I was on a recreational cruise ship. It was beautiful and the scenery was amazing.  I never saw ice as blue as I did when we crossed Tracy Arm fjord.  A fjord is a typically long, narrow valley with steep sides that are created by advancing glaciers (  The trip, although freezing, was amazing.  I also found out that glacial ice often appears blue because of years of compression gradually making the ice denser over time, forcing out the tiny air pockets between the crystals.  When glacier ice becomes extremely dense, the ice absorbs a small amount of red light, leaving a bluish tint in the reflected light (  Super cool!

Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm, showing the very blue ice.  Photo provided by personnel of the NOAA ship John N. Cobb
Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm, showing the very blue ice.
Photo provided by personnel of the NOAA ship John N. Cobb

I look forward to my upcoming experience, a trip of a lifetime.  There is more to come, I hope you will continue with me on my journey across the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea!  Watch out Alaska, here I come!

Avery Marvin: Brown bears, fish guts, WW2 bunkers and fossils, OH MY! Adventures in Kodiak, Alaska, August 6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Avery Marvin
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
July 8 — 30, 2013 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 8, 2013

Current Location: 57° 47’ 35” N, 152° 23’ 39” W

Personal Log:

My Teacher at Sea experience ended on the island of Kodiak where the Rainier docked for a few days to stock up on supplies and give the crew a much-needed rest. They departed Kodiak 3 days later to begin the next 2-3 wk leg of their survey season. I had the good fortune of staying on the island for 4 days to explore its unique natural landscape and rich cultural history.

As I walked around downtown, perused the storefronts and enjoyed a latte at Harborside Coffee and Goods, one thing was very clear to me: this town is centered around fish, not tourists. Shelikolff drive is an entire street lined with fish processing plants. Trident Seafood, housed inside an old ship sprawls out on the other side of town.  The harbor itself is home to over 1000 fishing vessels, ranging from huge 125 foot crab boats to 18 foot set net skiffs.  Xtra Tuff fishing boots are the preferred footwear by all the locals and smelling of fish is a natural occurrence.

Kodiak fishing vessels
Kodiak fishing vessels

Crab pot parking spot!
Crab pot parking spot!

Trident seafoods
Trident seafoods

Fish tackle
Fish tackle

Avery next to a recycled fish
Avery next to a recycled fish

Avery at the NOAA Kodiak Fisheries Research Center
Avery at the Alaska/NOAA Fisheries Research Center in Kodiak where a lot of important shellfish research is conducted.

Reindeer (Caribou) sausage sandwich
Reindeer (Caribou) sausage sandwich–The MOST delicious sauauge I have ever tasted!

When I was in the coffee shop, I noticed a young women in her late twenties with a toddler next to her, writing a letter to her husband who presumably was out at sea fishing. The letter had pictures of her son taped onto it and lots of hearts and colorful doodles–a gentle reminder that living in Kodiak is not for the faint-hearted. The life of a fisherman is physically demanding and maintaining relationships can be trying.

Kodiak has always been an industrious port and its people have always had a strong connection to the ocean.  The first people of Kodiak, the Aleut from Kamchatka, inhabited the island 10,000 years ago and lived off the nutrient-rich waters for 7,500 years.  They were true “nature engineers” using resources around them for fishing, clothing, dwellings and other needs. Nothing was wasted. Fishing with nets made of nettle fiber and sinew (tendon). Catching bottom dwellers with seaweed line and bone hooks. Using whalebone for door frames and sod for walls. Lighting the way with whale and seal oil lamps. Dressing in mammal skin and intestines.

I had the chance to see many original Aleut artifacts at the Baranov Museum in Kodiak. The most interesting piece was the Kayak splashguard made of mammal skin, the predecessor of the modern nylon kayak skirt used today. The translucent thin waterproof jackets made of mammal intestines also fascinated me. They looked very delicate but were actually strong and flexible when wet. Suspended from the museum ceiling, was an actual seal skin kayak or Bairdarka used by the Aleuts.  They wrapped seal skin around a wood frame, tied the seams with sinew and then added a layer of seal oil for waterproofing. Aleut craftsmanship at its finest!

Avery in front of the Baranov Museum
Avery in front of the Baranov Museum (I am waving in the back right.)

Bairdarka splashguard
Baidarka splashguard made of mammal skin

Aleut waterproof jacket made of mammal intestine
Aleut waterproof jacket made of mammal intestine

Aleut kayak or Bairdarka
Aleut kayak or Baidarka

The Aleuts clearly adapted well to their island home, making use of all that surrounded them but never exploiting these resources. Sadly in 1784, this peaceful existence was abruptly terminated by the Russians who, armed with muskets and cannons, took the island by force.  Having already decimated both the sea otter and native Aleut population around the Aleutian islands, the Russians under the command of Grigory Ivanovich Shelikhov established a permanent settlement in Three Saints Bay on Kodiak to capitalize on the remaining otter population in North Pacific waters.  Following the success of the fur trade industry on Kodiak, the Russians expanded their colonization on the Alaska mainland, establishing several subsequent fur trade centers.

Russian conquest was bittersweet. They brought with them diseases and modern necessities such as flour, tea, tobacco and sugar. They built several structures for their needs including fur warehouses, a school, a hospital, a stone quay, a saw mill and an ice making plant. They forced the Aleuts to be their skilled craftsmen and otter hunters. Between old world diseases, murder and abuse, many Aleuts lost their lives and those left standing witnessed the slow demise of their ancient seafarer culture.

The 126-year Russian occupation of Alaska finally came to an end when tired and poor from the Crimean war with France and England, they sold the territory to the U.S. for 7.2 million (2 cents per acre) in 1867.  With high-powered firearms, the Americans continued to slaughter the otters at an unsustainable rate. Teetering on the brink of extinction, an international treaty banning the killing of otters was signed in 1911. Post otter years, Americans tried their hand at other industries including trapping, whaling, clamming, cattle ranching, fox farming and gold mining.  Salmon fishing though proved to be the most reliable and profitable natural resource so the U.S. quickly established several salmon processing plants around Kodiak. Wooden dories replaced Baidarkas and by the end of the 19th century, Kodiak had transitioned from a fur-trading hub to a fishing mecca.

Things progressed unchanged until World War II, when Kodiak seen as a strategic waypoint between Asia and the North American west coast, was transformed into a military town.  The population went from 400 to several thousand in a short time. A huge self-sufficient navel base was built along with new roads around the island. In preparation for a Japanese attack, several concrete bunkers and underground bomb shelters were constructed. With all of this new infrastructure came indoor plumbing and electricity to the island. When Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941 followed by Dutch Harbor on June 3, a Japanese attack on Kodiak seemed imminent but surprisingly the emerald isle went untouched.

Avery in WW2 bunker
Avery in WWII bunker

Today Kodiak remains an important fishing port with a wide variety of crab and fish species (salmon, cod, halibut, Pollack) caught and processed.  Modern fishing equipment and boats have replaced older, more natural gear but many of the fishing methods are still the same. Similarly, the factories along Sheikolf Drive have become more automated, with less human hands along each assembly line. Also, the fish industry as a whole on Kodiak has become much more regulated.

Kodiak is a fascinating place to explore because you can see several remnants of its past interspersed around the island: concrete WWII bunkers at Fort Abercrombie, Russian Orthodox church in downtown, old WWII ship anchors lying around, a 200 year old fur warehouse (now the Baranov Museum). Unfortunately, many historical landmarks were destroyed in the 1964 Alaska earthquake. The tsunami that followed the earthquake wreaked more havoc, killing 106 Alaskans and a family of 4 camping at Beverly Beach State Park near Newport, Oregon.

Besides a rich cultural history, Kodiak Island is full of natural beauty and an assortment of cool creatures.  Rosalind and I got the chance to explore fossil beach on the south-eastern side of Kodiak where we collected many unique fossils. My top finds were a snail fossil and a shale rock with encased petrified wood.

Avery finds a cool fossil at Fossil beach
Avery finds a cool fossil at Fossil beach

Rosalind at Fossil Beach
Rosalind at Fossil Beach

After Rosalind left, I was blessed by another Teacher at Sea, Katie Sard, who spent the day with me on a spontaneous adventure around the island. We did all sorts of fun things like tide pooling, checking out WWII bunkers at Fort Abercrombie and eating Greek food at sunset at Monashka bay.

TAS's Avery and Katie Sard :)
TAS’s Avery and Katie Sard 🙂

Fly fisherman in Kodiak Bay
Fly fisherman in Kodiak Bay

One of the highlights of my entire Alaska trip, was the float plane trip I took to the Kenai Peninsula on the mainland to see Brown bears.  These are the 2nd largest bears in the world (next to Polar Bears), living off a rich diet of berries and salmon. I had never been in a float plane before and was impressed by how soft the landing and take off were. The aerial views were also incredible. I spotted 2 Humpback whales on the way over to the peninsula from Kodiak and on the way back another passenger spotted a pod of about 45 Orca whales! The pilot was just as excited as we were, and circled around this giant pod for about 10 minutes giving us all good views of their movement and sheer numbers. Incredible!

Avery in the cockpit with the pilot
Avery in the cockpit with the pilot

Bear tour seaplane
Bear tour seaplane

Wading over to the beach
Wading over to the beach

We landed about a football field away from the peninsula, and waded in hip deep water to the beach. The scenery was beautiful with snow-covered mountains as a backdrop and wild flowers and meandering streams in the foreground. This was perfect bear country! Within about 3 hours we saw the Brown bear Trifecta: Brown bear trying to catch salmon, Brown bear mother with 2 cubs and to cap it all off, Brown bears mating. All of these sightings were of different bears and within a stones throw away.  I was surprised at how okay the bears were with our close presence. As I learned from my guide, human safety is ensured by the ability to read nonverbal bear clues which can be very subtle. For example, if a bear turns its back to you, it is saying “Please leave me alone.” You also never make eye contact with a bear or walk directly towards it. You want the bear to feel like he/she has plenty of surrounding space and an escape route if need be.  Jo, our guide said that in the 20 years of leading bear tours, she has only had to get out her bear spray 3 times. And one of these times involved a naïve group of students eating Subway sandwiches in front of the bears!

Mama and cubs crossing the river
Mama and cubs crossing the river

Mama and cubs
Mama and cubs

Cub staring contest
Cub staring contest

Brown bear in search of salmon
Brown bear in search of salmon

Brown bears mating
Brown bears mating

The last day of my Kodiak stay was spent touring several fish factories where I got to experience the real backbones of this city. At all 3 factories, it was Pink salmon processing time which meant the machines were in full swing, with humans at various checkpoints along each assembly line.  The machines did everything from decapitating each salmon to cleaning out its guts to skinning it. Each factory processed about 200,000 pounds of Pink salmon per day.  In peak season with several different fish species being processed at once, the factories can see around ¾ million pounds of fish processed per day! At one factory, I learned that the big money comes from making surimi (ground fish) which is used as imitation crab all over the world. The most common fish used in surumi is the Alaska Pollock which is very plentiful in Kodiak waters. I am glad to hear that imitation crab is actually fish and not some other protein filler.

Check out these videos to see the factory process in action. It’s fascinating!!!

Avery gets her hands fishy!
Avery gets her hands fishy!

Avery at the fish factory
Avery at the fish factory

Frozen salmon
Frozen salmon

Frozen aisle at fish factory
Frozen aisle at fish factory

As you saw from the above videos, the most hands on section of the whole process is in the production of roe (salmon eggs).  This is because the roe must be gently handled and graded (1-3 scale) in preparation to be sold to Japan. At $50 per pound, roe is a delicacy in Japan and often eaten raw over rice or in sushi. Also Pink and Chum salmon produce the most desirable roe called ikura or red caviar. This roe is about the size of a pea and is sold as individual pieces. In contrast, the smaller eggs of Coho and Sockeye salmon produce sujiko, which is roe still connected in the sac. Throughout each of my fish processing plant tours, I was curious to know HOW the roe was graded. To my surprise, none of the factory managers could tell me how and I unfortunately could not communicate with the highly skilled Japanese roe technicians.

So I looked it up and it turns out roe is graded using the following criteria: size (larger is better), salt content (lower is better), drip (zero is best), firmness (firm is better but not so firm the egg breaks), color (bright, red-orange outer color with a center the color and consistency of honey), luster (eggs should be shiny and slightly transparent).

It was fitting to end my Kodiak stay with some down and dirty fish factory tours as this is the lifeblood of the city (and Alaska) and a good representation of the Kodiak spirit. These factories operate 24/7 with workers on their feet for 12 hour shifts. From the Aleuts to now, the Kodiak people have always been a hardy bunch with an incredible work ethic, and the ability to adapt to one of the most challenging environments in the world. This is the ring of fire: weather and natural disasters are unpredictable.  So why do people stay?  It’s the sea.  Beautiful. Vast. Mysterious. Full of life. She calls them back day after day, year after year. Welcome to Kodiak life.

Fun Factoid: The infamous Kodiak brown bear, the sole species of bear on the island of Kodiak, is a sub-species of the Alaskan mainland Brown bear population. Hunters come from all around the world to hunt this sub-species, paying thousands of dollars per expedition.

Marla Crouch: Checking Out the Fish! June 12, 2012

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 12, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge: as of 2300
Wind Speed 12.30 kts
Air Temperature 6.10°C
Relative Humidity 98.00%
Barometric Pressure 1,009.6mb

Latitude:  54.22N   Longitude: 164.65W

 Science and Technology Log

Here I am all decked out in my rain gear in the wet lab, ready to sort the catch of our first bottom trawl.  Quite a fashion statement, don’t you think?

Me in my slime gear.
Me in my slime gear.

Walleye Pollock (latin name Theragra chalcogramma), a fish that lives both on and above the seafloor, is the main target of the Pollock survey, but information about other sea life is also collected.  When we start sorting the catch from this bottom trawl, the primary population is Pacific Ocean Perch (POP, Sebastes alutus).  The POP is a member of the Scorpaenidae or scorpionfish family and has poisonous spines.  When handling the fish I have to be really careful of the very sharp spines to avoid injury.  Fortunately, the POP’s teeth are not as formidable as their spines, so I can grab them by the mouth to safely move them around.

After we sort the catch the total weight of each species is recorded.  We collect additional biological data on the POP, by first sorting them by “Blokes” or “Sheilas.”  I’ll let you figure out what characterizes Blokes and Sheilas.   After the sorting, each fish in the sample is laid on an electronic measuring board (mm) to determine and record the length of the fish.  In this survey the length of the fish is measured from the tip of the mouth to the center of the “v” in the tail, this is know as the fork length.

Other populations being sampled are plankton and the jellyfish that were collected in a Methot trawl.  Here Abigail McCarthy is sorting two types of zooplankton krill (also called euphausiids) and jellyfish that were collected.  Once the sorting is completed, then the quantity and weight of the krill and the jellyfish is recorded.  One of the areas Abby is investigating is if there is a correlation between the krill population and the location of baleen feeding whales.  Abby wonders how far away the whales can smell or sense dinner?  Who can tell me which species of whales are baleen feeders?

Sorting krill and jellyfish
Sorting krill and jellyfish

Another tool the scientists use to collect data is a tethered stereo camera that takes 10 pictures/second. Using the pictures I am counting and sorting fish by species.  Look at the pictures and you’ll see a Gorgonia sea fan and a basket star.  The camera has a stationary photo length, so objects closer to the camera appear bigger.  In the picture with the sea fan, you are also seeing krill.  You can use the pairs of images from the stereo cameras to measure the size of the organisms that appear in the images.

The two cylinders in the center are the cameras and the four other cylinders are strobe lights.
The two cylinders in the center are the cameras and the four other cylinders are strobe lights.

The sea fan is a member of the soft coral family.
The sea fan is a member of the soft coral family.  Krill can be seen in front of the sea fan.  Picture provided by NOAA.

The basket star is a type of sea star.  Here the basket star is open waiting for dinner to drift by.
The basket star is a type of sea star. Here the basket star is perched on top of a sea sponge open waiting for dinner to drift by.  Picture provided by NOAA

Personal Log 

When the Oscar Dyson sailed from Dutch Harbor we head west to the Islands of Four Mountains, a cluster of volcanic isles.  On one isles is Mt. Cleveland, which on May 5th was actively spewing lava.  As we pass, Mt. Cleveland is quietly shrouded in dense cloud cover.  Darn, cannot check eruption off my “Want to see” list.  I don’t think I’ll see an aurora either as the cloud cover has been thick.

This is the south side of Onalaska.  Dutch Harbor is on north side facing the Bering Sea.
This is the south side of Unalaska. Dutch Harbor is on north side facing the Bering Sea.

Science aboard the Oscar Dyson runs 24/7.  Both the Dyson’s crew and the science team work in twelve hour shifts.  For the Dyson’s crew the day is broken into two shifts, from midnight to noon and noon to midnight.  The science team shifts are from 4 a.m. (0400 hrs.) to 4 p.m. (1600 hrs.) and 1600 hrs. to 0400 hrs. I am on the 1600hrs to 0400hrs shift; morning and night run all together.  A note here, when the scientists collect data the time stamp is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).  GMT is eight hours ahead of us here in Alaska.

Did You Know?

I’ve discovered that you can slosh in your berth.  Check out the next blog for “Surf Your Berth.”