NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012
Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the coast of Florida
Date: August 5, 2012
Weather Data From the Bridge:
Air Temperature (degrees C): 29.0
Wind Speed (knots): 10.28
Wind Direction (degree): 138.68
Relative Humidity (percent): 076
Barometric Pressure (millibars): 1022.33
Water Depth (meters): 28.45
Salinity (PSU): 35.612
On my last blog I introduced you to five species of shark found so far. I think you can tell which one is my favorite, which is yours?
Even though our mission is to collect data on sharks, you never know what might come up on the end of a hook (or tangled in the line!). Data is still collected on just about everything else we catch. For today’s blog I have put together a photo journey on the so many other beautiful creatures we have caught.
There you have it. I hope you enjoy the pictures of just some of the beauty and diversity in the Atlantic Ocean. Be sure to visit my next blog when we tie up loose ends!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Marsha Skoczek Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces July 6-19, 2012
Mission: Marine Protected Areas Survey Geographic area of cruise: Subtropical North Atlantic, off the east coast of Florida. Date: July 17, 2012
Location: Latitude: 30.4587N
Weather Data from the Bridge Air Temperature: 26.8C (80.24 F)
Wind Speed: 10.8 knots (12.43 mph)
Wind Direction: From the SE
Relative Humidity: 79 %
Barometric Pressure: 1017
Surface Water Temperature: 28.9C (84 F)
Science and Technology Log
During the thirteen days we have been out to sea doing research, we have sent the ROV down both inside and outside of five different MPAs from Florida to North Carolina and back again. This allows the scientists to compare fish populations and densities both inside and outside of the MPAs. Since we left Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Florida, we have been averaging a distance from shore of between 50 and 70 nautical miles. It will be fourteen days until we see land once again. From this distance, the ocean seems to stretch on forever. Gazing at the beautiful blue water, it is easy to forget an entire other world lies beneath us. Not all of the ocean floor is flat, there is a small percentage that does have some elevation and structure. The type of structures on the ocean floor determine what types of species will live there.
For this mission, we have mainly been studying areas within the mesophotic zone of the ocean ranging from 40 to 150 meters (130 – 500 feet) below the surface. Temperatures here range from 12 – 23 degrees Celsius (50-70 F). Very little sunlight reaches the mesophotic zone, but zooxanthallae are still able to photosynthesize at this depth. Corals and sponges will also filter feed using the abundant particulate organic matter drifting in the water column they will filter out and eat the plankton.
The multibeam images help the scientists determine where to launch the ROV. Areas with a change in elevation tend to indicate that there are rock structures below the surface. It is around these rocks that the majority of fish prefer to live, so these are often the areas at which the scientists chose to collect data.
The ridges we have seen range in height from 1 meter to 5 meters. The fish really like areas in the rock that have cracks, crevices and overhangs for them to hide. Many times as the ROV approached the fish, they would scurry into a nearby hiding place. I can’t help but imagine that the ROV with its bright lights and unnatural features must seem like an alien spacecraft to these fish that have never had contact with humans before. But ROVs aren’t the only thing that these fish need to hide from. I noticed that the larger fish that are toward the top of the food chain were not as skittish as the smaller reef fish. Sometimes amberjacks and scamp would even follow the ROV as if curious about we were doing. And lionfish never budged as the ROV passed unless it happened to be sitting in the ROV’s path.
The fish are not the only living things that like these rocky habitats. Usually when there are rocky surfaces, we find sponges, corals, hydroids and algae growing on top. These creatures not only give the reef its beautiful appearance, but they also help to provide habitat as well.
Species that live in the sandy bottom habitat have their own set of adaptations. Animals such as the flounder and sea cucumbers have skin colorations that match the speckled appearance of the sand itself. Sand tilefish carve out burrows from the rubble beneath the sand. The spider crabs have a carapace that mimics the texture of the rocks it lives near. The stingrays, with their low profile, sit on the sandy bottom and use their mouth to scour the sand in search of crabs and clams to eat.
Artificial habitats are also full of life. At the shipwreck we visited, not only did we see fish living here, we also saw anemone, tube worms, Venus flytrap anemone, hermit crabs, eels, Lophelia coral to name a few. Other man-made habitats can help rebuild coral reefs. John Reed has placed reef balls on the Occulina Reef in an effort to rebuild the original reef damaged by bottom trawling. These reef balls provide a structure for the corals to anchor themselves to and give the fish places to hide. Even oil platforms can be considered as an artificial reef structure giving a wide variety of species a sturdy structure to call home.
While aboard the Pisces I have learned to identify well over 100 different species of fish and invertebrates. Andy and Stacey quiz me as we are watching the live footage, and I think I finally can tell the difference between a reef butterfly and a bank butterfly. John frequently hands me a text book and challenges me to look up the species we see on the ROV live feed. I am extremely appreciative of everyone being so helpful and sharing their knowledge with me. Each of the scientists have taken the time to answer all of the question that I have. The crew of the Pisces has also been wonderful to work with. Everyone has done their best to make me feel at home. This has been such an amazing experience, I am excited to bring it all back to the classroom this fall! I will never forget my time on the Pisces.
Ocean Careers Interview
In this section, I will be interviewing scientists and crew members to give my students ideas for careers they may find interesting and might want to pursue someday. Today I interviewed John Reed and Stephanie Farrington.
Why did you decide to become a marine biologist? I always knew that I wanted a career where I could do my work outside. My biggest influence came when I was around 13 – 14 years old, I remember watching “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” every Sunday night with my family and thinking that’s what I want to do!
What type of responsibilities do you have with this job? Currently I am studying deep coral reefs as part of the Robertson Coral Reef and Research Program and several NOAA grants. My focus is primarily off the Florida coast and up through the Carolinas. My objective is to protect and conserve deep sea coral ecosystems. Around Florida alone, our group has discovered over 400 individual deep coral mounds some over 300 ft tall. We have calculated that the area of these deep water reefs may exceed that of all the shallow water reefs in the United States combined. These reefs habitats are incredibly diverse with hundreds of different species of bivalves, crustaceans and fish just to name a few. Deep water hard corals grow very slowly, only about half an inch per year, core sampling has dated deep coral mounds at over 1,000,000 years old. It is vital that we protect these deep reefs from destructive fishing methods such as bottom trawling or energy projects.
I also manage the archives for the biomedical marine division at Harbor Branch where we have over 35,000 deep and shallow marine specimens from around the world. Each specimen has video footage of it in its natural habitat (in situ from the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible), still photos, museum samples as well as several smaller samples for our biomedical research. We have discovered novel compounds from some of these marine organisms which may be future cures for cancer or other diseases. Currently our chemists and biologists are working on the chemical compounds that we discovered in a deep water sponge that grows off Florida. In the lab it is potent against pancreatic cancer which is a very deadly disease.
What type of education did you need to get this job? I earned my Bachelors Degree in chemistry and biology from University of Miami and my Masters Degree in marine ecology from Florida Atlantic University. My Masters Thesis was on The Animal-Sediment Relationship s of Shallow Water Lagoons and took me four years to study and wrote. While working on my thesis, the Smithsonian had a branch at HBOI, so I would ask the scientists there for help in identifying the animals in my study. Working with these scientists helped me make the connections that eventually get my job with HBOI.
What types of experiences have you had with this job? I have been fortunate enough to travel the world visiting over 60 countries and collecting thousands of marine samples for biomedical research at HBOI. I have been able to dive in the Johns0n-Sea-Link submersible to depths of 3000 ft and scuba dive to 300 ft. My research on the deep water Oculina coral reefs off the east coast of Florida allowed me to use our submersibles as well as lock-out diving to study the growth rate and fauna associated with these deep water coral. It is very humbling that my research on these reefs helped to establish the Oculina Marine Protected Area which was the first marine protected area in the world to protect deep sea corals, and more recently the 24,000 sq. mile deep sea coral habitat area of particular concern off the southeastern U.S.
What advice do you have for students wanting a career in marine biology? Even if people tell you there are no jobs in marine biology, find a way to do it! Follow what you are passionate about. Get experiences as an undergrad, do internships, build your resume. Make the effort! Do things that are going to set you above everyone else.
When looking at graduate school, compare the course offerings of several universities. Research the Principal Investigators (PIs) at those same schools and make contact with them. Get a position as a Teaching Assistant or Lab Aide to build on your resume. All of these things will help you to get the job you want once you graduate.
Ms. Farrington, What is your job title? I am a biological scientist for John Reed at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.
What type of responsibilities do you have with this job? I accompany John on his research expeditions and help collect data. When we return to HBOI, I analyze the data and program everything into GIS maps to give us a visual layout of the different habitats we saw and the species that live there.
What type of education did you need to get this job? I earned my Bachelors Degree in biology and marine science from the University of Tampa. My Masters Degree is in marine biology from the NOVA Southeastern University Oceanographic Center. My thesis was on the Biogeography of the Straights of Florida which gave me a solid background in the marine invertebrates of our region. This is one of the reasons John hired me to work with him.
What types of experiences have you had with this job? I have been fortunate to travel in our Johnson-Sea-Link submersible six times, twice sitting up front in the bubble, one dive went down to 1700 feet below the surface. I have also been on 8 research cruises since I started at HBOI two years ago. I also had the opportunity to sail on the Okeanos Explorer for three weeks.
What advice do you have for students wanting a career in marine biology? Marine biology is about collecting and analyzing data and doing research and there is so much cooler stuff in the ocean than just dolphins!
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp
June 8 – 15, 2010
Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographic Location: off the coast of New England
June 11, 2010
Weather Data at 1:30pm EDT: Clear and sunny, 14.5˚C
Location at 1:30pm EDT: Lat: 4123.78 NLong: 6656.64 W
Water Depth: 68.2 m
8th Day at Sea
What kinds of things are you going to catch?Part 2 – non-fish along with a few new fishes
There are many more species in the areas than I have listed here; these are simply the ones that I found most interesting. There are several different types of bivalves, sea weeds, etc. Material about the species on this page came from several sources, including the Bigelow and Schroeder’s book referenced in the previous posting. Also, Kenneth Gosner’s A Field Guide to the Atlantic Seashore published by Houghton Mifflin Company in Boston, Ma, 1978. I also used Norman Mein-Koth’s Field Guide to North American Seashore Creatures published by Alfred A. Knopf in New York in 1990.
Sea Stars (aka starfish) – Every third dredge, the contents of the dredge are sampled and the sea stars are separated by species and counted. Most sea stars can regenerate a lost arm, but a few can regenerate an entire organism from the lost arm as well. All sea stars are predators; many species do eat scallops.
Hippasteria phygiana – a cushion star with a much wider central disk and shorter arms than the other types of sea stars.
Northern Sea Star (Asterias vulgaris) – is one of the more common sea stars found. It can have a radius of up to 20 cm.
Blood Star (Henricia sanguinolenta) – is a thin armed sea star that ranges in color from bright red to orange. This particular blood star shows some aberant regeneration occurring on one arm.
Leptasterias tenera – smaller sea stars than the others. They are usually whitish-tan. Some have purple centers and arm bands.
Sclerasteras tanneri – are spinier than the other sea stars seen. They are bright red with thin arms.
Spiny Sun star (Crossaster papposus) – is the only sea star that I’ve seen here with more than 5 arms. It has concentric rings of color radiating from the central disk of the sea star.
Green Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) – can grow up to 8.3 cm wide and 3.8 cm high. The shell (test) is usually a greenish color and the spines are all approximately the same length.
Sand Dollar (Echinarachnius parma) – the common sand dollar. This species does not have openings in the test like the Keyhole type that is commonly found off the coast of the Carolina’s, but does have the flower-like markings on the dorsal side. A great many of these (hundreds of thousands) are found in the dredge on some tows.
Hermit Crabs (various species) – move from shell to shell as they grow.
Northern Lobster (Homarus americanus) – can grow up to 90 cm in length. Lobsters are scavengers and can be cannibalistic. Claws and tail are highly prized for meat.
Winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) – are darker than the other flounder. Like summer flounder, they can change color to match the underlying ocean floor. Winter flounder can live up to 15 years. They can reach a maximum size of 64 cm and 3.6 kg, with the average being 31-38 cm and 0.7-0.9 kg. Winter flounder eat mostly small invertebrates, like polychaetes and shrimp and some small fishes. They are preyed upon by cod, skates, goosefish, and spiny dogfish.Winter flounder are the thickest of the flatfish, but are considered over-exploited.
Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) – a silvery fish that is dark grey on the dorsal side with a dark patch behind the gills. The largest recorded haddock was 111.8 cm long and 16.8 kg. The average haddock is 35-58 cm long and 0.5-2 kg. Small haddock eat crustaceans, polychaetes, and small fish, while larger haddock eat more echinoderms, but will eat most anything. Predators include spiny dogfish, skates, cod, other haddock, hakes, goosefish, and seals. Haddock aquaculture was begun in 1995. The biomass of haddock was considered below maintenance levels in the late 1990s.
Fawn Cusk-eel (Lepophidium profundorum) – are greenish with light green or tan spots down the sides and, unlike true eels, have pectoral fins. They average about 26 cm in length. They eat sea mice, shrimp, and echinoderms. Larger fawn cusk-eels eat flatfish as well. They are eaten by skates, spiny dogfish, hakes, flounders, and sea ravens.
Winter Skate (Leucoraja ocellata) – large, heart-shaped skate. Like the barndoor skate, winter skates can be quite large, up to 150 cm long. They eat bivalves, shrimp, crabs, echinoderms, and many types of fishes. They are eaten by sharks, other skates, and grey seals. They are considered to be commercially important.
I have to admit, when I first went up to the bridge of the ship, with its wrap-around windows, the first words that came to mind were the lines from Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner (which I may have not remembered entirely correctly)
Water, water everywhere
And not a drop to drink
Water, water everywhere
And all the boards did shrink
At the time that I was there, no land and no other ships were within sight; there was nothing but water and wavelets as far as I could see.We’ve see several ships on the horizon, and two container ships close enough to get a good look at. One of those passed quite close as we had a dredge down.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009
Mission: Sea scallop survey Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Date: June 9, 2009
Weather Data from the Bridge
S winds 5-10KT
Barometric pressure 1029mb
Air Temperature 78˚F
Cold front moving offshore towards us later today, rain expected.
Science and Technology Log
The sorting table is full of activity as soon as the dredge is pulled aboard the ship. After the crew secure all lines and dump the load the volunteers and scientist begin to sort through the biological that has been brought up from the bottom or the Atlantic Ocean. Each dredge can bring a varied amount of sea life on the ship. We are always looking for scallop, yet every third dredge we also sort for crabs. All fish are also sorted and counted.
After all the sorting is done the fish, scallops, and crabs are weighed and measured for length. They are then logged into the onboard computer for analysis of results for each catch. We are trawling along closed areas for scallops. These areas have been closed for commercial fishing to ensure that the population has time to recover in that area. Scallop surveys are carried out by the R/V Hugh R. Sharp, in three phases during the summer. Duane and I are on the second leg, which encompasses the area to the east of Delaware, areas around Long Island, and the area around Martha’s Vineyard south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
The work aboard the ship can be very long and laborious. The days are long, as each member of the cruise will do a 12-hour shift. My shift is from noon to midnight. The conditions can vary greatly during a shift. During the day the sun may be out with light winds and it gets very warm with all the wet weather gear that is worn during sorting. It is necessary to leave the gear on between dredges, since they occur so often. As soon as the sun goes down the temperatures can drop very rapidly. It is important to keep a hooded sweatshirt and other warm weather gear nearby for the changing conditions. All gear must be taken with you when you leave your cabin so that the other shift can sleep uninterrupted. The days are long, with the goal of all who are onboard to get the science completed in a timely fashion. Keeping a ship stored with goods and running is very expensive so the goal is to get as much science completed in the allotted time as possible.
Question of the Day
What other bottom dwelling species in the Atlantic are under protection from over-fishing?
Animals Seen Today
Scallops, eels, crabs, starfish, clams, silver dollars, urchins, goose fish, and many varieties of bottom dwelling fish.
Science and Technology Log – Setting and Hauling Traps
We’ve worked a lot with lobster traps by now, and I’ve had the chance to try every part of the job. The science crew works closely with the experienced fisherman of the ship’s crew – it takes teamwork! We take turns preparing bait in the early morning. Thawed mackerel are sliced twice through the middle – be sure to expose the guts which release fluids and oils that are especially attractive to our targets. Later, the traps are set in strings of 8 or 20. Historic data is based on strings of 8, which is why they’re still used even though experience has shown labor is more effective with strings of 20. The traps are all clipped to a gangion, a short line that is spliced (woven) into the length of the ground line (main line of the string) at 20 fathoms (120 feet) apart. Buoys are clipped in at one end for strings of 8 and at both ends for strings of 20. A little entertainment comes from the fun names on our buoys which are called out over the radio – Big Momma, 8-ball, Spifferino, Easy Target. Sadly, we lost the 8-ball float, which is the only gear we’ve lost so far. Setting baited traps happens from the fantail, or aft working deck, of the ship. The stackers (scientists on trap duty) lift and shuffle the traps up to the diamond plate (steel non-slip) at the very stern of the ship. A large pallet tub of our line waits there, with eye splices (loops) for attaching gear carefully stacked on a small pipe, keeping the loops ready, in order, and clear from the many coils of line in the tub. The crew clips a buoy or a trap to a gangion and carefully sends it off the stern. After beginning the string, the traps slide off on their own with the momentum of the line paying out.
Everyone has to be careful to not accidentally step in a loop of line and get dragged off too. While the traps are going over another crew member, the heaver, manages the tension on the line by guiding it off the stern with a stick in great sweeping arcs. All the while the Chief Bosun, or supervisor, is in radio communication with the bridge to ensure strings are set at the prescribed depth and location. For our data standards, the traps soak overnight. Hauling back the traps happens in the pit, the low open area along the port side of the ship. The officer at the sticks (steering) operates from a side wing of the bridge, and the Chief Bosun operates the pot hauler, a wheel at the top of a tall J frame that helps pull in the line. As the bridge maneuvers close up to the buoy, a crew member throws the messenger (a 4 pronged type hook) to catch the buoy warp (rope). Once the crew pulls in and unclips the buoy, the ground line is led through the pot hauler, and with a steady hiss the traps are brought up. The pot hauler pauses briefly for each trap to be unclipped, and they’re slid down a table to the crackers (members of the science party) to open. Pretty quickly you open, remove creatures to a bucket, remove old bait, fill new bait, and close the trap. Everything and everyone in the pit gets wet and splashed with mackerel juice. A bucketeer keeps order of the specimens collected and helps with sharks and eels. A runner brings the specimens and trap out of the pit. Traps are re-stacked on the fantail and specimens go to the Wet Lab, where the intermediary, assistant, and measurer (more members of the science party) work to catalog them. Overhead, the ground line runs through fair leads (hanging metal circles) back to the pallet tubs on the fantail, where another crew member coils the line back in and stacks the gangion eyes in order.
The lobsters can surprise you with powerful snaps of their tails. The assistant has to hold them firmly while the measurer uses a digital caliper to find the length of the carapace (back of the shell) in millimeters. On certain females, we also measure the exopod part of the first left pleopod (appendages under the tail), which can indicate level of maturity. Females with eggs, spongy masses of tiny round orange or brown specks under the tail, are said to be berried. We also check the lobsters for PIT tags by waving them in front of a scanner – like electronic checkout at the supermarket. These tags are the same type implanted in pets and if sensed, the scanner shows that lobster’s unique number. After all the specimens have been recorded, or when a tagged lobster needs to go back in the same quadrant, the intermediary does a dump, releasing them. Lobsters are dumped through a special cage lowered on the pot hauler, which is designed to deliver them back to the bottom without exposing them to sharks.
It’s hard to say which job in the lobster survey is my favorite. Cracking open the traps is certainly the center of the action, but quite a wet, messy job. Being the measurer makes you feel closely involved with the scientific process, but keeps you working inside. Stacking empty traps is not as interesting, but happens out in the sun while talking and listening to music. I guess I’m enjoying all the jobs, and certainly learning a lot. Since I began writing, we had to stop our lobster survey for a few days to offer medical assistance to another scientist camping on one of the islands. It wasn’t life threatening, thank goodness, and we’re back to work soon.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette June 12 – July 12, 2007
Mission: Lobster Survey Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean; Necker Island Date: June 26, 2007
Science and Technology Log
We just spent an exciting week setting lobster traps at Maro Reef. Sliced mackerel is our preferred bait, and we scrub the bloody patches that drip to deck every day. We hauled back many lobsters, as well as eels, crabs, urchins, and fish. Shark and Octopus can really break up the traps, and ocean conditions can be hard on the gear, so we make repairs as needed. I was proud to put my sailor skills to work helping to splice new bridles on traps. (Splicing is weaving a line back into itself to create a loop, which is used to attach the trap to a fishing line). In the past week our Commanding Officer, Karl F. Mangels, shared a little history on The Marine National Monument area created out of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. This status is the most protected, but also complex to initiate. The US Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, and the State of Hawaii, among others, have targeted this area for preservation for many years. Recently President Bush moved quickly to legalize the Monument status, but it is taking time to work out the details of regulations and procedures, considering the multiple jurisdictions involved.
Regulations indicate all activities must be approved by permit, including scientific research, and all ships must have vessel monitoring systems. But, access for native Hawaiian cultural activities is preserved as several of the islands are ancient holy sites. Midway Atoll retains special status and will be open to more public visitation. All commercial fishing in the Monument waters will be phased out by 2011, and oil and gas exploration and extraction is prohibited. Having been part of a research crew in the Monument for a week now, I appreciate all these efforts at conservation. There is little dry land surfacing out of the Pacific here, but the bird life and sea life are precious, including rare seals, sea turtles, and albatrosses.
Working at sea makes me think often of the legacy of sailors before me. Though he was a global voyager, Captain James Cook’s influence is heavily felt in the Pacific. He honed his seamanship skills in the coasting collier (coal cargo) trade in Britain and honed his surveying skills in Canada, helping the British Navy fight the French. He charted the St. Lawrence River and the coast of Newfoundland, but was a surprise choice among his contemporaries for the Pacific voyages due to his lack of noble title and lack of Royal Navy training. His first command aboard Endeavour in 1768 was to observe the transit of Venus viewable from Tahiti. A replica of Endeavour now sails out of Australia, and for $1,000 Aussie you can too! The mission of Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific in 1772 was to “complete the discovery of the Southern Hemisphere.” He took command of Resolution and penetrated the Antarctic circle several times.
Both Endeavour and Resolution were converted North Sea colliers, sturdy vessels familiar to Cook from his merchant marine experience. For the third voyage, Resolution also carried the latest equipment, including a Gregory Azimuth Compass, apparatus for distilling fresh water from seawater, and a new five inch marine chronometer, the K1, by Larcum Kendall. The chronometer provided for even better chart making as it was easier to use than lunar measurements and proved more accurate for finding longitude. In 1778, sailing to find a northwest passage between the Atlantic and Pacific, Cook encountered the Hawaiian Islands. Natives were friendly to the Captain and his crew, and when Resolution’s foremast cracked badly in February 1779, they returned to Kealakekua Bay on the big island of Hawaii to down rig the mast and float it to the beach for repairs. Misunderstandings developed as from both sides, resources were taken and tempers flared.
When Cook went ashore with marines to seek settlement, a crowd gathered and became aggressive. Cook shot a Hawaiian, and in the retreat to the bay, Cook was clubbed and stabbed from behind, dying in the surf. Two other important figures were also witnesses that day in Kealakekua Bay. William Bligh of Bounty infamy was one of the ship’s officers, and Kamehameha, who unified the islands to become the first King of Hawaii, was nobility of the village ashore. Cook left quite a legacy of knowledge with his charts and logs, and a legacy of British influence around the globe. He accomplished surveys of the Pacific from Australia to Alaska. Resolution’s officers demanded Cook’s body be returned, but it came back as pieces of bone and flesh, which were buried at sea. There is a monument to Captain Cook in the form of an obelisk on Kealakekua Bay, and it’s curious to think that perhaps missing parts of his remains are buried there. Interestingly, that little part of Hawaii is technically British soil even to this day. Now, Kealakekua Bay is also a Marine Life Conservation District filled with coral, schools of tropical fish, and even spinner dolphins – another legacy this historic site can offer for the future.
We have been trapping for 5 days now and I have been the cracker twice, runner, and setter twice. The days are going by very quick and I find it harder and harder to write because by the time I get done, I am exhausted and then it is time to bottom fish. We have been having good days in terms of the number of lobsters we are collecting and returning. Just by what I have seen, the slipper lobster is the most numerous and I really can’t seem to find the answer to why. I do know that I would rather tangle with a slipper lobster than a spiny. The focus of this log will be on the spiny lobster and what makes it such an interesting organism. As with most lobsters, the spiny lobster is important in the reef community. I have learned that the spiny lobsters are usually found under ledges or in caves with only their antennae sticking out. The term stridulation comes from the lobster’s ability to rub its antennae to warn other animals away. I finally understand why we are setting the traps at night. Lobsters remain in their shelters during the day and emerge at night to forage over the reef and in our case for mackerel within the traps.
The spiny lobster does not have the large chelipeds that the Maine lobster has. The first thing I asked about was what do we do about the crusher and pincher (terms used to describe the front appendages of Maine lobster and crayfish). The spiny lobster does not have them; instead they have the spines that point forward that cover their antennae and dorsal surface. During the reproductive period, which occurs during summer, male lobsters seek out females. The males attach a sticky packet of sperm near the female’s reproductive opening and her eggs are fertilized as they leave her body. The female attaches the fertilized eggs to the delicate limbs on the underside of her abdomen. She aerates the developing embryos by fanning her abdominal limbs through the water. Females with eggs are called “berried” females because the eggs resemble tiny, reddish or blackish berries. The embryos hatch months later and take up life in the plankton as wafer-thin phyllosome larvae. The larvae spend up to 9 months in the plankton before settling out to begin life on the bottom.
As I have found through discussion with members of the crew, spiny lobsters are a popular food item in Hawaii. Just as we have been doing, the commercial fishermen catch them using baited wire traps set on the seafloor. Recreational fishermen, scuba divers, and snorkelers around the main Hawaiian Islands can only capture lobsters by hand (no nets or spears are allowed), and because of the long reproductive period, it is illegal to catch spiny lobsters during the summer months (May through August). Females with eggs are protected throughout the year.
As mentioned earlier I am worn out by the end of the day, but it is nice that I have gotten into a routine. We have 2 more days left here at Maro Reef then it is onto Necker Island for 2 weeks. I have been told that Necker Island is not as exciting because it was where more of the trapping occurred in the past and so the numbers are not as high. We will see what happens.
Yesterday and today were very busy days on board OSCAR ELTON SETTE as we set our first traps, cut bait and then pulled up traps and collected the lobsters, eels, sharks, and whatever else made it into the traps. Yesterday we set 160 traps off of Maro Reef. We set 10 lines of 8 traps and 4 lines of 20 traps. Each trap was assembled and 2 mackerel, which had been cut into thirds, was placed into the baiter. The baiter is a small container within the trap that holds the bait. The bait was cut earlier in the day. I volunteered to cut bait and I spent about an hour slicing and dicing the mackerel. Once the traps were baited we spent about an hour setting the traps. The traps were stacked into groups of fours and I would hand a trap to a fisherman who was standing on the stern and watch as the traps were pushed off into the water. I wish I could say my day was done but there was still a lot to do before tomorrow, including getting more bait.
Every night about 2100, the “crackers” for the next day go into a walk in freezer and pull out 13 boxes of frozen mackerel to thaw. (The term “cracker” comes from the job of opening up the traps when they are pulled out of the water, one has to crack open the lobster trap and pull out whatever is in side.) The next morning I got up at 0545 to cut the bait. The other cracker for the day was Matt and we spent a good hour cutting up the mackerel. I did learn that it is much easier to cut a half frozen mackerel as opposed to a thawed out mackerel. The knives were kind of dull and the mackerel were full of blood and eggs and there were a few times where the mackerel ended up on my shirt. No problems though.
The processing of pulling up 160 lobster pots takes up the good portion of the day so I will keep it simple. Once the pots are pulled from the water and end up on the deck they first come to the crackers. The crackers open the pots and remove all organisms from inside. Today, this included slipper lobsters, spiny lobsters, eels, sharks, crabs, fish and one octopus. The most difficult had to be the octopus, it just refused to come put and its tentacles stuck to every surface. It took both Matt and me to pry the octopus from the trap. We both tried to avoid the mouth because they do have a beak like structure and neither of us wanted to see if it could remove a finger. The spiny lobsters were also difficult because one, they are covered with spines but are a lot stronger than one would think. They would kick back with their tail and one time my pinky got caught by tail and blood was drawn. The slipper lobsters are easier to handle and taking them out the trap was not a problem because their bodies lack the spines. Most of the lobsters that were pulled out were the slipper lobster, which are also the easiest to handle. The worst part of the job as cracker is constantly being wet and having to dunk my hands in the bait buckets which are full of mackerel blood and organs. The smell of the mackerel has found its way into my shoes, gloves, hair, and skin. I don’t think I will ever be able get rid of it. My job as cracker ended and tomorrow I start as a runner. Everyone who has done this cruise before says cracker is the best job. I guess I will soon find out.
I would be lying if I said I was not tired. The job of cracker is not the hardest job, but when one has his hand in a trap that has eels, sharks, and spiny lobsters in it, it can be stressful. On top of emptying the traps, the old bait has to be removed and new bait placed in, all the while, a new trap is making its way down the table. So after eating dinner at 1630, I am ready to call it a day. By keeping so busy I have not had as much time to sit on the observation deck and look for whales and dolphins, but I have come face to face with some really amazing animals. I am really fascinated by the eels. They are very aggressive and strong animals. I almost had one get real personal with me when I was emptying a lobster pot and the eel had managed to hide on the bottom. As I was picking up spiny lobster, this eel pops it head up by my hand and all I could say was EEL! EEL! Everyone had a good laugh. We ended the day with a feeding frenzy in which all of the old bait is dumped over the side and the Galapagos Shark’s come in. It is an amazing sight to see and to be that close to such a great animal. I am sure there will be many more moments like that to come.
Animals Seen Today
Lemon Head Eel
Question of the Day
Looking at the food web of The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, what would happen if a large predator like the Galapagos Shark was removed? Would there be another animal that could replace it in the web?