Kimberly Godfrey: Creature Feature, June 8, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Godfrey

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 31 – June 11, 2018

 

Mission: Rockfish recruitment and assessment survey

Geographic Range: California Coast

Date: June 8, 2018

 

Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 36° 43.508′ N

Longitude: 121° 52.950′ W

Wind: 30.87 knots from the SE

Air Temperature: 12.7°

Waves: 2-3 feet with 6-8 foot swells

 

Science and Technology Log

We moved up north to continue with our trawls. The first night we trawled just north of Monterey Bay. It was a good thing we did because outside the bay, the wind and swells are rough. We saw lots of jellyfish and lots of krill in our catches. However, I would like to talk a little about a very specific group of fish, rockfish. If you read the mission above, you will recall that rockfish are the primary focus of this survey. Therefore, I think they need a moment in the spotlight to themselves.

While this number may vary, NOAA has over 60 species of rockfish listed on the West Coast. They are an intriguing group of fish for many reasons. First, it is important to note that they are extremely significant to their food web because they are a prey species, but they are also important as a food and income source for humans. Species like the bocaccio rockfish and the yelloweye rockfish are species of concern due to over fishing, and populations are slow to recover. That is enough reason to learn as much possible about these fish.

Yelloweye Rockfish

Yelloweye Rockfish

Bocaccio

Bocaccio

What we know about rockfish species is they can live for a long time. Many can live over 50 years, some can even live over 100 years of age!  Their growth rate is relatively slow, and very few make it to adulthood because they are prey for other fish. During the first year (sometimes more depending on the species), they spend much of their time in the pelagic realm (open water). If they live long enough, they can grow to a size that allows them to settle in the benthic zone (ocean floor). For many species, 60 mm is a large enough size to settle. This is what the term “recruitment” refers to. Once rockfish settle out of the pelagic zone, they have a higher chance of reaching reproductive maturity.

YOY Rockfish

Various species of YOY (Young Of the Year) rockfish caught in one of our trawls. Photo Credit Keith Sakuma

NOAA Fisheries has been surveying the West Coast for rockfish since 1983. They first started in a smaller region from Monterey Bay to Point Reyes, CA. The survey area expanded in 2004 and by 2013 it covered the entire coast of California. The success of the local ecosystem and the commercial fisheries depend on healthy fish populations. The survey tries to collect at least 100 specimens per species of rockfish and take them back to the lab (on land).  Back at the lab the species identifications are determined as many rockfish are difficult to identify to species at this life history stage without using a microscope.  In addition, their size is recorded and tissue samples taken for genetic studies. Then, on select species, otoliths are removed to age the specimens. The otolith is an ear bone. In fish, the ear bone deposits layers of bone in rings. It happens daily and these daily rings can be counted using a microscope to learn how old the fish is. These ages are used by scientists not only to learned how old the fish are, but they can compare this information to the size data collected and estimate the expected size of a fish at any given age.

I had a chance to talk to everyone from the night shift science team about what they do and how they came to work for NOAA:

Keith Sakuma has been working with the survey since 1989. He is the chief scientist and team leader of the night crew. He works hard to make sure we are all focused and efficient because it is a fast-paced work environment. In between hauls, he enjoys the company of his team and a few Dragon Ball episodes. He was born and raised in Hawaii, and went to University of Hawaii for his Bachelor’s degree in Zoology.  In his younger years, Keith worked for the Division of Aquatic Resources, where he spent his days walking up and down the beach to count fisherman and interview them about their catches for the day. He also did snorkel surveys doing fish counts in fisheries management areas.  In addition, he worked on a team that implemented fish aggregating devices, buoys that attract fish for the local fisherman.

While at the University of Hawaii, he was part of the Marine Option program where they teach you various marine skills and connect you with marine research activities. Through this program he completed his scientific diving training, and then participated in two diving surveys. Both surveys documented the impacts of tourism on the reef systems on the island of Lanai Island and Molokini, which is a tiny islet off Maui. On Molokini, tourist traveling to the islet by boat, dropping anchor in the reef, caused a significant amount of damage to the reef. Mitigation included the addition of moorings so boats could tie up and not have to drop anchor, destroying more of the reef.

For his Master’s, he attended San Francisco State University.  His major advisor just returned from a 2-year sabbatical, working with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) [also known as NOAA Fisheries] on the mid water trawl survey, and suggested that Keith do his Master’s Thesis on the data he collected on the survey. While finishing his Master’s degree, he was offered a full-time position working with NMFS, and has been here ever since. That means he has 29 years put into this work.

Growing up in Hawaii near the ocean definitely influenced his decision to pursue Marine Science. He used to say to others how much he loved the ocean and that the ocean loved him back. He couldn’t wait to spend time at the beach in the water. And while today this remains true, he has mentioned that that cold waters of Pacific Coast are not as affectionate as the warm waters of Hawaii.  The water around the islands is so clear, allowing one to see at a distance the beauty that lies beneath. Here, you must pick the right day at the right time to find tolerable temperatures and some visibility. The murkiness makes it hard to see anything, but that murkiness is what contributes to the productivity of the region.

Even after 29 years, Keith still very much enjoys being at sea. He doesn’t get sea sick, so he can spend time working in the field with real specimens and real-time data rather than just analyzing data collected by other people. He enjoys seeing new people come on and get excited about the work. For anyone interested in pursuing Marine Biology and any research science, it is important to have a strong background in math and statistics, especially in today’s world. He also mentioned how important it is to have computer skills and programming skills. The software used to process and analyze data requires one to read and write programming language. Having these skills make one a stronger candidate when applying for research positions. It also gives one more validity when having to speak about and defend the analysis of the research.

That’s Keith, the Chief Scientist, in a nutshell. I also got to learn more about the rest of the team. Thomas Adams has been working with this survey for 5 years now. He started as a volunteer with NMFS, analyzing marine chlorophyll samples. He always had an interest in Marine Biology, and already had a connection to someone working in a NOAA lab. He was invited to work on the rockfish survey because he was known for being a knowledgeable and efficient worker. He too is very enthusiastic and really enjoys being at sea with Keith and the rest of the team. He is the main provider of Dragon Ball, and the Simpsons, which the team enjoys in between trawls. He recently completed his Bachelor’s degree and plans to go for his Master’s in Marine Biology in the near future.

Melissa Monk is a Research Mathematical Statistician, and is responsible for fisheries stock assessments for West Coast near shore ground fish. She also participates in research related to improving fisheries. Her schedule is on a bi-annual cycle. One year is devoted to stock assessment, and the next year is devoted to research.  During stock assessment years, there is a mad dash that happens around September to learn anything and everything about your assigned species. At the end of the assessment season, there is a week-long panel review of all the data gathered during the assessment. Once the assessment is approved, the information is used for species management and harvest regulations. She received her undergrad in Wildlife Sciences with a minor in Statistics. Her Master’s was in fisheries. She spent half her year monitoring the sea turtle populations in North Carolina, and the other half of the year in classes. She did a lot of quantitative work, research, and recruitment training for her Master’s. She also had a connection to NOAA because her PhD advisor at LSU used to work for NOAA. She learned that NOAA trained people to become stock assessors, and pursued fisheries as a career. Her favorite part about working for NOAA is that her work directly impacts fisheries success.

Rebecca Miller is a GIS Specialist, works on a variety of projects at the Santa Cruz NOAA lab. One project is the spatial mapping of rockfish and other marine species. She maps California fisheries catches in both time and space, and is able to analyze this data as far back as the 1930’s. Her Master’s degree is from Oregon State University in Fisheries Sciences with a minor in Geography. She knew since 6th grade that she wanted to be a Fisheries Biologist. She participated in internships and part-time summer jobs in freshwater salmon fisheries, marine intertidal work, and geodatabase management. She loves the people she works with, and the fact the work is so diverse. There is a lot of field work, lots of data analyses, and different projects to work on. She too enjoys knowing that her work helps to sustain fisheries to be both utilized and conserved.

Stephanie Oakes is from NOAA Fisheries Office of Science and Technology (OST). She got her Ph D. in Marine Sciences, and worked on Antarctic krill in an ecosystem context.  The rockfish survey is similar in the sense the it also surveys species in an ecosystem context.  Being able to participate in surveys like this is important to her because she gets to experience first had what happens during the surveys and how the team operates.  Her personal gratification is that she gets her hands in the catch, in the field like she did for her Ph.D.  NOAA Fisheries OST is there to advocate and ensure sound scientific basis for NOAA Fisheries science programs and resource conservation and management decisions.

Did you know…

Here are some of the species we found during our trawls:

  • Adult and young of year (YOY) anchovy
  • Adult and YOY sardine
  • Jack Mackerel
  • Northern Lamp fish
  • Mexican lamp fish
  • California Lamp fish
  • Blue lantern fish
  • Northern smoothtongue
  • Black smelt
  • Pacific Hake
  • Pacific Sanddab
  • Speckled Sanddab
  • CO Turbot
  • Black-bellied dragon fish
  • High fin dragon fish
  • Barracuddina
  • King-of-the-salmon
  • Market squid
  • Gonatus squid
  • Boreal squid
  • Octopus
  • Electric Ray
  • Wolf Eel
  • Pacific Sea Nettle
  • Purple striped jelly
  • Moon Jelly
  • Krill
  • Pelagic Red Crabs
Pacific Sanddab

Young of Year (YOY) Pacific Sanddab

King of the salmon

King-of-the-Salmon

Krill

Krill. There is mostly one species of krill here, but we’ve seen multiple species in our catches.

Barracudina

Barracudina

Adult Anchovy

Adult Anchovy

Myctophids

Blue lantern fish

Pelagic Red Crab

Pelagic Red Crab

Chryasora colorata

Purple Striped Jelly

Boreal Squid

Boreal squid

Octopus

Octopus

Wolf eel

Juvenile wolf eel Photo Credit Wyatt Sebourn

Carol Schnaiter: Our First Day of Work, June 10, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Schnaiter

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 6 – 21, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Gulf of Mexico

June 10-11, 2014

South wind  10 to 15 knots

Seas (waves) 3 to 4 feet

Partly cloudy

My home away from home for a few weeks!

My home away from home for a few weeks!

Science and Technology Log

On June 9th we arrived at our first station. There are over 120 stations on this survey in the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately I was not able to participate in the first station. (More on that later)

When we arrive at the station the ship’s crew is very busy. The deck crew put trawling nets into the water and down to the bottom to catch fish, shrimp, and other organisms. Once these nets are back at the surface the crew uses cranes to lift them to the deck where the scientists can work on the catch. When the nets are in the water the ship must slow down, so the nets do not rip.

After the nets are raised the organisms collected in the nets are emptied into buckets. The scientists then weigh the buckets on a scale. To make sure they are only weighing the organisms, they first weigh the bucket when it is empty.

Weighing the catch

The basket must be weighed before we sort it.

Next everything goes into the “wet” lab. It is called a wet lab because this area has water available and it is where the organisms are poured out on to a long conveyor belt, sorted, and washed off.

Catch on the conveyor belt

Everything is poured onto the conveyor belt to be sorted.

First, everything is sorted by species. Then everything is counted, measured, weighed, and sometimes the gender and maturity are calculated. All of this is recorded into computers.

Some of the species are very tiny and others are large, but everything is counted.  Many of them look alike so the scientists need to be careful when sorting everything.

The scientists on the Oregon II know many of the names of what they catch, but they also use books, charts, and the computer to look up information to make sure.

Sometimes someone in the lab back on shore may be doing research on a certain species and if that species is found it will be tagged, bagged and sent back to the lab.

The CTD’s and bongo net tows are conducted from the forward well deck (check the first blog if you forgot what those do).

The bongo nets are used to collect ichthyoplankton and so the mesh on these nets is very tight, sometimes as small as 0.333 millimeters. These samples are placed into jars and will be examined back in the lab on land later.

Material from bongo net

This is what we collect using the bongo nets. Photo by Chrissy Stepongzi

By time everything is finished, it is time for the next station and everything starts over again.

The work that the Oregon II does is very important. This survey has been conducted twice a year since the early 1970’s and the information collected can show the scientists what is happening under the surface of the water.

The survey helps to monitor the population and health of everything, plus shows any interactions with the environment that may be happening.

Personal Log:

You may have noticed that I mentioned I could not participate in most of the first day’s work, I was seasick and I spent a lot of time in my stateroom.

State Room

State Room

Thank goodness for the medics and Chief Steward on the ship. Walter, the Chief Steward, sliced up fresh ginger for me to suck on, while Officer Rachel Pryor gave me sugar coated ginger to chew on.

The two trained medics, Lead Fisherman Chris and Fisherman James, both were great help and were all very concerned. Kim, the lead scientist, and my bunk mate, Chrissy, checked in on me throughout the night. I am so grateful for everyone that helped. I am now drinking a lot of water and Gatorade to stay hydrated.

As soon as I felt better I was able to help in the wet lab by sorting, counting, weighing, and measuring organisms that were pulled up. We found some really cool things, like this Atlantic Sharpnose shark that Robin Gropp is holding.

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

The Atlantic Sharpnose Shark can grow to be 3.9 feet long and can live 10-12 years. It is a relatively small shark, compared to others.

The Common Terns (seabirds) follow the ship when we are trawling hoping to find a free meal. They sit on the ship’s rig that holds the nets waiting for food. The Common Tern is the most widespread tern and can be found by many large bodies of water. They are mostly white with a little black.

Common Terns waiting for dinner!

Common Terns waiting for dinner!

Taniya Wallace and Andre Debose are the two scientists on the night shift (midnight to noon) and they are extremely knowledgeable and explain everything to me. I am learning a lot of new words and I am even getting better at telling one fish from another.

Andre and Taniya holding the stingray.

Andre and Taniya holding the stingray.

The Southern Stingray that Andre is holding is just one of the amazing creatures we caught. We also brought up a Blackedge moray, a Texas Clearnose Skate, a sea hare, red snapper, jellyfish, pufferfish, sea horse, and many more. I can’t wait to share all of my photos next school year!

He may not look dangerous, but he could really hurt you!

He may not look dangerous, but he could really hurt you!

I am working the midnight to noon shift and it is strange to “wake-up” at midnight and eat supper (the cooks save a plate if you ask) and then go to work. Again, the food is wonderful. Last night I had the best prime rib and mashed potatoes!

Everyone on the ship is so helpful and friendly. I enjoy listening to where everyone is from and why they decided to make the Oregon II their home.

On the Oregon II

Here I am enjoying the beautiful view from the bow. Photo by Rebecca Rosado

Louise Todd, Haul Back, September 23, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Louise Todd
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
September 13 – 29, 2013

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 23, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Barometric Pressure: 1009.89mb
Sea Temperature: 28˚C
Air Temperature: 28.2˚C
Wind speed: 8.29knots

Science and Technology Log:

The haul back is definitely the most exciting part of each station.  Bringing the line back in gives you the chance to see what you caught!  Usually there is at least something on the line but my shift has had two totally empty lines which can be pretty disappointing.  An empty line is called a water haul since all you are hauling back is water!

After the line has been in the water for one hour, everyone on the shift assembles on the bow to help with the haul back.  One crew member operates the large winch used to wind the main line back up so it can be reused.

Line on the winch

Winch holding the main line

The crew member operating the winch unhooks each gangion from the main line  and hands it to another crew member.  That crew member passes it to a member of our shift who unhooks the number from the gangion.  The gangions are carefully placed back in the barrels so they are ready for the next station.  When something is on the line, the person handling the gangions will say “Fish on”.

Nurse Shark on the line

Nurse Shark on the line

Everyone gets ready to work when we hear that call.  Every fish that comes on board is measured. Usually fish are measured on their sides as that makes it easy to read the markings on the measuring board.

Measuring Grouper

Measuring a Yellowedge Grouper (Photo credit Christine Seither)

Measuring a Sandbar

Christine and Nick measuring a Sandbar Shark

Each shark is examined to determine its gender.

Sexing a shark

Determining the sex of a sharpnose shark (Photo credit Deb Zimmerman)

Male sharks have claspers, modified pelvic fins that are used during reproduction.  Female sharks do not have claspers.

Claspers

Claspers on a Blacktip

Fin clips, small pieces of the fin, are taken from all species of sharks.  The fin clips are used to examine the genetics of the sharks for confirmation of identification and population structure, both of which are important for management decisions. 

Shark Fin Clip

That’s me in the blue hardhat taking a fin clip from a Sandbar Shark(Photo credit Lisa Jones)

Skin biopsies are taken from any dogfish sharks  in order to differentiate between the species.  Tags are applied to all sharks. Tags are useful in tracing the movement of sharks.  When a shark, or any fish with a tag, is recaptured there is a phone number on the tag to call and report the location where the shark was recaptured.

Some sharks are small and relatively easy to handle.

Cuban Dogfish

Small Cuban Dogfish (Photo credit Christine Seither)

Other sharks are large and need to be hauled out of the water using the cradle.  The cradle enables the larger sharks to be processed quickly and then returned to the water.  A scale on the cradle provides a weight on the shark.  Today was the first time my shift caught anything big enough to need the cradle.  We used the cradle today for one Sandbar and two Silky Sharks.  Everyone on deck has to put a hardhat on when the cradle is used since the cradle is operated using a crane.

Silky Shark

Silky shark coming up in the cradle

Sandbar Shark

Sandbar Shark in the cradle

Personal Log:

I continue to have such a good time on the Oregon II.  My shift has had some successful stations which is always exciting.  We have had less downtime in between our stations than we did the first few days so we are usually able to do more than one station in our shifts.  The weather in the Gulf forced us to make a few small detours and gave us some rain yesterday but otherwise the seas have been calm and the weather has been beautiful.  It is hard to believe my first week is already over.  I am hopeful that we will continue our good luck with the stations this week!  The rocking of the boat makes it very easy for me to sleep at night when my shift is over.  I sleep very soundly!  The food in the galley is delicious and there are plenty of options at each meal.  I feel right at home on the Oregon II!

Did You Know?

Flying fish are active around the boat, especially when the spotlights are on during a haul back at night.  Flying fish are able to “fly” using their modified pectoral fins that they spread out.  This flying fish flew right onto the boat!

FlyingFish

Flying Fish

Elizabeth Nyman: First Day at Sea, May 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Nyman
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 28 – June 7, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: May 28, 2013

Weather Data:
Surface Water Temperature: 23.84 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 23.90 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1017.8 mb

Science and Technology Log

So I’ve known for about two months or so that I was going to be taking part in one leg of an ongoing reef fishery survey. I even had an idea that it involved surveying fish that lived on reefs. But after our first full day at sea, and many hours of helping take part in the scientific work, I now begin to understand how exactly one surveys reef fish.

There’s a couple of different things that the scientific crew is doing to observe and understand the reef fish population. First, there is an ongoing video recording process throughout the day, from just after sunrise to just before sunset. For this, the ship and scientific crew lower a large, 600 pound camera array off of the starboard side of the ship. The cameras will go and sit on the sea floor and record all the fish that pass in front of it, for a total recording time of 25 minutes. After this time has passed, plus a little extra time, the cameras are pulled back up, the recordings are downloaded, we move to a different spot and the process begins again.

Underwater Camera Array

Hauling the camera array back on deck. I said it was big, didn’t I?

The video is reviewed the next day. Since this is our first day at sea, I didn’t get much of a chance to see any reef fishery footage, though I’m told that’s on the agenda for tomorrow. What I spent most of my time doing was helping out with another part of the survey process, something called the bandit reels. They’re used for good old-fashioned hook and line fishing.

Bandit Reel

It looks like a nice day to go fishing, huh?

There are three bandit reels on the Pisces, and each one can hold 10 fishing hooks. Each reel has different sized hooks, and the hook sizes are changed every drop. The line has a weight at the bottom to bring the hooks down to the sea floor, which have been baited with mackerel bits. After five minutes, the line is reeled back in, and you have fish…or you don’t.

My first drop, which had the biggest hooks, had a whole bunch of nothing. As did everyone else’s, though, so it wasn’t a testament to my poor fishing skills.

The second drop, however, was luckier.

Eel on hook.

I caught a moray eel!

A spotted moray eel! I was excited, anyway. But morays aren’t one of the fish that we’re looking for out here, so it wasn’t a particularly useful catch.

Our third drop was the most successful. Our bandit reel hauled in seven fish, one of whom got away (the biggest one, of course, one the size of a killer whale…yeah, just kidding!). The other six were brought into the wet lab, where they joined the other fish caught on that drop and would be measured and dissected.

Fish on a measuring board.

We caught a big one!

The fish are measured three different ways. The first, by total length, examines exactly that, the total length of the fish from the nose all the way to the tip of the tail. The second measure goes from the nose to the fork in the tail, so it’s a shorter distance. The third, standard length, goes from the nose to just before the tail fin, where the fish’s vertebrae end, and is the shortest of all. They’re also weighed at this time as well.

After that, we start cutting into the fish. Two things are of interest here: the ear bone and the sex organs. The ear bones are removed from each fish, because they can be tested to determine the age of the fish. The sex organs will reveal gender, obviously, but also are examined to see how fertile each specimen is. We don’t do this kind of analysis on the ship, however. The ear bones and sex organs are sent back to the NOAA lab in Panama City, Florida, where they will conduct all those tests.

Personal Log

The best part of my first day at sea was definitely the ship safety drills.

Wait, what?

No, seriously.  The absolute highlight of this one was my chance to try on what’s known as the Gumby suit. The Gumby suit is a nickname for a immersion survival suit – if we have to abandon ship and float around in the water, the suit will protect us from the elements. Now, we’re down here in the Gulf of Mexico, so that seems a little crazy, but think about how you’d feel if you were stuck in the water for hours on end. In really cold waters, that suit may be the difference between life and death.

The drills are important, and they’re mandated for a reason. In an emergency, all of this stuff can save lives.

Why do I like the drills so much? We’re required to have safety drills by law, and so as someone who studies and teaches international law, I always enjoy taking part in these things. It’s a chance to see the stuff in action that I talk about in class. And that’s kind of what this program is all about – the chance to experience things firsthand as opposed to just having to read about them.

Gumby suit

I guess you kind of have to take my word for it, but that’s me in there.

Did You Know?

You’re supposed to be able to put on a Gumby suit in under a minute. They wouldn’t do much good if they took too long to put on.

Andrea Schmuttermair: Collecting Data, June 30, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 30, 2012

Ship  Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 2830.05N
Longitude: 8955.4W
Speed: 10 knots
Wind Speed: 7.11
Wind Direction: S/SW
Surface Water Salinity: 29.3
Air Temperature: 28.4C
Relative Humidity: 63%
Barometric Pressure: 1012 mb
Water Depth: 257.19m

Don’t forget to follow the Oregon II at: www.shiptracker.noaa.gov

Science and Technology Log

fish board

This is the fish board we use for measuring each critter in our sample.

Now that we’ve talked about how we collect, sort, and measure our catch, let’s take a closer look at the way we measure, weigh and sex our critters.

When measuring the critters, we use a fish board that is activated by a magnetic wand to measure the animal to the nearest millimeter.

When the fish is placed on the measuring line, we touch the magnetic wand to the board and the length is recorded into our computer program, FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System).

Depending on the type of fish we catch, there are different ways to measure it.

scorpion fish total legnth

Here is Alex measuring the total length of our scorpion fish.

total length measurement

This is how we would measure a fish for its standard length, which is just before the tail fin starts.

fork length measure

This is how we would measure a fish for its fork length.

Cutlass measuring

For fish such as this cutlassfish, we measure the length from the head down to the anus, as seen here on the board.

When we are done measuring, the fish is placed on a scale to determine its weight to the nearest gram. When we confirm the weight of the fish, that weight is automatically put in the computer for us- no need to enter it manually.

Our last task is to determine the sex of the fish. For many fish, this is done by making an incision in the belly of the fish from their anus to their pelvic fins. It’s easiest to determine the sex when it is a female with eggs. In the males, you can see milt, or sperm, which is a milky white color.

male fish

This is a male fish. Notice the arrow pointing to the testes.

female fish

Here we have a female fish.

For the flatfish, you can see the female’s ovaries when you hold the fish up to the light. Males lack this feature.

male flat fish

This is a male flat fish.

female flat fish

Here we have a female flat fish- notice her gonads.

Because we were catching quite a few shrimp earlier in the leg, I got pretty good at sexing the shrimp. Remember, we take samples of 200 for each type of shrimp, and we often had more than one type of shrimp in each trawl. Male shrimp have a pestama on their first pleura to attach onto the females. The females are lacking this part. Although it’s not necessarily an indication of sex, on average the female shrimp tend to be larger than the males.

male shrimp

Here is a male shrimp.

female shrimp

Here we have a female shrimp, which is lacking a pestama.

You  know from my previous post what we do with the data we gather from the shrimp, but what about the other fish? With the other fish and critters we catch, we use the data to compare the distribution across the Gulf and to compare it to the historical data we’ve collected in the past to look for trends and changes.

Sometimes scientists also have special requests for samples of a certain species. Some scientists are doing diet studies to learn more about what certain types of fish eat.  Other studies include: species verification, geographic range extensions, age and growth, and distribution. Through our program, we have the ability to create tags for the scientists requesting the samples, allowing us to bag and freeze them to send to labs when we return to land.

showers

There are 2 communal showers for our use on the bottom deck.

Personal Log

I’ve had a few people ask me what the living quarters and the food is like on the ship, so I wandered around the ship with my camera the other day to snap some shots of the inside of the Oregon II. There are 17 staterooms on board. Most of the staterooms are doubles, such as mine, and are equipped with bunk beds to sleep on. It makes me reminisce of my days at camp, as it’s been a while since I’ve slept on a bunk bed! We have a sink and some cabinets to store our belongings. Once a week they do room inspections to ensure our rooms are neat and orderly. Most importantly, they want to make sure that our belongings are put away. If we hit rough waters, something such as a water bottle could become a dangerous projectile.

Walter, doing what he loves

My stateroom is on the bottom deck, where there are also communal showers and toilets for us to use. We can do our laundry down here, providing the seas aren’t too rough. Most of the staterooms are on this bottom deck, as the upper 2 levels are the “living areas” of the ship. On the main deck is the galley, where we eat all our meals, or where we head to when we are trying to make it through the shift to grab a snack or a cup of coffee. This tends to be right around 4:30/5:00am for me, especially when we aren’t too busy. I’ve gotten used to the night shift now, but it still can be tiring, especially when we have a long wait in between stations. Our stewards take very good care of us, and there is always something to snack on. Meals have been pretty tasty too, with plenty of fresh seafood. My favorite!

chart room

Junie, one of the NOAA Corps officers, working in the chart room on the navigational charts

On the top deck we have the lounge, a place where we hang out in between shifts. We have quite a good movie selection on board, but to be honest we haven’t had the time to take advantage of it. They’ve kept us very busy on our shifts so far, and today is one of the first days we’ve had a lot of downtime. Outside we also have some workout equipment- a bike and a rowing machine- to use on our off time. When you set the rowing machine out on deck, it’s almost like you are rowing right on the ocean!

dive

LT Harris, LT Miller, and Chris getting ready for the dive. Jeff and Reggie help them prepare.

The other day, 2 of the NOAA Corps officers, LT Harris and LT Miller (who is also the XO for the Oregon II) and 2 of the deck crew, Chris and Tim, got ready to go out on a dive. NOAA Corps officers need to do a dive once a month to keep up their certification. Sometimes they may need to fix something that is wrong with the boat, and other dives are to practice certain dive skills. They dove in the Flower Gardens, which is a national marine sanctuary with a wide diversity of sea life. I was hoping they’d see a whale shark, but no such luck. We stopped all operations for the duration of their dive.

Favorite Catch of the Day: Here are a few cool critters we pulled up today. In addition to these critters, we also started seeing some sea stars, lots of scallops, and a variety of shells.

angel shark

An angel shark

jelly soup

How about some jelly soup?
(there are about 500 jellies in there!)

large flounder

Southern Flounder

roundel skate

A roundel skate

Critter Query: This isn’t a critter question today, but rather a little bit of NOAA trivia. 

What is the oldest ship in the NOAA fleet and where is its home port?

Don’t forget to leave your answers in the comments below!

Andrea Schmuttermair: Eager Anticipation from Land-locked Colorado, June 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3, 2012

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico (between Galveston TX and Pascagoula, MS)
Date: June 7, 2012

Personal Log (pre-cruise)

What does

      +     +       =   ?

That’s right! Ms. Schmuttermair is heading to sea this summer as a participant in NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program!

Me and my forever hiking pal, Wesson

Hi! My name is Andrea Schmuttermair, and I am a 3-6 grade science teacher at The Academy in Westminster, CO.  I just finished up my first year in this position, and absolutely love engaging my students in important science concepts. Outside of the classroom, I can be found hiking, biking, and exploring the mountains of beautiful Colorado with my dog, Wesson.

Growing up in San Diego, CA, I would definitely consider myself an “ocean lover”. I grew up spending countless hours at the beach, checking out the sea life that washed up in the tide pools and snorkeling in La Jolla Cove. When I heard about the Teacher at Sea program, I knew it was right up my alley. Living in land-locked Colorado, I strive to bring both my love and knowledge of the ocean to my students. One of the most memorable teaching moments for me this year was seeing my 3rd graders have that “Aha!” moment when they realized what we do here in Colorado greatly affects our oceans, even though they are hundreds of miles away.

Now, in just a couple short weeks, I will  don my sea legs, leave dry land behind, and set sail on the Oregon II. The Oregon II, one of NOAA’s 11 fishery vessels, conducts fishery and marine research to help ensure that our fish population in the ocean is sustainable. Fishery vessels work with the National Marine Fisheries Service to provide important information about fish populations and what regulations about fishing practices need to be in place.

This summer, we will be conducting the summer groundfish survey, a survey that has been conducted for the past 30 years. This particular survey is conducted during the summer months between Alabama and Mexico. On this second leg of the survey, we will be sailing from Galveston, TX to the Oregon II’s home port of Pascagoula, MS.


What exactly is a groundfish survey, you ask? When I first received my acceptance letter, they informed me that this was the “critter cruise”, and I, being the critter lover, was thrilled! The main goal of this survey is to determine the abundance and distribution of shrimp by depth. In addition to collecting shrimp samples, we may also collect samples of bottomfish and crustaceans. It will also be important to collect meteorological data while out at sea. I am excited to see what kind of critters we pull up!

Ms. Schmuttermair LOVES critters, as seen here with Rosy the scorpion.

How will we be catching all of these critters and collecting data while out at sea? The Oregon II has a variety of devices to help collect information about the ocean, including bottom trawls and a CTD. The bottom trawl is a large net that is towed to collect shrimp and other bottom dwellers that will be sorted once the catch is brought aboard. A CTD (stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) is an instrument that can collect a wide variety of data, including temperature, salinity and oxygen content. I can’t wait to learn how some of these tools are operated!

What are my goals while out at sea?

  • To learn as much about the environment I am in as possible.
  • To ask the scientists plenty of questions about their research, and why collecting data is so important.
  • To take many pictures to bring back to my students
  • To get to know the crew on board, and how they came to work on the Oregon II
  • Not getting seasick!

Now it’s your turn: What would YOU like to know more about? Is it more about the animals we bring up in our trawls? Maybe it’s to learn more about life on the Oregon II, and specifications about this ship. Perhaps you’d like to know how to become a scientist with NOAA and work on board one of their many ships.  Leave your questions in the “Comments” section below (you are welcome to do this in any of my entries), and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the challenge questions, which from this point forward I will refer to as the “Critter Query”.

Sue Zupko: 11 Belts and Suspenders

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Sue Zupko
NOAA Ship: Pisces
Mission: Extreme Corals 2011; Study deep water coral and its habitat off the east coast of FL
Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States from off Mayport, FL to St. Lucie, FL
Date: June 7, 2011
Time: 10:00 EDT

Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: 27.3°N 79.6°W
Present weather: 4/8 Alto cumulus
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind Direction: 082°
Wind Speed: 4 kts
Surfacel Wave Height: 2-3 ft
Swell Wave Direction: 100° true
Swell Wave Height: 2-3 ft
Surface Water Temperature: 27.1°
Barometric Pressure: 1014.5mb
Water Depth: 80m
Salinity: 36.56 PSU
Wet/Dry Bulb: 27.2/24

This blog runs in chronological order.  If you haven’t been following, scroll down to “1 Introduction to my Voyage on the Pisces” and work your way back.

The first ROV we used on the Pisces for our Extreme Corals 2011 expedition is a custom designed craft called The Arc.  The crew, led by Dr. John Butler at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, has been developing The Arc since 2007 and launched it in January of 2011.  The Arc is ideal for monitoring fisheries, improving species identification, and developing new methods of studying fisheries.  It can withstand pressures and dive to 1000 meters (actually it dives to 600 meters since that is how long the tether is).  When on land, it weights 264 kg (580 pounds).  It has a rectangular prism shape with a length of 190 cm (75 in), width of 117 cm (46 in), and a height of 84 cm (33 in).  Just for fun, do this math quiz.

 The pilot sits on the ship and tells The Arc what to do.  It’s like playing a video game.  The pilot and his navigator coordinate movements, watching the computer screen with the ship’s and The Arc’s positions clearly showing.  The navigator is in constant communication with the officers on the bridge of the Pisces using a walkie-talkie to relay messages and information between the ship’s pilot and the ROV’s pilot.  The bridge also has a navigation screen to monitor the position of the ship relative to the ROV.  The fishermen on the deck running the winch also have  walkie-talkies so they can be told when to adjust the length of the cable to the ROV.  Communication is very important.

Front of ROV with headlights peering down.  Lots of black tubing and a yellow rectagle.

Front of ROV

The ROV is pretty neat.  It has headlights similar to robots from old Sci-Fi movies so it appears creature-like, but without the spindly legs.  Bright lights are needed because that’s about the only light that is available at great depths.  There are four LED lights with 2600 lumens each.  A 100 watt incandescent light bulb in your lamp has about 1750 lumens.  How many lumens total does the ROV produce?  Again, doing the math it would be 2600×4=10,400 lumens for the ROV.  This is roughly twice as much as your four lightbulbs at home.   Looking at the pictures from the bottom of the sea where it is normally dark and the tiny amount of light reaching the bottom makes everything look dark blue or black (see my earlier post on light in the ocean) we can see the colors almost as they would appear in a tidal pool.

ROV hanging from a cable being lowered into the water.

The ROV has many instruments to measure data and take photographs of what it “sees.”  It has a  CTD ( measures Conductivity, from which we calculate salinity,  Temperature, and Depth) as well as an oxygen sensor.  The best part is the laser beam system which measures things like a ruler.  With the help of the high definition camera, we were able to see the fish and invertebrates we were studying.  Using the laser beams, we could not only measure their size, but how far away they were.

Crab on sandy bottom with 4 red laser beam lights and one green

Cancer borealis

Note the red dots parallel to each other.  The top two red ones are always 20 cm apart and in this picture the two on the bottom are 40 cm apart.  The green light helps measure the distance to the crab.  Apparently this crab is about 20 cm across.  The lasers are fabulous for helping to keep things in perspective.

Yellow hose with some pink covering

ROV Tether

Dave Murfin, one of the ROV crew, was commenting to me about this picture after reading my blog.  He said the pink stuff was the foam jacket used for floatation cut off from an old ROV cable, and he thought it looked ugly.  However, given a new perspective of it, he thinks it looks cool.  The pink foam helps protect the tether on deck and if it scrapes across rocks on the ocean floor.  These ROV engineers added the large floats for the last 40 meters of the tether to keep it off the bottom and avoid becoming tangled in the coral and rocky habitats we are studying.

Spool with yellow tether

Spool of ROV tether

The tether for The Arc is wrapped on a spool for easy retrieval and transport.  It is 610 meters long and has three fiber optic cables in the center surrounded by insulation.  Around that are copper wires to conduct power from the ship, which is why they need a cable.  If it ran on a battery, like a submarine, it could be on the bottom alone and the scientists would have to wait for it to return to see what data was stored inside.  By using a tether, the scientists have much more control and can move the ship to study something of interest.  Although technology is rapidly advancing, it is not quite possible yet to create a vehicle which would do everything the scientists need.  Therefore, we continue to use the tether with the ROVs.

So, what do belts and suspenders have to do with the ROV?  Well, there is an old saying that you don’t rely on just one thing; you always have a backup.  If the belt on your pants doesn’t work, you have the suspenders to hold them up.  The Arc is a new system.  It is the belt and the system with 700+ dives to its credit is the spare (suspenders), just in case.   Technology.  It can be fabulous, but very frustrating when it gives you problems.  As a teacher, I have to plan for technology to be down as well.  I can’t have my whole lesson plan revolving around technology.  What if the internet is down that day?  Well, the students could get pretty wild without a back up plan.  As my mom used to say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”  What if the basket dropped?  You are out of luck.

As I mentioned before in my blog, these men and women are dedicated professionals.  They have lots of experience with this equipment and know the unexpected can happen.  If you forecast about the unexpected, you can be prepared.  I have always known that duct tape is a useful tool.  Bungee cords are useful.  Redundant cables, nuts, bolts, and spare parts are all on board.  Having the spare ROV was just good planning and good sense.  We have still been able to work our mission with some modifications.  Bravo to this bunch for continuing to make things happen despite the unexpected happening.  Because of them, we have some wonderful video and photographs to see what is happening on the coral reefs we have been studying.

Scott searching for cables in a box

Scott Mau searches for necessary cables

And the answer to the poll at the beginning of this post is…less than 2 knots.  They really prefer currents less than 0.5 knots.  This week we’ve launched in currents which were 3.5 knots.  Sometimes it caused problems, sometimes not.  Here are some pictures from the bottom.

Purple sponge which looks like a jaw opening from the bottom.

Purple barrel sponge

Pinkish purple sea fan on bottom

Sea Fan Octocoral

Sea floor with white whiplike strands

Black coral "forest", Stichopathes

Everyone keeps asking me if I have driven the ROV.  I asked the ROV crew about it and they all just smiled.  Although it looks like a video game, the ROV is not a toy and not to be given to a novice to control.  Considering I can’t get down the stream on Wii Fit without crashing into the side of the stream, they sure don’t want me at the helm of this incredible piece of technology.  With the ROV, there is no opportunity for a second chance if you crash and burn.  Therefore, I’ll leave the driving to them.

Men watching computer screens in control room piloting the ROV

Teamwork. Kevin is piloting the ROV with the help of John and Dave.