Kathleen Gibson, Conservation: Progress and Sacrifice, August 6, 2015

 NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Gibson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 8, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographic Area of the Cruise: Atlantic Ocean off the Florida and Carolina Coast
Date: Evening, Aug 6,2015

LAT   3035.997   N
LONG   8105.5449 W 

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots): 6.8
Sea Temp (deg C): 28.3
Air Temp (deg C):  28.9

I’ve now had the chance to see at least 9 different shark species, ranging from 1 kg to over 250 kg and I’ve placed tags on 4 of the larger sharks that we have caught.  These numbered tags are inserted below the shark’s skin, in the region of the dorsal fin.  A small piece from one of the smaller fins is also clipped off for DNA studies and we make sure to  record the tag number. If a shark happens to be recaptured in the future, the information gathered will be valuable for population and migration studies. The video below shows the process.

Tagging a Nurse Shark Photo: Ken Wilkinson
Tagging a nurse shark.
Photo: Ken Wilkinson


After checking that the tag is secure, I gave the shark a pat.  I agree with Tim Martin’s description that it’s skin feels like a roughed-up basketball.


We’ve had a busy couple of days.   The ship is further south now, just off the coast of Florida, and today we worked three stations. The high daytime temperatures and humidity make it pretty sticky on deck but there are others on board working in tougher conditions.

Many thanks to Jack Standfast for the engine room tour.
Many thanks to Jack Standfast for the engine room tour.

Yesterday, during a brief period of downtime, I took the opportunity to go down to the engine room. Temperatures routinely exceed 103 o F, and noise levels require hearing protection.  My inner Industrial Hygienist (my former occupation) kicked in and I found it fascinating; there is a lot going on is a small space.  My environmental science students won’t be surprised at my excitement learning

Here it is... The RO unit!
Here it is… The RO unit!

about the desalination unit (reverse osmosis) for fresh water generation and energy conversions propelling the vessel.

I know, I know… but it was really interesting.


Science and Technology – Conservation

Sustainability,  no matter what your  discipline is, refers to the wise use of resources with an eye toward the future. In environmental science we specifically talk about actively protecting the natural world through conservation of both species and habitat.   Each year when I prepare my syllabus for my AP Environmental Science course, I include the secondary title “Working Toward Sustainability”.  I see this as a positive phrase that establishes the potential for renewal while noting the effort required to effect change.

Sustainability is the major focus of NOAA Fisheries (National Marine Fisheries Service) as it is “responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources and their habitat.”  I’m sure that most readers have some familiarity with the term endangered species or even the Endangered Species Act, but the idea that  protection extends to habitats and essential resources may be new.

Getting the hook out of the big ones is equally challenging.
Getting the hook out of the big ones is equally challenging.

Regulation of  U.S. Fisheries

Marine fisheries in the United States are primarily governed by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, initially passed in 1976. Significant reductions in key fish populations were observed at that time and the necessity for improved regulatory oversight was recognized.  This act relied heavily on scientific research and was intended to prevent overfishing, rebuild stocks, and increase the long-term biological and economic viability of marine fisheries. It was this regulation that extended U.S. waters out to 200 nautical miles from shore.  Previously, foreign fleets could fish as close as 12 nautical miles from U.S

Two sandbar sharks on the line.
Two spinner sharks on the line.


Under this fisheries act, Regional Fishery Management Councils develop Fishery Management Plans (FMP) for most species (those found in nearby regional waters) which outline sustainable and responsible practices such as harvest limits, seasonal parameters, size, and maturity parameters for different species. Regional councils rely heavily on research when drafting the FMP, so the work done by NOAA Fisheries scientists and other researchers around the country is critical to the process.  Drafting a Fishery Management Plan for highly migratory fish that do not remain in U.S. waters is challenging and enforcement even more so.  Recall from a previous blog that great hammerheads are an example of a highly migratory shark.

Threats to Shark Populations and Conservation Efforts

Shark populations around the globe suffered significantly between 1975 and 2000, and for many species (not all sharks and less in the USA) the decline continues. This decline is linked to a number of factors.  Improved technology and the development of factory fishing allows for increased harvest of target species and a subsequent increase in by-catch (capture of non-target fish). Efficient vessels and refined fishing techniques reduced fish stocks at all levels of the food web, predator and prey alike.

More significantly, the fin fishing industry specifically targets sharks and typical finning operations remove shark fins and throw the rest of the shark overboard.  These sharks are often still living and death results from predation or suffocation as they sink.  Shark fins are a desirable food product in Asian dishes such as shark fin soup, and are an ingredient in traditional medicines.  They bring a high price on the international market and sharks with big fins are particularly valuable.

A scalloped hammerhead in the cradle. This was the fist shark I tagged.
A scalloped hammerhead in the cradle. This was the fist shark I tagged.

Sandbar (Carcharhinus plumbeus) and great hammerheads (Sphyrna mokarran) and scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini) that we have seen have very large dorsal and pectoral fins, which are particularly desirable to fin fisherman.  There are many groups, international and domestic, working to reduce fin fishing, but the high price paid for fins makes enforcement difficult. The Shark Finning Prohibition Act implemented in 2000, in combination with the Shark Protection Act of 2010 sought to reduce this practice.  These acts amended Magnusen-Stevens (1976) to require that all sharks caught in U.S. waters have their fins intact when they reach the shore.  U.S. flagged vessels in international waters must also adhere to this ban, therefore no fins should be present on board that are not still naturally attached. The meat of many sharks is not desirable due to high ammonia levels, so the ban on fin removal has dramatically reduced the commercial shark fishing industry in the United States. (Read about some good news below in my interview with Trey Driggers )

The video below featuring the Northwest Atlantic Shark cooperative summarizes these threats to shark populations.

It must also be mentioned that in the 25 years after the release of the book and film “Jaws”, fear and misunderstanding fueled an increase in shark hunting for sport. The idea that sharks were focused human predators with vendettas led many to fear the ocean and ALL sharks. In his essay “Misunderstood Monsters,” author Peter Benchley laments the  limited research available about sharks 40 years ago,  even stating that he would not have been able to write the same book with what we now know.  He spoke publicly about the need for additional research and educational initiatives to spread knowledge about ocean ecology.

Close up of our first cradled sandbar shark.
Close up of our first cradled sandbar shark. This is one of my favorite pictures.

The United States is at the forefront of shark research, conservation and education and in the intervening years, with the help of NOAA Fisheries and many other scientists, we have learned much about shark ecology and marine ecosystems. It’s certain that marine food webs are complex, but that complexity is not always fully represented in general science textbooks. For example, texts often state that sharks are apex predators (top of the food chain).  This applies to many

This one is pretty big for an Atlantic sharpnose. Photo Credit: Kristin Hannan
This one is pretty big for an Atlantic sharpnose.
Photo Credit: Kristin Hannan

species including great white and tiger sharks, but it doesn’t represent all species.  In truth, many shark species are actually mesopredators (mid level), and are a food source for larger organisms.  Therefore conservation efforts need to extend through all levels of the food web.

The Atlantic sharpnose  (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) and Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) are examples of mesopredators.  It was not uncommon for us to find the remains of and small Atlantic sharpnose on the hook with a large shark that it had attracted.

Sandbar shark with Atlantic sharpnose also on the line.
Sandbar shark with Atlantic sharpnose also on the line.


William  (Trey) Driggers – Field Research Scientist – Shark Unit Leader ( is there a III?)

Its a beautiful day on the aft deck. William" Trey" Driggers is the Lead Scientist of the Shark Unit. Photo: Ian Davenport
Its a beautiful day on the aft deck. William” Trey” Driggers is the Lead Scientist of the Shark Unit.
Photo: Ian Davenport

Trey is a graduate of Clemson University and earned his Ph.D at the University of South Carolina.  He’s been with NOAA for over 10 years and is the Lead Scientist of the Shark Unit, headquartered in Pascagoula, MS. His responsibilities include establishing and modifying experimental protocols and general oversight of the annual Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey. Trey has authored numerous scientific articles related to his work with sharks and is considered an expert in his field.  He is a field biologist by training and makes it a point to participate in at least one leg of the this survey each year.

Sandbar shark ( Carcharhinus plumbeus)
Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus)

I asked Trey if analysis of the data from the annual surveys has revealed any significant trends among individual shark populations. He immediately cited the increased number of sandbar sharks and tied that to the closure of the fin fisheries. Approximately 20 years ago, the Sandbar shark population off of the Carolina and Florida coasts was declining. Trey spoke with an experienced fisherman who recalled times past when Sandbar sharks were abundant. At the time Trey was somewhat skeptical of the accuracy of the recollection — there was no data to support the claim.  Today the population of Sandbar sharks is robust by comparison to 1995 levels, and the fin removal legislation is likely a major factor.  Having the numbers to support this statement illustrates the value of a longitudinal study.

Trey notes that it’s important for the public to know of the positive trends like increases in Sandbar shark populations and to acknowledge that this increase has come at a cost.  The reduction and/or closure of fisheries have had radiating effects on individuals, families and communities.  Fishing is often a family legacy, passed down through the generations, and in most fishing communities there is not an easy replacement. In reporting rebounding populations we acknowledge the sacrifices made by these individuals and communities.

Personal Log- Last posting from sea. 

Thirty minutes before leaving Pascagoula we were informed that the V-Sat was not working and that we would likely have no internet for the duration of the cruise.

Pascagoula at night.
Pascagoula at night.

We had a few minutes to send word to our families and in my case, TAS followers. I think most of us were confident a fix would happen at some point, but we’re still here in the cone of silence. It’s been challenging for all on board and makes us all aware of how dependent we are on technology  for communication and support.  I’ve gotten a few texts, which has been a pleasant surprise. One tantalizing text on the first day said “off  to the hospital  (to give birth)”, and then no follow-up text for weeks.  That was quite a wait!  I can imagine how it was aboard ship in times past when such news was delayed by months—or longer.  I was looking forward to sharing photos along the way, so be prepared for lot of images all at once when we get to shore!  As for my students, while it would have been nice to share with you in real time, there is plenty to learn and plenty of time when we finally meet.

Captain Dave Nelson
Captain Dave Nelson

I’d like to thank Dave Nelson, the Captain of the Oregon II, who greeted me each day saying  “How’s it going Teach?” and for always making me feel welcome. Thank you also to all of those working in the Teacher at Sea Program office for making this experience possible.  Being a part of the Shark Longline Survey makes me feel like I won the TAS lottery.  I’m sure every TAS feels the same way about their experience.

Special thanks to Kristin Hannan, Field Party Chief Extraordinaire, for answering my endless questions (I really am a lifelong learner…), encouraging me to take on new challenges, and for her boundless energy which was infectious. Sharks are SOOO cool.

Here’s a final shout out to the day shift–12 pm-12 am–including the scientists, the Corps, deck crew and engineers for making a great experience for me.  Ian and Jim – It was great sitting out back talking. I learned so much from the two of you and I admire your work.

Ian Davenport, Jim Nienow and me relaxing on the aft deck between stations. Photo: Trey Driggers
Ian Davenport, Jim Nienow, and me relaxing on the aft deck between stations. Photo: Trey Driggers

And, to all on board the Oregon II, I admire your commitment to this important work and am humbled by the personal sacrifices you make to get it done.

Day shift operating like clockwork Photo Credit: Ian Davenport
Day shift operating like clockwork.
Photo Credit: Ian Davenport
Awesome day shift ops. Photo Credit: Ian Davenport
Awesome day shift ops. Getting it done!
Photo Credit: Ian Davenport

This has been one of the hardest and most worthwhile experiences I’ve ever had. It was exhilarating and exhausting, usually at the same time.  I often encourage my students to take on challenges and to look for unique opportunities, especially as they prepare for college.  In applying to the TAS program I took my own advice and, with the support of my family and friends, took a risk.  I couldn’t have done it without you all.  This experience has given me a heightened respect for the leaps my students have made over the years and a renewed commitment to encouraging them to do so.  Who knows, they may end up tagging sharks someday. Safe Sailing Everyone.

Sunset over over the Atlantic Ocean. August 5, 2015
Sunset over over the Atlantic Ocean. August 5, 2015


Learn more about what’s going on with Great White sharks by listening to the following NOAA podcast:
Hooked On Sharks

A few more photos…

The ones that got away...
The ones that got away…  It took something mighty big to bend the outer hooks.

 It took teamwork to get a hold of this silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis).

silkyondecksilky measuresilky hold


Carmen Andrews: The People and Places Aboard the R/V Savannah, July 19, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Fernandina Beach, Florida
Date: July 17, 2012

Latitude:      30 ° 28.53   N
Longitude:   80 ° 11.73’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 27.6° C (81.68°F)
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wind Direction: from the Southwest
Surface Water Temperature: 27.88 °C (82.18°F)
Weather conditions: Overcast

Science and Technology Log

There are 16 people aboard this fisheries survey cruise. There are seven crew members and nine scientists, including me. The work can be difficult, and at times it is dangerous. The accommodations aren’t spacious and the work schedules can be long: 12 hours on and 12 hours off for the scientists. The boat’s crew has 4- hour on and off work schedules. Two men at a time are on watch for each of six 4- hour shifts.

I got to know everyone on the R/V Savannah during my time on the survey cruise. Here are some interviews that I conducted with scientists and crew. Their jobs — and the life choices that led them to do these jobs — are equally impressive.

The Scientists

Shelly Falk

Shelly making modifications to a fish trap
Marine technician Shelly Falk, making modifications to a fish trap

1. What is your job title and what do you do?

I work as a Marine Technician at MARMAP. It is part of  the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. On this cruise I catch fish and work them up in the wet lab. In the past, I have worked with video technology – setting it up and maintaining it. I usually work with something called an SCS program, which collects time, location and depth of fish sites.

2. Where are you from originally?

I’m from Ilion, New York. It’s a little town upstate.

3. Where do you live now?

I live in Charleston, South Carolina.

4. What background and skills are needed for your job?

After high school I took my core academic classes at Herkimer Community College in Herkimer, New York. Then I transferred to Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, near Myrtle Beach. That’s where I earned my B.S. degree in Marine Science. There were many field experiences. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources requires a bachelor’s degree for this work. I needed experience dissecting fish. Learning to gather video data is a new skill that requires on the job training.

5. Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

Marine science gave me an overview of physical oceanography.  At Coastal Carolina I took courses in Marine Chemistry, Marine Biology and Marine Mammals. These courses also gave me an overview of these fields. My favorite class was Biology of Sharks, because I went to Bimini in the Bahamas for ten days as part of this course. That was the best experience leading up to this job.

6. What do you like best about your job?

I like the field experience and the hands on tasks of being at sea. I also like the variety of this kind of work and not knowing what I’ll find every day. Every day is a new experience. It’s never the same.

David Berrane

Fisheries Biologist David Berrane
Fisheries biologist David Berrane, on the rear deck of the R/V Savannah

1.  What is your job title and what do you do?

I am a Fisheries Biologist and contractor for NOAA, in Beaufort, North Carolina. On this cruise I do fish survey work and dissection. That’s known as conducting field sampling exercises. The samples I dissect are sent to MARMAP in Charleston, SC. Back in my Beaufort lab I analyze collected samples using video. One of my most important responsibilities is maintaining equipment and supplies. I am also responsible for purchasing supplies.

2.  Where are you from originally?

I’m from Yorktown, Virginia.

3.  Where do you live now?

I live in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

4.  What background and skills are needed for your job?

A person doing this job needs to be interested in being outside in the wild world and nature. It’s difficult and challenging work. You need experience operating in strenuous conditions. I spent my youngest years in Poquoson, Virginia — living near the water — crabbing and fishing. I’ve been handling wildlife since I was old enough to catch it. I went to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. I majored in Environmental Studies. Before working in this position I was a camp counselor and assistant park ranger.

5.  Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

I had a good teacher for algebra. He would put a problem on the board every Monday. He gave us extra credit if we could solve it by Friday. I got interested in science when I finally came around to realizing science is the world around us. I had started college as a business administration major and found I didn’t like it. I changed my major to environmental science after visiting Puerto Rico and seeing a scientist working in the rainforest. I decided that I wanted to do that.

6.  What do you like best about your job?

I like going out and doing the field work. I like being on a team of good people and having fun. Seeing the traps come up and seeing new fish is like being a kid on the canal bank again, catching fish. I’m still interested in seeing new kinds of fish – the polka dot batfish were some fish that I saw for the first time on this trip.

Polka Dot Batfish
Polka Dot Batfish

The Crew

Mike Kruitwagen

Marine chef, Mike Kruitwagen in the galley
Marine chef, Mike Kruitwagen in the galley

1. What is your job title and what do you do?

I am a Marine Chef. I create good food to make everyone happy. My goal is to provide healthy, diverse meals. I boost morale, and give the scientists and crew something to look forward to. My kitchen is limited on this boat, but I try to make everything from scratch.

2.  Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Bridgeton, New Jersey.

3. Where do you live now?

I live in Houston, Texas.

4.  What background and skills are needed for your job?

Someone needs a passion for cooking and boats to do this job. You need to be able to adapt. I got my training in culinary arts from the San Diego Culinary Institute in San Diego, California. I have been preparing meals on boats for six years. Before that I worked as a caterer and personal chef.

5.  Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

I didn’t realize back in school that measuring and converting amounts would be so important to my work. Multiplication and division are very important to increasing and decreasing servings for the number of people that I prepare meals for. I also needed to learn about chemistry of cooking – how acids and bases affect cooking – like when to use baking soda or baking powder.

6.  What do you like best about your job?

The best part of my job is all the travel. I’ve been to Hawaii, Southeast Asia, San Diego to Seattle and places in between. I started in New Jersey and now I’m in Savannah, Georgia. I like meeting new people and having new experiences. Every day is a learning experience.

Raymond Sweatte

R/V Savannah Captain Raymond Sweatte making a log entry
R/V Savannah Captain Raymond Sweatte making a log entry

1. What is your job title and what do you do?

I am the Marine Supervisor and Captain of the R/V Savannah. I begin preparing for a cruise like this by communicating with the chief scientist. We discuss the equipment that will be loaded – bait, ice, freezers. We also discuss the objectives of the cruise and the locations of fish traps. I make sure that provisions, fuel and potable water is aboard. Very importantly, I check to be sure all safety equipment is aboard and in good working order. The top priority of every cruise is safety, and then I focus on the science objectives being met. I try to serve the scientists as much as possible, by making sure that the boat’s crew is available to support the science project.

2.  Where are you from originally?

I’m from Beaufort, South Carolina.

3.  Where do you live now?

I live on Wilmington Island, Georgia.

4.  What background and skills are needed for your job?

There is more than one way to be a captain – one way is to attend a Merchant Mariners’ Academy, and then going to sea to get experience in all areas of seamanship. My route involved working on a boat and then going to the Maritime Professional Academy in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I have a USCG 1600 Ton Masters License. The Coast Guard licenses mates and captains to operate vessels. The licensing goes from OUPV or Operator of Uninspected Power Vessel, who can take up to six people on a vessel, up to an Unlimited License , which would license a person to captain a vessel like an ocean liner or super tanker.

5. Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

I enjoyed marine science courses. I always loved math and find that I need algebra and geometry. I liked science too.  I had to learn how a compass works. The boat has many simple machines like pulleys – they are called blocks on a boat. I have to understand mechanical advantage. There are also hydraulic levers called A-frames and J-frames to move loads in and out of the boat. I have to do stability calculations to balance loads with respect to the center of gravity, so the boat isn’t top heavy. I also have to calculate be sure there isn’t too much weight at the front or back of the boat.

6. What do you like best about your job?

I like being out at sea. I enjoy the peacefulness of the sea. Everyone works together with the same goal – that’s the only way to manage. We sometimes spend more time with crew than our families. We need lots of give and take. I’m also able to meet many scientific groups with missions that will hopefully help environmental conditions. I like the idea of being involved with these projects.

Pete Casserleigh

First Mate Pete Casserleigh piloting the R/V Savannah
First Mate Pete Casserleigh piloting the R/V Savannah

 1. What is your job title and what do you do?

I am the first mate of the R/V Savannah. I maintain records of safety inspections and deck equipment maintenance. I have about ten binders on a shelf that store the information that I have to read and record. John Bichy, the marine tech and I do this work together. I also manage the fueling system that runs the twin diesel engines.These engines power the boat.

2.  Where are you from originally?

I’m from Metairie, Louisiana. I moved to Dallas, Texas in high school.

3.  Where do you live now?

I live in Guyton, Georgia. It’s 30 miles west of Savannah

4.  What background and skills are needed for your job?

Even though I would still like to eventually finish college, in the marine industry you don’t need a college degree. Licenses are the qualifications that are needed.

After high school I went to Delgado Community College in New Orleans. I was attending college with a general studies major when we were attacked on September 11, 2001. I left college and  joined the Coast Guard because of 9/11. I was stationed in Kauai, Hawaii.  I served as a boatswains mate on the cutter, Kittiwake for three years. I was also quartermaster of the watch, assistant rescue and survival petty officer, and I did some other assignments that dealt with rescue and safety. When I was transferred to Savannah I was the boarding officer, which is a law enforcement position. I got my captain’s license in the Coast Guard. The sea time allowed me to get a 100 ton masters license. Since leaving the coast guard, I’ve worked for ferry services that ran out of Savannah to surrounding islands. I also worked as a ships safety inspector before taking the job I have now. My safety training and experience have led this job.

5.  Can you remember any math and science courses that were helpful in preparing you for this job?

In school, math and science were the courses I enjoyed the most. I liked biology too. Math plays an important role in chart plotting, conversions, and navigation. For example, fueling is measured in inches. I have to use measurements in the metric system and the conventional measuring system. Depths can be measured in meters and fathoms. Algebraic reasoning is essential to pass certification and licensing tests.

6.  What do you like best about your job?

Being on the water is something I have always wanted to do – I love being out on the water. My office is a boat. I enjoy all the fringe benefits of being on the ocean – the sunsets, the fishing — and knowing that working on a research vessel is going to a good cause. The tough part is leaving my family.

The R/V Savannah’s Other Science Work Area

There are two laboratories on board. The wet lab activities were described in the previous post.

The dry lab contains numerous technological tools that give constant information on several screens. One of these shows CTD data – water conductivity, salinity, temperature, in addition to several other readings. There screens that show the boat’s position and course settings. Others show current velocities in the ocean column. And very importantly, there are screens that show weather conditions around the boat. This data includes wind speed and direction, air temperature, among other weather data. The dry lab also stores many the video cameras that get submerged when the traps are deployed to the ocean bottom. There are battery charges and data card readers on the lab benches.

Dry lab showing video gear
Dry lab with video gear
Video captured near fish trap
Monitor showing video captured near fish trap
Monitor showing depth and current velocities in the water column
Monitor showing depth and current velocities in the water column

Personal Log

Here are some pictures that show what my life was like aboard the R/V Savannah for two weeks:

My bunk
My bunk
The science head a.k.a bathroom
One of the two science heads a.k.a bathrooms
My state room, shared with two other female scientists
My state room, shared with two other female scientists
Gag grouper and meatloaf dinner
Gag grouper and meatloaf dinner
Wahoo dinner
Wahoo dinner
Black sea bass and stuff pork roast dinner
Black sea bass and stuff pork roast dinner
My favorite pic of me
My favorite pic of me (courtesy of Pete) — after setting the autopilot for the homeward course, and pushing the throttles forward to power up the twin Caterpillar diesels, I was feeling really good sitting in the captain’s seat.

Kristy Weaver: Career Day at Sea, June 7, 2012 (After the Journey)

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristy Weaver
Aboard The R/V Savannah
May 23 – June 1, 2012

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Location: Back in Jersey
Date: June 7, 2012

You can be anything you want to be when you grow up!  While I was on the R/V Savannah there were two main types of jobs that people were doing.  There were the scientists and the crew of the ship.  If you think you might like to be a biologist or work on a ship someday these videos may help you to learn more about these jobs.

I would like to introduce you to some of the new friends I made on the ship:


Meet Dan- Marine Biology College Student


Meet David- Fisheries Biologist with NOAA

Meet Warren- Fisheries Biologist with NOAA


Meet Zeb- Fisheries Biologist with NOAA

Meet Stephen- Wildlife Biologist with South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources

Meet Jennifer: Recent Graduate of The College of Charleston and new full time employee at South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources


Meet Pete- The First Mate

Meet Captain Raymond

Meet John- Marine Tech

Lindsay Knippenberg: Women are taking over the Dyson! September 15, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lindsay Knippenberg
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4 – 16, 2011

Mission: Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: September 15, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 55.41 N
Longitude: -167.98
Wind Speed: 25.86 kts
Wave Height: 10 – 13ft with some larger wind-blown waves
Surface Water Temperature: 8.7 C
Air Temperature: 8.7 C

Science and Technology Log

Real women aren't afraid of piles of jellyfish.
Real women aren't afraid of piles of jellyfish.

I will admit that before I met the scientists and crew onboard the Dyson I had imagined that the majority of the people on the boat would be men. I had wrongly gone along with the stereotypical view that scientists, engineers, fishermen, and the crew onboard ships were mostly men. Therefore when I finally met the people who I would be sailing with for the next two weeks, I was surprised and very happy to see that women had taken over the Dyson. For example, of the 12 scientists onboard the Dyson for this cruise, 9 are women including the Chief Scientist who is in charge of us all.

The seabird observers looking for birds.
The seabird observers looking for birds.

On the ship there are also NOAA Corps officers. The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. Officers can be found operating one of NOAA’s 18 ships or 12 aircraft to provide support to meet NOAA’s missions. Their duties and areas of operations can range from launching a weather balloon at the South Pole, conducting fishery surveys in Alaska, maintaining buoys in the tropical Pacific, to flying P-3 Hurricane Hunter airplanes into hurricanes. I have met several NOAA Corps officers while I have been at NOAA and they have mostly been men. I was excited to see that of the six officers onboard the Dyson three are women.

NOAA Corps Officers - Rene, Sarah, and Amber taking a break from their duties to pose for a picture.
NOAA Corps Officers - Rene, Sarah, and Amber taking a break from their duties to pose for a picture.

There are also several other women onboard the Dyson and my mission today was to meet some of these amazing women and interview them to see what they do onboard the Dyson and what motivated them to choose this as their career. Let’s meet them:

Name: Ellen Martinson

Hometown: Juneau, AK

Position: Research Fisheries Biologist and Chief Scientist for Leg 2 of BASIS

Ellen showing off a tiny squid that she was measuring on the scale.
Ellen showing off a tiny squid that she was measuring on the scale.

Ellen has always loved solving puzzles and has had a curiosity for nature and how it works. That love of nature and problem solving led her to become a fisheries biologist. She has worked at NOAA since 1995 and she does research to support the management of federally-controlled commercial fisheries. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate and is doing her research and dissertation on developing indexes of ecosystem health in the Bering Sea that includes climate and fish growth factors. Pollock is her species of choice and she is looking at the success rate of Age 0 (zero) pollock surviving their first year to become Age 1 pollock as a prediction of the future health of the commercial pollock fishery.

What does she like the best about her job? She gets to work with a variety of people ranging from scientists and fisheries managers to fishermen and even teachers like me. She listens to their problems and ideas and then looks for the important questions to address all of those viewpoints. She also gets to travel to a lot of cool places, learn new things from a variety of topics, and her job is often an adventure. How did she get such a cool job? Going to college is the first step. Ellen has a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and a master’s degree in Fisheries Resources. She is currently finishing up her Ph.D. at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and then she will be Dr. Martinson.

Name: Kerri Curtin

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Position: Able-Bodied Seawoman

Kerri tying up the trawl net after pulling in a big haul of salmon.
Kerri tying up the trawl net after pulling in a big haul of salmon.

Kerri is one tough cookie. All week I have been amazed by her as she shuffled around the back deck pulling in fishing nets, lifting heavy science equipment, and tying all different types of knots. She is the only able-bodied seawoman onboard and her responsibilities include various deck maintenance jobs, setting up the nets for fishing and bringing in the catch, tying and untying the boat when we are at port, serving time on the bridge as an observer, and helping to launch the small boats. Her favorite part about her job is that she gets to go to work at sea and be outside in the fresh air. She also gets to travel to unique places and see the world. So far her favorite place that she has been to are the Greek Isles. How do you get a job like this? Kerri went to school in Maryland at Seafarers International and did an apprenticeship program. Through that program she gained the basic training necessary to get an entry-level position on a boat. Since then, she has continued her training and has taken several other Coast Guard certification tests. All her time at sea and trainings have paid off because she just received her 3rd Mates license.

Name: Amber Payne

Hometown: Fenton, MI

Position: Navigation Officer

Amber is in control of the Oscar Dyson as the trawl net is being brought in.
Amber is in control of the Oscar Dyson as the trawl net is being brought in.

Amber is a NOAA Corps officer onboard the Dyson. Her job as the Navigation Officer is to plot all the routes that the ship takes on paper and electronically. She also updates all the charting publications and she gets to stand watch on the bridge every day for eight hours. When she is on watch she is responsible for driving the ship and is in charge of all the operations. Amber has been onboard the Dyson for a year and a half and has several favorite things about her job. She likes that being on a ship in the Bering Sea is an adventure that many people may not get experience. She also likes the authority and trust that she is given to correctly navigate and drive the ship when she is all alone on the bridge. How did Amber get from Michigan to navigating a ship through the Bering Sea? Amber went to a four-year college in St. Petersburg, FL and studied Marine Biology. While in college she joined the search and rescue team and learned a lot about driving small boats. She knew that she wanted to go into a career that included both boats and science and her college advisor told her about the NOAA Corps. She applied to the NOAA Corps after graduation, was accepted, spent 4 months in basic trainings with the NOAA Corps, and then was placed on a ship. She loves that she gets to be a part of scientific research going on in the Bering Sea and she gets to drive boats all as a part of her job.

Name: Wendy Fellows

Hometown: Liberty Lake, WA

Position: Junior Engineer

Wendy has a lot of screens and buttons to monitor when she is on watch.
Wendy has a lot of screens and buttons to monitor when she is on watch.

When I first met Wendy she was sitting in the galley with the other engineers wearing her cover-ups from working in the engine room and I thought to myself, this girl is pretty cool. There aren’t too many female marine engineers and Wendy has a great story. When she graduated from high school she didn’t know what to do. She wanted to see the world so she took a job working in the kitchen of an oil tanker. She traveled all over the world and learned a lot about the different jobs on the ship throughout her journey. Her dad had been a marine engineer and she liked the work that the engineers did, so she went to school at the Seattle Maritime Academy to learn the trade. As a part of a year-long program she became a qualified member of the engineering department and did an internship onboard the Oscar Dyson. She liked it so much that she decided to stay on the Dyson as a Junior Engineer. Her job on board the Dyson is to basically make sure the ship is working properly. She tests emergency batteries, monitors the generators and pumps, services the small boats, fuels the ship when it is in port, fixes random things that break around the ship, and tests the drinking water. Her favorite part about her job is when she gets to use the welding skills she learned onboard the Dyson to fabricate things for the ship or scientists.

Name: Kathy Hough

Hometown: Kodiak, AK

Position: Senior Survey Technician

Kathy is busy on the hero deck connecting plankton nets to be lowered over the side.
Kathy is busy on the hero deck connecting plankton nets to be lowered over the side.

As the senior survey technician onboard the Dyson, Kathy has the responsibility of working with the scientists to insure that the collection of their data goes smoothly. She helps the scientists to collect their data by lowering and monitoring the CTD, helping with the various nets, and making sure that all of the equipment in the labs are functioning properly. She also collects data of her own. As the Dyson cruises around the Bering Sea, Kathy is in charge of collecting the weather and oceanographic data that is sent to scientists and posted on the NOAA Ship Tracker website. What does she like best about her job? Kathy likes the diversity of operations that she gets to be a part of. The science teams that are doing research onboard the Dyson only stay for 2 – 4 weeks and then another team gets on and might be doing a completely different project. As the science teams constantly rotate, Kathy stays on and helps with a variety of projects and different types of scientists. Does this job sound cool to you? To get an entry-level position as a survey technician you need a bachelor’s degree in science or mathematics. Kathy’s background is in ecology/biology, but a background in engineering, mathematics, or chemistry can be helpful too. If you want to move up to be a senior survey technician like Kathy, you need time and experience working on boats and with the instruments the scientists use for their research.

Name: Rachelle Sloss

Hometown: Juneau, AK

Position: Lab/Research Technician

Rachelle with a huge king salmon from one of our hauls.

Rachelle and I have gotten to know each other pretty well these last couple of weeks as we sorted through piles of fish and did a lot of counting to fifty. Rachelle just graduated from college in May and for the past two summers she has worked in the NOAA labs in Juneau as a lab/research technician. She works in a lab that is studying bioenergetics. While onboard the Dyson, she has been collecting and sorting zooplankton and looking for specific species of krill that will be used for bioenergetic experiments back in Juneau. She has also been collecting juvenile fish species like pollock and herring for similar experiments. While at the lab back in Juneau, Rachelle does lipid class analyses of fish to look at the energy content of their lipids by season. Does this sound like a cool summer job? Rachelle thinks that it is because she gets to work with some really cool people, she is gaining great experience for the future, and she got to spend two weeks on the Bering Sea seeing tons of species of fish. What lies ahead for Rachelle? She got a degree in Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology from Whitman College and is thinking about becoming a high school science teacher. For now she is headed to a much warmer South America and will be traveling around for the next couple of months on her next adventure.

Personal Log

We finally made it back to land and now we are all heading off in opposite directions towards home.
We finally made it back to land and now we are all heading off in opposite directions towards home.

By now I am safely back to my warm living room and I owe all of the women above and the men of the Oscar Dyson my deepest gratitude. I had an incredible adventure on the Bering Sea and I learned so much. Even though we had some rough seas, I still loved seeing all the different fish that we caught in our nets and I loved being a part of a research project that has so much importance to our fisheries. The NOAA Corps officers, crew, and scientists were all incredible teachers and had a lot of patience as they took time out of their day to answer all of my questions. I can’t wait to share my experiences with my students and other teachers and I couldn’t be more thankful for the experiences that I gained as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.

Bruce Taterka, July 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Bruce Taterka
NOAA Ship: Oregon II 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey 
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico 
Date: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 

It’s All Connected

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Time: 0015 (12:15 am)
Position: Latitude = 28.13.24 N; Longitude = 094.15.51 W
Present Weather: Cloud cover 20%
Visibility: 6-8 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.4 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 29.6 C; Wet bulb = 25.7 C
Barometric Pressure: 1011.96 mb

Science and Technology Log“IT’S ALL CONNECTED.” If you took my Environmental Science class I hope you know what I’m talking about. Everything in an ecosystem is connected to everything else. This is a guiding principle of studying and managing ecosystems. I saw this last summer when I helped investigate the relationship between plants, caterpillars, parasitic wasps and climate change in the cloud forest of Ecuador. I see it in the relationship between human development, deer, invasive plants and native plants at the Schiff Nature Preserve in New Jersey.

I’m seeing it now in the Gulf of Mexico. Obviously, the ocean environment is connected to human activities – the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill makes that abundantly clear. But there are also countless natural connections, and much less obvious human impacts, that must be understood and assessed if the Gulf ecosystem is to be protected. Commercial fish and shrimp stocks can only be sustained through a careful understanding of the human impact and natural connections in the Gulf.

Drilling platform off the coast of Texas.

That’s why we identify and count every organism we bring up in a trawl. Sometimes we get 50 or more different species in one catch, and we don’t just count the commercially important ones like red snapper and shrimp. We count the catfish, eel, starfish, sea squirts, hermit crabs and even jellyfish we haul in. Why? Because even though these organisms might seem “unimportant” to us, they might be important to the red snapper and shrimp. They also might be important to the organisms the red snapper and shrimp depend on. And even if they’re not directly important, studying them might tell us important things about the health of the Gulf.

Brittany Paul, Fisheries Biologist
Brittany Palm, Fisheries Biologist

I’m learning a lot about this from the incredibly knowledgeable marine biologists in the science party. Brittany Palm is a Research Fishery Biologist from NOAA’s Southeast Fishery Science Center (SEFSC) in Pascagoula, MS, and leader of the day watch on this leg of the Oregon II’s Summer Groundfish Survey. Brittany is working on her M.S. on a fish called croaker, Micropogonias undulatus, studying its stomach contents to better understand its position in the food web. Croaker is not an economically important species, but it lives in the same shallow sea floor habitat as shrimp so shrimpers end up hauling in a huge amount of croaker as bycatch. So, when the shrimping industry declined in 2003-2004, the croaker population exploded. Since croaker are closely associated with shrimp habitat and the shrimp fishery, we might gain important insights by studying croaker population and understanding what they eat, and what eats them.

Alonzo Hamilton, Fisheries Biologist
Alonzo Hamilton, Fisheries Biologist

Alonzo Hamilton is another NOAA Fishery Biologist from the SEFSC. Alonzo explained to me that there’s a lot to be learned by looking at the whole ecosystem, not just the 23 commercial species that are managed in the Gulf. For example, many of the crabs we commonly catch in our trawls are in the genus Portunas, known as “swimming crabs.” Portunas species normally live on the sea floor, but when severe hypoxia sets in, Portunas crabs can be found at the surface, trying to escape the sever oxygen depletion that typically takes place at the bottom of the water column.

Portunas spinicarpus
Sean Lucey is a Research Fishery

Biologist from NOAA’s Northeast Fishery Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He’s working on the Oregon IIright now to support the SEFSC because of huge manpower effort demanded by the oil spill. Sean explained that the NEFSC has been conducting its groundfish survey annually since 1963, making it the longest-running study of its kind. Originally the survey only looked at groundfish population, but as our understanding of ecosystem dynamics increased over time, more and more factors were analyzed. Now NEFSC looks at sex, age, stomach contents and many other species besides groundfish to obtain a more complete picture of the food web and the abiotic factors that affect groundfish. NEFSC even measures primary production in the marine ecosystem as one tool to estimate the potential biomass of groundfish and other species at higher trophic levels.

Andre DeBose, Fisheries Biologist
Andre DeBose, Fisheries Biologist

Andre DeBose is a NOAA Fishery Biologist from the SEFSC and the Field Party Chief for the Summer Groundfish Survey. In addition to leading the science team on the Oregon II, Andre is conducting research on Rough Scad, Trachurus lathami, an important food species for red snapper and important bait fish for red snapper fisherman. By gaining a better understanding of the relationship between Red Snapper and its prey we can better understand, and better manage, the ecosystem as a whole.

There’s a lot of information to be learned beyond just counting fish. By taking a wide look at the marine environment we can better understand how the whole ecosystem functions. This enables us not only to be more informed in setting sustainable catch levels, but also enables us to identify and respond to things that contribute to hypoxia and other problems that degrade habitat and reduce populations. It’s all connected.