Justin Garritt: What is NOAA and Why Are We Sailing? September 3, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Garritt
(Almost) aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
September 3, 2018

Geographical area of cruise: Seattle, Washington to Newport, Oregon
Date: September 3, 2018

Today was day two and my first full day on-board. I learned so much about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). I learned about what our ship, Bell M. Shimada’s, mission was this cruise. I started to get acquainted with all the impressive things the ship has to offer. However, what I enjoyed most was meeting all the wonderful people who spend their lives on-board for months (or even years) serving us. Every single professional was warm and welcome and answered the thousand questions I asked today with a smile. It was an amazing day because of the crew and scientists who already made me feel at home.

I was unaware of what NOAA did before joining the Teacher at Sea Program. Today’s post is all about NOAA, the ship I am sailing on, and the mission ahead the next two weeks.


My home for the next two weeks. . . NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

What is NOAA? Before I can get in to details about my journey, here is some information about the governmental agency that welcomes Teacher At Sea applicants with open arms.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an American scientific agency that focuses on the conditions of the oceans, major waterways, and the atmosphere. It was formed in 1970 and as of last year had over 11,000 employees. NOAA exists to monitor earth systems through research and analysis. It uses the research to assess and predict future changes of these earth systems and manage our precious resources for the betterment of society, the economy, and environment.

One component of NOAA studies our oceans. They ensure ocean and coastal areas are safe, healthy, and productive. One of the many ships that are used to study the oceanic environment (which I am fortunate to sail on these next two weeks) is NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. This ship is stationed on the west coast with forty-plus crew who work endlessly to make this ship run so NOAA scientists can perform important environmental studies. Every person I have met the past two days has been remarkable and you will hear more about them throughout my future blogs.


Why Are We Sailing? NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada is one of dozens of NOAA ships that sail the ocean every day in order to research vital information about our environment. Every sailing has clear objectives that help achieve the goals that the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association sets. On NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada, hake fish surveys are completed every other year and research is done during off years. Fish surveys determine estimates of certain fish species. This vessel sails the entire west coast of the United States and then works with their Canadian counterparts to provide an estimate of a variety of species. NOAA uses this information to provide the fisherman with rules governing the amount of species that can be fished. During research years, like the one I currently am on, the vessels have different objectives that support their work.

For this leg, the ship has three main objectives:

#1: Pair trawling to determine net size impact: Evaluate the differences between the US 32mm nets and the CANADIAN 7mm nets. The questions being asked are does the differences in size of the two nets affect the size, characteristics, or species of fish being caught during surveys.

The reason this research is needed is because currently the Canadians and the United States have always used different size liners on the far tip of the net while surveying. The purpose of this experiment is to eliminate the possibility that there is bias in the data between the two countries when surveying their respective territories with slightly different net sizes.The hope is that the different liners do not affect the  size, characteristics, or species of fish being caught during surveys.


#2: Comparing old acoustic equipment with new equipment: An acoustic transducer is a highly technological piece of equipment used on board scientific and commercial fishing vessels around the word. It emits a brief, focused pulse of sound into the water. If the sound encounters objects that are of different density than the surrounding medium, such as fish, they reflect some sound back toward the source. On-board N

OAA Ship Bell M. Shimada these echoes provide information on fish size, location, and abundance. NOAA is modernizing all of their acoustic equipment to a higher range of frequency. This is equivalent to when televisions went from black and white to color. This will hopefully allow scientists to collect more precise and accurate data.

The second goal of this cruise is to determine the differences in the frequency levels of both the new and the old technology. The goal in the long run is to reduce the number of surveying trolls needed to determine the population of fish, and instead, use this highly advanced acoustics equipment instead. It would be a more efficient and environmentally smarter option for the future.

Multibeam Sonar

An illustration of a ship using multi-beam sonar. Image courtesy of NOAA

#3: Using oceanography to predict fish presence: During the night time, scientific studies continue. The ship never sleeps. Depending on where we saw and caught fish during the day time experiments, the captain will bring the boat back to that same area to determine what water characteristics were present. The goal is to find the correlation between increased hake presence and certain water characteristics.

Throughout the next two weeks I will take you behind the scenes on how the ship is collecting data and using the data to create a hypothesis for each goal.


A beautiful view while calibrating today


Immersion suit practice during drills


The beautiful Seattle skyline

Upcoming Blogs through Sept 14:

Life on-board these beautiful ships

The galley is a work of art

Tour of the ship

Careers on-board

Daily tasks and updates on our ship leg’s mission and goals

Melissa Barker: Data, Samples and Research, Oh My, June 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22 – July 6, 2017


Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 29, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29 11.93 N

Longitude: 92 40.31 W

Air temp: 28.6 C

Water temp: 28 C

Wind direction: 180 degrees

Wind speed: 13 knots

Wave height: 1 meter

Sky: Overcast

Science and Technology Log

We had a slight lull in the sampling yesterday due to storms and lightning risk, but today has been full speed ahead with the trawling. In this blog I’ll talk more about taking data and how the data and samples are used.

We use the FSCS system, designed by NOAA, to record our data for each trawl. The program walks us through all the data need for each species. The pattern goes something like this: select species, measure length with the Limnoterra magnetic measuring board, then mass the individual, and finally try to determine the sex of the organism. Without this technology I can image that the whole sampling process would take a lot longer.



Determining sex can be tricky at times and there are some species that we cannot sex such as squid, scallops and very small fish. We cut the fish open and look for male and female gonads. If possible we also mark the maturity state of the individual.

Female gonads

Male gonads

When recording shrimp, we measure length, weight and sex for each individual up to 200. This can take a while, but working in pairs we get pretty efficient. Female shrimp have a circular breast plate, called a thelycus, under the head or just above their first set of legs. Males have a petasma, the male sex organ, between their two front legs.

Female shrimp on the left, male shrimp on the right. The knife is indicating the petasma, the male sex organ.

David (left) and Tyler work together to measure, weigh and sex the shrimp efficiently

You might be wondering what happens to all this data that we are collecting?

The data we collect is sent to SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) and is made publicly available. Scientists can use this data for their research. The SEAMAP Groundfish survey happens twice per year and has been ongoing for 42 years, allowing for identification of long term trends in the data.

SEAMAP gives the shrimp data to the different state agencies who make the data available to fishermen, who will use it to determine if shrimp are of marketable size and thus worth heading out to shrimp.

Bagged lizard fish headed to the freezer

In addition to the data we are collecting, we also collect and freeze samples. Any scientists can make requests for a study species to be saved from our trawls. These requests are entered into the computer system, which prompts us to bag, label and freeze the species to be taken off the ship at the end of the cruise.

Samples stored in the freezer. There are many more in additional freezers.

For example, we save all Red Snapper and send them to the NOAA lab in Panama City, Florida, for an age and growth study. Red Snapper is the top commercial fish in Gulf of Mexico, so this is critical data for fisherman and sustaining a healthy fish stock.


Several of the students who are part of the science team are collecting samples for their research.

Tagged Blue Crabs (photo credit: Helen Olmi)

Helen, who is part of the night shift, attends University of Southern Mississippi and is part of the Gulf Coast Research Lab. She is part of a team that is looking at migration patterns and reproductive behavior of female Blue Crabs (Callinectes sapidus). She tags female crabs and if fishermen find them they call in to report the location. Female Blue Crabs mate after their terminal molt and collect sperm in sac-like receptacles to use later to fertilize their eggs. When ready to spawn, the females move lower in the estuary into saltier waters. Blue Crabs are the most common edible crab so it is important to continue to monitor the health of the population in the Gulf.

Sharpnose Shark ready to be measured

David is an undergrad at University of Miami, who has earned a scholarship through NOAA Office of Education school scholarship program. As part of this program, he is funded to do summer research. He is working as part of larger study looking at the distribution and diet of the sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), one of the most common species of shark in the Gulf. Sharpnose sharks are generalists and the research study is looking to see if they are also potentially opportunistic eaters. He is also comparing diets from East and West Gulf sharks and may also be able to compare diets of sharks in low vs high oxygen areas. David’s data collection involves sorting through partially digested stomach remains to try to figure out what the shark ate; he gets to play detective in the lab.

Tyler holding a Croker

Tyler is a graduate student at Texas A&M at Corpus Christi and works with Atlantic Croaker (Micropogonias undulatus). He researches whether exposure to low oxygen affects what Croaker eat. Croaker are widely abundant in the Gulf–they often make up more than half of our trawl samples–thus they make a good study species. Croaker often feed at the bottom, in the benthic zone. Tyler is trying to determine if Croaker are changing their feeding patterns in hypoxic areas by feeding higher up in the water column in the pelagic zone to find more food. He uses Croaker tissue samples to examine diet using isotopes. The general idea with isotopes is that what you eat or process will become part of you. Different prey species will have different isotope signatures and looking at Croaker tissue can determine what organisms the fish have been eating.

As you can see the data and samples from this survey support a lot of science and sustainable fisheries management. Check out some of the interesting organisms we have found in our trawls in the last few days.



Personal Log

 As we crank through trawl after trawl of species, I have to stop and remind myself of where I am. As a land lover, it can be a little disconcerting that there is no land anywhere in sight. This fact is helping me appreciate the vastness of the ocean. It is said that we have only explored five percent of the ocean. Before I was on the Oregon II, this was hard to believe, but now I am starting to comprehend just how large the ocean really is.

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

Andre and the Cobia

We had some rough seas due to a storm cell a couple days ago which got the boat rocking and rolling again. The movement made it hard to sleep or move around. Luckily, we are through that area and back to our normal motion. With each trawl, I anticipate the possibility of interesting new species that might come up in our net. We caught an 18.8 kg Cobia (Rachycentron canadum) in our net yesterday, which is a fish I had never heard of, but is apparently prized as a food and game fish. Andre filleted it up and we ate it for lunch. It was so of the best fish I’ve ever tasted. Living in Colorado, I don’t eat much seafood, but I’ve decided to try what we catch out here and I’m glad I have. We’ve also had fresh caught shrimp and snapper that were delicious thanks to Valerie and Arlene, the stewards who are keeping us well fed.

I’m enjoying getting to know some of the folks who work on the ship. Many of these people have worked on the Oregon II for several years. When you live and work with each other in a confined space for 24 hours a day, you become close pretty quickly. The family feel among the crew and officers is evident.

I am getting more efficient with my measuring and weighing techniques and even remembering a few scientific names. During each twelve-hour shift, the time spent on our feet depends on the number of stations we cover. Some days we are back to back, just finishing up one sample while they are already trawling for the next. A monitor screen tells us the distance to the next station, so we can anticipate what is coming next. We are getting closer to the Mississippi delta where we are anticipating a decrease in oxygen at some of our stations.

Did You Know?

The Natural Marine Sanctuary System is a network of underwater parks that protects more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters. NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries serves as the trustee for the parks and brings together a diverse group of stakeholders to promote responsible and sustainable ocean use and protect the health of our most valuable ocean resources. Healthy oceans can provide recreation and tourism opportunities for coastal communities. (Source: sanctuaries.noaa.gov)

Marine Sanctuary map copy

(Photo credit: sanctuaries.noaa.gov)

In the Gulf of Mexico there is a marine sanctuary called Flower Garden Banks which includes three different areas, East Flower Banks, West Flower Banks and Stetson Bank, which are all salt dome formations where coral reef communities have formed. You can learn more about our National Marine Sanctuary System here.

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

Why do you need to take the temperature and amount of salt in the water? (Bella)

Temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and florescence measurements give us more information about the water where we are sampling. Salinity helps tell us if we are in a freshwater, estuary or fully marine environment. The salinity will decrease as we near the Mississippi river delta. Salinity and temperature affect fish physiology or body functions. Each species has normal tolerance levels that it can live within. Organisms that find themselves outside of their salinity and temperature limits might not be able to survive.

The image of the CTD data below gives you an idea of typical values for temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and florescence and how they change as depth increases.

CTD key: pink=fluorescence, green=oxygen. blue=temperature, red=salinity

Does the temperature of the ocean get colder as it gets deeper? (Allison)

Generally temperature does decrease with depth, but in our shallow sampling locations there can be less than a 2 degree C temperature change. As you can see on the CTD data above, the temperature changed 6 degrees C at this sampling location.

How deep is it where you have sample? (David, Shane, Alix)

We sample at depths of 5-60 fathoms. One fathom equals 6 feet.



Marsha Lenz: In Honor of the Seafarer, June 27, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Marsha Lenz

Aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson

 June 8-28, 2017


Appropriate attire is important for fishing.

Mission: MACE Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 27, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge


Sorting fish requires teamwork.

Latitude: 55 42.0 N

Longitude: 156 16.4 W

Time: 1000

Visibility: 6 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: 199

Wind Speed: 11 Knots

Sea Wave Height: 3-4 foot swell

Barometric Pressure: 1002.4 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 9.4°C

Air Temperature: 10°C

Science and Technology Log

For the science/technology part of the blog, I usually focus on one part of the sciences that we are participating in every day, a piece of technology on the boat, or one specific career that one of the 31 people on board have. Today, however, I’d like to share the big picture of how the science, the careers, and the technology all interact and intersect with each other. I have spent countless hours in the Acoustics lab, in the Fish lab, on the Bridge, and in the Chem lab with a diverse group of extremely skilled and talented people. Here’s what I have witnessed over and over again: They is constantly troubleshooting, coding, and then creating a product/outcome.

For example, let’s just take a look at the Fish lab. (Almost) everything in the lab was designed and created by the NOAA team of scientists for the specific purpose of collecting data on pollock populations. They did not buy the software anywhere. They created it. Over the past three weeks, I have witnessed, on an on-going basis, the scientists in the lab, create, refine, and test their codes for the various programs that they use for their data entry and end of survey reports.


Abigail created a code to illustrate how many otoliths were caught on each transect.

Just yesterday, Abigail created a new code to create a chart that shows how many otoliths were collected from each transect line. This part of the program had not yet been made, so she did it. This is something that happens throughout the day, all day long.


When the team needed a quick way to measure and record the lengths of the fish (using a ruler and writing down every length on a piece of paper and then recording that into the computer database took a long time!), they designed AND created the Ichthystick. This records the length of each fish electronically, and then it enters that data directly into the database. It saves a lot of time. They even put my name into the system as one of the scientists!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The list of things that the scientists create goes on and on: from charts, to computer programs, to the equipment that they use to collect the data. It was a really important reminder for me of how essential teaching coding and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) is in the classroom. Unfortunately, with budget cuts, it’s often hard for schools, especially very rural ones, to integrate these topics into the daily classroom routine. I really want to ensure that my students have the skills and knowledge to continue in the sciences so that they, too, can have careers that allow them to use their creativity and intelligence, meet great people, and use these abilities to help protect and care for the planet we live on.

Personal Log


Though there were some gray days, the views still brought everyone outside.

We are now on our transit home. I have very mixed feelings about being back on land and heading back to Humboldt County. I will be back in the comfort of my living room in 2 days. Of course, I am very excited to see my kids, visit with my friends, and take walks in the forests. Yet, there is a part of me that is already feeling a bit nostalgic for the friendships that I have built on board and the soothing rolling of the ocean. Though we worked 12 hour days, the people that I worked with made the time go by fast. Though the thought of spending three weeks on a boat with 30 total strangers might seem like an uncomfortable eternity, the days quickly blended together into a memorable event that I will not forget for a long time. We laughed at the littlest things, ate 3 meals a days together (excellent meals, I might add. Thank you so much Kimrie and Lenette!), made fun of bad movies, shared personal stories of struggles or hardships, showed off pictures of our children, and took moments to exercise (bring on the Plank Challenge!). We played cards, drew silly pictures, savored chocolate and fancy cheese, discussed the challenges that future generations face, and lengthed A LOT of fish. It is not often that one has an opportunity to spend 12 hours a day with the same people (total strangers, I might add), for 3 weeks straight, in a confined space.


Team Plank Oscar Dyson found ways to practice planking  in between hauls.

My only regret is not having made the time to sit and down and have an “interview” with every single person on the ship. It was through my interviews with people that I was struck by the unique story that each person has. I felt that it was not only important to listen to their history, but also to share it. I only intended to interview a few people on the ship, but once I got started, I felt like I couldn’t stop. The life of a seafaring person is under appreciated in our society. Yet, we rely on fishermen/women to provide the nation with all of the seafood that is eaten. We also rely on marine scientists, survey technicians, NOAA Corps, stewards, observers, NOAA Engineers, and deck hands to help us with this and to give us valuable information about the health of our oceans and marine life.

Through my conversations and interviews, I have learned that the life of a seafarer requires a lot of sacrifice. Life at sea has many challenges. Much of the crew spends many months at a time away from their families. They spend 24/7 rolling around on the ocean, in very small spaces. Most of time, the ocean is yielding and the gentle rocking of the boat can soothe one into a deep slumber. Yet, there are also times, when she roars her head a bit and reminds us that we are just a speck in the vastness of her depth and power.


Being a survey technician requires a lot of hard work.

The life of a seafarer, even a part-time one, is not for everyone.   They can’t just go to the store to go shopping, visit the dentist for a toothache, or go to the movies with a friend. They may miss important milestone events, such as their kid’s graduation or their parent’s 75th birthday. It can be trying to be separated from the daily musings of friends and family. There are days when all they see is gray sky and gray ocean. The Internet connection on a vessel is hit or miss (if you have one at all!) so they can’t easily stay connected with loved ones. It can begin to feel lonely and isolated.   I am grateful for all the seafarers, in whatever capacity they serve, who sacrifice so much, in the name of science, sustainable fishing, and the well being of our oceans.

In addition to the seafarers, I would also like to acknowledge the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Before embarking on my adventure as a Teacher At Sea, I had very little idea of what NOAA was and even less of an idea as to what they did. I knew that they gave me my weather forecast and that they studied the oceans and the atmosphere. I now know that NOAA is so much more than just that. In my first blog out at sea, I looked online to see what NOAA does. I wrote, “Its mission is to ‘understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources’. This is easily condensed into three words: Science, Service and Stewardship.” This makes so much more sense to me now. Without NOAA and its close to 12,000 scientists, engineers, and staff who work for them, we would not be able to study and monitor specific areas of our earth. It is through NOAA that we can continue to be informed and make the correct choices to be responsible stewards of this delicate planet.


Rick Towler designs many of the fishing  data programs and equipment that are used on the Oscar Dyson.

I know that I will continue to reflect on these last three weeks as I settle back into my own routine on land. As I become reacquainted with these routines, I know that my time as a Teacher At Sea will slowly settle further and further back into my bank of life- changing experiences and will become one of the endless memories that help make me who I am. I do hope though to keep some of the insights that I have gained on this research cruise in the forefront of my educational teachings. I look forward to sharing what I learned with my future fifth graders. Let us all continue to be good stewards and tread lightly.

I would like to thank everyone on the Oscar Dyson. Everyone including the CO, the XO, and all of the NOAA Corps officers, the Engineers, the deck crew, the survey technicians, the observers, the stewards, and the science team all made me feel very welcome and at home. Everyone was patient with me as I learned the ways of the seafarer and the ins and outs of the Oscar Dyson. I also want to thank everyone with the NOAA Teacher At Sea program for allowing this opportunity to happen for me and publishing my blog posts. I am eternally grateful.

Did You Know?

The Oscar Dyson has six onboard laboratories: a wet lab, dry lab, electronics/computer lab, bio lab, acoustics lab and hydrographics lab. The ship carries a multibeam echo sounder that collects information about the sea floor and the contents of the water column.


I even  found a Pi joke!


Interview with Bruce Mokiao

Lead Fisherman


Bruce’s smile and positive attitude were contagious.

What is your position here on the Oscar Dyson?

I am the lead fisherman on the boat.

How long have you been doing this?

I have been doing this for 16 years.

What got you interested in living your life on the sea?

Well, it was a couple of things. First, it was the Conservation Corps. That, and fishing. I didn’t know about NOAA until I was fishing commercially.   The person who picked up the fish that we brought back was a NOAA employee. I learned a lot about NOAA from him. I thought that it would be a good way to make a living and support my family.

What is your favorite part of the job?

My favorite part of the job is fishing, of course. I also like the data. It is all very interesting. I like science. I love this ship. I also really like the people that I work with. The crew makes a big difference in your day to day duties.

What is your job description?

I run the night shift. I supervise some of the other deck hands and I am the assistant to the chief botswain. I also mop and do general maintenance of things on the ship. I fix nets. I am basically in charge of running the fishing side of things.

 What are your hours?

I work from 2315 (11:15 pm) to 1145. I like running the night shift.

What are some of the challenges with your job?

Well, the environment is challenging. I am still getting used to living in Alaska. I am from Hawaii, so it is a big change for me. Alaska gets cold. I miss being with my family. That is also hard for me. And then, decision-making is hard. I have to think things through to make sure that the decisions I make on the ship will not have negative consequences. There is a lot of responsibility in my hands.

What motivates you every day?

My family. When my days get hard, I think about my family. My kids give my energy. I have 3. One is about to get married. I also think of the Chinese word for power, Yo Jer. I remind myself that I am “Yo jer” and that gives me the power to keep going.

Do you have any advice for my students?

Yes! Go to school. Go to a lot of school. Do what you can do to find opportunities. Find something that you love to do and things will fall into place. Live life to its fullest. Life does get hard sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up.


Thank you to EVERYONE that helped make this happen!


The sunrise next to Mt. Pavlof was a memorable event.

Kimberly Scantlebury: Our Neighbors Downstairs, May 6, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Scantlebury

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 1-May 12, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey


The whale legging were good luck.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: May 6, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 19:00

Latitude: 2821.0766 N, Longitude: 09228.2796 W

Wind Speed: 3 knots, Barometric Pressure: 1013.0 hPa

Air Temperature: 19.3 C, Water Temperature: 24.13  C

Salinity: 35.6184  PSU, Conditions: 25% cloud cover, little to no wind or waves

Science and Technology Log

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When the Bandit reel lines go down, it becomes a fun game to guess what, if anything, is going to come up. Even at their shallowest, we are dropping thirty baited hooks (ten per reel) down 50 meters, deep enough to not see any action going on. Many times these vertical long lines are dropping over 100 meters to the seafloor.

There is a lot more radio communication than you might expect when we fish. Today, scientists Joey and Kevin swapped jobs and Kevin ran controls inside the dry lab. That person chooses what locations we are fishing and runs the operations when we do. He tells the people outside when to drop their baited lines, when there is a minute left before reeling them back, and when to “take them home.” Each of the three reels has a deckhand who radios when each step is complete such as attaching each hook to the line and lowering it to the bottom. The bridge is also in radio communication. There can also be some playful banter about who is not catching fish lately.

Sometimes you know a fish or two are on. The arc on top of the Bandit reel bends down under the stress of whatever is fighting and the orange top buoy bobs up and down against the normal flow of the waves. James, the deckhand I fish with, usually says, “I hope it ain’t no shark.” (Today we did indeed get three sharks attacking out bait when it hit the water). My reel also got seven fish the first time we tried today. This is much better than how we were doing earlier in the week. Each fish gets a numbered tag that correlates to the hook on its reel and each reel has different colored tags. Everything is written down. So far we have caught the following fish species:


11.83 kg (26 lb.), female Amberjack

  • Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)
  • Vermilion snapper (Rhomboplites aurorubens)
  • Greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili)
  • Gray triggerfish (Balistes capriscus)
  • Goldface tilefish (Caulolatilus chrysops)
  • Spinner shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna)
  • Sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates)

According to the NOAA Fisheries Economics of the United States (2014) commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico Region landed 1.1 billion pounds of finfish and shellfish, earning $1 billion for their harvest that year. In 2013, the red snapper fishery alone brought in a value of over $21 million dockside. On top of that, approximately 2.9 million recreational anglers fished in the Gulf of Mexico Region in 2014 as well. There are also fish-related industries that compound the economic effects of fisheries in the Gulf. The work that is being done is more than just understanding the ecology. Our gilled neighbors downstairs of NOAA Ship Pisces affect a lot of human lives too. It is refreshing to remember everything that is connected to our dinner.

Personal Log


Practice rescue in action.

Today was a beautiful day on NOAA Ship Pisces. The wind was slight and the water was as close to mirror as I expect to see. Kevin told me that the geography of the Gulf makes for fast changing weather. It may storm up quickly, but it also means it calms down overnight too. No queasiness for anyone today!

After another delicious and varied dinner by the talented stewards we were treated to a Man Overboard drill. It was entertainment to us, but serious practice for the crew. Lieutenant Noblitt and deckhand Junior were lowered in the ship’s Zodiac boat. On the other side of the vessel Ensign Rock was suited in a wetsuit & snorkel and jumped overboard as the person to rescue. After the lookouts on the Zodiac found her, Ensign Brendel jumped in for the practice rescue.  


Zodiac and crew getting back on the ship.

Quote of the Day:
Kevin: “Joey, don’t go too far.”
Joey: “Where am I going to go!?!”
Life on a boat summed up…

Did You Know?

Sometimes we get other neat things on board. Rhodolith (from the Greek “rhodo=red” and “lithos=stone”) are red algae colonies that build up upon older, dead rhodoliths over time.  We also got dead man’s fingers. This is the common name for Codium sp. 


Dead man’s fingers.


Rhodolith. a.k.a. My pet rock

Kathryn Lanouette, August 1, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathryn Lanouette
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 21-August 7, 2009 

Mission: Summer Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: August 1, 2009

This sonar-generated image shows walleye pollock close to the sea floor. The red line at the bottom of the image is the sea floor. The blue specks at the top of the image are jellyfish floating close to the water’s surface.

This sonar-generated image shows walleye pollock close to the sea floor. The red line at the bottom of the image is the sea floor. The blue specks at the top of the image are jellyfish floating close to the water’s surface.

Weather Data from the Ship’s Bridge 
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Wind direction: variable
Wind speed:  less than 5 knots, light
Sea wave height: 0 feet
Air temperature: 7.9˚C
Seawater temperature: 8.6˚C
Sea level pressure: 30.1 inches Hg
Cloud cover: 7/8, stratus

Science and Technology Log 

In addition to the Aleutian wing trawl (which I explained in Day 5 NOAA ship log) and Methot (which I explained in Day 8 NOAA ship log), scientists also use a net called an 83-112 for bottom trawls. The 83-112 net is strong enough to drag along the sea floor, enabling it to catch a lot of the animals that live in, on, or near the sea floor. This afternoon, we conducted the first bottom trawl of our cruise. Bottom trawls are usually conducted in two situations: if the walleye pollock are too close to the sea floor to use an Aleutian wing trawl or if the scientists want to sample a small amount of fish (because the 83-112’s net opening is smaller than the Aleutian wing trawl’s net). From the looks of the sonar-generated images, it appeared that most of the walleye pollock were swimming very close to the bottom so the scientists decided it would be best to use the 83-112 net.

Here I am holding one of the skates that was caught in the bottom trawl

Here I am holding one of the skates that was caught in the bottom trawl

Once the fish were spotted, we changed our course to get ready to trawl. Usually the trawl is made into the wind for stability and net control. Once the ship reached trawling speed, the lead fisherman was given the “OK” to shoot the doors. Slowly, the net was lowered to 186 meters below the surface, the sea depth where we happened to be. The water temperature down there was about 1˚C (compared to 7˚C on the sea’s surface).  I had heard from a previous Teacher At Sea that bottom trawls brought up a wide variety of animal species (compared to the relatively homogenous catches in mid-water trawls). And sure enough, when the net was brought up, I couldn’t believe my eyes!

All told, we sorted through over 7,000 animals, a total of 36 different species represented in the total catch. It took 4 of us over 4 hours to sort, measure, and weigh all these animals. There were over 350 walleye pollock in this catch as well as skates, octopi, crabs, snails, arrowtooth flounder, sea anemones, star fish, and dozens of other animals. Some of them were even walking themselves down the table.

During this catch, I also learned how to take the ear bones, or otoliths, out of a walleye pollock. Why ear bones you might ask? Using the ear bones from a walleye pollock, scientists are able to determine the exact age of the fish. Misha Stepanenko, one of the two Russian scientists on board the Oscar Dyson, showed me how to cut partially through the fish’s skull and take out two large ear bones. Once they were taken out, I put them in a solution to preserve them. Back in NOAA’s Seattle lab, the ear bones are stained, enabling scientists to count the different layers in each ear bone. For every year that the fish lives, a new layer of bone grows, similar to how trees add a layer for each year that they live. By learning the exact age of a fish, scientists are able to track age groups (called “cohorts”), allowing more precise modeling of the walleye pollock population life cycle.

A diagram of an otolith, or ear bone, of a fish.  You can see that it’s a lot like looking at tree rings!

A diagram of an otolith, or ear bone, of a fish. You can see that it’s a lot like looking at tree rings!

Personal Log 

So far this trip, we have sailed within 15 miles of Cape Navarin (Russia) on at least two different occasions but fog and clouds prevented any glimpse of land both times. It was a frustrating feeling knowing that land was so close, yet impossible to see. After 12 days of looking at nothing but water and sky, seeing land would have been a welcome treat.

Despite not seeing land, I still felt like I was in Russia just from listening to different fishing vessels communicate with one another. On our first night in Russian waters, we sailed through a heavy fog, with 7 or 8 different boats fishing nearby. I was impressed with how Ensign Faith Opatrny, the Officer on Deck at the time, communicated with various vessels, using collision regulations (“the rules of the road”) to navigate safely. On a culinary note, I got my first chance to eat some of a catch. After most trawls, we discard remaining inedible specimens overboard. After our bottom trawl however, one of the scientists filleted some of the cod. The next day, the stewards cooked it up for lunch. It tasted great and it felt good to be eating some of the fish that we sampled.

A graph showing the adult walleye pollock biomass estimates from 1965 to 2008.

A graph showing the adult walleye pollock biomass estimates from 1965 to 2008.

As the cruise starts to wind down, I also want to express my gratitude to all the NOAA scientists and Oscar Dyson crew. Everyone in the science group took time to explain their research, teach me scientific techniques, and answer my many questions. On numerous occasions, the deck crew explained the mechanics of fishing nets as well as the fishing process. The engineering crew gave me a tour of the engine rooms, describing how four diesel engines power the entire boat. The survey techs explained how different equipment is operated as well as the information it relays back to the scientists. The NOAA Corps officers showed me how to read weather maps, take coordinates, and explained ship navigation. The ship’s stewards described the art and science behind feeding 33 people at sea. And the USFWS bird observers patiently showed me how to identify numerous bird species. From each of them, I learned a tremendous amount about fisheries science, fishing, boats, sailing, birding, and life in the Bering Sea. Thank you!

Answer to July 28 (Tuesday) Log: How has the walleye pollock biomass changed over time? 
In the past few years, the walleye pollock biomass has decreased (according to the acoustic-trawl survey, the survey that I joined.) It should be noted that there is a second complementary walleye pollock survey, the eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey. This survey studies walleye pollock living close to the sea floor. As walleye pollock age, they tend to live closer to the sea floor, thus the bottom trawl survey sometimes shows different biomass trends than the acoustic-trawl survey. Both surveys are used together to manage the walleye pollock stock.

An up-close look at one of the squid’s tentacles

An up-close look at one of the squid’s tentacles

Animals Seen 
Auklet, Arrowtooth flounder, Basket star, Bering skate, Cod, Hermit crab, Fin whale, Fur seal, Octopus, Sculpin, Sea mouse, Sea slug, Shortfin eelpout, Snow crab, Squid, and Tanner crab.

New Vocabulary: Bottom trawl – fishing conducted on and near the bottom of the sea floor. Catch – fish brought up in a net. Shoot the doors – a fishing expression that means to lower the 2 metal panels that hold open the fishing nets in the water. Stewards – the name for cooks on a ship. Table – nickname for the conveyor belt where the fish are sorted for sampling. Vessels – another word for ships. 

Kathryn Lanouette, July 28, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathryn Lanouette
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 21-August 7, 2009 

Here I am sorting different zooplankton species

Here I am sorting different zooplankton species

Mission: Summer Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 28, 2009

Weather Data from the Ship’s Bridge 
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Wind direction:  015 degrees (N, NE)
Wind speed:  7 knots
Sea wave height: 1 foot
Air temperature: 7.6˚C
Seawater temperature: 7.3˚C
Sea level pressure: 29.8 inches Hg and falling
Cloud cover: 8/8, stratus

Science and Technology Log 

In addition to studying walleye pollock, NOAA scientists are also interested in learning about the really tiny plants (phytoplankton) and animals (zooplankton) that live in the Bering Sea.  Plankton is of interest for a two reasons. First, phytoplankton are the backbone of the entire marine food chain. Almost all life in the ocean is directly or indirectly dependent on it. By converting the sun’s energy into food, phytoplankton are the building blocks of the entire marine food web, becoming the food for zooplankton which in turn feed bigger animals like small fish, crustaceans, and marine mammals. Second, zooplankton and small fish are the primary food source for walleye pollock. By collecting, measuring, and weighing these tiny animals, scientists are able to learn more about the food available to walleye pollock. In addition, every time the scientists trawl for walleye pollock, the stomachs of 20 fish are cut out and preserved. Back at a NOAA lab in Seattle, the contents of these fish stomachs will be analyzed, giving scientists a direct connection between walleye pollocks’ diet and specific zooplankton populations found throughout the Bering Sea.

A simplified marine food chain  (Note: A complete marine food web involves hundreds of different species.)

A simplified marine food chain (Note: A complete marine food web involves hundreds of different species.)

Two important zooplankton groups in the Bering Sea are copepods and euphausiids (commonly referred to as krill). Euphausiids are larger and form thick layers in the water column. In order to catch euphausiids and other zooplankton of a similar size, a special net called a Methot is lowered into the water. This fine meshed net is capable of catching animals as small as 1 millimeter. The same sonar generated images that show walleye pollock swimming below the water’s surface are also capable of showing layers of zooplankton. Using these images, the scientists and fishermen work together, lowering the net into the zooplankton layers.

The Methot net is the square shaped net in the background. It was just brought up and is filled with hundreds of zooplankton.

The Methot net is the square shaped net in the background. It was just brought up and is filled with hundreds of zooplankton.

Once the Methot net is back onboard the boat, its contents are poured through fine sieves and rinsed. All species are identified. A smaller sub sample is weighed and counted. This information is applied to the entire catch so if there were 80 krill, 15 jellyfish, and 5 larval fish in a sub sample, then scientists would approximate that 80% of the entire catch was krill, 15% was jellyfish, and 5% was larval fish. Having only seen photos of some of these zooplanktons, it was interesting to hold them in my hands and look at them up close. They seemed better suited for space travel or a science fiction movie than the Bering Sea!

Personal Log 

The day before, I caught my first glimpse of Dall’s porpoises. This pod of porpoises came swimming alongside the boat. It was awesome to see their bodies rise and fall in the water. I was surprised at how quickly they were swimming, darting in and out of the Oscar Dyson’s wake. Today, I also got my first glimpse of a whale! It was a fin whale, a type of baleen whale, about 20 meters from the boat. It was exciting to watch such a large mammal swimming in such a vast expanse of water. I’m hoping to see a few more marine mammal species before we return to port. The seas have been very calm for the last five days, at times as smooth as a mirror. I’m surprised that I’ve gotten used to falling asleep in the early morning hours and waking around midday. Now that I’ve adjusted to the 4pm to 4am shift, I’m wondering how strange it will be to return to my regular schedule back on the east coast.

Answer to July 25th Question of the Day: Why are only some jellyfish species capable of stinging? 
As I picked up my first jellyfish in the wet lab (asking at least twice “Are you sure this won’t sting?”), I wondered why some jellyfish don’t sting.  So I did some reading and asked some of the scientists a few questions. Here is what I found out: All jellyfish (called “gelatinous animals” in the scientific world) have stinging cells (nematocysts) in their bodies. When a nematocyst is touched, a tiny barb inside fires out, injecting toxin into its prey.  It seems that in some jellyfish, the barbs are either too small to pierce human skin or that nematocysts don’t fire when in contact with human skin.

One euphausiid and two different species of hyperiid amphipod (They are between 1-3 cm long)

One euphausiid and two different species of hyperiid amphipod

Animals Seen 
Capelin, Dall’s porpoise, Euphausiid, Fin whale, Hyperiid amphipod, and Slaty-backed gull.

New Vocabulary: Baleen whale – a whale that has plates of baleen in the mouth for straining plankton from the water (includes rorqual, humpback, right, and gray whales). Methot net – a square framed, small meshed net used to sample larval fish and zooplankton. Phytoplankton – plankton consisting of microscopic plants. Plankton – small and microscopic plants and animals drifting or floating in the sea or fresh water. Trawl – to fish by dragging a net behind a boat. Zooplankton – plankton consisting of small animals and the immature stages of larger animals

Question of the Day: How has the walleye pollock biomass changed over time?


Kathryn Lanouette, July 25, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathryn Lanouette
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 21-August 7, 2009 

Mission: Summer Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 25, 2009

Walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma)

Walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma)

Weather Data from the Ship’s Bridge 
Visibility: 10+ miles (to the horizon)
Wind direction: 030 degrees (NE)
Wind speed: 15 knots
Sea wave height: 4-6 feet
Air temperature: 6˚C
Seawater temperature: 6.4˚C
Sea level pressure: 29.85 inches Hg and rising
Cloud cover: 8/ 8, stratus

Science Log 

Why study walleye pollock? Before even setting sail, I wondered why NOAA scientists were interested in studying walleye pollock. It turns out that walleye pollock is the largest fishery, by volume, in the USA. In one year, about 1 million metric tons of walleye pollock are fished, mostly from the waters of the Bering Sea. Given that walleye pollock accounts for such a large percentage of the total fish caught in the United States, I was curious why I had never seen it on restaurant menus or rarely seen it at supermarket fish counters. It is because walleye pollock is usually processed into other things – like fish sticks, imitation crabmeat, and McDonald’s fish fillet sandwiches. So it seems that walleye pollock is that mild white fish you often eat when you don’t know for sure what kind of fish you are eating.

Above is a map showing the 31 transect lines of the walleye pollock survey area. I have joined the cruise that is sailing along the 8 transect lines closest to Russia.

Above is a map showing the 31 transect lines of the walleye pollock survey area. I have joined the cruise that is sailing along the 8 transect lines closest to Russia.

In addition to supporting a major multi-billion-dollar fishing industry, walleye pollock is a fundamental species in the Bering Sea food web. It is an important food source for Steller sea lions as well a variety of other marine mammals, birds, and fish. The population size, age composition, and geographic distribution of walleye pollock significantly affect the entire Bering Sea ecosystem. What do scientists hope to learn about walleye pollock? NOAA scientists are primarily interested in calculating the total biomass of walleye pollock. To estimate how many walleye pollock are in the Bering Sea, scientists sample the fish, recording their age, length, weight, male/female ratio, and geographic location. This information is used by North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) to set sustainable fishing quotas for the following year. The NPFMC, whose membership comprises university, commercial, and government representatives, uses NOAA’s survey data, fishery observer program data, as well as catch statistics from the commercial fishing industry, to determine how much walleye pollock can be fished in the coming year.

An illustration of the Oscar Dyson sending down sound waves (in order to “see” the animals swimming below the water’s surface.)

An illustration of the Oscar Dyson sending down sound waves (in order to “see” the animals swimming below the water’s surface.)

Where do scientists study walleye pollock? Every year or two, a NOAA research ship (usually the Oscar Dyson) travels throughout the Bering Sea, following approximately 31 transect lines. These transect lines can be anywhere from 60 to 270 miles long. These lines were selected because they include areas where either walleye pollock spawn in the winter or feed in the summer. As the ship travels along these lines, its sonar system uses sound waves to locate fish and other animals living below the water’s surface. As the sound waves return to the ship, they create different images, depending on which animals are swimming in the water below. Using these images, the scientists decide whether or not they should lower the nets and sample the walleye pollock. They also continuously store digital data from the images, later using this information to estimate the total biomass of the fish species. On this 18 day research cruise, the scientists are hoping to travel the last 8 transect lines (over 1,500 nautical miles).  Each transect line takes us into Russian waters. On Thursday, we reached our first transect line. Within hours of traveling along this first line, many schools of walleye pollock were spotted. After the fish net was brought up, I was amazed at the number of fish that came sliding down the conveyor belt into the science lab. I helped weigh and measure hundreds of fish, a quick introduction to the whole process!

Personal Log 

The mouth of a Pacific lamprey

The mouth of a Pacific lamprey

We traveled into Russian waters today, crossing the International Date Line as we went. So technically, Saturday became Sunday this afternoon! But later in the evening, we completed the transect line, turned, and headed back into Saturday just as night fell. Luckily, the time never changes here on the boat. The scientists and crew live on Alaska Daylight Time (ADT), regardless of how far we travel to the north and west. I’ve see a few whales spouting but so far, I haven’t been able to identify any. In the coming days, I am hoping to get a glimpse of their backs or flukes (tails). It has been exciting seeing so many animals – some of which I never even knew existed. A few of these animals look a bit scary, like this Pacific lamprey. Its mouth forms a suction and then all those small yellow teeth go to town, letting it feed on the blood and tissue of its prey. Even the small tongue in the back of its mouth is toothed! 

The rare short-tailed albatross

The rare short-tailed albatross

Animals Seen 
Hyperiid amphipod  Aequorea species, Chrysaora melanaster jellyfish,  Euphausiids (aka krill), Pacific lamprey, and Short-tailed albatross.

New Vocabulary:  Biomass – the total amount of a species, by weight Cruise – nautical trip, for science research or fun. Quotas – a limited or fixed number or amount of things. Sample – to study a small number of species from a bigger group. Transect Line – a straight line or narrow section of land or water, along which observations and measurements are made

Question of the Day 
Why are only some jellyfish species capable of stinging?

Here I am holding up a Chrysaora melanaster jelly fish (Luckily this species doesn’t sting!)

Holding up a Chrysaora melanaster jelly fish (Luckily this species doesn’t sting!)