Jeff Peterson: Learner at Sea: Day 1, July 9, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jeff Peterson

Aboard Oregon II

July 9-July 20, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 9, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Date: 2018/07/12

Time: 16:16:53

Latitude: 28 48.11 N

Longitude: 092 47.94W

Barometric pressure: 1018.94

Relative humidity: 57

Air temperature: 32.4 C (90.3 F)

Calm seas

 

Science and Technology Log

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This is the 3rd and final leg of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey for 2018, taking place between July 9 and July 20 in the Gulf of Mexico. “Groundfish” refers to fish that live on, in, or near the bottom of the ocean.  SEAMAP stands for “Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program,” and as the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission defines it, it’s an interagency (State, Federal, and university) “program for collection, management and dissemination of fishery-independent data and information in the southeastern United States” (https://www.gsmfc.org/seamap.php).

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What is “fishery-independent data,” you ask? The key is understanding its converse: “fishery-dependent data.” Fishery-dependent data is gathered directly from (and in that sense, depends on) commercial and recreational fisheries.  It’s furnished by “dockside monitors, at-sea observers, logbooks, electronic monitoring and reporting systems.” In other words, it’s all about what is caught for recreational or commercial purposes. By contrast, “fishery-independent data” are collected by “scientists from NOAA Fisheries science centers and partner agencies/institutes,” who seek to gather “information on fish stock abundance, biology and their ecosystem for inclusion in stock assessments.” Roughly speaking, then, the distinction is one between a particular target and that target’s larger biological context and ecological surround. Though I had an intuitive sense of this distinction, I wanted to hold myself to account and really learn what it meant. I’m a “Teacher at Sea,” yes, but I’m really a “Learner at Sea.”

I turned to a fellow member of the day watch, fisheries biologist Adam Pollack, and, after sketching the basic distinction for me, he directed me to the website for NOAA’s Office of Science and Technology, National Marine Fisheries Service, pointing me in particular to the webpage on Stock Assessment Basics, where, among other things, one can find terms like “fishery-dependent” and “fishery-independent data” neatly defined: https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/stock-assessment/stock-assessment-101). Not sure what stock assessments are? Watch theNational Marine Fisheries Service video: “The ABCs of Stock Assessments.” As I was going online to check out the definition of “fishery-independent data,” Adam told me this: “This is the world I live in.”

The purpose of the Summer Groundfish Survey is three-fold: “to monitor size and distribution of penaeid shrimp during or prior to migration of brown shrimp from bays to the open Gulf; aid in evaluating the ‘Texas Closure’ management measure of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s Shrimp Fishery Management Plan; and provide information on shrimp and groundfish stocks across the Gulf of Mexico from inshore waters to 50 fm [fathoms]” (https://www.gsmfc.org/seamap-gomrs.php). (A quick note on the Texas Closure. In order to ­protect young brown shrimp and help ensure that the shrimp harvest is more mature and hence more commercially valuable, the Texas shrimp fishery is closed annually between May 15 and July 17.)

On the first leg (June 7 to 20) of the Survey, the Teacher at Sea aboard was Geoff Carlisle; on the second leg (June 27 to July 5, 2018), the Teacher at Sea aboard was Angela Hung. You can find the first two “chapters” of our collective TAS Summer Groundfish Survery story here: https://noaateacheratsea.blog/

At the time of writing we’re still on our way to the fish survey station; it’s a 30-hour steam out of Pascagoula. I look forward to reporting on our catches and the technology we’ll be using in a future post.

Personal Log

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NOAA Ship Oregon II at its homeport in Pascagoula, MS

 

I flew into Gulfport, MS, from San Francisco, on the afternoon of Sunday, July 8, and was met at the airport by friendly and informed Field Party Chief Christina Stepongzi. As we crossed the bridge over the Pascagoula River and NOAA Ship Oregon II came into view, Chrissy said proudly: “There’s home.” On arrival, I got a quick tour of the vessel I’ll have the privilege of calling home for the next 12 days, and Chrissy introduced me around. The folks I met that afternoon (and since) were all just great: gracious and good humored, warm and welcoming. That first jovial bunch consisted of Chief Marine Engineer Joe Howe, Chief Steward Lydell Reed, and Junior Unlicensed Engineer Jack Steadfast. I got settled into my stateroom, and, jet-lagged and short on sleep, I turned in early.

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Stateroom 103: That’s my gear on the top bunk

 

I woke rested Sunday morning and went out onto the dock to look around. I’d brought a sketchbook with me (intending to keep a sketch-journal as both a pastime and an aid to learning), and, since I had a couple of hours to myself before a meeting at 1230 hours, I decided to try sketching the ship. I found a comfortable spot in the shade, and got busy. I’d hoped to sketch the ship from stem to stern, realizing I wouldn’t be able to take it all in once aboard. I planned to divide the ship in half and draw the halves on facing pages in my sketchbook. Stores arrived at 1000 hours, and I watched various preparations taking place fore and aft. I also helped carry a few bags of groceries aboard.

NOAA ship Oregon II

NOAA ship Oregon II

Working briefly in pencil and mostly in ink, I committed myself to certain shapes and proportions early on, and it soon became clear that I’d have to omit the bow and stern, focusing on the middle of the ship and making the best of things. Many of the objects, devices, and structural forms I was drawing were unfamiliar, and I looked forward to having a crew member explain what I’d been drawing later on.

 

Sketch of NOAA ship Oregon II

Sketch of NOAA ship Oregon II

It was an absorbing and thoroughly satisfying way of introducing myself to the ship, and I had the pleasure of meeting a few more members of the crew while I sketched. Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway introduced himself and very generously offered to grab me a fast-food lunch, since meals aboard weren’t being prepared yet. Arlene Beahm, the Second Cook, stopped by to say hello, as did First Assistant Engineer William Osborn. When the time came, I went aboard for the “Welcome Aboard” meeting, an orientation to the ship and shipboard courtesies by Operations Officer Ryan Belcher. Thereafter we had a little time to ourselves, so I meandered about the ship, meeting fisheries biologist Alonzo Hamilton in the galley. He kindly answered my questions about the version of the ship I’d sketched in the morning. (What were the white cylinders with domed tops amidships? Satellite antennas. What where the propeller-like forms forward of them, above the bridge? Radar.) We embarked at 1400 hours, and I up went to the flying bridge (i.e., the open deck above the bridge) to watch our passage down and out the mouth of the Pascagoula River and into the Gulf of Mexico.

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View from the flying bridge, minutes after embaraking

I got good looks at some Laughing Gulls and some Terns (that I’ll need to ID later), and watched a shrimp trawler working next to the channel behind Petit Bois and Horn Islands.

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Laughing Gull, Leucophaeus atricilla

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The shrimp trawler Evening Star

Once we were in the Gulf proper, we were joined for a while by some Bottlenose Dolphins. An hour or two later, as I sat astern watching the sun set, I caught sight of a pair of Frigatebirds, high above the ship, their stunning forked tails trailing behind them. I’d never seen one, let alone two, and I didn’t sketch them or take a photograph of them. But you know I’ll remember them.

Sunset

Sunset

Did You Know?

Magnificent Frigatebirds don’t dive after fish. They skim themfrom the surface or chase after other birds, stealing their catches. To learn more about the Magnificent Frigatebird, visit Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds” website:  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Magnificent_Frigatebird/

Joan Shea-Rogers: Teacher at Sea becomes Student at Sea, June 19, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Joan Shea-Rogers

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 1-22, 2018

 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date: July 19, 2018

Personal Log

I must begin by trying to convey how honored and excited I am to be a part of NOAA’s Teacher At Sea program.  I will be sailing aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson with another teacher, Lee Teevan. What an adventure! More importantly, it’s an opportunity to gain knowledge about the management of the Bering Sea Fishery, the commercial fishing industry and how these forces impact both the ocean ecosystem and our lives. It is an opportunity to educate my students and community about these factors and the career opportunities that support them. It also demonstrates the fact that, life long learning opportunities come in many forms.

For the last five years I have been teaching at Lanphier High School in Springfield, Illinois. I look forward to bringing lessons into the classroom that can spark an interest in an unfamiliar aspect of scientific research and its real-life implications. Through these lessons, I also hope to expand student awareness of the related realm of job opportunities associated with this work.

I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a concentration in Fishery Science. I earned my Teacher Certification in Biology and the Sciences. Following graduation, I chose a career in teaching. Through my education at the University of Wisconsin – Superior, I became interested in the Foreign Fishery Observer Program. I was a Foreign Fishery Observer on Japanese fishing ships that fished primarily for Arrowtooth Flounder in the Bering Sea. This involved sampling the catches, and determining how much of each species of fish were caught to guard against exceeding their assigned quota. I spent a month and a half aboard 3 different ships. The opportunity to work on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson will allow me to learn about the Fisheries Management aspect of the Bering Sea.

I returned to school to earn my Special Education Teaching Certification and earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration. As a teacher, I continued going to school and learning about many topics that supported my work. In order to increase my knowledge about Fishery Science, I took a class in which I created a teacher’s manual (An Aquatic Organisms Educational Module for the Therkildsen Field Station at the Emiquon Wetland Area on the Illinois River). This manual allows teachers to bring students to the field station, collect plankton samples and use the labs to study the results of their sampling. Students learn about the many aspects of the wetland ecosystem and even calculate estimates of the planktonic biomass of the wetland. How fun is that!

TAS Joan Shea-Rogers and a Glacier

Traveling and Learning About the World Around Me

I hope with my introduction, I peak your interest in this aspect of our world. I invite you to be a part of my experience in order to continue your life long learning journey as I continue mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Dean: Routine and Regulations, May 13, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jennifer Dean

Aboard Pisces

May 12 – May 24th, 2018

Mission: Conduct ROV and multibeam sonar surveys inside and outside six marine protected areas (MPAs) and the Oculina Experimental Closed Area (OECA) to assess the efficacy of this management tool to protect species of the snapper grouper complex and Oculina coral

Geographic Area of Cruise: Continental shelf edge of the South Atlantic Bight between Port Canaveral, FL and Cape Hatteras, NC

Date: May 13th, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 30°25.170’ N
Longitude: 80°12.699’ W
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 8.4 knots
Wind Direction: 55°
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Air Temperature: 25.9°C
Sky:  Scattered Cloud Cover

Science and Technology Log

A team on deck working to get the Mohawk, a Remotely Operated Vehicle ready to deploy

A team on deck working to get the Mohawk, a Remotely Operated Vehicle ready to deploy

It isn’t real science if it works the first time.  Isn’t this what we try to get our students to understand as they start an original long-term project or design their first experiment?  I hope as a teacher to give my students opportunities to experience set-backs, struggles, even occasional failures and develop characteristics of resilience and persistence.  Today I got the privilege to see collaboration in action, between scientists, NOAA corps officers, engineers and deck hands to overcome problems and do science. On Saturday I observed how a team worked to get the Mohawk, a Remotely Operated Vehicle, in the water and tracking correctly.  After a quick recovery from the tracking issue, the flash on a camera system became temperamental on the next deployment. These challenges reminded me that, in real science, additional troubleshooting is an on-going part of the adventure.  I watched firsthand how working on a team with multiple skill sets and ideas can make the difference in the success or failure of a mission’s goals.

 

Mohawk, the Remotely Operated Vehicle

Mohawk, the Remotely Operated Vehicle

Mohawk, the Remotely Operated Vehicle

This ROV carries on it both a high definition camera for video footage as well as a low definition camera that is used to overlay information about the site such as water depth, latitude/longitude and the time a photo is taken.  There is the capability to take still shots from one meter up that capture an area of approximately 7 square meters every 2 seconds.  For additional information on this ROV and to see what kind of video the instrument can capture visit the links provided. 
https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/news/features/1213_mohawk.html
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/caribbean-mapping/rov-video.html 

Stacey Harter, the chief scientist and fisheries ecologist, along with LT Felicia Drummond, seen from behind in this image, monitored the video footage and recorded and observed species such as barracuda, lionfish and gag fishes.

Stacey Harter, the chief scientist and fisheries ecologist, along with LT Felicia Drummond, seen from behind in this image, monitored the video footage and recorded and observed species such as barracuda, lionfish and gag fishes.

As the video footage streamed in the fisheries ecologists worked to identify fish species, corals and sponges.  I  liked these special keyboards that were modified for quicker entry of more commonly found species.  As the ROV dropped onto the ocean floor a variety of fish from Gags to Scamps to angelfish came into view.  While two scientists identified fishes others distinguished between corals and sponges. Names were being called out like “Red Finger Gorgorian” coral, “Clathrididae” and “Tanacetipathes.”

 

 

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these special keyboards that were modified for quicker entry of more commonly found species

Stacey Harter, the chief scientist and fisheries ecologist, along with LT Felicia Drummond, seen from behind in this image, monitored the video footage and recorded and observed species such as barracuda, lionfish and gag fishes.  I was amazed by the clarity and color in the images.

 

 

 

Personal Log

My first day on Pisces began with a beautiful sunrise and a chance to take a quick picture before we left the dock.  I was also able to explore the Skybridge and spotted several pods of dolphins on our way out to the Marine Protected Areas.  Images below are captioned to explain the Welcome Aboard meeting and other events of the morning and early afternoon on my first day at sea.  Most of the morning involved learning some of the safety features of the ship including practicing for three types of emergencies- fire, abandon ship and man over-board.  Although I have a smile on my face in the picture, I realize the serious nature of practicing for the unexpected and it reminded me of our school shooting drills; that although rare and unlikely to happen, are still a necessary drill to routinely engage in and practice for, in order to expect quick responses that can make the difference in saving lives later.

The canister I am holding provides enough air for two to three minutes to escape from a situation that involves fumes from fire.  I now know where my survival suit, life jacket and my assigned life boat is located and have practiced getting into both my life jacket, survival suit and can quickly navigate to the location of my assigned life boat.  This task may seem simple, but I still find myself confused on whether to turn right or left after coming down stairs and looking at doors and walkways that all resemble each other.

 

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LT Jamie Park delivers the Welcome Aboard meeting in the Galley on Pisces

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Safety training involves finding and putting on your assigned survival suit and finding a life boat

 

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Sunrise at Mayport Naval Station, May 12th

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Pisces at Mayport Naval Station May 12th right before departure

 

Fact or Fiction?

Lionfish consume over 50 other species of fish and have spines that can sting releasing a venom into a person’s bloodstream that can cause extreme pain and even paralysis.

To find out more and the answer visit the link below
https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/lionfish-facts.html

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Mr. Todd Walsh explains how the multibeam bathymetry works

What’s His Story?  Mr. Todd Walsh

The following section of the blog is dedicated to explaining the story of one crew member on Pisces.

What is your specific title and job description on this mission?
Hydrographic Senior Survey Technician

How long have you worked for NOAA?  What path did you take to get to your current position?
10 years. Todd took classes that gave him a strong background in math and science in high school. This foundational work allowed him to continue into college in the medical field.  He later became interested in land management and dendrology which led him to take more STEM related classes at night school exposing him to a variety of engineering content and hydrology.  Later he was recruited by NOAA and accepted his first position with NOAA out of Alaska.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job?
He likes being able to integrate a group’s (like scientists) needs with his ability to satisfy their aims and missions.  His least favorite is being away from his family.

What science classes or other opportunities would you recommend to high school students who are interested in preparing for this sort of career?  Todd recommends being strong in your physical sciences and that taking your math classes are key to doing well in this sort of career.

What is one of the most interesting places you have visited?
Midway Island, Johnston Atolls and being up on the Arctic circle

Has technology impacted the way you do your job from when you first started to the present?
He gets to play with fun tools.  He noted that automation has really changed the requirements and skills needed for the job.

I want to say a big thank you to Todd for answering all my questions and even playing some classic rock and roll during my mapping lessons that went till midnight.

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Sian Proctor: A Ship & Seashells! July 3, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 2 – 22, 2017

Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 3, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude:   57° 47′ 24″ N
Longitude: 152° 24′ 26″ W
Time: 1000
Sky: Broken Clouds
Visibility:  10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: 068
Wind Speed:  5 knots
Sea Wave Height:   <1 foot swell
Barometric Pressure:  1013.3 millibars
Sea Water Temperature:   9.0° C
Air Temperature:   9.8° C

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NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson in Kodiak, Alaska

Science and Technology Log

Oscar Dyson is one of NOAA’s fisheries survey vessels. It was commissioned in 2005 and its home port is Kodiak, Alaska. The ship was named after the Alaskan fisherman Oscar Dyson who was an activist for improving the fishing industry. He passed away in 1995. The purpose of Oscar Dyson is to collect data on marine life and ecosystems primarily in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Most of the research has been focused on the management of Alaska pollock, which is the largest fishery by volume in the United States. The ship houses a crew of up to 24, which includes NOAA Corps officers, engineers, deck hands, survey technicians, stewards, and electronic technicians along with up to 15 scientists. They all work together to make daily operations on the Oscar Dyson a success.

The 208 ft. long Oscar Dyson runs on 4 super charged diesel engines. The engines are designed to produce up to 3 megawatts of electricity a day. The alternating current is converted into direct current in order to power the two propulsion motors. Oscar Dyson’s engine room is fully automated and will add or remove diesel generators based on load demand. Oscar Dyson has a cruising speed of 12 knots and a range of 12,000 nautical miles.

I was pleasantly surprised by how spacious my accommodations are on Oscar Dyson. I am in a 4-person room but have only 1 roommate. Her name is Alex Padilla. She is an ocean engineering graduate student from University of New Hampshire interested in  studying the acoustics of bubbles. Our room has bunk beds on both sides of the room, a desk, multiple storage lockers, a toilet & shower, and a large wall mounted TV with movies and Direct TV.

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Just down the passageway from my stateroom is a crew lounge where we can gather and watch movies. There is a mess deck (cafeteria) that serves three meals a day and is open 24/7 for soup, salad, and snacks. Oscar Dyson has a variety of labs that I will cover in future blogs. I was fortunate to have 3 days on the ship before our departure and have become somewhat familiar with the layout of the ship.

Click here for more specification on the Oscar Dyson: NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson Specification

Personal Log

I got to go on a field trip to Fossil Beach before leaving Kodiak and here is a short video about my experience.

To dive deeper into the fossils and geologic history of that region you can click this link for Allison and Marincovich Jr’s geologic survey paper: A Late Oligocene or Earliest Miocene Molluscan Fauna From Sitkinak Island, Alaska

Click this link for more information on concretions.

Did You Know?

The Weather Bureau was founded in 1870 and Fish and Fisheries in 1971, making up the first conservation agency for the United States. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration was started in 1970 as an agency within the department of Commerce. Today NOAA has many branches that focus on weather, climate, ocean & coasts, fisheries, satellites, marine & aviation, etc. You can learn more about the history of NOAA and the various branches by clicking this link: NOAA.gov

Sian Proctor: Desert to Sea, June 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard Oscar Dyson

July 2 – 22, 2017

Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 30, 2017

Video Above: My 360 degree introduction video from the Atacama Desert, Chile.

I am very excited and grateful to be a 2017 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Teacher at Sea (TAS). The TAS program has existed since 1990 and their mission is to provide real world research experience for kindergarten through college-level teachers. The application process opens in the fall and teachers are notified in the spring if they are selected. This year there are 29 teachers who have either already sailed or, like me, are about to embark. Check out the TAS FAQ’s page to learn more about the program: NOAA TAS Frequently Asked Questions.

Where is Kodiak, Alaska?

Video Above: Google Earth view of where I will be starting my Teacher at Sea cruise.

Kodiak, Alaska is a small fishing village on Kodiak Island. There are two ways to get to the island – by air or by sea. I will be flying to Kodiak from Anchorage and will board the NOAA vessel Oscar Dyson. This is my 3rd time visiting Alaska but my first time at sea. I got engaged in 2014 on top of the Harding Icefield in Kanai Fjords National Park.

Weather Data

Video Above: NOAA National Weather Service for June 30 2017: Interactive Digital Map

Having just arrived home from one of the driest deserts in the world (Atacama, Chile) I am reminded that the desert is my home. I have lived in Phoenix, Arizona, far away from the sea, for the past 25 years. I love the warm sunny heat of the desert but not when it gets over 110 degrees. So I am looking forward to a change in weather and scenery. Alaska is beautiful in the summer with really long days of sunlight. I am hoping to see a whole new view of this rugged wild state during my three seeks at sea. I just hope I don’t get sea sick!

Science and Technology Log

I have three objectives for my TAS adventure. They are:

  1. To be able to describe how and why we research pollock.
  2. To be able to describe life at sea on a NOAA ship and the careers associated with the NOAA Corps.
  3. To be able to describe navigation techniques and how they have changed over time.

My ultimate goal is be able to bring this information back to the classroom. I have always been fascinated with navigation. Reading maps is an important part of being a geologist and I wonder how similar or different it will be at sea. As a geology student I leaned how to map the contact between two rocks. So I am really curious to learn how you chase fish in the sea. Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions or want me to investigate something while at sea.

Personal Log

When you apply to the TAS program they ask you which type of research cruise (hydrographic, oceanographic, or fisheries) you would prefer. I checked both hydrographic or oceanographic because of my geology background. I teach about weather, climate change, and have always been curious about how we map the ocean. So I am a little nervous about being on a fisheries cruise for 3 weeks. But I am also excited about the opportunity to learn and explore something completely outside my norm. My family finds this amusing because as a kid all I did was fish.

Proctor Fishing

Me fishing around 9 years old.

Here is a photo of me fishing at age 9. During the summer time, while living in New Hampshire, I use to fish everyday. But around the age of 12 that changed. I became less interested in the biological world and more into the physical world (geology, physics, chemistry, etc.). I stopped fishing and haven’t picked up a pole in over 35 years.  Even when I was into fishing as a kid, I still didn’t like touching them. Now I will be spending 3 weeks studying Alaska pollock (walleye pollock) off the coast of Alaska. As a result of this experience, I wonder if the girl in this photo will rise like a phoenix and fall back in love with fishing. Hmm – at the moment I’m thinking it’s a 50-50 chance! What do you think? Leave me a message in the comments below.

Did You Know?

The word fish (noun) has an old English connection meaning any animal living exclusively in water. (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary)

Marsha Lenz: We’re Going Fishing!, June 25, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Marsha Lenz

Aboard Oscar Dyson

June 8-28, 2017

 

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The Observer, the Teacher At Sea, and the Senior Survey Tech take a moment to enjoy the view.

Mission: MACE Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 25, 2017

 

Weather from the Bridge

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The Shumagin Islands are a popular fishing spot for commercial fishing. (photo credit: vacationstogo.com)

Latitude: 55 15.7 N

Longitude: 159 05.0 W

Time: 0700

Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: 180

Wind Speed: 17 Knots

Sea Wave Height: 2 feet

Sea Water Temperature: 9.9°C

Air Temperature: 9.2°C

Science and Technology Log

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Controlling the DropCam requires concentration.

We have been in the Shumigan Islands, which are a group of 20 islands in the Aleutians East Borough south of the mainland.  It has been beautiful.  In between doing DropCams ( I even got to take over the controls once!) and fishing, we have been able to enjoy a few moments  outside taking in some of the amazing views. And then, it’s back to fishing!

The Fish Lab team (Ethan, Abigail, Katy or Meredith,  and I) are becoming very efficient in our roles in the lab.  I am getting much quicker at identifying the sex of fish and measuring their  lengths. It is really nice to have an efficient routine dialed in.

I had mentioned before that I wanted to go into detail about how the actual “fishing” works.  First, and foremost,  I am impressed with the amount of  teamwork that is required to do this.  There are about 12 people needed at various positions to make a fishing operation happen.  There are people in the Acoustics Lab, the Bridge, on the deck, and of course, in the Fish lab itself. I am reminded again about how important clear and concise communication is. Everyone talks to each other with radios and ensures that all steps of the process has been heard.

 

 

Making the Decision to Fish

The scientists spend a  lot of time in the  Acoustics lab (or The Cave). This is where they receive the feedback from the echo sounders in the water.  The monitors show images of backscatter that give the scientists a “picture” of what is going on in the water.  When they see something that they would like to fish, they call up to the Bridge and let them know that, “We’re going fishing!”.

 

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Deploying the Net

There are  many steps involved in getting the net into the water.  A survey technician will operate the winch. There are usually two deck hands to ensure that everything is deployed properly.  They always make sure that the pocket net, which catches smaller marine life, is secure and closed.  The CamTrawl, FS70 (or “turtle”),  SBE39, and ITI must also be attached to the net.  The CamTrawl takes pictures of everything coming into the net and the “turtle” takes a sound picture of the area in and around the net opening.

 

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Haul Back

Once the science team decides that they have what they would like in the net, they announce that its time to, “Haul back!” in the radio.  At this point, the winch operators and Deck hands start bringing in the net. The contents of the pocket net are given to the scientists for identification. The scientific equipment are also removed and downloaded. The fish that are in the net are  brought over to a bin next to the Fish lab with a crane. The nets are then carefully maneuvered back onto the net reel.

 

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Getting Ready

Once Abigail, Ethan, and I see that they are “hauling back”, we start getting ready for the Fish Lab.  We get dressed, put on music, and get out the necessary equipment.  The Fish lab is definitely wet, so we want to make sure that we have proper coverage!  If there is some extra time, we will see how long we can hold a plank for.  We are up to 2 minutes!

 

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Fish on the Table

Once the fish are placed in the bin by the crane outside of the Fish lab, we can control how fast it is brought onto the belt by the door. First, we separate anything that is not pollock from the catch.  We identify and record this data. Then,  we weigh the pollock. We separate the males and females.  The males go into the “bloke” bin and the females go into “sheilas” bin.  From there, each fish is measured.  The goal is to get a total of about 250 fish lengths.  Sometimes, there are more females than males, and sometimes there are more males than females. The length of each fish is recorded with an Ichthystick. This is a fish length board designed to electronically measure and record the length of each fish.  The Ichthystick was designed by the personnel at NOAA.   After the lengths are taken, we take anywhere from 15-50 pairs of otoliths from the pollock. The otoliths are preserved and used to determine the age of the fish.  Finally, when all the fish have been lengthed and otoliths taken, we clean up.  This does take some time, as no one wants a lingering fish smell around. There are numerous sprayers around  that are used to clean every nook and cranny of the lab.  Then, we clean ourselves up and wait for the next haul!

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Personal Log

Though we have been working 12 hours shifts, we do still manage to enjoy some of the spectacular views. I am amazed over and over again at how stunning and diverse the landscape is here. Sometimes the hills are covered in lush green, and sometimes there are snow covered mountains. When we can find a moment, we will just stand out on deck and take it all in. It truly is breathtaking.

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Interview with Abigail McCarthy

Scientist

 What role do you play on this survey? 

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Abigail waits for the fish to come.

I’m the “fish lab lead” scientist, which means that I manage all the wet data collection. I make sure all the fish we catch in our different types of nets are sampled the right way, that we’re processing our catch and recording samples properly and that everyone in the fish lab is having fun! I also do a lot of support work for the chief scientist in the acoustic lab, judging our acoustic data from the fancy scientific fish-finders, analyzing those data and making sure they link up right with all the information from the wet lab. I make sure we’re putting the right scientific equipment on the net every time we fish, do the camera drops, make maps with the information we’re collecting and write code for our analysis and data collection software too.

What inspired you to pursue this as a career?

I sort of slid into this sideways. I majored in biology in college and wanted to be a doctor, then I got interested in plant biology midway through my undergraduate degree. After I graduated from college I did a couple of internship/ technician jobs at research stations where I studied rare plants, bird/ plant interactions, and a few other things. I branched out and worked on a couple of bird projects (Hawaii for rare forest birds and avian malaria, and Puerto Rico for parrots and hawks), and then I got a job working on coastal plant ecology at the Bodega Marine Lab. All my friends there were doing marine science and they were having so much fun and doing such cool projects, and I got even more curious about marine science. Then I saw an opening for a sea turtle job in Costa Rica.  I speak Spanish well, and I had field experience, so I got hired there and worked on sea turtle nesting for almost a year, followed up by another sea turtle job with the Nature Conservancy in the Caribbean. All that nesting beach work made me wonder what was happening with turtles when they weren’t on the nesting beach, where did they go and what did they do in the open ocean?? So I applied to grad schools to study that question, and one of the best sea turtle biologists in the world is at Oregon State, where I went for my masters’ degree. If you find a cool project and a graduate professor who is good at getting funding, you can get paid to go to graduate school for marine biology. In grad school I spent a lot of time at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, OR, where I helped teach fisheries biology classes as part of my grad work. That got me interested in fish, fisheries data, and the way that science is used to inform the decisions that are made about commercial fisheries catch. So I applied to jobs at NOAA fisheries and got this one!

How long have you been working in this field?

I’ve been working at NOAA for 10 years, started grad school in 2003.

Are fisheries something that more people need to know about? Why?

Yes! Fish are the last truly wild source of food in the world. People can hunt to feed their families, but fisheries are the last place that huge quantities of protein come from a wild source without being farmed. If we don’t pay close attention to how many fish we catch, we run the risk of really screwing that up.

Do you think what do you is important? 

I do. I think it’s important because we need to know not just what’s going on with fisheries, but also we have to do our best to understand the ocean and how the ocean is changing as there are more and more people on our planet. The ocean covers over 70% of the surface of the earth, at it’s deepest it’s more than 36,000 feet deep (you’d have to run 6.8 miles straight down from the surface at the deepest place in the ocean before you’d hit the bottom). There are whole ecosystems that we barely understand because it’s a lot harder to study things when you can’t see them or measure them directly. Think about how easy it is to look at other people,pets, trees, or buildings. It’s not hard to tell how many people there are in the classroom with you or how big the school is, but imagine trying to do that 1500 feet below the surface of the ocean! We get to figure out ways to study fish and fisheries without being able to walk right up to a fish and measure it’s length or ask it how old it is, and we use that information to understand how the fish populations change, which adds to the information we know about the ocean as a whole.

How much of the year do you spend at sea?

Between two and three months, depends on the year. Usually one or two cruises in the winter time and one or two in the summer, each about 3 weeks long.

What interests you most about the data collected on this survey?

I like to think about how it fits into the big picture; both how it compares to all the data we’ve collected in this area in the past, and how it compares to what the commercial fishermen see here. I like to make maps of the data we collect too. I think it’s a great way to visualize information. I’m also really interested in the data we’re collecting with our drop cameras- fish pictures are always cool.

What is the most challenging part of your job?  The most rewarding?

There are a lot of rewarding parts of my job! One of the most rewarding is probably presenting the results of a completed survey- one where I sailed on the research cruise, was the lead analyst, and wrote the report (with lots of help from my colleagues, of course)- to the Plan Team. The Plan Team are the people who make the decisions about how many fish the commercial fishermen are allowed to catch each year, and I always enjoy telling them about our work, because we do excellent science and I’m proud of it.

Fisheries science, especially in Alaska, tends to be pretty male dominated. While I work with lots of remarkable people of both sexes with whom I enjoy spending time and from whom I have learned a lot, I wish I had more female colleagues. I also sometimes wish there were more women in leadership roles here.

What words of advice to you have for my students if they want to pursue a career in biology or the sciences?

Don’t let anyone tell you “No”. Take the math classes, take the biology and chemistry and physics when they’re offered, and if you don’t understand something, ask for help from anyone you can find. If you’re having trouble with math problems, find a teacher or a tutor to help you see it clearly. We always need more scientists- especially girls!

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The Bluefin tuna can migrate across oceans and can dive more than 4,000 feet. (photo credit: NOAA)

Leah Johnson: Career Spotlight: NOAA Corps Officer, July 30, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leah Johnson
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
July 21 – August 3, 2015

 Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast
Date: Thursday, July 30th, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Time 12:13 PM
Latitude 34.18282
Longitude -76.13712
Water Temperature 25.62 °C
Salinity 35.3592 ppt
Air Temperature 29.8 °C
Relative Humidity 71 %
Wind Speed 13.23 knots
Wind Direction 159.25
Air Pressure 1013.2 mbar

Science and Technology Log:
Career Spotlight: I would like to introduce everyone to Ensign Hollis Johnson, one of the Junior Officers on NOAA Ship Pisces. She was kind enough to let me ask her a few questions about life at sea.

Ens Hollis Johnson

Ensign Hollis Johnson

Q: What is the role of a Junior Officer (JO) on this ship?

A: The primary duty of a JO is driving the ship. We are also the eyes and ears of the Commanding Officer (CO). We carry out standing orders, ensure ship safety, and also make sure the scientists are getting what they need for their survey work.

Q: Does this job description vary depending on the ship?

A: This is a generic fleet-wide description, and some ships are a little different. On hydrographic ships, there is more computer-based work with data collection. On fisheries ships, collateral duties are split amongst the JOs; for example, we have an environmental compliance officer, a safety officer, a movie officer, and a navigation officer.

Q: What do you like best about your job and being at sea?

A: I really like driving the ship. Few jobs offer this kind of an opportunity! I also like the fact that no two days are ever the same, so my job is a constant adventure. The best things about being at sea in general are the sunrises and sunsets, and the dolphins, of course.

Q: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your job and life at sea?

A: This job requires long hours. We can easily work 12-16 hour days, and while in port we still have to work some weekends. Because of this time commitment, we have to make sacrifices. But, we get that time back with our land assignments because there is more flexibility.

Q: When do NOAA Corps officers go to sea, and for how long do they stay?

A: After a 5-month training period, JOs are sent straight to sea assignments for 2 year periods. This can be extended or shortened by 6 months depending on what you are looking for in your next assignment. I extended my assignment at sea for 5 months so I could get my upcoming land assignment in California to work with dolphins for 3 years. After the land-based assignment, NOAA officers typically return to sea as operations officers, then back to land, then sea as executive officers, and so on. That is how you move up.

Q: What exactly will you be doing when you are on your next assignment in California?

A: The title of my position will be Cetacean Photo Specialist. I will be in La Jolla, CA, doing boat and aerial surveys, lots of GIS work and spatial surveys of marine mammal populations. I will participate in the center’s marine mammal stranding network. I will also be involved with outreach and education, which includes giving tours and presentations on scientific studies happening at the lab.

Q: Is life at sea different from what you expected?

A: Actually, it is easier than I thought it would be. I have always been a homebody and lived near my parents, I’m always busy here so time flies. I have internet and phone service so I still feel connected.

Q: Where did you go to college, and what degree did you earn?

A: I attended the University of Georgia, and earned a B.S. in Biology with a focus in marine biology.

Q: When / how did you decide to pursue a career in science?

A: When I was a kid I went to Sea World and fell in love with the whales and dolphins. I always loved animal planet. I also considered being a veterinarian for a while. I tried to be realistic because it is hard to land a career as a marine biologist, but I interned at a lot of places and made connections so I could do what I wanted to do.

Q: How did you find out about careers with NOAA?

In college, I took a summer course about marine mammals and toured a NOAA lab. About a year later, in June, my uncle saw the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster in port in Georgia, and I talked to someone on board about the work they were doing at sea. I immediately applied, interviewed, and was commissioned in January. It all happened very fast once I found out about it.

Q: You were one of the divers who recovered the missing trap this week. How long have you been diving?

A: I was certified to dive when I was 18. It is amazing, and something everyone should try. When I became an officer, the first thing I did was beg my command to send me to the NOAA Dive Center for training as a working diver.

Q: If a high school student is interested in a career like yours, what advice would you give?

A: Do a lot of volunteer work before you expect to get paid. You are investing in your future. If you want it bad enough you have to make sacrifices – but it will pay off. Make connections. If a marine biologist gives a presentation at your school, hang out after and talk with them. Ask for their email address and follow up. It’s a small world in marine research and networking is key.

Q: What is your favorite marine animal, and why?

A: I love thresher sharks and octopuses, but I’ll say Orcas. I’ve always found their species-wide diversity fascinating.

Personal Log:

There are so many people on this cruise who scuba dive and see amazing things below the sea surface. I have only snorkeled. I see dive certification in my future!

Did You Know?

The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services in the United States. Their motto is “Science, service, stewardship”.

map and control panel on the bridge

Chart and control panel on the bridge