Erica Marlaine: Happy Fourth of July from the 49th State, July 4, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 4-5, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 55º 48.9 N
Longitude: 159º 2.3 W
Wind Speed: 4.2 knots
Wind Direction: 186.5º
Air Temperature:  14.7º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1022.12 mb
Depth of water column 84.5 m
Surface Sea Temperature: 10 º Celsius

History

On March 30, 1867, Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire for 7.2 million dollars (or 2 cents per square mile). It was deemed a territory for many years until January 3, 1959 when President Eisenhower signed a proclamation admitting Alaska into the United States.  The word “Alaska” comes from an Aleut-language idiom that means “object to which the action of the sea is directed.” It is the northernmost and westernmost state in the United States. It is also the largest state.  By comparison, it is twice the size of Texas.


Celebrating the Fourth of July, NOAA style

My usual Fourth of July at home includes a bar-b-que, swimming, and attending a fireworks show at night. The Fourth of July celebration on the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson was completely different, and literally a BLAST.  At noon, an announcement was made for “all hands” to report to the galley for Fourth of July “mocktails” or fun non-alcoholic drinks.  (There is no alcohol on a NOAA ship.) I had a delicious “mimosa” made of orange juice and sparkling cider. Later, we were taken on a wonderful ride past Mitrofania Island. 

Approaching Mitrofania Island
Approaching Mitrofania Island
Mitrofania Island
Mitrofania Island

Photographs do not do it justice.  It was my first time up on the fly bridge (the “roof” of the boat) and I loved being able to take in the 360 degree views.  Many people never get to see this part of Alaska as it is not a route commonly taken by cruise ships. The “fireworks” part came the next morning, when “all hands” were again called to the deck to light off expired flares.  While some made a popping noise, the one I did produced thick orange smoke for at least 30 seconds. It was, as I said, a literal blast!


Science and Technology

Later, we were back on the bridge but for a sadder reason. A dead whale was floating in the water right near the boat.  I asked if anyone comes to pick up dead whales.  It was explained to me that if a dead whale washes ashore, it will be picked up and taken for a necropsy to see if the cause of death could be determined.  However, if they are at sea, they will be left to decompose and become part of the sea once again.

Whale carcass
Whale carcass

On a happier note, I was sent to the bridge later in the day to see if there were any whales in the vicinity as we do not fish if whales are nearby. It turned out that there were 5 whales in the distance (but close enough to see with binoculars). Whales are somewhat easy to spot as they must come to the surface often to breathe. When they exhale, they produce a spout of moist air from their blowhole.  Since different species of whales produce different shape or size spouts, the spout is one way to identify the type of whale you are seeing. Other identifying features are size, color, fin shape, and whether they are alone or in a group. Some whale species travel in groups or pods, while others are more solitary. For example, killer whales (which are really dolphins) spend much of their time in large groups that travel and hunt together. Sometimes 4 generations of killer whales will be found together.  In contrast, humpback whales are more often found alone or with their calf.


Whale Fun Facts

While many people think that whales spout water, it is actually mostly air.  The spout is their exhale. Since they are mammals, and not fish, they do not have gills, and must come to the surface to breathe through their blowhole.

A baby whale is called a calf.

A group of whales travelling together is called a pod.

The blue whale is the largest animal in the world. It can grow to be as long as 3 buses, and its heart is as big as a car. Despite being so large, blue whales eat some of the smallest marine life, such as the krill discussed in an earlier blog.

A blue whale’s call is so loud, it can be heard underwater for hundreds of kilometers.

Whales are warm-blooded, so they need to develop a layer of fat (called blubber) to stay warm in cold water.


Whale blubber experiment for parents and kids to do together

Make a blubber glove by filling 2 ziploc-type plastic bags with shortening (such as Crisco) and taping them together to form a pocket.

Fill a bowl with water and ice cubes.

Allow your child to quickly touch the cold water in the bowl with their bare hand.

Then have your child put his or her hand in the blubber glove, and then put their gloved hand into the cold water.


 

Stephen Tomasetti: Sharks of the Gulf, August 24, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Tomasetti
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 11 – 25, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
You can view the geographical location of the cruise here at anytime: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov
Date: Sunday, August 24, 2014

Weather Data from Bridge:
Air Temperature: 31.5 Degrees C
Water Temperature: 31.1 Degrees C
Wind Speed: 7.88 Knots
Barometric Pressure: 1009.4 Millibars

Science and Technology Log:

Today I’ll walk you through the sharks and other fish we’ve caught along leg two of the NOAA Oregon II longline survey. Unfortunately, due to red tide, many sharks had moved out of the areas we were in, so we caught substantially less sharks than usual. But, we still caught quite a few. Check them out:

Atlantic sharpnose

Atlantic sharpnose shark

Name: Atlantic sharpnose shark

Sci. Name: Rhizoprionodon terraenovae

Description: These sharks are very common both inshore and offshore. They often have white spots along the side. You can also tell them by their long labial furrows (grooves around the mouth).

Scientist Andre Debose and volunteer Sarah Larsen work up a blacktip

Scientist Andre Debose and volunteer Sarah Larsen work up a blacktip shark

Name: Blacktip shark

Sci. Name: Carcharhinus limbatus

Description: These sharks can be pretty feisty. They are surprisingly strong (even the little ones). You can identify them by the black marking on the tip of their pectoral fins and the lower lobe of their caudal fin.

Scientist Michael Felts with a Florida smoothhound (photo cred: Joan Turner)

Scientist Michael Felts with a Florida smoothhound (photo cred: Joan Turner)

Name: Florida smoothhound

Sci. Name: Mustelus norrisi

Description: These are my favorite sharks that we’ve caught. They are beautiful. They have small, blunt teeth and are missing a precaudal pit (before the caudal fin). They are long sharks, with second dorsal fins that are very large.

A young tiger shark

A young tiger shark

Name: Tiger shark

Sci. Name: Galeocerdo cuvier

Description: These sharks are known for being fierce hunters and apex predators. They are beautiful sharks with dark spots/stripes along the sides and dorsal fin. They can reach over five meters!

Sandbar shark

Sandbar shark

Name: Sandbar Shark

Sci. Name: Carcharhinus plumbeus

Description: We caught a lot of these sharks on our shifts. They were generally pretty large and we often had to use the cradle to get them close enough to take their measurements. One way to tell sandbar sharks is by their large dorsal fin.

A parasite pulled of the anal fin of a sandbar shark

A parasite pulled off the anal fin of a sandbar shark

For all the sharks we catch, we generally take length measurements, mass, sex and a fin clip/tissue sample (to look at genetic population structure). Then the shark is tagged with a tag and tossed back in the water. Occasionally, NOAA uses a satellite tag on sharks if they want to get additional data. On this cruise the night watch tagged a hammerhead shark with a satellite tag. This particular tag will transmit information when the dorsal fin breaks the surface of the water (often hammerheads and tiger sharks are tagged with these tags because they occasionally come up to the surface).

Personal Log:

Well we’re through fishing for this leg of the survey. We arrive back in Pascagoula, Mississippi tomorrow morning. There’s a lot to miss aboard the Oregon II. Below is a list of the top 5 things I’ll miss about life on the ship (in no particular order).

5) The Food: Three delicious meals a day. I’m not going to know what to do when I return to New York City and have to cook my own food again. Mac’ n cheese. Captain’s Platter. Eggs Benedict. Ice cream every night. I’ve been spoiled.

Second Chef Mark Potter hard at work

Second Cook Mark Potter hard at work

4) The Crew: I spent the majority of my time with the “day shift,” of scientists and fishermen. We would spend basically 11am-2am every day together. We’d eat together. Work together. Hang out between sets together. And finally watch movies together after shift.

The day crew pictured at night

The day crew pictured at night

In addition to the day shift there is an entire crew of interesting people I’ve spent time with: the NOAA Corps Officers, the Engineers, the Night Shift, and the Stewards. It takes a large crew to keep this ship running.

3) The Open Ocean: Picture cruising alongside dolphins at sunset, flying fish cutting through the water, a breeze on deck, and nothing but open ocean until the horizon line.

A flying fish jumped aboard

A flying fish jumped aboard

2) The Fishing: Before this trip it’d been a while since I had been fishing. I’ve never fished using longlines until the Oregon II. I learned a lot about fishing. Check out my earlier blog post here for more on that.

1) The Marine Life: You’ve already read a lot about some of the fish we caught. Here are more photos!

Volunteers Samantha Ehnert and Kelly Korvath kissing sharpnoses

Volunteers Samantha Ehnert and Kelly Korvath kissing Atlantic sharpnose sharks

Red Snapper

Red Snapper

Today, on our way back to Pascagoula, we stopped for a while to test the emergency equipment. In case of an emergency, there are a variety of lifesaving resources to utilize. We shot off flare guns, smoke signals and line casters. I shot off a line caster which slightly resembles a rocket launcher that shoots a rope to another ship in the case that we’d need to get to them. It was sort of like the Fourth of July!

Lieutenant Commander Eric Johnson shooting off a flare

Lieutenant Commander Eric Johnson shooting off a flare

Did You Know? Japanese warriors used to use dried shark skin for the handles of their swords, to keep them from slipping out of their hands.