David Madden: Immersed in the Seascape July 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Madden: July 18th, 2019

 

On board off the coast of North Carolina – about 35 miles east of Cape Fear, 40 miles south of Jacksonville, NC.  (33º50’ N, 77º15’W)

Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

Here’s our location from the other day, courtesy of windy.com.  And here is a good Gulf Stream explanation from our friends at NOAA:

Date: July 19, 2019

Science and Technology Log

Being at sea has got me thinking; about life at sea, the lives and careers of the men and women on board, and about the marine organisms around us.  Pause there for a minute.  Nature’s beauty and abundance on land is readily seen, so long as you travel to the right location and you’re patient.  The ocean, however, hides its multitudes beneath the waves.  I’ve found myself drawn to the ocean my whole life, and here on the cruise, I am drawn to staring at and contemplating the ocean and its life – the great hidden beneath.  You know the stats: the earth is covered by ~70% water, the deep ocean has been explored less than outer space, the ocean is warming and turning more acidic, etc.  I’m not saying that you and I don’t already know these things.  I’m only saying that you feel them differently when you are in the ocean, when you are immersed for days in the seascape.   

The goal is this cruise is to survey fish.  (SEFIS = Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey).  The science crew repeats a similar protocol each day of the cruise.  It looks something like this:

  1. Chief scientist, Zeb Schobernd, determines the site locations using NOAA sea floor maps. 
  2. The science team (broken into day and night shifts) baits six traps with menhaden fish bait, and starts the two GoPros that are attached to the traps.   
  3. The Pisces crew then deploys the traps, 1-6, at pre-determined locations (see step 1).  They do this by sliding them off the back of the ship.  Traps are attached to buoys for later pick up.
  4. Wait for around 75 minutes.
  5. Pisces Senior Survey Technician, Todd Walsh, along with crew members, Mike and Junior, drop the CTD [Conductivity, Temperature, Depth] probe.  See picture below. 

                *Stay tuned for a video chronicling this process. 

6. After ~75 min, NOAA Corps officers drive back to retrieve the traps, in the order they were dropped. (1-6)

7.  Crew members Mike and Junior, along with scientists, collect the fish in the trap and sort them by species.

8.  All fish are measured for weight and length. 

9. Depending on the species, some fish contribute further information, most notably, their otoliths (to determine age) and a sample of reproductive organs to determine maturity. 

10. Rinse and repeat, four times each day, for the length of the cruise. 

I mostly work with the excellent morning crew.

The most excellent and experienced morning crew.

Mike and Junior, running the CTD, and supporting their favorite NFL teams.

Here’s a view into yesterday’s fish count – more fish and more kinds of fish:

Here is a view off the back of the boat, called the stern, where the traps are dropped. 

On Wednesday the GoPros on one of the fish traps collected footage of a friendly wandering tiger shark.  Our camera technician, Mike Bollinger, using his stereo video technique, determined the size of the shark to be ~ 8.5 feet.  I added the location’s CTD data to the picture.  This is part of an upcoming video full of neat footage.  See below. 

Tiger Shark at 64.55 meters, footage from fish trap GoPro.

Personal Log:

Things continue to be exciting on board.  My mission to film flying fish flying continues (local species unknown/not really sure; probably family: Exocoetidae). But not without some mild success!  I managed to get some of ‘em flying off the port side near the bow.  Man are they quick.  And small.  And the seas were rough.  Yet I remain undeterred!  Here’s a picture of me waiting and watching patiently, followed by a picture of an unlucky little flying fish who abandoned sea and was left stranded at ship.  Poor little fella. 

Waiting patiently for the flying fish to fly. And fly right where I was aiming and focused.

General Updates:

  1. The seas have picked up quite a bit.  Rising up to 5-6 feet.  That may not seem terrifically high, but it sure does rock the ship.  Good thing seas were flat at the start, allowing me to get used to life at sea.   
  2. I just saw some dolphins!  Yippie!  Pictures and video to come.    
  3. Though not legal, I’m dying to take a swim in these beautiful blue waters.    
  4. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching the ocean.  *short of being stranded at sea, I suppose.  See “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” – a true story and great book that’s may have served as inspiration for Moby Dick.  I loved the book, haven’t seen the movie.  Or check out the lost at sea portions of the, hard-to-believe-it-actually-happened, “Unbroken” – great book, okay movie. 

Neato Facts =

NOAA Ship Pisces won NOAA ship of the year in 2018.  This is no doubt due to the most excellent crew, seen below.  Congratulations!

We’ve caught a number of moray eels in the fish traps.  They’re super squirmy and unfriendly.  Turns out they also have pharyngeal mouth parts.  Essentially a second mouth that shoots after their first one is opened.  Check out this fascinating look into the morey eel’s jaw biomechanics.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. 

Julia West: Neuston! March 25, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia West
Aboard NOAA ship Gordon Gunter
March 17 – April 2, 2015

Mission: Winter Plankton Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: March 25, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time 0900; mostly sunny, clouds 25% altocumulus; wind 5 knots, 120° (ESE); air 21°C, water 21°C, wave height 1-2 ft.

Science and Technology Log

We continue to zigzag westward on our wild plankton hunt. When we are closer to shore, navigation is tricky, because we are constantly dodging oil platforms, so we can never quite do the straight lines that are drawn on the chart.

Plankton stations 3/25/15

Here’s what we have covered through this morning. We’re making good time!

One of our Oak Meadow math teachers, Jacquelyn O’Donohoe, was wondering about math applications in the work that we are doing. The list is long! But don’t let that deter you from science – no need to fear the math! In fact, Commanding Officer Donn Pratt told me that he was never good at math, but when it came to navigating a ship, it all became more visual and much more understandable. I think it’s cool to see math and physics being applied. So, just for fun, I’ll point out the many places where math is used here on the ship – it’s in just about every part of the operations.

Today’s topic is neuston. As soon as we get the bongo nets back on board, the cable gets switched over to the neuston net. This net is a huge pipe rectangle, 1 meter x 2 meters, with a large net extending to the cod end to collect the sample. The mesh of this net is 1mm, much larger than the 0.3mm mesh of the bongo nets. So we aren’t getting the tiniest things in the neuston net, but still pretty small stuff! We lower the net to the surface, using the winch, and let it drag there for ten minutes. The goal is to have the net half in the water, so we have a swept area of 0.5 x 2 meters, or 1 square meter. (See, there’s some math for you!) That’s the goal. Sometimes with big waves, none of the net is in the water, and then all of it is, but it averages out.

Deploying neuston net

Here I am helping to deploy the neuston net. Photo credit: Kim Johnson

Neuston net

Neuston net in the water. Photo credit: Madalyn Meaker

Then we hose the net off thoroughly to get what is stuck to the net into the cod end.

Neuston net cleaning

Andy is hosing off the neuston net.

As I mentioned before, neuston is the array of living organisms that live on or just below the surface. Some of it is not plankton, as you can also catch larger fish, but mostly, the sample overlaps with the larger plankton that we catch in the bongos. There tends to be more jellyfish in the neuston net, so we sometimes wear gloves. Pam got stung by a man o’ war on the first day while cleaning out the net!

 

neuston sample

Pam is sorting an interesting neuston sample. See her smile – she clearly loves plankton!

Collecting neuston

Madalyn funneling the neuston into a jar with ethanol

Sometimes we end up with Sargassum in our nets. Sargassum is a type of brown “macroalgae” (seaweed) that grows in large clumps and floats on the surface. Have you ever heard of the Sargasso Sea? It is a massive collection of Sargassum in the Atlantic Ocean, held in place by the North Atlantic Gyre.

Sargassum

Sargassum taken from a sample

Sargassum

Sargassum in the water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sargassum often collects in our nets. Sometimes we get gallons of Sargassum, and we have to carefully hose the organisms off of it, and throw the weeds back. We get the most interesting variety of life in the Sargassum! It supports entire communities of life that wouldn’t be there without it. If you want to know a little more about Sargassum communities, check out this website.

Here are a few examples of some of the photographable organisms we have collected in the neuston net. I’m working on getting micrographs of the really cool critters that are too small to see well with the naked eye, but they are amazing – stay tuned. All of the fish, except the flying fish, are very young; the adults will be much, much larger. (If you click on one of these, you will see a nice slide show and the full caption.)

Lastly, here is a really cool neuston sample we got – whale food!

copepods

This sample looks like it is almost entirely made up of copepods; this species is a beautiful blue color.

Personal Log

Now let’s turn to the other life form on the ship – the people. There are a total of 26 people on this cruise. Everyone is really great; it’s a community of its own. First, let me introduce the NOAA Corps crew who run the ship.

The NOAA Corps, or NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States (can you name the others?). It seems that many have never heard of the NOAA Corps, so it’s worth telling you a little bit about them. Officers are trained to take leadership positions in the operation of ships and aircraft, conducting research missions such as this one and much, much more! NOAA Corps has all the career benefits of the U.S. military, without active combat. Our officers all have a degree in some kind of science, often marine science or fisheries biology.

The crew members generally keep 4 hour watches, twice a day. I really enjoy going up to the bridge to hang out with them. It’s a whole different world up there, and they have been gracious enough to explain to me (as best as I can understand it) how they navigate the ship. Conceptually, I get it pretty well, but even if I was allowed to, I wouldn’t dare touch one of the buttons and dials they have up there!

Our XO (Executive Officer) on the Gunter is LCDR Colin Little. Colin has been with NOAA for eleven years now, and his previous assignments include Sea Duty aboard Oregon II and Oscar Elton Sette, and shore assignments in Annapolis, MD and Newport, OR. His background is in fish morphology and evolution.  His wife and two sons are currently living in Chicago.

ENS Kristin Johns has been on the Gunter for almost a year. She joined NOAA after getting a biology degree at Rutgers. She is currently being trained to be the next Navigation Officer. Kristin is the safety officer, as well as the MPIC (Medical Person in Charge). Kristin is the one who suggested I use the word “thalassophilia” as the word of the day – something she clearly suffers from!

Our Operations Officer (OPS) is LT Marc Weekley. Marc is in charge of organizing the logistics, and coordinating between the scientists and the crew. He’s been with NOAA for ten years (on the Gunter for two years), and has had some interesting land-based as well as offshore posts, including a year at the South Pole Station (yes, Antarctica) doing clean air and ozone monitoring.

ENS Melissa Mathes is newest officer with NOAA, but spent 6 years in the Army Reserves in college, and then 6 years of active duty with the Navy. Melissa loves archery and motorcycles, and she has been rumored to occasionally dance while on watch.

Melissa and Marc

ENA Melissa Mathes and LT Marc Weekley

ENS (which stands for Ensign, by the way) David Wang, originally from New York City, is our Navigation Officer (NAV). He’s been with NOAA for two years. His job, as he puts it, is “getting us where we gotta go, safely.” He is the one who charts our course, or oversees the other Junior Officers as they do it. Dave used to be a commercial fisherman, and when he’s not on duty, those are his fishing lines extending out from the back deck. He’s also an avid cyclist and ultimate Frisbee player.

ENS Peter Gleichauf has been on the Gunter since November, but finished his training over a year ago. He is also an aviator, musician, and avid outdoors person. In fact, for all of the officers, health, fitness, and active lifestyle is a priority. Pete is in charge of environmental compliance on the ship.

Dave and Pete

ENS Dave Wang and ENS Pete Gleichauf

King mackerel

Lead fisherman Jorge Barbosa and a king mackerel caught today on Dave’s line! It took 2 deck crew men to pull it in!

 

Term of the Day: USS Cole – you can look this one up. Next blog post I will explain what in the world it has to do with a plankton research cruise. I promise it will all make sense!

 

Carol Schnaiter, At Sea, June 14, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Schnaiter

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 6 – 21, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Gulf of Mexico

June 14, 2014

Weather: Partly cloudy. Winds 10 to 15 knots. Waves 1 to 2 feet.

Science and Technology Log:

We have been very busy with stations. The catch on Thursday included a variety of shrimp.  There are many different kinds of shrimp and a lot of them can be found in the Gulf of Mexico. Did you know that most shrimp have a short lifespan, maybe only two to three years?

Some of the ones we caught were the Rose Shrimp (Parapenaeus politus), Roughback Shrimp (Rimapenaeus constrictus), Brown Rock Shrimp (Sicyonia brevirostris stimpson) and the Spiny Rock Shrimp (Sicyonia barkenroadi). Since the scientist use the proper names for each species, I am trying to learn those names too!

 

shrimp in Gulf of Mexico

Can you identify this species of shrimp?

NOAA is one of the primary agencies that watches over the aquaculture or farming in the water. With surveys such as the one the NOAA Ship Oregon II is conducting they are able to calculate the amount of fish, shrimp, and other organisms that can be taken out each year. It is similar to the hunting season we have for deer at home. This protects the industry and allows for the species to grow and not be overfished.

Red snapper is a species that was being overfished for many years and because of this they were not growing to maturity. Now with limits on how many red snapper can be caught, it is making a comeback.

Red Snapper

Huge red snapper caught in our net. Photo by Chief Scientist Kim Johnson

 

Another way that the scientist collect species on the NOAA Ship Oregon II is by using the Neuston nets. These large nets float half in the water and half under the water. They are designed to collect the tiny organisms that float on the top of the water or live right under the surface of the water.

Neuston tow

Here are the Neuston nets being towed at night.

When the nets are being brought back to the ship, we must rinse everything down into the bottom collection container. The material is then placed into jars and chemicals are added to preserve everything.

neuston net

Me washing the neuston net. Photo by Robin Gropp

 

Plankton transfers

. Photo by Robin Gropp

Later the material collected must be transferred into other chemicals and then sent back to the lab on land to be identified.

In the photo I am helping Scientist Andre Debose prepare the samples for transfer.

 

Careers

It takes many people doing many different jobs to keep a ship like the NOAA Ship Oregon II running smoothly.
One job is the ET or Electrical Technician. The ET is a person that helps maintain and repair the electronic components and equipment or devices that use electricity. The NOAA Ship Oregon II is very fortunate to have Brian Thomas as their ET. Brian is ready to work on anything from the radar of the ship to my laptop that I am using to write my blog.

He has been with NOAA as an independent Federal worker since 2006. Before that he was in the Navy for 20 years working with sonar, so Brian knows his way around the ship! He also worked at the shipyards before joining the crew.

He said he had training for three years to learn his present job and because so much of the ship’s equipment works with electricity, Brian is on call 24 hours a day. Normally he said ships have rotating ET’s, but he is the only one on this ship.

Brian said it is a very interesting job and the best part is when everything is going well!

ET Brian Thomas

ET Brian Thomas ready for his next call.

Internship:

NOAA has two college students doing an internship on the NOAA Ship Oregon II this season. One of them is Robin Gropp who will be a sophomore at Lewis and Clark College in the state of Oregon in the fall.

Robin is a biology major and his future goal is to be a marine scientist and maybe work with alternative energy, mainly tidal power, also called tidal energy. This is a form of hydropower that using the tides to make energy. (Kind of like how we have the wind mills that use wind near Amboy to make energy)

Robin is working for NOAA this summer to learn more about the sea turtles and study why they sometimes get stranded or caught on piers. He is also studying the sharks and rays that we might catch while on the Groundfish Survey.

The best part of being involved with a NOAA internship to Robin is the hands-on research that he is conducting.

Robin Gropp and the CTD

Robin helping with the shrimp net at night.

 

Personal Log:

Today the Lead Fisherman, Chris alerted me to the fact that there were bottlenose dolphin swimming behind the ship. The dolphin were following the nets in hopes of snagging a free meal. I quickly grabbed my camera and headed out to watch the dolphins!

The bottlenose dolphins are the most common and well-known members of the marine family. They can live up to 50 years and can be found in temperate and tropical waters around the world. For more information, go to this link:

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/bottlenosedolphin.htm

The dolphins were amazing to watch as they slapped the water with their tails and followed the net right up to the ship. I have included a video and a picture, but this really does not show the true beauty it was to watch them live. I am so lucky to be out here in the Gulf of Mexico aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Dolphin

Bottlenose dolphin following the ship!

 

Click this link to watch my video of the dolphins!

There is such a wide variety of species living in the Gulf of Mexico. I have included some photos of just a few of the ones we have caught in the nets.

anchovies

Sometimes people like these on their pizza…anchovies!

lesser electric ray

Here I am holding the Lesser Electric Ray. Photo by Chief Scientist Kim Johnson

 

The Atlantic flying fish uses its pectoral fins to “catch” the air currents and moves it’s tail back and forth to move forward.

Atlantic flying fish

Atlantic flying fish

 

I am feeling much better now that we have been out to sea for seven days. Walking around on the ship can be tricky somedays, but I am getting better at it everyday!

Carol Schnaiter, Our Second Day at Sea, June 8, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Carol Schnaiter

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 6 – 21, 2014

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey Gulf of Mexico

June 8, 2014

Science and Technology Log

The Oregon II set sail on June 6th and will reach the first station sometime Monday, June 9th, in the evening.

While on the way there the scientists and crew are preparing the equipment and testing everything to make sure it is ready to use when we arrive. One item tested was the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth) item. The white round frame protects the delicate, expensive piece of gear that you can see at the bottom of the frame. It allows the equipment to safely travel down without hitting the side of the ship nor the bottom of the ocean. Near the top you see the water sampling tubes.

 

Test run of equipment for titrations

Kim and Andre prepare the CTD.

These tubes are opened up and when they enter the water they are triggered to close and collect water from the depth that the science team has predetermined.

The deck crew uses a crane to help lift it over the side of the ship and then it drops down and collects water. This was a test to make sure everything was working and the CTD was dropped down and collected water in three tubes.

When it came back on deck, Kim Johnson, the Lead Scientist, took three containers of water from one tube. In the lab she used the Winkler Test, to determine the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the water samples. This is called doing titrations and they will be conducted once a day or more often if something goes wrong.

Can you think of why scientists would need to test this? They are trying to determine the level of oxygen in the water to see if it is high or low. If it is low or not there at all, scientist call it a “Dead Zone” because everything needs oxygen to live.

Kim Johnson took the three samples to the lab and added chemicals to test the water. It took some time to conduct the test, but Kim explained everything to Robin Gropp (he is an intern on the ship) and to me.

The results that were done by hand were compared to the results collected by the computer and they matched! The oxygen level in the first test were good. This means the equipment will be ready to use!

Sargassum seaweed

Photo I took from the ship

In the Gulf of Mexico there is a lot of floating seaweed called Sargassum. To learn more about this, go to the attached url. In short, this seaweed is brown and floats on top of the water. It has been used as a herb in some areas. It is interesting to see the brown seaweed floating by the ship.  http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sargassosea.html

Do you notice how blue the water is? What makes the water look so blue? According to the NOAA Ocean Facts:

  • “The ocean is blue because water absorbs colors in the red part of the light spectrum. Like a filter, this leaves behind colors in the blue part of the light spectrum for us to see.
  • The ocean may also take on green, red, or other hues as light bounces off of floating sediments and particles in the water.
  • Most of the ocean, however, is completely dark. Hardly any light penetrates deeper than 200 meters (656 feet), and no light penetrates deeper than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet ).”

Pretty neat to see how light and color work together!

Personal Log

The water went from murky brown when we left Mississippi due to the boat activity and the rivers that drain down into the Gulf, to this blue that is hard to describe. I am trying to absorb everything that the scientist are discussing and hoping that when we start working everything will make more sense to me! There is so much to learn!

Today we had safety drills; a fire drill (yes, we practice fire drills even on the ship, you can’t call 911 at sea after all) and abandon ship drill. During the abandon ship drill everyone had to bring long pants, long-sleeve shirt, hat, life preserver and immersion suit. Here is a picture of me in my immersion suit. This suit will float and keep me warm if we need to leave the ship.

Wearing my immersion suit!

Wearing my immersion suit! Photo taken by Kim Johnson

Today the ships’ divers went into the water to check the hulll of the ship and the water temperature was 82 degrees. It would have been refreshing to be in the water, but this is a working ship and safety comes first!

The food onboard the ship is delicious and I am sure I will need to walk many steps after this trip. The cooks offer two or three choices at every meal and the snack area is open 24 hours…not a good thing for me!

While on deck I saw my first flying fish today. I thought it was a bird flying close to the water, but it was not! Amazing how far they can fly over the water.

When I look out from the front of the ship, I see water, water, and more water. There are a few oil rigs in the distance and once in a while a ship passes by, but mostly beautiful blue water!

Last night I saw my first sea sunset and since I will be working the midnight to noon shift starting soon, it maybe the last sunset…but I will get to see some AWESOME sunrises!

2014-06-07 Sunset!

Glad I had my camera with me!

Enjoy the sunset!

Mrs. Carol Schnaiter

Louise Todd, Haul Back, September 23, 2013

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

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

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

Science and Technology Log:

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

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

Line on the winch

Winch holding the main line

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

Nurse Shark on the line

Nurse Shark on the line

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

Measuring Grouper

Measuring a Yellowedge Grouper (Photo credit Christine Seither)

Measuring a Sandbar

Christine and Nick measuring a Sandbar Shark

Each shark is examined to determine its gender.

Sexing a shark

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

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

Claspers

Claspers on a Blacktip

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

Shark Fin Clip

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

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

Some sharks are small and relatively easy to handle.

Cuban Dogfish

Small Cuban Dogfish (Photo credit Christine Seither)

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

Silky Shark

Silky shark coming up in the cradle

Sandbar Shark

Sandbar Shark in the cradle

Personal Log:

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

Did You Know?

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

FlyingFish

Flying Fish

Sarah Boehm: Home Again, July 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013 

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 10, 2013

Personal Log

The Oregon II pulled into port Sunday morning after a successful 2 week leg of the summer groundfish survey. The first thing I wanted to do when we got to land was to go for a walk. It did feel great to stretch my legs and move more than 170 feet at a time. Being on land again felt funny, as if the ground was moving under me. I thought this “dock rock” would pass quickly, but even two days later I had moments of feeling unsteady. On Monday I made my way back home to Massachusetts, arriving after 12 hours of planes and cars to a delightfully cool evening (although I hear it had been very hot while I was gone.)

I still have some photos and videos I wanted to share, so I thought I’d put together one more blog post with some amazing and fun creatures we saw.

We saw sharks swimming near the boat a few times, but this video shows the most dramatic time. This group of at least 8 sharks attacked the net as it brought up a bunch of fish, ripping holes in the net and spilling the fish. They then feasted on all that easy food floating in the water.

puffers

Adult puffer fish on the left from a groundfish trawl and a baby puffer from a plankton tow on the right

jelly nets

Icicles? Nope. Those are jellies that got caught in the net.

small flying fish

A very small flying fish with its “wings” extended.

One of my favorite fish is the flying fish. These fish have very long pectoral fins on the side of their bodies that act like wings. They can’t really fly, but they can soar an impressive distance through the air. We sometimes caught them in the Neuston net as it skimmed the top of the water. They are great fun to watch as groups of them will take to the air to get out of the way of the boat. Even more fun was watching dolphins hunting the flying fish! I was unsuccessful at getting a video, but you can watch them in this BBC clip.

flying fish

It must be the end of watch. Me with a flying fish.

Another cool animal we found were hermit crabs. The ones we caught were bigger than any I had found at a beach. The shell they live in was made by a gastropod (snail). As the hermit crab grows it has to find a bigger shell to move into.

hermit crab

A large hermit crab in its shell.

hermit crab without its shell

We had to take the hermit crab out of its shell to weigh it. The head and claws have a hard shell, but the back part is soft and squishy.

hermit and anemones

This hermit crab has sea anemones living on its shell.

Look closely at the spots of color on this video of a squid. You can see how the color and patterns are changing.

A few more cool critters we found:

stargazer

This stargazer looks like a dragon, but fits in the palm of your hand. It buries itself in the mud and then springs out to grab prey.

mantis shrimp

We found many mantis shrimp. It gets its name because those front legs are similar to those of the praying mantis. Those legs are incredibly fast and strong to kill its prey.

I knew there were many oil rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico, but I was surprised by just how many we passed. There are almost 4,000 active rigs in the waters from Texas to Alabama. While we went through this area there were always a few visible. They reminded me of walkers, the long legged vehicles from the Star Wars movies, with their boxy shapes perched above the water. By comparison, the waters near Florida were deserted because offshore oil drilling is not allowed and there were few other ships.

oil rig

Oil rigs

evening rig

Work on an oil rig also goes on 24 hours a day.

It was fabulous spending this time out on the groundfish survey with the scientists and crew of the Oregon II. Now I have a greater understanding of the Gulf ecosystem and science in action.  I truly appreciate the time people on board spent to teach me new things and answer all my questions. I also have enjoyed all my students’ comments and questions. Keep them coming!

storm approaching

A storm approaches as we pull in to Pascagoula.

Emilisa Saunders: We Do Science Here! May 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emilisa Saunders
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 14, 2013 to May 30, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Spring Plankton Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Weather Data: Wind speed: 19.02 knots; Surface water temp.: 24.7 degrees C; Air temp: 25.7 degrees C: Relative humidity: 91%; Barometric pressure: 1007.4 mb.

Science and Technology Log:

Plankton jar

A nice jar of plankton from an early morning tow.

Getting just one small jar of plankton back to the lab on shore requires a lot of work. First comes all of the net-dropping work I described in the last post, which is a team effort from everyone on board, just to bring the samples onto the ship. From there, we have to take several more steps in order to preserve the sample.

Step 1: After the nets are brought back onto the bow of the ship, we hose them down very thoroughly using a seawater hose, in order to wash any clinging plankton down into the cod end.

Here I am, hosing down the Bongo nets. Photo by Alonzo Hamilton

Here I am, hosing down the Bongo nets. Photo by Alonzo Hamilton

Then we detach the cod end and bring it to the stern of the ship, where a prep station is set up. The prep table is stocked with funnels, sieves, seawater hoses and jars, and the chemicals that we need to preserve the plankton that we collect – formalin and ethyl alcohol.

Prep station

Prep Station

Step 2: We carefully pour the specimen through the fine-mesh sieve to catch the plankton and drain out the water. It’s amazing to see what’s in the sample. This, of course, includes lots of tiny plankton; all together, they look kind of like sludge, until you look very closely to see the individual creatures. Lots of the fish larvae have tiny, bright blue eyes. (On a funny note, my breakfast granola has started to look like plankton after a week of collecting!)

Plankton in a sieve

Plankton in a sieve

Getting to see what makes it into each sample is kind of like a treasure hunt.  Sometimes bigger organisms like fish, sea jellies, eel larvae, pyrosomes and snails end up in the sample. Quite frequently there is sargassum, which is a type of floating seaweed that does a great job of hiding small creatures. Take a look at the pictures at the end of the post to see some of these!

Step 3: Next, the sample goes into a jar. We use seawater from a hose to push the sample to one side of the sieve, and let the water drain out. Then, we put a funnel in a clean, dry jar and use a squeeze bottle of ethyl alcohol to wash the sample into the jar through the funnel. We top the jar off with ethyl alcohol, which draws the moisture out of the bodies of the plankton so that they don’t decompose or rot in the jar. The sample from the left bongo – just this sample and no other – is preserved in a mixture of formalin and seawater because it goes through different testing than the other samples do once back on shore. We top all of the bottles with a lid and label them: R for Right Bongo, L for Left Bongo, RN for Regular Neuston, and SN for Subsurface Neuston.

plankton

Plankton Ready to go in the Jar

Step 4: After the jars are filled, Alonzo and I bring them back to the wet lab, where Glenn attaches labels to the tops of the jars, and puts a matching label inside of each jar as well. The label inside the jar is there in case the label on the lid falls off one day.  These labels provide detailed information about where and when the sample was collected, and from which net.

Plankton jar label

A label on the jar gives detailed information about the plankton inside

Step 5: After 24 hours, it’s time to do transfers. Transfers involve emptying the samples from the jars through a sieve again, and putting them back into the jars with fresh ethyl alcohol. We do this because the alcohol draws water out of the bodies of the plankton, so the alcohol becomes watered-down in the first 24 hours and is not as effective. Adding fresh alcohol keeps the sample from going bad before it can be studied. Once the transfers are done, we draw a line through the label to show that the sample is well-preserved and ready to be boxed up and brought back to the lab!

Jars of Plankton

Boxes full of plankton samples ready to be brought back to shore

Personal Log:

I have the great fortune of working with some intelligent, knowledgeable and friendly scientists here on the Oregon II.  Jana is my bunkmate and one of the scientists; she pointed out to me that just about every animal you can imagine that lives in the ocean started off as plankton. As a result, while the scientists who work with plankton do each have a specialty or specific type of plankton that they focus on, at the same time, they have to know a little bit about many types of organisms and the basics of all of their life cycle stages. In a way I can relate to this as a Naturalist; I need to have a bit of knowledge about many plants, animals, minerals and fossils from the Mojave Desert and beyond, because chances are, my smart and curious Nature Exchange traders will eventually bring them all in for me to see and identify!

Team Plankton

The science team, from left to right: Andy, Alonzo, Glenn, me, Jana and Brittany.  Photo by Brian Adornado

I want to take a few moments to introduce all of the members of the science team. I thought I’d have fun with it and use my own version of the Pivot questionnaire:

Meet Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton, scientist, testing water samples in the Wet Lab.

Alonzo is a Research Fisheries Biologist; he has been working with NOAA since 1984.  Alonzo earned an Associate’s degree in Science, a Bachelor’s degree in biology, and a Master’s degree in Biology with an emphasis in Marine Science.  Alonzo was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Mississippi.

What is your favorite word? Data

What is your least favorite word? No or can’t.  There’s always a solution; you just have to keep trying until you find it.

What excites you about doing science? Discovery

What do you dislike about doing science? The financial side of it.

What is your favorite plankton? Tripod fish plankton

What sound or noise on the ship do you love? The main engines

What sound or noise do you hate? The alarm bells

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? An electrician.  There are some neat jobs in that field.

What profession would you not like to do? Lawyer.  There’s a risk of becoming too jaded.

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? A coelacanth.  What is your life history?  What’s a typical day of feeding like?  Is there a hierarchy of fish, and what is it?  What determines who gets to eat first?

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Meet Glenn Zapfe

Zapfe

Glenn Zapfe, scientist, contemplating the plankton samples.

Glenn is a Research Fisheries Biologist; he worked with NOAA as a contractor for 8 years before being hired on as a Federal employee three years ago.  Glenn earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Life, and a Master’s degree in Coastal Science.  He grew up in the Chicago area.

What is your favorite word? Quirky

What is your least favorite word? Nostalgia

What excites you about doing science? Going to sea and seeing organisms in their natural environment.

What do you dislike about doing science? Statistics.  They can sometimes be manipulated to fit individual needs.

What is your favorite plankton? Amphipods

What sound or noise on the ship do you love? The hum of the engine

What sound or noise do you hate? The emergency alarm bells

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Glenn grew up wanting to be a cartoonist – but he can’t draw.

What profession would you not like to do? Lawyer

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? A cuttlefish, to ask about how they are able to change the color of their skin.

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Meet Jana Herrmann

Jana Herrmann

Jana Hermann, scientist and volunteer, aboard the Oregon II

Jana is a Fisheries Technician with the Gulf Coast Research Lab, and is on this cruise as a volunteer.  She has worked with the Gulf Coast Research Lab since February 2013, but worked within the local Marine Sciences field for 8 years before that.   Jana earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and Environmental biology, and will be starting graduate school in the fall of 2013.  Jana grew up in Tennessee.

What is your favorite word? Pandemonium

What is your least favorite word? Anything derogatory

What excites you about doing science? Just when you think you have it all figured out, something new comes up.

What do you dislike about doing science? Dealing with bureaucracy and having to jump through hoops to get the work done.

What is your favorite plankton? Janthina

What sound or noise on the ship do you love? This is Jana’s first cruise on the Oregon II, so she doesn’t have a favorite noise yet.

What sound or noise do you hate? Any noises that keep her from sleeping.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? A baker or pastry chef.

What profession would you not like to do? Any mundane office job with no creative outlet.

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? She would ask a blue whale if it is sad about the state of the environment, and she would ask it if mermaids are real.

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Meet Brittany Palm

Brittany Palm

Brittany Palm, scientist, aboard the Oregon II

Brittany is a Research Fisheries Biologist; she has worked with NOAA for 4 years.  Brittany earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology, and is currently working on her Master’s degree in Marine Science.  Brittany grew up on Long Island.

What is your favorite word? Midnattsol – the Norwegian word for “midnight sun”

What is your least favorite word? Editing.  That’s not a fun word to hear when you hand in drafts of your thesis!

What excites you about doing science?  Constantly learning.  All of the fields of science, from chemistry to physics to biology, are interwoven.  You have to know a little bit about all of them.

What do you dislike about doing science?  Also, constantly learning!  Every time you think you know something, a new paper comes out.

What is your favorite plankton? Glaucus

What sound or noise on the ship do you love?  The ship’s sound signal, which is a deep, booming horn that ships use to communicate with each other.

What sound or noise do you hate? When she’s trying to sleep in rough seas and something in one of the drawers is rolling back and forth.  She has to get up and go through all of the drawers and cabinets to try to find it and make it stop!

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Opening a dance studio.  Brittany competed on dance teams throughout high school and college.

What profession would you not like to do? Anything in the health field, because she empathizes more with animals than people.

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it?  The Croaker fish.  Brittany is studying Croaker diets and has dissected over a thousand stomachs.  She would like to be able to just ask them what they eat!

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Meet Andy Millett

Andy Millett

Andy Millett, scientist, in the Dry Lab of the Oregon II.

Andy is a Research Fisheries Biologist, and is the Field Party Chief for this cruise.  He has worked with NOAA for 3 years.  He has a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and a Master’s degree in Marine Science.  Andy grew up in Massachusetts.

What is your favorite word? Parallel

What is your least favorite word? Silly

What excites you about doing science?  When all of the data comes together and tells you a story.

What do you dislike about doing science?  Having to be so organized and meticulous, since he is typically pretty disorganized.

What is your favorite plankton? Pelagia

What sound or noise on the ship do you love?  Spinning the flowmeters on the nets.  It sounds like a card in the spokes of a bicycle.

What sound or noise do you hate?  Alarms of any kind, whether they are emergency alarms or alarm clocks.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Video game designer

What profession would you not like to do? Anything in retail or customer service

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it?  A giant squid, because we don’t know much about them.  Andy would ask what it eats, where it lives, and other basic questions about its life.

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Challenge Yourself:  Hey, Nature Exchange traders!  The scientists shared their favorite plankton types; all of them are truly fascinating in their own way.  Research one of these animals and write down a few facts.  Or, pick your favorite Mojave Desert animal and write about that.  Bring your research into the Nature Exchange for bonus points.  Tell them Emmi sent you!

Don’t forget to track the Oregon II here: NOAA Ship Tracker

Animals We’ve Seen (and one plant):

Bristletooth Conger Eel Larva

Bristletooth Conger Eel Larva.  See its tiny little face on the left?

Sargassum

Sargassum is a floating seaweed that often ends up in our Neuston nets. We record its volume and throw it back.

Sea Jelly

Sea jelly

Sargassum fish

Sargassum fish – they hide in the sargassum!

Porpita jelly

Porpita jelly

Myctophid

Myctophids are shiny silver and black, and quite pretty!

Flying fish

A juvenile flying fish. I’ve seen some adults gliding through the air as well!

Filefish

Alonzo holding a juvenile filefish