Stacey Jambura: Not Your Average Fish Tail Tale July 16, 2012

Stacey Jambura
July 6 – 17, 2012
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Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
(You can view the NOAA ShipTracker here: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/shiptracker.html)
Date: July 16, 2012
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Weather Details from Bridge: (at 15:45 GMT)
Air Temperature: 28.8 ◦C
Water Temperature: 28.80 ◦C
Relative Humidity: 70 %
Wind Speed: 8.56 kts
Barometric Pressure: 1,017.68 mb

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Science and Technology Log

The Trawling Net

Trawling Net

Trawling Net

The trawling net is used to collect groundfish samples. It is deployed from the stern of the ship and towed for 30 minutes. The net is towed back in and brought onboard to be emptied. During this process it is important that everyone at the stern of the ship is wearing a hard hat and a personal flotation device in the unlikely event that something goes wrong. Once the net is lifted over the side of the ship and brought on deck, it is untied and emptied into large baskets.

Hauling the trawling net back onboard.

Hauling the trawling net back onboard.

The baskets are weighed before they are brought inside and emptied onto a large conveyor belt. The fish are spread out on the belt so they are easier to sort. The fish are sorted into individual baskets by species. Once all of the fish are sorted, we count them and find their total weight. We then work through each basket and measure, weigh, and identify the sex of each specimen. Once we are done measuring the fish, some are bagged, labeled and frozen for scientists to examine back at their labs. The rest of the fish are thrown back into the ocean.

Emptying the trawling net into baskets

Alex & Reggie emptying the net into baskets.

We found many different species of vertebrates and invertebrates (fish with a spine, and those without a spine). Here are some of the fish we found:

Vertebrates

Invertebrates

It is important to document the length and weight of each fish collected in a trawl. We used special measuring boards and scales to collect this data. There are two boards, each is connected to one computer. When we measure the fish, we use a magnetic wand. When it touches the board, it sends a signal to the computer which records the length of the fish. Fish are measure at one of three lengths: fork length, standard length, and total length. Once the fish are measured, they are placed on a scale to be weighed. The scale is also connected to the computer and records the weight of the fish.

Scale

Scale

Boards

Measuring Boards

Fork length is measured from the inside of the tail of the fish.

Fork length is measured from the inside of the tail of the fish.

Standard length is measure from the base of the tail of the fish.

Standard length is measure from the base of the tail of the fish.

Total length is measured from the tip of tail of the fish.

Total length is measured from the tip of tail of the fish.

Personal Log

Day 12 – July 16th

Today is my last day at sea before we dock in Pascagoula,Mississippi. It has been quite a journey and I can’t believe it is already over. Though the work was hard and hot (and many times smelly), it was an amazing experience and I hope to one day have the opportunity to experience it again! I have met many wonderful people and hope to keep in touch with them! I have learned so much about our oceans and the life within them. I hope that my blogs have given you a glimpse into what life onboard the Oregon II is like and I hope that you have learned something about the work that takes place on the open seas.

Map of our Survey

Map of our Survey

Although this is my last day on the Oregon II, keep an eye out for one final blog. There will be interviews with the crew of the Oregon II, what their job is, why they chose this line of work, the steps they took to become a crew member of the Oregon II, and words of advice for students everywhere!

Lesley Urasky: Fish, fish, where are all the fish? June 18, 2012

 NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

 

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 18, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 17.6568
Longitude: -64.9281

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 28.5°C (83.3°F)
Wind Speed:  17.1 knots (19.7 mph), Beaufort scale: 5
Wind Direction: from SE
Relative Humidity: 75%
Barometric Pressure:   1,014.80 mb
Surface Water Temperature:28.97 °C (84.1°F)

Science and Technology Log

Alright, so I’ve promised to talk about the fish.  Throughout the science portions of the cruise, the scientists have not been catching the anticipated quantities of fish.  There are several lines of thought as to why: maybe the region has experienced overfishing; possibly the sampling sites are too shallow and deeper water fish may be more likely to bite; or they might not like the bait (North Atlantic mackerel) since it is not an endemic species/prey they would normally eat.

So far, the night shift has caught more fish than the day shift that I’m on.  Today, we have caught five and a half fish. The half fish was exactly that – we retrieved only the head and it looked like the rest of the body had been consumed by a barracuda!  These fish were in the grouper family and the snapper family.

Coney (Cephalopholis fulvus)

Blackfin snapper (Lutjanus buccanella). This little guy was wily enough to sneak into the camera array and steal some squid out of the bait bag! The contents of his stomach – cut up squid – can be seen to the left between the forceps and his head.

Once the fish have been caught, there are several measurements that must be made.  To begin, the fish is weighed to the nearest thousandth (three decimal places) of a kilogram. In order to make sure the weight of the fish is accurate, the scale must be periodically calibrated.

Then there are several length measurements that are made: standard length (SL), total length (TL) and depending on the type of fish, fork length (FL).  To make these measurements, the fish is laid so that it facing toward the left and placed on a fish board.  The board is simply a long plank with a tape measure running down the center.  It insures that the fish is laid out flat and allows for consistent measurement.

Standard length does not measure the caudal fin, or tail.  It is measured from the tip of the fish’s head and stops at the end of the last vertebra; in other words, if the fish is laying on its side, and you were to lift the tail up slightly, a crease will form at the base of the backbone.  This is where the standard length measurement would end.  Total length is just as it sounds – it is a measurement of the entire length (straight line)  of the fish.  Fork length is only measured if the type of fish caught has a forked tail.  If it does, the measurement begins at the fish’s snout and ends at the v-notch in the tail.

How to measure the three types of lengths: standard, fork, and total. (Source: Australian Government: Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population, and Communities)

Red hind (Epinephelus guttatus) on the fish board being measured for standard length. Ariane’s thumb is on the crease marking the end of its backbone.

Once the physical measurements are made, the otoliths must be extracted and the fish sexed.  You’re probably anxious to learn if you selected the right answer on the previous post’s poll – “What do you think an otolith is?”  An otolith can be thought of as a fish’s “ear bone”.  It is actually a structure composed of calcium carbonate and located within the inner ear.  All vertebrates (organisms with backbones) have similar structures.  They function as gravity, balance, movement, and directional indicators.  Their presence helps a fish sense changes in horizontal motion and acceleration.

In order to extract the otoliths, the fish must be killed.  Once the fish has been killed, the brain case is exposed and peeled back.  The otoliths are in little slits located in the underside of the brain.  It takes a delicate touch to remove them with a pair of forceps (tweezers) because they can easily break or slip beyond the “point of no return” (drop into the brain cavity where they cannot be extracted).

Otoliths are important scientifically because they can tell many important things about a fish’s life.  Their age and growth throughout the first year of life can be determined.  Otoliths record this information just like tree ring record summer/winter cycles. More complex measurements can be used to determine the date of hatch, once there are a collected series of measurements, spawning times can be calculated.

A cross-section of an otolith under a microscope. The rings are used to determine age and other life events. Source: Otolith Research Laboratory, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Because they are composed of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), the oxygen component of the chemical compound can be used to measure stable oxygen isotopes; this is useful for reconstructing temperatures of the waters the fish has lived in.  Scientists are also able to look at other trace elements and isotopes to determine various environmental factors.

Extracted otoliths. Often they are around 1 cm long, although the larger the fish, the slightly larger the otolith.

The final step we take in measurement/data collection is determining the sex and maturity of the fish.  To do this, the fish is slit open just as if you were going to clean the fish to filet and eat it.  The air bladder must be deflated if it isn’t already and the intestines moved out of the way.  Then we begin to search for the gonads (ovaries and testes).  Once the gonads are found, we know if it is female or male and the next step is to determine its stage or maturity.  This is quite a process, especially since groupers can be hermaphroditic.  The maturity can be classified with a series of codes:

  • U = undetermined
  •  1  = immature virgin (gonads are barely visible)
  •  2  = resting (empty gonads – in between reproductive events)
  •  3 = enlarging/developing (eggs/sperm are beginning to be produced)
  •  4 = running ripe (gonads are full of eggs/sperm and are ready to spawn)
  •  5 = spent (spawning has already occurred)

Ovaries of a coney (grouper family). These are the pair of flesh colored tubular structures running down the center of the fish.

Personal Log

Today is my birthday, and I can’t think of a better place to spend it!  What a treat to be having such an adventure in the Caribbean!  This morning, we were on our first bandit reel survey of the day, and the captain came on over the radio system, announced my birthday and sang Happy Birthday to me.  Unbeknownst to me, my husband, Dave, had emailed the CO of the Pisces asking him to wish me a happy birthday.

We’ve had a very successful day (compared to the past two days) and have caught many more fish – 5 1/2 to be exact.  The most exciting part was that I caught two fish on my bandit reel!  They were a red hind and blackfin snapper (see the photos above).  What a great birthday present!

Father’s Day surf and turf dinner

My birthday fish! The blackfin snapper is on the left and the red hind on the right.

I even got a birthday kiss from the red hind!

Last night (6/17) for Father’s Day, we had an amazing dinner: filet mignon, lobster, asparagus, sweet plantains, and sweet potato pie for dessert!  Since it was my birthday the following day (6/18), and one of the scientists doesn’t like lobster, I had two tails!  What a treat!

Our best catch of the day came on the last bandit reel cast.  Joey Salisbury (one of the scientists) caught 5 fish: 4 blackfin snapper and 1 almaco jack; while Ariane Frappier (another scientist) caught 3 – 2 blackfin and 1 almaco jack.  This happened right before dinner, so we developed a pretty good assembly line system to work them up in time to eat.

Dinner was a nice Chinese meal, but between the ship beginning to travel to the South coast of St. Thomas and working on the computer, I began to feel a touch seasick (not the best feeling after a large meal!).  I took a couple of meclazine (motion sickness medication) and still felt unwell (most likely because you’re supposed to take it before the motion begins). My roommate, Kelly Schill, the Operations Officer, made me go to bed (I’m in the top bunk – yikes!), gave me a plastic bag (just in case!), and some saltine crackers. After 10 hours of sleep, I felt much, much better!

I had some time in between running bandit reels, baiting the hooks, and entering data into the computers,to interview a member of the science team that joined us at the  last-minute from St. Croix.  Roy Pemberton, Jr. is the Director of Fish and Wildlife for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The following is a snippet of our conversation:

LU: What are your job duties as the Director of Fish and Wildlife?

RP: I manage fisheries/wildlife resources and try to educate the population on how to better manage these resources to preserve them for future generations of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

LU: When did you first become interested in oceanography?

RP: I’m not really an oceanographer, but more of a marine scientist and wildlife biologist.  I got interested in this around 5-6 years old when I learned to swim and then snorkel for the first time.  I really enjoyed observing the marine environment and my interest prompted me to want to see and learn more about it.

LU: It’s such a broad field, how did you narrow your focus down to what you’re currently doing?

RP: I took a marine science class in high school and I enjoyed it tremendously.  It made me seek it out as a career by pursuing a degree in Marine Science at Hampton University.

LU:  If you were to go into another area of ocean research, what would it be?

RP: Oceanography – Marine Spatial Planning

Roy Pemberton holding a recently caught coney.

LU: What is the biggest challenge in your job?

RP: It is a challenge to manage fisheries and wildlife resources with respect to the socioeconomic and cultural nuances of the people.

LU: What do you think is the biggest issue of contention in your field, and how do you imagine it will resolve?

RP: Fisheries and coral reef management.  We need to have enough time to see if the federal management efforts work to ensure healthier ecosystems for future generations.

LU: What are some effects of climate change that you’ve witnessed in the reef systems of the U.S. Virgin Islands?

RP: Temperatures have become warmer and the prevalence of disease among corals has increased.

LU: In what areas of Marine Science do you foresee a lot of a career paths and job opportunities?

RP: Fisheries management, ecosystem management, coral reef diseases, and the study of coral reef restoration.

LU: Is there an area of Marine Science that you think is currently being overlooked, and why?

RP: Marine Science management that takes into account cultural and economic issues.

LU: What are some ideas a layperson could take from your work?

RP: One tries to balance resource protection and management with the cultural and heritage needs of the population in the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

LU: If a high school student wanted to go into the fish/wildlife division of planning and natural resources, what kinds of courses would you recommend they take?

RP: Biology, Marine Science, History, Botany, and Math

LU: Do you recommend students interested in your field pursue original research as high school students or undergraduate students?  If so, what kind?

RP: I would suggest they study a variety of life sciences so they can see what they want to pursue.  Then they can do an internship in a particular life science they find interesting to determine if they would like to pursue it as a career.

Too many interesting people on the ship and so little time!  I’m going to interview scientists as we continue on to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Once they leave, I’m continuing on to Mayport, Florida with the ship.  During this time, I’ll explore other careers with NOAA.

Melinda Storey, June 19, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Melinda Storey
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 19, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1000 hours (10:00am)
Position: latitude = 27°34 N, longitude = 096°28 W
Present Weather: mostly clear
Visibility: > 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: SSE Wind Speed: 13 knots
Wave Height: 2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.5°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.4°C, wet bulb = 27.8°C

Science and Technology Log

One of the goals of the SEAMAP Reef Fish survey is to monitor the health and abundance of reef fish to establish limits on how much fish the fishing industry can take out of Gulf waters. SEAMAP stands for Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program and is a State/Federal/University program for collection, management and dissemination of fishery-independent data and information in the southeastern United States.

Due to the oil spill in the Gulf, the fish we capture will be weighed, measured, frozen, and delivered to the Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) in Mississippi to be tested for hydrocarbons (oil) or other contamination to ensure that the seafood is safe to eat. Since the oil spill is far to the east of where we are doing the survey, our data will serve as a baseline and be compared to future studies to see what the extent and future impact of the oil will be in these waters.

Dropping the bait

Dropping the bait

Bucket of fish

Bucket of fish

The fish are taken out of the Chevron Trap or off the Bandit Reel and brought into the wet lab.

The first measurement we take is the weight (or mass) of the fish in kilograms (kg) using a motion compensating scale. One scientist will take the measurements while another records the data in a data table.

Weighing fish

Weighing fish

Measuring fish, recording data

Measuring fish, recording data

Measuring fish, recording data

Measuring fish, recording data

Next, we take three different measurements of length by placing the fish on a board that has a metric measuring tape attached. All length measurements are measured in millimeters (mm). First, we take the Total Length (TL) measurement which is from the mouth of the fish to the longest point on the tail. Then we measure the Fork Length (FL) from the mouth of the fish to the indention of the tail. The last measurement is the Standard Length (SL) which is from the mouth of the fish to the base of the tail.

Fish Diagram

Fish Diagram

Personal Log

I’m loving the gross and slimy science that we are doing here. The other teacher on board likes logging the data onto the charts and all the numbers. That suits me fine because I like hands-on science! The messier the better.

Holding the squid

Holding the squid

Holding the squid

Holding the squid

Holding the squid

Holding the squid

Baiting a fish trap

Baiting a fish trap

You can see me holding the squid that we use to bait the Chevron fish trap. I even like picking up the fish and weighing them and measuring them too. Our Chief Scientist, Paul Felts, let me calibrate the scale. This scale compensates for the rolling of the ship so we get a very accurate weight. I think the scientists get a kick out this old woman doing some of the gooey, messy work like baiting the fish trap with the slimy squid and the Bandit Reel with pieces of mackerel, but what they don’t know is that I don’t mind at all!

I have been amazed at the number of oil rigs in the Gulf. Wherever we’ve been – 100 miles out or 40 miles out – we’ve seen oil and gas platforms (rigs). Rigs that are out 100 miles start drilling at 5,000 feet deep. At night the rigs are all lit up and are beautiful but the number just overwhelms me.

Oil Rigs

Oil Rigs

Nautical Chart

Nautical Chart

The CO showed me a chart they were using on the bridge and it looked like someone shook pepper on a white sheet of paper, only each pepper flake was an oil rig. He said that most of those rigs have been built since 1997. At first, ships from oil companies were sent out to map the ocean floor and that would help them decide WHERE to drill. On the nautical chart there were two levels of ocean depths – shallow water and deep water. I was looking at the deep water chart. When I commented on the number of oil rigs, the CO said there were even more rigs in the shallow part. He said that when he “steams” through the shallow water rigs it’s “like driving through traffic.”

There is a bird that has been catching a ride with us for the last 24 hours. We Googled ocean birds and found out it was a Brown Booby. They look like the blue footed Boobies that live in the Galapagos Islands. He is black with a white belly and white face with bright yellow beak. He also has yellow webbed feet. He just sits on top of a weather post in the bow and grooms himself. He poops too. Sometimes he flies off to catch a flying fish but always returns.

Brown Booby

New Term/Vocabulary

Bridge – the top level of the ship where the Commanding Officer steers the ship

Steam ahead – to move forward

“Something to Think About”

Nicolle found a moth in her room last night. Now, how did a moth get way out here? I caught him and released him but who knows what will happen to him. It doesn’t look good for the little guy!

“Did You Know?”

Did you know that if you get “pooped on” by an ocean bird, it means you’ll have good luck? Fortunately I’m not lucky!!!
There is a bird that has been catching a ride with us for the last 24 hours. We Googled ocean birds and found out it was a Brown Booby. They look like the blue footed Boobies that live in the Galapagos Islands. He is black with a white belly and white face with bright yellow beak. He also has yellow webbed feet. He just sits on top of a weather post in the bow and grooms himself. He poops too. Sometimes he flies off to catch a flying fish but always returns.