Sian Proctor: It’s Getting Fishy, July 20, 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 20, 2017

 

Me with an adult pollock.

Me with an adult pollock.

Weather Data from the Bridge

  • Latitude:  57° 47.02 N
  • Longitude: 152° 24.56 W
  • Time: 1700
  • Sky: Overcast
  • Visibility:  2 nautical miles
  • Wind Direction: variable
  • Wind Speed:  Knots
  • Sea Wave Height:  0  foot swell
  • Barometric Pressure:  994 millibars
  • Sea Water Temperature:   11.9° C
  • Air Temperature:   12.2° C

Science and Technology Log: It’s Getting Fishy!

Alaska pollock are found in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska and are part of the cod family. The dorsal side of the pollock is speckled brown in color with a slight olive green hue and the ventral side is silver. They eat krill, copepods, and small fish – mainly their own offspring. They quickly grow into adults, reaching reproductive age after 3-4 years, and are very fertile, replacing harvested fish in just a few years. Pollock swim in large schools during the day and disperse overnight. They can be found throughout the water column, but young pollock tend to live in the mid-water region while the older fish tend to live near the sea floor.

Alaska_Pollock_-_source_NOAA_fishwatch.govScience-based monitoring and management play a key role in the sustainability of the Alaska pollock fishery. It is managed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council based on data provided by the NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. The Alaska pollock fishery is the largest, by volume, in the United States and one of the most valuable in the world.  Products made from pollock include fish fillet, roe eggs, and imitation crab. The entire industry is valued at over a billion dollars. It is also considered one of the best-managed fisheries in the world. Scientists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center conduct acoustic trawl surveys to estimate the abundance of Alaska pollock using acoustics and by catching small samples.

While on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson I had the opportunity to spend time in  the fish lab learning how pollock data are collected.. This video is an example of what I experienced.

The main way commercial pollock is caught in the United States is by net. Scientifically trained observers are sent out on U.S. pollock fishing boats and, similar to the NOAA scientists, they collect sample data from each catch and send it back to NOAA.  They also observe the fishing practices on the boat and  report any regulatory infractions. All the collected data and interactions between the fishing industry and NOAA have been established to make sure the Alaska pollock fishery remains sustainable.

NOAA Opportunities for students: https://www.afsc.noaa.gov/education/students/careers.htm 

Interview with Michael Martin

Fisheries Biologist

  • Official Title
    • Deputy Director
  • Normal Job Duties
    • Leadership and administration of the Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering (RACE) Division within Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC)
  • What is your current position on Oscar Dyson?
    • Fish lab biologist
  • How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
    • of and on for ~ 10 years
  • Why the ocean? What made you choose a career at sea?
    • I loved exploring sea creatures a the beach as a kid; Jacques Cousteau.
  • What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?
    • Getting out of the office; Seeing amazing scientists do their work and getting to participate.
  • Why is your work (or research) important?
    • The information we collect plays a very important role in managing fisheries in Alaska, providing economic and food security for many people. We also do tremendous research that benefits the science community and subsequently people world-wide. We are among the leaders in understanding fish and invertebrate abundance and behavior in the world.
  • When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
    • I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do if I grow up! Probably between 10 and 13 years old I developed an interest in the ocean.
  • What part of your job with NOAA (or contracted to NOAA) did you least expect to be doing?
    • Dealing with bureaucracy.
  • What are some of the challenges with your job?
    • Leading a group of scientists is, in some ways, like herding a group of very intelligent cats. They are very focused on their research and have very strong opinions about things that they feel could detract their ability to do the best job possible. This can be a challenge for me at times, but is a great problem to have!
  • What are some of the rewards with your job?
    • Being able to facilitate scientists and help them accomplish their goals is very rewarding.
  • Describe a memorable moment at sea.
    • Rescuing a family in a life raft that had been missing for 3+ days.

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Interview with Meredith Emery

Fisheries Biologist

  • Official Title
    • Survey Technician
  • Normal Job Duties
    • As Survey Technicians, our primary responsibility is to monitor and maintain fisheries and oceanographic equipment. In addition, we have to run and verify the Scientific Computer System (SCS) is collecting quality data and all the ship’s sensors connected to SCS are working properly. We also are the liaison between scientists and the crew members, and assist the scientists with any part of their research. Survey Technicians have the unique opportunity to participate in all aspects of the fisheries or oceanographic operation start to finish. During the fishing operations: 1. Scientist communicates to the people on the bridge, deck and survey technicians when they are going to fishing. 2. We put the fishing equipment on the net, as the net is casting out. 3. Assist the scientists log net dimension data when the net is in the water. 4. As the net is being recovered, we retrieve all the fishing equipment. 5. We help the deck with emptying the catch on the fish table, when needed. 6. Lastly, which is my favorite part, is when we get to assist the scientists collect biological fish samples in the wet lab. During oceanographic operations we are in charge of deploying and recovering the equipment (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD)). In addition we verify all the sensors on the CTD are presenting quality real time data. From the CTD we can collect water samples that can be used for several studies, like salinity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, or micro plankton. We are able to see the operations in action, understand the importance of the research through the science perspective and ultimately know the reason the Oscar Dyson is in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska.
  • What is your current position on Oscar Dyson?
    • I am one of two Survey Technicians on the Oscar Dyson.
  • How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
    • I have been working on the Oscar Dyson about 10 months.
  • Why the ocean? What made you choose a career at sea?
    • My fascination for the ocean started when I was young playing with the anemones on the rocky intertidal beach. I’ve always enjoyed being at the beach and seeing the organisms there. I became curious of life at sea and really wanted to see the marine wild life in action, especially when the ice first melts and there is a high abundance of phytoplankton and zooplankton that attracts marine mammals, birds and fish to migrate there. Being on the Oscar Dyson, I was able to observe the fluctuation between high abundance of phytoplankton, zooplankton or fish, depending on the area and time of year.
  • What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?
    • I enjoy seeing the scenery. Like the untouched lands, glaciers, marine wild life; the fishes, mammals or birds. Also I like seeing the endless blue of the ocean, especially calm weather. Really puts the vastness of the ocean in perspective.
  • When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
    • The reason I pursued a career in studying the ocean is because I come to realize that people take the ocean for granted and don’t recognize how much we depend on it. I obtained a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology emphasis marine. One of my favorite college courses was oceanography. It was the first time for me to see the connection between geology, physics, chemistry and biology in one scenario like in the ocean processes. Each component relies on the other. First the geological features of the ocean floor and land masses influences the physics of the current flow, wave motion, and up-welling. Then the ocean movement determines the mixing and distribution of the water chemistry. Finally the biodiversity, location, and populations of marine organisms rely on the water chemistry, like nutrients or dissolved oxygen.

Personal Log

I really enjoyed learning about the variety of sea creatures in the Gulf of Alaska. Here is a video showing a few of the sea creatures I encountered. Totally amazing!

Education Tidbit: FishWatch Website

Another cool resources is the Fishwatch website. Here you can learn more information about sustainable fisheries and the science behind the fish we eat. It is worth checking out!

Did You Know?

Did you know that fresh pollock have a very distinctive smell that isn’t like any other fish? It’s not fishy – more like dirty feet!

Marsha Lenz: Celebrating Science and the Solstice, June 21, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Marsha Lenz

Aboard Oscar Dyson

June 8-28, 2017

Mission: MACE Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 21, 2017

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Though modern technology is used daily, one can still find traditional charting tools on the Bridge.

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 55 15.0 N

Longitude: 160 06.7 W

Time: 1300

Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: VAR

Wind Speed: LT

Sea Wave Height: <1 foot

Barometric Pressure: 1003.4 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 9.8°C

Air Temperature: 7.0°C

Science and Technology Log

            We have been surveying transect lines (sometimes we fish, sometimes we don’t). During the times that we aren’t fishing, I find myself looking out at the ocean A LOT! During these quiet times on the ship, I am reminded of how large the oceans are. I found a quiet window to sit by in the Chem Lab and enjoy watching as the waves dance off of the side of the ship.

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Abigail enjoys singing to the fish.

During some of these times when we are not collecting data from fish, identifying species from the DropCam, or preparing for the next haul, I find myself reading, which is a luxury all in itself. A friend of mine lent me to book to read and as I was reading the other day, the author quoted Jules Verne, author of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Verne said, “Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.” I found this to be fitting for what I am doing on this survey, for the three weeks that I am a Teacher At Sea.   Though I am surrounded by trained and educated professionals, I have realized that mistakes still happen and are something to be expected.   They happen regularly. Often, actually. And, it’s a good thing that they do. They are important for learning. When humans make mistakes, hopefully, we can adjust our actions/behaviors to reduce the chances of that same “mistake” from happening again. When applied to science, the same idea is also true. When  we can collect data from something that we are studying, we learn about the ways that it interacts with its surroundings. Through these findings, we not only learn more about what we are studying, but then take measures to protect its survival.

We had a real experience like this happen just the other day. For days, the “backscatter” was picking up images of fish that the scientists didn’t think were pollock on the bottom of the ocean. Backscatter is what the scientists use to “see” different groups of fish and quantify how many are in the water. The ship uses various echosounders.  Several times, the science team decided to collect fish samples from these areas.  Every time that they decided to “go fishing”, we pulled up pollock. The team was baffled. They had a hypothesis as to why they were not catching what they thought they saw on the backscatter. They thought that it was rockfish that were hanging around rocks, but the pollock were being caught as the net went down and came back up.  Finally, after several attempts of not catching anything but pollock, they decided to put down the DropCam and actually try to see what was going on down there.

At that point, the Chem lab was filled with scientists. Everyone wanted to see what was going to show up on the monitor. The NOAA Corps Commanding Officer even came to see what was going to show up on the monitor.  The room will filled with excitement.

 

Abigail steers the DropCam and watches the monitor simultaneously.

We see rockfish!

          It was just as they predicted!  The rockfish were hanging out in the rocks.  It was a moment of great satisfaction for the scientists. They were able to identify some of the fish on the backscatter that was causing them so much confusion! Yay, science!

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This is a pollock!

Later in the day, we went fishing and collected the usual data (sex, length, weight, etc.) from the pollock.  There are usually 4 of us at a time in the Fish lab.  We are getting into a routine in the lab and I am getting more familiar with my responsibilities and duties. I start by controlling the door release, which controls the amount of fish released onto the conveyor belt. After all of the fish have been weighed, I separate the females and males.  Once that has been done, I take the lengths of a sample of the fish that we caught. When I finish, I assist Ethan and Abigail in removing and  collecting the otoliths from a selected fish sample.  Then, its clean-up time.  Though we all have appropriate gear on, I somehow still end up having fish scales all over me.  Imagine that!

Every time that we “go fishing”, a “pocket net” is also deployed.  This is a net that has finer mesh and is designed to catch much smaller marine life.  On this haul, we caught squid, age “zero” pollock, and isopods.

In the evening, we headed towards Morzhovoi Bay.  There, we were greeted by a pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins.  They spent some time swimming next to us.  When they discovered that we were not that interesting, they swam off.  They did leave us though with a great sense of awe and appreciation (and a few great pictures!).

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Personal Log

Happy Summer Solstice!  Today is the longest day of the year!  We have had some spectacular days. We were all excited as we got up this morning to welcome the rising of the sun. We woke up and were holding position in front of Mt. Pavlof.  We saw the sunrise and went up to the  Flying Bridge to do some morning yoga.  After a wonderful breakfast of a bagel with cream cheese, salmon, Larrupin sauce, and Slug Slime, I went back up to the Bridge to get a full 360 degree view of the bay.  There I saw a humpback whale swimming around.  This will definitely be a summer solstice to remember!

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Did You Know?

A humpback whale is about the size of a school bus and weighs about 40 tons! They also communicate with each other with songs under the water.

sidenote: I know I wrote in my last blog that I was going to discuss the fishing process today, but there were so many other amazing things that happened that it is going to have to wait until next time. Sorry!

 

Cristina Veresan, Nets and the Wet Lab, August 3, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 28 – August 16, 2015 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Monday, August 3, 2015

Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 58° 51.5 N
Longitude: 149° 30.8 W
Sky: Scattered Clouds
Visibility: 10 miles
Wind Direction: SSE
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea Wave Height: <1 feet
Swell Wave: 0 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 16.3° C
Dry Temperature: 17.2 ° C

Science and Technology Log

Once it is determined where to fish, the scientists also have to decide which trawl to deploy and tow behind the ship in order to catch the targeted fish. The most common trawl we use to catch mid-water pollock is the Aleutian wing trawl (AWT). Our AWT is 140 meters long, and it can be fished anywhere from 30-1,000 meters underwater. A net echosounder is mounted at the top of the net opening and transmits acoustic images of fish going in the mouth of the net in real time to a display on a computer on the bridge that is monitored by the scientist and the Lead Fisherman. Additionally, at the entrance of the codend (the end of the net where the fish are collected), a stereo camera called the  CamTrawl takes pictures of anything entering the codend. CamTrawl pictures are later analyzed to determine species and lengths of the fish that were caught.  Sometimes the net is fished with the codend opened and the catch is only evaluated based on what is seen in the CamTrawl images. As this technology gets perfected less fish will need to be brought onboard.

A view of the stern as the deck crew prepares to deploy the AWT. Note the net reel at the bottom of the frame.

A view of the stern as the deck crew prepares to deploy the AWT. Note the AWT on the net reel at the bottom of the frame.

Cooperation among many different people is necessary during a trawl. The wet lab team prepares  the CamTrawl to collect data. The deck crew physically handles all the gear on deck, including attaching the CamTrawl camera, net echosounders, and physical oceanography instruments to the net and deploying and recovering the net. From the bridge, the Lead Fisherman controls the winches that move the trawl net in and out of the water. Once the trawl net is in the water, the scientists work closely with the Lead Fisherman and the officers to ensure a safe, effective trawl. Sometimes the trawl net will be down for a few minutes, and other times it will be closer to an hour. Once the net is back on the ship and emptied out, the catch and CamTrawl images are ready to be analyzed by the scientist and wet lab team.

CamTrawl images were filmed by two cameras in stereo and so scientists can run a program that calculates length.

Fish are filmed in stereo so scientists can run a program that calculates their length.

Two other nets, more seldom used, are the bottom trawl net, known as the Poly Nor’easter (PNE) and the Methot net, used to catch krill and zooplankton. The PNE is deployed if there is a large concentration of fish close to the ocean floor. It is smaller than the AWT and it is usually lowered to just above the ocean floor. The Methot net was named after Dr. Richard Methot, a famous fisheries modeler who designed the net. This net has an opening of 5 square meters, and it has a finer mesh than the AWT or the PNE. At the end of the net is a small PVC codend where the sample is taken from.

Shipmate Spotlight: Interview with Kirk Perry

Kirk Smith, Lead Fisherman and Chief Boatswain

Kirk Perry, Lead Fisherman and Chief Boatswain

What is your position on the Oscar Dyson?
I am the Lead Fisherman and also sailing as active Chief Boatswain.

What training or education do you need for your position?
I went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and got a BS in Natural Resource Management. I have certifications from the Coast Guard like an AB (Able-Bodied Seaman) unlimited, which means I have over 1070 days sailing as an AB. I also have a Masters license to operate a 100-ton vessel. You need a lot of fishing experience.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?
Fishing! Obviously. You just never know what you are going to get, and it’s always exciting.

Have you had much experience at sea?
I have been fishing since I was 10 years old and I helped a neighbor build a boat and go salmon fishing in Monterey Bay. When I visited family in Hawai’i, we would go trolling, set net fishing, beach casting, and spearfishing. I have been sailing professionally with NOAA for 11 years on different vessels in Hawai’i, Mississippi, and here in Alaska.

Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? What do you do?
As Lead Fisherman I operate the machinery from the bridge when we are trawling. Basically, I get the fishing gear in and out of the water safely. As Chief Boatswain, I am in charge of the Deck Department, so I schedule crew, assign daily crew duties, maintain supply inventories, oversee the ship’s survival gear, and operate deck equipment like winches, anchor, and cranes.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career?
By 25 years old I knew I had to be on the water, full time, all the time, but I did not get to be here until I was 44 years old.

What are your hobbies?
When I’m not fishing, I like to hunt. Mainly ducks and geese.

What do you miss most while working at sea?
Home, my family. And my own bed!

What is your favorite marine creature?
Tuna because they are so fast powerful and so delicious! When you are fishing for them, it’s like nothing else. It can turn into a wide open frenzy.

Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Wet Lab

The ship's wet lab

The ship’s wet lab

The wet lab is where we do most of our work, and it gets really busy in here after a trawl. It is called a “wet” lab because it is designed to get just that. When a trawl net is full of fish, it is emptied onto a table that tilts onto a conveyor belt feeding into the wet lab. We have controls to run the conveyor belt as well as tilt the tableAs the fish are brought in on the conveyor, we sort them in large and small baskets, and then collect data from the different species. The metal counters, outfitted with electronic balances and automated length readers provide us with workspace to process our samples. The work of the wet lab is messy and fun. When we process a catch, fish scales get everywhere! The shiny, sticky little discs coat every surface, especially areas that you touch like the computer screens and handles. It is fun to clean this lab because you spray everything down with the salt water from hoses that are rigged from the ceiling. You can even spray down the computer screens themselves, and then rinse them with fresh water. Water washes over everything and drips down, entering drains in troughs along the edges of the floor.

 

Processing pollock in the wet lab!

Processing pollock in the wet lab! Photo by Emily Collins

Personal Log

Whenever it’s time to process fish in the wet lab, I have to get geared up! What is the latest in fisheries fashion, you might ask? Rubber boots are a must. We take the lead of Alaskans and wear brown XtraTuf boots. Once I get my boots on, I put on my Grundens foul weather coveralls over my pants. The weather has been mild, so I have been forgoing the matching foul weather jacket and just wearing a long sleeved t-shirt or sweatshirt. I have not been wearing a hat, but I do pull my hair back. Lastly, I pull on elbow-length yellow rubber gloves over my sleeves.

Before you enter the wet lab, you get geared up here. Sometimes to make a quick entrance/exit, you leave your boots in your coveralls (bottom right)

Before you enter the wet lab, you get geared up here. Sometimes to make a quick entrance/exit, you leave your boots in your coveralls (bottom right)

These boots are made for fishin'

These boots are made for fishin’

I am really enjoying my time with this ship’s crew and the rest of the science party. Everyone has been very welcoming, and, though we work hard, we maintain a sense of fun. If we have down time between data collection, Emily and I play cribbage. Or we go out on deck and take in the sights, like the Holgate glacier we passed the other day. Quite a few people on board have spent time in Hawai’i, so we can ‘talk story’ about the islands from all the way up here in the North Pacific. It is amazing how we are all connected in some way through our love of the ocean.

My voyage of discovery continues…

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We sailed within 4 miles of Holgate Glacier on a beautiful sunny morning

Vincent Colombo, Into the Fog, June 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Vincent Colombo
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 11 – 30, 2015

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: The Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 21, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Wind Speed: 6.02 knots
  • Sea Temperature: 9.99 degrees Celsius
  • Air Temperature: 9.06 degrees Celsius
  • Air Pressure: 1016.59 mb
Unimak Island at sunrise

Unimak Island at sunrise

Unimak Bight

Unimak Bight

Shishaldin Volcano - One of Alaska's many active volcanoes

Shishaldin Volcano – One of Alaska’s many active volcanoes

Science and Technology Log:

You are sleeping soundly in your bed. Awakening you is your phone ringing… it’s 5:30 am… that could only mean one thing, it’s the school calling to say school is delayed 2 hours… FOG. No, it’s not the kind of fog depicted in John Carpenter’s thriller; it’s the kind that the local weatherman says is a localized phenomenon that reduces visibility to less than a quarter mile. If you live on Delmarva, you have experienced this sort of fog and know that it can turn a normal commute into a complicated one.

Here in the Alaskan summer, especially the Aleutian Chain, Gulf of Alaska, and the Bering Sea, fog is a normal, and potentially ALL day event. The only constant on this research cruise so far has been waking up every day and watching our NOAA Corps Officers navigate through a very dense fog.

A view from the bridge of the fog. You can barely see past the bow

A view from the bridge of the fog. You can barely see past the bow

But what causes fog, and why is it so prevalent here?

Fog is most simply described as a cloud on the ground. It is made up of condensed water droplets that have encircled some sort of condensation nuclei (something water can attach to). On the open sea, that condensation nuclei is salt, which has upwelled (brought to the surface) from turbulent seas or breaking waves. That translates to the rougher the seas, the more chance there is for condensation nuclei, and thus fog.

Fog is able to be formed when the air temperature is cooler than the dew point. The dew point refers to the specific temperature which water can condense. Dew point varies with humidity and temperature, you can calculate dew point here.

Because the sun exposure is so long here in the Alaskan summer day, there is ample time for the sun’s radiant energy to heat up the upper layer of the ocean causing evaporation. The now warmer air, filled with water vapor, meets the cool waters of the Northern Pacific or Bering Sea, and bam, here comes a fog bank. The most common name for this type of fog is Sea Fog, scientifically called Advection fog. The combination of salt is especially important because salt is a unique condensation nuclei in that it will allow fog to form when the humidity is as low as 70%. It can also turn from a gentle fog to a dense fog in little to no time. Air movement, or wind can actually cause more fog, rather than the contrary belief it will just blow away.

As the day goes on, the fog lowers

As the day goes on, the fog lowers. Notice the sea is calm, and the dew point is raising.

The sky is crystal clear, however the surface is still covered in dense fog

The sky is crystal clear, however the surface is still covered in dense fog

So what have I learned? NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson has a very loud fog horn which the NOAA Corps Officers sound on a regular basis during these conditions.

Here is what you need to know if you are ever on the ocean in a fog bank!

  • One prolonged sounding of the horn – this means “Hey! I am here and moving, don’t hit me!”
  • Two prolonged soundings of the horn – this means “Hey! I am a big boat, but not moving, don’t hit me!”
  • One prolonged sounding of the horn followed by two short blasts – “Hey! I am a big boat and am either towing something (like a fishing net) or lowered in my ability to maneuver. Stay away and make room!”
  • One prolonged sounding of the horn followed by three short blasts – “Hey! I am a big boat that is being towed. Stay away from me because I have no power!”
  • One short blast of the horn, followed by a prolonged sounding, then one short blast; or rapidly ringing of a bell for five seconds every minute –  “Hey I am anchored over here, you can’t see me, stay away.”
Here the land is still covered. Under that blanket is another mountain.

Here the land is still covered. This is what is called radiant fog. The conditions on land are still perfect for fog to exist. Radiation fog typically disappears as the sun warms up the land.  Under that fog blanket is another mountain.

The sun is able to eliminate and produce fog

The sun is able to eliminate and produce fog

 

You have to trust the Radar

You have to trust the Radar

 

Personal Log:

The life at sea is quite interesting. Luckily we have every luxury of home on board the Oscar Dyson, to include internet (sometimes), hot showers, and a nice bed. I have also been introduced to the game of Cribbage, an apparent maritime tradition. I cannot say that I fully understand it, but there are bunches of ways the number 15 can be made.

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Busy on the ship’s fantail

Fishing is life up here, and every day I can expect at least one or two trawls (pulling of a net behind the ship). I was introduced to what is called a Methot net, which is used for catching smaller organisms. I was able to look at Krill for the first time in my life the other day, a keystone organism for a lot of the Alaskan food web.

Krill!

Krill!

Also very cool was seeing the MACE scientists use a cool underwater camera. Ever wonder what is under 300 meters of water? With this camera that can be deployed in less than 5 minutes, scientists can get a picture of the sea floor on a live feed.

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Looking at the live feed of the sea floor

Meet the Crew:

Richardo Guevara. Richardo has been with NOAA for 7 years and is the Ship’s Electronics Technician. What does this mean? Richardo works on various systems on the ship that involve communications, such as radios, acoustics, data sensors, radar, telephones, televisions, navigation, and computer systems. Richardo is the IT guru and knows everything about the ship’s day to day mission with technology. Richardo works for NOAA because he enjoys the life at sea, its benefits, and the satisfaction of working side by side with scientists.

Richardo Guevara, Electronics Technician

Richardo Guevara, Electronics Technician

Richardo is a 23 year veteran of the United States Air Force. During his service he gained a plethora of knowledge suited towards his current position on board the Oscar Dyson. Richardo was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida, but now resides on the Oregon coast. Richardo says that this job requires a lot of flexibility, and his time in the military gave him this valuable life skill. According to Richardo: “A lot of times people seem to get the notion that you must have college to succeed, but I do not have a college degree. I cannot understate how important it is to get your high school diploma and to value that. Then it is up to you to go your own way and have success.”

Meet the crew:

Kirk Perry. Kirk is the lead fisherman aboard the Oscar Dyson and is acting Chief Boatswain for our research cruise. Kirk has been with NOAA since 2004, and is in charge of any activity which takes place on deck. His job includes, but is not limited to, using fishing equipment, deploying science equipment, anchoring, net maintenance, standing lookout on the bridge, being a helmsman, managing a deck crew of 6, and operating a crane. Kirk joined NOAA for the adventure of a lifetime, to fish in Alaska. He never intended to stay this long but absolutely loves his job and he says working with scientists is very rewarding.

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Kirk Perry, Lead Fisherman

Out of curiosity in the neighborhood, Kirk discovered the world of fishing and hunting from a Czechoslovakian neighbor in San Jose, California. Kirk started commercially fishing at age 10 in Monterey Bay, California and has not looked back since. He graduated from Cal Poly SLO with a degree in Natural Resources Management while on scholarship for college baseball. Kirk loves baseball and football and is a diehard San Francisco Giants and 49ers fan. He also isn’t too bad on the guitar either.

Kirk was my unofficial, but official Alaskan fishing guide. It was his handy work that set me up with rigs and a tackle for my Halibut at the beginning of my trip. Kirk and I have a lot in common and have had countless discussions about the outdoors. A fun fact about Kirk, he can identify any bird that flies by the ship, whether it’s out of necessity or because he has been hunting so long.

Britta Culbertson, Big Fish Little Fish, Sept 15, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Britta Culbertson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4-19, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Walleye Pollock and Forage Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Saturday, September 15th, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind Speed: 11kts
Air Temperature: 12.2 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 87%
Barometric Pressure: 1010.7 mb
Latitude: 59 degrees 26.51″ N              Longitude: 149 degrees 47.53″ W

Science and Technology Log

Finally, as we near the end of the cruise, I’m ready to write about one of the major parts of the survey we are doing.  Until now, I’ve been trying to take it all in and learn about the science behind our surveys and observe the variety of organisms that we have been catching. In my last few entries, I explained the bongo net tow that we do at each station.  Immediately after we finish pulling in the bongo nets and preparing the samples, the boat repositions on the station and we begin a tow using an anchovy net.  It gets its name from the size of fish it is intended to capture, but it is not limited to catching anchovies and as you will see in the entry below, we catch much more than fish.

 Why are we collecting juvenile pollock?

We are interested in measuring the abundance of juvenile pollock off of East Kodiak Island and in the Semidi Bank vicinity.  We are not only focusing on the walleye pollock, we are also interested in the community structure and biomass of organisms that live with the pollock.  Other species that we are measuring include: capelin, eulachon, Pacific cod, arrowtooth flounder, sablefish, and rockfish.  As I described in the bongo entries, we catch zooplankton because those are prey for the juvenile pollock.

Pollock trio

On the top is an age 2+ pollock, below that an age 1 pollock, and then below that is an age zero pollock. (Photo credit: John Eiler)

The Gulf of Alaska juvenile walleye pollock study used to be conducted every year, using the same survey grid.  Now the Gulf of Alaska survey is conducted every other year with the Bering Sea surveyed in alternating years.  That way, scientists can understand how abundant the fish are and where they are located within the grid or study area.  With the data being collected every year (or every other year), scientists can establish a time series and are able to track changes in the population from year to year. The number of age 0 pollock that survive the winter ( to become age 1) are a good indicator of how many fish will be available for commercial fisheries. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will provide this data to the fisheries industry so that fishermen can predict how many fish will be available in years to come.  The abundance of age one pollock is a good estimate of fish that will survive and be available to be caught by fishermen later, when they reach age 3 and beyond, and can be legally fished.

The other part of our study concerns how the community as a whole responds to changes in the ecosystem (from climate, fishing, etc.).  That is why we also measure and record the zooplankton, jellyfish, shrimp, squids, and other fish that we catch.

How does it work?

The anchovy net (this particular design is also called a Stauffer trawl) is pretty small compared to those that are used by commercial fishermen.  The mesh is 5 millimeters compared to the 500 micrometer mesh that we used for the bongo.  The smallest organisms we get in the anchovy net are typically krill.

Trawl net

A picture of a generic trawling net. It’s very similar to the anchovy net that we are using.

Typically, we don’t catch large fish in the net, but there have been some exceptions.  You might wonder why larger fish do not get caught in the net. It’s because the mesh is smaller and it’s towed through the water very slowly.  Fish have a lateral line system where they can feel a change in pressure in the water.  The bow wave from the boat creates a large pressure differential that the fish can detect.  Larger fish are usually fast enough to avoid the net as it moves through the water, but small fish can’t get out of the way in time.  One night we caught several Pacific Ocean Perch, which are larger fish, but very slow moving.  They are equipped with large spines on their fins and are better adapted to hunkering down and defending themselves as opposed to other fish that are fast swimmers and great at maneuvering.

Pacific Ocean Perch

This is one of the Pacific Ocean Perch (rockfish) that got caught in our net.

When we pull in the trawl net, it is emptied into buckets and then the haul is sorted by species and age class.  The catch is then measured, weighed, and recorded on a data sheet.  After that, we return most of the fish to the sea and save 25 of the juvenile pollock, capelin, and eulachon to take back to Seattle for further investigation.  We also save some of the smaller flatfish and sablefish to send back to Seattle. Check out the gallery below to see the process from beginning to end.

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Where are the pollock in the food web?

Eulachon and capelin are zooplanktivores and compete with the juvenile pollock for food. Larger eulachon and capelin are not competitors (those over 150 mm).  Arrowtooth flounder and Pacific Cod are predators of the juvenile walleye pollock.  Cyanea and Chrysaora jellyfish are also zooplanktivores and could potentially compete with juvenile walleye pollock, so that is why we focus on these particular jellyfish in our study.

 What’s in that net?

When we pull in the trawl, we sort it into piles of different species and different age classes.  If we get a lot of juvenile pollock (age 0), we measure and weigh 100 and freeze 25 to take back to the lab so their stomach contents can be examined.  We do the same procedure for young capelin, eulachon, and flatfish.  Other organisms like jellyfish are counted and weighed and put back in the ocean.

Below is a list of different organisms we have found in the anchovy net during this cruise:

  • Walleye Pollock
  • Eulachon
  • Capelin
  • Shrimp
  • Larger zooplankton
  • Pink and Coho Salmon
  • Pacific Ocean Perch
  • Lanternfish
  • Prowfish
  • Arrowtooth Flounder
  • Cyanea Jellyfish
  • Chrysaora Jellyfish
  • Miscellaneous clear jellyfish (some moon jellyfish)
  • Ctenophores (comb jellyfish)
  • Spiny Lumpsucker
  • Toad Lumpsucker
  • Grenadier
  • Flathead sole
  • Pacific cod
  • Herring
  • Sablefish
  • Sand Fish
  • Octopus
  • Snail fish

Personal Log

As we wind down the cruise, I’m feeling a little sad that it’s ending.  I’m looking forward to going home and seeing my husband and our dog, but I’ll miss the friends I’ve made on the ship and I’ll certainly miss collecting data.  Even though it can be quite repetitive after awhile, I can’t think of a more beautiful place to do this work than the Gulf of Alaska.  The last few days we have had a couple of stations near the coastline around Seward, Alaska and we have ventured into both Harris Bay and Resurrection Bay.  There we caught sight of some amazing glaciers and small islands.  There was even an island that had bunkers from WWII on it.  Yesterday, 3 Dall’s Porpoises played in our bow wake as I stood on the bridge and watched.  It’s moments like this that all of the discomforts of being at sea fall away and I can reflect on what an incredible experience this has been!

Glacier

Beautiful scenery from Resurrection Bay.

Dall's Porpoise

Three Dall’s porpoises that were playing in our bow wake.

 

Did You Know?

Spiny lumpsuckers are tiny, cute, almost spherical fish that have a suction disk on their ventral (bottom) side.  The suction disk is actually a modified pelvic fin.  They use the suction disk to stick to kelp or rocks on the bottom of the ocean.

Their family name is Cyclopteridae (like the word Cyclops!).  It is Greek in origin.  “Kyklos” in Greek mean circle and “pteryx” means wing or fin.  This name is in reference to the circle-shaped pectoral fins that are possessed by fish in this family.

These lumpsuckers are well camouflaged from their predators and their suction disk helps them overcome their lack of an air bladder (this helps fish move up and down in the water).  Because lumpsuckers don’t have an air bladder, they are not great swimmers.

Spiny lumpsuckers are on average about 3 cm in length, but there are larger lumpsuckers that we have found, like the toad lumpsucker that you can see in the photo below.

You can read more about the spiny lumpsucker on the Aquarium of the Pacific’s website.

Britta Culbertson: Hiding Out During Rough Seas, September 6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Britta Culbertson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4-19, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Walley Pollock and Forage Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Friday, September 6th, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge (for Sept 6th at 5:57 PM UTC):
Wind Speed: 42.65 knots
Air Temperature: 11.8 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 81%
Barometric Pressure: 987.4 mb
Latitude:57.67 N          Longitude: 153.87 W

Science and Technology Log

Weather Advsisory

The weather advisory for the Gulf of Alaska and around Kodiak Island (screen shot from NOAA Alaska Region Headquarters)

Spiridon Bay

Spiridon Bay (screenshot from Shiptracker.noaa.gov)

As you can see from my weather data section, the wind speed this morning was up to 42.65 knots.  We had waves near 18 feet and thus the Oscar Dyson ran for cover and tucked itself in an inlet on the North side of Kodiak Island called Spiridon Bay.  The Oscar Dyson’s location can be viewed in near real-time using NOAA’s Shiptracker website.   The screenshot above was taken from the Shiptracker website when we were hiding from the weather. The weather forecast from NOAA’s Alaska Region Headquarters shows that the winds should diminish over the next few days.  I’m thankful to hear that!

…GALE WARNING TONIGHT….TONIGHT…S WIND 45 KT DIMINISHING TO 35 KT TOWARDS MORNING. SEAS 23FT. PATCHY FOG..SAT…SW WIND 30 KT DIMINISHING TO 20 KT IN THE AFTERNOON. SEAS15 FT. PATCHY FOG..SAT NIGHT…W WIND 15 TO 25 KT. SEAS 8 FT. RAIN..SUN…SW WIND 20 KT. SEAS 8 FT..SUN NIGHT…S WIND 25 KT. SEAS 8 FT..MON…SE WIND 25 KT. SEAS 13 FT..TUE…S WIND 30 KT. SEAS 11 FT..WED…S WIND 25 KT. SEAS 9 FT.

Since the Dyson has been in safe harbor in Spiridon Bay for the last few hours, I have had some time to catch up on some blogging!  Let’s backtrack a few days to Wednesday, September 4th, when the Dyson left Kodiak to begin its journey in the Gulf of Alaska.  We headed out after 1PM to pick up where the last cruise left off in the research grid.  We reached our first station later in the afternoon and began work.  A station is a pre-determined location where we complete two of our surveys (see map below).  The circles on the map represent a station location in the survey grid.  The solid circles are from leg 1 of the cruise that took place in August and the hollow circles represent leg 2 of the cruise, which is the leg on which I am sailing.

The first step once we reach a station is to deploy a Bongo net to collect marine zooplankton and the second step is to begin trawling with an anchovy net to capture small, pelagic juvenile pollock and forage fishes that are part of the main study for this cruise. Pelagic fish live near the surface of the water or in the water column, but not near the bottom or close to the shore.  Zooplankton are “animal plankton”.  The generic definition of plankton is: small, floating or somewhat motile (able to move on their own) organisms that live in a body of water. Some zooplankton are the larval (beginning) stages of crabs, worms, or shellfish.  Other types of zooplankton stay in the planktonic stage for the entirety of their lives. In other words, they don’t “grow up” to become something like a shrimp or crab.

Station Map

Station map for leg 1 and leg 2 of the juvenile pollock survey. I am on leg 2 of the survey, which is represented with hollow circles on the map.

Before we reached the first station, we conducted a few safety drills.  The first was a fire drill and the second was an abandon ship drill.  The purpose of these drills is to make sure we understand where to go (muster) in case of an emergency.   For the abandon ship drill, we had to grab our survival suits and life preservers and muster on the back deck.  The life rafts are stored one deck above and would be lowered to the fantail (rear deck of the ship) in the event of an actual emergency.  After the drill I had to test out my survival suit to make sure I knew how to put it on correctly.

Life Jacket

Britta Mustering for Abandon Ship Drill on Oscar Dyson

survival suit

Britta models a survival suit – they even found a size SMALL for me!

On the way to our first station, we traveled through Whale Pass next to Whale Island, which lies off of the northern end of Kodiak Island.  While passing through this area, we saw a total of 4 whales spouting and so many sea otters, I lost track after I counted 20.  Unfortunately, none of my pictures really captured the moment.  The boat was moving too fast to get the sea otters before they flipped over or were out of sight.

Whale Island

A nautical chart map for Whale Island and Whale Passage

Personal Log

secure for sea!

Last night’s warning about high seas in the early morning of September 6th.

A lot of people have emailed to ask me if I have been getting seasick.  So far, things haven’t been that bad, but I figured out that I feel pretty fine when I’m working and moving about the ship.  However, when I sit and type at a computer and focus my attention on the screen that seems to be when the seasickness hits. For the most part, getting some fresh air and eating dried ginger has saved me from getting sick and fortunately, I knew about the threat of high winds last night, so I made sure to take some seasickness medication before going to bed.  After what we experienced this morning, I am sure glad I took some medication.

Everyone on board seems very friendly and always asks how I am doing.  It has been a real pleasure to meet the engineers, fisherman, NOAA Corps officers, scientists, and all others aboard the ship.  Since we have to work with the crew to get our research done, it’s wonderful to have a positive relationship with the various crew members.  Plus, I’m learning a lot about what kinds of careers one can have aboard a ship, in addition to being a scientist.

So far, I’ve worked two 12-hour shifts and even though I’m pretty tired after my long travel day and the adjustment from the Eastern Time Zone to the Alaskan Time Zone (a four hour difference), I’m having a great time!  I really enjoy getting my hands dirty (or fishy) and processing the fish that we bring in from the trawl net.  Processing the haul involves identifying, sorting, counting, measuring the length, and freezing some of the catch.  The catch is mainly composed of different types of fish like pollock and eulachon, but sometimes there are squid, shrimp, and jellyfish as well.

One of the hardest parts of the trip so far is getting used to starting work at noon and working until midnight.  We have predetermined lunch and dinner times, 11:30 AM and 5:00 PM respectively, so I basically eat lunch for breakfast and dinner for lunch and then I snack a little before I go to bed after my shift ends at midnight.  As the days go by, I’m sure I’ll get more used to the schedule.

Did You Know?

During one of our trawls, we found a lanternfish.  Lanternfish have rows of photophores along the length of their bodies.  Photophores produce bioluminescence and are used for signaling in deep, dark waters.  The fish can control the amount of light that the photophores produce.  Lanternfish belong to the Family Myctophidae and are “one of the most abundant and diverse of all oceanic fish families” (NOAA Ocean Explorer).

lanternfish

Lanternfish caught during a trawl. Note the dots along the bottom of the fish, these are photophores that emit bioluminescence.

Lanternfish
Photo of bioluminescing lanternfish (Photo Credit: BBC Animal Facts http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/blueplanet/factfiles/fish/lanternfish_bg.shtml)

 

Julia Harvey: We Came, We Fished, Now What? August 8, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julia Harvey
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson (NOAA Ship Tracker)
July 22 – August 10, 2013  

Mission:  Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Alaska
Date:  8/8/13 

Weather Data from the Bridge (as of 17:00 Alaska Time):
Wind Speed:  15.72 knots
Temperature:  13.4 C
Humidity:  73%
Barometric Pressure:  1012.1 mb

I just read this heads up about the weather tonight.

I just read this heads up about the weather tonight.

 

Science and Technology Log:

We came.  We fished.  We measured, counted and weighed.  Now What?  We completed one last trawl on Tuesday night (August 6th).  When we finished we had caught over 65,000 walleye pollock and a whole lot of POP (Pacific ocean perch) on this leg of the survey.

The scientists now process and analyze the data.

Darin Jones and Chief Scientist Patrick Ressler going over data collected.

Darin Jones and Chief Scientist Patrick Ressler going over data collected.

Darin and Patrick will present at a public meeting when we are back in Kodiak on Friday.  They will discuss what was seen and preliminary findings of the walleye pollock survey.  Back in Seattle the MACE team will further evaluate the data along with data from the bottom trawl survey and determine the walleye pollock biomass for the Gulf of Alaska.  This will then be taken under advisement by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

There is also the lab to clean.  Even though we cleaned the lab after each trawl, it needed a good scrub down.  There were scales and slime hidden everywhere.  Just when you thought you were done, more scales were discovered.

Kirsten, Abigale and Darin cleaning the fish lab.

Kirsten, Abigale and Darin cleaning the fish lab.

Did You Know?

The note on the white board stated that there will be beam seas tonight.  What does that really mean?  It means the waves are moving in a direction roughly 90° from our heading.  So the water will be hitting us at a right angle to our keel.  It will be a rocking boat tonight.

Darin took a sample of the salmon shark’s fin when we caught it.  It will be sent to a scientist in Juneau who works at Auke Bay Laboratories (where Jodi works).  The sample will be used to examine the population genetics of the salmon shark and other species such as the Pacific sleeper shark.

Personal Log:

In my first blog, I wrote about a childhood dream of becoming an oceanographer.  After my third year of teaching in the Peace Corps, I decided education was my new direction.   I was excited to taste that bygone dream aboard the Oscar Dyson.  How do I feel now?  I jokingly sent an email to my assistant principal telling her to look for a new science teacher because I love life at sea.  I  love collecting data in the field.  Although I was not responsible for analyzing the data and I do miss my boys, I had an awesome cruise.  So where does that leave me?

Heading to Kodiak across the Gulf of Alaska

Heading to Kodiak across the Gulf of Alaska

It leaves me back in the classroom with an amazing sea voyage experience to share with my students.  I will always long for that oceanographic career that could have been.  But perhaps after my experience, I will inspire future oceanographers and fisheries scientists.  And I would do Teacher at Sea again in a heartbeat.  I will follow up with the outcomes and biomass estimates from MACE (Mid-Water Assessment & Conservation Engineering) and I will most definitely follow Jodi’s research on the use of multibeam sonar for seafloor mapping.

I want to say thank you to everyone who made my experience one of the best of my life and definitely the best professional development of my career.  Thank you to Jennifer Hammond, Elizabeth McMahon, Jennifer Annetta, Emily Susko and Robert Ostheimer for the opportunity to participate in the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.  Thank you to NOAA for developing a practical and realistic opportunity to connect my students to ocean science.  Thank you to the science team (Chief Scientist Patrick Ressler, Darin Jones, Paul Walline, Jodi Pirtle, Kirsten Simonsen, and Abigale McCarthy) aboard the Oscar Dyson for their willingness to train me, answer all of my questions, preview my blogs, and to allow me have a glimpse of their lives as scientists.  Thank you to Patrick Ressler and XO Chris Skapin for promptly providing feedback on my blogs.  And a special thanks to the night shift crew (Jodi, Paul and Darin).  I was very nervous about adjusting to my work hours (4 pm to 4 am) especially after falling asleep that first night, but I am very grateful for colleagues who were fascinating and night-time enjoyable.  Chats with everyone aboard the Oscar Dyson from fishermen to NOAA Corps to engineers to stewards to scientists were educational and pleasant.  I met lots of people from all over the U.S. and some just from Newport (2 hours from Eugene).

WOW.  How fortunate was I to be chosen?  I am nearly speechless about what I saw and what I did.  What a mind blowing three weeks.  Thank You!  Thank You!  Thank You!

Now I begin the transition of living during daylight hours.

Here I am

Here I am before the system hit us.

I hope everyone was able to sample a little of my adventure.  I appreciate everyone who followed my blog especially Camas Country Mill folks.