Melissa Barker: Breaking the Land Lock, June 14, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22 – July 6, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 14, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Here in Longmont, Colorado where I live, we are settling into warm summer days often topping out in the high 80’s to 90’s F and typically with low humidity. In Galveston, Texas, where I’ll board the ship it is in the 80’s F this week with 90% humidity. I’ll have to get used to that humid air.

Science and Technology Log

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NOAA Ship Oregon II. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

I will spend two weeks aboard the NOAA fisheries research vessel Oregon II, in the Gulf of Mexico, working on the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Summer Groundfish Survey. The objective of the survey is to monitor the size and distribution of shrimp and groundfish in the Gulf of Mexico.

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The Gulf of Mexico. Photo from world atlas.com

What are groundfish, you ask? These are the fish that live near or on the bottom of the ocean. This survey is conducted twice per year; the data help scientists monitor trends in shrimp and fish abundance as well as changes over time. We will also be collecting plankton samples and environmental data at each site. The second leg of the groundfish survey works off of the Louisiana coast and the outlet of the Mississippi River where a “dead” or hypoxic zone forms in the summer. I am very interested to see the what we pull up in this area.

Personal Log

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I’m all geared up and ready to go!

When the NOAA Teacher at Sea email arrived in my inbox in February, I held my breath as I opened and read it as fast as possible. I was accepted! I was going to sea! I am honored to be a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Teacher at Sea program.

I teach Biology and direct the Experiential Education program at the Dawson School in Lafayette, Colorado. I love sharing my passion for learning about the biological world with my students and engaging my students’ curiosities. Many of my favorite teaching moments have been times when I can take students outside to observe and explore their surroundings.

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My classroom for a week in the San Juan Mountain Range, CO. March 2017. Photo credit Pete Devlin

I’ve lived in Colorado for about 17 years and love to play in the mountain environment on foot, ski or bike. Having lived land locked for most of my life, I can’t wait for the opportunity to explore the ocean ecosystem this summer. As a child, I spent short amounts of time exploring tide pools in Maine and beaches in Florida and was always intrigued by the vastness and mystery of the ocean.

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Tending my garden to grow delicious food

Now, I’m heading out to sea for two weeks to dive right into (not literally) learning about the ocean. Like my students, I learn best by doing, so I am thrilled to be working with the NOAA Fisheries team.

Did You Know?

Did you know that June is national ocean month? Celebrate the ocean this month.Check out this great video from NOAA and visit NOAA’s Celebrate the Ocean page for more information.

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

Just before the end of the school year, I visited the Dawson sixth graders to talk about my NOAA Teacher at Sea expedition. We learned about the importance of the ocean, even for us here in Colorado, and the sixth graders wrote questions for me to answer while I’m at sea. Look for this section in my blog where I will answer some of those questions.

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Dawson School sixth grade. Photo by RuthAnne Schedler.

-What do you think the most common organism is that you will find? (from Allison)

One of the main goals of the Groundfish survey is to collect data on the abundance and distribution of shrimp, so I think I’ll be seeing a lot of shrimp in our net. I’ll be sure to post photos of what we find.

 -Are you going to scuba dive? (from Gemma, Emma and Margaret)

I will not be scuba diving on my trip. I am not certified and the Teacher at Sea program does not allow teachers to scuba (even if they are certified). Instead I will be learning from above the water’s surface and pulling up samples to learn about what lives deep below.

Now it’s your turn to ask the questions…

What are you curious about? Maybe you are interested to know more about what we haul up in our nets or how to become a NOAA scientist. You can write questions at the end of any of my blog posts in the “comments” section and I’ll try to answer them.

Kimberly Scantlebury: It’s All About the Little Things, May 8, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Scantlebury

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 1-May 12, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: May 8, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 18:00

Latitude: 2755.757 N, Longitude: 9200.0239 W

Wind Speed: 14.21  knots, Barometric Pressure: 1015.3 hPa

Air Temperature: 24.56  C, Water Temperature: 24.4  C

Salinity: 36.37  PSU, Conditions: 50% cloud cover, light wind, seas 2-4 feet

Science and Technology Log

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The CTD

The CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) array is another important tool. It goes down at each station, which means data is captured ten-twelve times a day. It drops 50 m/min so it only takes minutes to reach the bottom where other winch/device systems can take an hour to do the same. This array scans eight times per second for the following environmental factors:

  • Depth (m)
  • Conductivity (converts to salinity in ppt)
  • Temperature (C)
  • Dissolved oxygen (mg/mL)
  • Transmissivity (%)
  • Fluorescence (mg/m^3)
  • Descent rate (m/sec)
  • Sound velocity (m/sec)
  • Density (kg/m^3)

There are two sensors for most readings and the difference between them is shown in real time and recorded. For example, the dissolved oxygen sensor is most apt to have calibration issues. If the two sensors are off each other by 0.1 mg/L then something needs to be done.

Software programs filter the data to cut out superfluous numbers such as when the CTD is acclimating in the water for three minutes prior to diving. Another program aligns the readings when the water is working through the sensors. Since a portion of water will reach one sensor first, then another, then another, and so on, the data from each exact portion of water is aligned with each environmental factor. There are many other sophisticated software programs that clean up the data for use besides these two.

These readings are uploaded to the Navy every twelve hours, which provides almost real-time data of the Gulf. The military uses this environmental data to determine how sound will travel through sound channels by locating thermoclines as well as identifying submarines. NOAA describes a thermocline as, “the transition layer between warmer mixed water at the ocean’s surface and cooler deep water below.” Sound channels are how whales are able to communicate over long distances.

NOAA Ocean Explorer: Sound in the Sea 2001

This “channeling” of sound occurs because of the properties of sound and the temperature and pressure differences at different depths in the ocean. (NOAA)

The transmissometer measures the optical properties of the water, which allows scientists to track particulates in the water. Many of these are clay particles suspended in the water column. Atmospheric scientists are interested in particulates in the air and measure 400 m. In the water, 0.5 m is recorded since too many particulate affects visibility very quickly. This affects the cameras since light reflecting off the clay can further reduce visibility.   

Fluorescence allows scientists to measure chlorophyll A in the water. The chlorophyll molecule is what absorbs energy in photosynthetic plants, algae, and bacteria. Therefore, it is an indicator of the concentration of organisms that make up the base of food chains. In an ecosystem, it’s all about the little things! Oxygen, salinity, clay particles, photosynthetic organisms, and more (most we can not actually see), create a foundation that affects the fish we catch more than those fish affect the little things.  

The relationship between abiotic (nonliving) and biotic (living) factors is fascinating. Oxygen is a great example. When nitrates and phosphates wash down the Mississippi River from the breadbasket of America, it flows into the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients can make algae go crazy and lead to algae blooms. The algae then use up the oxygen, creating dead zones. Fish can move higher up the water column or away from the area, but organisms fixed to the substrate (of which there are many in a reef system) can not. Over time, too many algae blooms can affect the productivity of an area.

Salt domes were created millions of years ago when an ancient sea dried up prior to reflooding into what we have today. Some salt domes melted and pressurized into super saline water, which sinks and pools. These areas create unique microclimates suitable to species like some mussels. A microclimate is a small or restricted area with a climate unique to what surrounds it.

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The ship’s sonar revealing a granite spire a camera array was deployed on.

Another great example is how geology affects biology. Some of these salt domes collapsed leaving granite spires 30-35 meters tall and 10 meters across. These solid substrates create a magical biological trickle down effect. The algae and coral attach to the hard rock, and soon bigger and bigger organisms populate this microclimate. Similar microclimates are created in the Gulf of Mexico from oil rigs and other hard surfaces humans add to the water.

Jillian’s net also takes a ride with the CTD. She is a PhD student at Texas A&M University studying the abundance and distribution of zooplankton in the northern Gulf of Mexico because it is the primary food source of some commercially important larval fish species. Her net is sized to capture the hundreds of different zooplankton species that may be populating the area. The term zooplankton comes from the Greek zoo (animal) and planktos (wanderer/drifter). Many are microscopic, but Jillian’s samples reveal some translucent critters you can see with the naked eye. Her work and the work of others like her ensures we will have a deeper understanding of the ocean.   

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Personal Log

Prior to this I had never been to the Gulf of Mexico other than on a cruise ship (not exactly the place to learn a lot of science). It has been unexpected to see differences and parallels between the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of Maine, which I am more familiar. NOAA scientist, John, described the Gulf to me as, “a big bathtub.” In both, the geology of the area, which was formed millions of years ago, affects that way these ecosystems run.   

Quote of the Day:
Jillian: “Joey, are we fishing at this station?”
Joey: “I dunno. I haven’t had my coffee yet.”
Jillian: “It’s 3:30 in the afternoon!”

Did You Know?

Zooplankton in the Gulf of Mexico are smaller than zooplankton in the Gulf of Maine. Larger species are found in colder water.  

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Zooplankton under microscope (NOAA)

Karen Grady: Observations and Data Collection Today Leads to Knowledge In The Future, April 25, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karen Grady

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

April 5 – April 20, 2017

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 25, 2017

 

Weather Data:

I am back settled into the crazy weather that is spring in Arkansas. Supposed to be 90 degrees today and then storms tomorrow.

Science and Technology Log

The second leg of the Oregon II’s experimental longline survey is now complete.  The ship and all the crew are safely back in the harbor.  Fourteen days at sea allows for a lot of data to be gathered by the science crew.

Now, an obvious question would be what do they do with all the data and the samples that  were collected? The largest thing from this experimental survey is looking at catch data and the different bait types that were used to see if there were differences in the species caught/numbers caught etc. They are also able to look at species compositions during a different time frame than the annual survey and different depth ranges with the much deeper sets. Fin clips were taken from certain species of sharks. Each fin clip can be tied to a specific shark that was also tagged.  If anyone ever wanted or needed to they could trace that fin clip back to the specific shark, the latitude and longitude of where it was taken, and the conditions found in the water column on that day.  Everything the scientists do is geared towards collecting data and providing as many details as possible for the big picture.

Occasionally sharks are captured and do not survive, but even these instances provide an opportunity to sample things like vertebrae for ageing studies or to look at reproductive stages. Science is always at work.  With the ultrasound machine on board we were able to use it on a couple of the sharpnose sharks and determine if they were pregnant .

 

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Ultrasounding female Sharp Nose sharks to see how may pups they were carrying.

 

Parasites… did you know sharks and fish can have parasites on them? Yes, they do and we caught a few on this leg. Sharks or fish caught with parasites were sampled to pass along to other researchers to use for identification purposes. Kristin showed me evidence of a skin parasite on several of the small sharks. It looked like an Etch-A-Sketch drawing.

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This shark had whole mural on the underside from the parasites

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Shark underside marred by parasite infection

Red snapper were also sampled at times on the survey to look deeper into their life history  and ecology. Muscle tissue was collected to look at ecotoxicity within the fish (what it has been exposed to throughout out its lifetime); along with otoliths to estimate age. We are using muscle tissue to examine carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur. Each element looks into where that fish lives within the food web. For instance, carbon can help provide information about the basal primary producers, nitrogen can help to estimate the trophic level of the fish within the ecosystem, and sulfur can try to determine if the fish feeds on benthic or pelagic organisms. Otoliths are the ear bones of the fish. There are three different types of ear bones; however, sagittal ear bones (the largest of the three) will be sectioned through the core and read like a tree. Each ring is presumed to represent one year of growth.

 

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Red Snapper caught and used for sample collection

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Paul Felts removing a hook

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Sometimes someone bigger swims by while a fish is on the hook

Personal Log

Now that I am home and settled I still had a few things to share. One it was great to get home to my family, but as I was warned by the science crew it does take a couple of days to adjust to the usual schedule.  It did feel good to go for a jog around town instead of having to face the Jacob’s Ladder again!

 

Everyone asks me if I had a good time, if it was scary, if we caught any sharks. I just don’t think there are words to express what an amazing experience this was for me.  Of course, seeing the sharks up close was just beyond words, but it was also being made a part of a working science team that are working year-round to monitor the health of the ocean and the species that live there. For me this was a two-week section of my life where I got to live on the ocean and catch sharks while learning a little about the data the science crew collects and how they use it.  The science crew will all be back out on the ocean on different legs over the next few months.

I confess I am not super hi tech, so I am not proficient with a Gopro so I probably missed out on making the best films. However, I did get some excellent photos and some good photos of some impressive sharks.  Thanks to technology I will be able to create slide shows to my K-12 students so they can see the experience through my eyes.  I am looking forward to showing these slide shows to my students. My elementary students were so excited to have me back that they made me feel like a celebrity.  I was gone a little over two weeks and to my younger students it seemed forever.  Many of the teachers shared some of my trip with the students so they would know where I was and what I was doing.

I am settled back into my regular schedule at school. One awesome thing about my job is that I deal with students from kindergarten through seniors.   I started back with my elementary students yesterday.  Let me just say that young people can make you feel like a Rockstar when you have been gone for 15 days.  I knocked on a classroom door and could hear the students yelling “ she’s here! Mrs. Grady is here!” and then there were the hugs. Young kids are so genuine and they have an excitement and love of learning.  I have to get busy on my power point to share with them.  They wanted a list of sharks we caught, how big they were, etc.  I am getting exactly what I hoped, the students want to understand what I did on the ship, why we did these things and what did I actually learn.

For my last blog, I have decided to share some of my favorite photos from my time on the Oregon II.

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Kimberly Scantlebury: Getting Ready to Ship Out. April 26, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Scantlebury

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 1-May 12, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 26, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

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At home in New England, where you can enjoy the mountains and the sea all in a day.

Greetings from New Hampshire! Our variable spring weather is getting me ready for the coolness at sea compared to hot Galveston, Texas, where I will ship off in a few days.

It is currently 50 F and raining with a light wind, the perfect weather to reflect on this upcoming adventure.

Science and Technology Log

I am excited to soon be a part of the 2017 SEAMAP Reef Survey. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) writes the objective of these surveys is, “ to provide an index of the relative abundances of fish species associated with topographic features (banks, ledges) located on the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico in the area from Brownsville, Texas to Dry Tortugas, Florida.” The health of the Gulf is important from an ecological and economic perspective. Good science demands good research.

We will be working 12 hour shifts aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces. I expect to work hard and learn a lot about the science using cameras, fish traps, and vertical long lines. I also look forward to learning more about life aboard a fisheries research vessel and the career opportunities available to my students as they think about their own futures.

Personal Log

I’ve been teaching science in Maine and New Hampshire for eight years and always strive to stay connected to science research. I aim to keep my students directly connected through citizen science opportunities and my own continuing professional development. Living in coastal states, it is easier to remember the ocean plays a large role in our lives. The culture of lobster, fried clams, and beach days requires a healthy ocean.

I love adventure and have always wanted to “go out to sea.” This was the perfect opportunity! I was fortunate to take a Fisheries Science & Techniques class with Dave Potter while attending Unity College and look forward to revisiting some of that work, like measuring otoliths (ear bones, used to age fish). I have also benefited from professional development with The Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and other ocean science experiences. One of the best parts of science teaching is you are always learning!

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Science teachers benefit from quality professional development to stay informed in their content areas.

There was a lot of preparation involved since I am missing two weeks of school. I work at The Founders Academy, a public charter school in Manchester, New Hampshire. We serve students from 30 towns, but about a third come from Manchester. The school’s Vision is to: prepare wise, principled leaders by offering a classical education and providing a wide array of opportunities to lead:

  • Preparing students to be productive citizens.
  • Teaching students how to apply the American experience and adapt to become leaders in today’s and tomorrow’s global economy.
  • Emphasis on building ethical and responsible leaders in society.

I look forward to bringing my experiences with NOAA Teacher at Sea Program back to school! It is difficult to leave my students for two weeks, but so worth it. It is exciting to connect with middle and high school students all of the lessons we can learn from the work NOAA does. My school community has been very supportive, especially another science teacher who generously volunteered to teach my middle school classes while I am at sea.

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I am grateful for the support at home for helping me participate in the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.

My boyfriend too is holding down the fort at home and with Stone & Fire Pizza as I go off on another adventure. Our old guinea pigs, Montana & Macaroni, prefer staying at home, but put up with us taking them on vacation to Rangeley, Maine. I am grateful for the support and understanding of everyone and for the opportunity NOAA has offered me.

Did You Know?

NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.

NOAA is the scientific agency of the Department of Commerce. The agency was founded in 1970 by consolidating different organizations that existed since the 1800’s, making NOAA’s scientific legacy the oldest in the U.S. government.

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As a science teacher, it is funny that I really do have guinea pigs. Here is our rescue pig Montana, who is 7-8 years old.

Karen Grady: It’s Not ALL About The Sharks! April 18, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karen Grady

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

April 5 – April 20, 2017

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 18, 2017

 

Weather Data

Latitude 2827.10
Longitude 09148.6
75 degrees
Sunny
No precipitation
Winds at 10 KTS
Waves at 2-4 FT

Science and Technology Log

There are always many things happening on a research vessel. As we moved from station to station, scientists Paul Felts and Kevin Rademacher have been deploying a trolling camera with a lure attached. I asked Kevin about the camera and he explained what they are trying to accomplish.  The ultimate goal of this experimental camera system is to help develop an index of abundance for pelagic species (billfish, dolphinfish, King mackerel, tunas, etc) to be used in stock assessments for those species.  Currently, there are no fishery independent indices for adults of these species. We are trying to achieve this by attaching a camera in front of a hook-less trolling lure. If it is successful, the plan is to deploy it when running between stations on all of our surveys. This would give us enough samples to hopefully create an annual index for these species.

This trip they have taken the system from the idea and initial system build back at the lab, and are trying it in the real world; modifying portions that are not working to get it to work. What is desired is towing the system to where the lure is acting as potential prey, is not being negatively affected by the vessel’s propeller wash or bubbles from the vessel or waves, at a vessel’s transit speed, and is depth adjustable.

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The scientists were working opposite watches and during watch changes they would share what they had observed and discuss small changes that they wanted to make to obtain better results.   The camera allowed them to watch video footage to assess how clearly the lure could be viewed under the water as it traveled behind the ship.  The ship’s crew up in the bridge worked with the scientists requests for the changes in speed they needed for short periods of time while the trolling camera was in the water during a transit to another station.

The longline hooks often yield other species besides sharks. On one set we caught 3 king snake eels, Ophichthus rex, that have long bodies, that are very stoutly built.  Instead of a tail fin they have a fleshy nub.  One of them was almost as long as scientist Paul Felts is tall.  This species is distributed in the Gulf of Mexico.  It is often caught around oil rigs.  The species is consumed on a very small scale and is prepared and sold in Florida as “keoghfish”. This a burrowing species that inhabits mud, sand and clay between 15-366 meters deep.  King snake eels may reach sizes up to 11 feet.

 

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Paul Felts weighs a large King Snake eel

 

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King Snake eels don’t like to stretch out for measurements. It took a few extra hands to get this large one to cooperate.

 

Personal Log

What is a day in the life of this NOAA Teacher at Sea like?

We are on the downhill side of this cruise. It has been full of so many amazing things. I miss my family and will be ready to see them, but am so thankful for this experience.  Life on the ship is quite a unique experience. There are 29 of us on this cruise. But because of working 12-12 approximately half are working while the others are sleeping and having some down time.  This means we don’t see each other except around shift changes.  You are very aware of not banging things, or accidentally letting the motion of the boat slam a door because someone is always sleeping.   The berths are small but functional.  I am sharing a berth with the XO, LCDR Lecia Salerno, who is also on day watch.  You can see from the photo below that the space in any of the berths is limited.  I have the top bunk which is kind of scary for those who know how graceful I am, but as of yet I haven’t had any mishaps.

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This is a typical berth on the Oregon II. Usually one crew member has it for 12 hours then they switch. This allows for uninterrupted sleep and  a little privacy on a small ship with 29 crew members onboard.

 

What is a day like onboard the Oregon II for me? I wake up around 8 am and try to convince myself to do a few minutes on the Jacob’s Ladder and a few weights for upper body.  Breakfast for me is a power bar, each watch usually eats two meals in the galley and mine are lunch and dinner.  There is time to do laundry if the washer is available. Twenty-nine people using one washer and dryer calls for everyone to be courteous and remember to get your laundry done and out of the way.  I usually spend about an hour reading or working on blogs and even some new plans for my students next year. I am lucky that the boat has wifi that bounces in and out so I can use I-message and stay in touch with some of my family and friends as well as facebook, and email.

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Crew’s lounge where we watched the occasional movie, and I wrote all my blogs.

 

Lunch is at 11 and our watch eats and gets out of the way because we are on at noon and need to let the other watch get into the galley for their lunch. Did I mention the galley only has 12 seats and that courtesy is the big thing that makes life on the ship work?  When we aren’t baiting hooks, setting out the line, or pulling in the line we hang out in the dry lab.  There are computers in the dry lab and the scientists are able to work on emails, and data that is being gathered.  There is also a television and we have watched some random things over the long shifts.  Lots of laughter happens in this room, especially the more tired we get.  I will also admit that we joined the rest of the internet world in stalking April the Giraffe until she had that baby!!! There is time between sets to go do a little bit of a workout and sometimes I take advantage of this.  An important activity is hydration. You do not realize how the warm weather on the deck depletes your system.  There are notes posted reminding us to stay hydrated.  It is also important for me to keep a little food in my stomach to ward off any seasick feelings.  I try not to snack at home, but dry cereal or a piece of toast have become my friends on this cruise.  Other than the first night at sea I have not had any real queasy moments so I am going to continue this pattern as long as we are moving.  One thing is that I tend to snack and drink a lot of water.  Dinner is at 5 and occasionally it falls about the time we have to set out a line or pull in a line. This means we eat really fast and get back to work.

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The stewards cook three meals a day out of this small galley kitchen. They did a great job of giving us menus with lots of options.

When it is time to set a line we all go out on deck and we bait 100 hooks. The hooks will be baited with either chunks of mackerel or squid.  There is nothing glamorous about this at all. If you aren’t paying attention you can even take a shot of squid or mackerel juice to the face.   When it is time to get the line in the water there are jobs for each of us.  One person puts the high flyer in the water, this marks the start and end of the line of hooks and has a flashing light for night time.  One person attaches a number to each hook’s line and hands it to the slinger who puts the hook over the side and hands the line to one of the fisherman to attach to the line and send it on its way.  One person mans the computer and inputs when the high flyer, three different weights and each hook go over the side.  The computer records the bait used, the wave height, cloud cover, precipitation, longitude and latitude of each hook.  I told you the scientists’ collect a lot of data on these cruises.  The last person scrubs the barrels clean and places them up front on the bow for the haul back.  The deck gets washed down.  The crew works hard to keep the ship clean.

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I had no idea how much squid ink or juice one person could get on them until I learned to bait a hook with squid for long-line. Mackerel is SOOOO much better!

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Putting the high flyer over the rail. One marked the beginning and end of each line we put out.

When the crew on the bridge gives us the 10 minute call we all dawn our life jackets, grab our gloves and head to the bow to see what we might have caught. The deck crew is getting ready to pull in the high flyer, the computer gets set up and all the necessary equipment for collecting data is laid out.  We have two measuring boards, a small sling for weighing bigger sharks on deck, two types of taggers, scales, scissors, tubes for fin clips, pliers, measuring tape, bolt cutters, data sheet, and hard hats for all.   One person works the computer, recording if we caught a fish, or whether or not there was any bait left on the hook, another person takes the line and hook and places it in a barrel ready to be baited next time, the number is removed and placed on a cable, two people are ready to “play” with the sharks and fish, meaning they will do the measurements, weights and any tagging, and one person fills out the data sheet.  It all works very quickly and efficiently.  Sometimes it gets a little crazy when we have fish and sharks on several hooks in a row. I spent most of my time doing the data recording and I must say my experience working the chutes with tagging and vaccinating cattle sure came in handy when it came to keeping the information straight.

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Science team works check if a female bull shark is pregnant using an ultrasound machine

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Measuring a sharp nose shark

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Sometimes the more active sharks took more than one person to remove the hook so we could release them.

The day watch comes on shift at midnight, but they usually show up around 11:30 to visit and see what has happened on our shift. By midnight we are free to go.   I stop in the galley for a quick sandwich made of toast and ham.  Next up is the much needed shower.  We use mackerel and squid for bait and let’s just say the juice and squid ink tends to fly around the deck when we are baiting hooks.  Then you get the salty sea air, handling sharks, red snapper, king snake eels, and it makes a hot shower is much anticipated.  Lastly, I crawl into my top rack (bed) and adjust to the pitch and roll of the ship.

Did You Know

Typically, biologists can age sharks by examining cross sections of shark’s vertebra and counting the calcified bands, much like you can count the rings on a cross section of a tree trunk. The deep-water sharks we are looking for are trickier to age because their vertebra do not become as calcified as sharks found in shallower depths.

Karen Grady: Sometimes You Find A Little Something Extra, April 16, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karen Grady

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

April 5 – April 20, 2017

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 16, 2017

 Weather Data

Latitude 2848.37 N
Longitude 09247.66 W
76 degrees
Sunny
No precipitation
Winds at 11 KTS
Waves at 2-4 FT

Science and Technology Log

Sometimes when a shark or fish is brought on board it has a “hitchhiker’ attached. We caught a blacknose shark that had a common remora, often referred to as a sucker fish, or shark sucker, attached to it. Scientist Kevin Rademacher placed this sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates) on my arm. I couldn’t really feel it but he was stuck there until I peeled him off. It was like peeling a piece of tape off. You can see from the photo how he is designed to attach to host species. Their head is actually a modified dorsal fin that has an oval shaped sucking disk with slat-like structures that open and close to create suction and take a firm hold against the skin of its host animal such as a shark, turtle, whale, or ray. By sliding backward, the remora can increase its suction, or it can release itself by swimming forward. They can be small like the one attached to my arm or they can grow to over two feet in length. The remora can move around on the host, removing parasites while at the same time gaining protection provided by the host. This relationship is often looked at as one of commensalism where both the host and the remora benefit.

Photos of the remora that was attached to a black-nosed shark.

When one hears that this is an experimental long-line survey of sharks and reef fish, all you think of is catching these creatures and collecting data. However, scientists are collecting data about the environment as well. It is very useful to obtain information about the water where they catch large numbers of a species and areas where they may not catch anything. One way they can do this is by using a Conductivity Temperature Depth Profiler (CTD).

The CTD gives scientists a profile of the water column where we just put out our line. The CTD has sensors that collects information on oxygen levels, temperature, water clarity, chlorophyll concentration, and salinity. The CTD is placed in the water and allowed to sit for three minutes to let the oxygen sensors soak and adjust from being on the deck and lowered into the water. The crew lowers it to a depth that is decided based upon the depth to the ocean floor. They like to take it as close to the bottom as possible in order for the information they gather to be as complete as possible. It is allowed to settle, run its scans and then is brought back up to the surface and the sensors are flushed with fresh water. The data is automatically loaded into the database. This information is collected at each station. It takes a joint effort of the deck, science and bridge crews to place the CTD in the water. Walkie talkies are utilized for communicating between all the crew involved in the operation.

Personal Log

Being at sea with Easter approaching had its moments when I thought of family and friends. We have our Easter traditions and I would be missing them this year. The Easter Bunny (Field Party Chief, Kristin Hannan) decided we needed an early visit this year. I think she was right. The surprise and the treats perked all the science staff up.

TAS Karen Grady 4-16-17 Easter basket

FPC Kristin Hannan asks me often if I have any questions about what they are doing or anything in general. I will be honest… I have gotten so caught up in what we are doing, trying to do my best at whatever job I am working on, and being in awe that I am actually out here that I forget to ask questions about the details. I love the anticipation of what might be on the next hook, I am mesmerized by the sleek lines of the sharks when we have them on board.

TAS Karen Grady 4-16-17 shark liver

Shark liver

When we had one come onboard that was dead due to low oxygen levels in the water where we caught it, we did a dissection on the deck while we waited to put out another line. The animal science nerd in me came to life!   I had no idea the liver was the largest organ inside a shark. Think about it …these creatures have no body fat and they store their energy in the liver. Then we looked at the intestines. There is not a lot of room in there so the shark we looked at the intestines are rolled up like you would roll a piece of paper. This gives them maximum absorption area but takes up a limited space.

 

 

 

One thing I think of as we are catching these species is that very few people stop and think about the actual research scientists do to help understand what is needed to maintain healthy populations. It is necessary to do these surveys, catch the species, tag some, draw blood, take fin clips, keep whole specimens, and dissect some. On our cruise we were lucky enough to ultrasound a few pregnant sharks and see the pups inside.

TAS Karen Grady 4-16-17 shark ultrasound

Baby sharks visible on ultrasound

Now stop and think about all those things I just listed that we do at times. When a hook comes up and there is a fish or shark on it is handed off to one of the science crew.  It is noted in the computer that there was a something caught. The science crew member will take measurements and weight of the fish or shark. If it is a shark, the sex will be noted and some species may be tagged, have a fin clip taken and blood drawn. While all of these activities are taking place, the next hooks keep being brought up. The deck can get pretty crazy if there are several hooks in a row with something on them. The data collector has to keep tag numbers, species, measurements, samples and weights all written in the correct spot while having two or three people calling them out for different fish and or sharks. I had experience working cattle which would mean filling syringes, writing down tag numbers, filling taggers, etc. But this is even crazier than that could get at times. And everything stops if someone calls “hardhats” because that means we have one big enough for the cradle. Working back writing down data or taking measurements you can’t see what is on the next line so you sneak up for a peak when they say it’s a big one then you get out of the way.   One of the best experiences so far was almost getting a big tiger shark in the cradle. I was lucky enough to get a video of her, so stay tuned! Unfortunately, when the big shark brushed against the cradle she snapped the line and was gone with a huge spray of water.

This second leg of the experimental long-line survey is winding down. There have been long days but they are filled with laughter, giggles, anticipation, excitement, teachable moments (I can finally get the circle hooks out by myself…sometimes) , and the dreaded words “snapper.” I mean nothing against the Red Snapper, they are a bright colorful and tasty fish, but when you are hoping for a shark to be on the hook…. let’s just say the sets where we get 12 snapper and two sharks are not our favorites.

Photos: “Shark!” or “Fish on!” means a busy deck.

TAS Karen Grady 4-16-17 hammerhead cradle

Scalloped hammerhead shark

When the guys at the rail grab the hard hats it means it is time for the cradle and we get to see things like this gorgeous scalloped hammerhead. Things move very quickly when one is in the cradle. Safety for those on deck comes first and everyone is focused on getting measurements, fin clip and a tag on the shark and getting it safely back in the water as quickly as possible.

TAS Karen Grady 4-16-17 baby tiger shark

Baby tiger shark

Baby tiger shark in the cradle. They warned me that they were cute and they were so right. Yes, a shark can be “cute” when your referring to baby tiger sharks and baby hammerheads!

Did You Know

Sharks store energy in their liver. It is the largest organ in their body. The heart on the other hand is extremely small in comparison to the size of the shark.

TAS Karen Grady 4-16-17 hammerhead dissection

Dissected scalloped hammerhead with liver visible

Look at the liver of this scalloped hammerhead. It is amazing how big it is in relation to the body of the shark. This is just one way these amazing creatures are designed to be efficient and survive in their underwater world.

Sharks have a nictitating membrane that they can close over their eye for protection. When a shark is brought on deck you can touch near the eye and the membrane will automatically move to close.

TAS Karen Grady 4-16-17 nictitating membrane

Nictitating membrane partially closed on the eye of a scalloped hammerhead

Karen Grady: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish …… Weird Fish, April 10, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karen Grady

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

April 5 – April 20, 2017

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 10, 2017

Weather Data

Latitude 2827.10
Longitude 09148.6
75 degrees
Sunny
No precipitation
Winds at 10 KTS
Waves at 2-4 FT

Science and Technology Log

We have continued to move between deep stations setting the baited line and hoping to catch deep water fish and sharks. These deep sets require longer soaking time to allow the hooks to reach the bottom.   The downside is that we have been retrieving one set of gear and putting out one set of gear in a 12 hour period of time. Some sets have a few fish and some we get a big goose egg.   There is always anticipation though as the 100 hooks are brought up. Everyone stands in their spots waiting to hear either “fish on,” “shark” or everyone’s favorite, “hard hats!” which means there is a big shark and it’s time for the sling. Below you will see the awesome Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) we caught.

TAS Karen Grady 4-13-17 great hammerhead

Great Hammerhead Shark

The first few days we have been fishing deep in the Mississippi Canyon. The Mississippi Canyon is a geological formation in the Gulf of Mexico. It is located in an area which is part of the territorial waters of the United States. We put out some deep lines with the deepest at 1900 feet. These lines soaked four hours once fully deployed.  They soak longer because they have so far to sink to get to the depth the scientists want to fish at. When we deploy a line the first thing in the water is the High Flyer, which stands like a beacon and bobs in the water marking the start of our fishing line. The next thing over the side of the ship is a weight that helps carry the line to the desired depth. Halfway through, another weight is deployed, and after the 100th hook, the third weight goes in.   The last thing over is another High Flyer to mark the end of the line. If it is dark outside, the High Flyers have lights attached on top that flash so that they can be seen.

TAS Karen Grady launching high flyer

“High Flyers” mark the beginning and the end of the long line set.

At our last deep station we caught a Mexican Grenadier, Coryphaenoides mexicanus. This fish is very unusual in color and appearance. If you feel the scales on the fish you find that they are very unique. Each scale has tiny sharp, thin spinules. As you run your hand over the fish you can feel these scale modifications. The eyes are bulged due to the pressure change of coming up from such deep depths. The scientists determined the sex of the Grenadier and then it was frozen for future study.

TAS Karen Grady 4-13-17 grenadier

Mexican Grenadier

We also caught two Cutthroat Eels, from the family Synaphobranchidae, that were both females. Synaphobranch means unified gill… the two gill slits join together making it look like a cut throat. They are bottom-dwelling fish, found in deep waters. The eels were weighed, measured, and the scientists determined the sex and maturity of each eel. It is important that they make accurate identification of specimens and collect data. The scientists work together using personal knowledge and books when necessary. There are times on deck when the scientists will stop to examine a species and will take multiple pictures of certain identifying parts so that they can look at them closely later.

 

Personal Log

One of the great things during a watch is being able to talk with the scientists. I am an avid listener and observer. This is what they do year in and year out and they love what they do. I am a quiet observer a lot of the time. I listen and then ask questions later. It’s not exactly easy to carry around paper and pencil to take notes. But during the transit portions or soak times I ask more questions and gather information to share in my blog posts or for the lesson plan I will be writing when I get home.

The food has been great here on the ship. Our stewards have fresh salads, and menus that include two main course options, a daily soup, dessert and multiple side choices.   There are snacks available 24/7 so you are never hungry. Because the meals are so great you see most people trying to fit in a workout during the day. I have been introduced to the Jacob’s ladder for workouts. I never liked hills and now I can say I don’t like climbing ladder rungs either. That machine is evil!! However, I will continue to do cardio on it as the food is excellent and keeping food in your stomach helps prevent sea sickness. I will happily eat more than I usually do if it means I don’t get seasick. An example of a typical lunch would be today when we had choices of salad, reuben, tuna melt, french fries, sweet potato fries, cookies and several other sides.

Today started with us catching two Cutthroat Eels and a Mexican Grenadier. You can see from the pictures I have posted that they look very different from most fish that you see. They really are that color. It was a shock after the sleek sharks and the bright orange Red Snapper I had seen on previous sets. I was busy watching the scientists using their books and personal knowledge to identify each species accurately.   After we finished the work up on the fish we caught we headed for the next station. Now we are back to shallower fishing and expect to catch sharks, red snapper, and a variety of other fish.

TAS Karen Grady 4-13-17 grenadier and eels

Two cutthroat eels (top) and Mexican grenadier (bottom)

I can honestly say that the 12 hour shifts start wearing you down, and sleeping is not an issue once you climb under the covers. The waves will wake you up now and then. And some mornings I wake up and can smell them cooking breakfast but sleep overrides the smell of food because I know how long it will be till I get to bed again. Walking out on deck each morning to views like this does lead to a smile on your face, that and the music that is playing loudly on the deck. Yesterday it was Hair Nation…. taking me back to the 80’s.

TAS Karen Grady 4-13-17 blue water

View from the deck of NOAA Ship Oregon II

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico is roughly 995 miles along its longer, east-west axis. It has a surface area of about 600,000 square miles.

A wide variety of physical adaptations allow sharks to thrive in the Gulf of Mexico. They have powerful smell receptors. The sensory organs lining their prominent snouts, called ampullae of Lorenzini, can detect movement of potential prey even if the sharks cannot see it. These sensory organs assist in trailing injured marine animals from great distances. They help sharks locate all sort of other things, too– shrimp boats, other sharks, birds, turtles (tiger sharks a big turtle eaters!), even boats that are dumping trash.

The skin on a shark is smooth if you run your hand head to tail and rough like sandpaper if you run your hand from tail to head. At one time, sharks skin was used as a form of sandpaper. The dermal denticles, or skin teeth, can be different from species to species and can sometimes be used as a character to look at when trying to identify one species from another.