Anne Krauss: Tooth Truth and Tempests, September 30, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 30, 2018

Weather Data from Home

Conditions at 1515

Latitude: 43° 09’ N

Longitude: 77° 36’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1026.3 mbar

Air Temperature: 14° C

Wind Speed: S 10 km/h

Humidity: 71%

 

Science and Technology Log

My students sent me off with many shark questions before I left for the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey. Much of their curiosity revolved around one of the most fear-inducing features of a shark: their teeth! Students wanted to know:

Why do sharks eat fish?
How and why do sharks have so many teeth?
Why do sharks have different kinds of teeth?
Do sharks eat each other? What hunts sharks, besides other sharks?
And one of my favorite student questions: Why do sharks eat regular people, but not scientists?

Most people think of sharks as stalking, stealthy, steel-grey hunters. With a variety of colors, patterns, fin shapes, and body designs, sharks do not look the same. They do not eat the same things, or even get their food the same way. Instead, they employ a variety of feeding strategies. Some gentle giants, like the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), are filter feeders. They strain tiny plants and animals, as well as small fish, from the water. Others, such as the angel shark (Squatina spp.), rely on their flattened bodies, camouflage, and the lightning-fast element of surprise. Instead of actively pursuing their prey, they wait for food to come to them and ambush their meal. These suction-feeding sharks have tiny, pointed, rearward-facing teeth to trap the prey that has been sucked into the shark’s mouth. This video demonstrates how the angel shark uses clever camouflaging and special adaptations to get a meal:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/videos/shark-kill-zone/angel-shark-stealth-2838.aspx

A circle hook is held up against the sky. The horizon is in the background.

Circle hooks are used in longline fishing. Each hook is baited with mackerel (Scomber scombrus).

A pile of frozen mackerel used as bait.

Frozen mackerel (Scomber scombrus) is used as bait.

Circle hooks are placed along the edges of plastic barrels. The hooks are connected to thick, plastic fishing line called monofilament.

The circle hooks and gangions are stored in barrels. The hooks are attached to thick, plastic fishing line called monofilament.

100 circle hooks baited with mackerel. The baited hooks are placed on the edges of barrels, which are sitting on deck.

All 100 circle hooks were baited with mackerel, but sharks also eat a variety of other fish.

The sharks we caught through longline fishing methods were attracted to the Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) that we used as bait. Depending on the species of shark and its diet, shark teeth can come in dozens of different shapes and sizes. Instead of just two sets of teeth like we have, a shark has many rows of teeth. Each series is known as a tooth file. As its teeth fall out, the shark will continually grow and replace teeth throughout its lifetime—a “conveyor belt” of new teeth. Some sharks have 5 rows of teeth, while the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) may have as many as 50 rows of teeth!

The sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) usually has about 14 rows of teeth. They may lose teeth every ten days or so, and most sharks typically lose at least one tooth a week. Why? Their teeth may get stuck in their prey, which can be tough and bony. When you don’t have hands, and need to explore the world with your mouth, it’s easy to lose or break a tooth now and then. Throughout its lifetime, a shark may go through over 30,000 teeth. The shark tooth fairy must be very busy!

A sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) tooth with serrated edges.

Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) tooth. The sandbar shark is distinguishable by its tall, triangular first dorsal fin. Sharks’ teeth are equally as hard as human teeth, but they are not attached to the gums by a root, like human teeth. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA

Similar to our dining utensils, sharks’ teeth are designed for cutting, spearing, and/or crushing. The tooth shape depends upon the shark’s diet. Sharks’ teeth are not uniform (exactly the same), so the size and shape of the teeth vary, depending on their location in the upper and lower jaws. Some sharks have long, angled, and pointed teeth for piercing and spearing their food. Similar to a fork, this ensures that their slippery meals don’t escape. Other sharks and rays have strong, flattened teeth for crushing the hard shells of their prey. These teeth work like a nutcracker or shellfish-cracking tool. Still others, like the famously fierce-looking teeth of the great white, are triangular and serrated. Like a steak knife, these teeth are used for tearing, sawing, and cutting into their prey.

A shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) tooth is narrow and pointed.

A shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) tooth is narrow and pointed. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA

Smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis) teeth are flattened for crushing prey.

Smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis) teeth are flattened for crushing prey. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA

A silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) tooth has serrated edges.

A silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) tooth has serrated edges. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA

A tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) tooth is jagged and serrated.

A tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) tooth is jagged and serrated. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA

Link to more shark tooth images: https://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/rcb/photogallery/shark_teeth.html

Beyond their teeth, other body features contribute to a shark’s ability to bite, crush, pursue, or ambush their prey. The powerful muscles that control their jaws and swimming ability, the position of their mouth, and the shape of their caudal (tail) fin all influence how a shark gets its food. Unlike humans, sharks do not chew their food. They swallow their food whole, or use their teeth to rip, shred, crush, and tear their food into smaller chunks that the shark can swallow. No need to floss or brush after a meal: sharks’ teeth contain fluoride, which helps to prevent cavities and decay.

Some people may find it hard to swallow the idea that sharks aren’t mindless menaces, but shark encounters are quite rare. Sharks have many extraordinary adaptations that make them efficient swimmers and hunters of other marine life, not humans. Whenever sharks come up in conversation, I am careful to dispel myths about these captivating creatures, trying to replace fear with facts (and hopefully, curiosity and respect). Since sharks can’t talk, I’m happy to advocate for them. Despite the way sharks are negatively portrayed in the media, I assure my students that sharks far prefer to eat bony fish, smaller sharks, skates, rays, octopus, squid, bivalves, crustaceans, marine mammals, plankton, and other marine life over humans. Instead of fear, I try to instill awareness of the vital role sharks fulfill in the ecosystem. We are a far greater threat to them, and they require our respect and protection.

For more information on sharks: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sharkseat.html

 

Personal Log

As storms and hurricanes tear across the Gulf of Mexico, causing destruction and devastation, my thoughts are with the impacted areas. Before my Teacher at Sea placement, I never thought I’d spend time in the region, so it’s interesting to see now-familiar locations on the news and weather maps. One of my favorite aspects of being at sea was watching the sky: recognizing constellations while fishing at night, gazing at glorious, melting sunsets, and observing storm clouds gathering in the distance. The colors and clouds were ever-changing, a reminder of the dynamic power of nature.

A colorful sunset on the Gulf of Mexico.

The sky was vibrant.

Storm clouds gather over Tampa, Florida.

Storm clouds gathered over Tampa, Florida.

Darkening clouds over the water.

The clouds clustered around Tampa. The city looked very small on the horizon.

Darkening clouds over the water.

As the rain started, the clouds darkened.

Darkening clouds over the water.

The colors changed and darkened as lightning started in the distance.

Darkening clouds over the water.

Dramatic dark clouds and lightning.

Watching the recent storm coverage on TV reinforced the importance of strong and accurate communication skills. Similar to a sidebar on the page, much of the supplementary storm information was printed on the screen. For someone who needed to evacuate quickly or was worried about loved ones in the area, this printed information could be crucial. As I listened to the reporters’ updates on the storm damage, aware that they were most likely reading from scripted notes, I was reminded of the challenge of conveying complex science through everyday language.

Two maps show the Gulf of Mexico.

The top image from Google Maps shows one research station where we were longline fishing in August (marked in red). The bottom satellite image shows Hurricane Michael moving through the same area. Image credits: Map of the Gulf of Mexico. Google Maps, 17 August 2018, maps.google.com; satellite image: NOAA via Associated Press.

One might assume that a typical day at sea only focused on science, technology, and math. In fact, all school subjects surfaced at some point in my experience at sea. For example, an understanding of geography helped me to understand where we were sailing and how our location influenced the type of wildlife we were seeing. People who were more familiar with the Gulf of Mexico shared some facts about the cultural, economic, and historical significance of certain locations, shedding light on our relationship with water.

Fishing is an old practice steeped in tradition, but throughout the ship, modern navigation equipment made it possible to fish more efficiently by plotting our locations while avoiding hazards such as natural formations and other vessels. Feats of engineering provided speed, power, drinkable water, and technological conveniences such as GPS, air conditioning, and Wi-Fi. In contrast to the natural evolution of sharks, these artificial adaptations provided many advantages at sea. To utilize the modern technology, however, literacy was required to input data and interpret the information on the dozens of monitors on board. Literacy and strong communication skills were required to understand and convey data to others. Reading and critical thinking allowed us to interpret maps and data, understand charts and graphs, and access news articles about the red tide we encountered.

I witnessed almost every person on board applying literacy skills throughout their day. Whether they were reading and understanding crucial written communication, reading instructions, selecting a dinner option from the menu, or referencing a field guide, they were applying reading strategies. In the offices and work spaces on board, there was no shortage of instructional manuals, safe operating procedures, informational binders, or wildlife field guides.

Writing helped to organize important tasks and schedules. To manage and organize daily tasks and responsibilities, many people utilized sticky notes and checklists. Computer and typing skills were also important. Some people were inputting data, writing research papers and projects, sharing their work through social media, or simply responding to work-related emails. The dive operation that I observed started as a thoroughly written dive plan. All of these tasks required clear and accurate written communication.

Junior Unlicensed Engineer (JUE) Jack Standfast holds a small notebook used for recording daily tasks and responsibilities.

Junior Unlicensed Engineer (JUE) Jack Standfast carried a small notebook in his pocket, recording the various engineering tasks he’d completed throughout the day.

Each day, I saw real-life examples of the strong ties between science and language arts. Recording accurate scientific data required measurement, weight, and observational skills, but literacy was required to read and interpret the data recording sheets. Neat handwriting and careful letter spacing were important for recording accurate data, reinforcing why we practice these skills in school. To ensure that a species was correctly identified and recorded, spelling could be an important factor. Throughout the experience, writing was essential for taking interview notes and brainstorming blog ideas, as well as following the writing process for my blog posts. If I had any energy left at the end of my day (usually around 2:00 AM), I consulted one of my shark field guides to read more about the intriguing species we saw.

 

Did You Know?

No need for a teething ring: Sharks begin shedding their teeth before they are even born. Shark pups (baby sharks) are born with complete sets of teeth. Sharks aren’t mammals, so they don’t rely upon their mothers for food after they’re born. They swim away and must fend for themselves, so those born-to-bite teeth come in handy.

Recommended Reading

Smart About Sharks written and illustrated by Owen Davey

Appropriate for older readers, the clever, comprehensive text offers interesting facts, tidbits, and trivia. The book dives a bit deeper to go beyond basic shark facts and knowledge. I’ve read hundreds of shark books, and I appreciated learning something new. The text doesn’t shy away from scientific terminology and concepts, such as phylogeny (eight orders of sharks and representative species). The facts reflect recent research findings on shark behavior. Lesser-known species are included, highlighting the diversity in body shapes, sizes, and specialized features. From a design standpoint, the aesthetically appealing illustrations are stylized, colorful, and engaging. Simple infographics provide explanations of complex ideas. Fact meets fiction in a section about shark mythology from around the world. The book concludes with a discussion of threats to sharks, as well as ocean conservation tips.

The cover of Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey.

Smart About Sharks written and illustrated by Owen Davey; published by Flying Eye Books, New York, 2016

 

Andria Keene: Let the fun begin! October 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Andria Keene

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

October 8 – 22, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Fall Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: October 17, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge
Date: 2018/10/17
Time: 13:10
Latitude: 027 39.81 N
Longitude 096 57.670 W
Barometric Pressure 1022.08mbar
Air Temperature: 61 degrees F

Those of us who love the sea wish everyone would be aware of the need to protect it.
– Eugenie Clark

Science and Technology Log

After our delayed departure, we are finally off and running! The science team on Oregon II has currently completed 28 out of the 56 stations that are scheduled for the first leg of this mission. Seventy-five stations were originally planned but due to inclement weather some stations had to be postponed until the 2nd leg. The stations are pre-arranged and randomly selected by a computer system to include a distributions of stations within each shrimp statistical zone and by depth from 5-20 and 21-60 fathoms.

Planned stations and routes

Planned stations and routes

At each station there is an established routine that requires precise teamwork from the NOAA Corps officers, the professional mariners and the scientists. The first step when we arrive at a station, is to launch the CTD. The officers position the ship at the appropriate location. The mariners use the crane and the winch to move the CTD into the water and control the decent and return. The scientists set up the CTD and run the computer that collects and analyzes the data. Once the CTD is safely returned to the well deck, the team proceeds to the next step.

science team with the CTD

Some members of the science team with the CTD

Step two is to launch the trawling net to take a sample of the biodiversity of the station. Again, this is a team effort with everyone working together to ensure success. The trawl net is launched on either the port or starboard side from the aft deck. The net is pulled behind the boat for exactly thirty minutes. When the net returns, the contents are emptied into the wooden pen or into baskets depending on the size of the haul.

red snapper haul

This unusual haul weighed over 900 pounds and contained mostly red snapper. Though the population is improving, scientists do not typically catch so many red snapper in a single tow.

The baskets are weighed and brought into the wet lab. The scientists use smaller baskets to sort the catch by species. A sample of 20 individuals of each species is examined more closely and data about length, weight, and sex is collected.

The information gathered becomes part of a database and is used to monitor the health of the populations of fish in the Gulf. It is used to help make annual decisions for fishing regulations like catch and bag limits. In addition, the data collected from the groundfish survey can drive policy changes if significant issues are identified.

Personal Log

I have been keeping in touch with my students via the Remind App, Twitter, and this Blog. Each class has submitted a question for me to answer. I would like to use the personal log of this blog to do that.

3rd Period - Marine Science II

3rd Period – Marine Science II: What have you learned so far on your expedition that you can bring back to the class and teach us?

The thing I am most excited to bring back to Marine 2 is the story of recovery for the Red Snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. I learned that due to improved fishing methods and growth in commercial fishing of this species, their decline was severe. The groundfish survey that I am working with is one way that data about the population of Red Snapper has been collected. This data has led to the creation of an action plan to help stop the decline and improve the future for this species.

4th Period - Marine Science I

4th Period – Marine Science I: What challenges have you had so far?

Our biggest challenge has been the weather! We left late due to Hurricane Michael and the weather over the past few days has meant that we had to miss a few stations. We are also expecting some bad weather in a couple of days that might mean we are not able to trawl.

5th Period - Marine Science I

5th Period – Marine Science I: How does the NOAA Teacher at Sea program support or help our environment?

The number one way that the NOAA Teacher at Sea program supports our environment is EDUCATION! What I learn here, I will share with my students and hopefully they will pass it on as well. If more people know about the dangers facing our ocean then I think more people will want to see changes to protect the ocean and all marine species.

7th Period - Marine Science I

7th Period – Marine Science I: What is the rarest or most interesting organism you have discovered throughout your exploration?

We have not seen anything that is rare for the Gulf of Mexico but I have seen two fish that I have never seen before, the singlespot frogfish and the Conger Eel. So for me these were really cool sightings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8th Period - Marine Science I

8th Period – Marine Science I: What organism that you have observed is by far the most intriguing?

I have to admit that the most intriguing organism was not anything that came in via the trawl net. Instead it was the Atlantic Spotted Dolphin that greeted me one morning at the bow of the boat. There were a total of 7 and one was a baby about half the size of the others. As the boat moved through the water they jumped and played in the splashing water. I watched them for over a half hour and only stopped because it was time for my shift. I could watch them all day!

Do you know …

What the Oregon II looks like on the inside?
Here is a tour video that I created before we set sail.

 

Transcript: A Tour of NOAA Ship Oregon II.

(0:00) Hi, I’m Andria Keene from Plant High School in Tampa, Florida. And I’d like to take you for a tour aboard Oregon II, my NOAA Teacher at Sea home for the next two weeks.

Oregon II is a 170-foot research vessel that recently celebrated 50 years of service with NOAA. The gold lettering you see here commemorates this honor.

As we cross the gangway, our first stop is the well deck, where we can find equipment including the forecrane and winch used for the CTD and bongo nets. The starboard breezeway leads us along the exterior of the main deck, towards the aft deck.

Much of our scientific trawling operations will begin here. The nets will be unloaded and the organisms will be sorted on the fantail.

(1:00) From there, the baskets will be brought into the wet lab, for deeper investigation. They will be categorized and numerous sets of data will be collected, including size, sex, and stomach contents.

Next up is the dry lab. Additional data will be collected and analyzed here. Take notice of the CTD PC.

There is also a chemistry lab where further tests will be conducted, and it’s located right next to the wet lab.

Across from the ship’s office, you will find the mess hall and galley. The galley is where the stewards prepare meals for a hungry group of 19 crew and 12 scientists. But there are only 12 seats, so eating quickly is serious business.

(2:20) Moving further inside on the main deck, we pass lots of safety equipment and several staterooms. I’m currently thrilled to be staying here, in the Field Party Chief’s stateroom, a single room with a private shower and water closet.

Leaving my room, with can travel down the stairs to the lower level. This area has lots of storage and a large freezer for scientific samples.

There are community showers and additional staterooms, as well as laundry facilities, more bathrooms, and even a small exercise room.

(3:15) If we travel up both sets of stairs, we will arrive on the upper deck. On the starboard side, we can find the scientific data room.

And here, on the port side, is the radio and chart room. Heading to the stern of the upper deck will lead us to the conference room. I’m told that this is a great place for the staff to gather and watch movies.

Traveling back down the hall toward the bow of the ship, we will pass the senior officers’ staterooms, and arrive at the pilot house, also called the bridge.

(4:04) This is the command and control center for the entire ship. Look at all the amazing technology you will find here to help keep the ship safe and ensure the goals of each mission.

Just one last stop on our tour: the house top. From here, we have excellent views of the forecastle, the aft winch, and the crane control room. Also visible are lots of safety features, as well as an amazing array of technology.

Well, that’s it for now! Hope you enjoyed this tour of NOAA Ship Oregon II.  

 

Challenge Question of the Day
Bonus Points for the first student in each class period to come up with the correct answer!
We have found a handful of these smooth bodied organisms which like to burrow into the sediment. What type of animal are they?

Challenge Question

What type of animal are these?

Today’s Shout Out:  To my family, I miss you guys terribly and am excited to get back home and show you all my pictures! Love ya, lots!

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald: Apex Predators, September 20, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15-September 30, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 20, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 2759.75N

Longitude: 09118.52W

Sea Wave Height: 0m

Wind Speed: 3.72 knots

Wind Direction: 166.48֯

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 31.1

Sky: 5% cloud cover

 

Science and Technology Log

We’ve been out at sea for three full days now and have traveled along the Gulf coast from Alabama to Texas.  The Science Team has run mostly shallow longline sets during this time, meaning that we have fished in depths from 9 to 55 meters.  As we move forward, we will fish stations at these depths and stations at depths of 55 to 183 meters, and from 183 to 366 meters.  The locations of the stations are randomized based on depth and the area that is being fished.  Due to the weather that hit south Texas the week before we joined this leg of the survey, we have been fishing the area that was impassable on the last leg of the survey.

As a member of the science team, there are five jobs that need to be done on each side of the set.  When the line is being cast, someone needs to release the highflyer, clip numbers, sling the bait, work the computer, or cleanup.  When the line comes in, there is a data collector, 2 fish handlers, a hook collector, and the computer person.  The highflyer is the marker that is put on either end of the line, so that the line can be seen from the bridge.  The data that is collected on paper and on the computer on each fish includes the number of the hook that they are on, species, length, and gender.  Additionally, some sharks are tagged and a fin clip is taken.

After a line is set, we check the water using a CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth) Probe.  It has a GoPro video recorder that takes a video of the water and the sea floor at the site of the line.

IMG_20180917_110752563_HDR

Field Party Chief Kristin Hannan setting up the CTD

 

IMG_20180919_124813824

CTD ready for deployment

A few of the highlights from the catches so far:  We had one catch that was coming up with mostly empty hooks, but then we caught a scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini).  The shark was large enough that we used a cradle to pull it up to deck level.  I got to insert the tag right below the dorsal fin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald tagging a scalloped hammerhead Photo Credit: Caroline Collatos

We had another survey that caught 49 sharks, including Atlantic Sharpnose Sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), Blacknose Sharks (Carcharhinus acronotus), Spinner Sharks (Carcharhinus brevipinna), and Blacktip Sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus).  Between these, we had a number of lines that brought up some sharks and a few Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus).  I have been able to dissect some of the Red Snapper, and collect their otoliths, which are their ear bones.

IMG_20180919_184623530_HDR

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald holding a Red Snapper

In the time between setting and retrieving lines, one of the ways we kept ourselves busy was by cleaning shark jaws that we had collected.  I look forward to using these in my classroom as an example of an apex predator species adaptation.

Personal Log

During much the 12 hours of off time, I spend my time in my bunk.  Working for 12 hours in the hot sun is exhausting, and it’s nice to have the room to myself while I try to get some rest.  Though I share a bunk with another member of the Science Team, we work opposite shifts.  So, while I’m on deck, she’s sleeping, and visa versa.  As you can see, my daughter sent me with her shark doll, which I thought was appropriate, given that I was taking part in shark research on this ship.

IMG_20180917_094650080

Kristin’s bunk on the Oregon II

While we were going slow one day, we had a pod of dolphins who swam along with us for a while.  They were right beside the ship, and I was able to get a video of a few of them surfacing next to us.

Did You Know?

Many shark species, including the Atlantic Sharpnose shark, are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young.  These sharks form a placenta from the yolk sac while the embryo develops.

Quote of the Day

Without sharks, you take away the apex predator of the ocean, and you destroy the entire food chain

~Peter Benchley

Question of the Day

While it is a common misconception that sharks do not get cancer, sharks have been found to get cancer, including chondromas.  What type of cancer is that?

Anne Krauss: The Oregon II Trail, August 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 16, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 1106

Latitude: 25° 17.10’ N

Longitude: 82° 53.58’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1020.17 mbar

Air Temperature: 29.5° C

Sea Temperature: 30.8° C

Wind Speed: 12.98 knots

Relative Humidity: 76%

 

Science and Technology Log

Before getting into the technology that allows the scientific work to be completed, it’s important to mention the science and technology that make daily life on the ship safer, easier, and more convenient. Electricity powers everything from the powerful deck lights used for working at night to the vital navigation equipment on the bridge (main control and navigation center). Whether it makes things safer or more efficient, the work we’re doing would not be possible without power. Just in case, several digital devices have an analog (non-electronic) counterpart as a back-up, particularly those used for navigation, such as the magnetic compass.

 

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To keep things cool, large freezers are used for storing bait, preserving scientific samples, and even storing ice cream (no chumsicles for dessert—they’re not all stored in the same freezer!). After one particularly sweltering shift, I was able to cool off with some frozen coffee milk (I improvised with cold coffee, ice cream, and milk). More importantly, without the freezers, the scientific samples we’re collecting wouldn’t last long enough to be studied further back at the lab on land.

Electricity also makes life at sea more convenient, comfortable, and even entertaining. We have access to many of the same devices, conveniences, and appliances we have at home: laundry machines, warm showers, air conditioning, home cooked meals, a coffee maker, TVs, computers with Wi-Fi, and special phones that allow calls to and from sea. A large collection of current movies is available in the lounge. During my downtime, I’ve been writing, exploring, enjoying the water, and learning more about the various NOAA careers on board.

To use my computer, I first needed to meet with Roy Toliver, Chief Electronics Technician, and connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi. While meeting with him, I asked about some of the devices I’d seen up on the flying bridge, the top deck of the ship. The modern conveniences on board are connected to several antennae, and Roy explained that I was looking at important navigation and communication equipment such as the ship’s GPS (Global Positioning System), radar, satellite, and weather instrumentation.

I was also intrigued by the net-like item (called a Day Shape) that communicates to other ships that we are deploying fishing equipment. This lets nearby ships know that the Oregon II has restricted maneuverability when the gear is in the water. At night, lights are used to communicate to other ships. Communication is crucial for safety at sea.

When I stopped by, Roy had just finished replacing some oxygen sensors for the CTD (that stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth). For more information about CTDs click here: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/ctd.html

Without accurate sensors, it’s very difficult for the scientists to get the data they need. If the sensors are not working or calibrated correctly, the information collected could be inaccurate or not register at all. The combination of salt water and electronics poses many interesting problems and solutions. I noticed that several electronic devices, such as computers and cameras, are built for outdoor use or housed in durable plastic cases.

On this particular day, the ship sailed closer to an algal bloom (a large collection of tiny organisms in the water) responsible for red tide. Red tide can produce harmful toxins, and the most visible effect was the presence of dead fish drifting by. As I moved throughout the ship, the red tide was a red hot topic of conversation among both the scientists and the deck department. Everyone seemed to be discussing it. One scientist explained that dissolved oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico can vary based on temperature and depth, with average readings being higher than about 5 milligrams per milliliter. The algal bloom seemed to impact the readings by depleting the oxygen level, and I was able to see how that algal bloom registered and affected the dissolved oxygen readings on the electronics Roy was working on. It was fascinating to witness a real life example of cause and effect. For more information about red tide in Florida, click here: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/redtide-florida/

Chief Electronics Technician Roy Toliver in his office on the Oregon II.

Chief Electronics Technician Roy Toliver in his office on the Oregon II. The office is like the ship’s computer lab. When he’s not working on the ship’s electronics, Roy enjoys reading out on the stern. It’s a great place for fresh air, beautiful views, and a good book!

Personal Log

Preparing and packing for my time on the Oregon II reminded me of The Oregon Trail video game. How to pack for a lengthy journey to the unfamiliar and unknown?

A video game screenshot

I had a hard time finding bib overalls and deck boots at the general store.

I didn’t want to run out of toiletries or over pack, so before leaving home, I tracked how many uses I could get out of a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, shampoo bottle, and bar of soap, and that helped me to ration out how much to bring for fifteen days (with a few extras, just in case). The scientists and crew of the Oregon II also have to plan, prepare, and pack all of their food, clothing, supplies, tools, and equipment carefully. Unlike The Oregon Trail game, I didn’t need oxen for my journey, but I needed some special gear: deck boots, foul weather gear (rain jacket with a hood and bib overalls), polarized sunglasses (to protect my eyes by reducing the sun’s glare on the water), lots of potent sunscreen, and other items to make my time at sea safe and comfortable.

I was able to anticipate what I might need to make this a more efficient, comfortable experience, and my maritime instincts were accurate. Mesh packing cubes and small plastic baskets help to organize my drawers and shower items, making it easier to find things quickly in an unfamiliar setting.

berths on ship show blue privacy curtains

This is where we sleep in the stateroom. The blue curtains can be closed to darken the room when sleeping during the day. On the left is a sink.

My own shark cradle

Reading and dreaming about sharks!

Dirt, guts, slime, and grime are part of the job. A bar of scrubby lemon soap takes off any leftover sunscreen, grime, or oceanic odors that leaked through my gloves. Little things like that make ship life pleasant. Not worrying about how I look is freeing, and I enjoy moving about the ship, being physically active. It reminds me of the summers I spent as a camp counselor working in the woods. The grubbier and more worn out I was, the more fun we were having.

The NOAA Corps is a uniformed service, so the officers wear their uniforms while on duty. For everyone else, old clothes are the uniform around here because the work is often messy, dirty, and sweaty. With tiny holes, frayed seams, mystery stains, cutoff sleeves, and nautical imagery, I am intrigued by the faded t-shirts from long-ago surveys and previous sailing adventures. Some of the shirts date back several years. The well-worn, faded fabric reveals the owner’s experience at sea and history with the ship. The shirts almost seem to have sea stories to tell of their own.

Sunset over water showing orange, pink, and blue hues.

As we sail, the view is always changing and always interesting!

Being at sea is a very natural feeling for me, and I haven’t experienced any seasickness. One thing I didn’t fully expect: being cold at night. The inside of the ship is air-conditioned, which provides refreshing relief from the scorching sun outside. I expected cooler temperatures at night, so I brought some lightweight sweatshirts and an extra wool blanket from home. On my first night, I didn’t realize that I could control the temperature in my stateroom, so I shivered all night long.

A folded grey hooded sweatshirt

It’s heavy, tough, and grey, but it’s not a shark!

My preparing and packing didn’t end once I embarked (got on) on the ship. Every day, I have to think ahead, plan, and make sure I have everything I need before I start my day. This may seem like the least interesting aspect of my day, but it was the biggest adjustment at first.

To put yourself in my shoes (well, my deck boots), imagine this:

Get a backpack. Transport yourself to completely new and unfamiliar surroundings. Try to adapt to strange new routines and procedures. Prepare to spend the next 12+ hours working, learning, exploring, and conducting daily routines, such as eating meals. Fill your backpack with anything you might possibly need or want for those twelve hours. Plan for the outdoor heat and the indoor chill, as well as rain. If you forgot something, you can’t just go back to your room or run to the store to get it because

  1. Your roommate is sleeping while you’re working (and vice versa), so you need to be quiet and respectful of their sleep schedule. That means you need to gather anything you may need for the day (or night, if you’re assigned to the night watch), and bring it with you. No going back into the room while your roommate is getting some much-needed rest.
  2. Land is not in sight, so everything you need must be on the ship. Going to the store is not an option.

Just some of the items in my backpack: sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, sweatshirt, a water bottle, my camera, my phone, my computer, chargers for my electronics, an extra shirt, extra socks, snacks, etc.

I am assigned to the day watch, so my work shift is from noon-midnight. During those hours, I am a member of the science team. While on the day watch, the five of us rotate roles and responsibilities, and we work closely with the deck crew to complete our tasks. The deck department is responsible for rigging and handling the heavier equipment needed for fishing and sampling the water: the monofilament (thick, strong fishing line made from plastic), cranes and winches for lifting the CTD, and the cradle used for safely bringing up larger, heavier sharks. In addition to keeping the ship running smoothly and safely, they also deploy and retrieve the longline gear.

A pulley in front of water

Pulleys, winches, and cranes are found throughout the boat.

Another adjustment has been learning the routines, procedures, and equipment. For the first week, it’s been a daily game of What-Am-I-Looking-At? as I try to decipher and comprehend the various monitors displayed throughout the ship. I follow this with a regular round of Now-What-Did-I-Forget? as I attempt to finesse my daily hygiene routine. The showers and bathroom (on a ship, it’s called the head) are down the hall from my shared stateroom, and so far, I’ve managed to forget my socks (day one), towel (day two), and an entire change of clothes (day four). With the unfamiliar setting and routine, it’s easy to forget something, and I’m often showering very late at night after a long day of work.

Showers and changing stalls on ship

I’m more than ready to cool off and clean up after my shift.

One thing I never forget? Water. I am surrounded by glittering, glistening water or pitch-black water; water that churns and swells and soothingly rocks the ship. Swirling water that sometimes looks like ink or teal or indigo or navy, depending on the conditions and time of day.

Another thing I’ll never forget? This experience.

A water bottle in the sun

In case I forget, the heat of the sun reminds me to drink water all day long.

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico is home to five species, or types, or sea turtles: Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley.

Recommended Reading

Many of my students have never seen or experienced the ocean. To make the ocean more relevant and relatable to their environment, I recommend the picture book Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene. A young girl’s grandfather moves to the city and notices there’s nowhere to fish. She and her grandfather imagine fishing from their high-rise apartment fire escape. The “fish” they catch are inspired by the vibrant ecosystem around them: the citizens and bustling activity in an urban environment. The catch of the day: “Flying Litterfish,” “Laundry Eels,” a “Constructionfish,” and many others, all inspired by the sights and sounds of the busy city around them.

The book could be used to make abstract, geographically far away concepts, such as coral ecosystems, more relatable for students in urban, suburban, and rural settings, or as a way for students in rural settings to learn more about urban communities. The young girl’s observations and imagination could spark a discussion about how prominent traits influence species’ common names, identification, and scientific naming conventions.

The cover of the book Skyfishing

Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017)

 

Jeff Peterson: The Work in the Eastern Gulf, July 19, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jeff Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 9 – 20, 2018

 

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 19, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Date: 2018/07/19

Time: 16:34:47

Latitude: 29 57.6 N

Longitude: 087 02.60 W

Speed over ground: 7.3 knots

Barometric pressure: 1014.49

Relative humidity: 84%

Air temperature: 26.8 C

Sea wave height: 1 m

 

Science and Technology Log

We arrived off the coast of Florida on the evening of Sunday, July 15, and sampled stations in the eastern Gulf until the afternoon of Thursday, July 19. We used the same fishing method during this part of the cruise (bottom trawling), but added a step in the process, deploying side scan sonar in advance of every trawl. This measure was taken both to protect sea life on the ocean floor (sponges and corals) and to avoid damaging equipment. The sea bottom in this part of the Gulf—east of the DeSoto Canyon—is harder (less muddy) and, in addition to coral and sponge, supports a number of species markedly different than those seen in the western Gulf.

 

Side Scan Sonar

In contrast to single-beam sonar, which bounces a single focused beam of sound off the bottom to measure depth, side scan sonar casts a broader, fan-like signal, creating nuanced readings of the contour of the ocean floor and yielding photo-like images.

Towed Side Scan

How side scan sonar works: The harder the object, the stronger the image returned. See: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/seafloor-mapping/how_sidescansonar.html#

 

Side scan sonar device

Side scan sonar device in its cradle.

 

 

Rigged and ready for deployment.

Rigged and ready for deployment. Signals from the sonar are conducted up the cable and picked up by the electrically powered lead on the block.

 

on its way in

Side scan sonar on its way in astern.

 

descending

Side scan sonar just beneath the surface & descending.

 

When we arrive a station in this part of the Gulf, we begin by traversing, covering the usual distance (1.5 miles), but then turn around, deploy the side scan sonar, and retrace our course. Once we’ve returned to our starting point, we recover the sonar, turn around again, and—provided the path on the sea bottom looks clear—resume our course through the station, this time lowering the trawl. If the side scan reveals obstructions, it’s a no-go and the station is “ditched.”

 

Coming about

Coming about before deploying the side scan sonar.

 

 

And Now for Something Completely Different . . . Fish of the Eastern Gulf

Panama City, Florida

Off Panama City, Florida – Tuesday morning, July 17, 2018

We spent the first half of this leg of the survey in the western Gulf of Mexico, going as far west as the Texas-Louisiana border. The second half we’re spending in the eastern Gulf, going as far east as Panama City. From here we’ll work our way westward, back to our homeport in Pascagoula.

Thanks to different submarine terrain in the northeastern Gulf—not to mention the upwelling of nutrients from the DeSoto Canyon—it’s a different marine biological world off the coast of Florida.

Here’s a closer look at the submarine canyon that, roughly speaking, forms a dividing line between characteristic species of the western Gulf and those of the eastern Gulf:

Bathymetric map of the Gulf of Mexico

Bathymetric map of the Gulf of Mexico, with proposed dive sites for Operation Deep-Scope 2005 indicated by red arrows and yellow numbers. Site #1 is on the southwest Florida Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico, where deep-water Lophilia coral lithoherms are found. #2 is DeSoto Canyon, a deep erosional valley where upwelling of deep nutrient rich water means greater animal abundances. #3 is Viosca Knoll, the shallowest site, where spectacular stands of Lophelia provide abundant habitat for other species. See: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/05deepscope/background/geology/media/map.html

 

And here’s a selection of the weird and wonderful creatures we sampled in the eastern Gulf. As this basket suggests, they’re a more brightly colored, vibrant bunch:

Basket of catch

A basket of fish. Upper right: Lane Snapper, Lutjanus synagris. On the left: Sand Perch, Diplectrum formosum. The plentiful scallops? Argopecten gibbus.

 

 

Sand Perch, Diplectrum formosum

Sand Perch, Diplectrum formosum

Razorfish, Xyrichtys novacula

Razorfish, Xyrichtys novacula

A basket of Xyrichtys novacula

A basket of Xyrichtys novacula

 

Angelfish, Holacanthus bermudensis

Angelfish, Holacanthus bermudensis

Angelfish closeup

Holacanthus bermudensis details: tail fins (front specimen), pectoral fin & gill (behind)

 

Jackknife Fish, Equetus lanceolatus

Jackknife Fish, Equetus lanceolatus

Lined Seahorse, Hippocampus erectus

Lined Seahorse, Hippocampus erectus

 

 

Argopecten gibbus

Argopecten gibbus (all 2,827 of them)

Pink Shrimp, Farfantepenaeus duorarum.

Pink Shrimp, Farfantepenaeus duorarum. Note the signature “pink” spot by my thumb.

 

Calamus

Calamus

 

Lionfish, Pterois volitans

Invasive scourge of the Gulf: Lionfish, Pterois volitans

Lionfish, Pterois volitans

Lionfish, Pterois volitans

 

Burrfish, Chilomycterus schoepfii

Burrfish, Chilomycterus schoepfii

 

 

Scorpionfish (aka Barbfish), Scorpaena brasiliensis

Scorpionfish (aka Barbfish), Scorpaena brasiliensis

 

Southern Stargazer, Astroscopus y-graecum (juvenile)

Southern Stargazer, Astroscopus y-graecum (juvenile)

 

Ocellated Moray Eels, Gymnothorax saxicola

Ocellated Moray Eels, Gymnothorax saxicola

 

Trumpetfish, Aulostomus maculatus

Trumpetfish, Aulostomus maculatus

 

 

Video credit: Will Tilley

 

debris

Mysterious debris: A bottom-dwelling payphone?

 

Personal Log

Our move into the eastern Gulf marks the midpoint of the cruise, and we’ll be back to Pascagoula in a few short days. The seas haven’t been as serenely flat as they were in the eastern Gulf, nor has the sky (or sea) been its stereotypically Floridian blue, but I’ve found life aboard ship just as pleasurable and stimulating.

storm

A squall on Monday morning, July 16, 2018. Off the stern there to starboard, Blackfin Tuna were jumping.

 

In my final blog post, I’ll have more to say about all the great folks I’ve met aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II—from its Deck Department members and Engineers, to its Stewards and NOAA Corps officers and inimitable Captain—but here want to reiterate just how thoughtful and generous everybody’s been. The “O2” is a class act—a community of professionals who know what they’re about and love what they do—and I couldn’t be more grateful to have visited their world for a while and shared their good company.

Busy as we’ve been, I haven’t had much time for sketching during this part of the cruise, and, as the selection of photos above suggests, I’ve concentrated more on taking pictures than making them. Still, I’ve begun a small sketch of the ship that I hope to complete before we reach Pascagoula. It’s based on a photograph that hangs in the galley, and that I’m going to attempt to reproduce actual size (3 3/8” x 7”) . Here’s where things stand early on in the process:

IMG_8230 2.jpg

Work in progress: sketch of NOAA Ship Oregon II

 

Did You Know?

Any of the western Gulf fish in the basket from my last blog post? Here it is again:

Basket of Fish from Western Gulf

Basket of Fish from Western Gulf

And here is a visual key to the four species I was fishing for, each figuring prominently in my blog post for July 15:

Basket of fish revision

Basket of Fish from Western Gulf: now color-coded

1: Red Snapper, Lutjanus campechanus

2: Longspined Porgy, Stenotomus caprinus

3: Gulf Butterfish, Peprilus burti

4: Brown Shrimp, Farfantepenaeus aztecus

A few Stenotomus caprinus and Peprilus burti have been left unhighlighted. Can you find them?

Anne Krauss: Once Upon a Maritime, August 4, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 4, 2018

Introductory Personal Log

I’m thrilled to be joining NOAA Ship Oregon II for the second leg of the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey. The adventure of a lifetime begins in Canaveral, Florida and concludes in Pascagoula, Mississippi. For two weeks, we’ll be studying sharks, red snapper, and other marine life in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Scientists will collect data on fish populations to find out more about their distribution, age, weight, length, reproduction, and other important information. Along the way, we’ll also sample water quality and collect other environmental data. Learning more about these creatures and their surroundings can help to keep their habitats safe and thriving.

This exciting opportunity is the next chapter in my lifelong appreciation for sharks and the sea. During a formative visit to the ocean at age three, I quickly acquired a taste for salt water, seafaring, and sharks. I saw my first shark, a hammerhead, in the New England Aquarium, and I was transfixed. I wanted to know everything about the water and what lived beneath the surface.

After discovering nonfiction in fourth grade, I could access the depths through reading. I was riveted to books about deep-sea creatures and pioneering undersea explorers. The more I learned, the more curious I became. As a younger student, I never indulged my aquatic interests in any formal academic sense beyond prerequisites because of my epic, giant-squid-versus-whale-like struggle with math. Because I was much stronger in humanities and social sciences, I pursued a predictable path into writing, literature, and education.

As a Literacy Specialist, I support developing readers and writers in grades K-5 by providing supplemental Language Arts instruction (Response to Intervention). To motivate and inspire my students, I share my zeal for the ocean, incorporating developmentally appropriate topics to teach requisite Language Arts skills and strategies.

In 2011, I initiated an ocean literacy collaboration with undersea explorer Michael Lombardi and Ocean Opportunity Inc. so that I could better answer my students’ questions about marine science careers and marine life. Our first meeting involved swimming with blue sharks offshore, and I knew I needed more experiences like that in my life. From chumming to helping with the equipment to observing pelagic sharks without a cage, I loved every aspect. This life-changing experience (both the collaboration and the shark encounter) transformed my instruction, reigniting my curiosity and ambition. Our educator-explorer partnership has inspired and motivated my students for the past seven years. After supporting and following my colleague’s field work with my students, I wanted a field experience of my own so that I can experience living, researching, and working at sea firsthand.

Although my fascination with all things maritime began at an early age, working closely with someone in the field transformed my life. Instead of tumbling, I feel like Alice plunging into a watery wonderland, chasing after a neoprene-clad rabbit to learn more. Finding someone who was willing to share their field experience and make it accessible gave me the confidence to revisit my childhood interests through any available, affordable means: online courses, documentaries, piles of nonfiction books, social media, workshops, symposiums, aquaria, snorkeling, and the occasional, cherished seaside visit.

We co-authored and published a case study about our collaboration in Current: The Journal of Marine Education, the peer-reviewed journal of the National Marine Educators Association (Fall/Winter 2016). We wrote about bringing the discovery of a new species of mesophotic clingfish to fourth and fifth grade struggling readers. Since a student-friendly text about the fish did not exist, I wrote one for my students at their instructional reading level, incorporating supportive nonfiction text features.

It’s reinvigorating to switch roles from teacher to student. Ultimately, this unconventional path has made me a more effective, empathetic educator. My students witness how I employ many of the same literacy skills and strategies that I teach. By challenging myself with material outside my area of expertise, I am better able to anticipate and accommodate my students’ challenges and misconceptions in Language Arts. When comprehension of a scientific research paper does not come to me easily on the first, second, or even third attempt, I can better understand my students’ occasional reluctance and frustration in Language Arts. At times, learning a different field reminds me of learning a second language. Because I’m such a word nerd, I savor learning the discourse and technical terminology for scientific phenomena. Acquiring new content area vocabulary is rewarding and delicious. It requires word roots and context clues (and sometimes, trial and error), and I model this process for my students.

Being selected for Teacher at Sea is an incredible opportunity that required determination, grit, and perseverance. Although my curiosity and excitement come very naturally, the command over marine science content has not. I’ve had to be an active reader and work hard in order to acquire and understand new concepts. Sometimes, the scientific content challenges me to retrain my language arts brain while simultaneously altering my perception of myself as a learner. Ultimately, that is what I want for my students: to see themselves as ever-curious, ever-improving readers, writers, critical thinkers, and hopefully, lifelong learners.

I am so grateful for the opportunities to learn and grow. I deeply appreciate the support, interest, and encouragement I’ve received from friends, family, and colleagues along the way. I will chronicle my experiences on NOAA Ship Oregon II while also capturing how the scientific research may translate to the elementary school classroom. Please share your questions and comments in the comments section below, and I will do my best to reply from sea. My students sent me off with many thoughtful questions to address, and I’ll share the answers in subsequent posts.

Did You Know?

Pelagic fish have bodies designed for long-distance swimming. With their long pectoral fins, the blue shark (Prionace glauca) is highly migratory, traveling great distances across oceans.

A blue shark swims near the surface.

Look carefully: This graceful blue shark was the first shark I saw in the open ocean. Swimming with them was exhilarating!

Recommended Reading

The cover of a children's nonfiction book shows a scientist diving near a shark and coral reef with an autonomous underwater vehicle in the background.

An engaging read-aloud for younger readers.

For a simplified introduction to how scientists study sharks, I recommend the picture book How to Spy on a Shark written by Lori Haskins Houran and illustrated by Francisca Marquez. This read-aloud science book portrays the process of catching, tagging, and releasing mako sharks. The book includes shark facts as well as an introduction to tagging and tracking technology. For more information on how scientists use underwater robots such as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to study sharks: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/18whitesharkcafe/welcome.html

Angela Hung: Fortitude, July 23, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 27-July 5, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 23, 2018

 

Weather Data from Home

Conditions at 2101

Latitude: 41.54°N

Longitude: 87.53°W

Temperature: 21° C

Wind Speed: N 3 mph

 

Science and Technology Log

Back at home but there’s still so much to share! I’ll wrap up my amazing experience as a Teacher at Sea by introducing three more members of the NOAA Ship Oregon II family: Alonzo Hamilton, Executive Officer Andrew Ostapenko and Commanding Officer Captain Dave Nelson. At the start of my adventure, I wrote about flexibility. The Teacher at Sea Program also stresses that cruises “require high-intensity work that demands physical adeptness, endurance, and fortitude”. These three exemplify how fortitude, the ability to endure through life’s challenges and change, brings rewards throughout life.

 

Fishery Biologist Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton, left, and Taniya Wallace, right, enter species into FSCS.

Alonzo Hamilton, left, and Taniya Wallace, right, enter species into FSCS.

Alonzo Hamilton has been a fishery biologist for 34 years! He likes to say that he stumbled into NOAA. He graduated from community college before enrolling at Jackson State University, a historically black university in Mississippi with a full scholarship. Actually, he was offered two scholarships, one for minority biomedical researchers to become a surgeon and the other for general studies. He arrived on campus to discuss his options in the science department. It turned out that the biomedical research scholarship was given to another recipient. On the bright side, it made the decision to accept the general studies funding much simpler. Now he had to make a choice of which field to pursue. As he explored the halls of the science building, he happened upon the office of the head of the marine science program and popped in to ask some questions. After learning about the program, he decided to apply his scholarship toward coursework in this field.

After college, he began working on a research project for the Navy which paid for a master’s degree. Soon after, President Reagan froze research funding for the Navy. Fortunately, Alonzo was tipped off that NOAA did very similar research with an active, albeit smaller budget. So began a 34 year career as a NOAA fishery biologist.

Being an African American scientist in the deep south came with challenges, but he reminded his supervisors and others around him that, “I won’t limit myself to your box”, which has carried him through a long and storied career. Today, he is happy that he gets “paid to play in the ocean”, which sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

 

Executive Officer (XO) Andrew Ostapenko

Andrew Ostapenko

Andrew Ostapenko

Most of the NOAA Corp officers you meet have a degree in science. I had the fortune of sailing with one of the few who doesn’t— the XO, LCDR Andrew Ostapenko. XO has a degree in political science from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. His goal was to become a lawyer, but after considering the job prospects and the lifestyle—”no one ever calls lawyers when they are happy”, and they never retire —he looked into some other options. In 2005 he applied for the NOAA Corps. Although he didn’t have a science degree, the general education requirements at the University of St. Paul, which included calculus, chemistry and physics, met the NOAA Corps requirements.

Since joining NOAA, LCDR Ostapenko has held a variety of assignments. In Maryland he managed budgets and projects for the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, a part of the National Weather Service that provides forecasts for the nation. He worked in small boat life cycle management as a Port engineer/small boat officer in Norfolk, Virginia, disseminating policies across the NOAA fleet.

His sailing experience began on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson which performs hydrographic surveys that map the oceans to continuously update and improve nautical charts. He was a member of the first crew on NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker, accompanying her from Wisconsin where she was built to her homeport of San Diego. Last but not least, XO has been an augmenting officer for three months on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, another fisheries survey vessel based in Alaska where high seas and storms are a part of a normal day’s work.

NOAA assignments are three years for shore tours and two years for sea tours. LCDR Ostapenko currently has about a year left with Oregon II. As XO shows, there is no danger of getting stuck in mundane office job as a NOAA Corps officer.

 

The Captain

Captain Dave Nelson of NOAA Ship Oregon II

Captain Dave Nelson of NOAA Ship Oregon II

“Lunch is on me!” invites the captain if you arrive to the galley after him. Captain Dave Nelson is the commanding officer (CO) of NOAA Ship Oregon II, and he’s gone a long way to realize that title. This is his 10th year as the captain of Oregon II, but he’s worked onboard since 1993. He refers to himself as a “hawsepiper”, urging me to look it up on the internet. Informally, it means to have started at the bottom as a deckhand and working up to becoming a captain. Captain Nelson is a Mississippi native and grew up shrimping and fishing with his dad. After high school he went to work on commercial boats that bring supplies to oil rigs. After over a decade, he felt that he needed a plan for the future– a stable pensioned job. He serendipitously stopped into the NOAA office as he was driving by on a day that someone had just quit and there was an opening to fill. The rest is Oregon II history.

The progression as a civilian begins with being a deckhand and progressing to Chief Boatswain. It takes 750 days at sea to qualify for the first license, the 3rd Mate license administered by the U.S. Coast Guard. It then takes 1100 more days to be eligible to test for the Masters license to become a captain. In 2008 the prospective captain lived in Seattle on a NOAA ship for 12 weeks for a prep course for the Masters exam. At this point, it’d be almost 30 years since he had been a student; not only did he have to learn the material for the test, he also had to learn how to study again.  Soon-to-be Captain Nelson committed seven days a week for the entire 12 weeks to study and reviewing material to pass. He knew he wanted it.

CO Nelson’s joking attitude belies the pressure of being the captain of a ship. It’s a tremendous responsibility because he is accountable for everything, particularly the safety of everyone onboard. Every decision is made or approved by the captain and he sends reports to his supervisors every day.

He is one of a few captains in the NOAA fleet who is a civilian; most NOAA Commissioned officers rotate between boats every two years. This means that he is always training the new officers joining Oregon II from ensigns like Andy Fullerton and Chelsea Parrish to XO’s like Andrew Ostapenko. It takes a lot of patience; everyone comes in with different strengths, weaknesses and of course, personalities. The key, he says, is to “treat people like people” no matter who they are.

 

Personal Log

I somehow made it through almost three weeks living on Oregon II without falling down any stairs or tripping and landing on my face over a bulkhead door. Sure enough, it was hard to fall asleep at home without the rocking of the boat, but I’m happy to have my own shower again.

I’m so excited to show my students photos of so many of the things that I cover in class, or that they ask about, such as starfish regenerating lost arms and a video of wiggling tube feet on a severed arm (I accidently broke it off). I imagine they’ll also get to see critters they haven’t imagined-arrow and calico crabs, triggerfish, batfish…

A sea star that is regenerating its lower right arm.

A sea star that is regenerating its lower left arm.

I can’t believe how much I learned in such a short time about life and work at sea, careers, seafood, NOAA and its online resources. What I’ve shared in blogs is such a small fraction of everything I’ve experienced. I’m extremely grateful to everyone on Oregon II for being so welcoming and friendly, and for being so willing to speak with me. Although there were some setbacks, I got the chance to visit the lab and meet the wonderful scientists who showed me around. It’s hard work, but everyone agrees that it’s meaningful, rewarding and exciting.

Since coming home, my colleagues have commented that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity; that thought has crossed my mind as well. But watching everyone work, this is the everyday life of NOAA crew. I can’t help but think how few decisions it might have taken, maybe only 2-3 different choices, that might have made this my regular life too.

 

Did You Know?

NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award for rescuing three people off the coast of Cape Canaveral on Florida’s east coast. (This is where NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is located.) In 1998 when Captain Nelson was still a deckhand, he was woken from sleep between his watches. At about 2:30pm, a small overturned boat was spotted with a man, woman, and young girl on top. Captain Nelson was a small boat driver then; he launched a boat from Oregon II to rescue them and bring them to the Coast Guard.

NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award in 1998 for rescuing three people off of the coast of Florida.

NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award in 1998 for rescuing three people off of the coast of Florida.

Captain Dave surmises that they left port in Miami almost 200 miles south and got swept up in the Gulf Stream, a strong current of water that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and flows to Canada, affecting the climate even to Europe. It can create choppy conditions that capsized their boat.

The Gulf Stream is visible in red as it carries warm water from the south into the northern Atlantic. Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream#/media/File:Golfstrom.jpg

The Gulf Stream is visible in red as it carries warm water from the south into the northern Atlantic. Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream#/media/File:Golfstrom.jpg

They were extraordinarily lucky; the ocean is vast so the chances of Oregon II coming by and being spotted were slim. Their boat was too small to be detected by radar; if it had been dark, they might have been run over. Those are three people who are alive today because of NOAA Ship Oregon II.