George Hademenos: Reflections…of an Inspiring Opportunity as a Teacher at Sea, August 27, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea

George Hademenos

Aboard R/V Tommy Munro

July 19 – 27, 2022

Mission: Gulf of Mexico Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 27, 2022

As a teacher, I am constantly involved in professional development activities which could take the form of a presentation, workshop, seminar, book study or immersive educator experiences such as NOAA Teacher at Sea. At the end of each offering, whether I am required to or not, I take it upon myself to consider its impact on me as an educator and reflect upon how the take-home messages will impact my students. Because of the wide-ranging facets and extensive learning opportunities provided by the Teacher at Sea cruise, I took particular interest in drafting my reflections. It was an experience that I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about and an activity that I looked forward to reflecting upon. However, just to be clear, reflections in my definition is not a concise and cogent summary of the activities that occurred while on cruise. This is what was presented in each prior post of my blog. Rather, my reflection represents a “30,000-foot overview” of my interpretation and evaluation of the experience.

As I prepared the text for the reflections of my Teacher at Sea cruise, I opted to adapt the words to photos of scenic views taken from onboard the R/V Tommy Munro and threaded the images together in a video presentation.

Reflections of my Teacher at Sea Experience

Reflections of a Teacher at Sea
George Hademenos
SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

As I gaze in any direction at the seemingly endless volumes of ocean, I see questions…
questions to be answered and answers to be questioned,
questions to be formed and questions to be researched,
questions that will inspire one to learn beyond imagination…
with answers that will foster an understanding deep within…
of the unexplored frontier of marine life below the water’s surface.
Questions to me present an opportunity…
to celebrate what we know and to stimulate our quest to discover what we don’t.
As a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I will return to the classroom with…
questions waiting to be answered, answers waiting to be investigated,
and hopefully career paths in ocean sciences waiting to be pursued.

I hope you enjoy the video and for my educator colleagues, please consider taking advantage of this “once in a lifetime” opportunity for you and your students.

In wrapping up the final post for this blog, I would like to continue with the final installment of my exercise of the Ocean Literacy Framework and ask you to respond to three questions about the seventh essential principle (The ocean is largely unexplored), presented in a Padlet accessed by the following link:

https://tinyurl.com/yckk8eet

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers – the questions serve not as an opportunity to answer yes or no, or to get answers right or wrong; rather, these questions serve as an opportunity not only to assess what you know or think about the scope of the principle but also to learn, explore, and investigate the demonstrated principle. If you have any questions or would like to discuss further, please indicate so in the blog and I would be glad to answer your questions and initiate a discussion.

George Hademenos: Home Sweet Home…at Least for the Next Two Weeks, August 14, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea

George Hademenos

Aboard R/V Tommy Munro

July 19 – 27, 2022

Mission: Gulf of Mexico Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 14, 2022

There was no doubt about my excitement of being named as a NOAA Teacher at Sea and the opportunity to immerse myself in marine science and participate in scientific research. But the one aspect of this experience that I particularly looked forward to was being able to do this on a ship at sea. The ship would serve as a classroom like no other…a classroom where I could learn as a student and yet serve as a basis for me to develop instructional activities and projects for my students as a teacher. The classroom, as I described in the prior post, was originally scheduled to be NOAA Ship Oregon II but eventually turned out to be the R/V Tommy Munro.

While both ships were equipped with the facilities, resources and infrastructure required to conduct the samplings necessary for the survey, the main difference was that the Oregon II was part of the NOAA fleet of research vessels while the R/V Tommy Munro was not. Rather, the R/V Tommy Munro is operated under the management of the University of Southern Mississippi. Of course, when a ship is named after a person, there is always a sense of interest about the individual and what background, experience, and contributions to ocean sciences warranted such an honor. Tommy Munro has a compelling biography and can be read by accessing the following link:

http://www.msimhalloffame.org/tommy-munro.html

It was a thrill seeing the R/V Tommy Munro for the first time on Tuesday, July 19 in preparation of my upcoming cruise.

a collage of two images. on the left, a view of R/V Tommy Munro tied up at the dock, looking toward the bow. The name is painted prominently in black and blue. At right, a view of a life preserver mounted on an outer a wall of the ship. The life preserver also reads R/V Tommy Munro.
The ship exterior and a life preserver aboard the R/V Tommy Munro.

As I arrived at the docked ship, I was first met by John Z., the ship’s cook, who treated me to a tour of the vessel. I know you are just as anxious to see the various spaces inside the ship so come on aboard and let me take you on a tour. The first stop was my living quarters.

A collage of two images. On the left, a view of a closed door (simple, wooden, with a knob, could be in a house.) Several pieces of laminated paper are taped to the door. One reads: State Quarters 2. The next are the two pages of the Emergency Station Bill (not close enough to read). On the right, a photo looking inside the stateroom, where we can see four bunks.
My living quarters while aboard the ship.

I was assigned to State Quarters 2 which consisted of 4 bunks. My bunk was on the bottom to the left as you can see my belongings on the bed. Interestingly enough, it would turn out that 3 individuals were assigned to the quarters which meant that the upper bunk above mine was open. This was important because if the upper bunk was occupied, that would mean that I would have no other place to store my luggage than with me on the bed. So the upper bunk served as storage for the luggage from all three of us, giving us much need space to rest comfortably in our bunks.

The next stop on our tour involves meals on the cruise. The dining room is a table where all formal meals were served and offered an opportunity for those around the table to engage in conversation and watch television. It was not required for anyone wanting a meal to eat at the dining room table but it did offer a unique and comforting diversion from the long hours and hard work exerted while collecting samples for the survey.

view of a table in a narrow room. there are bar stools fixed in place around the table. we can see a microwave, cabinets, a small shelf with a coffee maker, a TV, and the stairwell.
The dining room table where all formal meals were served.

Of course, the dining room would not have much of a purpose were it not for a kitchen to prepare the meals.

a collage of two photos. on the left, a view of the kitchen, looking much like a simple apartment kitchen with wooden cabinets, an oven, a range, a refrigerator. on the right, a view of a pantry and a counter space.
This is the kitchen where all formal meals are prepared (right) and the storage area/table space where meals are prepared.

The picture on the left is the cooking station with the stove and oven where the meals are cooked and the picture on the right is where the meals are prepared. These two spaces appear to be very small areas and they are but there was enough room for the vast amount of groceries purchased prior to each cruise. I remember speaking to John Z. the cook about the grocery shopping for an upcoming cruise and he relayed to me that when he returns from shopping, it takes him approximately 3 hours to put up all of the groceries!

The tour continues with the areas of the ship dedicated to the research conducted during the cruise.

The first area is referred to as the wet lab – the space where the samples collected from each sampling are processed, and measurements are recorded and uploaded to a database.

a collage of two photos. on the left, we see wooden cabinets and a metal counter, a large sink, a computer monitor, a small window. on the right, a line of refrigerators or freezers to store samples.
The work area of the wet lab is depicted in the photo to the left while the samples storage area is shown on the right photo.

Just located across the hallway from the wet lab is the dry lab, the area with several computers allowing the scientists to track the motion of the ship, confirm its arrival at each sampling site, and store data acquired by the Secchi disk, the CTD array of sensors unique to each sampling site, and the species analysis of marine life species collected during each sampling.

view of a room with wooden cabinets and countertops, desk chairs, storage boxes, computers and a printer
This is the dry lab is where the computational analysis from each sampling is conducted.

As we near the end of the tour of the R/V Tommy Munro, let’s proceed from the wet and dry lab to a flight of stairs to the upper deck of the vessel to the captain’s deck.

the bridge of the ship. we can see monitors, control panels, logs, and the windows of the bridge.
This is the captain’s deck of the R/V Tommy Munro.

The captain’s deck is equivalent to the cockpit of an airplane where the captain and his crew navigate the vessel to the assortment of sampling sites in coordination with the science team.

We wrap up our tour of the R/V Tommy Munro from atop the upper deck with the view from the stern of the ship. This was a spot that I found myself many times, particularly in the evening, as I took in the scenic views of the surrounding seas.

a collage of two photos, each showing the same view out the ship's stern (back) with rigging to deploy nets. both of these photos were taken at sunset on different evenings, and the setting sun is centered behind the ship.
Views from the upper deck toward the stern of the ship.

In this installment of my exercise of the Ocean Literacy Framework, I would like to ask you to respond to three questions about the third essential principle:

The ocean is a major influence of weather and climate,

presented in a Padlet accessed by the following link:

https://tinyurl.com/kkue3uru

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers – the questions serve not as an opportunity to answer yes or no, or to get answers right or wrong; rather, these questions serve as an opportunity not only to assess what you know or think about the scope of the principle but also to learn, explore, and investigate the demonstrated principle. If you have any questions or would like to discuss further, please indicate so in the blog and I would be glad to answer your questions and initiate a discussion.

George Hademenos: Come Sail Away…to Conduct Science Research at Sea, August 10, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea

George Hademenos

Aboard R/V Tommy Munro

July 19 – 27, 2022

Mission: Gulf of Mexico Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 10, 2022

Long time no hear from, right? The explanation is quite simple…there was no Wifi on my research vessel. I was definitely writing about my experience and taking pictures of my observations but I had no way to share the information with you in a blog post. Now that I have been home for several weeks, I have been working hard to complete my blog (6 posts in particular) which are in the process of being completed and am now ready to begin posting.

In a prior post, I described my participation in the Teacher at Sea program and how I plan to translate my experience and observations into classroom activities and projects for my students. In fact. As I prepared for my upcoming cruise assignment, I developed a Google Site that not only provides more detail about my upcoming experience as a Teacher at Sea educator, but also instructional resources and project ideas related to ocean sciences. What I would like to do in this post is talk about the opportunity presented to me and all other educators in the Teacher at Sea program.

Teacher at Sea Program

The Teacher at Sea program is a unique Teacher Research Experience (TRE) opportunity managed by NOAA that allows teachers to learn by doing rather than by reading about it. In these types of experiences, the teacher is placed with a team of research scientists and immersed into their scientific work, serving as an honorary member of the team. The TRE provides the teacher with an opportunity to not only conduct the research, but to also ask questions, engage in detailed investigations about aspects of the research, and most importantly, distill these experiences into lessons, activities and projects for classroom implementation to the benefit of my students. I would strongly encourage my educator colleagues to explore the Teacher at Sea program

https://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/

and should you qualify, please consider applying for this unique educator experience.

SEAMAP

I would like to now speak about the research I would be involved in during my assigned cruise. I was assigned to participate in Leg 1 of the Summer Groundfish Survey conducted in the Gulf of Mexico in collaboration with NOAA Fisheries as part of SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program)

https://www.gsmfc.org/seamap.php

The survey consists of a series of collected samples of marine life at positions determined by SEAMAP to make decisions about damaged marine ecosystems, depleted populations and destruction of habitats. Exactly what was entailed in the collected samplings will be described in an upcoming post.

Assigned Cruise

Cruises designed to engage in SEAMAP Surveys are seasonal (generally occurring in the Summer and Fall from April to November) and are typically executed aboard NOAA vessels in legs or segments consisting of 2 – 3 weeks with cruises occurring over 3 – 4 legs per survey. My assigned cruise underwent a change in schedule and vessel from my initial assignment. My original assigned cruise was scheduled as Leg 2 of the Summer Groundfish Survey aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II from June 20, 2022 departing from Galveston, TX to July 3, 2022 arriving in Pascagoula, MS for a 15-day cruise. However, due to maintenance issues, the Oregon II was not seaworthy for the scheduled cruise which required a replacement vessel. The replacement vessel was the R/V Tommy Munro. There is a lot to say and pictures to show about the R/V Tommy Munro which will be the subject of the next blog post.

In this installment of my exercise of the Ocean Literacy Framework, I would like to ask you to respond to three questions about the second essential principle:

The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features of Earth.

presented in a Padlet accessed by the following link:

https://tinyurl.com/h2stuf44

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers – the questions serve not as an opportunity to answer yes or no, or to get answers right or wrong; rather, these questions serve as an opportunity not only to assess what you know or think about the scope of the principle but also to learn, explore, and investigate the demonstrated principle. If you have any questions or would like to discuss further, please indicate so in the blog and I would be glad to answer your questions and initiate a discussion.

Jordan Findley: One and a Wake Up, June 20, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jordan Findley

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

June 9-22, 2022

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 20, 2022

Science and Technology Log

Allow me to provide a summary of the survey and what was accomplished on this leg. June 9, we departed from Galveston and made our way out to sea. The survey started the next day. We traveled 1,866.6 nautical miles (or 2,148.04 miles) along the continental shelf. That’s like driving from Florida to California! On this leg of the survey we (they) deployed 169 cameras, 22 CTDs, 13 bandit reels, and 12 XBTs (still don’t know what that is). We collected 15 eDNA samples (go Caroline!) and mapped 732 nautical miles. This year’s survey started in April, and this was the last leg. We’re making our way back to Pascagoula (yes, I can pronounce it now), a near 28 hour transit. We will be docking and unloading at the Gulf Marine Support Facility. The next survey on the Pisces starts next week, deploying Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs). The science never stops, folks.

The SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey began as a fish trap survey in 1980’s and transitioned to a video survey in 1991, and the technology continues to evolve year after year. This over thirty years of data provides abundance and distribution information on Gulf of Mexico reef fish. Reef fish abundance and size data are generated directly from the videos. So though the work feels slow, it is essential. An index of abundance for each species is determined as the maximum number of a fish in the field of view in a single video frame. Here are some snippets of the footage recording during our trip.

A school of amber jacks recorded on the camera array.

*NOTE: The tiger shark shot was not from our leg of the survey, but too cool not to include.

This survey combined with all research approaches (i.e. traps, bandit reels, eDNA) allows for a comprehensive stock assessment of the fish populations in the Gulf of Mexico. Stock assessments collect, analyze, and report demographic information to estimate abundance of fish, monitor responses to fishing, and predict future trends. This significant data is used in managing fish populations and preserving our oceans resources.

Mapping Operations

One of the scientific operations I have not yet mentioned is bathymetric mapping. Senior Survey Technician Todd Walsh works the night shift running the mapping show – multibeam echo-sounder hydrographic survey to be precise. An echo-sounder determines the depth of the seafloor by measuring the time taken for sound echoes to return. The technology is impressive. Todd is straight up 3D mapping the bottom of the ocean. He watches it come to life, line by line. That’s freaking cool. I see you, Todd.

Though mapping occurred overnight, Todd was sure to point out any interesting finds in the morning. The Pisces mapped an area south of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and found an impressive geological feature hosting two mud volcanoes. A mud volcano is a landform created by the eruption of mud or slurries, water and gases. Man, the ocean floor is like a whole other world. It was so interesting to watch the mapping unfold right before your eyes. Maybe the seafloor will be my next destination.

Personal Log

The long days take their toll. This crew has worked so hard and is ready to decompress. Some have been out here for months and are counting down the days. You really can’t blame them. You ask anyone out here, “how many days?” and you will hear “three days and a wake up.” “Two days and a wake up.” “One day and a wake up.” They have all earned some serious rest and recovery, and long awaited time with their families and friends. I mean, I’d like to call them friends, but I get it, you can have lots of friends.

I cannot believe it is already my last day out here. Though each day felt like 100 hours, somehow it still flew by. The last CTD hauled out of the water last night marked the end of the SEAMAP survey. I cheer and shout in solitude and run round giving high fives. Good work, everyone! They are all exhausted, but certainly excited and proud of the work they have accomplished. Listen guys, if you aren’t proud, let me remind you that you most certainly should be.

The last day is the first sunrise I didn’t catch – sleeping in was just too tempting. Friends at home have to literally drag me out of bed to catch a sunrise, but out here, it just feels right. We ease into our day and clean and prepare the working spaces and equipment for arrival. I mop. That’s about all I am good for. TAS card. I spend the day roaming as usual, this time reflecting on my arrival and experience at sea. Time slows down even more (if you can believe that) when it’s your last day. I do my best to take in every last moment. I balance the day with some relaxation, a nice game of “bugs” with my pals, a good deal of snacking, revisiting the views, and saying my goodbyes.

Though thrilled to be heading back, most everyone finds their way outside for the last sunset. I soak up every colorful ripple. Mother Nature does not disappoint in those last hours. Dolphins put on a show jumping out of the water at a distance. The stars start to appear, not a cloud in the sky. I stargaze for what felt like hours. We’re greeted by multiple shooting stars. These are the moments I live for – when I feel most at rest. I am overcome with humility and gratitude.

I consider myself lucky to have met and worked with the Pisces crew. Every person on this trip has left an impression on me. From day one, the crew has been so welcoming and willing to let me participate, committed to providing me an exceptional experience. For that, I am grateful. I had so much fun learning from each department and goofing off with the best of them. The work that goes in to the research is remarkable, from navigation, the science, to vessel operations. I learned much more than expected. It’s hard to summarize my experience, but here are some valuable takeaways, in no particular order.

  • NOAA research is vital in protecting our most precious natural resource.
  • Ocean conservation is the responsibility of every one of us.
  • Remember why you do the job you do and the impact you have.
  • Never pass up an opportunity to learn or do something new.
  • Everyone should have the opportunity to connect to our natural world.
  • You can never see too many sunsets.
  • Expose your toes to the great outdoors.

I can’t express enough how grateful I am to have been selected for the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program and be a part of its mission. The experience was so much more than I could have even imagined. Participating in the research was so rewarding, and offered valuable insight into fisheries research and scientific operations. The questions never stopped coming. The novelty of the work kept me hooked. If there is one thing above all that I took away from this trip is – never stop learning. Continuous learning is what enhances our understanding of the world around us, in so many ways, and why I love what I do.

I look forward to sharing my experience with the many students I have the opportunity to work with, and hopefully inspiring them to continue to learn and grow, building a better understanding and appreciation for our planet. NOAA, your investment in me will not go unnoticed. The biggest THANK YOU to all involved in making this experience a reality.

We ride together, we die together. Pisces for life. – Junior

Lightning storm from afar.
Three dolphins surface for air.

Jordan Findley: Fishing, June 20, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jordan Findley
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 9-22, 2022

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 20, 2022

Science and Technology Log

Fishing Operations

Alright, it’s time for the good stuff, the moment you’ve been waiting for (whether you knew it or not). It’s fishing time. FPC Paul Felts monitors depth and habitat to determine suitable fishing sites. When the crew hears “I’d like to set up for bandit reels” over the radio, they come running. I mean they come out of the woodworks like the Brady Bunch on Christmas morn. Let me remind you, the days can be real slow out here. Lots of transiting and waiting. Fishing offers just enough excitement to keep us going.

Three bandit reels are deployed once or twice per day. I promptly insert myself into the fishing operation on day one. Thank you, Rafael and Junior. The reels are motorized and mounted to the side of the ship. The line starts with a weight and then ten baited hooks are clipped on. When deployed, it sinks to the bottom. We get five minutes. Five short minutes for the fish to bite. Boy does anticipation build in that five minutes. If you have a good one, you can feel it on the line. “One minute to haul back.” By this time, everyone is leaning over the side (the gunwale if you want to be fancy) staring at the water. “Reels two and three you can haul back.” “Reel one you can haul back.” We start reeling back in, from somewhere between 85-100 meters deep. Click, click, click on the reel as we impatiently wait.

We start to see a glimpse of the bait coming up around 40-60 meters and try to make out what we’ve hooked. RED SNAPPER! 11 red snapper caught between the three reels on the first fish. This is what I’m talkin’ about. I can handle two weeks of this. Everyone rotates between stations to see what we caught and we all celebrate like we just won some sort of tournament. Let’s remember folks, we are doing this for science. All fish captured on the bandit reels are identified, measured, weighed, and have the sex and maturity determined. Select species have otoliths and gonads collected for age and reproductive research. I excitedly follow the science crew into the lab to get the run down.

*Read no further if you are squeamish.*

The work up of the fish start with some measurements and weights. Of course it immediately became a competition. Game on. Now these fish aren’t your regular ol’ fish. These suckers are huge. Next we dissect the fish to extract and weigh the gonads. That’s right, I said gonads. You can learn the age and maturity of a fish by examining a sample of the gonads under a microscope. From that, you can estimate lifespan, spawning patterns, growth rate, and possibly even migration patterns. Knowing the age distribution of a fish population helps to better monitor, assess, and manage stocks for long-term benefits. Fish gonads, that’s a first for me.

Next step is the fun part, extracting the otolith. Otoliths (ear bones) are calcium carbonate structures found enclosed inside the heads of bony fish. This bone tells us how old the fish is. Otoliths are removed from the fish’s head either by entering through the top of the head or by pulling back the gills. At first, I observe. They really get in there. By the third or so time, I am ready to get my hands dirty. Remove the gills and start digging. Once you find the inner ear, you crack it open and inside is the otolith. Some species are much easier than others. It’s no walk in the park folks. One grouper took us two hours. It’s like a real life game of operation. Though intense, it’s a fun challenge.

On this leg of the survey we caught 20 red snappers, 2 silky snappers, 1 queen snapper, 2 scamp, 1 marbled grouper, 1 yellow edge grouper, and 1 red porgy. Sampling these organisms strengthens the data. Employing multiple research methods produces a comprehensive description and interpretation of the data. The workup of the fish was one of my favorite parts of this experience. Not only did I actually get to participate in the research, I learned valuable new skills, most of which I teach about, but have never had the chance to do it. This is the exact reason I applied for the Teacher at Sea Program.

Have I convinced you that science is cool yet?

Meet the Deck Crew

I’d like to give a shout out to my friends on the deck. NOAA Ship Pisces couldn’t do the research they do without the Deck Department – Chief Boatswain James, Lead Fisherman Junior, and ABs Dee and JB. The Deck keep up general maintenance of the boat and on deck, operate equipment and machinery, support scientific operations, and stand watch. These guys might be salty, but they have good spirits and make me smile. I have enjoyed every minute working with them.

Personal Log

Yesterday, we did another fire drill. This time, with the help of firefighter Jordan Findley. LT Duffy set me up to participate in the drill. He shows me the gear and how it works. It’s hot up in there. Two days later when the alarm sounds, I jump to attention. Not really. It took me a minute to remember I was involved. I pop up out of my usual lounging in the lab and swiftly head out to the deck. 0% do I remember where I am supposed to go. Thank god I pass JO ENS Gaughan. She points me in the right direction. By the time I make it to the locker, they’re all dressed out and on their way to “fight the fire.” They’re impressive.

Though late to the game, JB helps me get suited up and I head down to the scene. As you might expect, the “fire” is out by the time I arrive. I provided moral support. Following the drill, we (I trail behind and try not to trip) walk the hose outside to test the pressure. I get to shoot this sucker over the side. I can barely even hold the nozzle in place. LT Duffy comes in for reinforcement on the hose and I go for it. I sprinkle here, I sprinkle there, hose checks out. Good deal. This was a blast. See what I did there?  Later I come to find they had stamped the hose nozzle with my name as a memento. This is such a thoughtful way to remember my time on NOAA Ship Pisces. I shall carry it with me always. Not true, this thing is heavy, but I will certainly cherish it.  I have so much respect for our firefighters and first responders (on board and beyond), and even more so today.

At this point, I have been out at sea for 12 days. That’s a record for me. My previous PR is one night on a lake in Indiana. I really had no idea what to expect on this trip. I was pretty nervous I would be violently ill and concerned I may not sleep and they wouldn’t have enough coffee to sustain me. None of these were issues, actually far from it, and man am I grateful. No seasickness, I’ve slept like a baby, and there is coffee for days. They even have espresso. Winning. They’ve really spoiled me out here. We have had some really tasty meals, including the fish. No fish goes to waste! I am going to miss being out here at sea. I think I might stick around.

Did You Know?

Wearing gloves, Jordan uses tweezers to hold up an extracted otolith at eye level.

So you now know that otoliths are basically ear bones. What is cool about them is that they grow throughout the life of a fish, leaving traces on the ear bone. Seasonal changes in growth are recorded on the bone and appear as alternating opaque and translucent rings. Under a microscope, scientists count the number of paired opaque and translucent rings, or annuli, to estimate the age of a fish. Just like trees!

Jordan Findley: Ready for the Drop, June 13, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jordan Findley
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 9-22, 2022

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 13, 2022

Weather Data

Location: 27°52.1 N, 93°16.5 W
Sky: Scattered clouds, hazy
Temperature: 85 °F
Wind: south, 13 kts.
Waves: 1-2 ft.

Track NOAA Ship Pisces

Safety Onboard

Obviously, safety is of the utmost importance out here at sea. Respect. When working on deck, crew must wear life vests, hard hats, sometimes safety belts, and closed-toe shoes. I don’t know how these people wear closed-toe shoes all day long. I hate it. My piggies are suffocating. 

The plan of the day for Friday (6/10) included safety drills at noon. Noon rolls around and I am not really sure what to do. No surprise there. Confirm with Paul what to do and where to be. Oh, okay. Amanda, Caroline, and I go grab our safety getup and start to head to our assigned life raft muster stations (where we gather). On the way down, Commanding Officer LCDR Jeffery Pereira, passes by. “Wow, you ladies are ready.” …… something tells me it’s not quite time. We promptly return to our stateroom. I casually go check our muster stations. Yep, there’s no one. Turns out drills commence with a signal. I’m on to you CO, you just getting a kick out of us roaming around like fools with our safety gear. It’s okay, I have accepted my role onboard.

We run through fire and abandon ship drills. At sea, everyone aboard ship, be they crew, scientist, or passenger, is a member of the fire department. When the alarm sounds, everyone jumps to respond. My response, go to the back deck and wait. Meanwhile, the crew is hard at work donning firefighting PPE and preparing fire stations. Great work, team!

Then we move on to the abandon ship drill. Abandoning ship in the open sea is an action of last resort. Only when there is no reasonable chance of saving the ship will the order ever be given to abandon it. When signaled, everyone reports to their assigned life raft muster station with their protective survival gear. We throw on our survival suits, or immersion suits, and in the actual event, would launch the life rafts. This immersion suit is intended to protect your body while out in the open ocean. Now, I know safety is serious business, but these suits are ridiculous looking. We somehow make them look good. I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again – safety is sexy.

Science and Technology Log

We spent our first day at a reef known as Claypile Bank, approximately 80 miles offshore. The second day we headed to East Flower Garden Banks, 125 miles offshore. Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary was expanded from 56 mi² to 160 mi² to protect critical habitat in the Gulf of Mexico in 2021 and is now made up of 17 different reefs and banks. Cameras were dropped at around 48 meters (or 157 ft) the first go around and 116 meters (380 ft) the second. Since the start, we have sampled Rankin Bank, Bright Bank, and started on Geyer Bank, with a total of 62 cameras deployed. That’s a lot of cruisin’ and droppin’.

Camera Operations

Let’s talk about these cameras. Deploying and retrieving cameras occurs ALL DAY LONG. Man, the days are long. Here is a quick summary of the work…

Dropping the camera

There are two camera arrays, one 48” tall and the other 36” tall. These things are beastly. Each Spherical/Satellite camera array has six video cameras and a satellite camera, battery, CTD, tensiomet… tramsmiss…  transmit…. What it is Ken? … TRANSMISSOMETER (measures visibility/turbidity), sonar transmitter, trawl net ball, and bait bag. The first camera goes out at 7 AM and the last by 6:15 PM. Predetermined sampling sites are selected along the U.S. continental shelf using random stratified selection (dividing the area into subgroups).

When at the site, cameras are lifted by the A-frame, dropped with the yank of a chain, and boom, they sink to the bottom. They sit on the seafloor and soak (record footage) for 30 minutes. First camera goes in, we head to the next site, second camera goes in, we retrieve the first, we retrieve the second, and repeat.

Though the deployment itself only takes like two minutes, there is a lot of coordination involved. It’s amazing how the Bridge (NOAA Corps), Deck, and Lab crews work together to effectively deploy and retrieve the cameras. The communication is nonstop. Field Party Chief (FPC if you know him), Paul Felts, is the brains of this operation. Paul keeps scientific operations running smoothly, providing coordinates to selected sites, monitoring conditions, keeping time, processing data, and I am sure so much more. This guy doesn’t stop. The Bridge are they eyes and ears – they are on watch, navigating to sites, and maneuvering and position the ship all while working against the elements. You guys deserve more credit than that, I know. The Deck are the hands (this is a terrible analogy, but I am committed at this point) – they are operating the deck equipment, raising and lowering cameras, and working the lines and buoys. I, Teacher at Sea Jordan Findley, am the appendix. I have potential, but am mostly useless, and can be a real nuisance from time to time.

Personal Log

We are almost one week in and I am still just as excited as day one. Have I encountered challenges, yes, but being out here in the middle of the Gulf is something special. I am greeted every day with a beautiful sunrise and evening sunset. It is spectacular. The water is so beautiful. One of the things I really hadn’t considered to impact my experience at sea is how amazing the people would be. You all inspire me. Every single person on this ship has been so kind and accommodating, allowing me to participate and taking the time to teach me, despite how long they’ve been out at sea or how long their day has been. It’s like one big (mostly) happy family out here. They have me cracking up all the time. Now, they could just be on their best behavior for the ol’ teach (that’s me), but I am convinced they’re just good people. I mean, I even like most of them before my morning coffee. That’s something right there.

I think I am getting my groove. On a typical day on the ship, we wake up at 6 AM (oof), breakfast, then to the lab. I like to take a minute on the back deck to drink my coffee and look out over the water. First deployment (CTD and camera) is at 7 AM. They do some science, and then continue to deploy and retrieve cameras about every 10-30 minutes until sunset. I pop in and out of the lab all day to observe, but try to keep myself busy. When I am not “helping out,” you will find me in my office. Some call it the mess. I don’t mind. It’s also conveniently where all the food is prepared and served, and where the coffee and snacks are located.

We all refuel on coffee during lunch. Shout out to Paul for making that coffee a real punch in the face. Fishing occurs in the afternoon, almost daily. More to come on this, but man it is fun. The rest of the day is a waiting game (at least for me). Living on a ship is weird; there is only so much you can do. Honestly, the first couple of days, I had some concern I might die of boredom, but as things progressed, I got more involved in every aspect of the operation – even driving this beast! Also, been trying to sneak in a workout. Don’t forget to hydrate. That breaks up the day a bit. Dinner rolls around at 5 PM. All I do is eat. I have been eating like a grown man. The crew starts to wrap things up, reset for the next day, and then transition to mapping operations. The day isn’t complete without watching the sunset. Then we just hunker in until bedtime. The ship “rock-a-bye babies” everyone to sleep.

Generally speaking, I have improved immensely on my ability to open doors – solid 8/10. Those heavy brown doors though, they still kick me in the butt on my way through. I am learning my way around the ship for the most part. Mmmm, kind of. There is a door like every five feet. What I have not improved on is my ability to walk. I am walking all sorts of ways but straight. Everyone stands clear when I walk by. They say you’ll get your sea legs, but I am not sure I am convinced.

Did You Know?

A continental shelf is the edge of a continent that lies under the ocean. Though underwater, continental shelves are still considered part of the continent. The boundary of a continent is not the coastline, but the edge of the shelf. The shelf extends to a drop-off point called the shelf break. From the break, the shelf descends deep to the ocean floor. Depths of the shelf where we sample range from 45-165 meters, mostly because it gets to be too dark much past that. The depth of the Gulf of Mexico can be more than 5,000 meters deep! Sorry friends, I am done converting units – we’re doing science out here. Just know that it’s deep.

Jordan Findley: Another Teacher at Sea (Finally), June 5, 2022

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jordan Findley
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 9-22, 2022

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 5, 2022

Series of Events

In October of 2019, I learned of the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. Without hesitation – yep, sign me up, and applied in November. In January of 2020, I received the following message: 

Dear Applicant,

On behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Teacher at Sea Selection Committee, we are pleased to inform you that you were selected to be a finalist for the 2020 season! Now onto the next steps…

Stoked. Couldn’t be more thrilled. February 2020, medically cleared and ready for the more information call. 

(Insert Record Scratch Sound Effect)

January 2020, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirms the first U.S. laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19, and by March of 2020 the United States declares a nationwide emergency. On March 9, 2020, I was notified of the cancellation of the 2020 NOAA Teacher at Sea season in response to the pandemic. 

As for all of us, COVID put a screaming halt to my travel plans, but more importantly the world around us. As the pandemic progressed, the 2021 Teacher at Sea season was also canceled. No, this is not a blog about COVID, and I am in no way downplaying the impact of the pandemic, but it is a part of my story. I, much like all of us, have gained a great deal of perspective, patience, and gratitude (and maybe a few gray hairs) during the last two years, and the anticipation of this trip has made me that much more grateful and excited for the opportunity to participate this season.

Okay, back to the good stuff. March 2022, we are back in action and in April, I received the official cruise offer. NOW I can get excited. In just a few days, June 9-22, 2022, I will be participating in a Gulf SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey on NOAA Ship Pisces. The Pisces will conduct a survey of reef fish on the U.S. continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico using a custom built spherical stereo/video stationary camera systems and bandit reels. The ship’s EM 2040 multibeam system will be used to map predetermined targeted areas on a nightly basis to improve or increase the reef fish sample universe. A patch test of the EM 2040 multibeam echosounder….

You lost yet? Yea, me too. Looking forward to learning what this actually entails. I shall follow up in layman’s terms.

NOAA Ship Pisces at sea, viewed from above.
NOAA Ship Pisces (R-226). Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Introduction

Oh, ahem. Let me introduce myself. Hi, I’m Jordan Findley.

My resume reads, “I am an environmental professional dedicated to demonstrating environmental advocacy and sustainability, while fostering a generation of future environmental stewards.” Professional is relative here. My professional background is in husbandry and environmental education. On a personal level, those who know me well might describe me as an educator, traveler, and outdoor enthusiast. My interests have always aligned with nature, wildlife, and the outdoors and I am continually astonished by our planet and passionate about protecting it.

I grew up in rural Indiana and spent all of my time outside. At an early age, I gained an appreciation for a simple life, a grand adventure, and the beauty of the natural world around me; and that is the essence of my being. I would simply describe myself as a bit of a wanderer with a thirst for life and motivation to inspire others. I’ve spent my entire existence chasing the next big opportunity, and because of that, life has afforded me some amazing opportunities. I often hear, “I live vicariously through you,” but that really isn’t my hope. My hope is that I inspire and empower others to have their own amazing experiences in life, do what they love, and be the best version of themselves.

“Professional” Profile

To be honest, my background is all over the place and true to myself. I hold a B.A. in Zoology and M.A. in Biology from Miami University (that’s Ohio). My education provided fundamental knowledge of animal, environmental, and social sciences and science education. I traveled to Mexico, Australia, and Kenya during graduate school to study human impact on the environment and community-based approaches to conservation. These experiences abroad vastly broadened my view of the world and the environmental challenges it faces.

I worked seasonally until hired as an educator at Tampa Bay Watch (TBW) in 2016. I will spare you all the details of me bouncing from job to job, but I will say it was then that I had some of the most unique experiences and learned of my passion for education. As much as I thought otherwise, I am an educator at heart, but I knew the classroom was never for me. And though I have mad, mad respect for formal educators (you are all saints), I knew that any facilitation I would be doing had to take place outside. Experiential education became my niche and has been such a rewarding job. I get to teach about what I love, be immersed in nature, and be a part of creating meaningful experiences.

As the Education Program Coordinator at Tampa Bay Watch, I coordinate and facilitate field trips and camps for students K-12 known as Estuary EDventures. Our programs hosted at the Auer Marine Education Center in Tierra Verde, FL focus on estuary ecology and conservation. Students are exposed to the wonders of our natural world through hands-on, marine science labs and immersive field experiences. Our most popular programs are otter trawling and seining. Why wouldn’t they be? We have so much fun collecting animals of the bay, learning about their unique adaptations, and connecting to the marine environment.

A typical trawl at Tampa Bay Watch finds crabs, seahorses, pufferfish, and other organisms [no sound].

Another view of organisms sampled in a trawl [no sound].

Ready for Sea

I cannot even describe how excited I am to be out at sea working with scientists, and learning something new. Let’s be real, I am not sure I really know what to expect, but I’m here for it.

My time at sea will be spent in my home waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I have so much to learn from this trip and such a great platform to share that knowledge thereafter. I am inspired by the students I see every day, some of whom experience a sea star or puffer fish for the first time. The spark in their eyes I will carry with me on this trip. I have been teaching marine science informally for nearly six years and it never ceases to amaze me. I mean, it’s pretty amazing, right? Our oceans are essential for life and home to millions of species, and its conservation is one of the greatest challenges our scientists face. 

I am so incredibly grateful to have been selected to participate in the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. The allure to this program was the opportunity to be immersed in the research, the hands-on, real-world experience at sea. The goal is to provide my students first-hand exposure to the exciting NOAA research projects at sea. Making their learning relevant through my experience will hopefully ignite a curiosity and excitement for science and build a better understanding and appreciation for our planet.

Let the fun begin!

Kathy Schroeder: Sharks, Sharks, and More Sharks! September 23, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15-October 2, 2019


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: 9/23/19

Weather Data from the Bridge (at beginning of log)

Latitude: 28.07
Longitude: 93.27.45
Temperature: 84°F
Wind Speeds: ESE 13 mph
large swells


Science and Technology Log

9/21/19-We left Galveston, TX late in the afternoon once the backup parts arrived.  After a few changes because of boat traffic near us, were able to get to station 1 around 21:00 (9:00 pm).  We baited the 100 hooks with Atlantic Mackerel.   Minutes later the computers were up and running logging information as the high flyer and the 100 hooks on 1 mile of 4mm 1000# test monofilament line were placed in the Gulf of Mexico for 60 minutes.  My job on this station was to enter the information from each hook into the computer when it was released and also when it was brought onboard.   When the hook is brought onboard they would let me know the status:  fish on hook, whole bait, damaged bait, or no bait.  Our first night was a huge success.  We had a total of 28 catches on our one deployed longline.                                                                                                                                       

Kathy and red snapper
NOAA TAS Kathy Schroeder with a red snapper caught on the Oregon II

We caught 1 bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), 2 tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), 14 sharp nose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), 2 black tip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus), 7 black nose sharks (Carcharhinus acronotus), and 2 red snappers (Lutjanus campechanus).  There were also 3 shark suckers (remoras) that came along for the ride. 

sandbar shark
Sandbar shark – no tag. Oregon II

I was lucky to be asked by the Chief Scientist Kristin to tag the large tiger shark that was in the cradle.  It took me about 3 tries but it eventually went in right at the bottom of his dorsal fin.  He was on hook #79 and was 2300mm total length.  What a great way to start our first day of fishing.  After a nice warm, but “rolling” shower I made it to bed around 1:00 am.  The boat was really rocking and I could hear things rolling around in cabinets.  I think I finally fell asleep around 3:00.

9/22- The night shift works from midnight to noon doing exactly what we do during the day.  They were able to complete two stations last night.  They caught some tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) and a couple sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus).  My shift consists of Kristin, Christian, Taniya, and Ryan: we begin our daily shifts at noon and end around midnight.  The ship arrived at our next location right at noon so the night shift had already prepared our baits for us.  We didn’t have a lot on this station but we did get a Gulf smooth hound shark (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), 2 king snake eels (Ophichthus rex), and a red snapper that weighed 7.2 kg (15.87 lbs).  We completed a second station around 4:00 pm where our best catch was a sandbar shark.  Due to the swells, we couldn’t use the crane for the shark basket so Kristin tried to tag her from the starboard side of the ship. 

We were able to complete a third station tonight at 8:45 pm.  My job this time was in charge of data recording.  When a “fish  is on,” the following is written down: hook number, mortality status, genus and species, precaudal measurement, fork measurement, and total length measurement, weight, sex, stage, samples taken, and tag number/comments.  We had total of 13 Mustelus sinusmexicanus; common name Gulf smooth-hound shark.  The females are ovoviviparous, meaning the embryos feed solely on the yolk but still develop inside the mother, before being born.  The sharks caught tonight ranged in length from 765mm to 1291mm.  There were 10 females and 3 male, and all of the males were of mature status.  We took a small tissue sample from all but two of the sharks, which are used for genetic testing.  Three of the larger sharks were tagged with rototags.  (Those are the orange tags you see in the picture of the dorsal fin below).

measuring a shark
Taking the three measurements
king snake eel
King snake eel caught on a longline.


Personal Log

I spend most of my downtime between stations in the science dry lab.  I have my laptop to work on my blog and there are 5 computers and a TV with Direct TV. We were watching Top Gun as we were waiting for our first station.  I tried to watch the finale of Big Brother Sunday night but it was on just as we had to leave to pull in our longline.  So I still don’t know who won. 🙂 I slept good last night until something started beeping in my room around 4:00 am.  It finally stopped around 6:30.  They went and checked out my desk/safe where the sound was coming from and there was nothing.  Guess I’m hearing things 🙂 

Shout out! – Today’s shout out goes to the Sturgeon Family – Ben and Dillon I hope you are enjoying all the pictures – love Aunt Kathy

Hayden Roberts: What’s in a Name? July 18, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hayden Roberts

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 8-19, 2019


Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 18, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 29.43° N
Longitude: 86.24° W
Wave Height: 1 foot
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Wind Direction: 220
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 31°C
Barometric Pressure: 1017.5 mb
Sky: Few clouds


Science Log

Over the course of this research experience, I have realized that I was not entirely prepared to assist on this voyage. While I think I have pulled my weight in terms of manpower and eagerness, I quickly realized that not having a background in the biological sciences limits my capacity to identify species of fish. Not growing up in the Gulf region, I am already limited in my understanding and recognition of fish variety through their common names like shrimp, grouper, and snapper. Countless other varieties exist most of which have no commercial fishing value such as boxfish, sea robin, spadefish, and scorpionfish. Fortunately, the microbiology grad student paired with me during wet lab processing has been patient and the fishery biologists assigned to this research party have been informative showing me the basics to fish identification (or taxonomy).

Sorting fish species
Sorting fish species in the wet lab.
Measuring a stingray
Measuring and weighing a specimen in the wet lab.

The wet lab aboard Oregon II is the nexus of the research team’s work. While the aft deck and the computer lab adjacent to the wet lab are important for conducting research and collecting data, the wet lab is where species are sorted, identified, and entered into the computer. The lab has a faint smell of dead fish and briny water. While the lab is kept clean, it is hard to wash the salt off the surfaces of the lab entirely after every research station.

Alongside the buckets and processing equipment are textbooks, quick reference guides, and huge laminated charts of fish species. Most of the reference material has distinctive color photographs of each fish species with its scientific name listed as the caption. The books in this lab are focused on Gulf and Atlantic varieties as these are what are likely to be found during the surveys. Fishery biologists have a wealth of knowledge, and they pride themselves on knowing all the species that come through the lab. However, occasionally a variety comes through the lab they cannot identify. Some species are less common than others. Even the experts get stumped from time to time and have to rely on the books and charts for identification. To get experience in this process, the biologists have given me crustaceans to look up. I struggle to make matches against pictures, but I have gotten better at the process over the weeks.

Calappa flammea
Calappa flammea.

As I have learned more about the scientific names of each species we have caught, I have also learned that scientists use a two-name system called a Binomial Nomenclature. Scientists name animals and plants using the system that describes the genus and species of the organism (often based on Latin words and meaning. The first word is the genus and the second is the species. Some species have names that align close to the common name such as scorpionfish (Scorpaena brasiliensis). Others seem almost unrelated to their common name such as scrawled cowfish (Acanthostracion quadricornis).

scrawled cowfish
Acanthostracion quadricornis

Fortunately for those of us who do not identify fish for a living, technology has provided resources to aid in learning about and identifying species of fish we encounter. The FishVerify app, for example, can identify a species, bring up information on its habitat and edibility, and tell you its size and bag limits in area based on your phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS). The app is trained on over a thousand different species with the beta version of the app focused on 150 species caught in the waters of Florida. On our research cruise, we have encountered over 150 species so far.

Hayden and red grouper
Me and a large specimen of Epinephelus moiro.


Did You Know?

The naming system for plant and animal species was invented by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in the 1700s. It is based on the science of taxonomy, and uses a hierarchical system called binomial nomenclature. It started out as a naming system for plants but was adapted to animals over time. The Linnaean system has progressed to a system of modern biological classification based on the evolutionary relationships between organisms, both living and extinct.


Personal Log

Nearly two weeks into this experience and the end of my time with NOAA aboard Oregon II, I find that I have settled into a routine. Being assigned to the “dayshift,” I have seen several sunsets over my shoulder as I have helped deploy research equipment or managed the bounty of a recent trawls. I have missed nearly all the sunrises as the sun comes up five hours after I have gone to bed.

However, these two features along the horizon cannot match the view I have in the morning or late at night. After breakfast and a shower midmorning, I like to spend about 30 minutes gazing at the water from one of the upper decks. The clean light low along the water accentuates its blueish-green hue. In my mind, I roll through an old pack of crayons trying to figure out what color the water most closely represents. Then I realize it’s the Green-Blue one. It is not Blue-Green, which is a lighter, brighter color. The first part of the crayon color name is an adjective describing the second color name on the crayon. Green-blue is really blue with a touch of green, while blue-green is really green with some blue pigment in the crayon. Green-Blue in the crayon world is remarkably blue with a hint of green. The water I have admired on this cruise is that color.

Hayden on fore deck
View from fore deck of NOAA Ship Oregon II.

The Gulf in the east feels like an exotic place when cruising so far away from shore. While I have been to every Gulf state in the U.S. and visited their beaches, the blue waters off Florida seem like something more foreign than I am accustomed. When I think of beaches and seawater in the U.S., I think of algae and silt mixed with the sand creating water with a brown or greenish hue: sometimes opaque if the tide is rough such as the coast of Texas and sometimes clear like the tidal pools in Southern California. Neither place has blue water, which is okay. Each place in this world is distinct, but to experience an endless sea of blue is exotic to me.

Retrieving the trawling net
Retrieving the trawling net at night.

In contrast to vibrant colors of the morning, the late evening is its own special experience. Each night I have been surprised at how few stars I can see. Unfortunately, the tropic storm earlier in the week has produced sparse, lingering clouds and a slight haze. At night the horizon shows little distinction between the water and the sky. The moon has glided in and out of cover. However, the lights atop the ship’s cranes provide a halo around the ship as it cruises across the open water. What nature fails to illuminate, the ship provides. The water under this harsh, unnatural light is dark. It churns with the movement of the boat like thick goo. Yet that goo teems with life. Every so often a crab floats by along the ships current. Flying fish leap from the water and skip along the surface. Glimpses of larger inhabitants dancing on the edge of the ship’s ring: creatures that are much larger than we work up in the wet lab but illusive enough that it can be hard to determine if they are fish or mammal. (I am hopeful they are pods of dolphins and not a frenzy of sharks).

Hayden Roberts: Playing Hide and Seek with Sonar, July 16, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hayden Roberts

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 8-19, 2019


Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 16, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 28.51° N
Longitude: 84.40° W
Wave Height: 1 foot
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wind Direction: 115
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 30.8°C
Barometric Pressure: 1021 mb
Sky: Clear


Science Log

In my previous blog, I mentioned the challenges of doing survey work on the eastern side of the Gulf near Florida. I also mentioned the use of a probe to scan the sea floor in advance of trawling for fish samples. That probe is called the EdgeTech 4125 Side Scan Sonar. Since it plays a major role in the scientific research we have completed, I wanted to focus on it a bit more in this blog. Using a scanner such as this for a groundfish survey in the Gulf by NOAA is not typical. This system was added as a precaution in advance of trawling due to the uneven nature of the Gulf floor off the Florida Coast, which is not as much of a problem the further west one goes in the Gulf. Scanners such as these have been useful on other NOAA and marine conservation research cruises especially working to map and assess reefs in the Gulf.

deploying side scan
Preparing to put the side scan over board.

Having seen the side scanner used at a dozen different research stations on this cruise, I wanted to learn more about capabilities of this scientific instrument. From the manufacturer’s information, I have learned that it was designed for search and recovery and shallow water surveys. The side scanner provides higher resolution imagery. While the imagining sent to our computer monitors have been mostly sand and rock, one researcher in our crew said he has seen tanks, washing machines, and other junk clearly on the monitors during other research cruises.

This means that the side scanner provides fast survey results, but the accuracy of the results becomes the challenge. While EdgeTech praises the accuracy of its own technology, we have learned that accurate readings of data on the monitor can be more taxing. Certainly, the side scanner is great for defining large items or structures on the sea floor, but in areas where the contour of the floor is more subtle, picking out distinctions on the monitor can be harder to discern. On some scans, we have found the surface of the sea floor to be generally sandy and suitable for trawling, but then on another scan with similar data results, chunks of coral and rock have impeded our trawls and damaged the net.

Side scan readout
Sample scan from monitor in the computer lab. The light areas are sandy bottom. The dark is either seaweed or other plant material or rocks. The challenge is telling the difference.


Did You Know?

In 1906, American naval architect Lewis Nixon invented the first sonar-like listening device to detect icebergs. During World War I, a need to detect submarines increased interest in sonar. French physicist Paul Langévin constructed the first sonar set to detect submarines in 1915. Today, sonar has evolved into more sophisticated forms of digital imaging multibeam technology and side scan sonar (see https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/lewis_clark01/background/seafloormapping/seafloormapping.html for more information).


Personal Log

When I first arrived aboard Oregon II, the new environment was striking. I have never spent a significant amount of time on a trawling vessel or a research ship. Looking around, I took many pictures of the various features with an eye on the architectural elements of the ship. One of the most common fixtures throughout the vessel are posted signs. Lamented signs and stickers can be found all over the ship. At first, I was amused at the volume and redundancy, but then I realized that this ship is a communal space. Throughout the year, various individuals work and dwell on this vessel. The signs serve to direct and try to create consistency in the overall operation of the ship and the experience people have aboard it. Some call the ship “home” for extended periods of time such as most of the operational crew. Others, mostly those who are part of the science party, use the vessel for weeks at a time intermittently. Before I was allowed join the science party, I was required to complete an orientation. That orientation aligns with policies of NOAA and the expectation aboard Oregon II of its crew. From the training, I primarily learned that the most important policy is safety, which interestingly is emblazoned on the front of the ship just below the bridge.

Safety First!
Safety First!

The signs seem to be reflective of past experiences on the ship. Signs are not only reminders of important policies and protocols, but also remembrances of challenges confronted during past cruises. Like the additional equipment that has been added to Oregon II since its commission in 1967, the added signs illustrate the history the vessel has endured through hundreds of excursions.

Oregon II 1967
Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Ship Oregon II (1967), which was later transferred to NOAA when the administration was formed in 1970.
Oregon II 2017
NOAA Ship Oregon II in 2017 on its 50th Anniversary.

Examples of that history is latent in the location and wording of signs. Posted across from me in the computer lab are three instructional signs: “Do not mark or alter hard hats,” “Keep clear of sightglass do not secure gear to sightglass” (a sightglass is an oil gauge), and “(Notice) scientist are to clear freezers out after every survey.”

signs collage
A collage of four signs around NOAA Ship Oregon II
more signs
Another collage of four signs around NOAA Ship Oregon II
even more signs
Another collage of signs around NOAA Ship Oregon II

Author and journalist Daniel Pink talks about the importance of signs in our daily lives. His most recent work has focused on the emotional intelligence associated with signs. Emotional intelligence refers to the way we handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. He is all about the way signs are crafted and displayed, but signs should also be thought of in relation to how informative and symbolic they can be within the environment we exist. While the information is usually direct, the symbolism comes from the way we interpret the overall context of the signs in relation to or role they play in that environment.

Hayden Roberts: Wait-and-See (or Is It Sea?) July 8, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Hayden Roberts

Aboard NOAA Oregon II

July 8-19, 2019


Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 8, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 30.35° N 
Longitude: 88.6° W
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Wind Direction: Northwest
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 33°C 
Barometric Pressure: 1012 mb
Sky: Few clouds


Science Log

Day one of my trip and we are delayed leaving. Growing up in Oklahoma, you think you know weather until one of the NOAA fishery biologists assigned to the ship provides you a lengthy explanation about the challenges of weather on setting sail. As he put it, the jet stream is throwing off the weather. This is true. Studies have suggested that for a few years the polar jet stream has been fluctuating more than normal as it passes over parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The jet stream is like a river of wind that circles the Northern Hemisphere continuously. That river meanders north and south along the way. When those meanders occur over the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, it can alter pressure systems and wind patterns at lower latitudes and that affects how warm or raining it is across North America and Europe. 

This spring in Oklahoma, it has led to record-breaking rains that have flooded low lying areas across the Great Plains and parts of the southeastern United States. Thunderstorms have generally been concentrated in the southern and middle section of the US as the jet stream dips down. The NOAA biologist also indicated that the delay in our departure could be blamed on the El Niño effect. 

El Niño is a natural climate pattern where sea water in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean is warmer than average. This leads to greater precipitation originating from the ocean. According to NOAA scientists, El Niño is calculated by averaging the sea-surface temperature each month, then averaging it with the previous and following months. That number is compared to average temperatures for the same three-month period between 1986 and 2015, called the Oceanic Niño index. When the index hits 0.5 degrees Celsius warmer or more, such as right now, it’s classified as an El Niño. When it’s 0.5 degrees Celsius cooler or more, it’s a La Niña. During an El Niño, the southern part of the U.S. typically experiences wetter than average conditions, while the northern part is less stormy and milder than usual. During a La Niña, it flips, with colder and stormier conditions to the north and warmer, less stormy conditions across the south. However, the El Niño this year has been classified as weak, which means typically the wetter conditions do not push into the Gulf of Mexico region, but exceptions can occur. With the fluctuating jet stream, the El Nino has vacillated between the Plains region and the upper South and regions closer to the Gulf. Thus, the storm causing our delayed departure comes from a weather condition that has been pushed further south by the jet stream.

While these may be causes for the delayed departure, the actual sailing conditions at the time of our voyage are the main concerns. Looking at the NOAA Marine Forecast webpage (https://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/marine/zone/off/offnt4mz.htm), the decision for our delay is based on a storm producing significant wave heights, which are the average height of the highest 1/3 of the waves. Individual waves may be more than twice the average wave heights. In addition, weak high pressure appears to dominate the western Gulf and will likely last mid-week. Fortunately, we are set sail into the eastern Gulf off the coast of Florida. We should be able to sail behind the storm as it moves west. We do have to watch the surface low forming along a trough over the northeast Gulf later in the week. The National Hurricane Center in Miami (which provided weather data in the Atlantic and the Gulf for NOAA) predicts that all of this will intensify through Friday (July 12) as it drifts westward. This will produce strong to near gale force winds and building seas for the north central Gulf. Hopefully by then we will be sailing south of it. 

Gulf of Mexico weather forecasts
Digital interface map for regions of the Gulf of Mexico and its weather forecasts (National Weather Service, NOAA)


Did You Know?

The weather terms El Niño and La Niña can be translated from Spanish to English as boy and girl, respectively. El Niño originally applied to an annual weak warm ocean current that ran southwards along the coast of Peru and Ecuador around Christmas time before it was linked to a global phenomenon now referred to as El Niño–Southern Oscillation. La Niña is sometimes called El Viejo, anti-El Niño, or simply “a cold event.” El Niño events have been occurring for thousands of years with at least 26 occurring since 1900.


Personal Log

I boarded NOAA’s Oregon II yesterday when the ship was virtually empty. It was Sunday, and we were not set to leave until mid-afternoon the following day (and now Tuesday, July 9). Spending the night on the ship was more comfortable than I had expected. While the stateroom was cramped (I share it with one other crew member), the space is surprisingly efficient. I had plenty of space to store my gear. The bunkbed was more cozy than restricted.

NOAA Pascagoula Lab
Even though it was Sunday and everything was closed, I had to stop for a selfie.
NOAA Ship Oregon II
My first look at NOAA Ship Oregon II.

My first day in Pascagoula, MS was spent learning about the town. Pascagoula is a port city with a historic shipyard. Pascagoula is home to the state’s largest employer, Ingalls Shipbuilding, the largest Chevron refinery in the world, and Signal International, an oil platform builder. Prior to World War II, the town was a small fishing community, but the population jumped with war-driven shipbuilding. The city’s population peak in the late 1970s, but today, there are less than 25,000 in the area. Pascagoula continues to be an industrial center surrounded by the growing tourism industry across the Gulf region to the east and west of the port. The population also declined when Naval Station Pascagoula was decommissioned in 2006. The old naval base is located on manmade strip of land called Singing River Island and is in the middle of the port. The port still maintains a large Coast Guard contingent as well as serving as the home portfor the NOAA Ships Gordon GunterOregon II, and Pisces. The NOAA port is actually called the Gulf Marine Support Facility and is located a block from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Mississippi Laboratory.

Betsy Petrick: Career Choice – Marine Archaeology, July 1, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Betsy Petrick

Aboard R/V Point Sur

June 24 – July 3, 2019


Mission:
 Microbial Stowaways: Exploring Shipwreck Microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 1, 2019

Interview with Scientist Melanie Damour

Melanie Damour is the Co-Principal Investigator and Co-Chief Scientist on the expedition.  She is responsible for directing all archaeological aspects of the investigation. We talked about her path to her career, and her advice for young people who might want to pursue ocean science.

Melaine Damour
Melanie Damour, Marine Archaeologist

When I asked her what sea creature she would choose to be, she immediately answered  “A mermaid. Mermaids have the agility of fish, but they are smart.” Melanie may not be a mermaid, but she is agile as a fish and smart.  

Melanie knew from early childhood what she wanted to be when she grew up.  Her father was a fire and rescue diver, and Melanie sometimes got to see him at work.  She was fascinated by scuba diving. With her father’s support, she learned to scuba dive when she was only eight years old.  The second event that shaped her career was a visit to the USS Constitution in Boston Harbor. This historic sailing ship is open to the public and played an important role in the war for independence from Britain. When Melanie visited this ship, she was awed by the ship and its history, and decided that somehow she was going to marry her two favorite things – diving and maritime history – for her career.  

She got her scuba diving certification when she was 14 years old, and studied history in high school.  She went to Florida State University to study anthropology. She took classes in archaeology, cultural and physical anthropology, and linguistics, all the disciplines within Anthropology.  She was offered a teaching assistantship which allowed her to get into a graduate program and study submerged paleoindian sites in Florida.  The offer was too good to refuse, so she began her graduate work at Florida State right away. Now she works for the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) as a marine archaeologist. 

Melanie reflected on what makes a good scientist.  Her first response was that good scientists are always asking questions; being curious is what leads to new understandings.   It’s also important to be open-minded. Scientists can’t expect things to turn out a certain way as this would blind them to what is actually happening.  A scientist has to be persistent in the face of problems and always be looking for different ways and better ways to attack a problem. The ability to work well in a team is key.  Each member of a good team contributes to the end goal. Taking into account different perspectives leads to a more accurate and complete picture.  

Melanie has worked on projects in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and the Pacific.  Her personal research interests led her to Guatemala, where she worked in Lake Petén Itzá  on a submerged Mayan port site.  She went to Panama to map a Spanish merchant ship that sank off the coast in 1681.  This is her favorite shipwreck so far. It is well preserved by the river sediments that poured into the Gulf there. The ship contains hundreds of wooden boxes full of supplies that Spain had sent to the colonies. The boxes contain nails and scissors, and some yet to be opened my contain books that are still preserved.  After this expedition, Melanie is heading to Mexico to dive with her husband on a site that may turn out to be her new favorite. They will be looking for the wreck of one of the ships belonging to Hernán Cortés, the Spanish explorer.  In 1519, Cortés sank his own ships to prevent his crew from leaving and returning to Cuba. This set the course for the conquest of the Aztecs. Last summer, Melanie and her husband found an anchor and wood that dated to the early 1500s. The wood was determined to be from Spain. This puts the anchor in the right time frame to be one of Cortés’ sunken ships.

Melanie pointed out that it isn’t easy to get a job as a marine archaeologist because it is a small field and there are not many permanent jobs.  But she also encourages anyone who wants to pursue this as a career to be persistent and not give up. “It’s not always a straight line from A to B,” she says; in fact, you may discover that when your plan isn’t working out, you actually prefer the new track your life takes – that Plan B option that you may not have known existed when you began your career. 

“The greatest threat to our oceans today is humans,” Melanie said.  “Our lack of consideration for the consequences of our actions is the greatest threat we face.”  

Marine archaeology is one of many subdisciplines in ocean sciences, and the future of our oceans depends on many scientists working together to reverse the trajectory of degradation we are on.   

Sunset on the Gulf of Mexico
Sunset on the Gulf of Mexico

Betsy Petrick: Core Sampling in the Lab, June 30, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Betsy Petrick

Aboard R/V Point Sur

June 24 – July 3, 2019


Mission:
 Microbial Stowaways: Exploring Shipwreck Microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 30, 2019


Science Log

When the ROV returns to the ship, the scientists jump into action.  The sediment cores are brought into the lab for sampling.

Core samples
Core samples are loaded on the ROV in crates and with luck they all come back the same way.

Dr. Justyna Hampel, an aquatic biogeochemist and postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Southern Mississippi, is researching how microorganisms colonize on and around deep sea shipwrecks.  She is taking sediment samples for DNA testing, and identifying nutrients in sediment pore water, the water trapped inside the sediment. Her study will help us learn about the relationship between microbes and shipwreck biomes. It took many hands to process the core sediments for her research.

As assistant to graduate student Rachel Mugge, I felt a bit like a nurse in an operating room. Every sample was taken carefully to ensure it was not contaminated.

Here’s how it went: Carefully remove the plug from the bottom of the core sample tube.  Slide the core onto the extruder quickly so as not to lose any sediment.  (An extruder is a wheel on a threaded bolt. It is precisely calibrated to measure 2 cm increments as you turn the wheel 4 2/3 times.  )

Remove the lid and use a siphon hose to remove the sea water on the surface.  Rachel does this by placing one end of the hose in the core tube and the other end in her mouth and sucking gently to get the flow of water going.  Once it is moving she lets the water drain into a basin. Try this at home! You can get water to flow up and over an obstacle with this technique.  

siphon
It takes finesse to get the siphon working.

Next Rachel turns the extruder wheel until the mud is exposed at the top of the tube.  She describes the mud to lab manager Anirban Ray, who writes it down next to the sample number. (“S 54, brown, unconsolidated, black streaks, tube worm burrows.”)  I snap the paper wrapping off a wooden tongue depressor and hand it to her. She uses it to dig a sample out of the center of a sediment core. I hand her an open vial and she fills it.  I cap it. Next she puts some sediment into a petri dish and Anirban seals and labels it. Then I hand her an open sterile whirl-pak for a final blob of sediment. I whirl this little baggy and twist tie it closed.  Vials and whirl-paks go in the deep freezer. We do these three steps 40 times for 120 samples. The challenge I find in this kind of repetitive task is how quick and efficient can I be while still being careful and precise?  Let me tell you. Pretty fast and efficient. 

sediment sample
Putting a sediment sample into a vial. The core is on the extruder, which pushes the sediment upward when you turn the wheel.

At the same time this was going on, Justyna was extracting pore water (water that comes from inside the sediment) to analyze it for nutrients.

Extracting pore water
Justyna attaches syringes to the peepers to extract the pore water from the sediment.


Personal Log

While we worked, I had a porthole at my station to keep an eye on the ocean as we cruised out to our third and final shipwreck.  Dolphins raced with our ship this evening. Silvery flying fish skittered over the water reminding me of hummingbirds, the way their fins were a blur of movement.  The color of the ocean now can best be described in terms of watercolors. Ultramarine. That says it all.

Calm sea
Clouds are reflected in a calm sea.

Betsy Petrick: Highs and Lows of Scientific Exploration, June 27, 2019



NOAA Teacher at Sea

Betsy Petrick

Aboard R/V Point Sur

June 24 – July 3, 2019


Mission:
Microbial Stowaways: Exploring Shipwreck Microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 27, 2019

Science Log

Yesterday was a doozy of a day I think everyone on the ship would agree.  One frustrating setback after another had to be overcome, but one by one each problem was solved and the day ended successfully.  If you would like to read more about this expedition, it is featured on the NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research website.

The first discovery yesterday morning was that the ship’s pole-mounted ultrashort baseline tracking system (USBL) had been zapped with electricity overnight and was unusable.  This piece of equipment is a key piece of a complex system. Without it we would not know precisely where the ROV was, nor could we control the sweeps of the ROV over the shipwrecks for accurate mapping.  The scheduled dive time of 1330 (that’s 1:30PM!) was out of the question. There was even talk of returning to port to get new equipment. Yikes. This would cost the expedition $30,000-$40,000 for a full 24 hours of operation, and no one wanted to do this. 

Max, the team’s underwater systems engineer, worked his magic, and replaced the damaged part.   This required expert knowledge and some tricky maneuvers. Once this was fixed, the next step was to send a positioning beacon down to the seafloor to calibrate the signal from the ship to the ROV so that we would be able to track it precisely.  Calibrating means that the ship and the ROV have to agree on where home is. The beacon is attached to three floats connected together to make a “lander”, and then 2 heavy weights are attached as well. The weights take the beacon down. The lander brings it back to the surface later.  The deployment went without a hitch. However, when the lander floated to the surface, we noticed it was floating in a strange way. When we hauled it aboard, we discovered that one of the glass floats had imploded – probably due to a material defect under the intense pressure at 1200m below sea level – and all we had left of that unit was a shattered mess of yellow plastic. 

imploded float
The glass float inside this yellow “hard hat” imploded. It’s a good thing there are two others to bring the transponder back to the surface.

In spite of that, the calibration was complete and we could send the ROV on its mission.  We loaded the experiments onto the back of the ROV, along with another lander and weights.  This was the exciting moment! The crane lifted the ROV off the ship deck and swung it out over the water.  But in the process, the chain holding the weights broke and, with a mighty groan from all of us watching, both of them sank into the sea.  Back came the ROV for a new set of weights. Luckily nothing was damaged. By 1745 (5:30PM), 5 hours after the scheduled time, the ROV went over the side for a second time successfully.  Once this was done the Chief Scientist was able to crack a smile and relax a bit.

mounting a new lander
The team works to mount a new lander on the ROV.
Launching the ROV
Launching the ROV off the back deck, loaded with experimental equipment and a lander.
mechanical arm
The mechanical arm on the ROV retrieved a microbial experiment left on the sea floor in 2017. We watched it all on the big screen in the lab.

Now we had an hour to wait for the ROV to reach the sea floor again, and begin its mission of deploying and retrieving experiments.  Inside the cabin of the ship, some of us sat mesmerized by the drifting phytoplankton on the big screen, hoping to see the giant squid that had been spotted on the last expedition. Up in the pilothouse the captain was on duty holding the ship in one spot for as long as it took for the ROV to return. Not an easy job!  

Yesterday I saw what scientific exploration is really like.  As someone said, “Two means one, and one means none,” meaning that when you are out at sea, you have to have a second or even a third of every critical piece of equipment because something is inevitably going to break and you will not be able to run to Walmart for a new one.  Failures and setbacks are part of the game. As a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I am looking at all that goes on on the ship through the lens of a classroom teacher. Yesterday’s successes were due to clear headed thinking, perseverance, and team work by many. These are precisely the qualities I hope I can foster in my students.  

Betsy Petrick: All Aboard! Days 1 and 2, June 25, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Betsy Petrick

Aboard R/V Point Sur

June 24 – July 3, 2019


Mission:
Microbial Stowaways: Exploring Shipwreck Microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 24-25, 2019

Science Log

On Monday I was introduced to the R/V Point Sur in Gulfport, Mississippi.  Every nook and cranny of this vessel is packed, and it took the science crew most of the day to pack it even fuller with all the equipment they need.  The largest single item is the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Odysseus which makes a large footprint on the back deck.   Over it hangs an enormous pulley that will be used to lift Odysseus in and out of the water.

R/V Point Sur in port
R/V Point Sur in port
This the ROV Odysseus waiting to be deployed on a shipwreck. It’s as eager as I am to see it operate. It looks like it is ready to jump in!


When I arrived at the port, I met Dr. Leila Hamdan, the Chief Scientist, and some of the crew.  We have two Rachels on board and they are both graduate students studying microbial biomes. Over time a layer of microbes form a “biofilm” on different kinds of wood and metal. This organic layer forms on the surface of a shipwrecks, and this is what the scientists are studying. They want to know how this layer speeds up or slows down the corrosion of shipwrecks and how other organisms use this habitat.

I was able to join in and help put together microbial recruitment experiment towers, or MREs for short. Each tower is a PVC pipe fitted with samples of wood, both oak and pine, and some metal samples.  Each of these pipes fits loosely inside a second pipe, and then each set is roped together and attached to a float. Each tower is rigged in such a way that it will sink to the sea floor vertically, and then the outer pipe will rise to expose the inner tower and the sample plugs.  After four months, the MREs will be retrieved, and the scientists will be studying what kinds of microbes grew on the samples. Their experiments add to our understanding of how shipwrecks act as a habitat for corals and other organisms

Microbial Recruitment Experimental tower
Here we are putting together one of the MREs which will be sent to the ocean floor near one of the shipwrecks.


Finally, at the end of the day we had to quickly load the last of the gear on the ship before a huge container ship of bananas arrived to dock in our space. We set up a “fire line” to hand the last of the gear into the ship as fast as possible. We could see the huge Chiquita banana ship heading our way. The port was already stacked four high with Chiquita banana shipping containers and more bananas were coming! Who is eating so many bananas?!

As the newbie member of the crew, I was allowed to stay on board as the crew moved the ship from the large loading dock to the smaller pier on the other side of the port.  This meant I got a taste of the ocean breezes that are going to help keep us cool once we leave land. I saw pelicans glide low over the water as I stood on the deck and imagined all the new and amazing things I am about to see and do.

Day 2

If you’ve never been to Mississippi in the summer, I can tell you it is HOT and HUMID.  It’s hard to imagine until you try to actually do something in it. If you were an egg, you would definitely fry on the sidewalk.  Despite the heat, all over the ship crew and scientists are working, bolting things together, greasing mechanical parts, putting last minute touches on their experimental equipment, organizing the lab and working at laptops. To mitigate the heat and humidity outside, the air-conditioning runs on high inside the ship. This helps to keep the humidity from damaging the equipment, as well as to keep the crew happy.   So it is actually COLD in here! 

In addition to all this activity, a group of high school students visited the ship. They are participating in The Ocean Science and Technology Camp to learn about marine science careers and they will be tracking our progress from shore. Each of our many talented scientists shared a bit about their research and their roles in the ship. I will share more about that in another blog. We are scheduled to leave tonight at 1930 hrs, that’s 7:30PM for most of us! Stay with me, it’s going to be awesome!

summer camp students
Rachel explains how core samples are taken to summer camp students.

Betsy Petrick: Hurry Up and Shape Up to Ship Out, June 13, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Betsy Petrick

Aboard R/V Point Sur

June 24 – July 3, 2019


Mission:
Microbial Stowaways: Exploring Shipwreck Microbiomes in the deep Gulf of Mexico

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 13, 2019

Introduction

In just two weeks I will be shipping out of Gulfport, Mississippi on the University of Southern Mississippi Research Vessel Point Sur.  As a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I will actually be a student again, learning all I can about ocean archaeology and deep-sea microbial biomes. I feel very lucky to have this opportunity to learn what it is like to live and work at sea! In particular, I am looking forward to seeing how archaeologists work at sea.  My undergraduate degree was in archaeology and I worked in the desert of New Mexico and southern Colorado where we mapped with pencil and paper, and took samples with a shovel. Ocean archaeology will require more sophisticated technology and a different approach!  

Let me give you a little background about myself.  My husband and I live in a tiny town called Husum on the White Salmon River in Washington State. My family enjoys outdoor activities including rafting and kayaking. This year my daughter is working as a raft guide on the White Salmon. I know when the commercial raft trips are passing by because I can hear the tourists scream as their boats go over Husum Falls!   My son is studying Engineering in college and is spending this summer in Spain learning Spanish and surfing. Unfortunately for my husband, summer is the busy time for construction. As a general contractor, he will be working hard.

Petrick family rafting
The whole family rafting the Deschutes River in Oregon, hmmm… quite a few years ago, but we still love it!

During the regular school year, I teach fourth grade math and science at the local intermediate school.  One of our biggest science units each year is to raise salmon in the classroom and learn about the salmon life cycle, adaptations and the importance of protecting salmon habitat.  In addition, this year we tackled a big project around plastic pollution in the oceans and how we can make a difference in our own community through education and action. My students are rightfully indignant about the condition of our oceans, and I have also become an ocean advocate since initiating this project.

Student salmon drawings
Kids made scientific drawings of salmon, and then painted and stuffed them. They swam around the classroom ceiling all year!

Scientists on the Point Sur have several goals. First of all, they will map two shipwrecks that have never been explored.  Both are wooden-hulled historic shipwrecks that were identified during geophysical surveys related to oil and gas exploration.  Archaeologists hope to determine how old the ships are, what their purpose was, and their nationality, to determine if they are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).   A third shipwreck we will visit is a steel-hulled, former luxury steam yacht that sank in 1944. It was previously mapped and some experiments were left there in 2014 which we will recover.

In addition to mapping, we will take samples of the sediments around the ships to see how shipwrecks shape the microbial environment.  The Gulf of Mexico is a perfect place for this work because it is rich in shipwrecks. Shipwrecks create unique reef habitats that are attractive to organisms both large and small. I wonder what kinds of sea life we will discover living around the shipwrecks we visit?

The first question my students asked me was if I was going to scuba dive. While that would be exciting, it’s not allowed for Teachers at Sea! To gather information about the shipwrecks, we will deploy a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) called Odysseus (Pelagic Research Services, Inc.) . Odysseus will have a camera, a manipulator arm to gather samples, a tray to carry all the sampling gear and SONAR and lights. I think I will be content to watch its progress on the ship’s video screens.

School is almost out, and my fourth graders are chomping at the bit to get out if the classroom and begin their own summer adventures, but I hope they will follow my blog and keep me company while I am on board ship!    Am I feeling a little intimidated? Absolutely! But also very excited to have the opportunity to participate in what is sure to be a great adventure.

Anne Krauss: Farewell and Adieu, November 11, 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: November 11, 2018

Weather Data from home

Conditions at 1615

Latitude: 43° 09’ N

Longitude: 77° 36’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1027 mbar

Air Temperature: 3° C

Wind Speed: SW 10 km/h

Humidity: 74%

 

Science and Technology Log

 

Participating in the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey provided a porthole into several different career paths. Each role on board facilitated and contributed to the scientific research being conducted. Daily longline fishing activities involved working closely with the fishermen on deck. I was in awe of their quick-thinking adaptability, as changing weather conditions or lively sharks sometimes required a minor change in plan or approach. Whether tying intricate knots in the monofilament or displaying their familiarity with the various species we caught, the adept fishermen drew upon their seafaring skill sets, allowing the set and haulback processes to go smoothly and safely.

Chief Boatswain Tim Martin deploying the longline gear. The sun is shining in the background.
Chief Boatswain Tim Martin deploying the longline gear.

Chief Boatswain Tim Martin is preparing to retrieve the longline gear. A grapnel and his hand are visible against the water.
Chief Boatswain Tim Martin preparing to retrieve the longline gear with a grapnel

Even if we were on opposite work shifts, overlapping meal times provided the opportunity to gain insight into some of the careers on board. As we shared meals, many people spoke of their shipboard roles with sentiments that were echoed repeatedly: wanted a career that I could be proud ofa sense of adventureopportunity to see new places and give backcombining adventure and sciencewanted to protect the resources we have

I had the opportunity to speak with some of the engineers and fishermen about their onboard roles and career paths. It was interesting to learn that many career paths were not direct roads, but winding, multilayered journeys. Some joined NOAA shortly after finishing their education, while others joined after serving in other roles. Some had experience with commercial fishing, and some had served on other NOAA vessels. Many are military veterans. With a name fit for a swashbuckling novel set on the high seas, Junior Unlicensed Engineer Jack Standfast, a United States Navy veteran, explained how the various departments on board worked together. These treasured conversations with the Engineering Department and Deck Department were enlightening, a reminder that everyone has a story to tell. I very much appreciate their patience, kindness, and willingness to share their expertise and experiences.

Hard hats, PFDs, and gloves belonging to the Deck Department are hanging on hooks.
Hard hats, PFDs, and gloves belonging to the Deck Department

Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway standing on deck.
The ship had a small library of books, and several crew members mentioned reading as a favorite way to pass the time at sea. Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway shared several inspiring and philosophical websites that he enjoyed reading.

 

Lead Fisherman and Divemaster Chris Nichols:

In an unfamiliar setting, familiar topics surfaced in conversations, revealing similarities and common interests. Despite working in very different types of jobs, literacy was a popular subject in many of the conversations I had on the ship. I spoke to some of the crew members about how literacy factored into their daily lives and career paths. Some people described their family literacy routines at home and shared their children’s favorite bedtime stories, while others fondly remembered formative stories from their own childhood. Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols recalled the influence that Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling had on him as a young reader. He described how exciting stories such as Captains Courageous and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer inspired a sense of adventure and contributed to pursuing a unique career path. Coming from a family of sailors, soldiers, and adventurers, Chris conveyed the sense of pride that stems from being part of “something bigger.” In this case, a career that combines adventure, conservation, and preservation. His experiences with the United States Navy, commercial fishing, NOAA, and scuba diving have taken him around the world.

Echoing the themes of classic literature, Chris recommended some inspiring nonfiction titles and podcasts that feature true stories about human courage, overcoming challenges, and the search for belonging. As a United States Navy veteran, Chris understood the unique reintegration needs that many veterans face once they’ve completed their military service. He explained the need for a “tribe” found within the structure of the military or a ship. Chris described the teamwork on the ship as “pieces of a puzzle” in a “well-oiled machine.”

A pre-dive safety briefing takes place on the ship's bridge.
Led by Divemaster Chris Nichols, also the Oregon II’s Lead Fisherman and MedPIC (Medical Person in Charge), the team gathered on the bridge (the ship’s navigation and command center) to conduct a pre-dive operation safety briefing. Nichols appears in a white t-shirt, near center.

Chris also shared some advice for students. He felt it was easier for students to become good at math and to get better at reading while younger and still in school. Later in life, the need for math may resurface outside of school: “The things you want to do later…you’ll need that math.” As students grow up to pursue interests, activities, and careers, they will most likely need math and literacy to help them reach their goals. Chris stressed that attention to detail—and paying attention to all of the details—is extremely important. Chris explained the importance of remembering the steps in a process and paying attention to the details. He illustrated the importance of knowing what to do and how to do it, whether it is in class, during training, or while learning to dive.

Chris’ recommendations:

  • Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
  • Team Never Quit Podcast with Marcus Luttrell & David Rutherford

The sun rises over the Gulf of Mexico.
Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico

Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin:

Before joining NOAA, Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin served in the United States Coast Guard for fifteen years (active duty and reserves). After serving in the military, Chuck found himself working in education. While teaching as a substitute teacher, he saw an ad in the newspaper for NOAA careers and applied. Chuck joined NOAA in 2000, and he has served on NOAA Ships Bell M. Shimada, Pisces, Gordon Gunter, and Oregon II.

Echoing Chris Nichols’ description of puzzle pieces in a team, Chuck further explained the hierarchy and structure of the Deck Department on the Oregon II. The Deck Department facilitates the scientific research by deploying and retrieving the longline fishing gear while ensuring a safe working environment. From operating the winches and cranes, to hauling in some of the larger sharks on the shark cradle, the fishermen perform a variety of tasks that require both physical and mental dexterity. Chuck explained that in the event of an unusual situation, the Deck Department leader may work with the Bridge Officer and the Science watch leader and step in as safety dictates.

Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin
Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin. Photo courtesy of Chuck Godwin.

In addition to his ability to make a fantastic pot of coffee, Chuck has an impish sense of humor that made our twelve-hour work shifts even more interesting and entertaining. Over a late-night cup of coffee, I found out that we shared some similar interests. Chuck attended the University of Florida, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management and Ecology. He has an interest in writing and history, particularly military history. He co-authored a published paper on white-tailed deer. An avid reader, Chuck usually completes two or three books during a research cruise leg. He reads a wide range of genres, including sci-fi, westerns, biographies, military history, scientific texts, and gothic horror. Some of his favorite authors include R.A. Salvatore, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Darwin. In his free time, he enjoys roleplaying games that encourage storytelling and creativity. For Chuck, these adventures are not about the end result, but the plotlines and how the players get there. Like me, Chuck has done volunteer work with veterans. He also values giving back and educating others about the importance of science and the environment, particularly water and the atmosphere. Chuck’s work with NOAA supports the goal of education and conservation to “preserve what we have.”

 

 

Personal Log

Far from home, these brief conversations with strangers seemed almost familiar as we discussed shared interests, goals, and experiences. As I continue to search for my own tribe and sense of belonging, I will remember these puzzle pieces in my journey.

A high flyer and buoy float on the surface of the water.
A high flyer and buoy mark one end of the longline.

My path to Teacher at Sea was arduous; the result of nearly ten years of sustained effort. The adventure was not solely about the end result, but very much about plotlines, supporting (and supportive) characters, and how I got there: hard work, persistence, grit, and a willingness to fight for the opportunity. Every obstacle and roadblock that I overcame. As a teacher, the longline fishing experience allowed me to be a student once again, learning new skills and complex processes for the first time. Applying that lens to the classroom setting, I am even more aware of the importance of clear instructions, explanations, patience, and encouragement. Now that the school year is underway, I find myself spending more time explaining, modeling, demonstrating, and correcting; much of the same guidance I needed on the ship. If grading myself on my longline fishing prowess, I measured my learning this way:

If I improved a little bit each day by remembering one more thing or forgetting one less thing…

If I had a meaningful exchange with someone on board…

If I learned something new by witnessing natural phenomena or acquired new terminology…

If I encountered an animal I’d never seen in person, then the day was a victory.

And I encountered many creatures I’d never seen before. Several species of sharks: silky, smooth-hound, sandbar, Atlantic sharpnose, blacknose, blacktip, great hammerhead, lemon, tiger, and bull sharks. A variety of other marine life: groupers, red snapper, hake, and blueline tilefish. Pelicans and other seabirds. Sharksuckers, eels, and barracudas.

The diminutive creatures were just as interesting as the larger species we saw. Occasionally, the circle hooks and monofilament would bring up small hitchhikers from the depths. Delicate crinoids and brittle stars. Fragments of coral, scraps of seaweed and sponges, and elegant, intricate shells. One particularly fascinating find: a carrier shell from a marine snail (genus: Xenophora) that cements fragments of shells, rocks, and coral to its own shell. The evenly spaced arrangement of shells seems like a deliberately curated, artistic effort: a tiny calcium carbonate collage or shell sculpture. These tiny hints of what’s down there were just as thrilling as seeing the largest shark because they assured me that there’s so much more to learn about the ocean.

A spiral-shaped shell belonging to a marine snail.
At the base of the spiral-shaped shell, the occupant had cemented other shells at regular intervals.

The spiral-shaped shell belonging to a marine snail.
The underside of the shell.

Like the carrier snail’s shell collection, the small moments and details are what will stay with me:

Daily activities on the ship, and learning more about a field that has captivated my interest for years…

Seeing glimpses of the water column and the seafloor through the GoPro camera attached to the CTD…

Hearing from my aquatic co-author while I was at sea was a surreal role reversal…

Fishing into the middle of the night and watching the ink-black water come alive with squid, jellies, flying fish, dolphins, sailfish, and sharks…

Watching the ever-shifting moon, constellations, clouds, sunsets, and sunrise…

Listening to the unique and almost musical hum of the ship’s machinery and being lulled to sleep by the waves…

And the sharks. The breathtaking, perfectly designed sharks. Seeing and handling creatures that I feel strongly about protecting reinforced my mission to educate, protect, and conserve. The experience reinvigorated my connection to the ocean and reiterated why I choose to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Capturing the experience through the Teacher at Sea blog reinforced my enjoyment of writing, photography, and creative pursuits.

 

Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss looks out at the ocean.
Participating in Teacher at Sea provided a closer view of some of my favorite things: sharks, ships, the sea, and marine science.

The Gloucester Fisherman's Memorial Statue
The Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial Statue

In my introductory post, I wrote about formative visits to New England as a young child. Like so many aspects of my first glimpses of the ocean and maritime life, the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial statue intrigued me and sparked my young imagination. At that age, I didn’t fully grasp the solemn nature of the tribute, so the somber sculpture and memorial piqued my interest in fishing and seafaring instead. As wild as my imagination was, my preschool self could never imagine that I would someday partake in longline fishing as part of a Shark/Red Snapper Survey. My affinity for marine life and all things maritime remains just as strong today. Other than being on and around the water, docks and shipyards are some of my favorite places to explore. Living, working, and learning alongside fishermen was an honor.

Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss visiting a New England dock as a young child.
I was drawn to the sea at a young age.

Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss in Gloucester
This statue inspired an interest in fishing and all things maritime. After experiencing longline fishing for myself, I revisited the statue to pay my respects.

A commercial longline fisherman's hand holds on to a chain, framed against the water.
A New England commercial longline fisherman’s hand

Water and its fascinating inhabitants have a great deal to teach us. The Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico reminded me of the notion that: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Whether misattributed to Plutarch or Yeats or the wisdom of the Internet, the quote conveys the interest, curiosity, and appreciation I hope to spark in others as I continue to share my experience with my students, colleagues, and the wider community.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in Teacher at Sea, and I am also grateful to those who ignited a fire in me along the way. Thank you to those who supported my journey and adventure. I greatly appreciate your encouragement, support, interest, and positive feedback. Thank you for following my adventure!

A collage of images from the ship. The shapes of the images spell out "Oregon II."
Thank you to NOAA Ship Oregon II and Teacher at Sea!

The sun shines on the water.
The sun shines on NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Did You Know?

Xenophora shells grow in a spiral, and different species tend to collect different items. The purpose of self-decoration is to provide camouflage and protection from predators. The additional items can also strengthen the snail’s shell and provide more surface area to prevent the snail from sinking into the soft substrate.

Recommended Reading

Essentially two books in one, I recommend the fact-filled Under Water, Under Earth written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski. The text was translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

Cover of Under Earth
Under Earth written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski; published by Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2016

One half of the book burrows into the Earth, exploring terrestrial topics such as caves, paleontology, tectonic plates, and mining. Municipal matters such as underground utilities, water, natural gas, sewage, and subways are included. Under Earth is a modern, nonfiction, and vividly illustrated Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Cover of Under Water
Under Water written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski; published by Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2016

Diving deeper, Under Water explores buoyancy, pressure, marine life, ocean exploration, and several other subjects. My favorite pages discuss diving feats while highlighting a history of diving innovations, including early diving suit designs and recent atmospheric diving systems (ADS). While Under Earth covers more practical topics, Under Water elicits pure wonder, much like the depths themselves.

Better suited for older, more independent readers (or enjoyed as a shared text), the engaging illustrations and interesting facts are easily devoured by curious children (and adults!). Fun-fact finders and trivia collectors will enjoy learning more about earth science and oceanography. Information is communicated through labels, cross sections, cutaway diagrams, and sequenced explanations.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Field Party Chief Kristin Hannan setting up the CTD

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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