Jason Moeller: June 23-24, 2011

JUNE 11-JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 23-24, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 54.86 N
Longitude: -161.68 W
Wind: 12.1 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 8.5 degrees C
Air Temperature: 9.1 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 95%
Depth: 52.43 m

Personal Log

As I mentioned in the last post, everything here has settled into a routine from a personal standpoint, and on that end there is not much to write about. However, there were three things that broke up the monotony. First, as always, the scenery was beautiful.


Snow covered hills shield the cove from the winds. Look how smooth the ocean is!


The view off the back of the ship.

Second, I found out that even with all of the modern equipment on board, catching fish is still not guaranteed. We trawled three times last night on the 23rd and caught a total of 14 fish in all three trawls! Remember, a good sample size for one trawl is supposed to be 300 pollock, so this is the equivalent of fishing all day long and catching a minnow that just happened to swim into the fishing hook.

The first trawl caught absolutely nothing, as the fish dove underneath the net to escape the danger. The second trawl caught two pacific ocean perch and one pollock, and the third trawl caught eleven pollock. All in all, not the best fishing day.


The lone pollock from the second trawl.

Despite the poor fishing, we did bring up this neat little critter.


This is an isopod! These animals are very similar to the pillbugs (roly-polys) that we find in the US. Many marine isopods are parasites, and can be a danger to fish!


This is the bottom view of an isopod

The third thing to break up the monotony was the Aleutian Islands earthquake. On the evening of June 23rd, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake shook the Aleutian Islands. According to ABC news, the earthquake was centered about 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage. The quake spawned a brief tsunami warning that caused a large number of Dutch Harbor residents (Dutch Harbor is the home base of the show Deadliest Catch) to head for higher ground. We had been in the Aleutian Islands and Dutch Harbor area on our survey route, but had left two days before, so the Oscar Dysonwas completely unaffected by the earthquake.

Dutch Harbor residents seek higher ground after a tsunami warning was issued. AP photo by Jim Paulin.

Science and Technology Log

In order to obtain photos of all of this neat sealife, we first have to catch it! We catch fish by trawling for them. Some of you may not know exactly what I’m talking about, so let me explain. Trawling is a fishing method that pulls a long mesh net behind a boat in order to collect fish. Trawling is used to collect fish for both scientific purposes (like we’re doing) and also in commercial fishing operations. We have two types of fish trawls onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson — a mid-water trawl net and a bottom trawl net. We’ve used both types throughout our cruise, so let me tell you a little about each.

The mid-water trawl net is just as it sounds — it collects fish from the middle of the water column — not those that live on the seafloor, not those that live at the surface. The technical name for the net we have is an Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT) — it’s commonly used by the commercial fishing industry.

trawl net

Part of the mid-water trawl net as it's being deployed.

The end of the net where the fish first enter has very large mesh, which is used to corral the fish and push them towards the bag at the end. The mesh gets progressively smaller and smaller the further into it you go, and at the very end (where the collecting bag is), the mesh size is 0.5 inches. The end (where the bag is, or where the fish are actually collected) is called the codend.


One of the codends on the deck of the Oscar Dyson

This is the kind of net we use when we want to collect a pollock sample, because pollock are found in the water column, as opposed to right on the seafloor (in other words, pollock aren’t benthic animals). Our particular net is also modified a little from a “normal” AWT. Our trawl has three codends (collecting bags) on it, each of which can be opened and closed with a switch that is controlled onboard the ship. The mechanism that opens and closes each of the 3 codends is called the Multiple Opening and Closing Codend (MOCC) device. Using the MOCC gives us the ability to obtain 3 discrete samples of fish, which can then be processed in the fish lab.


The MOCC apparatus, with the 3 nets extending off.


The nets are opened and closed using a series of metal bars. (The bar here is the piece of metal running across the middle of the photo). The net has 6 of these bars. When the first bar is released, the first codend is ready to take in fish. When the second bar is dropped, the first codend is closed. The third and fourth bars open and close the second codend, and the fifth and sixth bars open and close the third codend.


This is the trigger mechanism for the codends on the MOCC. When the codend is released, the trigger mechanism is up. When the codend is locked and ready to go, it is in the down position.

One other modification we have on our mid-water trawl net is the attachment of a video camera to the net, so we can actually see the fish that are going into the codends.


This is the camera apparatus hooked up to the trawl.

When we spot a school of fish on the acoustic displays, we then radio the bridge (where the captain is) and the deck (where the fishermen are) to let them know that we’d like to fish in a certain spot. The fishermen that are in charge of deploying the net can mechanically control how deep the net goes using hydraulic gears, and the depth that we fish at varies at each sampling location. Once the gear is deployed, it stays in the water for an amount of time determined by the amount of fish in the area, and then the fishermen begin to reel in the net. See the videos below to get an idea of how long the trawl nets are — they’re being reeled in the videos. Once all of the net (it’s VERY long — over 500 ft) is reeled back in, the fish in the codends are unloaded onto a big table on the deck using a crane. From there, the fish move into the lab and we begin processing them.

Videos of the net being reeled in and additional photos are below!


net end

This is the end of the trawl net. They are lines that basically hold onto the net.


One of the codends before being opened up onto the conveyor belt. We are inside waiting for the fish to arrive.

open codend

Opening the codend to release the fish catch!

reeled in

The mid-water trawl net all reeled in!

The other type of trawl gear that we use is a bottom trawl, and again, it’s just as it sounds. The bottom trawl is outfitted with roller-type wheels that sort of roll and/or bounce over the seafloor. We use this trawl to collect benthic organisms like rockfish, Pacific ocean perch, and invertebrates. There’s usually a random pollock or cod in there, too. The biggest problem with bottom trawls is that the net can sometimes get snagged on rocks on the bottom, resulting in a hole being ripped in the net. Obviously, we try to avoid bottom trawling in rocky areas, but we can never be 100% sure that there aren’t any rogue rocks sitting on the bottom 🙂

bottom trawl

The mesh and wheels of the bottom trawl.


More of the bottom trawl


The bottom trawl, all reeled in!

Species Seen

Northern Fulmar
Pacific Ocean Perch (aka rockfish)

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

The first question for today comes from Rich, Wanda, and Ryan Ellis! Ryan is in the homeschool Tuesday class at the Zoo.

Q. We looked up what an anemone was and we found it was some kind of plant. Is that correct?

A. Great question! The answer is both yes and no. There is a type of flowering plant called the anemone. There are about 120 different species, and they are in the buttercup family. For one example of the plant, look below!

Anemone Nemorosa

Anemone Nemorosa. Taken from pacificbulbsociety.org

The sea anemone, however, is not actually a plant but an animal! Anemones are classified as cnidarians, which are animals that have specialized cells for capturing prey! In anemones, these are called nematocysts, which have toxin and a harpoon like structure to deliver the toxin. When the nematocysts are touched, the harpoon structure injects the toxin into the animal that touches it.

Cnidarians also have bodies consist of mesoglea, a non living jelly like substance. They generally have a mouth that is surrounded by the tentacles mentioned above.


The Anemone we found.

The second question comes from my wife Olivia.

Q. What has surprised you most about this trip? Any unexpected or odd situations?

A. I think the thing that has surprised me the most is the amount of down time I have had. When I came on, I assumed that it would be physical and intense, like the show Deadliest Catch, where I would spend my whole time fishing and then working on the science. I figured that I would be absolutely toast by the end of my shift.

While I have worked hard and learned a lot, I have quite a bit of down time. Processing a catch takes about one hour, and we fish on average once or twice a night. That means I am processing fish for roughly two hours at most, and my shift is twelve hours. I have gotten a fair amount of extra work done, as well as a lot of pleasure reading and movie watching.

As for unexpected and odd situations, I didn’t really expect to get your camera killed by a wave. Fortunately, I have been allowed to use the scientist camera, and have been able to scavenge photos from other cameras, so I will still have plenty of pictures.

Another technological oddball that I didn’t think about beforehand was that certain headings (mainly if we are going north) will cut off the internet, which is normally fantastic. It is frustrating to have a photo 90% downloaded only to have the ship change vectors, head north, and cut off the download, forcing me to redownload the whole photo.
I also didn’t expect that the fish would be able to dodge the trawl net as effectively as they have. We have had four or five “misses” so far because the fish will not stay in one spot and let us catch them. While the use of sonar and acoustics has greatly improved our ability to catch fish, catching fish is by no means assured.

Perhaps the biggest “Are you kidding me?” moment though, comes from James and David Segrest asking me about sharks (June 17-18 post). An hour after I read the question, we trawled for the first time of the trip, and naturally the first thing we caught was the sleeper shark. Also naturally, I haven’t seen a shark since. Sometimes, you just get lucky.

Story Miller, August 1, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Story Miller
NOAA Ship: Oscar Dyson

Mission: Summer Pollock III
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: August 1, 2010

Launching the XBT

Time: 1233 ADT
Latitude: 60°51N
Wind: 17 knots (approx. 19.6 mph or 31.5 km/h)
Direction: 171° (S)
Sea Temperature: 9.9°C (approx. 49.8°F)
Air Temperature: 12.8°C (approx. 55.0°F)
Barometric Pressure (mb): 1009
Wave Height 2-3 feet
Swell Height 4-6 feet

Scientific Log:
Think about your morning routine from the moment you wake up to just after eating breakfast. Now imagine spending that morning on a boat in the middle of the Bering Sea. Perhaps you take a shower or wash your face and hopefully brush your teeth. Where does the water come from? Where does the waste water go? I bet at some point you will use the bathroom (Hey, it’s a fact of life and everybody does it!). Where does that waste go? How is it processed? I also bet that at some point you turned on the light. How does a boat get its electricity?

The Oscar Dyson has a truly remarkable system that allows a crew of up to 39 live on the ship for as long as we have food and fuel! The fuel used is diesel and the diesel is converted into electricity through the engine, which turns the generator and the generator makes AC power. A rectifier ridge turns the AC power into DC power and the DC power runs to the shaft which is able to turn the propeller. However not all the power goes to DC power. The rest is turned into AC power so that we can use lights, heaters, fans, and the ovens in the galley.

Below the deck of the ship is where the engineers maintain all the components that make the ship function.

The Machines:

The main shaft (what turns the propeller on the ship)

Because we would not be able to go anywhere without fuel, let’s start with it. The fuel goes from the fuel tank to a primary filter and then through a secondary filter to clean the fuel. The fuel then travels to the fuel pump which transfers it to the injector and the injector sends it to the engine.

The centrifuges that clean the fuel.

Whatever fuel is not used is returned to a storage tank where it will wait until we need it again. Because fuel can become dirty when it sits, and dirty fuel is not good for engines,  the old fuel is run through a centrifuge (a device that spins and uses centrifugal force to separate mixtures) to become purified. As you can see in the picture, there are two centrifuges because it is important to have a backup in case of a breakdown. One is currently running for the month of July and the other will run for the month of August. We have this alternating pattern because we want to make sure there is even wear on each.

Access hatch to the waste oil storage.
Entering confined spaces are dangerous
as noted by the bolted entry. Special protective materials, a work plan, and
an initial safety test must be in place prior to entry

Periodically, the ship requires an oil change and the waste oil from machines such as the crank case, winches, and hydraulics are placed in a storage tank. Because it costs a considerable amount of money to haul waste fuel, the ship has a method for disposing it. From this waste oil storage tank, it is pumped up to the incinerator where it is burned.
The ship will also obtain oily water from locations such as the bilges and that water is recycled by going through the Oily Water System (OWS) and currently it is able to clean the water to 15ppm (parts per million) of oil to water. After the purification it is released into the ocean. We are currently in the process of installing another filtration system that will run the 15ppm concentration and reduce the contaminants to 5ppm and possibly even 3ppm. The oil that is extracted from the water is put into the waste oil storage tank for future incineration.

Engineering Control Room

As stated earlier, all the machinery, including the coffee maker, is maintained by the engineers. In the control room the engineers are able to monitor all functions of the ship. If needed, they could even take away the power from the bridge (where the NOAA Corps officers control the ship) and drive the ship from underneath! So, if you really want to be in control…

Some may wonder what we do with all of the garbage we collect on the ship. For example, where does all the uneaten food go? What about all the paper waste from used cups, napkins, and wrappers? In the mess hall, there are two garbage bins, one to scrape uneaten food and the other for paper. Because food is biodegradable, that bin is tossed overboard. The paper waste is sent to the incinerator to be burned. I am told that the incinerator gets hot enough that if a soup can was placed inside and incinerated, it would appear to look normal after the incineration, except once you touch it, it crumbles into dust!To get clean drinking water, we pump the salt water from the ocean into a desalination unit (a distiller). The distilled water is then sent to a 10,000 gallon holding tank. When water is needed, it is pressurized which, like in your house, sends it to the faucets, drinking fountains, and shower. Perhaps you have heard of the pens using UV light to purify water when you are camping. Well, right after the water is pressurized the boat has a large UV Pen to kill any additional microbes that might be inhabiting the water.

Marine Sanitation Device

From the toilet, the waste material is pulled down by a vacuum and travels through a pipe to the Marine Sanitation Device (MSD) tank. All the waste, including what we call “gray water” which basically is waste water from the shower and the sink, is agitated with an aroator. Solid waste will sink to the bottom of the tank where it is ground to fine particles. Oddly enough the grinder is also responsible for the vacuum in the sewage line via the eductor. The dirty water mixture is then sent through the chlorinator and is stored in the chlorination tank. When the water rises to a certain point, a sensor signals the pump to send the chlorinated water over the side of the boat.Cool fact! On other ships in the past, the catch water in the toilets was salt water (the Oscar Dyson uses fresh water). Because the water in the toilets did not need to be distilled, little bioluminescent organisms would sit inside. The thrilling activity is that when a person would flush the toilet in the dark, the organisms would become agitated and glow. Therefore, in your toilet, you could have your own light show with each flush!

Personal Log: 


Today we processed one batch of fish. The odd part to this scenario was that we caught a group of Pacific Herring. We measured, weighed, and extracted stomach samples as it is equally important to gather data about other fish we catch. The internal body structure of a Pacific Herring is very different from that of a Walleye Pollock and so I had the opportunity to dissect and study a different kind of fish. Leftover critters from the trawl that occurred last night while I was sleeping also appeared in the catch – tiny jellyfish, squid, and shrimp – and I spent some time sorting them out. Tonight, our chef is cooking up a few of the herring so we can see what they taste like. Another highlight to working with the herring is that I was challenged to locate and extract the otoliths. The otoliths of Pacific Herring are much smaller than those of the Walleye Pollock. To provide an idea, imagine clipping your pinky toenail. The clipping would be just a little larger than the otolith! Otoliths of pollock are a little less than one centimeter long and 1/2 of one centimeter wide.


Today we crossed the 180° line of Longitude and entered the future, putting me a day ahead of the United States. Currently our transect has placed us near Cape Nevarin, Russia and unfortunately it is too foggy outside to see land. Because I have crossed the  dateline, I will receive the Order of the Golden Dragon, a certificate proving my adventure across the line!I am exceptionally excited for dinner tonight as we are having King Crab legs, prime rib, mashed potatoes and gravy, and of course, some herring! With Ray as our chef, it is evident that nobody goes hungry! Today he constructed a shortcake in the shape of the Oscar Dyson, decorated it, and set aside a bowl of strawberry sauce. I would have taken a picture but by the time I finished processing the herring, the cake ships were in fatal condition for sailing but I feel the crew are quite satisfied!

Animals Spotted Today:

Immature Gull

Humpback whales
Walleye Pollock
Pacific Herring
Northern Fulmars
Black-legged Kittiwakes
Slaty-backed Gulls

Something to Ponder:
I decided that it was important to inquire what it took to be an engineer on the boat. After talking with a few members of the crew who had been doing this line of work for a long time, I was loaded with valuable insight to pass along to my readers.
According to the engineers, the best way to guarantee a well-paying job on a boat and allow one to have more options available would be to attend a maritime school because graduates will walk onboard with an officers ticket. While college is expensive, consider this: If you attend the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), your college is paid for as it is one of the five US service academies. www.usmma.edu

However, because admission is difficult, if you were to attend a maritime academy, you could potentially have a situation similar to one of our engineers on board. He attended Maine Maritime Academy for four years and earned a Bachelors of Science in Engineering. Additionally, within six months of working onboard a ship with his credentials, he had ALL of his student loans paid for! Most college students in the US spend approximately five years paying off their student loans!

While a maritime academy would be ideal, I asked the engineers of other ways one could obtain an engineering/mechanic job on a ship. They shared that there were 2-year schools available but the largest drawback to that path is that upon graduation, you would have some skills but would not be fully licensed. One rule of thumb that I have learned over the years, and the engineers echoed this, is the key to having choices in your job is to become as versatile as possible.I then asked the engineers if there were any other ways to get a job on a boat and they mentioned that one could attend a union school and learn a trade such as in refrigeration or mechanics. Keep in mind though, that person would be unlicensed and not have as many choices available to them.

I also asked the engineers what subjects in school they thought were the most important to learn. The first subject mentioned was mathematics but they brought up a very important concept: “It’s not necessarily how much math you take, but how well you understand the math.” Think of a student who aces the test and then forgets everything afterward. In other words, it would be great if a student made it to Calculus in high school but if he or she doesn’t fully understand the processes behind the algebra, that student will have difficulty in his or her engineering occupation. The engineers also shared that trigonometry was essential.
Regarding the sciences, for engineering, it was highly recommended that students wanting to get off on the right foot should take chemistry, physics, and biology.

However, one of the most important subjects they mentioned that may surprise some readers is English Composition because “You must have the ability to express yourself effectively and communicate with the people you work with everyday.” The engineers shared that, for example, they often would have to write reports and if they needed a part, the engineers would need to write to a supervisor and provide reasons to prove why they would need a part. “The better you are at communicating, the farther you will be able to go with your job and get what you want.”

So, in closing, the next time you think, “Geeze, why do I need to learn this equation and how to use it in this silly word problem?” or, “Why do I need to write this paper about persuading my English teacher that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the best?” remember this: Your teachers really are not torturing you and really, are simply training you to develop the skills you will need to utilize in your job and in adulthood. The more advantage you take of this training, the more versatile and successful you will become. Ultimately though, it’s up to you to make that move!For more information a valuable website is:http://www.omao.noaa.gov/about.html

Justin Czarka, August 15, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Justin Czarka
Onboard NOAA Ship McArthur II (tracker)
August 10 – 19, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic and Plankton Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, CA to Seattle, WA
Date: August 15, 2009

Weather data from the Bridge

This picture shows what happens to an 8 fluid ounce Styrofoam cup after experience water pressure at 1000 meters down. The colorful cup was sent down attached to the CTD

This picture shows what happens to an 8 fluid ounce Styrofoam cup after experience water pressure at 1000 meters down. The colorful cup was sent down attached to the CTD

Sunrise: 6:29 a.m.
Sunset: 20:33 (8:33 p.m.)
Weather: patchy mist
Sky: partly to mostly cloudy
Wind direction and speed: north-northwest 15-20 knots (kt), gust to 25 kt
Visibility: unrestricted to 1-3 nautical miles in mist
Waves: northwest 6-9 feet
Air Temperature: 18°C high, 12°C low
Water Temperature: 17.5°C

Science and Technology Log 

Today we made it out to 200 miles off the Oregon Coast; the farthest out we will go. The depth of the ocean is 2867 meters (9,406 feet).  It is pretty interesting to imagine that we are on the summit of a nearly 10,000-foot mountain right now!  Last night the CTD was deployed 1,000 meters (3,281 feet).  Even at this depth, the pressure is immense (see photo, page one). When taking the CTD down to this depth, certain sensors are removed from the rosette (the white frame to which the CTD instruments are attached) to prevent them from being damaged.

Justin Czarka taking observational notes while aboard the McArthur II.  These notes preserve the knowledge gained from the NOAA officers and crew, as well as the researchers

Justin Czarka taking observational notes while aboard the McArthur II. These notes preserve the knowledge gained from the NOAA officers and crew, as well as the researchers

The crew aboard the McArthur II is such an informative group. Many possess a strong insight into NOAA’s research mission.  Today I spoke with Kevin Lackey, Deck Utility man.  He spoke to me about the cruises he has been on with NOAA, particularly about the effects of bioaccumulation that have been studied.  Bioaccumulation is when an organism intakes a substance, oftentimes from a food source, that deposits in the organism at increasing levels over time.  While sometimes an intentional response from an organism, with regards to toxins, this bioaccumulation can lead to detrimental effects.  For example, an organism (animal or plant) A on the food web experiences bioaccumulation of a toxin over time.  Imagine organism B targeting organism A as a food source. Organism B will accumulate concentrated levels of the toxin. Then, when organism B becomes a food source for organism C, the effects of the toxins are further magnified.  This has serious effects on the ocean ecosystem, and consequently on the human population, who rely on the ocean as a food source.

While aboard the McArthur II, Morgaine McKibben, a graduate student at Oregon State University (OSU), shared with me her research into harmful algal blooms (HABs), which potentially lead to bioaccumulation.  Certain algae (small plants) accumulate toxins that can be harmful, especially during a “bloom.” She is collecting water samples from the CTD, as well as deploying a HAB net, which skims the ocean surface while the ship is moving to collect algae samples.  She is utilizing the data in order to create a model to solve the problem of what underlying conditions cause the algae blooms to become toxic, since they are not always as such.

Personal Log 

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the flying bridge off the coast of Heceta Head, Oregon (N 43°59, W 124°35) a half hour later than two nights ago!

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean from the flying bridge off the coast of Heceta Head, Oregon (N 43°59, W 124°35) a half hour later than two nights ago!

The weather has cleared up allowing grand ocean vistas—a 360° panorama of various blues depending on depth, nutrients, clouds overhead, and so forth.  At first glance, it just looks blue.  But as you gaze out, you see variance. A little green here, some whitecaps over there. As the ship moves on, the colors change. Wildlife appears, whether it is a flock of birds, kelp floating by, or an escort of pacific white-sided dolphins. I wondered if the ocean would become monotonous over the course of the eleven days at sea.  Yet the opposite has happened. I have become more fascinated with this blue water.

It was interesting today to notice how we went back in time.  Two nights ago the sun had set at 20:03 (8:03 p.m.)  But because we went so far out to sea, last night the sunset had changed to 20:33 (8:33 p.m.).  While this happens on land as well, it never occurred to me in such striking details until out to see.

Animals Seen from the Flying Bridge (highest deck on the ship) 

  • Rhinoceros Auklet – closely related to puffins
  • Whale (breaching)
  • Common Murres
  • Western Gull
  • Hybrid Gull – We are at a location off the coast of Oregon where different species interbreed
  • Leech’s Storm Petrel – Mike Force, the cruise’s bird and marine mammal observer, found the bird aboard the ship by in an overflow tank.  It will be rereleased.

Did You Know? 

NOAA has a web page with information especially for students?