Cathrine Fox: Issue Nine: Pycnopodia phobia

JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Location: Kodiak, Alaska
Date: August 4, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 12.5° C dry/10.8° C wet
Overcast, Fog and Rain
Latitude: 57.44° N, Longitude: 152.31° W

(Limited data, as ship is in port)

Personal Log:
There is a scene in the 1979 movie Alien, with Sigourney Weaver, that still makes me duck under an afghan, even though I have watched it many times and I know what is going to happen. (The scene takes place within the first 30 minutes, so I haven’t spoiled the ending for you if you have never experienced Alien.) Scene summary: The spaceship Nostromo is on its way back to Earth with a load of ore when it receives a transmission from a nearby planetoid. Of course, the crew land their ship on the planetoid to check it out. They find an abandoned spaceship transmitting the signal. Of course, they go inside to explore. One of the crew members (Kane) finds an immense room lined with pods…that look suspiciously like eggs. (Here is the point that I start inching under the protection of a blanket.) Of course, one of the eggs hatches… …and Kane leans in to “check it out.” Out leaps this multi-armed creature that attaches itself to Kane’s face. It all goes downhill from there, but I won’t spoil the how.

Picture, now, a Sunflower Starfish, Pycnopodia helianthoides, in the starring role instead of a face-sucking alien. I don’t think it is that much of a stretch of the imagination:

Kane from Alien with "Facehugger"
Kane from Alien with “Facehugger”
Bowdoin College student with Sunflower Starfish
Bowdoin College student with Sunflower Starfish

See what I mean? And really, you don’t have to imagine this animal as an Alien to fear it. These animals eat just about anything they can on the sea bed, and can grow to be a meter wide. Although they move too slow to capture a human and attach themselves to their face (1 to 2 meters per minute, the Maserati of the phylum echinodermata) I would not put it past them to snack on anything that was too slow to move out of their way. They are certainly a terror for sea urchins, clams and scallops.

Need I say more? I’ll let Issue 9: Pycnopodia phobia speak for itself. (Cartoon citations 1, 2, 3 and 4)

Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 9
Adventures in a Blue World, Issue 9

These creatures are under the dock and on the pier where we are right now, in a wide array of sizes and colors. As long as they stay there, I won’t be ringing any abandon ship drills (more on that later), but be wary. Be very wary.

If you get a chance, check out my fellow Teacher at Sea blogs! She has a TAS wordpress and personal blogspot, and both are informative and hilarious. I’ve also included a few more photos of various trips around Kodiak if you scroll down. We are scheduled to leave tomorrow at 0800 hours, so play some Styx for us (Come Sail Away, thanks Kim!) and keep your fingers and toes crossed.

Until our next adventure,

I have always said: "keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."
I have always said: “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
"Safety Stand Down Day:" Staci and I don orange gumby survival suits... ...and jump off the side of the ship into the water...
“Safety Stand Down Day:” Staci and I don orange gumby survival suits… …and jump off the side of the ship into the water…
...then paddle out to life rafts and do relay races to shore with our teammates.
…then paddle out to life rafts and do relay races to shore with our teammates.
Staci wins the scavenger hunt for ships from The Deadliest Catch (including the Cornelia Marie!).
Staci wins the scavenger hunt for ships from The Deadliest Catch (including the Cornelia Marie!).
Shocker: Cat with binoculars.  Miller Point.
Shocker: Cat with binoculars. Miller Point.
Fort Abercrombie: wildflower hike,
Fort Abercrombie: wildflower hike,
...historic World War II bunkers,
…historic World War II bunkers,
...and birding.
…and birding.

Caroline Singler, August 2, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Caroline Singler
Ship: USCGC Healy

Mission: Extended Continental Shelf Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Arctic Ocean

Date of Post: 2 September 2010

We’re Off! – A look back at Monday 2 August 2010


We left the port of Dutch Harbor on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy at 1500 on Monday, 2 August 2010. I first saw the Healy from a distance. While walking through Unalaska on Friday morning, I stopped to take some photos looking back towards Dutch Harbor across Iliuliuk Bay and I saw a red and white ship at a distant dock. I couldn’t read the writing on the side, but a local fisherman stopped to talk to me and told me that I was looking at an ice breaker, so I knew it must be Healy. We boarded the ship on Sunday afternoon, and it is much more impressive up close.


It’s such a huge ship that I hardly noticed a change in sound or movement when they fired up the engines. Standing on one of the weatherdecks looking over the bow of the ship, I was unaware that we were moving until I walked around to the starboard side and realized that the space between us and the dock was increasing. I wandered around taking photos as we made our way towards open water. Dutch Harbor is located on a small island called Amaknak Island – the peak on the right is Mt. Ballyhoo.

Dutch Harbor
Dutch Harbor

As we made our way into more open water, I took a photo of a prominent sea stack which someone told me is Priest Rock, a landmark often referred to on “Deadliest Catch”.

Priest Rock
Priest Rock

I spent the first day learning my way around the ship and attending various briefings. I quickly realized that when I’m inside, I have no sense of direction. My stateroom is on the port side of the 02 deck, right across from Sick Bay (which I hope I will not need) and not far from the Science Conference Room, so I can orient myself if I can find my room. So far, the only sign that we are at sea is a gentle rocking motion and the occasional sound of the fog horn. Here’s the view from my stateroom, taken a few hours after we left port.

View from Porthole
View from Porthole

An important part of the first briefing was learning about what to do during a ship emergency. If we were to ever have to abandon ship, each person on the boat must don a survival suit, affectionately referred to as the Gumby suit. It looked pretty easy when demonstrated by one of the “Coasties”. However, watching and doing are certainly two different things, so anyone who had never tried one on before was required to do so. I cannot explain the eerie feeling of getting into one and zipping it up and realizing that in an emergency, my ability to do that again might mean my survival. It was much more difficult than it looked, and I definitely needed help finding all the straps and attachments. I hope it is the last time I’ll ever have to do that. Here I am in my suit together with Jerry, another member of the team. It’s a stylish look, don’t you think?

In our Gumby Suits
In our Gumby Suits

Now that we are underway, I will begin to learn about the science on our mission and will write about it in my logs. I’m going to switch to the more formal log format recommended by the NOAA Teacher at Sea program. Feel free to comment or email if you have any questions about my log, if you are curious about life at sea, or if you just want to say hello.Caroline