Jenny Gapp: Let’s Get Specific in the Pacific, July 24, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Gapp (she/her)

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

July 23, 2023 – August 5, 2023

Mission: Pacific hake (Merluccius productus) Survey (Leg 3 of 5)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean off the Northern California Coast working north back toward coastal waters of Oregon.
Date: July 24, 2023

Weather Data from the Bridge

Sunrise: 05:46 | Sunset: 20:51
Current Time: 8:30am Pacific Standard Time (0830)
Lat 42 06.5819 N, Lon 124 58.5931 W
Visibility: less than 1 nautical mile
Sky condition: overcast, Present weather: fog
Wind speed: 10 knots
Wind direction: 115° (east southeast ESE)
Barometer: 1017.5 mbar (millibars), approx. 30 hg (inches of mercury)
Sea Wave height 1 ft | Swell 260°, 3-4 feet in height
Sea temp 15.2°C (59.36°F) | Air Temp 57.38°F
Course Over Ground (COG): 359.2°
Speed Over Ground (SOG): 11.3 knots (13 mph)

Science and Technology Log

Let’s break down the weather and navigation data that you may not be familiar with:

What is a nautical mile as compared to a “regular” mile?
Nautical miles are used to measure the distance traveled through the water. A nautical mile is slightly longer than a mile on land, equaling 1.1508 land-measured (or statute) miles. A nautical mile equals exactly 1,852 meters or approximately 6076 feet. The nautical mile is based on the Earth’s longitude and latitude coordinates, with one nautical mile equaling one minute of latitude. (Source: NOAA)

What are knots?
One knot equals one nautical mile per hour. A knot is a unit of speed that ties directly into the global latitude and longitude coordinate system. Aviators and sailors find knots are easier to navigate due to their relationship with degrees of latitude. Land-based miles per hour do not share a relationship with latitude and longitude. A knot is equal to about 1.15 land-based miles. Knots are tied (pun intended) to nautical miles traveled. The origin of measurement comes from a piece of wood tied to the ship with a piece of knotted rope, with the crew members then counting the number of knots between the ship and the piece of wood after a certain amount of time.

an animation on loop of a ship sailing away from view. it deploys a piece of wood tied to a knotted rope, which extends in length as the ship sails away. an animated hourglass drips sand as the ship sails to show the passage of time.
Measuring ship speed with a knotted rope. (GIF credit: NOAA)

What is a millibar?
A unit of atmospheric pressure equal to ¹/₁₀₀₀ bar or 1000 dynes per square centimeter. Wait, what’s a dyne? This is a physics concept. A dyne is a force that acts for one second and produces a change in velocity of one centimeter per second in a mass of one gram. When I blow on the surface of my peppermint tea to cool it off I am exerting the force of my breath and changing the velocity of the tea’s surface.

The air around you has weight and exerts pressure on everything it touches. Press lightly with your fingers on the back of your other hand to feel more noticeable pressure. Gravity is pulling on the air as well, just like it is keeping you anchored to Earth.

Atmospheric pressure is an indicator of weather. It’s obviously a windy day down in the land of peppermint tea when (my) wind is blowing. When a low-pressure system moves into an area, it usually leads to cloudiness, wind, and precipitation. High-pressure systems usually lead to fair, calm weather.

Barometers gauge pressure. Hg represents inches of mercury in a classic barometer. One inch of mercury is the pressure exerted by a 1-inch high column of mercury at 0°C (32°F ) Millibars is a metric measurement while inches of mercury (hg) is the English unit of measurement.

a graph of atmospheric pressure versus altitude. The x-axis is labeled "pressure (mb)," with a scale of 0-1,200 mb. the y-axis is labeled "altitude (km)," with a scale of 0-50 km. A curved red line plots the inverse exponential relationship. Pressure is near 0 mb at 50 km; it reaches more than 1,000 mb (1,013.25 mb, to be exact) at 0 km, or sea level. dotted lines mark the troposphere (0-10 km high) and the stratosphere (13-50 km high).
Atmospheric pressure at various altitudes. (Image credit: Britannica)

What is a heading?
The direction in which a vessel’s bow points at any given time. It is the angle between North and the bow of the boat.

What is Course Over Ground?
Course Over Ground is the actual direction of progress of a vessel, between two points, concerning the earth’s surface. The vessel’s “heading” may differ from the Course Over Ground (COG) due to the effects of wind, tide, and currents.

an illustrated diagram of a ship's headings (HDG) and courses over ground (COG) at different points of time. A. the boat points to the right; HDG: 90 degrees, COG: 90 degrees. a right arrow connects this illustration to the next at B, again with HDG 90 and COG 90. At C, the boat begins to experience strong wind, current, or tide. Now it faces diagonally toward the lower right. It's HDG: 135 degrees, but COG still 90 degrees. Same for time point D. Between D and E, the boat experiences COG 135 (moving toward the lower right) but straightends itself to a heading of HDG 90. at F it resumes HDG 90 and COG 90.
A ship’s headings v. its course over ground. (Image credit: FleetMon)

How do you read wind direction in degrees?

a compass rose with 32 labeled wind directions. N is 0 degrees, E is 90 degrees, S is 180 degrees, and W is 270 degrees; 28 other arrows are labeled pointing to directions in between.
How to read wind direction (Image credit: Windy.App)

Career feature

NOAA works with a multitude of contractors that are associated with other entities such as Oregon State University (OSU) and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC). The science crew on leg 3 includes three individuals associated with OSU concerned with marine mammals and birds (Nick Metheny, Chris Hoefer, and graduate student Jake Marshall), one fisheries technician (Liz Ortiz, with PSMFC), two independent contractors (Ethan Beyer, Wet Lab Lead; Samantha Engster, environmental DNA sampling), and two NOAA employed scientists: Steve de Blois (Chief Scientist, Acoustics), and Julia Clemons (Acoustics). 

The lesson here is that you can be contributing to NOAA’s Fishery work but not necessarily receiving your paycheck from them, as is the case with contractors. NOAA also welcomes ocean enthusiast volunteers, which is true both of myself and second-year graduate student Jake. Jake’s focus is to examine how proposed wind farms off the Oregon Coast, along with rising sea temperatures, may impact the migratory patterns of hake. His undergraduate degree is in applied math. 

Career trajectories are well represented within the science crew. Liz represents an entry-level position, while Steve represents a senior scientist with many surveys under his belt.  

Tour of Hatfield Marine Science Center Campus

On Friday, July 21st I had the opportunity for a brief tour of buildings on the Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) campus. The general public is limited to the Visitor Center where a Giant Pacific Octopus is on display along with numerous educational exhibits.

My guide was Alicia Billings, a Fishery Biologist who specializes in engineering (such as underwater cameras) and database management for NOAA Fisheries. She is currently working on a Master’s in Data Analytics at Oregon State University. Truly a renaissance woman, who crafts all sorts of contraptions for expeditions, she also serves as a point of contact for the TAS program.

I met her at a cafe just inside the new Marine Studies Building. It’s the newest structure on campus and allegedly designed to withstand a magnitude 9.0+ earthquake and subsequent tsunami. It’s touted as a vertical evacuation structure and contains a community cache with emergency supplies. An imposing stairway leads to the upper floors and is lined with an art installation that imitates portholes on a ship. Alicia pointed out an Innovation Lab on the main floor which appeared to have many interesting mechanical devices to experiment with. A bulletin board at the entrance announced summer and fall classes: Food From the Sea, Phycology (micro & macroalgal biology), Aquaculture Lab.

The next stop was the OSU Guin Library, which I couldn’t resist peeking into. An impressive whale skeleton hangs near the entrance. Marilyn Potts Guin was the first librarian for HMSC. Under her “exuberant guidance,” she convinced the HMSC director at the time that the site needed a real library. The education building had room so Guin started filling it.

HMSC is an academic research field station that evolved into a multiagency research campus. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department along with its federal counterpart are all partners on campus. When the EPA provided funding for a new library building, Guin provided guidance on the design. Sadly, she passed away from breast cancer at age 45 while construction was underway.

Guin’s exuberance echoed long after her departure when a 2014 remodel was assisted by the sale of her house, which she had left to the university. The library continues to adapt to the ever-changing information landscape but maintains its core focus on materials related to marine fisheries and mammals, and information specific to the Northeast Pacific Ocean. A ‘new books’ display included: Tales of the Sea Cloud, Coastal and Deep Ocean Pollution, Seaweed Biotechnology, and (appropriate to the survey) Advances in Fish Processing Technology

A myriad of bookish treasures presented themselves: color plates of tropical coral fish from the Indo-Pacific, a glass-enclosed case of old tomes like Eniwetok Marine Biological Laboratory Contributions 1955-1974. Then, lo and behold, a modest collection of children’s books! All non-fiction science as far as I could tell. Rounded shelf marker stickers announced: Oceanography! Zoology! Sharks! On the way out I noticed a whiteboard asking, “What Are You Excited About for the Summer?” See the gallery images below for how I answered.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, there was a shelving cart labeled “Free Books.” I’m not sure that my elementary students will be as excited about a withdrawn copy of ‘Proceedings of the West Coast Squid Symposium (February 1983)’ as I was, but perhaps I can use it to introduce them to the word “symposium” and to use as scientific realia during a lesson on squids. 

Following the library tour, we walked over to NOAA’s Barry Fisher Building #955. In one room, otoliths (ear bones from which a fish’s age is determined) from previous legs of the hake survey were being processed. Other items of note in the building included a -80°C freezer for fishy samples awaiting transport. For example, gonads are processed in Seattle, not in Newport. Another freezer was filled with labeled crates: Big Skates & Black Skates, Deepsea Skates & Starry Skates.

Offices belonging to many of the science crew joining me on leg 3 were upstairs. This is where I first met Liz Ortiz, meticulously counting otoliths. One year is equivalent to an opaque ring (feeding activity) and a translucent one (lean times in the mess hall). The feeding cycle has to do with a pattern of upwelling, which produces elevated nutrients, and downwelling: “Hey! Who took away the salad bar?” Liz was looking at walleye pollock at the time and had recently counted 88 rings. The oldest fish on record are upwards of 200 years old. Hake are shorter lived with 15-20 years being the top end of the grumpiest specimens.

Alicia also showed me a room that houses a host of technology components. One of the items was a broken underwater stereo camera she attempted to fix. Unfortunately, it will not be ready for leg 3.

The final part of the tour was a preview of the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. In the wet lab, Alicia pointed out her contributions. Alicia’s knowledge of electrical engineering is self-taught (most NOAA tech is DIY). She used Python to create a software called CLAMS–Catch Logger for Acoustic Monitoring Survey. Data from the wet lab is added to the software and is backed up to a database (the mother CLAM, if you will) that lives in the acoustics lab. Alicia wired something together called the ‘electronic back deck’ where the fish data initially goes prior to being backed up to the Mother CLAM. There are four separate networks on the ship, but all data is shared among them. The old system used isolated spreadsheets… welcome to the 21st century!

Technology
Remember the ship tracker technology from blog post 1? Here’s a look at the AIS equipment on the bridge. Additionally, there are two radar screens in the suite of instrument panels available to navigators. One uses an X band for short range and the other an S band for long range. A gyroscope is used for maintaining orientation, and an analog compass serves as a last resort if redundancies in backup power fail more contemporary instruments. Two pedestals on the exterior bridge deck contain the gyro bearings. 

the automatic identification system technology - looks like two black boxes mounted to the bottom of a shelf
AIS on Bell M. Shimada allows you to track us.
instrument panels on the bridge.
A view of the “driver’s seat.” A few of many instrument panels on the bridge.

Taxonomy of Sights
Day 1. An albatross (observed by OSU marine mammal observer), a pod of humpback whales feeding last night near sunset (observed by fisheries technician with PSMFC).

Fog has impeded observations on day 2 of our leg.

Day 2. Several whale “blows” during our marine mammal watch prior to trawling. If mammals are within 500 meters of the ship we wait until they move off before dropping the net.

You Might Be Wondering…
Where exactly is this survey taking place?
We steamed south from Newport to a transect off the California coast– #35 in the image below. We’ll follow those lines similar to mowing the lawn, a back and forth to case the continental shelf for hake. The goal is to complete all transects through 57. A transect is simply a straight line along which observations, measurements, and samples are taken. The first hake survey on the West Coast occurred in 1977. In 1992 a partnership with Canada was formed, and in 2003 the FEAT Team started conducting biennial surveys. 

  • Like any industry there are acronyms that can get confusing. 
  • The FRAM division is Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring Division.
  • The FEAT Team is Fisheries Engineering and Acoustic Technologies Team (not to be confused with Fishery Ecosystem Analysis Tool).
  • The NWFSC is Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Further reading on the Hake survey.

A photo of a paper map of a portion of the coast of California. Red horizontal lines mark transects extending west from the coast line; they are connected to the next horizontal line either on the west or the east end, where the ship will travel. The red lines are marked with black dots (showing previous sampling locations, perhaps).
Map of planned transects for the hake and ecosystem survey

Floating Facts

The Bell M. Shimada flies the NOAA Service Flag along with the flag of the United States (National Ensign) and the POW/MIA flag of the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. In port she also flew a Union Jack pennant from the bow mast. 

a view up at three flags flying on NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. on top is the NOAA service flag: the NOAA logo, surrounded by a red triangle, inside a white circle, surrounded by a navy blue background. next is the American flag. finally, there's a mostly black flag whose design we are unable to make out. the sky is bright blue and clear.
Flags aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

Government Nesting Dolls:
The Department of Commerce is one of 15 departments in the federal government. View an organization chart here. See where NOAA falls under the 13 arms of the Department of Commerce here. NOAA has multiple branches as well. Our survey is made possible by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO), including NOAA Corps, working together. Notice the nautical theme on the Department of Commerce emblem in the image below.

the logo for the United States Department of Commerce includes an eagle atop a shield; inside the shield is a large sailing ship, and a lighthouse.

Personal Log

The Road from Portland to Newport

I woke up with the birds on Friday, July 21st to travel via personal vehicle to Newport, Oregon from my home in Portland. Hwy 18 crosses the Willamette Valley in a south-westerly manner when originating from the north. The view out the window is something like an advertisement for “Made in Oregon.” A cornucopia of agricultural goods beckon: orchards of walnuts, hazelnuts, apples, pears. A combine parked under a tree made me think of my Dad, retired from the agricultural community, but driving a combine “for fun” for a farmer friend. Just the day before he had driven the behemoth machine onto the Buena Vista Ferry in Marion County crossing the Willamette River—which dumps into the Columbia, which runs into the Pacific, which is where I was heading.

Many years back, during the Ice Age floods, a rock came to rest on an improbably flat spot in what is now Yamhill County. An unassuming brown sign marks the road you turn down to view it. Unremarkable looking except for its size and location. This glacial erratic serves as an example of the power contained in collective molecules of H2O. The Valley (as locals call it) is fertile in part due to the rich silts washed here by ancient floodwaters (our apologies to Eastern Washington—here’s a glass of merlot from Siltstone Winery for your troubles). Farmer John’s Market boasts peaches, strawberries, apricots, raspberries, smoothies, shortcakes, and milkshakes—the latter of which do not grow on bushes or trees. After passing the sign for Wetzel Winery you get a few more grass seed fields, some fallow, some with boxes for bee colonies. The landscape then begins to transition into the foothills of the coast range. Queen Anne’s lace and Himalayan blackberry fill in the gaps between the field and road.

Yamhill is traded for Polk and the fir trees start to get serious, accompanied by ocean spray (the bush also called ironwood or Holodiscus discolor), vine maple, and rhododendron. The flower clusters of ocean spray are reminiscent of lilac, except these are a peachy off-white. At a distance, the multi-toned green of trees on distant hillsides illustrates staggered replanting after a patchwork of clearcut harvests. As Hwy 22 East merges with 18, I think about childhood trips to the beach. Our family most frequently traveled 22 to 18 to Lincoln City which sits 25 miles north of Newport. We made a pilgrimage about once a year, sometimes in the off-season to avoid crowds. A series of billboards still promote businesses that we patronized in the 1980s and 90s. Undersea Gardens—which is no more—was of particular interest to me. I was captivated by “Armstrong,” the Giant Pacific octopus who entertained visitors by interacting with a diver in his tank. The name made an impression on me, signifying that this was a creature to be respected. Our family stayed at The Inn at Otter Crest, Pelican Shores, and other establishments whose names are lost to me. Mo’s Chowder was a frequent stop, where I delighted in the chewy clam pieces floating in cream. I admit that as an adult I find the chowder a bit too rich, a bit too heavy in butter. Or maybe it’s just me that’s heavy!

Hwy 22 diverts from 18 just before Spirit Mountain Casino—operated by The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. CTGR puts on an excellent educator summit that happens annually. Oregon educators are compelled by the legislature to fulfill SB13, which promotes “Tribal History is Shared History.” It strives to share the stories of Oregon’s First Peoples with young Oregonians. Indigenous communities persist in our state and there are always a few students in my elementary school who declare tribal affiliations.

Among the other billboards are Chinook Winds, The Oregon Coast Aquarium (which broke ground in 1990), and one recommending, “Explore Lincoln City” with a sea lion balancing a glass float on his nose. When I was a child, the billboards were key in the escalating excitement of reaching the beach. The first glimpse of the Pacific was always a special moment in the car, often accompanied by celebratory mouth trumpets and squeals. The H.B. Van Douzer corridor and its whopping 760-foot Murray Hill summit is the last section of road to traverse before hitting Hwy 101. The coast range is fraught with landslides in winter and there are multiple patches of rough road. Cue the chorus of voices in a car full of children, “Ruh-ro!”

The sign for Tillamook County flashes by and the turquoise sky becomes populated with purple-hued clouds that have a misty edge, a tell-tale sign of marine influence. Lincoln County comes next and the sun is left behind at Slick Rock Creek. Speaking of rocks, the local news was all aflutter this past week with the tale of a cougar trapped by tides on Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach. Another recent story comes from an Australian sailor and his dog (!) rescued by a Mexican tuna boat after three months adrift at sea.

You know you’re really close when you see the white and blue sign proclaiming, “Entering a Tsunami Hazard Zone.” I will do my best NOT to think about the statistical probability of a Cascadia Earthquake during the next two weeks. D Sands was often the first stop during family trips of yesteryear. It’s adjacent to D River, claiming to be the world’s shortest. Depoe Bay is the next town south of Lincoln City. Between Newport and this charming and often congested whale-watching spot is Beverly Beach State Park. During a geology project in college, I was infamously caught on camera here discussing “sands of grain.”

I was equally tongue-tied when I entered the gated MOC-P facility where the Bell M. Shimada lives when in port. “I’m with the Teacher at She program!” To which I sheepishly told the security guard, “Um, yes, I’m a she, but I’m here to go to sea.” I am now, in fact, at sea. Over the course of the following blog posts, I’ll share more about what life at sea is like. 

Librarian at Sea

“Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, the Whale


Day 1. 7:30pm As my stomach screamed over the yawning gulf it couldn’t quite reconcile what was happening and promptly evacuated its contents on the main deck about an hour after dinner. At which point I upgraded to scopolamine (prescribed slow-release patch behind the ear) over a cocktail of dramamine and meclizine. The lesson here: sometimes you can only learn through the school of hard knocks.

Hook, Line, and Thinker
What’s a whale’s favorite phrase? Where there’s a whale, there’s a way.

Innovating on the spot is a hallmark of research excursions. Chief Scientist, Steve de Blois, shared an anecdote about a time in 2005 when an instrument pod fell off the hull-mounted centerboard of an older vessel, making acoustic data impossible to gather. Where there’s a whale there’s a way, and the team sprung into action creating a new apparatus from parts available, though the frame for the solitary transducer was made off-site. In contrast, the Bell M. Shimada has fancy watertight doors that open up to its instrument pod, which can be raised or lowered as needed. This allows easy access for cleaning and tinkering as needed. This improvement in ship design eliminates the need for NOAA Divers in this case, who previously could only work on instrument pods from beneath the surface. 

view of the doors to the instrument pod
watertight doors to instrument pod

A Bobbing Bibliography

The ship’s lounge is where movie nights occur, where the ship store is located (clothing, stickers, and swag), and where you can grab a game, magazine, or book to pass the time. 

the library in the ship's lounge consists of two shelves of books, which have an extra bar across front to prevent the books from sliding off in rolling seas. a small sign labels this the Goeller Regional Library.
Library in the ship’s lounge

Lisa Carlson: Where Did You Come From, Where Did You Go? July 13, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lisa Carlson

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

July 5, 2023 – July 19, 2023

Mission: Fisheries: Pacific Hake Survey (More info here)

Geographic Region: Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California

Date: July 13, 2023

– – ⚓ – –

Weather Data from the bridge:

July 11 (1200 PT, 1500 EST)
Location: 37° 46.7’ N, 123° 26.6’ W
43nm (50mi) West of San Francisco, CA

Visibility: 2 nautical miles
Sky condition: Overcast, fog
Wind: 20 knots from N 250°
Barometer: 1015.2 mbar
Sea wave height: 2-3 feet
Swell: 6-7 ft from NW 320°
Sea temperature: 12.2°C (57.2°F)
Air temperature: 12.7°C (57.9°F)
Course Over Ground: (COG): 270°
Speed Over Ground (SOG): 10 knots

July 12 (1200 PT, 1500 EST)
Location: 38° 06.8’ N, 123° 01.6’ W
7nm (8mi) North of Point Reyes Lighthouse, Inverness, CA

Visibility: 2 nautical miles
Sky condition: Overcast, fog
Wind: 12 knots from N 350°
Barometer: 1016.0 mbar
Sea wave height: 1-2 feet
Swell: 3-4 ft from W 280°
Sea temperature: 11.0°C (57.2°F)
Air temperature: 11.5°C (57.9°F)
Course Over Ground: (COG): 270°
Speed Over Ground (SOG): 10 knots

July 13 (1200 PT, 1500 EST)
Location: 38° 17.3’ N, 123° 06.1’ W
2.5nm (4mi) Southwest of Bodega Bay, CA

Visibility: 3 nautical miles
Sky condition: Few clouds, fog
Wind: 13 knots from NW 300°
Barometer: 1015.9 mbar
Sea wave height: 1-2 feet 1-2
Swell: 3-4 ft from NW 300°
Sea temperature: 10.7°C (51.3°F)
Air temperature: 13.7°C (56.6°F)
Course Over Ground: (COG): 340°
Speed Over Ground (SOG): 10 knots

– – ⚓ – –

In my July 6 post, I explained how NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada is equipped to collect acoustic data in the form of echo grams and therefore find fish to trawl for. In my July 10 post, I explained how we get the fish onboard, and what we do with the sample once it is collected from the net. These entries described what work is done in the Acoustics Lab and the Wet Lab, but there is one more Lab onboard to explore and explain: the Chemistry Lab.

view down the starboard side of NOAA Ship Bell M Shimada shows a wooden nameplate (reading Bell M Shimada) on a railing, the fast rescue boat mounted aftward, and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada leaving Pier 30/32 in San Francisco, CA on July 5, 2023. (Just a nice photo taken by me that I wanted to include)

Science and Technology Log

Each morning after breakfast, we usually gather in the Acoustics Lab, determine what transect we are on, if we are inshore or offshore, and in some ways: hurry up and wait. Once certain patterns and blips show up on the echo grams, the Acoustics team talks with the bridge and may request to turn around and attempt a trawl. After all marine mammal observations are completed, the net is retrieved, and the samples are brought to the Wet Lab, we sort and collect data on the samples. These operations usually take place between 0800 and 2000. (8am to 8pm)

So what happens at night? In the Chemistry Lab, scientists work with the Deck and Surveys Departments to deploy a collection of electronic instruments and 12 Niskin bottles (open bottles used to collect and hold water samples, about one meter long) secured to a cylindrical frame called a rosette. It is deployed from the side sampling station instead of the stern. Scientists onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada use the instruments and collection of water samples in two ways: measuring Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) within a water column to study oceanography, and collecting environmental DNA (eDNA).

photo of a large piece of sampling equipment on deck. a large white metal cylindrical frame houses a ring of perhaps ten tall gray canisters - the Niskin bottles. The bottles circle the conductivity, temperature, and depth probe, which is barely visible. Behind the frame, past the ship's rail, we see vivid blue water with a few white caps and a coastal mountain range beyond.

CTD Niskin bottles arranged on a circular rosette frame.

“Nighttime operations primarily consists of deploying the Conductivity-Temperature [-Depth] (CTD) rosette which gathers oceanographic data such as conductivity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll fluorescence. The CTD can also be triggered to collect water at specific depths.”

NOAA Fisheries: “eDNA Part 2: There’s a Lot of Water in the Sea – and the Chemistry Lab
NOAA Ocean Exploration: “What does “CTD” stand for?

Conductivity, Temperature and Depth: CTD

CTD stands for conductivity (ability to pass an electrical current), temperature, and depth. Scientists use the rosette frame, which is attached to the ship by cables, and has the CTD and 12 Niskin bottles attached, to collect electronic data and multiple water samples.

“A CTD device’s primary function is to detect how the conductivity and temperature of the water column changes relative to depth. Conductivity is a measure of how well a solution conducts electricity and it is directly related to salinity. By measuring the conductivity of seawater, the salinity can be derived from the temperature and pressure of the same water. The depth is then derived from the pressure measurement by calculating the density of water from the temperature and the salinity.”

NOAA Ocean Exploration: “What does “CTD” stand for?
Elysha, wearing an orange life vest and white NOAA logo hard hat, sits at a metal desk with two computer monitors and a keyboard. The monitors display data from the CTD. Elysha has her right hand on a computer mouse while her left grips a pen over a yellow legal pad. She is turning to smile at the camera.
Senior Survey Technician Elysha Agne gives commands to the Deck Department running the winch and cable to the rosette, and ensures quality data is being collected at each sampling depth.

“For more detailed analyses back in the lab, each of the large gray bottles captures a water sample at a different depth. The data provide scientists important information about the local aquatic environment.”

NOAA: “Photo story: Virtually cruise aboard a NOAA ship for a fish trawl survey

Depending on the depth at which the vessel is currently operating, the rosette will descend to one to five predetermined depths (50m-500m) for sampling. For example, if the vessel depth reads 400m, water samples will occur at 50m, 150m, 200m, and 300m (more information in Table 1 below). A water sample is also taken just below the ocean surface using a through hull fitting, which allows seawater to be collected via a hole in the hull that feeds directly to the Chem Lab.

Table 1. Sample depths for eDNA. Two independent samples should be taken at each depth. The total ocean depth of location for the CTD cast determines the depths at which water samples will be collected. The rows of the table are labeled Sampling Depth (m) and the columns are labeled Topography depth of CTD cast.
Table 1 in Protocol manual, written by Chem Lab member and eDNA scientist Abi Wells.

While the rosette descends, data is recorded from multiple sensors and are later used by scientists to compare with Acoustic and Wet Lab data and compile and categorize new information from the survey. Pressure, depth, temperature, conductivity, salinity, oxygen, fluorescence, and turbidity were all being recorded during this leg of the survey mission.

photo of a computer screen displaying data. two graphs depict depth (m) on the y-axis and salinity or dissolved oxygen on the x-axes.
Program displaying data collected from the CTD rosette in real time.

Environmental DNA: eDNA

During the day, Hake stay in deeper waters, averaging around 200-350m, but at night the nocturnal feeders start their daily migration through the water column to shallower depths. They feed primarily on zooplankton, shrimp, myctophids (Lanternfish), and even young Hake at this depth. As Hake move throughout the water column, they leave behind DNA in the water that can be collected later as sort of a signature of their presence in that location. The collection, filtering, and preservation of sampled water in the ocean environment is categorized as collecting eDNA. This environmental DNA can be in the form of gametes (reproductive cells), fish scales, feces, etc.

Collecting water samples at different depths in the same vertical column can show what marine life was present at that location, and what depth they were at. I relate it to reviewing school security cameras or talking to other teachers at the end of the school day, to determine where a student was at a certain time and why.

The apparatus housing the CTD probe and Niskin rosette sits on deck. Abi, wearing a yellow hard hat, orange life vest, blue gloves and brown rubber boots, stands between the equipment and the rail of the ship to empty water from a Niskin bottle into a plastic bag. The profile of her face is mostly obscured by her long yellow ponytail.
Chem Lab member and eDNA scientist Abi Wells collecting a 2.5L water sample from a Niskin bottle after a successful CTD deployment.

When the rosette is back on deck, scientists use gloves and new collection bags called Whirlpacks, to collect approximately 2.5L of water from each 10L Niskin bottle. This process is conducted with a great emphasis on sterility, including wiping the bottle spigot with DNAway to remove any contaminants, using new materials, and not allowing fingers or the spigot to touch the collection bag.

Once the collection bags are filled and brought to the Chem Lab, filtration occurs using 1.0 micron filters. Although this size of filter, compared to smaller filters, allows some cells to pass through and not be collected, it is faster and results in less breakage of cells and loss of DNA. After 2.5L of the water sample is poured through individual filters for each depth sample, they are placed in pre-labeled (location and depth information) tubes with 2mL of preservative buffer. The tubes are stored at room temperature and away from UV light until NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada is back in port and the samples can be further researched in on-land laboratories. Results from additional studies help to compile lists of marine life that was present in the water column and can be compared to acoustic data and species caught and logged in the Wet Lab.

– – ⚓ – –

Personal Log

So, there you have it. Three Labs onboard that conduct very different research, but fit together in the puzzle of Hake development, migration, diet, niches, ecosystem, biomass, and supporting sustainable commercial fisheries. Each additional piece of data; whether it be echo sounds, physical samples, eDNA, or CTD information, strengthens the others and helps to create a cohesive summary of the data. 

This was a lot to learn in the first few days, but as I’ve said before, all of the crew has been welcoming, supportive, and educational. Having a strong team that works together is priceless, and thoroughly noticed and appreciated. 

A few days into the mission my Mom asked me what the best part of my day was. I had three answers and haven’t had a day yet with only one answer. I replied that it was the great salmon dinner, clean clothes, and seeing Risso’s Dolphins for the first time.

Video taken by me of Risso’s Dolphins surfacing for air. (Plays on loop)

We are now a little more than halfway through the mission and it has truly flown by. We’ve shared riddles and daily Final Jeopardy questions. We’ve laughed over daily experiences and the faces Hake fish make. We’ve played music and watched baseball during dinner. We enjoy watching marine life and breathe in the salt air while strengthening our sea legs. Sometimes we just drink coffee and snack and enjoy this opportunity with each other, and that makes every part of the day the best part.

– – ⚓ – –

Did You Know?

Although Hake are occasionally cannibalistic, they are not at the top of their food chain. Humboldt Squid (Remember those 15 foot long tentacles in my Wet Lab post?), Dogfish Sharks, and marine mammals are all predators, as well as commercial fishing.
Today well over 100 Spiny Dogfish Sharks were inadvertently caught in the trawl, in the same location as the baskets of Hake we sampled from.
Maybe there were baby Hake fish in the sharks’ stomachs… we didn’t attempt to find out.

– – ⚓ – –

New Terms/Phrases

Although I had learned the terms a few days earlier, I got to help Wet Lab Lead Ethan Beyer collect otolith and stomach samples for the first time from a sub-sample of Hake the other day.

I watched and learned, then helped scan barcodes of otolith sample bottles, add 95% ethanol that is diluted 50/50 with water, and delicately pick up the ear bones with tweezers and place them in the bottle.

Additionally, each Hake in the sub-sample has its weight recorded, along with length, sex, and developmental stage. From that sub-sample, five stomachs are removed for later analysis, and five have their stomachs opened and their diet is recorded. We often find Lanternfish (Myctophids), Krill (Euphausiidae) and small Hake.

Lisa Carlson: One Fish, Two Fish, Rockfish, Hake fish! July 10, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lisa Carlson

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

July 5, 2023 – July 19, 2023

Mission: Fisheries: Pacific Hake Survey (More info here)

Geographic Region: Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California

Date: July 10, 2023

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Weather Data from the bridge:

July 7 (1200 PT, 1500 EST)
Location: 36° 00.4’ N, 122° 05.9’ W
16nm (21mi) West of Big Sur, CA

Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Sky condition: Overcast
Wind: 20 knots from NW 330°
Barometer: 1013.1 mbar
Sea wave height: 3-4 feet
Swell: 6-7 ft from NW 320°
Sea temperature: 14.0°C (57.2°F)
Air temperature: 14.4°C (57.9°F)
Course Over Ground: (COG): 323°
Speed Over Ground (SOG): 10 knots

July 8 (1200 PT, 1500 EST)
Location: 36° 34.5’ N, 122° 05.3’ W
17nm (20mi) Southwest of Monterey, CA

Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Sky condition: Few clouds
Wind: 19 knots from NW 330°
Barometer: 1013.8 mbar
Sea wave height: 5-6 feet
Swell: 6-7 ft from NW 330°
Sea temperature: 14.0°C (57.2°F) 13.7
Air temperature: 14.4°C (57.9°F) 14.3
Course Over Ground: (COG): 089°
Speed Over Ground (SOG): 10 knots

July 9 (1200 PT, 1500 EST)
Location: 37° 06.8’ N, 123° 00.5’ W
30nm (35mi) West of Pigeon Point Light Station, Pescadero, CA

Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Sky condition: Overcast
Wind: 13 knots from NW 332°
Barometer: 1016.0 mbar
Sea wave height: 2-3 feet
Swell: 4-5 ft from NW 310° 4-5
Sea temperature: 14.3°C (57.7°F)
Air temperature: 15.2°C (59.4°F)
Course Over Ground: (COG): 093°
Speed Over Ground (SOG): 10 knots

July 10 (1200 PT, 1500 EST)
Location: 37° 26.7’ N, 123° 06.4’ W
32nm (37mi) West of Pescadero, CA

Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Sky condition: Overcast, fog in vicinity
Wind: 20 knots from NW 330°
Barometer: 1015.9 mbar
Sea wave height: 2-3 feet
Swell: 3-4 ft from NW 320°
Sea temperature: 14.5°C (58.1°F)
Air temperature: 13.6°C (56.5°F)
Course Over Ground: (COG): 314°
Speed Over Ground (SOG): 3 knots

– – ⚓ – –

Science and Technology Log

Lisa poses for a photo in the wet lab with a hake fish. She's wearing heavy-duty orange overalls and large orange gloves. With her right hand, she grasps the fish by its open mouth, and her left hand holds on to the tail. We can see metal tables and equipment in the background.
Me holding a Hake before sorting. After observation, we determined this was a developmentally mature female, measuring 50cm (20in) long!

In my July 6 blog post, I explained how NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada is equipped to collect acoustic data in the form of echo grams. The acoustics team uses the data to determine if there are enough return signals to suggest fish are present and attempt a trawl. In this blog post, I will explain how we get the fish onboard, and what we do with the sample of marine life once it is collected from the net.

One question I had after learning about the acoustics and environmental DNA (eDNA) pieces of the survey mission was, “How does physically collecting and researching Hake samples fit into the puzzle of understanding their ecosystem and supporting sustainable fisheries?” (NOAA Fisheries quick facts and video here)

“While echosounders are useful, they do not provide certain quantitative data that researchers need to understand the ecology of these organisms and the midwater zone. To collect quantitative data, such as biomass, length and weight, and age class distributions, researchers must gather representational samples and take direct measurements of them. The best way to do this is by employing trawls.”

NOAA Ocean Exploration: “Trawls

So, although acoustics and eDNA research is important to the overall survey, they are only pieces of the puzzle, and the puzzle is not complete without conducting trawls and physically researching samples. NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada uses a midwater trawl net that is deployed from the stern over the transom, and towed behind the vessel. As the name suggests, midwater trawls occur in the middle section of the water column, versus surface and bottom trawls. The net is conical in shape and uses two metal Fishbuster Trawl Doors, and two sets of heavy chain links called Tom weights, in order to keep the trawl in the middle of the water column.

a simple and stylized monochrome illustration of a fishing vessel towing a midwater trawl behind it. The net in tow is conical, attached at four points to two bars that hold the opening apart, and these bars are attached to lines (ropes) extending back from the vessel. This net is capturing two fish and missing a third.
NOAA Fisheries: “Fishing Gear: Midwater Trawls

“The midwater region is especially important because the creatures that inhabit it constitute the majority of the world’s seafood. Understanding the ecology of midwater organisms and their vast environment can provide us with better information to manage these important natural resources and prevent their overexploitation.”

NOAA Ocean Exploration: “Trawls

Deck department assisting in recovering the trawl net after a successful deployment.

Two deck crewmembers work with an orange and white fishing net on the aft deck of NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. They are wearing foul weather gear, life vests, and hard hats. At right, one leans over the net, searching for remaining captured fish. The other approaches from the left, looking down at the net, to assist. We can see a cloud-capped mountain range in the distance beyond the water.

Once the net is onboard, the net is emptied one of two ways depending on the size of the sample. For large samples, marine life is deposited into a hopper and subsequent conveyor belt. For smaller samples, the Hake will be put into a large basket then divided into smaller baskets of approximately 100 Hake each. Any other marine life like Salps, Myctophids, Pyrosomes, Rockfish, King of the Salmon, and small bony fish, etc. are recorded in the database and returned to the ocean.

“The ship’s wet lab allows scientists to sort, weigh, measure and examine fish. The data is entered directly into the ship’s scientific computer network.”

NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO): “Bell M. Shimada
a large black plastic bin filled with fish - mostly hake, but a few splitnose rockfish (eyes bulging from the pressure change) stand out for their red color. An orange-gloved hand reaches toward the basket from the upper left corner of the image.

Large basket containing a sample of Hake with a few (red) Splitnose Rockfish.

With our boots and bright orange rubber pants and gloves on, our first task is to distribute the sample of Hake into baskets of about 100 each. Based on how many baskets we fill, a random selection of baskets will be kept, and the others will be returned to the ocean. With the remaining groups of Hake, we determine their sex and length.

In order to do this, we use a scalpel to make an incision on the underside/belly of the Hake. Once open, we are able to examine their organs, including the gonads to determine if the fish is male or female, and if they are developmentally immature or mature. Young Hake are difficult to sex, and it takes practice to get over any initial fears of cutting into an animal; let alone being able to locate and identify the gonads. Hake usually spawn in early winter, so many of the smaller Hake we sample from during the summer are age one or younger.

Our largest Hake thus far was a developmentally mature female, measuring 50cm (20in). In order to accurately and consistently measure the length of the sample, we use a waterproof, magnetic plastic board with metric (centimeter and millimeter) markings called an Ichthystick (think: high-tech meter stick). The fish is placed on the board with its mouth touching the black board at 0cm, then a magnetic stylus is placed at the fork of the fish’s tail. Once the magnetic stylus is placed on the board, the length to the nearest millimeter is displayed on the LCD screen and automatically entered into the database program. The length data is grouped with the date, time, and identified sex for later observation and comparison.

Additional information, abstracts and outline about Ichthystick here

Ichthystick’s LCD display, motherboard, magnetic board, and magnetic stylus. Digital scale in background.

Ichthystick’s LCD display, motherboard, magnetic board, and magnetic stylus. Digital scale in background.

An even smaller subgroup is then selected and examined to record weights of individual Hake, collect ear bones called Otoliths for aging, stomach samples for diet, liver for RNA, and ovaries for maturity development. Otolith bones help determine the age of the Hake because they grow a new “layer” of bone each year, similar to coral structures and annual tree rings. Organs and bones removed from the Hake are sent to NOAA Fisheries centers for analysis and included in databases with the date, identified sex, length, weight, and location in which they were collected.

This data is used to build more of the puzzle, along with acoustical information, water samples, and eDNA data in order to further understand the ecosystem, biomass, diet, and

“support sustainable populations of Pacific hake on the West Coast.” (…)
“It provides vital data to help manage the migratory coastal stock of Pacific hake. The hake survey, officially called the Joint U.S.-Canada Integrated Ecosystem and Pacific Hake Acoustic Trawl Survey, occurs every odd-numbered year.”

NOAA Fisheries: “Joint U.S.-Canada Integrated Ecosystem and Pacific Hake Acoustic Trawl Survey

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Personal Log

Although this subtopic of explaining the Integrated Ecosystem and Pacific Hake Acoustic Trawl Survey is a bit easier to understand than my July 6 Acoustics Lab post, it certainly does not mean it’s an easy task!

When I had a tour on July 4, I remarked how clean and
organized the Wet Lab is. I hadn’t see it in action yet, but noticed how everything had its place and use. On July 6 we conducted our first trawl and collected a sample of 11 baskets of Hake (approximately 1,100 Hake since we group about 100 Hake together in each basket.) From that sample, we kept four baskets and counted, sexed, and measured 541 Hake.

Five of us were working together in the Wet Lab for that haul. I’ll admit I probably
didn’t sex 100+ Hake. It took a few minutes of watching the others carefully and swiftly cut into the underside of a fish, open the two sides, and know what to look for to determine the sex of very young Hake. Eventually I found the courage to slice in and take a look. By the fourth or fifth Hake, the uneasiness had subsided and I found the process very interesting and educational. Although young samples are hard to sex as they are often undeveloped, the others encouraged me and answered my questions and guesses with enthusiasm and support.

While working on measuring the lengths of our samples, one Science Team member paused and remarked how beautiful he found the fish. Although they do not have vibrant, bold colors, shimmering scales, or anything else particularly remarkable, he found the beauty in them. He digressed into a conversation of their role in the ecosystem, how they are living and breathing creatures, and how they probably all have their own personalities and slight physical differences. I noticed some of their eyes were shiny and sparkling, and how their faces and expressions were
noticeably unique the more you looked. That “down to earth”, heartfelt discussion was very special and demonstrated how the crew respects the process of catching and sampling Hake, while keeping each other and marine mammals safe.

From the NOAA Corps Officers, to the deck department, to the engineers,
electronics, science team, survey team, galley crew, volunteers, and everyone in between; the crew on NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada is special. They take pride in their vessel and job, and always seem to have a smile and kind greeting. Being away from land and loved ones for weeks and months at a time will certainly take a toll on the body and mind, but this team is there for each other. To all of the crew, thank you for making me feel so welcomed and appreciated. We’re almost halfway through the mission, and as tired as I may get after (sometimes) 12+ hour days, I sleep well knowing the crew trusts their vessel and each other; and look forward to learning and becoming more and more acquainted each day with the people that make this mission possible. Thank you!

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Did You Know? (FAQs)

1. Are you finding schools of them?

We’ve had seven successful trawls out of nine attempts for Pacific Hake fish. They often come with pyrosomes (Sea Pickle) myctophids (Lanternfish), and salps in the net too. Some trawl attempts are successful without a hitch, but more often than not we have to restart our Marine Mammal watches a few times before deploying in order to keep our ocean life safe and not get tangled in the net. Two trawl attempts have been abandoned because of the amount of persistent marine mammal life and playfulness near the ship. (I think they know we’re watching and show off for our cameras.)

2. What’s your average depth?

The transects (Set and numbered longitudinal east-west lines NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada navigates on while collecting acoustic data) usually range from 50m – 1,500m (164ft – 4,921ft) in depth.

  • However, right now one of the displays in the Acoustics Lab, the depth reading is 3,240m which is about 10,630ft or just over two miles deep! 
  • This depth is only 1,870ft shallower than the wreck of the RMS Titanic! 
  • (We were on a long transect, we do not often see depths this great.)

3. Have you gotten seasick? Seasickness should subside after about 3 days.

I’ve never gotten seasick thankfully! Knock on wood and all the other premonitions, please.

4. What is the Hake role in the ecosystem?

More info on this coming in later posts after explaining our Chemistry lab and technology aboard! 

  • However, as predators, they can be cannibalistic towards their own kind. 
  • As far as their role in human consumption: They are often used as a substitute for Cod and Haddock, and in fish sticks and imitation crab meat.

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Animals seen July 5-July 10:

Mammals: Sea Lions, Harbor Seals, Dall’s Porpoise, Risso’s Dolphins, Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, Northern Right Whale Dolphins, Humpback Whales

Birds: Gulls, Black-Footed Albatross

Bony Fish: Hake, Lanternfish (Myctophid), Flatfish, King of the Salmon, Split Nose Rockfish, Chili Pepper Rockfish

Other Marine Life: Giant or Humboldt Squid (15 foot tentacles in trawl), Spiny Dogfish Shark, Shrimp, Plankton, Krill, Sea Pickle (Pyrosome), Salp, Eel Larva

Lisa Carlson: Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are, Hake! July 6, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lisa Carlson

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

July 5, 2023 – July 19, 2023

Mission: Fisheries: Pacific Hake Survey (More info here)

Geographic Region: Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California

Date: July 6, 2023

Weather Data from the Bridge:

— July 5 Departure
(1800 PT, 2100 EST)

Location: 37° 44.9’N, 122° 39.2’W
Docked at Pier 30/32
San Francisco, CA

Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Sky condition: Overcast
Wind: 17 knots from NW 300°
Barometer: 1012.8 mbar
Sea wave height: 1-2 feet
Swell: 2-4 ft from W 270°
Sea temperature: 14.2°C (57.6°F)
Air temperature: 14.7°C (58.5°F)
Course Over Ground: (COG): N/A
Speed Over Ground (SOG): N/A

— July 6 (1200 PT, 1500 EST)
Location: 35° 38.2’ N, 121° 18.9’ W
16nm (18mi) West of San Simeon, CA

Visibility: 10nm
Wind: 6 knots from 330°
Barometer: 1013.9
Sea wave height: 1-2ft
Swell: 2-4ft from 280°
Sea wave temperature: 14.4°C (57.9°F)
Air temperature: 14.9°C (58.8°F)
Course Over Ground: (COG): W 270°
Speed Over Ground (SOG): 10 knots

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Science and Technology Log

On July 6, our first full day at sea, we gathered in the acoustics lab to observe and keep watch on data from various screens. Data includes our current course plotted on a digital chart, a camera showing current sea state, measurements of the wind speed and direction, and displays of the multiple frequencies at which the Simrad EK80 transmitter emits sound. The EK80 is used while traveling on numbered longitudinal east-west lines called transects. NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada navigates on these lines while collecting acoustic data along the west coast of the U.S. and into Canada, in hopes of finding schools of Hake to collect for surveying.

A topographic map of a portion of the coast of California. The topographies of the both the land (beige and green scales) and water (blue scale) are depicted. Black dots mark the locations of three coastal cities: Crescent City, near the top of the map; San Francisco, a little more than halfway down; and Morro Bay, toward the bottom of the map. Black horizontal lines mark transects extending west from the coast line. The black lines are marked with red or black x's (showing previous sampling locations, perhaps) and a couple have green triangles.
Map showing transects 1-45 off the coast of California. Transect 1 is south of Morro Bay, CA and transect 45 is near Crescent City, CA.
(We hope to survey transects 8-35 by Cape Mendocino, CA before traveling north to dock in Newport, OR.)

“For acoustic surveys, the ship uses a multibeam echo sounder (MBES) that projects a fan-shaped beam of sound that bounces back to the ship. The ship’s MBES—one of only three systems of its type worldwide—acquires data from both the water column and the sea floor.”

NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO): “Bell M. Shimada

The Simrad EK80 emits sound waves from the hull of the vessel down to the sea floor. The process is very similar to a dolphin or bat using echolocation to find prey. Any object the signal hits that has a different density and reflectivity than the surrounding water will cause the waves to bounce back to the ship. An image, called an echo gram, is pieced together each time this occurs and the acoustics team is able to use this information to determine if there are enough return signals that suggest fish are present to attempt a trawl.

Fish that have swim bladders, like bony fish, reflect or echo the sound wave back to the vessel very strongly. Other marine life such as myctophids and zooplankton also have a different density than the sea water, and reflect sound, although not as strongly as fish with air-filled swim bladders. The sea floor itself also reflects sound very strongly, because of the density difference between water and rocks, sand, and mud.

Marine life that have swim bladders (represented in blue) reflect or echo the sound wave back to the vessel. Examples of such marine life include bony fish, myctophids, and zooplankton, as well as the sea floor itself, which has a different density than the sea water.

Image: Cross section example of a Black Sea Bass to show a swim bladder.

an illustrated diagram of the internal anatomy of a bony fish (perhaps a black sea bass). Labels mark the locations of the gills, kidney, swim bladder, urine bladder, gonad, intestine, spleen, stomach, liver, and heart.

If the acoustics team determines there is enough marine life (that they are interested in surveying) to attempt a haul, they will notify the bridge deck and officers that they would like to have the fishing net deployed.

Before an attempted haul, the science team conducts a marine mammal watch for ten minutes. In this time window, several pairs of eyes are observing from the bridge deck and stern for any signs of dolphins, whales, sea lions, seals, and any other marine mammals that are within 500 meters of the vessel. If any marine mammals are spotted within the ten minute observation, we will stand down and wait ten minutes before restarting the marine mammal watch. Net deployment cannot occur until the full observation window has completed.

First haul July 6:
1422-1432 Mammal watch, no marine mammals spotted.
The net deployment started, at which time the vessel continues forward at two knots. Vessel speed increases to three knots when the net is fully deployed with doors and weights in the water, which assist in opening the conical shaped net outwards linearly and laterally. During this time the science team watches displays of the EK80 frequencies and observe the linear width and depth of the net. Scientists can compare these displays to determine if the net is in the correct position to have the best chance of collecting fish.

Hauling back the net occurs after several minutes, at which time the vessel returns to a speed of two knots, and we estimate how many fish were collected. The amount of time in which the net is submerged depends on the depth of the water and acoustic information about the size of the school of fish the net is (hopefully) sampling. After recovery, the haul is deposited into a hopper which feeds onto a conveyor belt in the wet lab, then into large baskets and the wet lab team takes over.

During the first attempt, two sea lions were spotted which required the haul attempt to be paused. We restarted the ten minute marine mammal watch from 1500-1510, the deck department retrieved and reset the net, and the vessel was turned around to return to the start of the noted longitudinal transect. With no marine mammals spotted during the observation period, the second attempt was successful and resulted in:

– 1604-1634: 30 minute haul at 350m depth.

– 11 baskets of Hake collected.

– 4 sample baskets kept at random.

– 541 Hake counted and studied in the wet lab.

Photo: Two deck department members about to open the net to allow the sample to drop into a large collection basket.

Two crewmembers, dressed in orange paints and black and neon yellow coats, face away from the camera, toward a large orange net suspended from above. They may be working to empty the net.

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Personal Log

On July 4 I arrived to pier 30/32 in San Francisco, CA to board NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. Although I grew up volunteering on the 441’ WWII Liberty Ship SS John W. Brown in Baltimore, MD, seeing a new ship still resulted in a mix of emotions, nervousness, adrenaline, excitement, and everything in between. After five and a half years, finally seeing the 208’ vessel that would become my home for the next two weeks was a core memory and feeling I will always remember.

NOAA Ship Bell M Shimada in port, as seen from a point on the dock beyond the bow. We can see the NOAA logo and read: NOAA R 227. The water is calm and turqoise; the sky is blue with clouds. A portion of what may be the Golden Gate Bridge is visible in the background.
NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada docked at Pier 30/32 in San Francisco, CA on July 4

Once onboard, I met Chief Scientist Steve de Blois and Wet Lab Lead Ethan Beyer. I was given a tour of the acoustic, chem, and wet labs and shown to my cabin. After dinner ashore, I joined some of the crew on the flying bridge to watch the July 4th fireworks. I met additional science team members and enjoyed a long night’s rest.

In the morning on July 5, we had a welcome aboard meeting, various trainings, a safety meeting and orientation, fire and abandon ship drills, and a science team meeting. We introduced ourselves, took an official team photo, and soon departed pier 30/32 for our 14 day mission. After passing under the Golden Gate Bridge and heading to the Pacific Ocean, our cold hands were warmed by a wonderful hot dinner of chicken, steak, fresh veggies, salad, and desserts from our galley crew. After dinner, we settled in for our first night at sea, waiting with anticipation for our first trawl on July 6.

– – ⚓ – –

Did You Know?

an orange-gloved hand holds a hake (fish) up so that it faces the camera. We can see the another smaller hake hanging limply across its open mouth

– Hake can be cannibalistic!
– Some larger Hake we have collected have had a smaller Hake in their mouth, throat, or stomach!
– Their very sharp teeth often stick to our thick rubber gloves.

– – ⚓ – –

New Terms/Phrases:

“Salp: Barrel-shaped, planktonic tunicate in the family Salpidae. It moves by contracting, thereby pumping water through its gelatinous body.”

Wikipedia: “Salp

“Myctophid: Lanternfish (or myctophids, from the Greek μυκτήρ myktḗr, “nose” and ophis, “serpent”) are small mesopelagic fish (…) Lanternfishes are aptly named after their conspicuous use of bioluminescence.”

Wikipedia: “Myctophid

Simrad EK80: Multibeam Echo Sounder (MBES) transducer that emits sound waves from the hull of the vessel down to the sea floor. It allows scientists to observe and study returned sound wave signals that may suggest marine life is present.

Transect: Set and numbered longitudinal east-west lines NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada navigates on while collecting acoustic data.

Lisa Carlson: Anticipation… Does everything happen for a reason? July 3, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lisa Carlson

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

July 5, 2023 – July 19, 2023

Mission: Fisheries: Pacific Hake Survey (More info here)

Geographic Region: Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California

Date: July 3, 2023

Introduction and Background

Hello! My name is Lisa Carlson and I am an elementary school teacher in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I have taught third, fourth, and fifth grade general education with Special Education and English as a Second Language (ESL) inclusion. This coming fall I will be a second grade teacher, continuing with ESL inclusion! Although I was surprised to move down from fourth grade, I try to maintain the belief that everything happens for a reason, and the only constant in life is change.

Lisa Carlson on a boat, presumably a sailboat. We can see lines, some navigation equipment, portions of the railing, and water in the background. She's wearing a hat, sunglasses, and a blue life vest.

For example, if I not missed out on previous opportunities to join NOAA as a Teacher at Sea due to the pandemic, a short career change, and other extenuating circumstances; I wouldn’t be writing this blog from a hotel room in San Francisco, California, anticipating boarding and seeing July 4th fireworks from the deck tomorrow.

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My introduction to NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program began in the fall of 2017. After student teaching in the fall/winter of 2016 in a third grade class, and permanent subbing in a fifth grade in the winter/spring of 2017, I accepted a position for my own third grade classroom.

My classroom came together with a nautical theme, shades of blues and calm colors, nautical paintings by my Mom, lots of cleaning and moving by my Dad, sailboat name tags on the door, and our own 3D sailboat in my class library. It soon got around that my room was one to go see!

A closed classroom door papered in shiny blue-green wrap on the top half (representing ocean) and brown on the bottom half (representing sand). Paper sailboats of different colors are taped onto the "ocean;" each has a student's name (not legible). Four yellow flip flops, with more labels, are taped to the "sand." At the top of the door, blue letters on a black paper background say: WELCOME ABOARD.

Door decorations for my first third grade classroom!

Classroom decor: life ring painting, handmade pilings,
fish and life ring pillows, sea creature lights, and 3D sailboat

A corner of a classroom, with shelves, plastic organizer boxes, a small carpet, a nest chair, in nautical theme.

Our Technology Integration Specialist, a NOAA Teacher at Sea Alumnus, visited my room and explained the program to me. The application was due on my birthday, less than a month from when I learned about the opportunity.

– – ⚓ – –

So, I applied in November 2017, 2018, and 2019. One year I just wasn’t selected, one year administrative input was not turned in on time, and other hiccups along the way. Then, my 2019 application was accepted, and I was over the moon in January 2020 to learn that I was a finalist. Of course, we all know what happened that March; and the 2020 and subsequent 2021 sailing seasons were canceled. Slowly, a few teachers were able to sail in the summer of 2022, and I was able to read their blogs from afar with the belief of everything happening for a reason.

My 2023 NOAA Teacher at Sea Assignment!

Now, it’s my turn! I will be sailing off the coast of California for two weeks on NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada with members of the science team as part of the Integrated Ecosystem and Pacific Hake Acoustic Trawl Survey.

“For three decades, the Teacher at Sea program has helped teachers participate in annual NOAA research surveys conducted by our scientists. Teachers from around the country embark on a two to three week expedition at sea. They gain invaluable on-the-job experience and communicate their journey through a series of blogs and lesson plans.”

NOAA Teacher at Sea Blog: “Looking Back on 30 Years of Teachers at Sea

I am so excited for this opportunity and experience after five and a half years of anticipation. So follow along, wish us fair winds and following seas, and as many schools of Pacific Hake as possible to sample from and research!

– From my king sized bed hotel room, and last night ashore:

Temporarily reassigned teacher, and sailor at heart.

Lisa stands at the door of a streetcar, left hand hanging onto a pole. A San Francisco streetscape extends into the distance to the left side of the photo.

Justin Garritt: Paired Trawling, X-raying, and The Galley Master: September 11, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Justin Garritt

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

September 1-14, 2018

Mission: Hake Research

Geographical area of cruise: Seattle, Washington to Newport, Oregon

Date: September 9-11, 2018: Day 7-9

Location: West of the Columbia River and Astoria, Oregon

 

Where Are We? After fishing off of the Straits of Juan de Fuca on Friday and Saturday, we headed south.  We ended up west of the Columbia River off the coast of Astoria, Oregon and continued to fish for a few days.

 

The fishing and sampling continues: A typical day consists of the scientists waking up before sunrise to begin scouting for fish. We use the information from the acoustic transducer to find fish.

Chief Scientist Rebecca Thomas
Chief Scientist Rebecca Thomas spots signs of fish on the sonar

sonar from the acoustic transducer
The sonar from the acoustic transducer showing signs of fish

Paired Trawling: Last week I wrote about our goals of the cruise. One of them was to perform paired trawls to determine net size impact to evaluate the differences between the US 32mm net liners and the Canadian 7mm net liners. A paired trawl is when we fish approximately the same location and depth two times using two different size liners. Data is collected on the size, characteristics, and species of fish being caught to eliminate the possibility that there is bias in the data between the two liners. Below are pictures of the nets being sent in and brought back based on information from the sonars. This typically happened 2-4 times per day (1-2 paired trawls).

 

Sorting the Fish Aboard:

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A rockfish photo shoot 🙂

How We Collect Data:

When fish come aboard we follow this flow chart to determine what analysis needs to be done on the catch.

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Our instructional chart for how we analyze the hake and other species

Hake is the majority of the fish we catch. It is also the main species we are researching this cruise.

A random sample of 250 are set aside and the rest are sent back in to the ocean. Of the approximately 250 random hake, 30 are dissected for enhanced sampling (length, weight, sex, maturity, and other projects).

220 are set aside for sex/length analysis. All other species of fish must be logged into the computer and some are kept for special research projects. See pictures below:

Male vs. female hake distinction:

Determining the length of the hake:

Enhanced sampling (length, weight, sex, maturity, and other projects):

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Dissecting the hake to enhance sample

Special Projects: There are also a number of special projects going on aboard:

Fish X-ray: Scientist Dezhang Chu x-rays samples of fish occasionally. The x-ray is used to determine the volume of the swim bladders in certain species of fish (see picture below). The volume of different species’ swim bladders affects the observed acoustics. I spoke to him about the purpose of this study. He said that the present acoustic transducers are great to capture whether fish are present below the ship’s surface but are still not able to classify the type of species being observed. He is working on a team that is trying to use x-ray’s from multiple species to solve that problem. When asked how long he thought it may take for there to be an acoustic system advanced enough to better predict the species onscreen, he said, “People have and will continue to spend their entire careers on improving the system.” If we have more scientists like Dr. Chu on this project, I predict it will be much sooner than he leads on.

"Super Chu"
“Super Chu” and I with his new apron I made him for x-raying

Filming the Catch: Melanie Johnson leads the science team’s visual analysis. During each trawl a camera is placed securely on the net. The purpose of the net is to analyze approximately which depth and time certain fish enter the net.

fish entering the net
Camera footage of fish entering the net

———————————————————————

Getting to know the crew: As promised in other blog posts, here is another interview from the incredible crew aboard  NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada who continue to make my journey such a rich experience:

Mr. Arnold Dones, Head Chef

Arnold Dones is our head chef or what I like to call him, “Master Chef.” Since the minute I’ve been aboard I quickly noticed the incredible work ethic and talent of our chef. To be clear, every meal has incredible! When I spoke to my mom a few days into the cruise my exact words were, “The food aboard is better than a buffet on a cruise ship. I expected to come aboard for two weeks and lose a few pounds. Well that’s not going to happen!”

Chef Arnold
Chef Arnold and his incredible food artwork

Arnold was born in the Philippines and his family migrated here when he was twenty. When he first got here he knew very little English and worked hard to learn the language and the American culture. He worked a few odd and end jobs until he joined the United States military as a chef. During his first years in the military, he showed so much promise as a chef that he enrolled in “A School” which allowed him to learn how to be a master chef in the military. He spent more than a decade working on military vessels. His last ship placement was aboard the USS Ronald Reagan where he and his team prepared meals for 6,000 soldiers per meal. Two months ago he joined the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada family as head chef.  Arnold has two children and a wife who live back in San Diego.

After a tour of the galley with Arnold, I learned how much work it takes to pull 42 meals in 14 days for over 40 crew members without a supermarket nearby. A few weeks out, Arnold has to create his menu for the next cruise leg (typically two weeks). He then has to order the food required to make the meals and do so by staying under a strict budget. When the ship ends a leg and pulls in to port, a large truck pulls up and unloads all his ordered food in large boxes. He then organizes it in the order he plans to prepare it in his large freezer, refrigerator, and store rooms. The trick is to be sure his menu is organized so nothing spoils before it is used.  Arnold’s day begins at 05:00  (5am) and goes until 19:00 (7pm) with a short break after lunch. The only days off he has is a day or two once every two weeks when the boat is in port.

Here is a sample menu for the day:

Breakfast (7-8am)- Eggs benedict, blueberry pancakes, french toast, hash browns, scrambled eggs, oat meal, cut fresh fruit, and breakfast danish.

Lunch (11-12pm)- Bacon wrapped rockfish, chicken wings, Chinese noodles, brussel sprouts, bread, a large salad bar, homemade salads, avocado, bean salad, homemade cookies, and ice cream.

Dinner (5-6pm)-  Stuffed pork chops with spinach and cheese, fine braised chicken thigh, baked salmon, Spanish rice, oven potatoes, peas, dinner rolls, a large salad bar, homemade salads, homemade apple pie, and ice cream.

Snack (24/7)- Soup, crackers, ice cream, and salad/fruit bar

We dock in Newport, Oregon on Friday, September 14, 2018. My final post will be on Friday. Thank you for continuing to follow along in this journey. I am grateful for your support and for the amazing people I have met aboard.

Justin

 

Christine Webb: September 19, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christine Webb

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

August 11 – 26, 2017

Mission: Summer Hake Survey Leg IV

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA

Date: 9/19/2017

Latitude: 42.2917° N (Back home again!)

Longitude: 85.5872° W

Wind Speed: 6 mph

Air Temperature: 65 F

Weather Observations: Rainy

Here I am, three weeks deep in a new school year, and it’s hard to believe that less than a month ago I was spotting whales while on marine mammal watch and laughing at dolphins that were jumping in our wake. I feel like telling my students, “I had a really weird dream this summer where I was a marine biologist and did all kinds of crazy science stuff.”

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Me on marine mammal watch

If it was a dream, it certainly was a good one! Well, except for the part when I was seasick. That was a bit more of a nightmare, but let’s not talk about that again. It all turned out okay, right?

I didn’t know what to expect when signing on with the Teacher at Sea program, and I’m amazed at how much I learned in such a short period of time. First of all, I learned a lot about marine science. I learned how to differentiate between different types of jellyfish, I learned what a pyrosome is and why they’re so intriguing, I learned that phytoplankton are way cooler than I thought they were, and I can now spot a hake in any mess of fish (and dissect them faster than almost anyone reading this).

I also learned a lot about ship life. I learned how to ride an exercise bike while also rocking side to side.  I learned that Joao makes the best salsa known to mankind. I learned that everything – everything – needs to be secured or it’s going to roll around at night and annoy you to pieces. I even learned how to walk down a hallway in rocky seas without bumping into walls like a pinball.

Well, okay. I never really mastered that one. But I learned the other things!

Beyond the science and life aboard a ship, I met some of the coolest people. Julia, our chief scientist, was a great example of what good leadership looks like. She challenged us, looked out for each of us, and always cheered us on. I’m excited to take what I learned from her back to the classroom. Tracie, our Harmful Algal Bloom specialist, taught me that even the most “boring” things are fascinating when someone is truly passionate about them (“boring” is in quotes because I can’t call phytoplankton boring anymore. And zooplankton? Whoa. That stuff is crazy).

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Phytoplankton under a microscope

Lance taught me that people are always surprising – his innovative ways for dissecting fish were far from what I expected. Also, Tim owns alpacas. I didn’t see that one coming. It’s the surprising parts of people that make them so fun, and it’s probably why our team worked so well together on this voyage.

I can’t wait to bring all of this back to my classroom, specifically to my math class. My students have already been asking me lots of questions about my life at sea, and I’m excited to take them on my “virtual voyage.” This is going to be a unit in my eighth and ninth grade math classes where I show them different ways math was used aboard the ship. I’ll have pictures and accompanying story problems for the students to figure out. They’ll try to get the same calculations that the professionals did, and then we’ll compare data. For example, did you know that the NOAA Corps officers still use an old-fashioned compass and protractor to track our locations while at sea? They obviously have computerized methods as well, but the paper-and-pencil methods serve as a backup in case one was ever needed. My students will have fun using these on maps of my locations.

They’ll also get a chance to use some of the data the scientists took, and they’ll see if they draw the same conclusions the NOAA scientists did. A few of our team were measuring pyrosomes, so I’ll have my students look at some pyrosome data and see if they get the correct average size of the pyrosome sample we collected. We’ll discuss the implications of what would happen if scientists got their math wrong while processing data.

I am so excited to bring lots of real-life examples to my math classroom. As I always tell my students, “Math and science are married.” I hope that these math units will not only strengthen my students’ math skills, but will spark an interest in science as well.

This was an amazing opportunity that I will remember for the rest of my life. I am so thankful to NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program for providing this for me and for teachers around the country. My students will certainly benefit, and I have already benefited personally in multiple ways. To any teachers reading this who are considering applying for this program – DO IT. You won’t regret it.

CWeb
Me working with hake!

Christine Webb: August 21, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christine Webb

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

August 11 – 26, 2017

Mission: Summer Hake Survey Leg IV

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA

Date: 8/21/2017

Latitude: 49.48 N

Longitude: 128.07 W

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Weather Observations: Sunny

Science and Technology Log

Today was our first chance to use the Methot net, and it was a lot of fun! The Methot net is smaller than the net that we usually use, and it is used to catch smaller organisms. Today we were targeting euphausiids. We thought we saw a pretty good aggregation of them on the 120 kHz acoustics data, where they appear the strongest of the three frequencies we monitor. We needed to validate that data by trawling the area to find the source of the backscatter and make sure they really were what we thought they were. There are many scientists who use data on euphausiids, so this was a good opportunity to provide them with some additional data. Because we’ve been working mostly on larger organisms, I was excited for the chance to see what a Methot net would pull up.

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The Methot net coming up with its haul

It was very exciting that when the net came up, we had TONS of euphausiids! (“Tons” here is not used in a literal sense…we did not have thousands of pounds of euphausiids. That would have been crazy). Although we did not have thousands of pounds of them, we did have thousands of specimens. I’m sure thankful that we only had to take data on a subsample of thirty! I got to measure the lengths and widths of them, and using the magnifying lenses made me look very scientific.

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Measuring euphausiids

Along with euphausiids, we also found other species as well. We found tiny squids, jellies, and even a baby octopus! It was adorable. I’ve never considered that an octopus could be cute, but it was.

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Baby octopus

We also measured volumes and weights on samples of the other specimens we found, and I used graduated cylinders for the first time since college. We would put in a few milliliters of water, add our specimens, and then calculate the difference. Voila! Volume. Good thing I remembered to call the measurement at the bottom of the liquid’s meniscus… I could have messed up all the data! Just kidding… I’m sure my measurements weren’t that important. But still – good thing I paid attention in lab skills. It was definitely a successful first day with the Methot net.

Personal Log

The big buzz around the ship today was the solar eclipse! I was even getting excited at breakfast while I ate my pancakes and made them eclipse each other. We got lucky with weather – I was nervous when I heard the foghorn go off early in the morning. Fortunately, the fog lifted and we had a pretty good view. We all sported our cheesy eclipse shades, and the science team wore gray and black to dress in “eclipse theme.” Even though we couldn’t see the totality here, we got to see about 85%. We’re pretty far north, off the coast of Vancouver Island in Canada. The mountains are beautiful! Seeing land is always a special treat.

Here are some eclipse pics:

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Rockin’ our cheesy eclipse shades

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Some science team members enjoying the eclipse

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Eclipse!

The eclipse would have made the day exciting enough, but the excitement didn’t stop there! While the scientists and I were working in the wet lab, we heard that a pod of orcas was swimming within eyesight of the ship. We dropped everything and hurried to take a look. It was so amazing; we could see five or six surface at once. They must have been hunting. We only see orcas when we’re close to land because their prey doesn’t live in deeper waters. Deeper into the ocean we are more likely to see gray or humpback whales.

It’s almost time for dinner…we sure have been spoiled for food! Last night we had pork loin and steak. I’m not sure that our chef will be able to top himself, but I’m excited to find out. I have heard rumors that he is very good at cooking the fish we’ve been catching, and that really makes me wish I liked seafood. Unfortunately, I don’t. At all. Not even enough to try Larry’s fried rockfish. Luckily, he makes lots of other food that I love.

Tonight after dinner I think Hilarie, Olivia, and I are going to watch Pirates of the Caribbean 2. Last night we watched the first movie while sitting on the flying bridge. It was a pretty cool experience to feel the spray of the sea while watching pirates battle!

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Movie time!

That’s all for now; I’ll be back with more scientific fun soon!

Did you know?

Krill (the type of euphausiid we studied) is one of the most populous species on earth. It basically fuels the entire marine ecosystem.

 

Christine Webb: August 19, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christine Webb

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

August 11 – 26, 2017

Mission: Summer Hake Survey Leg IV

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA

Date: 8/19/2017

Latitude: 48.59 N

Longitude: 126.59 W

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Barometric Pressure: 1024.05 mBars

Air Temperature: 59 F

Weather Observations: Sunny

Science and Technology Log:

You wouldn’t expect us to find tropical sea creatures up here in Canadian waters, but we are! We have a couple scientists on board who are super interested in a strange phenomenon that’s been observed lately. Pyrosomes (usually found in tropical waters) are showing up in mass quantities in the areas we are studying. No one is positive why pyrosomes are up here or how their presence might eventually affect the marine ecosystems, so scientists are researching them to figure it out. One of the scientists, Olivia Blondheim, explains a bit about this: “Pyrosomes eat phytoplankton, and we’re not sure yet how such a large bloom may impact the ecosystem overall. We’ve already seen that it’s affecting fishing communities because their catches have consisted more of pyrosomes than their target species, such as in the shrimp industry.”

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Sorting through a bin of pyrosomes

Pyrosomes are a type of tunicate, which means they’re made up of a bunch of individual organisms. The individual organisms are called zooids. These animals feed on phytoplankton, and it’s very difficult to keep them alive once they’re out of the water. We have one alive in the wet lab right now, though, so these scientists are great at their jobs.

We’ve found lots of pyrosomes in our hake trawls, and two of our scientists have been collecting a lot of data on them. The pyrosomes are pinkish in color and feel bumpy. Honestly, they feel like the consistency of my favorite candy (Sour Patch Kids). Now I won’t be able to eat Sour Patch Kids without thinking about them. Under the right conditions, a pyrosome will bioluminesce. That would be really cool to see, but the conditions have to be perfect. Hilarie (one of the scientists studying them) is trying to get that to work somehow before the trip is over, but so far we haven’t been able to see it. I’ll be sure to include it in the blog if she gets it to work!

One of the things that’s been interesting is that in some trawls we don’t find a single pyrosome, and in other trawls we see hundreds. It really all depends on where we are and what we’re picking up. A lot of research still needs to be done on these organisms and their migration patterns, and it’s exciting to be a small part of that.

Personal Log:

The science crew continues to work well together and have a lot of fun! Last night we had an ice cream sundae party after dinner, and I was very excited about the peanut butter cookie dough ice cream. My friends said I acted more excited about that than I did about seeing whales (which is probably not true. But peanut butter cookie dough ice cream?! That’s genius!). After our ice cream sundaes, we went and watched the sunset up on the flying bridge. It was gorgeous, and we even saw some porpoises jumping in the distance.

It was the end to another exciting day. My favorite part of the day was probably the marine mammal watch where we saw all sorts of things, but I felt bad because I know that our chief scientist was hoping to fish on that spot. Still, it was so exciting to see whales all around our ship, and some sea lions even came and swam right up next to us. It was even more exciting than peanut butter cookie dough ice cream, I promise. Sometimes I use this wheel to help me identify the whales:

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Whale identification wheel

Now we’re gearing up for zooplankton day. We’re working in conjunction with the Nordic Pearl, a Canadian vessel, and they’ll be fishing on the transects for the next couple days. That means we’ll be dropping vertical nets and doing some zooplankton studies. I’m not exactly sure what that will entail, but I’m excited to learn about it! So far the only zooplankton I’ve seen is when I was observing my friend Tracie. She was looking at phytoplankton on some slides and warned me that sometimes zooplankton dart across the phytoplankton. Even though she warned me, it totally startled me to see this giant blob suddenly “run” by all the phytoplankton! Eeeeep! Hopefully I’ll get to learn a lot more about these creatures in the days coming up.

Christine Webb: August 18, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Christine Webb

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

August 11 – 26, 2017

 

Mission: Summer Hake Survey Leg IV

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean from Newport, OR to Port Angeles, WA

Date: 8/18/2017

Latitude: 48.19 N

Longitude: 125.29 W

Wind Speed: 7.9 knots

Barometric Pressure: 1021.70 mBars

Air Temperature: 55.4 F

Weather Observations: Foggy

 

Science and Technology Log:

I am learning an unbelievable amount about marine biology! Today I will focus on hake because that is the main type of fish we are surveying on this voyage. Pacific hake are found in great abundance out here off the west coast of North America and Canada. Let me tell you a little bit about what we do.

The first thing we have to do before trawling for hake is find a good aggregation of them based on our acoustics. There is always a scientist in the acoustics lab watching the monitor outputs. The monitors show the acoustics from different frequencies: 18, 38, and 120 KHz. They can “see” when there are things between us and the ocean floor (see picture below). Based on the response of the acoustics to the objects in the water, the scientists make an educated guess about when we are over a hake aggregation. I’ve been learning a lot about how to read these monitors and how to see if we’re over rockfish, phytoplankton, or hake. I think it would be pretty cool to see something giant like a whale go underneath us, but that hasn’t happened. That’s probably for the best – I can’t imagine it’s super safe to have a whale under your ship.

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Acoustic data from the acoustics lab.

Once the acoustic scientists decide we’re over hake, they radio up to the bridge to tell them it’s time to go fishing. The fishermen start getting the nets ready, and the scientists (that’s me!) go up for marine mammal watch. We have to make sure there aren’t any whales or dolphins nearby that might get caught in our nets. I really like marine mammal watch. I get super excited to see whales and dolphins, even though I guess that’s kind of bad because we might have to postpone our trawl. Seeing mammals when we’re not fishing is the most exciting. Today we saw two orcas by the side of our boat – now THAT is cool!

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Me on marine mammal watch

Once the net is fully deployed and well below the surface, the marine mammal watch ends. Then they fish through the sign they saw on the acoustics and bring the net up when they believe they caught an adequate sample. Then it’s time to process the trawl! What we want to see is a majority of hake, but that doesn’t always happen. We’ve had trawls with hundreds of hake, and we’ve had trawls with only seventeen. We sometimes catch a bunch of other stuff too, and we do different things with those creatures (I’ll save that for a different post).

Processing the trawl is pretty intensive. First we have to weigh all of them to get the mass of the entire trawl. Then we sex them to sort into male and female baskets. It’s tricky to tell the difference between males and females. We have to dissect them and find the gonads to be able to tell. Near as I can tell, the male gonads look like ramen noodles and the females look like peach jello. I think of it as, “I wonder what my husband is eating while I’m gone? Probably ramen noodles. Okay, ramen noodles means male.”

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Getting ready to sort hake!

Once we have them all sorted, we take length measurements and start extracting the parts we need. The scientists are collecting and preserving the otoliths, gonads, stomachs, livers, and fin clips. We have a LOT of tubes of fish guts in our lab. I’m not entirely sure what scientists will be doing with all of this data, but perhaps I’ll interview our chief scientist about this and put it in a future post.

Personal Log:

Everyone I’ve met on this ship has been so friendly! One of my favorite things about it is that these people seem so passionate about whatever they’re doing. You should have seen my friend Hilarie’s face today when we pulled up a trawl full of pyrosomes (that’s what she studies). Tracie showed me some of the phytoplankton she’s studying, and it was like she was a little kid at Christmas. Personally I’ve never been super interested in phytoplankton, but now I am. She makes it sound like it’s the most exciting subject on earth, and looking at her slides makes me believe her.

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Tracie studying phytoplankton

It’s not only the scientists who are passionate about their work. The chief steward, Larry, was so excited about his cauliflower soup today that he seemed personally offended when I didn’t take any. “Take some soup!” he said. “Seriously – it’s really good soup. You’re going to like it.” I took some just to be nice, but after one bite I said, “Larry, will this be out at dinner? Can this please be out at dinner? I LOVE IT.” It was seriously good. I need to learn how to make that.

Our chief scientist takes her job as chief very seriously too. She’s like the momma duck who takes care of all of us (thanks, Julia!). Also, she plans fun and goofy games every day where we can win prizes out of her “bag of goodies.” I haven’t won yet, but I hope I will before this is over. Today Hilarie won some awesome coral reef socks. I’m not sure how I’ve gotten this far in life without owning marine biology socks! It’s great to have Julia around because she makes time for all of us even though her own research is very absorbing and important. She’s a rock star.

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Hilarie choosing her prize

Stay tuned for more info from Leg 4 – bye for now!