Martha Loizeaux: Salp Confidence, August 24, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Martha Loizeaux

Aboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter

August 22-31, 2018

 

Mission: Summer Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean

Date: August 24, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 40.15 N

Longitude: 68.71 W

Wind direction: NE

Wind speed: 14 knots

Water temperature: 23.8 degrees C

Air pressure: 1023 millibars

Air temperature: 24.2 degrees C

Water depth: 165 meters

 

Science and Technology Log

What an exciting first full day out at sea!  I have been so grateful that our science team has allowed me to be completely hands-on and take responsibility for some of the science happening on the ship.  In addition to checking the Imaging Flow Cytobot (IFCB) periodically, I am very much involved in the data collection at each of our stations.

There are specific stations along our course where scientists need to collect data.  The crew announces when we are close to the station.  At that time, along with another volunteer on watch, I don my foul weather gear to head out to the deck.  We get pretty splashed as we are working with the equipment so the gear is a good idea.  We help the crew as they lower “bongo nets” into the water using a cable and pulley system.  Can you guess why they are called bongo nets?  These nets have a very fine mesh that helps collect, you guessed it, PLANKTON!

bongos on deck

bongo nets waiting on the deck to be deployed

bongos in water

The bongo net and the “baby” bongo net being deployed.

We also help raise the bongo nets after several minutes dragging them through the water.  We rinse all of the plankton down to the bottom of the net and then open up the end of the net to allow all of the plankton into a sieve where we will collect it.  I have been surprised by the amount of jelly-like animals that have shown up in the nets!

Then it’s time to use special liquids (ethanol or formalin) and water to wash the plankton into collection jars. These chemicals will preserve the plankton so scientists can study it back in the lab!

It has been so much fun working with this equipment, asking the scientists questions about the plankton, and being a part of it all.

Harvey, our chief scientist, explained to me that many scientists can use the plankton samples for all different studies.  Some of the samples can be used to study larval fish (baby fish) otoliths, the tiny ear bones that can verify the identification of larval hake using genetics.  Knowing this, scientists can do research to determine where the larval fish were born!  What a great example of the beginning of a scientific

Hake larvae

Some examples of larval hake. Photo courtesy of Harvey Walsh

experiment!:

Question – Where are most larval red hake fish born in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean?

Research – Scientists might research currents in the area, wind patterns, and other things that would push plankton from place to place.  They also would research what other scientists have already learned about larval red hake.

Hypothesis – Most larval red hake fish are born in the Southern New England and Georges Bank regions in the northeast US shelf.

Didn’t I tell you plankton were amazing?

At some of the stations, we also lower Niskin bottles and CTD instruments into the water to collect a lot more data!  More on that to come!

Martha and bongos

Here I am getting ready to deploy the bongo nets.

rinsing nets

Jessica and I rinsing the bongo nets.

plankton on sieve

Plankton looks tiny when we filter it into a sieve.

plankton samples

Our plankton samples after being rinsed into the jars.

 

NOAA Corps Corner

Today I spoke with Lola Ajilore, Officer with NOAA Corps, and asked her a few questions about her important work.  A pod of humpback whales off the bow stole the show! Here’s what we got in before the exciting interruption…

Me – Tell me more about your roles on the ship.

Lola – I am the Navigation Officer, Medical Officer, Environmental Officer, Ship Store Officer, and Morale Officer.  As you can see, we all have multiple roles on the ship.  As Navigation Officer, for example, I plot charts, track directions, and coordinate with the Operations Officer and Commanding Officer on track lines and routes that are requested by the scientists.

Me – Where do you do most of your work?

Lola – I am always with NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter.  The ship’s home port is in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  Our missions often take place in the Gulf of Mexico but we also run these Northeast Shelf cruises for Ecosystem Monitoring every year.

Me – What kind of training is needed for your line of work?

Lola – We undergo an application process that includes several interview steps.  We then train at the Coast Guard Academy.  Much of our training parallels that of the Coast Guard, but we also do our own NOAA Corps training as well.

Me – What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

Lola – Radar!  [Radar aids navigation by detecting things that are far away such as an island or another ship]

Nav officer

Lola as Navigation Officer.

humpback from afar

Can you see the little black dot in the middle of the picture? It’s a humpback whale! It looked a lot closer in real life.

 

Personal Log

 

sunset view

Sunset on NOAA ship Gordon Gunter

I cannot believe the amazing views that we have on this ship 24 hrs. a day!  The water has been super calm and the sunrise, sunset, breaching whales, and pods of dolphins have taken my breath away.

Yesterday was emergency drill day!  Libby, our Operations Officer, had given us directions on how to respond to emergencies prior to leaving the

Mustering on the deck

Mustering on the deck during the emergency fire drill.

dock.  There are emergency drills for a fire (just like at school!), abandon ship (in the case that we had to immediately leave the ship in an emergency), and man overboard.

We practiced a fire drill and an abandon ship drill.  The Officers on the ship sounded the alarm, using a different number and duration of blast based on the type of emergency.  For a fire, we all “mustered” (got together in one place) in assigned areas.  All of the science team members mustered together.  For abandon ship, we all mustered near the life boats along with our life jackets and immersion suits (suits that can help you survive if you end up in the water).

Martha in immersion suit

Here I am in my immersion suit!

 

The fun part of the abandon ship drill was donning our immersion suits in one minute or less!  This was a great thing to practice so if there ever was a real emergency, we would know how to put on the suit.  I thought I looked pretty cool in my immersion suit.

 

Did You Know?

Salps are barrel-shaped planktonic tunicates.  Our plankton bongo nets always contain some jelly-like salps. Where I live in the Florida Keys, we see mangrove tunicates growing on mangrove roots.  Here in the open ocean, salps stick together in long colonies and drift!  Sometimes there are so many salps in our nets, we have to filter them out with sieves and put them back in the water.

salps from web

An example of a colony of salps. Photo courtesy of NOAA

 

Something to Think About

We have been finding up to 4,000 phytoplankton in 5 mL of water.  A gallon of water is equal to about 3785 mL.  There is about 352,670,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of water in the Atlantic Ocean.  How much plankton is in the Atlantic?  You do the math.

plankton from web

This is what some plankton look like under the microscope. Photo courtesy of NOAA

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.

IMG_20170816_090024430_BURST000_COVER_TOP

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!

IMG_20170817_103950017_HDR

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.”

IMG_20170818_153044071

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.

IMG_20170817_081818382

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.

IMG_20170818_181046070_HDR

Hilarie choosing her prize

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

Caitlin Thompson: Bottom Trawl, August 11, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Thompson
Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
August 1 — 14, 2011

Mission: Pacific Hake Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean off the Oregon and Washington Coasts
Date: August 12, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Lat. 48 degrees 07.0 N
Long. 125 degrees 13.7 W
Present weather: partly cloudy 6/8
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind direction: 335
Speed 10 kts
Sea wave height: 2-3 feet
Swell waves – direction: —
Swell waves – height: —
Sea water temperature: 15.0 degrees C
Sea level pressure: 1017.3 mb
Temperature – dry bulb: 15.8 degrees C
Temperature – wet bulb: 13.2 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

Third Wire FS70

The Third Wire FS70 provides an image of the net, shown as half circle, and the fish around it.

The big news is that we’re headed to port a day early. There was a electrical component failure in the engine system that converts the diesel power to electricity which powers the electrical motors that turn the propeller shaft. This reduced the Shimada to running on about half power. I can’t believe the cruise is ending!

Yesterday we did a bottom trawl, the first bottom trawl ever conducted on the Shimada. Using the sonars, the scientists on the sonar team saw an interesting aggregation of fish. They couldn’t use the usual mid-water net, which is relatively easy to damage, because the fish were very close to the bottom. Besides, the bottom appeared hard and rocky. I was excited when they decided to test the new net. Unlike the mid-water trawls, which usually bring up a mostly “clean” haul of hake, a bottom trawl tends to bring up a wide array of species. I wanted to learn some new names.

ITI

The ITI shows the distance of the bottom of the ocean from the net. Where the pink lines are highest, the net is lowest.

Deploying the bottom net proved educational. The mid-water net is sent down with the FS70 attached, which provides an image of the objects near and in the net. On the screen shot of the FS70 above and to the right, look for the half-circle, which shows the open net, the silver blue line under the net, which is the bottom of the ocean, and some dots inside the net that are most likely fish already caught in the net. The images are sent through a wire. It would be too easy to damage the wire in a bottom trawl, so the scientists use the ITI instead.

Larry was in charge of fishing today and was disatisfied with the image the ITI System produced of the bottom trawl. The ITI does not produce as good an image of the bottom trawl as the FS 70 did on the midwater trawl. This made it more difficult to decide how much was being caught and how long to fish. The scientists began planning how to get a better system for the ship.

The bottom trawl disappointed the scientists because it brought up fewer hake than they had hoped, but I was happy to see so many new kinds of fish, and to learn to identify many so that I could help sort. This is the list of everything we pulled up:

Ratfish

This spotted ratfish has a venomous spine on its dorsel fin!

Aspot prawn, full of eggs

A spot prawn, full of eggs

Rockfish

Larry, Alicia and I sort rockfish. Initially, the fish on the table looked the same to me, but I soon learned to identify ...

Rex sole

Rex sole

Arrowtooth flounder
Brown cat shark egg case
Cloud sponges
Darkblotched rockfish
Dover sole
Greenstriped rockfish
Hermit crab unident.
Lanternfish unident.
Long honred decorator crab
Longnose skate
Pacific hake
Pacific ocean perch
Pom pom anemonome
Redbanded rockfish
Rex sole
Rosethorn rockfish
Sablefish
Sea cucumber unident.
Sea urchins and sand dollars unident.
Sharpchin rockfish
Shortspine thornyhead
Skate egg case ulnident.
Slender sole
Snail unident.
Spot prawn
Spotted ratfish
Wattled eelpout

Personal Log

Last night, some of us went up to the fly bridge in hopes of seeing the Perseid Meteor Shower. The sky was miraculously clear but the nearly full moon and bright lights on the ship blocked out most of the stars. Still, we saw some truly magnificent shooting stars before the clouds rolled in. I had brought my sleeping bag for warmth and fell fast asleep to the soothing voices of my shipmates. When they woke me up, I dropped by the chemistry lab to see how the nighttime zooplankton sampling was going and discovered that a mallard had arrived on deck. Mallards are not sea birds and are not equipped to be so far out to sea, so we were highly surprised to see her some fifty nautical miles off land. We named her Myrtle. We gave Myrtle food and water and hoped she would stay with the ship until we were close to land, but after a long nap, she took off. I hope she makes it to land.

In cribbage news, I won the semi-finals but lost the championship game. I had such a great time playing.

Caitlin Thompson: A Calm Day at Sea, August 9, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Thompson
Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
August 1 — 14, 2011

Mission: Pacific Hake Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean off the Oregon and Washington Coasts
Date: August 9, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Bringing in the net

Bringing in the net

Lat. 47 degrees 42.4 N
Long. 125 degrees 51.3
Present weather: cloudy
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind direction: 322
Speed 18 kts
Sea wave height: 3-4 feet
Swell waves – direction: 320
Swell waves – height: 4-5 feet
Sea water temperature: 16.7 degrees C
Sea level pressure: 1019.7 mb
Temperature – dry bulb: 14.9 degrees C
Temperature – wet bulb: 13.2 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

Mola Mola

A mola mola, like the one I saw from deck.

Today the ocean was crystal clear and the sky partly clear. I saw amazing creatures floating on the still surface of the water — salps, mola mola, and jellies. Mola mola, also called sun fish, are flat and float on the surface of the water, seeming to sun themselves, eating jellyfish. The water was speckled with salps, identifiable by their small, jelly-like bodies and dark center. When Jennifer saw the salps, she groaned, explaining that their presence suggests a relaxation in the winds that drive upwelling. Less upwelling means fewer nutrients for the whole marine system. I spent the whole day trying to wrap my head around the fact that the slight winds I feel every day drive such an enormous system as coastal upwelling, and that one peaceful day could cause so many salps to be floating on the surface.

Black-footed albatross, like the one I saw

Black-footed albatross, like the one I saw

Usually there are enormous black-footed albatross all around the ship. Albatross, one of the biggest birds in the world, spend most of their lives at sea, coming to shore only to breed. The albatross I see may be nesting on remote Pacific islands, traveling many days to gorge themselves on fish off the West Coast before returning to their nests. They come to our waters because of all the fish here due to upwelling. An albatross can be away from the nest as many as seven days, returning to regurgitate fish from its stomach, which the chicks will eat. Like many seabirds, albatross fly extremely efficiently. They rise and sink repeatedly as they fly to use the energy from the wind. They also use the rising air that comes off of waves for more lift. I see them soaring without moving their wings, so close to the water that they disappear from view behind small waves. Before flapping, they seem to tilt upward, and even so, their wings appear to skim the water. A windless day like today is a hard day for an albatross to fly, so they stay on the water. I saw very few, all in grounded groups.

Tufted Puffin

Tufted Puffin

Instead of albatross, I saw many small diving birds, especially when we came close to the beautiful, jagged coast of the Quillayutte River and La Push, Washington. I saw tufted puffins in bright breeding plumage, surfacing on the water for a few minutes before bobbing back under for surprisingly long times. The day before we set sail, Shelby and I visited the Newport Aquarium, where we saw tufted puffins in the arboretum. We saw the puffins swim through the water in the arboretum, wings flapping as if they were flying. We told a volunteer we were headed to sea. She said to look for single puffins close to shore. This time of year, puffins are nesting in pairs, making nests in burrows in cliff faces this time of year. While one puffin stays in the nest, its mate goes to sea, eats its fill of fish, stuffs about another seven fish in its beak, and returns to feed its chicks. The puffins I saw certainly looked like they were hard at work hunting for fish.

Deploying the Tow Fish

Deploying the Tow Fish

Today I helped deploy two sonar devices that I haven’t seen before, a sub-bottom profiler called a tow fish, and an Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT). The tow fish is a sub-bottom profiler, meaning that it sends a signal to map the bottom of the ocean. The scientists on the acoustics team are using it to look for fish. We backtracked over a section where we fished yesterday and dragged the tow fish alongside the ship. The data from the tow fish will be analyzed later, and proofed against the information from the haul and the other sonars. As usual, the goal is to be able to use the data to identify specifies with more and more accuracy.

XBT

Alicia showing me how to launch the XBT

The XBT is a probe that measures the temperature of the water. Falling at a known rate, it sends the temperature back through two small copper wires, which can be graphed as a function of temperature vs. depth in order to find the temperature profile of the water. Because the XBT looks vaguely like a gun, Larry left earplugs and a mask out for me, warning me about the explosion I was about to make. However, Alicia was in charge. She said, “There’s a hazing that happens with the XBT. I’m a bad liar. You don’t need this stuff.” So I went out on deck in just a life jacket and hardhat, which are required when doing any operation on deck. Once the technology tech radioed that the XBT had fallen to the necessary depth, I broke the copper wires. They were so thin I could cut them by rubbing them between my fingers.

Shelby

Shelby taking algae samples

Shelby, my roommate and a student Western Washington University, showed me her work measuring harmful algal blooms (HAB). While algae and other phytoplankton are essential to marine ecosystem because as primary producers, some algae produce domoic acid. Domoic acid is toxic to marine life and humans. Using surface water collected outside the boat and pumped into a hose in the chemistry lab, Shelby filters the water and saves the filter paper for further analysis of domoic acid and chlorophyll. A NOAA scientist will compile her data in an effort to map HAB along the West Coast. Shelby is a volunteer, one of four college students who each collect the data for one leg of the journey.

Personal Log

Fish Prints

Rebecca teaching me to make fish prints from the yellow-tails we had caught

Life aboard the Shimada seems to suit me very well. Every time I ask a question, which is often, I learn something new, and every time I look outside, I see something I never saw before. Yesterday, I ran into Rebecca in a hallway. Excited, she said, “There’s a P3 about to launch a sonobuoy!” I asked her to repeat. She said, “There’s a P3 about to launch a sonobuoy!” I stared at her. She said, “A plane is dropping stuff. Go outside and watch.” We both had to laugh about that one. Outside, I quickly learned that a marine ship had called the bridge to ask if we would help with a mission to drop a sonobuoy. A sonobuoy is a  listening device. With a parachute attached, it drifts into the ocean, where it floats, using passive sonar to report the location of objects like submarines. The day was shockingly beautiful, so a number of us stood on the very top deck of the ship, called the fly bridge or, jokingly, the beach. We watched the airplane circling us and watched the drifting clouds and diving birds. Several people declared it the flattest water they had ever seen in these parts.

I am happy to say that, with beginner’s luck, I won the first match of cribbage, placing me in semi-finals, and have started staying up in the evenings playing cards with other people on board.

Caitlin Thompson: Zooplankton, Ocean Currents, and Wave Gliders, August 7, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Thompson
Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
August 1 — 14, 2011

Mission: Pacific Hake Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean off the Oregon and Washington Coasts
Date: August 7, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat. 47 degrees, 00.8N
Long. 124 degrees, 29.8W
Present weather: Cldy 8/8
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind direction: 323
Wind speed: 08 kts
Sea wave height: 1 feet
Swell waves – direction: —
Swell waves – height: —
Sea water temperature: 13.7 degrees C
Sea level pressure: 1018.8 mb
Temperature – dry bulb: 15.8 degrees C
Temperature – wet bulb:  14.7 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

On the fish deck in my work clothes

On the fish deck in my work clothes

The Shimada conducts research around the clock, with crew members working twelve-hour shifts. So far, I have worked with the acoustics team studying hake during the day, when the hake school together and are easy to fish. Last night I branched out, staying up with Steve Pierce, the oceanographer studying ocean currents, Jennifer Fisher, a faculty assistant at Oregon State University (OSU) who is studying zooplankton, and her intern, Angie Johnson, a graduate student at OSU. All the different research on this trip complements each other, and I learned more about the acoustic team’s work from the night people.

Gray's Harbor Transects

Gray's Harbor Transects

The map at right shows the transects we follow and the stations that the night team takes samples, which Steve chooses. Just like the acoustics team, he only chooses sites on the east-west transects. The night team usually works one transect ahead of the day team, and must have the ship back where they started by sun-up. Steve is mapping small currents because, he says, surprisingly little is known about ocean currents, even though they have a tremendous impact on ocean life.

He is especially interested in the polar undercurrent that brings nutrient-rich water from the south up along the west coast. A small current, it is nonetheless important because of the nutrients it carries, which come to the surface through upwelling. He uses an acoustic device, the Acoustic Doppler Current Profile (ADCP), to find the velocity of the water at various depths. The data from the ADCP is skewed by many factors, especially the velocity of the ship. Later, Steve will use trigonometry to calculate the true velocity. He also uses the Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) meter, lowered into the water at every station during the night. The CTD gives much more information than its name would suggest, including salinity, density, and oxygen. It is deployed with a high-speed camera and holds bottles to capture water samples. I was impressed by the amount of work – and math! – that Steve does in between cruises. When he has down time on this cruise, he told me, he is calculating work from two years ago.

Jennifer divides a sample in the Folsom plankton splitter

Jennifer divides a sample in the Folsom plankton splitter

Jennifer and Angie are studying plankton, the organisms at the very bottom of the food web. Immediately, I recognized euphausiids, or krill, from the contents of hake stomachs. Actually I recognized their small black eyes, which always reminded me of poppy seeds when I saw them in hake stomachs. Jennifer is conducting this work through her group Northwest Fisheries Science Center, which, as she describes it, gives her a wonderful freedom to research different projects related to ocean conditions, especially salmon returns. In this project, they measuring phytoplankton, tiny, photosynthetic organisms, by measuring chlorophyll and nutrients. They are also looking at zooplankton, like euphausiids, salps, and crab larvae, which we examined other the microscope. To help the acoustics team refine their ability to use sonar to identify zooplankton, Jennifer and Angie record certain species. The acoustics team will match up the acoustics data that is continuously generated on this ship with the samples.

Angie

Angie takes water samples from the CTD.

Today, the second catch of the day was aborted because of whales too close to the ship. However, the NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), had asked the Shimada to investigate its waveglider. A waveglider is type of robot called an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). Programmed to travel and record data, it does not need an operator. The PMEL folks were concerned, however, that its AUV might have a problem.The bridge set the course for the AUV, described as a yellow surfboard, and I headed up to the flying deck, the highest deck and an ideal spot for observation, to watch for it. Immediately we saw a humpback whale, just starboard of the ship, spout and roll through the water, its tail raised in the air. Soon the AUV appeared. We saw nothing wrong with it but communicated our observations, photographs, and video tape of it to PMEL. The PMEL’s system of wavegliders monitor carbon dioxide levels and use the kinetic energy of ocean waves to recharge the batteries. The acoustics team hopes to get their own waveglider next year to collect acoustic data in between transects. As I was peering  over the edge of the boat, examining the surfboard-like robot below, I heard a loud splash. A bout ten  Dall’s porpoises were playing around the bow of our boat, rippling in and out of the water. Dall’s porpoises are tremendously playful creatures, and will often play around ships. But our ship was barely moving, and the porpoises soon lost interest and swam away.

Wave Glider

Wave Glider, seen from above

Personal Log

I’m getting a little of everything on this cruise. I would have stayed up two nights ago for the deploymentof the CTD and zooplankton samples, but the propeller developed a loud enough whamming sound to suspend all operations indefinitely. I woke up at 4:00 AM yesterday because the boat was swaying back and forth violently. (Violently by my standards, that is; more experienced mariners insist the swell is nothing.) Since our bunks go port to starboard, I could feel my weight sliding from hip to head to hip to head as I was rocked back and forth in bed. Meanwhile a discarded lightbulb in a metal shelf was rolling back and forth steadily – rattle-rattle-WACK! rattle-rattle-WACK! – until Shelby Herber, a student at Western University and my roommate, got up, found the culprit, and wrapped it in a shirt. When I woke again, it was eleven hours after the discovery of the problem with the prop and well past breakfast, and I started to get up until Shelby told me we were off transect, headed to shore because of the propeller.

Wave Glider

Wave Glider from beneath the water, taken from PMEL's website

So we took our time getting up. But when I finally arrived in the acoustics lab, Rebecca was running up the hall, saying, “Caitlin, I was looking for you! There’s a great big shark outside, and we’re pulling up the ROV!” The ROV is the remotely controlled vehicle, a robot like the AUV, but one that requires an operator to make it move. Unfortunately, out on the fish deck, the ROV was being put away and the shark gone off on his fishy business. To console me, John had the videotaped footage from the ROV and the dorsal fin of the shark, and showed me both. The ROV revealed no damage and I was invited down to the winch room, where the bang-bang-bang coming from the propeller was unnerving.

ROV

Puzzled birds approach the ROV

Everyone was in an uproar trying to decide what to do, an uproar made all the more dramatic by the steady lurching and swaying of the ship, which throughout the day has sent most of the scientists to their room for at least a few hours and most of the deck hands to tell stories of unhappy tourists who couldn’t find their sea legs. Finally, the engine guys decided the warped propeller would not prevent us from getting to Port Angeles, and Rebecca decided it would not interfere with the acoustics, and we got back on transect.

ROV

ROV

I’m getting a little bit of everything on this cruise. I’ve seen sharks and marines mammals, calm seas and rockier seas, an impressively well-functioning ship and a number of technological problems. I’ve interviewed scientists, NOAA Corps officers who command the ship, and crew members who recount endless adventures at sea. I’m even signed up for the cribbage tournament, which I’m not entirely thrilled about since I don’t know how to play bridge. I’ve been impressed by how much time and information everyone seems to have for me. I am constantly thinking how I can bring this experience back to my students. Some ideas are to have a science and math career day, collect weather data like the data the bridge collects, dissect hake, and examine zooplankton under a microscope. Various people on board have volunteered to help with all my ideas.

Caitlin Thompson: Going Fishing! August 4, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Thompson
Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
August 1 — 14, 2011

Mission: Pacific Hake Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean off the Oregon and Washington Coasts
Date: August 4, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat. 46 degrees 22.4 N
Long. 124 degrees 41.1
Present weather: cloudy
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind direction: 330
Speed 11 kts
Sea wave height: 2-3 feet
Swell waves – direction: 310
Swell waves – height: 3-4 feet
Sea level pressure: 197.3 mb
Temperature – dry bulb: 17.0 degrees C
Temperature – wet bulb: 15.0 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

Shimada

Me in front of the Shimada.

Yesterday, I saw, sexed, and measured my first hake. And my second hake, and hundredth hake, and two hundredth hake. Most of the time, the scientists on the acoustics team watch computer monitors that show acoustic data as colors to represent life under the ship. Twice today, however, they identified large populations of hake and decided to fish for them in order to get more accurate data.

Pressure Housing

The pressure housing, held together by electrical tape and sponges, holds the battery and data storage for the light, lasers, and camera attached to the net.

Both times, the ship went into immediate action. Upstairs in the bridge, or command room, the NOAA officers slowed and repositioned the ship. Two scientists watched for marine mammals. If mammals were too close, we would have to abort the operation entirely. On the fish deck, John Pohl, on the acoustics team, taught me to assemble the pressure housing and attach it to the net. Objects attached to the net include the video camera, which will film anything passing by the mouth of the net, a four-beam laser to judge the length of the images that are filmed, a light to illuminate the water, batteries for power, and another camera for storing the data. The crew began lowering the net.

Hake

Josh Gunter, survey technician, operates a hatch to let hake onto the flow cale, which will find the mass of the whole haul.

For me, the real excitement began once the fish began pouring onto a conveyor belt into the fish lab. First, we sorted the fish by species. In the first haul, the fish were mostly hake, as intended, but we also caught three yellow-tail rockfish and three eulachons, a type of smelt. In the second haul, there was largely yellow-tail rockfish and hake, with several Pacific Ocean perch and widow rockfish. The rockfish were difficult to sort: they have dangerous spines and fight hard. Alicia Billings, a fisheries biologist on the acoustics team, taught me how to pick them up with one hand over their eyes and the other firmly grasping their tails. Even so, we both had a few close calls. We threw most of the fish right back into the ocean but kept about three hundred hake to sex and scale. With another fifty hake, we put then stomachs in individual bags so that the lab on shore can determine what the hake were eating. We also stored the otolith, or ear bones, in order to determine the age of the hake. Just like the rings of a tree, otoliths show growth rings every year.

Fish Lab

In the wet lab, the acoustics team prepares for the next batch of hake. From left Alicia Billings, Steven de Blois, and Dr. Rebecca Thomas

Finally, we cleaned up and settled back in the acoustics lab to watch for the next batch of fish.

The monitors use echosounders, which are exactly how they sound: Signals (sound waves) are emitted from beneath the ship and echo back once they hit something. The computer records the distance of an object by how long it takes for the signal to return.  For example, suppose a fish were right at the surface. The signal would hit it and return in very little time.

Echosounder

The monitor shows the depth of the ocean floor, sea surface, and objects in between.

On the other hand, in deep water the signal would take much longer to hit the bottom of the ocean and return. See the thick red line on the graph to the left? That’s the ocean floor. Notice how it curves down on the right at the edge of the continental shelf. The flat line at the top of the graph is the surface of the ocean. The scattered dots in between are most likely fish. The scientists can guess the kind of fish and the number of fish by the pattern and color of dots. All the color below the ocean floor is meaningless noise. Look to the upper left-hand corner of the graph to find the frequency of the signal, measured in kilohertz (KHz). The lower frequencies (20 kHz and 38 kHz) tend to measure larger objects and to go deeper in the water. These frequencies are perfect for finding hake. The higher frequencies (120 kHz and 200 kHz) measure smaller objects. For example, shortly before we started the first haul, we saw a large number of plankton, which showed up bright blue on the 120 kHz and 200 kHz frequencies but barely showed at all on the lower frequencies.

You can follow the progress of the Shimada at shiptracker. We’re headed for Port Angeles on August 14, making East-West transects along the way.

Larry

Chief Scientist Larry Hufnagle in the acoustics room

Personal Log

I am so happy to be at sea. The journey was delayed an entire day because of a problem with a valve, and we finally set sail yesterday. The skies are blue and the ocean calm, and I am constantly learning new stuff. I’ve had to learn to lift my feet when stepping through a doorway (I forgot once and went sprawling!) and to memorize the complicated series of halls and ladders to get from the fly deck to the bridge to the mess room to my stateroom. I’ve had to memorize thirty-some names.  The scientists have been incredibly patient, explaining each part of their work while I take copious notes. Working in the fish lab is my favorite part so far. It’s fascinating and satisfying work.

I am impressed by the sense of camaraderie on this ship. The scientists on the acoustics team – also known as the hake people –  keep up a constant, teasing banter, which only turns serious when discussing science. With science, they all have a different opinions. Before fishing today, Chief Scientist Larry Hufnagle worried that there were too few fish shown on the monitor. He said, “I don’t even know how you would fish on this stuff.” Dr. Rebecca Thomas, a research fishery biologist on the acoustics team, seemed to think there were plenty of fish, but suggested leaving the net in for a longer amount of time for a larger sample. After much more discussion, the team decided on a strategy and put in the net. I’m impressed how often they disagree and how carefully they listen to one another’s ideas.

Tanya Scott, June 20, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tanya Scott
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman
June 16 – 21, 2010

Mission:  Ecology of Juvenile Fishes  
Geographical Area: Central Oregon/Washington Coast
Current Location:  35 miles offshore, steaming to Seattle, WA
Date:  Sunday, June 20, 2010

Today is my last full day aboard the Miller Freeman.  It is currently 4:00 pm and I have just woken up!  I find that being on a ship rocks me to sleep.  Or, could it be that I was up until 6:00 am this morning?  Either way, I am fully rested and ready to rinse and store all of the scientific equipment in preparation for our departure tomorrow morning.  We are currently steaming towards Seattle, Washington where we will depart the ship.

Our work on Saturday turned out to be very interesting.  While pulling the midwater trawl, a small pod of Pacific Whitesided dolphin became interested in our tow.  They swam very close to the net for a time and had everyone worried that they may become entangled.  Luckily, they lost interest and swam away.  If they had become entangled in the net there are many protocols that would have been implemented.  The marine mammal stranding unit in Washington would have been called, a representative would have been sent to meet the ship, and many photographs taken as documentation.  It is always a concern that marine mammals may become entangled in nets but fortunately, this time was not one of those cases.

Krill brought in from the midwater trawl.

The catches from our midwater trawl brought up the familiar species of krill, purple lanternfish, rockfish, and hake.  Since the depth of this trawl does not target adult fish, we have been dealing almost exclusively with juvenile and larvae fish.  Our last haul produced more larvae rockfish than usual, which is good for the scientists conducting this survey.  They are, however, trying to determine where the largest concentrations of juvenile rockfish are during the season.  Rockfish are an important species in the Pacific Northwest.  It would be easy for you to think of how important flounder are in our area.  Rockfish are harvested for sale in fish markets and therefore are threatened by over harvesting.  It is important to monitor their movement and habitat in order to determine when and where Pacific Hake regulations should be put in place.  Another commercially important species is the Pacific Hake.  This fish is deboned and sold as fish sticks in the grocery store.  I’m sure that most of you have eaten a Pacific Hake and didn’t even know.  These fish are commonly caught by fisherman and, just as the rockfish, their populations are threatened by over harvesting.  When Pacific Hake are caught in the midwater trawl, their length is measured, recorded, and the fish are returned to the ocean.  All of the data collected by the scientist involved in this study will help to ensure the survival of these commercially viable species.  More importantly, keeping their populations stable will mean that the food web remains intact.  Just as we have discussed in class many times, everything on earth has its place.  Something else always depends on it for food, shelter, survival, and well being.

Pacific Hake

Since today is the last full day on board we will be preparing the equipment for transport back to Newport, Oregon.  It is important that everything is rinsed with freshwater to prevent corrosion.  After being rinsed and dried, we will package everything in boxes.  Our bunks will be stripped, our lockers emptied, and staterooms cleaned.  Although my time on board is coming to an end, I know that I will have many memories and experiences to share with you when I return.

Pacific Hake larvae

Tanya Scott