Jason Moeller: June 14-16, 2011

JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 14-16, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome back, explorers!

June 14

I think I posted my last log too soon, because as soon as I hit the send button interesting things began to happen. First, I was called up to see some Mountain Goats feeding in the wild! I was able to take a picture of them as well! (Well, kind of…)

The mountain goats were so far away I had to use binoculars just to spot them. If you can spot the two tiny white dots to the right of the snow, that is them! There is also one that is on the left hand side in the middle of the photograph. You will have to take my word for it.

While this was going on, the professional members of the science team were still calibrating the sonar that we are going to use to catch the fish! I have explained the process in the captions of the following photographs.

sonar balls
Calibrating starts with these little balls. The one used to calibrate our sonar was made of Tungsten (like the black ball at the top)
The ball was suspended underneath the water on three poles, placed in a triangular shape, around the ship. This is a photo of one of the poles.
Once the ball was placed underneath the boat, the scientist swept sound waves off of the ball and used the above screen to see where the sound waves were striking the ball and reflecting. This allowed them to adjust the sound waves to hit the ball (or out in the ocean, the fish) exactly where they wanted it. This optimizes the amount of sound coming back to the boat and paints a better picture of what is under the water.

The process took several hours, but once we finished, we headed back out to sea to start the two-day journey towards our first fishing spot!

June 15-16

The most common sight off of the boat for the past two days has been this one.

Water, water, everywhere

We are currently in Unimak Pass, which will lead us to the Bering Sea! Unimak Pass is the fastest sea route from the United States into Asia, and as a result is a common merchant route between Seattle and Japan. It is also the best way to avoid rough seas and bad weather when travelling between the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, as it receives some cover from the landmass.

The Bering Sea likely needs no introduction, as it is arguably the best crab fishing waters on the planet and is well-known from the television show The Deadliest Catch. Aside from crab, the Bering Sea is teeming with life such as pollock, flounder, salmon, and halibut. As a result of this diverse and tasty biomass, the Bering Sea is an incredibly important area to the world’s fisheries.

Steaming towards our destination has kept us away from any land, but there are still things to do and to see! We did a second dry cast of the net, but this time two different pieces of equipment were tested.

The net
The first piece of equipment was a special net for taking samples. The net has three sections, called codends, which can be opened and closed individually. You can see two of the codends in this photo. On top of the green net, you should see black netting that is lined with white rope. These are the codends.
net 2
This is a better view of the codends. The codends are opened and closed using a series of six bars. When the first bar is dropped, the first codend is able to take in fish. When the second bar is dropped, the codend is unable to take in fish. The bar system has not worked incredibly well, and there is talk of removing one of the codends to make the net easier to use.
The second piece of equipment was this camera, which was attached to the net. It allowed us to see what was coming in the net. Even though this was a dry run and we were not catching anything, I still saw a few Pollock in the camera!

Even though this was a test run and we did not catch any fish, the birds saw the net moving and came to investigate. The remaining photographs for the personal log are of the several species of birds that flew by the boat.

Bird 1
A Northern Fulmar flies alongside the Oscar Dyson
Bird 2
An albatross (by the thin wire just below the spot the water meets the horizon) flies away from the Oscar Dyson
Bird 3
Fulmar's and Gulls wheel about the Oscar Dyson, looking for fish.

Science and Technology Log

This section of the blog will be written after we start fishing for Pollock in the next day or so!

New Species

Mountain Goats

Northern Fulmar



Reader Question(s) of the Day!

First, I owe a belated shout out to Dr. John, Knoxville Zoo’s IT technician. He lent me the computer that I am currently using to post these logs, and I forgot to mention him in the last post. Thanks Dr. John!

The two questions of the day also come from Kaci, a future Teacher at Sea with NOAA.

1. What is it like sleeping on the boat?

A. Honestly, I am being jostled around quite a bit. Part of this is due to the way the beds are set up. The beds go from port to starboard (or right to left for the landlubbers out there) instead of fore to aft (front to back). This means that when the boat rolls, my feet will often be higher than my head, which causes all of blood to rush to my head. I still haven’t gotten used to the feeling yet.

Part of the jostling, though, is my fault. I had heard that most individuals took the bottom bunks given the option, and since I was one of the first individuals on board, I decided to be polite and give my roommate, who outranked me by some 10-15 years at sea, the bottom bunk. It turns out that the reason people pick the bottom bunk is that the top bunk moves around more since it is higher off the floor. I’ve heard stories about people being thrown from the top bunk in heavy seas as well.

The most comfortable place to sleep has turned out to be the beanbag chair in the common room. It is considered rude to go into your room if your shift ends early, as your roommate may still be sleeping. My shift ended two hours early the other night, so I sat down on the beanbag chair to catch some zs. The ship’s rocking was greatly reduced by the bean bag chair, and I slept very well for the next couple of hours.

2. Is it stressful so far?

A. The only stressful part of the trip so far has been the seasickness, which I have not yet been able to shake. The rest of it has been a lot of fun!

John Schneider, July 18-20, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 18-20, 2009

Shumagin Islands, in transit to Dutch Harbor

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Weather System:
(July 18th) Low system approaching from the South
(July 19th) Fog, gusty wind in the morning, clear afternoon, but getting windier; Wind: southwesterly at 4-6 kts; Sea State: 1-2 feet

Weather System:  Projected for the July 20-21 overnight
Barometer: falling rapidly (a warning sign of unsettled weather) Wind: sustained at 30-40 kts, gusting to 55 kts (This would qualify as a “gale”)
Sea State: Predicted wave height next 24-36 hrs – 18 feet!

Andy and lunch—a nice halibut!
Andy and lunch—a nice halibut!

Science and Technology Log 

On the 18th and 19th, the launches went out (including me on the 19th) to clean up some holidays and get more near-shore data.  When we got back on the 19th, we found out that a major low pressure system was building to the south and expected to be in our area within a day and a half.  A major low system can reach out a couple of hundred miles and the CO decided that we would leave the Shumagins about 18 hours earlier than originally planned.  I discussed this with him (he is remarkably approachable) and he reiterates to me what I had already believed: his responsibilities are in three priorities – 1. His crew.  2. His ship.  3. The mission. Our research in the Shumagins does not represent life-or-death, it represents the continuing quest for knowledge and the expansion of our understanding of the Earth.  I’m sure you’ve realized it already, but Captain Baird and his officers have earned my highest regard.

We are in the center of the radar screen and two other ships described below – with their courses projected from the boxes that represent them – are behind us. The green line is our track ahead.
We are in the center of the radar screen and two other ships described below – with their courses projected from the boxes that represent them – are behind us. The green line is our track ahead.

On board the Fairweather is a phenomenal array of electronics.  Our positioning equipment is able to determine our position with just a couple of meters and when we are on a course it can tell if the course error is as little as a decimeter! Operating in Alaska, where fog is a way of life, RADAR (Radio Direction And Ranging) is an absolute must, and we have redundant systems in the event one breaks down. Probably the coolest thing about the radar is the use of ARPA technology. ARPA (Automated Radar Plotting Aid) is a system that not only identifies other vessels on the water, but diagrams their projected course and speed vectors on the screen. It does this from as far as 64 miles away!

The filleted tail of the halibut and some crabs found in its stomach
The tail of the halibut and some crabs found in its stomach

By looking at the screen, you can see the lines of other ships relative to your own and navigate accordingly. Furthermore, the system includes ECDIS, which is an Electronic Chart Display and Information System that identifies other ships as to their name, size, destination, and cargo!  So when you see on the radar that you are in a situation where you will be passing near to another vessel, you can call them on the radio by name! This technology is essential, especially going through Unimak Pass.  Unimak Pass is about 15 miles wide and is a critical point in commercial shipping traffic between the Americas and Asia. As we were transiting Unimak Pass, We were passed by an 800 foot long container ship that was en route to Yokohama, Japan and going the other way was a 750 foot ship going to Panama.  This is a critical area due to what is called “Great Circle” navigation.  I’ll address this point when in Dutch Harbor next week.

Eat your hearts out!
Eat your hearts out!

Personal Log 

Last night, after the beach party, Andy Medina (who has been on board for almost 200 days this year) was fishing off the fantail and caught a nice halibut. The crew who hail from Alaska all have fishing permits and when the day is done, if we’re anchored they get to use their free time for fishing.  They even got a freezer to keep their filets in.  Earlier in the cruise, we actually had halibut tacos made with about the freshest Alaskan halibut you can find (less than 12 hours from catch to lunch!)  Of course, with me being a bio guy, I asked for two things: 1 – to keep and freeze the head (I For the last night of the leg before making port in Dutch Harbor  (home of the World’s Deadliest Catch boats) the stewards, Cathy Brandts, Joe Lefstein and Mike Smith really outdid themselves.  I sure hope you can read the menu board, but if you can’t, dinner was Grilled NY Strip Steak and Steamed Crab legs with Butter! 

We went through about 10 trays like this!!!
We went through about 10 trays like this!!!

After dinner, everybody secured as much equipment as possible in the labs, galley and cabins as possible in anticipation of the run ahead of the weather into Dutch Harbor.  We ran through the night and got to Unimak pass in the middle of the day on the 20th. About half way through the pass was an unusual announcement, “Attention on the Fairweather, there are a lot of whales feeding off to starboard!” It’s the only time whales were announced and it was worth the announcement.  For about 2 to 3 miles, we were surrounded by literally MILLIONS of seabirds and a score or more of whales.  Comments from everybody were that they had never seen anything like it. I kept thinking of the old Hitchcock film The Birds and the scenes in Moby Dick where Ahab says to “watch the birds.” We were all agog at the sight.

Fifteen minutes of this! Incredible!
Fifteen minutes of this! Incredible!

With the collective 200-300 years of at-sea experience, no one had ever seen anything like it. After 2.5 weeks that seems like 2.5 days, we approach Dutch Harbor and are secured to the pier by 1700 hours. Tonight we’ll head into town, but if not for the news in the next paragraph, this would be the worst time of the trip, however . . .

The Best news of the trip: I’ve requested and been approved to stay on board the Fairweather for the next leg! WOO-HOO!!!  It’s called FISHPAC and deals with integrating bottom characteristics to commercially viable fish populations!  I’m going to the Bering Sea!!!

Questions for You to Investigate 

  1. When did the Andrea Doria and Stockholm collide?  Where?  In what conditions?
  2. What was the D.E.W. Line in the Cold War?
  3. Why did the Japanese want bases in the Aleutians in WWII?
  4. Why did we pass a ship going from North America to Yokohama well over 1000 miles north of both ends of the trip?
  5. What are Great Circles?

Did You Know? 

That almost 10% of all commercial fishing catch in the United States comes through Unalaska and Dutch Harbor?

Approaching Dutch Harbor
Approaching Dutch Harbor

Kristin Joivell, June 30, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kristin Joivell
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather
June 15 – July 1, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: June 29-30, 2009

This sea star was brought to the surface in a bottom sample.
This sea star was brought to the surface in a bottom sample.

Weather Data From the Bridge:   
Position: North of Big Koniuji Island
Clouds: mostly clear
Visibility: 10+ miles
Wind: calm Waves: 0 feet
Temperature: 12.0 dry bulb
Temperature: 10.0 wet bulb
Barometer: 1023.2

Science and Technology Log 

Since the ship is operating in waters that there is not much information about, verifying current charted information is important.  Before launches are sent into a new area to collect data, shoreline verification is an operation that must be completed.  First, existing charts and new pictures of the coastline taken from a plane are used to determine a rough estimate of the shoreline.  Then, the shoreline verification team is sent into the area in a small boat.  The boat’s course is determined based on a buffer zone of the mean high water line on shore so that it can avoid any known, previously charted hazards. The boat travels a set path just outside of this buffer zone while logging information about bottom depths and looking for dangers to navigation.

Taking a compass bearing for a previously uncharted danger to navigation.  The rock found is only visible at low tide which makes it all the more hazardous.
Taking a compass bearing for a previously uncharted danger to navigation. The rock found is only visible at low tide which makes it all the more hazardous.

Sometimes hazards are found that are not charted on existing maps.  So, the team must identify these hazards and log their specific locations. An advanced GPS device is used along with a compass to determine the location of the hazard from the boat. The hazards are logged on a computer to record their positions.  Then, that information is used to both warn the other survey boats from the Fairweather working in the area, and to update new editions of the charts. Sometimes hazards that are currently charted are found in a different location. Once in a while, charted hazards are not even there at all!  All of this new information about hazards is also added to the new editions of charts. It’s somewhat terrifying to think that current charts sometimes have mistakes on them that could affect travelers so negatively. Checking what is on the bottom of the ocean is also important information.  To anchor a ship, some materials are more desirable than others. For example, hard rock is not as desirable as mud or sand because the anchor will just drag along hard rock and not catch as well. So, bottom sampling is another important operation that must be completed so that ships can anchor safely and properly.

Retrieving the bottom sampler.  It’s interesting to open it up and see what’s inside.  Depending on material found, ships can determine more desirable and less desirable anchoring locations.
Retrieving the bottom sampler. It’s interesting to open it up and see what’s inside. Depending on material found, ships can determine more desirable and less desirable anchoring locations.

To take a bottom sample, a scoop is deployed from a small boat or the ship.  The scoop has an automatic trigger that closes it when it hits the bottom of the ocean.  Then, you pull the bottom sampling device back up to the boat or ship and open the scoop. Observations about gathered materials are made on the computer.  There are all kinds of designations to specify the nature of the materials gathered.  Many of the samples we gathered were fine sand, but some included medium gravel, soft coral, and broken shells.  A few samples even included sea stars and a sponge!

The most difficult part about bottom sampling is that you have to pull the line up from the ocean floor with the bottom sampler attached.  The bottom sampler is a heavy, metal object so, pulling up all the line and the sampler from over 100 feet below gives you a workout.  Rotating positions on the boat helped especially since there were four of us on board.  That way, everyone’s arms had a chance to rest through three turns until it was your next turn to haul up the line and bottom sampler. I liked bottom sampling a lot because it was a surprise every time the sample was brought back up the boat. Also, it gave me a chance to look at some of the creatures that live in the ocean in Alaska. Seeing the sea stars and the sponge were the highlights of the day.

Personal Log 

This is a small halibut caught by one of the crew. It was quite small, but they can grow to be over 400 pounds.
This is a small halibut caught by one of the crew. It was quite small, but they can grow to be over 400 pounds.

Free time is a priceless commodity on the ship.  Everyone works to complete many tasks each day. Sometimes unexpected events occur that interfere with regular schedules. The Plan of the Day even has a disclaimer on it that states: “Tasks are subject to change at any time.  And they will.” So, when a person has free time and isn’t catching up on sleep, choosing an activity is difficult. Movies are shown each night and the computers are internet capable, but sometimes it’s good to get out on deck or off the ship instead of sitting in a room on board.

One of the things you can do on the ship in your free time is go fishing. You need an Alaska fishing license to do this, so I like to watch the licensed fishermen on board and examine their fish before they are released back into the ocean.  It’s interesting to see how many different kinds of fish are caught on the ship. In just the past few days, people have caught halibut, flounder, and cod.  Someone even recently caught a red octopus eating a baby crab!  Unfortunately, I missed that catch by about 10 minutes.  Comparing the freshwater fish that I know to these saltwater fish is a great free time activity.

Panning for gold on Herendeen Island.  The mica in the water is deceptively similar to gold flake.
Panning for gold on Herendeen Island. The mica in the water is deceptively similar to gold flake.

Another free time activity that is popular is going ashore to hike and explore. We sometimes even have the opportunity to build a fire on the shoreline. There is a lot of driftwood available, but the lack of garbage on the beaches never stops surprising me.  There are none of the common waste materials that you find commonly on the beaches in the Northeastern United States. However, there are some plastic materials like bottles and bags.  One plastic bottle found even had Korean fishermen use plastic fishing floats, but the glass ones are much older and looked for to use for decorations. The crew suggested that I look for them, but I didn’t find any at all.

Panning for gold is also something that can be done while ashore.  I assisted a fellow crew member on the quest for gold, but we were unsuccessful.  The rocks in the area have mica in them, so the streams are full of glittery chips.  These looked to me like gold, and I thought we had struck it rich, but I was wrong.  Standing in the cold stream and searching for gold nuggets is something that I will definitely remember for a long time.

Create Your Own NOAA Experiment at Home 

You can explore the types of water organisms in your area like a NOAA crew member.  If you are planning on fishing, make sure you have the correct fishing license for your area.  Rivers are great places to start because you don’t need a boat to fish on them; you can just fish from the riverbank. Also, if you don’t want to fish, you can examine the macroinvertebrates that live under rocks. In the rivers and streams in Central Pennsylvania where I’m from, you can find mayfly and stonefly nymphs, caddisfly larvae, and water pennies in abundance.  The Pennsylvania Fish Commission has lots of great materials available to help with identification of organisms.  Looking at water from lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds under a microscope is also an interesting experience. You can learn a lot about the health of your area’s watershed by examining the organisms in the water.

Heather Diaz, July 9, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Heather Diaz
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
July 6 – 15, 2006

Mission: Juvenile Shark Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: U.S. West Coast
Date: July 9, 2006

A Scorpion fish waits to have a DNA sample taken in the onboard tank.  Dr. Russ Vetter caught the bottom-dwelling fish today and is doing research on Rockfish.
A Scorpion fish waits to have a DNA sample taken in the onboard tank. Dr. Russ Vetter caught the bottom-dwelling fish today and is doing research on Rockfish.

Science and Technology Log 

There was no swordfish set done last night, so everyone got up at 6am to do the first of the shark sets for the day. We hauled in the first set at around 10am.  We caught one mako.  We set the second line at around 12pm.  We hauled it in around 4pm. We caught 2 pelagic rays.

Personal Log 

We were just off the coast of Santa Cruz and Anacapa.  It was such a beautiful sight to see! Anacapa is very rugged, with lots of canyons and steep drop offs. I don’t think my pictures will do it justice!

A brown pelican decided to hang around today, so I got some good pictures of him. We tried to find him mackerel, but they were too big for him, and he just spit them back out.  Everyone was a bit disappointed into today’s turnout. But, Dr. Suzy Kohin, the Chief Scientist said that this block was not a very good spot for them during the last leg either (they repeat the survey in 2 different legs so that they get a better sampling).  We all hope that tomorrow we are able to catch more fish!  Dr. Russ Vetter fished between sets. He caught several Rockfish, most of which were orange colored. He said that these were bottom fish, and he is doing an independent research study on them.  He also caught a Halibut and a Scorpion fish.   He took DNA samples from them, then they were prepared as part of the barbecue!

Sean Suk caught a Sanddab this afternoon, but he threw it back in.  There were lots of boats….sailboats and motor boats around us while we were near the port…they kept coming by to check us out.  I’ve seen lots of big container ships while we’ve been in this area, as well. We went past an offshore oil rig this afternoon, and it was interesting to see just how close it is to the coastline of California!  I have seen oil rigs in Wyoming, but the offshore ones are very different. It was neat to be able to see one in person.

The exciting thing about today was that we had a barbecue on the aft deck.  We had kabobs and burgers. It was great!  The weather was gorgeous, and everyone laughed and a nice time.  The crew said that they have a barbecue almost every Sunday and that it is kind of like a tradition. We went to Channel Islands Harbor near Port Hueneme, CA.  They had to pick up some gear for the engineers at the port there.  The weather became a bit cool after the sun went down…and I think I will have to close the door to my stateroom because it will probably be too chilly!  We enjoyed watching the sunset, and we are all looking forward to another week together.

After it got dark, we went down to the bow observation chamber, which is way down in the belly of the bow, below sea level. You have to climb down through 2 locks and down about 30 stairs, straight down. It’s kind of scary down there.  There are 4 portholes which look out from the bow of the ship, and we could see the phosphorescent critters in the water. They glow green. It was very surreal.  Jason Larese, Stephanie Snyder, Daniele Adrizzone, and I went down, then Ryan Harris joined us about half way through.  Climbing up was not as scary as going down was!  I made it out safely, but unfortunately, I couldn’t get anything to show up in pictures.

James Miller, August 21, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
James Miller
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 13 – 27, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific, Alaska
Date: August 21, 2005

Location: Anchored Northeast side of Mitrofinia Island
Weather: Sun and clouds, low 60’s
Wind: 5-10kts
Seas: Calm
Itinerary: Working around Mitrofinia Island

Huge halibut
Huge halibut

Science and Technology Log 

To ensure completion of some of the longer lines located further out in the open ocean, the ship spent the day running surveying lines.  The RAINIER is also fitted with sonar transducers and is used when the lines are 8 miles or longer. I was assigned to work in the plotting room with the surveyors cleaning up data that was collected the previous day.

Many processing steps must be performed on the bottom contour data before it makes it onto a chart.  On the ship, the surveyor performs a basic “cleaning” of the data with powerful computers, and very sophisticated software.  The surveyors pull up the bottom contour data on the screen and analyze it for stray signals.  It is very cool software because they look at the bottom in 3-D and from any angle.  At first it doesn’t look like much but a chaotic grouping of lines; however, after the surveyor selects areas and stray signals to cut out, the bottom contour emerges.  The surveyor definitely develops an eye for understanding these 3-D images, but it didn’t take long before I was performing some of the basic cleaning tasks.  I also downloaded some of the images onto a disk to be used in a PowerPoint presentation.

I had an interesting conversation with one of the surveyors whose background is geology. He said that this entire area is a geologists dream.  He described how much of the area was probably form by Mt. Veniaminof volcano, which is visible in the distance and is still active. The thing is immense and stands above all the other surrounding mountains. Additionally, he has also seen clear evidence of structures formed by seismic activity.

Personal Log 

It was actually nice to have a day off from the launches.  I had time to do some laundry and get caught up with some e-mails.  I’m definitely used to the daily routine and I’ve finally learned all the crew and officers names and responsibilities.

We’re scheduled to leave the area in the afternoon tomorrow because of very poor weather forecasts. Winds to 40kts seem to make the captain a bit nervous, so we’re going to run for cover in Chignik Bay on the peninsula about 80 miles or so northeast of the Mitrofania Island. Since it might be my last opportunity to fish, after dinner I went out to the fantail to try for halibut. I was determined and planned to put in some serious time.  After about a half hour I hooked and landed a 25 pounder, and then ten minutes later lost a 15 pounder. Then within another 20 minutes I caught one about the same size as the first.  By this time many of the crew started fishing. I saw LT Evans wrestling with a fish on the other side of the boat. It was apparent he had something big, so I put my rod down to watch as he slowly reeled it up. About 20 minutes later this hulk of a halibut appeared, it was huge. It took two harpoons, and me and another guy to haul the fish up onto the boat. We didn’t have a scale but it was estimated at over 100 pounds.  It also took all night for LT Evans to clean it and bag it.

Jillian Worssam, August 9, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jillian Worssam
Aboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman
July 5 – August 1, 2004

Jillian Worssam aboard the Miller Freeman
Jillian Worssam aboard the Miller Freeman

Hello All, This will be my final visit from Alaska, The voyage on the ship is over, but I am far from done with this journey. It is amazing how much life can be packed into a month, and I feel ever so fortunate to have had this opportunity. My heart is full, my mind has been challenged. I am a bit sad as I miss the camaraderie and new friendships, thank goodness for e-mail. Thank you all for your support this past month, my goodness has it ONLY been a month!….hope you enjoy this last entry. Jillian I have attached a photo, hope it works….Also one of my last poems! As the humpback breaches I see a splash, a tail and then nothing. In the blink of an eye this mighty creature has defied gravity. I am in awe! Again and again the aerobatics continue for what reason I do not know, only that as witness I have been given a gift. A tufted puffin paddles by and I am inspired, so glad to have this moment, and so aware of the fragility of life. Seals lay upon floating pieces of ice, their guards down as they relax in pure abandon. I too am relaxed, enjoying the breeze as it plays against my skin. Loving the boats motion, as swell upon swell try to breach our hull. My heart beats to a new rhythm and I am humbled by the grandeur of this place!

Never in my life has a month passed so quickly, literally in the blink of an eye I have had the experience of a lifetime. So much has happened and I am a different woman. Thirty days ago I was prepared to walk in the shoes of another, to taste a different career and learn. Now that time has passed, and the shoes fit so well that I am tempted, so tempted to change the patterns of a life time. NOAA provides an amazing opportunity for teachers and I urge all educators to take advantage of their generosity, for they have enhanced my world beyond merewords.

One week ago I caught my first Halibut, over 50 pounds, and it was quite a challenge to land. I was then taught how to bleed the fish to improve the quality of the meat prior to my lesson on how to fillet. The tender pieces of flesh have been vacuumed packed and will be sent to me for shared consumption. Two weeks ago I hung from the gantry, thirty feet above the deck removing the cotter pin from the block holding the third wire (scientific equipment that sent data back to the ship while we were fishing).My safety was in the hands of men whom I had not previously known, and I had no fear. The pin was tricky, the pliers slippery in my hand, failure was not an option. I was trusted with a job, so there was no hesitation, I would succeed.

Three weeks ago I gutted my first fish, checked its gender, and measured it for scientific purposes. The stomach contents were preserved for further study and the otoliths removed so that the age could be determined. I saw thousands of pollock, and many other species, and have learned to truly appreciate a new ecosystem.

Four weeks ago I stood in Dutch Harbor, Alaska about to board a 215 foot NOAA research vessel with no idea of what was about to unfold. Here I was a teacher from Arizona, about to spend thirty days on the Bering Sea, to study walleye pollock, a fish I had never previously heard of.

Today I am a new person, I have an enhanced understanding of life, of career and the dedication these men and women have to both. I was the student, eager to learn and wanted to be a part of everything.

I was denied nothing for 30 days.  You want to paint Jillian, here are the brushes. What, you really want to clean the heads, go for it.  Ok, I will explain it to you one more time, the line needs to be taught, then you bring the left over the right, through the hole and there is the lover’s knot. (I never did master any knots, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t an eager study) Once the data is recorded and analyzed, fishing quotas can be established and the Bering Sea can continue to be a viable and healthy ecosystem.

This was my life, and with some melancholy I am sorry to leave. I have made friends expanded my mind, and had an amazing adventure. For many, their days hold no passion, no daily happiness. I have been reminded that life is tenuous, and not to be taken for granted. I want to get up every morning and be pleased with all that I have, and all that I can gain. I want to work with my peers and realize that the little things are not important, the big picture, the smile on my face, the spirit I hold, these are what count.

NOAA, the seventh branch, and least recognized of our military system, has given me a present beyond words, and it is with my every breath that I hope to share this gift with others. Little do my students know what is in store for them this year…as for me the adventure will surely continue!

Leyf Peirce, July 15, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leyf Peirce
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 6 – 15, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
July 15, 2004

Time: 18:00
Latitude: N 56°22.60
Longitude: W 152°56.70 Visibility: 10 nm

Wind direction: 115
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea wave height: 0 – 1 ft
Swell wave height: 2 – 3 feet
Sea water temperature: 12.2 °C
Sea level pressure: 1013.5 mb
Air temperature: 13.3 °C
Cloud cover: 5/8

Science and Technology Log

We are still in transit today to Kodiak, with a planned stop for some “biological testing”, a.k.a. fishing. About two hours before we were going to stop to fish, we heard the bridge announce, “Whales breaching off the port bow!” This is the call for everyone to rush to the portside to see the whales. And what an incredible sight! I was atop the fly deck with TAS Norton and ENS Slover, and none of us could believe the symphony of spray that lay 150 meters ahead of us. It seemed choreographed, almost, with one humpback whale to the right blowing spray into the air at the same time as a whale on the left side. The finale consisted of at least 3 whales breaching so far out of the water you could see their entire underside! Just when we thought the show was over, two whales came within 20 meters of the portside of the boat and breached, waving hello as they went under. Luckily, we had slowed the boat down, so the chances of hitting these whales were small. For such massive and mysterious creatures, these animals completed their whale ballet show gracefully!

We later started fishing, and this sight was yet another of awe at the creatures that inhabit this part of the world. After only 10 minutes, there were about 12 fish on the fantail, 3 of which were halibut that were over 125 pounds, one which was at least 5 feet! After another 10 minutes, the fantail was covered with fish and blood and guts, promising a feast for weeks to come. The birds circled above waiting in anticipation, arguing when a piece of fresh fish was thrown overboard. Again a new image to me, the albatross intimidated the other gulls with its large wing span and threatening call. This day was certainly full of wildlife!

Personal Log

I have never seen whales breach in the wild before, and it truly was an amazing spectacle! Parallel to that, I have never caught a fish any bigger than a 20 inch rainbow trout. Catching a 25 pound black rockfish was extremely exciting, as well as seeing all of the halibut caught! I will say that while fly fishing takes a lot more patience and technique, the fishing that occurred today required more strength and team work. There were at least 4 people helping lug the largest of the fish onto the ship!

We are almost to Kodiak, should be there by morning, and I find myself sad to leave this boat. It has truly been an amazing experience, one in which I learned a lot about the wildlife, research, crew, and myself. I realize now that two weeks at sea really does allow for a lot of self-contemplation and growth. I am very thankful to have had this experience.

Question of the Day:

How big is the biggest humpback whale recorded? How big is the biggest whale recorded? How does this compare to the average sized person?