Barney Peterson: What Are We Catching? August 28, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Barney Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 13 – 28, 2016

Mission: Long Line Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Sunday, August 28, 2016

Weather Data is not available for this post because I am writing from the Biloxi/Gulfport Airport.

WHAT ARE WE CATCHING?

This is a long-line survey.  That means we go to an assigned GPS point, deploy hi-flyer buoys, add weights to hold the line down, add 100 baited hooks, leave it in place for an hour, and retrieve everything.

mackerel-bait-fish

Mackerel is used to bait the hooks.

As the equipment is pulled in we identify, measure and record everything we catch.  Sometimes, like in the case of a really large, feisty shark that struggles enough to straighten or break a hook or the lines, we try to identify and record the one that got away.  We tag each shark so that it can be identified if it is ever caught again.  We tally each hook as it is deployed and retrieved, and the computer records a GPS position for each retrieval so scientists can form a picture of how the catch was distributed along the section we were fishing.  The target catch for this particular survey was listed as sharks and red snapper.  The reality is that we caught a much wider variety of marine life.

We list our catch in two categories: Bony fish, and Sharks.  The major difference is in the skeletons.  Bony fish have just that: a skeleton made of hard bone like a salmon or halibut.  Sharks, on the other hand, have a cartilaginous skeleton, rigid fins, and 5 to 7 gill openings on each side.  Sharks have multiple rows of sharp teeth arranged around both upper and lower jaws.  Since they have no bones, those teeth are embedded in the gums and are easily dislodged.  This is not a problem because they are easily replaced as well.  There are other wonderful differences that separate sharks from bony fish.

Bony Fish we caught:

The most common of the bony fish that we caught were Red Groupers (Epinephelus morio), distinguished by of their brownish to red-orange color, large eyes and very large mouths.  Their dorsal fins, especially, have pointed spikes.

chrissy-with-enormous-grouper

Chrissy holding an enormous grouper

We also caught Black Sea Bass (Centropristus striata) which resemble the groupers in that they also have large mouths and prominent eyes.

sea-bass

Black Sea Bass

A third fish that resembles these two is the Speckled Hind (Epinephelus drummondhayi).  It has a broad body, large mouth and undershot jaw giving the face a different look.  Yes, we did catch several Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), although not as many as I expected.  Snappers are a brighter color than the Red Groupers, and have a more triangular shaped head, large mouth and prominent canine teeth.

red-snapper

Red Snapper

The most exciting bony fish we caught was barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda).  We caught several of these and each time I was impressed with their sleek shape and very sharp teeth!

barracuda

TAS Barney Peterson with a barracuda

Most of the bony fish we caught were in fairly deep water.

 

Sharks:

We were fortunate to catch a variety of sharks ranging from fairly small to impressively big!

The most commonly caught were Sandbar Sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus): large, dark-gray to brown on top and white on the bottom.

sandbar-shark

Sandbar Shark

Unless you really know your sharks, it is difficult for the amateur to distinguish between some of the various types.  Experts look at color, nose shape, fin shape and placement, and distinguishing characteristics like the hammer-shaped head of the Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) and Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) sharks that were caught on this trip.

great-hammerhead

Great Hammerhead Shark

The beautifully patterned coloring of the Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is fairly easy to recognize and so is the yellowish cast to the sides of the Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris).

Other sharks we caught were Black-nose (Carcharhinus acrontus), Atlantic Sharp-nosed (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), Blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) and Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus leucus).

Several of the sharks we caught were large, very close to 3 meters long, very heavy and very strong!  Small sharks and bony fish were brought aboard on the hooks to be measured against a scaled board on the deck then weighed by holding them up on a spring scale before tagging and releasing them.  Any shark larger than about 1.5 meters was usually heavy and strong enough that it was guided into a net cradle that was lifted by crane to deck level where it could be measured, weighed and tagged with the least possibility of harm to either the shark or the crew members.  Large powerful sharks do not feel the force of gravity when in the water, but once out of it, the power of their weight works against them so getting them back into the water quickly is important.  Large powerful sharks are also pretty upset about being caught and use their strength to thrash around trying to escape.  The power in a swat from a shark tail or the abrasion from their rough skin can be painful and unpleasant for those handling them.

PERSONAL LOG

The Night Sky

I am standing alone on the well deck; my head is buzzing with the melodies of the Eagles and England Dan.  A warm breeze brushes over me as I tune out the hum of the ship’s engines and focus on the rhythm of the bow waves rushing past below me.  It is dark! Dark enough and clear enough that I can see stars above me from horizon to horizon: the soft cloudy glow of the Milky Way, the distinctive patterns of familiar favorites like the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper with its signature bright point, the North Star.  Cassiopeia appears as a huge “W” and even the tiny cluster of the “Seven Sisters” is distinct in the black bowl of the night sky over the Gulf of Mexico.  The longer I look the more stars I see.

This is one of the first really cloudless nights of this cruise so far.  Mike Conway, a member of the deck crew came looking for me to be sure I didn’t miss out on an opportunity to witness this amazingly beautiful show.  As I first exited the dry lab and stumbled toward the bow all I could pick out were three faint stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper.  The longer I looked, the more my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, and the more spectacular the show became.  Soon there were too many stars for me to pick out any but the most familiar constellations.

As a child I spent many summer nighttime hours on a blanket in our yard as my father patiently guided my eyes toward constellation after constellation, telling me the myths that explained each one. Many years have passed since then.  I have gotten busy seeing other sights and hearing other stories.  I had not thought about those long ago summer nights for many years.  Tonight, looking up in wonder, I felt very close to Pop again and to those great times we shared.

 

Steven Frantz: Sharks at Sea, August 3, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Frantz
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the coast of Florida
Date: August 3, 2012

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Air Temperature (degrees C): 28.79
Wind Speed (knots): 14.14
Wind Direction (degree): 199.05
Relative Humidity (percent): 070
Barometric Pressure (millibars): 1017.95
Water Depth (meters): 58.0
Salinity (PSU): 35.635

Location Data:
Latitude: 3409.72N
Longitude: 17611.11W

SHARKS AT SEA

Our 300th mission aboard the Oregon II is a Longline Shark Survey.  Stratified randomly selected sites have been generated using Arc GIS Software. This eliminates potential bias in sampling and each area has an equal opportunity to be sampled. Two depth strata zones (A: 5-30 fathoms, B: 30-100 fathoms) have been factored for the Atlantic. In order to avoid all sampling sites randomly bunched all together, the area has been divided into 60 nautical mile geographic zones from southern Florida to North Carolina. 60% of our effort (ex. time at sea) is put toward “A” stations and 40% of our effort is put toward “B” stations. This method of picking stations is called proportional allocation.

We are here to find sharks. This is important because so very little is known about them, or many of the other animals living in an extreme environment (extreme for people to live in).

One if the first sharks we caught was a blacknose shark, Carcharhinus acronotus. It is relatively small, a uniform gray color, and has a black tip on its nose.

Black-Nose Shark

Here I am holding Black-Nose Shark

The most common shark found so far has been the sharpnose shark, Rhizoprionodon terraenovae. Both sharpnose and blacknose sharks are considered to be small coastal sharks by the National Marine Fisheries Service. While similar in size to the black nose shark, the sharpnose shark is spotted. When brought on board, their size is nothing compared to their strength. I guess you have to act tough when you’re little!

Sharpnose being Weighed

Sharpnose being Weighed

Tough though they may be, we caught several sharp-nose sharks that have become bait themselves! I wonder what (kind of shark?) it was that ate the back half of this sharp-nose?

Shark as "Bait"

Shark as “Bait”

One of the many data we are collecting is the sex of the sharks. Pictured below are a male (top), then female (bottom). The male shark has claspers, which are used for internal fertilization. Claspers are also used to determine a male’s age depending on how calcified they are.  This is the standard way to determine sex on all the sharks we have caught thus far.

Male Sharpnose Shark

Male Sharpnose Shark

Female Sharpnose Shark

Female Sharpnose Shark

Another piece of data collected is a clip of flesh from a fin. This is a non-lethal way for scientists to obtain DNA for genetics studies and possibly for use in population structure for identification purposes.

Fin Clipping

Fin Clipping

As we saw above, some sharks don’t make it on board alive. While this is uncommon, the opportunity does present itself for more invasive study not done on living animals. Sharpnose sharks give birth to live young (viviparous). Pictured below are young sharks taken from a female. It is interesting to note that whether the shark is male or female can be determined at this early stage. Remember, not all sharks reproduce this way.

Baby Sharpnose

Baby Sharpnose

Sandbar sharks, Carcharhinus plumbeus, have been the next most common sharks caught. These are quite a bit larger than sharp-nose sharks, averaging 150 centimeters long and 35 kilograms in mass.

Sandbar Shark

Sandbar Shark

We must be safe when collecting data. Shark’s skin is like sandpaper, so if the teeth or tail doesn’t get you, you can also be given a pretty red rash by the scrapping of their skin against your skin.

Measuring a Sandbar Shark

Measuring a Sandbar Shark

Tagged Sandbar Shark

Tagged Sandbar Shark

Sandbar sharks were popular with the shark fin soup industry because they have a very large dorsal fin compared to their body size. Sharks were caught, their fin was cut off, and then the still-living shark was released back into the ocean to die. This practice has been outlawed in U.S. waters.

Sandbar Shark & Me

Sandbar Shark & Me

Watch the video below as a sandbar shark is caught and brought to the Oregon II.

The prettiest shark (at least to me) I’ve seen so far is the tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier. They can get very large. Three meters long or more! The ones we’ve found have been smaller. The one I’m holding is very young. The umbilical scar was still visible! Tiger shark teeth are different from most sharks in that a tiger shark’s teeth are made to slice their prey, like the shells of sea turtles.

Tiger Teeth

Tiger Teeth

Tiger Shark & Me

Tiger Shark & Me

Sharks don’t have eyelids, like we have eyelids, to protect their eyes. They have what is called a nictitating membrane to protect their eyes. Here is a picture of the nictitating membrane partially covering a sharpnose shark’s eye.

Nictitating Membrane

Nictitating Membrane

The most unusual shark we’ve caught has been the scalloped hammerhead shark, Sphyrna lewini. Once on board the Oregon II they seemed to be docile (for a shark), however, their eyes on the far ends of their head were always looking, watching what was going on.

Why is their head shaped like it is? Even scientists don’t know for sure. Some think it acts as a hydrofoil to help it move through the water. Other scientists think (because of its large size) it helps detect electrical impulses in the water (like a sixth sense). Do you have any ideas why their head is shaped the way it is?

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

Scalloped Hamerhead Shark

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

Scalloped Hamerhead Shark

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

I have been working the day shift: from noon to midnight. The other crew is the night shift. In addition to what we have seen so far, the night shift has also seen a great hammerhead, Sphyrna mokarran and a silky shark, Carcharhinus falciformes.

We still have five days of fishing left. What will we catch next? I’ll let you know!

Peggy Deichstetter, September 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date:  September 5, 2010

 Remora

Remora

The day shift reported to me that they tried fishing. The seas were incredible rough. Besides that they had and incredible number of fish and different kinds of fish The deck was rocking and rolling and waves were crashing over the bow. Ashley was soaking wet because a wave hit her. Fishing was once again suspended.

Red Drum

Red Drum

Sting Ray

Sting Ray

Hammer Head

Hammer Head

Annmarie Babicki, August 17, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date  August 17, 2010

Weather Data from the bridge

Latitude:  26.96 defgrees North
Longitude: 83.95 degrees West
Clouds: partly cloudy
Winds:  5.0 kts.
Temperature: 31.70 C or 89 degrees F
Barometric Pressure: 1014.55

A blacknose shark

Science and Technology:

shark embryo

Measuring the shark embryo

It was afternoon when we caught a sharpnose shark, a silky shark and 6 blacknose sharks. This was very exciting because the blacknose shark is the chief scientist’s project out here in the Gulf. In order for him to make observations of age, maturity and reproduction, he has to dissect the shark. Three of the blacknose were put back in the ocean after they were weighed, measured and tagged. The other three waited for dissection. I watched as the three sharks were dissected and the only part that cause me to look away was cutting off the head.  Some of my team members were so excited because they could keep the head and later remove the jaw.  That is a lot of work, which I do not have the patience for, so I will not be bringing home a shark’s jaw and teeth.  If there is time, one of the observers said she would prepare a jaw for me. Even if I do not get the jaw, I will be bringing back a shark fin, shark blood and several shark embryos.  The shark fin is currently drying out and the embryo is being stored in ethanol, which is used for all specimens. I won’t go into all the gory details, but the scientist removed the entire reproductive system.  He was looking to see if the shark had given birth and he can tell this by the color of the uterine tissue.  The sharks collected, had produced 4-5 embryos each. The yellow yolk is a soup like fluid that the embryo feeds on the nutrients from its mother.  There is a thin mucus that covers both the embryo and the yolk. It reminds me of a chicken’s egg. Each shark embryo was measured and cataloged.  The data will be used when the scientist writes his paper on the reproduction of sharks, which will then be published.
This evening there was a good deal of excitement on board.  We were hauling back our catch when the line broke.  The thought was that it could be caught on something on the ocean floor or a small reef.  It also could be that the line snapped because there was a large shark on it. This is not a common occurrence, but it has happened before.  When this happens the ship sails to the last hi-flyer and we work our way backwards.  In the end, everything was accounted for.
This really was no ordinary night. We were about 40 miles off shore from Cedar Keys, FL, at about 11 P.M., when we saw a small boat drifting about 3/4 mile from us with no lights on.  The officers on the bridge saw a red flare shoot into the air, so they knew the boat could be in distress. Our ship got close enough so that they could shine a light onto it and kept track of them as it drifted.  The NOAA officers talked to the boaters via radio and discovered that they had left port at 7 A.M. and that the motor on the boat kicked out about 2 P.M. They had been floating for nine hours and in a boat they could not repair. We were so far off shore, it was certainly understandable that they were very relieved to see us and get the help they needed.
Along the coast there is a company called “Sea Tow”. Their job is to haul in boats that are unable to get to land by themselves.  You do have to pay for this service and it is like having car insurance, but costs a whole lot more money.  Luckily this boat had that insurance, so Sea Tow immediately started out to get them.  In the meantime our ship monitored them.  They said they were OK and didn’t need any supplies, they just wanted to get on land.  Sea Tow reached them about 4 A.M. and the Captain thinks they probably docked about 10 A.M.  Thank goodness the Oregon II was out there, because they would have floated out there for many more hours before being seen by another ship.  I asked the Captain what would happen if the boaters did not have Sea Tow and he said they would have called the Coast Guard, who in turn would come out to rescue them.  This is like a story you hear on the news.  This officers and crew feel they were just doing their job.  They are very humble indeed.

Personal Log

Speaking of dress,  I thought you would like to know what I am wearing while I am here.  It is so warm here that shorts are in order.  Sometimes I wear sleeveless shirts, but most time I wear short sleeve shirts. I am wearing sneakers, but wish I had rubber boots.  My sneakers are soaked just about everyday.  Luckily the engine room is hot so I can put my sneakers there to dry. Rubber gloves that are heavy and have a very thick layer of weaved cotton one one side are always worn when we are catching sharks and fish.  They really don’t protect you so much from bites, but rather from the scales of these animals, which are like little knives.  Whenever you are catching fish, you have to wear either sunglasses or safety glasses.  Hard hats are required anytime machinery is being used, which is when we put sharks in the cradle.  Finally and most important is a PFD.  They are not too heavy and come equipped with flashlights in case of an emergency.  My challenge is to make sure I have everything when I need it.  We put out lines on the stern of the boat, but catch them on the bow, so we are not always working in the same place.  It sounds simple, you just have to get into the routine, which I almost have down.
We are starting to move more quickly up the coast of Florida and continuing to complete stations as we go.  We will be back in port on Sunday. The ship can sail at about nine or ten miles per hour, so it will take us awhile to get back to Pascagoula at that rate.  The time on this ship is going by so fast, it’s hard to believe I have been on this ship for over a week!Answer to question of the day:  There are many, many ways that the officers and captain can communicate with ships.  One way is GMDSS,which stands for Global Maritime Distress Safety System.  This system has many components, some of which are overlapping and the expectation is that boaters will have some of them on their boats, whether they are commercial or recreational.  There are computer systems, whistles, flags, and a lighting system that uses the Morse Code.  As you can see this is very complicated.  There are courses that captains and officers have to take in order to understand how the communicate and keep a boat or ship safe.

Kristen and 2 red snapper

“Animals Seen Today”  sharpnose shark, blacktip shark, red groupers, red snappers, nurse shark, blacknose shark. A sandbar shark that was much darker that the one we saw a few days ago.  A few days ago we caught a great hammerhead, which is a light gray color and different from the scalloped hammerhead.

A great hammerhead shark

Jeannine Foucault, November 19, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeannine Foucault
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
November 7 – 19, 2009

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Southeast U.S.
Date: November 19, 2009

Seafloor ROV images

Seafloor ROV images

Science Log

Our last day of ROV dives and it was definitely worthwhile. PISCES held off the coast of South Carolina at the Edisto MPA (Marine Protection Area). We were able to get in four dives with the ROV. The scientists paid close attention to the marine habitat within the ecosystems of all four dives. The interesting conclusion was that all four dives had very different habitats. What is even more interesting is that these differing habitats affect the number of animals that live there. Some of the areas we saw were smooth sandy bottom and interspersed on the smooth bottom are rugged rocky outcrops.

The rocky reefs range in height from some being really short to some being very tall. Some of the rocky reefs can even be in a small area the size of a dinner plate and others are hundreds of square miles.

Rocky reefs from the ROV

Rocky reefs from the ROV

The important fact of the matter is that the rugged hard bottom is favored by many species of animals including corals, sponges, and other invertebrates. Scientists find that sunken ships or other debris that ends up at the bottom of the ocean becomes perfect habitat for animals. These areas protect fish species during spawning and from predators. Today’s discovery is that the most fish species we have seen was found not in the smooth sandy bottom but in fact in the rugged rocky outcrops and rocky reef ranges.

Things I have seen today:

hammerhead shark
sea turtle
sea cucumber
spotted goat fish
lobster
pencil urchin
banded butterfly fish
sand tilefish
sea biscuit

Question of the Day

What is a TED?

David Riddle, July 14, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Riddle
Onboard NOAA Ship Albatross IV
July 13 – 28, 2006

Mission: Sea scallop survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: July 14, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea David Riddle holds a medium-size goosefish.

NOAA Teacher at Sea David Riddle holds a medium-size goosefish.

Science and Technology Log

My first shift involved getting accustomed to the job. It seems like an incredible amount of detailed instructions and procedures at first, but over time, the routine emerges.  The dredge goes out and tows for 15 minutes.  Then it comes back in and the inclinometer data is downloaded. The inclinometer is attached to the frame of the dredge and measures the angle of the dredge in relation to the bottom. This data allows verification that the dredge was towing at the proper angle. Then the dredge frame is moved, the net is dumped, and I take a photo of the catch with Amanda holding a sign telling which tow and which location. Then we dig through the pile, on hands and knees, sorting out scallops, clappers (recently dead scallops with the shell halves still hinged), all fish species, and every third station we save and count crabs and do a random sample count to estimate the number of starfish.  Starfish are scallop predators. Also, at every third station before we do a tow the CTD measuring device is lowered over the side. CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Density, and these numbers are used to calculate salinity. The temperature data from the CTD helps establish the conditions which scallops may or may not prefer.  CTD data is not only related to the Scallop Survey, but NOAA ships regularly collect data that is used by scientists working on other projects.

The location of each tow is selected randomly by computer within various strata which vary by depth. There’s a navigational chart posted on the wall that shows the precise location of all the areas being sampled.  Some samples are taken from areas that are closed to commercial fishing, for resource management purposes.  Some areas may be closed indefinitely while others are rotated or allow fishing on a “restricted access” program.

Sightings: In the afternoon, whales were blowing on the horizon, too far away to see any more than that.  I counted five spouts together in one place, then two more a little farther behind. Hammerhead shark, reported from the bridge.  I saw the fin. Dolphins alongside in the dark: they look silver-gray, in the reflection of the ship’s lights.

Personal Log 

I awoke feeling fine, and went around taking some video of fishing operations.  But I felt uneasy from late morning on.  Twelve hours is a long time to work when feeling queasy, but interestingly, when I was focused on a specific task, even something as simple as shucking scallops and talking, I was less aware of my discomfort.  I was tired toward the end of my 12-hour shift, tired of feeling queasy, tired of the half-asleep feeling that comes from the anti-nausea medication.  A shower and bed were most welcome!