Tom Jenkins: Teacher at Sea, Not at Sea. Yet… April 14, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Jenkins
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 10 – 27, 2018

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographic Area: Northeastern U.S. Coast
Date: April 14, 2018

So…What to do when you are a NOAA Teacher at Sea, you are at the port and you are not yet out to sea?  You leverage your NOAA connections within the scientific community to learn more about things related to various aspects of NOAA’s mission.

On Thursday, I was fortunate enough to be part of a NOAA group that toured UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology.  This recently opened, cutting edge facility provided a wonderful insights into the study of marine life.

School for Marine Science & Technology
UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology
Tom at UMass Dartmouth
Me touring UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology
Lab at UMass Dartmouth
Lab at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology

While on our special tour, members of the NOAA Fisheries team were able to exchange knowledge with the team that helped build and is currently getting this amazing research space up and running to full capacity.

We learned about some of the various aquatic species that are indigenous to the region (see below) and the current research surrounding these impressive life forms.

Inside a Tank
Tank at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology
Tom and specimen
Me holding a specimen from the tank at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology
Inside of Tank 2
Tank at UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology

And I also learned about some of the technologies that are utilized by fisherman including those similar to what we will use by the Henry Bigelow on our upcoming research mission.

Example net
Technologies that are utilized by fisherman including those similar to what we will use by the Henry Bigelow
More tech examples
Technologies that are utilized by fisherman including those similar to what we will use by the Henry Bigelow

While spending time around the dock, I took time to explore and learn more about some of the equipment that is used to gather data at sea.  Notice the NOAA environmental buoy to far left and the crane aboard the Henry Bigelow. While watching a Coast Guard Ship (with a similar crane) effortlessly load and unload these massive buoys, I couldn’t help but to start brainstorming an engineering design lesson that would help capture this really cool process.  Hopefully, ideas similar to these will continue to be developed over the next couple of weeks and will result in all kinds of new curricula for my classroom.

Tom on Buoy
Me on a NOAA environmental buoy
Crane on Bigelow
The crane aboard the Henry Bigelow
Tom and other buoys
Me in front of a row of navigational buoys

Tomorrow, we are once again set to sail out.  The past few days have allowed me to learn about the marine life that we will be gathering, the ways in which we will be doing it and has also allowed me to get to know the wonderful people I will be working with during my research mission.  To say that I am excited would be an understatement.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.  As always, please feel free to leave any comments below.

Cecelia Carroll: Back Home, May 16, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cecelia Carroll

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

May 2 – 14, 2017

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl

Geographic Area: Northeastern Atlantic

Date: May 16, 2017

Reflections

With our stations complete, we headed home a bit early on Saturday, and with the approaching nor’easter on Mother’s Day, it was probably a good decision.  I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and value the efforts, hard-work, professionalism and teamwork that make an undertaking of such enormity a valued and fun endeavor.  The camaraderie of the team will be forever cherished.

We came back through the Cape Cod Canal late in the evening, on our return to Newport, RI.  We spotted joggers with head lamps running along the path of the canal. Perhaps a local road race?

It was interesting feeling in my kitchen rocking and rolling all day Sunday …. dock rock or kitchen rock???  That was a fun sensation!!

It was nice to see my students this morning, Monday, all welcoming me home and curious about my trip.  On Sunday, I had prepared a slide-show of many of my photos and projected my blog on the “Smartboard” to share with my classes.  They had a wide range of questions from what did I eat, was I seasick, what fish did we catch, did you dissect any fish, did you see any whales, how old do you have to be to go out on the ship, to what will the scientists do with the samples that were saved. They were impressed with my pictures of the goosefish, (who wouldn’t be impressed with such a fish!) and laughed at how the scientist I worked closely with nicknamed me a “Fish Wrangler” as I had caught, in midair,  some slippery, squirming, flip-flopping Red Fish as they had managed an attempted escape off the scale when a big wave hit.  I’ll wear that tag with pride!

Thank you to NOAA and their staff that prepared me for the journey.  Thank you to all the wonderful people I met on the ship.  A “Teacher at Sea” is a monicker of which I will be always proud … as well as “Fish Wrangler!”

Some Photos

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This lobster is regenerating a new claw!! Amazing!

 

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Mike deciding which species of fish we will run on the conveyor ( let go to the end of the conveyor belt without sorting manually straight into a basket )

 

 

 

Cecelia Carroll: In an Octopus’s Garden, May 3, 2017

 

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Cecelia Carroll
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B Bigelow
May 2 -13, 2017

MissionSpring Bottom Trawl Survey

Date: May 3, 2017

Latitude: 42 32.790N

Longitude: 070 01.210

Science Log: 
Last night we passed through the Cape Cod Canal.  It was exciting to go under the bridges I have traveled over many years for a summer vacation.  It was a clear night with plenty of stars shining.  We collected our first haul to survey just after arriving in the bay.   I was surprised by the variety of fish that we sorted, weighed, measured and took samples.  The scientists I am working with are a very dedicated, professional, hard working and friendly bunch.  By the time we finished it was midnight and I was done with my day assignment.


I awoke to a view of Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod in the distance.  About two dozen right whales were spotted in the area.  Later, I was able to observe the nets being lowered into the sea.  The instruments placed along the opening of the net will measure the depth and opening area of the net. The nets are in the water for 20 minutes. The catch also included skates, lots of red hake, a few cod, lobsters of all sizes, a few star fish, alewife, mackerel and others I hope to learn more about.  Sorting is done along a conveyor, 6 of us each at our stations. In my wet weather gear and rubber gloves, I place the fish in an array of buckets and baskets. I never would have imagined me holding a handful of small octopi!  There must’ve been 8-10 of them!

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The first octopus
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A few small octopi

 

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Missed the bucket!  An octopus lands on my sleeve!

 

Once the full catch is sorted, I assist alongside scientist Christine by recording the data she is collecting into the computer.  We work with one species at a time, then onto the next basket or bucket.


The specimen that is mostly retained for further study is the otolith, a small bone within the fish’s ear. It determines the fish’s age much like the ring on a tree. The bone acquires a growth ring everyday for at least the first six months of the fish’s life.  (The haddock otoliths I observed were between 1 – 2 cm, depending on the size/age of the particular haddock)  (Image Compana Lab: http://www.uni.hi.is/compana/ )

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Otolith 
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Filing tray of the Otolith Specimens    Note the various names of the fish.

 

Why Age Fish?

“Once the ages are known for a sample of fish, scientists can measure the rates of various processes affecting these fish. For instance, data on fish size can be combined with age information to provide growth rates. Also, the decrease in abundance from one year (age) to the next gives a measure of mortality rates (due to the combination of fishing and natural causes). Finally, age data can be used to determine how long it takes individuals of a species to mature. Any of these vital rates may change over time, so it is important to examine age samples regularly.
Knowledge of fish age also allows scientists to learn more from capturing and measuring fewer fish. It is impossible to catch all the fish in the ocean. However, if a small portion of the fish are captured and aged, the relative abundance of fish at each age can be determined. These age data, with data from other sources, can then be expanded to estimate the total number of fish in the wild. Population models, using such data, enable scientists to monitor trends in the size of fish populations and to predict potential effects of fishing on those populations. The most detailed models include age-specific estimates of weight, mortality, and growth; this requires that larger numbers of fish be aged.” (1)

Personal Biography

How did I hear about the Teacher At Sea Program?
Last summer, I was fortunate to attend the Maury Project, a summer teacher development program of the American Meteotological Society held at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.  A few other teachers in attendance had been Teachers at Sea and sang its praises. Teachers inspiring other teachers!

What a coincidence:
The Maury Project mentioned above is named for Matthew Fontaine Maury  (1806- 1873) the Father of Oceanography and the NOAA ship I am aboard is the Henry B. Bigelow (1879-1987) named for the Modern Father of Oceanography.

 

Bibliography

  1.  https://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/fbp/basics.htm

Cecelia Carroll: Off to Newport, RI! April 27, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea 

Cecelia Carroll 

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow 

May 2 – 14, 2017 

Mission:   Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV

Geographic Area of the Cruise: Sailing out of Newport, R. I. Northeast US Coast, George’s Bank – Gulf of Maine

Date: April 27, 2017

I am honored to have been selected to take part in the Teacher at Sea Program. I’ll be driving down to Newport from southern New Hampshire in a few days to begin what should prove to be an amazing adventure working along with the fishery scientists and crew on the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow (FSV 225).

Science and Technology Log

The purpose of the Spring Bottom Trawl Survey is to monitor the fish stocks and invertebrate found on the continental shelf. The scientists will study any changes in ocean conditions and the sea life to make informed decisions for conserving and managing the fishery resources and their habitat.

The Henry B. Bigelow was named in honor of the founding director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the “Father of Modern Oceanography.” Henry Bryant Bigelow (1879-1967) was an expert on the Gulf of Maine and its sea life and a member of the Harvard faculty for 62 years. The ship is a state-of-the-art 208-foot research vessel commissioned in 2007. It boasts a “quiet hull” that allows the scientists to observe the sea life using sound waves with limited disturbance to their natural state.

Fish that we expect to observe include: Monkfish, Herring, Skates, Dogfish, Atlantic Salmon, Hake, Cod, Haddock, Pollack, Flounder, Mackerel and more! I’m looking forward to viewing these specimens up close!

Personal Log

I have been teaching middle school mathematics for 26 years at Hampstead Academy, in Hampstead, NH.

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How does a mathematics teacher find her way to intensifying her interest in the sea? In 2014 I was selected to attend a week at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama along with 200+ teachers from around the globe. While there I learned of the SeaPerch program. Soon after, I received a grant from the US Navy for several SeaPerch kits, journeyed down to Newport, RI Naval Base for a day of constructing the SeaPerch ROV, and then set up a SeaPerch program at Hampstead Academy along with a co-teacher and my husband. Cutting pipe, waterproofing the engines, soldering the microcontroller, and all the tasks to complete the build of the SeaPerches was such a proud achievement for the group! We are fortunate to be near enough to UNH in Dover, so with a group of my students, we toured the Jere E Chase Ocean Engineering Laboratory and tested our SeaPerch ROV’s in their wave and deep-water tanks. What a marvelous facility, welcoming student tours and hoping to spark an interest in the oceanography field.

I hope to inspire my students to consider a career in STEM professions, to open their eyes to the possibilities in the field of marine sciences where the work they do can impact the present and future generation.

Thanks you to the Hampstead Academy administration, fellow teachers that are taking over my classes for these two weeks, and for the support of the school community and my family and friends.

Thank you to the dog sitter for Clover!

Thank you to NOAA Teacher at Sea program for this enriching opportunity.

Did You Know?

The Henry B. Bigelow was the first NOAA ship to be named through a ship-naming contest by the winning team from Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, N.H.

Below is a picture of Clover at North Hampton Beach last week when we had some welcoming warm weather for a short spell.

 

Tom Savage: Meet the Staff and Scientists, June 18, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Savage
On Board NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 19, 2015

Meet the Staff and Scientists

Mission: Cetacean and Turtle Research
Geographic area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 18, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 15 C
Wind speed: 5 knots
Wind direction: coming from the North West
Relative humidity: 90%
Barometer: 1009 millibars

Personal Log

My journey has come to a conclusion, and we are one hour from docking at the naval base in Newport, RI. What a privilege it is to be a part of this scientific mission. The substantial photos, videos, data and experiences will greatly enhance my physical and earth science curriculum and further my goal of getting students interested in fields of science. This journey has reinforced my position that a nation cannot advance and improve the quality of life without scientific research.

I would like to thank the scientists on board during this cruise, Mr. Pete Duley and Dr. Danielle Cholewiak

 

Teacher & Chief Scientist
Me, Pete Duley and Danielle “Dani” Cholewiak

Science and Technology Log

Every job aboard a research vessel is mission critical, and one is not more important than the other. During this excursion, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the crew and scientists that made this tour a success.

 

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Executive Officer (XO), Patrick Murphy, NOAA Corps

Pat began his career studying Physics at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington and earned a master’s degree in oceanography while attending Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. When asked how he got involved in the NOAA Corps, he mentioned there were two well defined career paths as an oceanographer: NOAA or teaching. He advises students who are considering the NOAA Corps to build operational leadership skills and to demonstrate that you can work in a team and complete a job when assigned.

A few of his favorite places he has visited while employed with the NOAA Corps: Farallone Islands Ca, Alaska bays and inside passages when hiding from storms, and Dutch Harbor located among the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.

 

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Julianne, Acoustician

Julianne is a recent graduate of Oregon State University and received a BS in zoology, and she is currently working on her master’s degree. Her path with NOAA started as a recipient of the Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship Program. This program provides students with scholarship money and paid internships with the goal of fostering multidisciplinary training opportunities within NOAA. After graduating from Oregon State University, Julianne worked in Alaska at a remote salmon hatchery, Snettisham Hatchery. She is currently an acoustician with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center as a research analyst focusing on real-time acoustic tracking of baleen whales and the North Atlantic right whale migratory corridor project.

 

Genevieve, Research Analyst

Genevieve was also a NOAA Hollings scholar and worked on North Atlantic Right Whale calling behavior across seasons. Genevieve joined NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries acoustics team as a research analyst focusing on baleen whale acoustics and as an elementary school educational outreach program at the center. She is working on her doctorate in Environmental Biology with a focus on baleen distributions and migrations.

 

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Hillary, whales specialist for Fisheries and Oceans, Canada.

Hilary became interested in whales at the age of five. “My mom was always super interested in the ocean and we went whale watching often.” She studied marine biology with a focus on seal acoustics. Getting on a boat to see and study marine animals is what she enjoys most about her job.

When asked about advice for students who want to study marine biology. “Get experience whenever you can, especially if you have the opportunity to work in a lab. Having experience is crucial. Volunteering with a professor who is studying seals led me to an avenue in whale biology.”

 

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Dennis, Chief Steward

Prior to joining NOAA, Dennis had a career with the Navy for 20 years. Dennis has one of the most important jobs on the ship, keeping everyone fed. He is absolutely amazing!  While I was on duty on the Fly Bridge, around four in the afternoon, aromas from the galley drifted to the Fly Bridge.  It was a nightly contest to guess what would be served in the galley. His cooking is so unique that all of our guesses were incorrect; we went 0/5 that week. One night, steak was served for dinner and it was the best steak I have ever had.  Thanks Dennis!

 

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Marjorie , Research Fishery Biologist

Marjorie works for NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center. Her job focuses on collecting data from commercial fishing operations. This data provides valuable information on determining if certain fish populations can maintain a healthy marine mammal population.

She earned an undergraduate degree in Natural resources from University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  She is currently working on a doctorate in Marine Biology from the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

Best wishes to all !

Tom

Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast, Introductions, May 7, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje Kast
(Almost) Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: May 7, 2015

Personal Log

Greetings from Southern California! My name is Dieuwertje or “DJ” Kast and I am currently the  STEM Program Manager (K-12) for the University of Southern California (USC) Joint Educational Project (JEP) and Director of Young Scientists Program (YSP) and the USC Wonderkids Program. I am also assisting with the USC JEP Boeing project which does Teacher Professional development in Water and Sustainability. All of which are located at the JEP House on the USC Campus in Los Angeles California (seen here about 47 miles one way commute from my husband Roee and my home in Chino, CA).

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I received my masters in Education and my biology teaching credential at the Rossier School of Education. A native of the Netherlands, I received my undergraduate and graduate education at USC through the progressive masters programs obtaining my BS in Biology and MS in Marine Environmental Biology. I have a passion for Science Education, have written curriculum and held leadership roles for both Wonderkids, The Young Scientist Program, the USC QuikSCience program, the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Science on Catalina Island, USC Seagrant and the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) program (rigorous, seven-year pre-college enrichment program designed to prepare low-income neighborhood students for admission to a college or university). In my spare time I enjoy writing science books, photography, helping students with science fairs, SCUBA diving and working with marine science labs across California.

I wanted to tell other TAS Teachers about the programs that I manage or have been a part of in hopes that they may also be inspired to learn more about what I do and how their students can be involved, and the potential for teacher professional development and partnerships in the future. I am looking forward to going on my voyage and using what I learn to write curriculum and communicating it to the thousands of students in my programs.

The Young Scientists Program works in partnership with 5 USC community schools, from the  greater ‘USC 10 Family of Schools’ to engage more than 1400 elementary school students, 45 LAUSD teachers, and 5 principals through a broad repertoire of science curriculum.  YSP TAs are placed at each school presenting hands-on science labs to fourth and fifth grade classrooms. YSP brings scientific laboratory experiences directly to students and their teachers with the goal of supplementing current science instruction, complimenting LAUSD and state grade level science learning standards, strengthening science literacy and promoting interest in scientific careers. One of YSP’s primary objectives is to increase science activities for a larger number of our neighborhood children as a means to encourage them to consider careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and to apply what they are learning in the classroom to the real world. Additional outcomes are that our USC undergraduate students learn how to become successful mentors, gain valuable teaching experience, and learn how to directly respond to the needs of the schools, communities and families.

USC JEP Wonderkids is first-third grade after-school science program in the USC Family of Schools. It is currently in 6 schools: Foshay, Weemes, Vermont, Norwood, Mack, Norwood, and 32nd street. The program focuses on different areas of science through hands-on lesson plans and books. The program also has professional scientists from different science fields as rotating speakers come into the classroom to encourage students to pursue careers in STEM. Science fields pursued so far: neuroscience, environmental science, paleontology, deep sea, marine biology, botany, robotics, space, chemistry, DNA, animal behavior, microbiology, physics, computer science, biomedical engineering and medicine.

I will be doing Ecosystem Monitoring Survey (Fisheries) on NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow Ship from May 19 – June 3, 2015. I am so excited! I will be embarking on my research cruise in Newport, Rhode Island and disembarking there as well.

This is a photo of the NOAA Henry B. Bigelow Ship.  Credit to: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/hb/HB-June07.JPG
This is a photo of the NOAA Henry B. Bigelow Ship.
Credit to: http://www.moc.noaa.gov/hb/HB-June07.JPG
Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island

I will be working with the Narragansett Laboratory and the objectives of the investigation are:

  1. to monitor the fishery-relevant components of the Northeast Shelf ecosystem, to characterize the baseline conditions and their variability, and to index the seasonal, annual, and decadal changes in the conditions of the ecosystem, and
  2. to determine the effects of biological and physical processes on the recruitment of Northeast shelf fishes, especially gadoids.

The Investigation utilizes three survey approaches to gather data on planktonic organisms and environmental parameters:

  1. shelf-wide Research Vessel Surveys;
  2. Ship of Opportunity (SOOP) Transect Surveys;
  3. sampling using a variety of environmental satellites and buoys (termed Remote Sensing Surveys).

Sue Zupko, Getting Ready: Is it a Go? September 4, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sue Zupko
(soon to be) Aboard NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow
September 7-19, 2014

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg I
Geographical area of cruise:  Cape May, NJ to Cape Hatteras, NC
Date: September 4, 2014

Personal Log

I am a teacher of the Gifted and Talented at Weatherly Heights Elementary School in Huntsville, AL.  I am so very humbled by the opportunity I have been given to conduct research aboard the Henry B. Bigelow with NOAA scientists.  This is my second NOAA cruise.  I studied deep-water corals aboard the Pisces in 2011 and thought it was my only chance to do something like that.  They told me if I did all my homework, and did all my projects well, that good things would come my way.  I say that to my students and this is an example of why one should do one’s homework and try hard.   You’d better believe that I did my best.  I love to learn so a NOAA research cruise and projects with my students are a perfect fit.

Sue in sweatshirt looking up from microscope. Diego in the background.
Me on the Pisces, It was cold in this lab.

In preparing for my first entry I asked my students for advice on what to include.  They insisted that I include a “shout out” to them and tell how fabulous our school is.

Here are a few highlights.  Weatherly has been recycling aluminum cans to help pay for our outdoor classroom since 1998 when I helped write a grant to get a trailer to collect cans and take them to the recycling center.  We have made thousands of dollars through the years and have an Alabama Certified Outdoor Classroom now.  Students, parents, faculty, and community volunteers help with it and enjoy learning there.  We have raised Monarch butterfly larvae, viewed Ladybug larvae under a microscope from the Tulip Poplar tree, grown melons, touched plants in the sensory garden, and myriad other activities.

We piloted a recycling program for our district.  Every classroom has a bin to collect clean paper and plastic.  It is collected weekly and tons of items have been recycled as a result.

We participate in a plastic bottle cap recycling program.  This is an annual contest city-wide and Weatherly counts and recycles thousands of caps to be made into paint buckets rather than taking up room in the landfill.  For many years we recycled phone books and were one of the top three recyclers.

In addition to helping the environment, we are a No Place for Hate school.  We also study about the ocean.  A lot.  I am the faculty advisor for our morning announcements.  Our quotes of the week this year are about the ocean and we highlight an ocean literacy principle  every day.  We now know that marine biologist Sylvia Earle pointed out that “With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live. Most of the oxygen in the atmosphere is generated by the sea.”

On my upcoming voyage with NOAA, I will launch two drifters.  In order to be selected for this drifter project, a teacher must have an international partner to share lessons with to learn about the ocean.  After an extensive search I found the perfect match.  Sarah Hills at the TED Istanbul College teaches English.  Her students will be studying map reading starting in September when they return to school.  We have already decided that our students will plot the course of the drifters and hypothesize where they will be at specific times based on the ocean currents and winds which will carry them.

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These drifters measure ocean salinity, surface water temperature, velocities (speeds) of the current, and air pressure and are important for understanding more about our weather and the ocean.  I can’t wait to get our students communicating.  Weatherly’s school theme is “A Village of Learners and Leaders.”  Outside my classroom on the bulletin board are some wonderful items from Turkey provided by Mrs. Hills and it says, “A Global Village of Learners and Leaders.”  In preparation for tracking our drifters, we are currently tracking former hurricanes and researching how the ocean changes our planet.  On their exit ticket today, my 5th graders commented that they liked tracking the hurricanes since they will use the same technique to track my journey and the drifters.

I am so excited.  I have spoken with the Chief Scientist, John Galbraith, and understand that I will be working side-by-side with scientists on this fisheries cruise.  We will drop a trawl net behind our 209 foot long ship and catch marine creatures.  Our job will be to sort the fish (and other marine animals) and learn more about them using measurements and other means such as dissection.  Computers play a role in our study and my first assignment will be to collect data in the computer.  Wonder what program I will use, and is it similar to Excel which we use a lot?

I asked my fourth graders if they thought I might see a whale.  They all responded yes in that group.  What do you think?

Teachers at Sea need to be flexible, have fortitude, and follow orders.  Let me explain.  Right now I am waiting to see if my ship will even sail.  The engineers have found a problem and are working to make the ship seaworthy for our voyage.  Already our cruise date has changed twice.  I must be flexible and be ready to leave on a moment’s notice.  There are always some changes, it seems, when dealing with the ocean.  On my last cruise a tropical depression (storm) formed over us and we couldn’t begin our research for an extra day.

Sailing is not for the faint of heart.  I must be able to work long hours in uncomfortable conditions (they say this is having fortitude).  They do supply my “foul weather” gear.  Wonder if I will smell like fish at the end of my shift.

One handy piece of equipment I will take is ear plugs.  The engines are loud and that helps when it is time to sleep.  My shift will be either from midnight to noon or noon to midnight.  That’s a long time to work.  If we have a good catch, we will be working a lot.  That is good for weight loss, as long as I don’t overdo with the fabulous food prepared by the stewards (cooks) in the galley (kitchen).

I was in the U.S. Army years ago and learned to follow orders, the third of the 3Fs.  There are NOAA officers whose orders I must follow for my safety and the safety of the other scientists.  I also must follow the orders of the NOAA Teacher at Sea directors and my chief scientist.  Add to that my principal and superintendent in my district.  That’s a lot of bosses giving orders.

Lastly, my students requested that I tell everyone our school motto.  “We are Weatherly Heights and we…GO THE EXTRA MILE.”  Well, pretty soon I can say, “We are the crew and scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow and we…GO THE EXTRA NAUTICAL MILE.”  Can’t wait to see what treasures we will uncover in the ocean.

John Clark, To the Henry B. Bigelow – Bound and Determined, September 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Clark
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 23 – October 4, 2013

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: North Atlantic
Date: September 18, 2013

Introduction

Thank you for reading about my adventures at sea. My name is John Clark and I’m entering my 7th year teaching science at Deltona High School in Deltona, Florida. Our community is just off I-4 between Orlando and Daytona Beach. Teaching is my second career, after working in the telecommunications field, and I love getting students excited about science. I’ve even earned a few awards for being successful at it. I’m married to the love of my life, Jill, who is also a teacher. In our lives are three grown children and seven grandchildren. With great blessings, I share that they are all healthy, happy, and live close enough for us to see them regularly. At home we have replaced the kids with two cats and a dog.

My wife Jill with grandson Rion
My wife Jill with grandson Rion
Jills husband - me, John Clark
Jills husband – me, John Clark
Sabi dog in the pool with granddaughter Morgan
Sabi dog in the pool with granddaughter Morgan

In a few days, anticipation will be replaced by action as I board a plane headed for my NOAA Teacher at Sea experience I’ve waited for all summer to begin. I’ll be sailing aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow, a ship specially built for NOAA to carry out the type of fisheries research I’ll be taking part in. I’ll be working side by side with experienced scientists who not only are knowledgeable in how to do the research conducted on board but also have the skill to share their knowledge with volunteers like me who have limited background in the science behind the work. It is the experience of a lifetime that I hope will energize my students about studying science as we carry out lesson plans developed from the experience and I share with them the stories of my time at sea. I’m sure a giant boat-eating squid will be in there somewhere.

NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

Officially, I’m taking part in 2013 Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey conducted by the Ecosystems Survey Branch of the NOAA Fisheries Service. That’s a long fancy way of saying that the ship is going to drag a net for a short period of time near the bottom of the ocean and then collect data on the types of fish we catch as well as the environment they live in. Affectionately called a “critter cruise”, I now join a long line of Teacher at Sea alumni who have taken part in the biannual surveys of North Atlantic marine life. And there are a lot of critters to learn to identify as I’m finding out from watching the CD I was sent to be better prepared to support the research team. There are two types of Dogfish which look suspiciously like little sharks, flounders that are left eyed or right eyed depending on which side they decided to leave up, and squid distinguished by the length of a pair of fins down the side of the body. All you do is hold them upright, tentacles hanging toward the ground, and take a look. And don’t forget the large lump fish which is described as have the texture of a dog’s chew toy. Whatever the species, the role of the research volunteer is to sort them out and then collect data for the scientists to study.

Scientist sorting a catch aboard the FSF Henry B. Bigelow
Scientists sorting a catch aboard the Bigelow

What can be overlooked in the preparation is the part about how to handle fish. I do not like to touch fish so I will be facing my fears even while wearing gloves. And I really don’t like it when they flop around. I envision I’ll be the one with the hand in the wrong place when the shark twists around to see who is holding its tail or, at a minimum, squeeze too hard on the species that will poke you with a poison spine if you upset them. Other good advice I’ve learned from the CD is that there is a 100% recovery from seasickness and if the seas get rough, wedge yourself into your bunk with your life vest so you don’t roll around and fall out. My two year old granddaughter, Ireland, was watching the video with me while I studied and all she could say was “Oh my.”

Run, it's the dogfish!
Run, it’s the dogfish!

Beverly Owens: Science on Board NOAA Ship Henry Bigelow, June 18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Beverly Owens
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 10 – 24, 2013

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat: Ground-Truthing and Exploration in Deepwater Canyons off the Northeastern Coast of the U.S.
Geographical Area: Western North Atlantic
Date: June 18, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 13.50 oC (56.3 oF)
Wind Speed: 20.05 knots (23.07mph)

Science and Technology Log

Teacher at Sea Beverly Owens, and Dewey the Dragon at the Helm
Teacher at Sea Beverly Owens, and Dewey the Dragon at the Helm

On a research vessel such as NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow, does the ship support the science? Or are the ship’s activities separate from those of the Science Crew?  I didn’t realize how much the Ship’s Crew and the Science Crew worked hand-in-hand until I toured the Bridge.

First off, the ship is what’s known as an FSV. What does FSV stand for? FSV stands for Fisheries Survey Vessel. The primary responsibility of the Henry B. Bigelow is to study and monitor the marine fisheries stocks throughout New England (the Northeastern section of the United States). There are many scientific instruments aboard the Henry B. Bigelow that allow crew members and visiting science teams to do this and other work.

The ship has multiple labs that can be used for many purposes. The acoustics lab has many computers and can be used for modeling data collected from multibeam sonar equipment.  The chemistry lab is equipped with plentiful workspace, an eyewash, emergency shower, and fume hood. Our TowCam operations are being run from the dry lab. This space has nine computers displaying multiple data sets. We have occupied the counter space with an additional eight personal laptops; all used for different purposes such as examining TowCam images or inputting habitat data. The wet lab is where the collection sorting, and filtering take place. It is used during fisheries expeditions to process and examine groundfish.  During our research expedition, the wet lab is used mostly for staging TowCam operations. We also process sediment and water samples that were collected from the seafloor.  Sediment is collected using a vacuum-like apparatus called a slurp pump; water is collected in a Niskin bottle.  The sediment is sieved and any animals are saved for later examination.  Water samples are also filtered there, to remove particulate matter that will be used to determine the amount of food in the water column.

Walking around the ship, I noticed a psychrometer set, which is used to monitor relative humidity, or moisture content in the air. There is also a fluorometer, which measures light emitted from chlorophyll in photosynthetic organisms like algae or phytoplankton. The CTD system measures physical properties of the ocean water including conductivity/salinity, temperature, and depth. Additionally, the ship has a thermosalinograph (therm = heat, salin = salt, graph = write). Saltwater is taken into the ship and directed toward this instrument, which records the sea surface salinity and sea surface temperature.

The crew of the Henry B. Bigelow not only supports the research efforts of the science team but is also actively involved in conducting scientific research. Their instrumentation, knowledge, and team work enable them to protect and monitor the western North Atlantic waters and its living marine resources.

 Personal Log

Dragon on the Bridge
Dewey the Dragon is plotting the course.

Dewey the Dragon, all the way from Crest Middle School, enjoyed getting a tour of the Bridge. Dewey the Dragon learned how to steer the ship, read charts, and monitor activity using devices such as the alidade. Thanks to Ensigns Katie Doster and Aras Zygas for showing us around.

Did You Know?

Teacher at Sea, Beverly Owens, using the Alidade on the FSV Henry B. Bigelow
Teacher at Sea, Beverly Owens, using the Alidade on the FSV Henry B. Bigelow

The alidade is a device that allows people on the ship to sight far away objects, such as land. The person on the ship spots three separate points on land uses these sighting to determine the location of the ship. Alidades can also be used as a tool when making and verifying maritime charts.

Kaitlin Baird: Did You Know? September 25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Back in port! Newport Rhode Island
Date: September 21st
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Location Data:
Latitude: 41’53.04
Longitude: 71’31.77

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 13.8 (approx.57°F)
Wind Speed: 10.01 kts
Wind Direction:  North
Surface Water Temperature: 19.51 °C (approx. 67°F)
Weather conditions: overcast

Science and Technology Log:
I thought I would end my trip on the Henry B. Bigelow with some fun facts!
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Did you know?
The Fisheries Scientific Computer System (FSCS) is able to prompt the data recorders with all actions needing to be performed for a particular species. It is coded with unique barcodes for every sample taken. Back in the laboratory all scientists receiving samples can receive all the information taken about the given organism by scanning this unique barcode!
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barcoding for species caught on cruise for further analysis
Barcoding for species caught on cruise for further analysis

Did you know?
Science crew operating on the back deck are required to wear an Overboard Recovery Communications Apparatus (ORCA). This system if it is activated sends a signal by way of radio frequency to a receiver on the ship’s bridge. This system responds immediately to the ship receiver and has a direction finder to help locate the man overboard.

Me getting ready to head to the back deck with my positioning system around my neck
Me getting ready to head to the back deck with my ORCA around my neck
Personal Log:
It would take me hours to go through all of the amazing creatures we caught and surveyed on this trip, so I thought I would write some fast facts about some of my favorites! Enjoy!
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Did you know?
The male spoon arm octopus has a modified arm that passes spermatophores into the oviducts of the female. Pretty neat stuff!
spoonarrm octopus
Spoon arm octopus

Did you know?
Stargazers, like this one, have an electric organ and are one of few marine bony fish species that are able to produce electricity.  This is known as Bioelectrogenesis. They also hide beneath the sand with just their eyes sticking out and ambush their prey!

Stargazer
Stargazer

Did you know?
This fish, the Atlantic midshipman, has bioluminescent bacteria that inhabit these jewel–like photophores that emit light! It also interestingly enough uses this function in fairly shallow waters!

midshipman photophores
Midshipman photophores

Did you know?
Sea spiders like this one have no respiratory organs. Since they are so small gasses diffuse in and out of their bodies, how cool is that!

sea spider
Sea spider

Did you know?
The flaming box crab, Calappa flammea, uses its scissor-like claws that act as a can opener. It has a special modified appendage to open hermit crabs like a can opener!

flaming box crab
Flaming box crab

Did you know?
A female Atlantic angel shark like this one can have up to 13 pups!

angel shark
Angel shark

Did you know?
Seahorses suck up their food through their long snout, and like the flounders I talked about at the beginning of the cruise, their eyes also move independently of each other!!

seahorse
Seahorse

Did you know?
Horseshoe crabs, like this one, have blue blood. Unlike the blood of mammals, they don’t have hemoglobin to carry oxygen, instead they have henocyanin. Because the henocyanin has copper in it, their blood is blue!

horseshoe crab
Horseshoe crab

Last but NOT least, Did you know?
According to the Guiness Book of World Records the American Lobster has been known to reach lengths over 3 ft (0.91 m) and weigh as much as 44 lb (20 kg) or more. This makes it the heaviest marine crustacean in the world! This one was pretty large!!

American Lobster
American Lobster

A big farewell to everyone on the Henry B. Bigelow! Thanks so much, i had a great time and learned a lot! Thanks for reading!

Kaitlin Baird: Women in a H2O World: Girl Power in Science, September 19, 2012

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Off the Coast of Long Island
Date: September 19th
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Location Data:
Latitude: 40’54.90
Longitude: 73’30.18

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 18.4 (approx.65°F)
Wind Speed: 10.64 kts
Wind Direction:  Northwest
Surface Water Temperature: 20.08 °C (approx. 68°F)
Weather conditions: sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log:

Ocean acidification have been the buzz words in the shellfish and coral reef world for the last few decades, but how will changes in our ocean’s pH affect our coastal fisheries resources? The Henry B. Bigelow is host to another project to help monitor this very question. The ship has an automated system that draws in surface seawater through an uncontaminated line and feeds it to a spray head equilibrator (seen in photo). Here, this instrument measures the partial pressure of carbon dioxide through an infrared analyzer. Standards are used to automatically calibrate the instrument periodically so it can take data while the fish are being counted and measured. How great is that!

Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system schematic
Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system schematic

It has already been shown and well documented that our oceans are getting more acidic. Something to remember is that our ocean and atmosphere are always in equilibrium in terms of carbon dioxide. Therefore, if we emit more carbon dioxide some of that will be absorbed by the ocean. The rapid changes in development since the industrial revolution have led to more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and therefore, over time, more diffusing into the ocean. The amount of carbon dioxide our ocean is absorbing has changed its chemistry. Increasing partial pressure of carbon dioxide (through several chemical reactions) makes the carbonate ion less available in the ocean (especially the upper layers where much aquatic life abounds).

This does not mean the ion isn’t there, it just means it is less available. Now why is this important to fisheries? Well, many organisms are dependent on this carbonate ion to make their tests, shells, and skeletons. They combine it with the calcium ion to make calcium carbonate (calcite, aragonite and other forms). If they can’t properly calcify this affects a large range of functions. In terms of commercial fisheries, scientists want to know more how acidification will affect commercial species that make their own shells, but also the fish who call them dinner. Ocean acidification has also been shown to affect other food sources for fish and reproductive patterns of the fish themselves. The fish research at NOAA will concentrate on the early life history stages of fish, as this is their most vulnerable phase. The research priority is analyzing responses in important calcifying shellfish and other highly productive calcareous phytoplankton (base of the food chain). To learn more in detail from NOAA please read this. By monitoring the partial pressure of carbon dioxide at fisheries stations over time, scientists can compare this data with the health, location, and fitness of much of the marine life they survey.

Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system
Partial pressure Carbon Dioxide system

Personal Log:
As my time on the Bigelow is drawing to a close, I wanted to highlight some of the amazing women in science on board the ship who play key roles in the research and upkeep of the ship. I have asked them all a few questions about their job and for some advice for young women who would like to take on these various roles in the future! Since we have so many talented women on the ship, please stay tuned for another addition!

Amanda Tong

Amanda Tong
Amanda Tong — Fisheries Data Auditor, Northeast Fisheries Observer Program

Job Title:
Fisheries Data Auditor with the Fisheries Sampling Branch
Program: Northeast Fisheries Observer Program
NOAA Fisheries Service
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Amanda is responsible for working with the Fisheries Data Editor to be the collator of information received from the Fisheries Observers and more specifically the Fisheries data editors. She is looking for any errors in data reporting from the Fisheries Observer Program and working with the editors who are in direct contact with them.

If you remember in my last blog, I talked about the otolith and length information going to the Population Dynamics group who make models of fisheries stocks. The data from the Fisheries Biology program is also given to this end user. This way the models take into account actual catches as well as bycatch. Other end users of the data are graduate students, institutions and other researchers.

Amanda’s favorite aspect of her job:
Amanda likes being the middle person between the fishing industry while also working for the government. She likes seeing how the data change over the years with changes in regulation and gear types. She finds it interesting to see how the fisheries change over time and the locations of the fish change over time. She also loves hearing the amazing stories of being at sea.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:  Amanda received a degree in marine biology, which she thinks set her up perfectly. She suggests however that the major doesn’t have to be so specific as long as it has components of biology. The most important aspect she feels was volunteering and learning how to do field work with natural resource management, even if on land. Learning how to properly sample in the field was really important. Amanda is a former Fisheries Observer so she also knows the ins and outs of the program that collects the data she is auditing. This helps her look for easily recognizable errors in the data sets from all different gear types. By gear types I mean trawls vs. gill nets vs. long lines etc.

Robin Frede

Robin- Fisheries Data Editor
Robin — Fisheries Data Editor

Job Title:
Fisheries Data Editor
Branch: Fisheries Sampling Branch
Program: Northeast Fisheries Observer Program
NOAA Fisheries Service
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Robin deals directly with the Fisheries Observers. Fisheries observers are assigned to different boats and gear types up and down the eastern seaboard to record catches and bycatch as well as run sampling protocols. After each trip Robin checks in with the observer for a debrief and they send on their data to her. It is her responsibility to take a good look at the data for any recognizable errors in measurement or sampling error. Since she was a fisheries observer herself, she can coach the observers and help mentor them in sampling protocol and general life at sea. Once she reviews the data set it gets collated and sent off for review by the Fisheries Data Auditor.

Favorite part of her job:
Robin’s favorite part of her job is being a mentor. Having done the program herself previous to her current job she has a full understanding of the logistical difficulties that observers face at sea. She also is well versed in all of the aspects of sampling with different gear types. Since she is no longer at sea on a regular basis one of her favorite aspects is getting to go to sea on a shadow trip to help out new observers. She also participates in one research trip (currently on the Bigelow now), and one special training trip each year.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Robin suggests a Biology basis for this type of job and lots of experience volunteering with field work. Understanding the methodology and practicing are very important to accurate data collection. Accuracy and practice make her job as an editor a lot easier. If you think you might be interested in this type of career Robin suggests the Fisheries Observer Internship. You can find out if you like spending a lot of time at sea, and this line of work, plus get exposure to many sampling protocols.

Amanda Andrews

Amanda Andrews-Survey Technician
Amanda Andrews — Survey Technician

Job Title:
Survey Technician
Office of Marine and Aviation Operations
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Amanda wears many hats and goes wherever the Henry B. Bigelow goes. She is in charge of supervising data collection and analysis. She is the liaison between the ship’s crew and the scientific crew.  She is in charge of the scientific equipment function and maintenance. Amanda is the go-to person on each survey during sampling. She also is responsible for helping crew on the back deck.

 Favorite Part of her Job:
Amanda’s favorite part of her job is that the ocean is her office. She lives aboard the Bigelow and where it goes, she goes.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Amanda started out working on the back deck of NOAA ships and progressed to become a survey technician. She suggests having a good background in marine biology and biology in school, but more importantly always be willing to learn.

Nicole  Charriere

Nicole Charriere- Sea-going Biological Technician
Nicole Charriere — Sea-going Biological Technician

Job Title:
Aboard the ship currently: Day Watch Chief
Official title: Sea-Going Biological Technician
Branch: Ecosystem Survey Branch
Northeast Fisheries Science Center
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

What she does:
Nicole’s job entails being at sea between 120 and 130 days a year! She specifically goes out on Ecosystem Survey cruises that she can do some choosing with.  She goes out on bottom trawling, scallop, and clam survey trips. Her job is to help the scientific party either as a watch chief or chief scientist. She has to handle all sampling as well as fully understand all of the survey techniques. She is well versed in the Fisheries Scientific Computer System (FSCS) and needs to know her fish and critter ID. She is the one responsible for sending down all the species already pre-tagged with their ID.  On top of all that she is also responsible for monitoring the censors on the net and regularly replacing them.

Favorite part of her job:
Nicole’s favorite part of her job is not being in an office and being at sea. Her work environment is always changing, as the scientific crew is always changing and so are the species she works with. She enjoys working and meeting new people each cruise.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Nicole says to get to where she is you have to work hard. You might not be the one with the most experience, but if you work hard, it doesn’t go unnoticed. She also suggests networking as much as possible. Get to know what people do and learn from them. She says studying biology was helpful, but not an absolute necessity. Above all, make sure you love what you do and make sure you are excited to go to work.
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Caitlin Craig

Caitlin Craig- Department of Conservation (NY)
Caitlin Craig — Department of Environmental Conservation (NY)

Job Title
Diadromous Fish Department Intern
Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)
State of New York

What she does:
Caitlin participates in field surveys twice a week that target striped bass. The data are used to look at their migration patterns in Long Island waters.  While at DEC she was also looking at the juvenile fish species in the bays and estuaries of Long Island sounds. Her job entails collecting data in the field, entering it and collating data for the various projects.

Her favorite aspect of the job:
She really enjoys that her job is a mix of office and field work where she can put some of the research and management skills she learned at Stonybrook University into practice. She also really enjoys seeing the many species that call Long Island Sound home.

What type of schooling/experience do you think best set you up for this job:
Caitlin suggests trying to make as many connections as possible, and not to be afraid to ask questions. Programs are always looking for volunteers and interns. If you are interested in working at the governmental level she suggests a postgraduate work in Marine Conservation and Policy (she attended Stonybrook University).

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for my final blog with lots of critters from the cruise!

Kaitlin Baird: The Importance of Sound, September 16, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Off the Coast of Maryland
Date: September 16th
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Location Data:
Latitude: 37’72.10
Longitude: 75′ 17.02

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 21.0 (approx.70°F)
Wind Speed: 8.71 kts
Wind Direction:  West
Surface Water Temperature: 22.99 °C (approx. 73°F)
Weather conditions: overcast

Science and Technology Log:

It’s day 13 aboard the Henry B. Bigelow and we have made the turn at our southern stations off the coast of North Carolina and are working our way back to port at some of our inshore stations off the coast of Maryland. You may wonder how each of the stations we sample at sea are chosen? The large area of Cape May to Cape Hatteras are broken into geographic zones that the computer will assign a set amount of stations to, marking them with geographic coordinates. The computer picks a set number of stations within each designated area so all the stations don’t end up all being within a mile of each other. Allowing the computer system to pick the points removes human bias and truly keeps the sampling random. The vessel enters the geographic coordinates of the stations into a chartplotting program in the computer, and uses GPS, the Global Positioning System to navigate to them.  The GPS points are also logged on a nautical chart by the Captain and mate so that they have a paper as well as an electronic copy of everywhere the ship has been.

You may wonder, how does the captain and fishermen know what the bottom looks like when they get to a new point? How do they know its OK to deploy the net? Great question. The Henry B. Bigelow is outfitted with a multibeam sonar system that maps the ocean floor.  Some of you reading this blog might remember talking about bathymetry this summer. This is exactly what the Bigelow is doing, looking at the ocean floor bathymetry. By sending out multiple pings the ship can accurately map an area 2.5-3 times as large as its depth. So if the ship is in 20 meters of water it can make an accurate map of a 60 meter swath beneath the boats track. The sonar works by knowing the speed of sound in water and the angle and time that the beam is received back to the pinger . There are a number of things that have to be corrected for as the boat is always in motion. As the ship moves through the water however, you can see the projection of the bathymetry on their screen below up in the wheelhouse. These images help the captain and the fisherman avoid any hazards that would cause the net or the ship any harm.  A good comparison to the boats multibeam sonar, is a dolphins ability to use echolocation. Dolphins send their own “pings” or in this case “echos” and can tell the location and the size of the prey based on the angle and time delay of receiving them back. One of the main differences in this case is a dolphin has two ears that will receive and the boat just has one “receiver”. Instead of finding prey and sizing them like dolphins, the ship is using a similar strategy to survey what the bottom of the sea floor looks like!

bathymetric data being collected by multibeam sonar technology on the Bigelow
Bathymetric data being collected by multibeam sonar technology on the Bigelow
Bigelow multibeam sonar (NOAA)
echolocation schematic courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute
Echolocation schematic courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute

Personal Log:

The last few days I have been trying my hand at removing otoliths from different species of fish. The otoliths are the ear bones of the fish. Just like the corals we have been studying in Bermuda, they are made up of calcium carbonate crystals. They are located in the head of the bony fish that we are analyzing on the cruise. A fish uses these otoliths for their balance, detection of sound and their ability to orient in the water column.

If you remember, at BIOS, we talk a lot about the precipitation of calcium carbonate in corals and how this animal deposits bands of skeleton as they grow. This is similar in bony fish ear bones, as they grow, they lay down crystalized layers of calcium carbonate. Fisheries biologist use these patterns on the otolith to tell them about the age of the fish. This is similar to the way coral biologists age corals.

I have been lucky enough to meet and learn from scientists who work specifically with age and growth at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center Fishery Biology Program. They have been teaching about aging fish by their ear bones. These scientist use a microscope with reflected light to determine the age of the fish by looking at the whole bone or making slices of parts of the bone depending on what species it is. This data, along with lengths we have been recording, contribute to an age-length key. The key allows biologists to track year classes of the different species within a specific population of fish. These guys process over 90,000 otoliths a year! whew!

The information collected by this program is an important part of the equation because by knowing the year class biologists can understand the structure of the population for the stock assessment.  The Fishery Biology program is able to send their aging and length data over to the Population Dynamics Branch where the data are used in modeling. The models, fed by the data from the otoliths and length data,  help managers forecast what fisheries stocks will do. It is a manager’s job to the take these predictions and try to balance healthy fish stocks and the demands of both commercial and recreational fishing. These are predictive models, as no model can foresee some of the things that any given fish population might face any given year (ie food scarcity, disease etc.), but they are an effective tool in using the science to help aid managers in making informed decision on the status of different fish stocks. To learn more about aging fish please visit here.

otoliths (fish ear bones) that i removed from a Butterfish
Otoliths (fish ear bones) that I removed from a Butterfish
You can see here is an otolith that is 1+ years old. It was caught in September and that big 1st band is its Year 0. You can see that the black dot demarks the fish turning 1. You can then see the Summer growth but not yet the winter growth. This fish has not yet turned 2, but it will Jan 1st of the next year.
You can see here an otolith that is 1+ years old. It was caught in September and that big 1st band is its Year 0. You can see that the black dot demarks the fish turning 1. You can then see the Summer growth but not yet the winter growth. This fish has not yet turned 2, but it will be Jan 1st of the next year.

I have to end with a critter photo! This is a Cobia (Rachycentron canadum).

Me and a Cobia caught off the coast of Maryland
Cobia caught off the coast of Maryland

Thanks for reading!

Kaitlin Baird: Some Essential Tools! September 14, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s North East Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Off the Coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina
Date: September 14th
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Location Data:
Latitude: 35′ 10.67
Longitude:  75’33.60     

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 23.40 (approx.74 °F)
Wind Speed: 2.17 kts
Wind Direction:  Southwest
Surface Water Temperature:2 7.61 °C (approx. 82°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log

One of the things I was curious about was the deployment of these large instruments and the technology that supports it. One of the keys to the deployment of things like the BONGO nets, Continuous Depth Recorders (CTD’s) and the trawl net itself are winches. A winch spools the wire cable that is hooked to all of the instruments and allows them to move up, down and out into the water column. With some of the instruments, like the BONGO’S and CTD casts, a retractable A-Frame is used to lower the cable from the winch. You can see the A-Frame on the right and the winch on the left in the photo below. This winch in particular controls the deployment of the net and connects to two winches on the stern that roll out the net to open up the mouth. The wire is constantly monitored from the bridge on the screen below and is automatically adjusted to maintain equal tension on both sides.

Winch for fishing nets, Tension monitor on winches from the bridge and A-frame
Winch for fishing nets, Tension screen for winches from the bridge and retractable A-frame

Once the net is run out with the aid of the winches, it is constantly monitored for its shape during the tow with a number of different censors attached to the net. There is an autotrawl system that sets the depth of the trawl and the tension of the wires. A Global Positioning System (GPS) plots the position of the net for each trawl so that it can be associated with all organisms caught in the tow. At the end of the tow the winches reel back the cable and a crane brings the net with the catch over to the “checker” where the net is unloaded!

Monitoring the position and shape of the trawl in the water
Monitoring the position and shape of the trawl in the water

Personal Log:

The fun part begins when the net opens and all the animals enter the checker. When all of the catch goes into the checker the scientists take a look at the catch, and remove anything too large to go up the conveyor belt. If a fish dominates the catch it will “run”. This means, as it goes down the conveyor belt it won’t be taken off and it will be weighed by the basketful and then a subsample will be taken for further analysis.

The fish are all divided up by species and electronically coded in the FSCS system to be measured. After they are measured, the system will prompt for further analysis for that particular species. If extra sampling of the fish is required,  it is labeled with a printed sticker for the species with a unique barcode that can be scanned to retrieve its record in the database.

tag for the organisms to designate its ID and what is to be done with it
Tag for the organisms to designate its ID and what is to be done with it

I thought I’d share some photos with you of some of the unique things we have seen so far fishing today. We are off the coast of Carolina and finishing up our Southern stations today into early morning!

Fish caught off of North Carolina
Fish caught off of North Carolina

Catch of the day! Thanks for reading!

Shark caught off of Carolina coast
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark caught off of Carolina coast

Kaitlin Baird: Let the Fishing Begin! September 8, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s North East Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean steaming to south New Jersey coast
Date: September 8th
.

Location Data:
Latitude: 38° 44.58’   N
Longitude: 73 ° 39.30’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 23.2°C (approx. 74°F)
Wind Speed: 5.05 kts
Wind Direction: from N
Surface Water Temperature: 25.29 °C (approx. 78°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log
Other than testing out the FSCS today and learning the ropes, I also learned about another type of tow we are doing on this cruise. When looking at fish stock assessment it is also important to look at the base of the food chain, you guessed it, plankton. Today we were specifically targeting zooplankton, microscopic animal drifters in the ocean that are an important food source for many of the fish and other invertebrates that we are surveying.

When I saw the nets go in, they looked a bit different than those on the R/V HSBC Atlantic Explorer, and I learned a new term, BONGO net. This is the tandem net which we are using  to tow for zooplankton at set locations while we are en route. Unlike the trawl net we tow these on the side of the ship verses the back so there is no interference by the wake made by the ship as it moves through the water. If you imagine a giant windsock with a plastic catchment at the end, this is what these nets look like. The pressure of the water moving through the net forces anything heavy to the “cod end” of the net and sieves the water out of the mesh that makes up the net.

The depth of the net tow is dependent upon bottom depth and protocol at each site, but they normally try to tow pretty close to the bottom (=/- 10 m). A separate, Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) recorder is also deployed with the nets to understand more about the ocean chemistry at set locations.  There is such a variability when towing for plankton (as it can be quite patchy) that having the two nets gives you more opportunity to capture the diversity of life that is out there. The nets are also two different mesh sizes so that they can catch zooplankton in different size classes.

Bongo Nets
Bongo Nets being deployed to 60 feet
Personal Log
It was great to get fishing today off of the coast of Maryland. We were all ready to sort anything that came down the conveyer belt. The species get sorted and then brought to the FSCS stations. Here they are measured along with anything else that needs to be done to them. I helped to get otoliths prepared and input data on gut contents, condition and sex.
Kaitlin in the wetlab with left eye and right eye flounder
Kaitlin in the wetlab with left eye and right eye flounder
One of the things I noticed were a lot of flounders, both left eye and right eye. That’s right folks, flounder usually start with one eye on each side of their heads and then eventually (species dependent) it migrates as they mature so that they sit on the bottom with both eyes on top of their heads. Depending on which way they migrate they are designated as “left eye” or “right eye” as you can see in the photos below. Did you know? These eyes can move independently of each other, pretty cool stuff!
Right Eye Flounder (Top) Left Eye Flounder (bottom)
Right Eye Flounder (Top) Witch Flounder
Left Eye Flounder (bottom) Four spot Flounder
Stay tuned for more critters! Here is just a shortlist of some that we saw today!

Rosette Skate
Little Skate
Tilefish
Goosefish
Chain dogfish
Fawn cusk-eel
Gulf stream flounder
Four spot flounder
Silver hake
Armored sea robin
LOTS of Squid

Bye for now!

Kaitlin Baird: All Ashore Who Are Going Ashore, September 6, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s North East Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean steaming to south New Jersey coast
Date: September 6, 2012

Location Data:
Latitude: 41 ° 18.70’   N
Longitude: 71 ° 42.11’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 20.5°C (approx. 69°F)
Wind Speed: 4.97 kts
Wind Direction: from N
Surface Water Temperature: 22.2 °C (approx. 72°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair

Science and Technology Log

The purpose of our mission aboard the Henry B. Bigelow is the 1st leg of groundfish surveys from Cape May all the way down to Cape Hatteras with the Northeast Fisheries Science Center. The scientists aboard the ship are interested in both the size and  frequency of fish at different targeted geographic locations. We will be sampling using a trawl net at about 130 different stations along the way, some inshore and some offshore. We will be using a piece of technology called the Fisheries Scientific Computer System (FSCS). This system will allow us to accurately take baskets of different species of fish and code them for their lengths into a large database. This will give us a snapshot of fisheries stocks in the Northeast Atlantic by taking a subsample. The computer system also allows us to see if any other things need to be done with the fish once they are measured. Tasks like otolith (I’ll tell you about these later!) and gonad removal, fin clips or whole organisms sampling may also be done. The computer system will allow us to label each of these requests and assign it a code for scientists requesting samples from this cruise. Additionally, there are scales along with the system for recording necessary weights. We will be sorting fish first by species, and then running them all through the coded FSCS which you can see in the photo below.

Measuring board for fish
Board for magnetically measuring fish

We are currently on full steam to get our first tow in early tomorrow morning. You can track our ship using NOAA’s ship tracker system. Here we are positioned currently passing Block Island.

Ship Tracker with Current Location
NOAA Ship Tracker

Can’t wait to tell you more about the FSCS system when we start using it tomorrow!!

Personal Log

We have just pushed off the dock at 0900 and are headed South to start our first  trawl tomorrow morning. Everyone is getting used to the ship and some swells with a few storms in the Atlantic. I am really excited to get to see what comes up in our first tow. I have been assigned to the day watch which means that my shift runs from Noon-Midnight. The two other ladies that share our room will be on the night watch, so there will be a changing of the guard and some fresh legs and recorders.

Darcy and Caitlin
Darcy and Caitlin two other volunteers learning the ropes
All ready to go
Helly Hansen gear to keep us all dry.

I am looking forward to bringing you some cool fish photos soon! Hello to everyone back  in Bermuda! Stay safe..

Bye for now!!

Kate DeLussey: Studying Deep Water Corals – The Work Continues, July 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kate DeLussey
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
July 3 – 18, 2012

Mission:  Deep-Sea Corals and Benthic Habitat:  Ground truthing and exploration in deepwater canyons off the Northeast
Geographical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Leaving from  Newport, RI
Date: Tuesday , July 17, 2012

Kate DeLussey
Teacher at Sea on the Henry B. Bigelow

 

Location:
Latitude:  40.3456 °
Longitude: -68.2283°

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air Temperature: 21.90° C
Wind Speed: 12 Kts
Relative Humidity:  102.00%
Barometric Pressure: 1,008.83 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 21.63° C

Science and Technology Log

TowCam returned to the ship for the last time this cruise.  The components have been stored, batteries have been charged, and data logged in ten minute increments has been saved in excel files for others to read.  The last pictures have been upload from the camera for a grand total of over 35,000 photos. Yes, the images of corals, sponges, and fish have been celebrated, reviewed, and annotated, but the real learning work is just beginning.

The scientific team will spend years studying, thinking, comparing, wondering, and hypothesizing about corals and coral habitat.  They will compare what they have learned with what they already know. They will read what other scientists have written about corals and talk to one another about what they see.  They will write papers explaining their findings, and make presentations to share their learning with others.

These scientists will do this hard learning work because they are curious, because coral habitats are unique and special, and because they care about our  planet’s oceans and the creatures living there.

As earth citizens we are should be grateful and supportive of the research these scientists do.  They work to care for and protect ocean life that very few people even know about.  Hopefully, we all will learn from their work.

The Science Team led by Dr. Martha Nizinski aboard the Bigelow. July 2012

Thank you to NOAA and to:  Chief Scientist Dr. Martha Nizinski

Thanks also to: Dr. T. Shank, Dr. D. Packer, Dr. V. Guida, Dr. E. Shea, Dr. B. Kilan, Dr. M. Malik, Dr. G. Kurras, and Dr. L Christiansen.

Through your dedication and work we all get to learn about the wonders of our planet.

Personal Statement

I have been able to share in this amazing coral research.  Don’t get me wrong.  This is not all fun and games.  There were many challenges, and the hours on shift were long and sometimes difficult.  This is getting down and dirty with real science.  BUT… this is different, usually teachers say the good stuff first:)

Pay close attention to this next statement:  Many of the corals seen in the photos collected by TowCam have never been seen in these locations before. Never!   Some of the corals might even be new discoveries.

Only eleven people have seen corals in the canyons of the Mid- and North Atlantic.  I am one of those people.

I will never be the same, and if you are in my class next year, well, you will never be the same either. You are going to love the Oceans.  You will be surprised to find yourself choosing to watch NOAA videos over video games.   You will read non-fiction to find answers to your questions, and you will write to be a persuasive voice for corals because some of them only know 11 people and they need more friends.

Perhaps you will be amazed and wonder about bioluminescent sea creatures lighting up the sea like lightning bugs.  (I am still waiting to see them Dr. Packer! )  It is possible you will develop a passion for cephalopods like Dr. Shea, or maybe you are simply thinking that you could do this ocean science research.   You can prepare by reading the writings of Dr. Nizinski and others.  It is all possible- you just need to wonder, think, hypothesize, and try.

I may look like Kate DeLussey, but the experience of researching Deep Sea Corals has changed me.    Learning will do that to you !

Next Time:  You could be a scientist at sea.   The corals and other sea creatures will thank you!

Alexandra Keenan: Singing Whales, June 23, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra Keenan
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 18 – June 29, 2012

Mission: Cetacean Biology
Geographical area of the cruise: Gulf of Maine
Date: June 23, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 14.4° C
Sea temperature: 13.3° C
Wind speed: 10.5 knots
Wind direction: from the SW

Science and Technology Log:

Whales are social creatures with a remarkable ability to communicate with one another over long distances using sounds. Male humpback whales, for example, can sing for days on end over mating grounds to attract the ladies, or over feeding grounds such as the ones on Georges Bank (where we are!) The acoustic behavior of sperm whales may even provide for distinct cultures within the species.

Listen: Song of a humpback whale (courtesy Denise Risch)

Given these vocalizations, it is possible to monitor the distribution and behavior of acoustically active marine animals using special recording units called “marine autonomous recording units” (MARUs). For the past few days, we have been zig-zagging and loopty-looping around Georges Bank to retrieve several of these MARUs (track our ship’s course here).

MARUs are little buoys designed to sit on the ocean floor and record all sounds within a certain range of frequencies. The MARUs we retrieved during this cruise have been on Georges Bank since the March cruise on the Delaware II (see Chief Scientist Allison Henry’s blog post).

To retrieve a buoy:

1. An acoustic signal (a sound) is sent out from a speaker lowered into the water that basically says to the buoy, “Hello! Are you there?” Listen: Signal used to contact buoy

pop-up buoy retrieval
Bioacoustician Denise Risch sends a signal to the MARU.

2. The buoy can then respond with another acoustic signal, “Yup!”

listening for the pop-up buoy
Research analyst Genevieve Davis and intern Julia Luthringer listen for a response from the MARU.

3. Upon hearing confirmation that the buoy is indeed in the area, the bioacoustician can send another signal to the buoy telling it to burn the wire anchoring it to the sandbags on the ocean floor.

4. The buoy is free! It floats to the sea surface and is retrieved from the side of the ship.

Denise Risch, Genevieve Davis, and Julia Luthringer wait for the ship to approach the MARU (small yellow dot in ocean).

5. Data is retrieved from flash memory on the buoy for further analysis.

MARU
MARU ready for data retrieval.

What will these MARUs be able to tell bioacousticians (scientists that study sounds produced by living organisms)?

Lots!  Using passive acoustic monitoring (recording the sounds that marine mammals make), scientists can study the distribution of acoustically active mammals and can couple distribution data with environmental measurements of the area to identify relationships between conditions on the ocean and acoustic activity. Scientists can also distinguish whale species based on their sounds, so certain species of whale can be monitored.

Physics break: Why do you think whales have evolved to use sound rather than sight or smell to communicate underwater?

Personal Log:

I have been amazed by the amount of maintenance being done while we are underway. Even with a relatively new ship like the Bigelow, there is always something to be done, whether it be grinding away at the deck for subsequent repainting or fixing a malfunctioning pump.

Maintenance on the Bigelow
Deck crew member Tony repaints the deck after grinding off the old paint while we are underway.

We spend most of our days out on the fly bridge watching for whales, and mostly we see whales.

whale watching
Equipment used for watching for whales from the flybridge.

However, once in a while a shark, turtle, or mola mola floats by. I really get a kick out of the mola molas. They look like they could be the subject of a Pokemon trading card– a big flat fish head with fins sticking out. They eat jelly fish and have few natural predators. Adults weigh an average of 2200 lbs!

mola mola
The other-worldly mola mola.

A short video of one in action below:

Finally, I wanted to introduce everyone on the science team for this cruise:

aglow following a blue whale sighting
From left to right: Me, Scientist Pete Duley, Bioacoustician Denise Risch, Chief Scientist Allison Henry, Scientist Jen Gatzke, Research Analyst Genevieve Davis, and Intern Julia Luthringer (photo courtesy CO Zegowitz)

Alexandra Keenan: Watching for Whales, June 21, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra Keenan
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 18 – June 29, 2012

Mission: Cetacean Biology
Geographical area of the cruise: Gulf of Maine
Date: June 21, 2012

Weather data from the bridge:
Air temperature: 15.84° C
Wind speed: 7.42 knots
Wind direction: coming from N
Relative Humidity 94.9%

Science and Technology Log:

We departed from Naval Station Newport (NAVSTA) shortly after 2:00 pm on June 18th. During our first three full days at sea, we have been intermittently retrieving marine acoustic recording units (MARUs–more on this later) and recording whale sightings on Georges Bank.

Georges Bank is an elevated area of sea floor extending from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Sable Island in Nova Scotia. This special place is a feeding ground for cetaceans because the topography and position of the bank result in an upwelling of nutrient-rich water which supports a high level of productivity.

Our day begins at 7:30 am when we begin watch sessions.  Every hour and a half, we rotate through three stations. Scientists at two stations use high-power binoculars, dubbed “big eyes,” while a scientist at another station records sightings.

sighting data entry
Peter Duley enters data from a sighting on the fly bridge.
big eyes
Me on the “big eyes” scanning for whales.

The following information is recorded for each sighting:

  • species
  • position of animal relative to the ship
  • distance of animal from ship
  • number of animals in the group
  • calves (if present)
  • animal behavior (porpoising, swimming, breaching, etc.)
  • swim direction

Environmental conditions and ship position data are recorded concurrently. All of this data can then be used together to monitor certain species and to create statistical models of whale populations.

In this area, we expect to see humpback, sei, fin, pilot, and right whales. In order to distinguish species while on watch, we must take into account a few important characteristics:

Spout: The spout is a column of moist air emitted from the whale’s nostril (blowhole) on its back as it exhales. Right whales and humpbacks have short, bushy spouts, while fin and sei whales have tall, columnar spouts. If the wind is strong, it can be hard to distinguish them. Luckily, there are a couple of other ways to identify whales  from a distance.

Dorsal fin: This is the fin on the whale’s back behind the blowhole. Right whales do not have dorsal fins, and humpback whales have a bit of an extra “hump” on their dorsal fin. Fin and sei whales are slightly more tricky to distinguish. The best way to distinguish them is to recognize that the dorsal fin on a sei whale is taller than on a fin whale. There is also a white coloration pattern forward of the dorsal fin on a fin whale called a chevron. Sei whales do not have these. Fin whales also have white markings on their lower jaws, which sei whales do not have.

Fluke: The fluke is the whale’s “tail.” Humpbacks and right whales show their flukes more often than the others when they dive. Right whales have a very smooth black fluke, while humpback whales have more deeply notched flukes that can range in color from all white to all black.

So far on this cruise we have seen: humpback whales, pilot whales, fin whales, sei whales, minke whales, sperm whales, common dolphins, white-sided dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, striped dolphins, bottle-nose dolphins, mola-mola, and a Portuguese man o’ war.

No right whales yet, though tomorrow we plan to cross the Great South Channel in order to retrieve more MARUs, with a possibility of a sighting there. There was also an aerial survey over Georges Basin– the extreme northern edge of George’s Bank– today that reported 12 right whales. We hope to see plenty before the cruise is over, as right whales are the species targeted for biopsy and photo-identification on this mission.

Common Atlantic white sided dolphin
Dozens of common dolphins surrounded the ship on June 19th.
dolphins near ship
Dolphins playing around the ship.
Listening to dolphins
Genevieve Davis records dolphin whistles using the ship’s hydrophone as I listen on headphones.

From the starboard 01 weatherdecks (the decks on the right side of the boat when facing forward), I was able to hear the dolphins whistling to each other as they played around the ship on June 19th. Scientists Denise Risch and Genevieve Davis recorded their acoustics using a hydrophone mounted on the ship’s centerboard.

Personal Log:

Henry B. Bigelow
Galley stores are loaded on to Henry B. Bigelow just before departure.

Seeing the Bigelow from my cab as we drove onto the pier on June 17th was a bit of a shock for me. I didn’t realize quite how huge it was going to be. As I sauntered up the gangway with my backpack, I thought there was no way I could get seasick on a ship this big. My confidence grew as we left port on the 18th and I felt fine. By the end of the next day (our first full day at sea), though, I was looking for a rock to hide under. A stationary rock.

Happily, today felt great. I feel like my normal self again, have gotten into the swing of things aboard, and know my way around the ship. Everyone here has been exceptionally welcoming and nice which made the seasickness easy to forget. Tonight the ship had a summer solstice party on the flybridge. The weather was absolutely beautiful– complete with an orange sunset and glassy seas.

survival suit
Me in my survival suit during an abandon ship drill.

Overall, things are going great here. The ship is  comfortable, the food is delicious, and the whale sightings have been absolutely incredible. I could get used to this.

The video below is a short tour of my stateroom.

Happy sailing!

Alexandra Keenan: A Whale of an Adventure Begins! June 16, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra Keenan
(Almost) Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
June 18 – June 29

Mission: Cetacean biology
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine
Date: June 16, 2012

Personal Log

Saludos! My name is Alexandra Keenan, and I teach Astronomy and Physics at Rio Grande City High School. Rio Grande City is a rural town located at the arid edge of the Rio Grande Valley. Because of our unique position on the Texas-Mexico border, our community is characterized by a rich melding of language and culture. Life in a border town is not always easy, but my talented and dedicated colleagues at RGC High School passionately advocate for our students, and our outstanding students gracefully rise to and surmount the many challenges presented to them.

Che's
Me in downtown Rio Grande City. Our historic buildings are evocative of the old “Wild West.”
Rio Grande City
Taquerias dot the highway running through our town– evidence of the binational character of the community.

I applied to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program because making careers in science seem real and attainable to students is a priority in my classroom.  NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, provides a wonderful opportunity for teachers to have an interdisciplinary research experience aboard one of their research or survey ships. I believe that through this extraordinary opportunity,  I can make our units in scientific inquiry and sound come alive while increasing students’  interest in and enthusiasm for protecting our ocean planet. I will also be able to provide my students firsthand knowledge on careers at NOAA. I hope to show my students that there is a big, beautiful world out there worth protecting and that they too can have an adventure.

The adventure begins on June 18th when the NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow departs from Newport, RI. I’ll be on the vessel as a member of the scientific research party. We will be monitoring populations of the school-bus-sized North Atlantic right whale by:

  • using photo-identification techniques
  • obtaining biopsies from live whales (wow!)
  • catching zooplankton
  • recovering specials buoys that have been monitoring the whales’ acoustic behavior (the sounds they make)
Aerial view of North Atlantic right whale swimming with calf. (photo: NOAA)

Why would we do all of this? Because North Atlantic Right Whales are among the most endangered whales in the world. Historically, they were heavily hunted during the whaling era. Now, they are endangered by shipping vessels and commercial fishing equipment. The data we gather and analyze will help governing bodies make management decisions to protect these majestic animals.

NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow (photo: NOAA)

The next time you hear from me, it’ll be from the waters of the Gulf of Maine!

Fair winds!

Barbara Koch, October 5, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Barbara Koch
NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 20-October 5, 2010

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg II
Geographical area of cruise: Southern New England
Date: Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Weather from the Bridge
Latitude 40.63
Longitude -72.92
Speed 4.80 kts
Course 293.00
Wind Speed 19.13 kts
Wind Dir. 139.69 º
Surf. Water Temp. 18.76 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 31.62 PSU
Air Temperature 16.20 ºC
Relative Humidity 89.00%
Barometric Pres. 101.44 mb
Water Depth 28.52 m
Cruise Start Date 10/2/2010

Science and Technology Log

In addition to collecting data about fish species in the Southern New England Atlantic Ocean, NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow is also collecting information about the ocean’s climate and plankton numbers. lankton refers to microscopic plants (phytoplankton), animals (zooplankton), decomposers (bacterioplankton), and the fish eggs and larvae of larger fish (ichthyoplankton). Plankton forms the base of the ocean food web. Phytoplankton is the food source for zooplankton, which in turn is the food source for larger fish. Water salinity and termperature (climate) are directly related to the production of plankton. A change in climate can cause a decrease in the production of plankton, therefore, less food for developing fish species. Low numbers of fish at the bottom of the food web means less food for fish at the top of the food web.

Reviewing Data
Reviewing Data

Plankton samples are taken at random trawl stations during the cruise. I had the opportunity to observe and assist the Senior Survey Technician, Jim Burkitt, during one sampling. Burkitt uses a Bongo Paired Zooplankton net system, which consists of two stainless steel cylinders with instruments that measure water flow, and two cone-shaped, fine mesh nets attached. The nets are lowered into the ocean and dragged alongside the ship for a specified amount of time, and at all levels of the ocean column. Burkitt monitors the location of the nets via computer during the sampling to ensure that the nets do not touch the ocean floor, thus gathering sediment instead of plankton.

Sampling
Sampling

Retrieving the nets
Retrieving the nets

The crew retrieves the nets at the end of the sampling period and places it on the deck of the ship. Once the nets are back on deck, we rinse the plankton from the top to the narrow, tied end of the nets byspraying the nets from the top towards the bottom.

Rinsing the plankton
Rinsing the plankton

Plankton
Plankton
Finished Sample
Finished Sample

When the catch is located at the bottom of the nets, we untiethe bottom and continue rinsing the sample into metal strainers. The top strainer has a large mesh screen to trap jelly fish and other organisms trapped in the net and to allow the smaller plankton to fall through to the lower strainer, which has a very small mesh screen used to collect the plankton sample. Here is what the sample looked like.

Finally, we carry the samples into the lab where we rinse the plankton into jars, add formaldehyde as a preservative, and seal the jars. The jars will be taken to the lab in Woods Hole for further analysis.

Personal Log

Northern Stargazer
Northern Stargazer
Armored Searobin
Armored Searobin

Even though many of our towing days were lost to gale force winds, we did end the cruise by catching some interesting species. First, was the Northern Stargazer (Astroscopus guttatus). The Northern Stargazer is found in shallow waters along the eastern seaboard from North Carolina to New York. It has a large head, small eyes on top of its head, and a large upward turned mouth. The Northern Stargazer buries itself in the sand on the ocean floor and waits for prey to swim by. Northern Stargazers also have an electrical organ around the eyes that can give us a jolt if we touch it.

Another interesting catch was the Armored Searobin (Peristedion miniatum). This species is bright crimson and is totally covered with bony plates. It can grow to be 13-14 inches long. It is found in the warm waters along the outer edge of the continental shelf in waters from Georges Bank off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts all the way down the Atlantic to Charleston, South Carolina.

Monkfish
Monkfish

We also caught Monkfish or Goosefish (Lophius americanus). This fish is found along the eastern seaboard of the United States from Grand Bank down to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Monkfish live on the bottom of the ocean in sand, mud and shell habitats, and feed on whatever prey is abundant. The meat is said to taste a lot like lobster tail, and therefore is often referred to as “poor man’s lobster.”

striped sea bass
striped sea bass
More striped sea bass
More striped sea bass

Our most exciting catch came when we hauled in 212 striped sea bass! Striped bass occur along the Atlantic coast from the St. Lawrence River in Canada all the way down to Florida. They live near the coast, in bays and tidal rivers. Striped bass have been very important to the United States fishing industry for centuries. The largest one we caught was 103 cm long and weighed 11.26 kg!

I thoroughly enjoyed my time working and learning during the second leg of the Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey cruise. It was a great opportunity to see research at work in a real world setting, and I’m sure my students will benefit from everything I’ve experienced. I want to thank the scientists from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program, and the crew aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow for allowing me to be a part of your lives for twelve days. If any of you teachers out there are interested in applying to the Teacher at Sea Program, I highly recommend it. Check out their website at http://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/.

Barbara Koch, October 4, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Barbara Koch
NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 20-October 5, 2010

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey Leg II
Geographical area of cruise: Southern New England
Date: Tuesday, October 4, 2010

Weather from the Bridge

Latitude 39.94
Longitude -73.47
Speed 1.10 kts
Course 22.00
Wind Speed 34.25 kts
Wind Dir. 69.54 º
Surf. Water Temp. 19.70 ºC
Surf. Water Sal. 31.85 PSU
Air Temperature 15.80 ºC
Relative Humidity 88.00%
Barometric Pres. 1015.72 mb
Water Depth 45.00 m
Cruise Start Date 10/02/2010

Science and Technology Log

The Bridge
The Bridge

I visited the bridge of NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow to see how the ship is run. Thebridge sits atop the ship and is the command center for all navigation andcommunications operations during the cruises. Windows surround the entire bridge, giving NOAA Corps officers a 360 degree view of the surrounding ocean. Here, Commanding Officer, Anne Lynch, and Junior Officer, ENS Kyle Sanders stand at the main bridge console of the ship. NOAA Corps officers chart the ship’s course, control the speed, steer the ship, detect other objects in the ocean via sonar, monitor weather conditions, and communicate with others at sea, on the ship, and on shore from this console.

Console for steering the ship
Console for steering the ship
Aft Control Station
Aft Control Station

The Aft Control Station (ACS) is located at the rear of the bridge and overlooks the working deck. The ACS provides control ofthe Auto Trawl System to pull the research net at a constant andstraight trawl. A closed circuit television improves the crew’s visibility while operating the gear from the bridge. Here is a picture of the ACS control panel on the bridge and the research net on the rear deck.

Henry B. Bigelow is also equipped with two scientific SONAR systems used for gathering data on fish and plankton and for collecting oceanographic data, such as water salinity and water temperature. Transducers are mounted at the center of the hull and extend below the ship to take acoustic readings of water depth or the location of schools of fish. One of the SONAR transducers on this ship can work at depths as deep as 5000 meters and can detect objects under water as close as one meter or as far away as 800 meters. It also detects objects on the sea floor, as well as in the water column. This system is controlled from the bridge, as well.

SONAR controls
SONAR controls

A separate control panel is used to monitor and control power and water usage on board the ship. Two generators provide electricity for the ship. There are also tanks in the hull designated for different purposes, such as holding water, fuel, and potable water. This control board monitors all of the tank and power usage levels for the entire ship.

Personal Log

The lounge
The lounge

Today is my birthday! Spending my birthday aboard a NOAA research vessel is a great gift! Today is also the second day spent waiting for the seas to calm down so we can take more samples. Wind speeds are 34.25 kts. and the waves are about 11-16 feet high. The boat is rocking and rolling, and makes it very difficult to move around. The night watch is sleeping, so we cannot go in our staterooms, and we must be quiet everywhere we go. It is too windy to go outside on the deck, as well. The only thing we can do is wait in the lounge. The lounge is equipped with a television, two computers, couches, a conference table, games, movies, and reading material. Since it is my birthday, I have the honor of selecting one of the movies we will watch. That’s a hard thing to do when you are with a group of people with so many different tastes and personalities. . . the “A Team” it is! It’s great that the crew and scientists have a place to go for entertainment, because waiting for so many hours on end can start to get on everyone’s nerves.

Gym
Gym

Luckily, the ship also has a workout room, which I visited briefly. It’s very difficult to lift weights when the ship is rocking, and the elliptical machine seemed to run by itself. The stationary bicycle was a little easier to manage, and it felt good to move my legs after sitting for so long in the lounge.

Galley
Galley

However, I think the biggest morale booster for me, the crew and the scientists is thewonderful food that Dennis and Randy make in the galley. Their menus rival those of some finer restaurants I’ve visited, and we are treated to their artistry every day way out here in the ocean. I’ve truly been spoiled!