Andrea Schmuttermair: Back On Solid Ground, July 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 7, 2012

Personal Log

As I write this final post, I sit at a cafe looking out at the Pacific Ocean. A cool ocean breeze kisses my face, and the smell of the salty sea air fills my nostrils. Different from the damp air and blazing sun that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico, yet the ocean all the same. I know I am in my element, and will soak in as much ocean as possible before heading back to land-locked Colorado.

I have spent a lot of time this past week thinking about my trip on the Oregon II, at sea with people passionate about the work they do. I can’t help but think how lucky I am to have had this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity (although I am certain I will do this again) to not only participate in real-life science, but to be able to share this experience with my students.

scientists in the galley

A few of us scientists hanging out in the galley.

I have spent some time talking about the scientists that were on board with me on the Oregon II, and I must say that my experience would not have been the same had it not been for these people I worked so closely with. When traveling, it is not only important to see the sights and soak in the culture, but to also get to know the locals. Hear their story. Spend time with them. Listen to them. I placed as much importance on getting to know some of the scientists and crew on board as I did the work that we were doing. In that, I know I have made lasting relationships.

night shift

Our night shift team: Me, Alonzo, Lindsey, Alex, and Renee.

all scientists

All the scientists on the Oregon II

The more I talk to my friends and family and fellow teachers back at home, I am realizing that working on a ship is not for everyone. In fact, it takes a special person to spend a good portion of their years on a ship, away from friends and family, up to their elbows (quite literally) in fish. The adventurous side of me absolutely loved this, and hopes to do it again in the future. Alonzo, my watch leader, says I am welcome back any time. Well, Alonzo, I may just take you up on that one of these days.

Towards the end of my cruise, I had the opportunity to interview one of the junior NOAA Corps officers on board the Oregon II, ENS Junie Cassone. In her interview, she talks about life in the NOAA Corps and how one can become a NOAA Corps officer.

Watch the interview with ENS Cassone here: Interview with ENS Cassone.

My final post would not be complete without a few last critter pics, as I’ve started naming my ever-growing file. Here are some of my favorite critters from our last few trawls.

hermit crab

One cute little hermit crab!

seahorse

A seahorse we found amongst the Sargassum.

bashful crab 2

A flame-streaked box crab (Calappa flammea)- my new favorite of the bashful, or shameful, crabs

lion fish

Alex showing off one of his lionfish

To wrap up, I’d like to post one final Critter Query. When we brought up out trawls, I noticed some fish had this red bulge coming out of their mouths. I had never seen this before, and inquired what it was. Do you know what it is and what causes it?

fish

What is the red bulge coming out of the mouth of this fish and what is the cause of it?

Channa Comer: Crabs and Stars, May 15, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Channa Comer

On Board Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
May 11 — 22, 2011

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Leg 1
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: Monday, May 15, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 16.2C, Mostly Cloudy
Wind Speed: 11.6 knots
Water Temperature: 13.4C
Swell Height: 1.0 meters

Science and Technology Log
Question of the Day (See the answer at the end of the post)
How do you count a basket of crabs?

It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the halfway mark of the cruise. Since my last log, we’ve covered a total of 966 nautical miles. Today, we’ve traveled from Hudson Canyon which is 60 nautical miles east of Atlantic City to about 50 nautical miles from the coast of Point Pleasant, NJ.

Bucket of Crabs

Bucket of Crabs

Each day, the boat stops at predetermined points along the route. At each stop, the scallop dredge is lowered to the ocean floor at depths ranging from 15 to 60 fathoms. The dredge is then towed for 15 minutes at a speed of 3.8 knots. When 15 minutes has passed, the dredge is brought up and the catch is dumped onto a platform were we all wait anxiously to see what comes up. Once the empty dredge is secure, we get to work sorting the catch. Scallops and fish get separated, with everything else collected into baskets, cataloged as “trash” and returned to the ocean. The scallops are measured, and the fish are sorted by species, then counted, weighed and in some cases saved for further scientific study back at NOAA labs. Once everything has been counted, weighed and measured, it’s time for my favorite activity – shucking! Scallops are shucked and if there’s time, washed bagged and placed in the deep freezer for Paul to use in the galley for meals. To date, we’ve completed 90 tows and dredged 23,212 scallops.

What comes up at each catch depends on the location of the tow. The southernmost, areas that have been open, or those areas that have recently been closed will usually yield fewer scallops. Scallop yields increase as we head northward and in areas that are closed to fishing. In addition to scallops, our tows have included a variety of deep sea fish, starfish, lots of live sand dollars (with their accompanying green slime), and very often, mud.

At select tows, representative samples of scallops are processed beyond the usual length measurements. The shells are scrubbed clean and weights are recorded for the meat and gonad (reproductive organ). The shells are then labeled and bagged for transport to the lab where they will be aged. The age of scallops are determined by counting the number of growth rings on the shell – similar to counting rings on a tree.

Every three tows is my favorite – Crabs and Stars!! In this tow, in addition to the usual sorting and measuring, all Cancer crabs are collected, counted and weighed and a representative sample of starfish are sorted by species, then counted and weighed. Astropecten, a small starfish is a predator of scallops and the most abundant species of starfish that we’ve counted. Usually, a tow that has large numbers of Astropecten has very few scallops. Being a stickler for detail, having the job of counting starfish has been perfect for me.

Did you know?
Starfish eat a scallop by attaching themselves to the scallop in numbers, forcing the shell open, then extruding their stomachs into the shell and digesting the meat.

Animals Seen
Dolphins
Red Hake
Sea Mouse
Chain Dogfish
Little Skate
Four Spot Flounder
Red Sea Robin
Sea Urchin
Snake Eel
Ocean Pout
Sand Dollar
Sand Lance
Goosefish
Starfish
Gulf Stream Flounder
Black Sea Bass
Hermit Crab
Sea Raven

Personal Log
Day 3 – Thursday, May 12, 2011
With my sea sickness over after the first day and having adjusted to my new sleep schedule — I actually get to sleep a full 8 hours! — the days are starting to take on a nice flow. It’s been great being part of a team. We’re like a well-oiled machine. Everyone in my crew continues to be generous, sharing the best shucking techniques and giving me a little extra time to take photos and collect samples. We’ve jokingly renamed the “crabs and stars” tow to “crabs, stars and mud”. It’s really hard to count starfish when they’re covered in mud. Dinner was especially delicious today with salmon in pesto sauce with potatoes and broccoli.

Day 4 – Friday, May 13, 2011
The day started out cloudy and overcast, but the sun made an appearance late in the afternoon. The first tow of the day was my favorite — Crabs and Stars!! — with accompanying mud. As part of the Teacher at Sea program, in addition to my logs, I am required to write a lesson plan. I’ve started to draft what I think will be a great unit using the sea scallop as a springboard to explore issues in ecology and the nature of ecological science. Highlights will be an Iron Chef style cooking competition using scallops and a design challenge where students will have to build a working model of a scallop dredge. Vic has been great with providing whatever data, materials and background information that I need for my lessons. Lunch today was chicken burritos with fresh, spicy guacamole.

Day 6 – Sunday, May 15, 2011
Since its Sunday, I decided to take it easy and instead of trying to get a lot done before my shift and during the breaks, I took it easy and watched a little TV. With satellite TV and a large selection of DVDs, there are always lots of options. Although the guys tend to prefer sports or reality TV. The first few tows were back to back which meant little time for breaks, or snacks, or naps. Just enough time to clean up, shuck and be ready for the next tow.

Day 7 – Monday, May 16, 2011
The trip is half over. It’s hard to believe. The tows were once again, back to back with a fair amount of scallops, but I think after today, we won’t need to shuck anymore. Yay! Today was the day that the animals fought back. I was chomped by a scallop and a crab! The scallop was more of a surprise than a pain, but the crab clawed right through my glove. After days with no restrictions, we received the warning from the engineers today that we have to be careful with the faucets. Dripping faucets waste water and it takes time for the water to be converted through condensation in the condenser to usable water. If we’re not more careful, we’ll be faced with restrictions on how much water we can use……… I hope that doesn’t happen since I think we all officially smell like fish. Lunch today was cream of asparagus soup, yummy and reminiscent of my recent trip to Peru. The only thing missing was Quiona. And finally, today was the day that I’ve been waiting for. I found my favorite ice cream. I’ve been rationing myself to one per day, but after I found my favorite – butter pecan ice cream sandwiches – I could not resist a second.

Answer to Question of the Day: Very carefully!

Elise Olivieri, May 13, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elise Olivieri
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp 
May 9 – 20, 2009 

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic
Date: May 13, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Air Temperature: 12.06 Degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1026 mb
Humidity: 89%

Here I am holding up a skate.

Here I am holding up a skate.

Science and Technology Log 

Sea Scallops’ number one predator is starfish.  Starfish are very strong. They pry open the shell and then push their stomach inside and devour it.  Starfish are very abundant in the Mid-Atlantic.  Many tows yield hundreds of starfish.  It would be too time consuming to count every one of them so sub-sampling is done to attain an estimate of starfish.  The entire catch is sorted but only a portion of the catch is measured.  This is a good method when there are many starfish and little substrate (trash). The substrate is then collected in buckets and volume can be determined.  The data is then entered into the FSCS computer system.  As I mentioned before FSCS is extremely advanced and is a one-ofa-kind biological data system.  Prior to 2001, Fisheries Surveys information was sent to federal prisons to be entered into a computer data base.  This took an extremely long time to process.  Inmates would get compensated as little as a penny per log sheet. This was dangerous and the data could have been destroyed or lost. Today all data is backed up on a server in three different locations to secure data entries. This long-term study about age and growth of sea scallops helps scientists see a trend in different area’s ecosystems.

I have met some intriguing scientists aboard the Hugh R. Sharp. Shayla Williams is a research chemist for NOAA.  She specializes in fatty acid analysis of Fluke.  A fatty acid analysis is like a fingerprint of what you eat. By studying fatty acid in certain types of fish she can make generalizations about the health of an area. Shayla has done research on NOAA cruises since 2006. She has sailed on the Hudson Canyon Cruise, the Fall Fish Survey, and the Spring Fish Survey to name a few.  It takes a whole crew to run a ship and the Hugh Sharp has a very sharp crew. Wynn Tucker is an Oceanographic Technician aboard the Hugh R. Sharp. She has worked for NOAA, EPA, and the Navy. She loves being out on the open water and I don’t blame her.  It is magnificent to look out and be surrounded by blue as far as the eye can see. A.J. Ward is another crewmember aboard the Sharp. He works the inclinometer which lets the scientists know of the dredge is in the right spot on the bottom of the ocean floor.

Using the FSCS to record data about a scallop.

Using the FSCS to record data about a scallop.

Personal Log 

Today was a great day! It was beautiful weather and I got a chance to talk with some of the crew members on the Sharp. I saw a whole school of dolphins less than three feet from the boat.  It was incredible!  I ran up to the bridge to get a better look and saw a couple of Finback whales as well. It is extremely hard to get pictures because they surface for a few seconds and then dive back under water.  There are many fish in this area known as the Elephant Trunk. I can’t wait for tomorrow!  Another exciting day where I have the opportunity to be working with cutting-edge technology and incredible scientists.  For now I can’t wait to get some sleep.

Animals Seen Today 

Little Skates, Goose Fish, Gulf Stream Flounder, Sand Dollars, Sea Mice, Razor Clams, Surf Clams, Hermit Crabs, Sea Sponge, Red Hake, Monk Fish, Cancer Crabs, Sea Scallops, White Back Dolphins, Finback Whales, and Starfish.

Elise Olivieri, May 11, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elise Olivieri
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp 
May 9 – 20, 2009 

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic
Date: May 11, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Air Temperature: 11.83 Degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1021 mb
Humidity: 83%

The dredge

The dredge

Science and Technology Log 

There were 5 tows today on my  shift. I discovered open areas have far fewer sea scallops in each tow compared to closed areas.  In the open areas each catch was mostly starfish and cancer crabs. In the closed areas there were many sea scallops and various fish collected. Five scallops from each basket collected were processed for weight, length, gonad weight, and meat weight.  The sex of each sea scallop is also identified and all data is entered into the FSCS computer system.  The sea scallop shells were labeled and stored away for further identification.  If the sea scallops rings are clear and visible, lab tests can be done to identify its exact age and health. The Nordic Pride which is a commercial vessel contacted us today. The Nordic is working its way through the areas the Hugh R. Sharp already sampled.  The Sharp will compare tows with the Nordic. The Nordic surveyed with NOAA research vessels before and is taking this opportunity to survey with NOAA again. In the next few days we expect to see the Nordic Pride a few miles away. 

Personal Log 

A scallop opened up—the bright orange thing is its gonad and indicates it’s a female (they’re white in males).

A scallop opened up—the bright orange is its gonad and indicates it’s a female (white in males).

Today I feel much more confident about the tasks at hand. I have a lot of support from the crew and the Watch Chief. I am always up for new assignments and am very confident I can complete them correctly. Around 5:30 AM I saw about 12 white-sided dolphins. It was incredible. They are curious and fast animals.  They swarmed around the Hugh Sharp for a while until they got bored with us and continued on their way. Not long after the dolphins appearance 2 Finback whales surfaced. What an incredible night. I hope to see more dolphins and whales and hopefully get a picture of them.

Animals Seen Today 

Starfish Sea Scallops, Horseshoe Crabs, Hermit crabs, Cusk-eels, White Sided Dolphin, and Finback Whale.

Sea stars and sea scallops!

Sea stars and sea scallops!

Chris Monsour, June 23, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Monsour
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 23, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour is all smiles as he pulls up two Ehu during bottom fishing. This was the first time Monsour ever bottom fished.

Chris Monsour is all smiles as he pulls up two Ehu during his first bottom fishing experience.

Science and Technology Log 

Today was our last day at Maro Reef and now we are making the 36-hour trip to Necker Island 350 miles to the east southeast.  We finished up trapping today early as the number of lobsters collected was greatly reduced by the time we got to the sets of 20’s.  I had the job of assisting in the lab today. I would collect the lobsters from the buckets, identify the sex, and then hold in place so they could be measured.  In the morning, we collected a lot of slipper lobsters, sometimes as many as 19 or 20 in a trap. There were some spiny, but not nearly as many as the slipper. After lunch we collected the sets of 20 and found quite a difference. Instead of lobsters, we were collecting hermit crabs, spider crabs, sea anemone, and other types of crabs.  The differences may have to do with the sandy bottom or the greater deep of the traps.  I have tomorrow off to do whatever, which may include finishing up the book I started 8 days ago.

In this log I am going to talk about bottom fishing, which is one of the activities we get to do during the evening. Bottom fishing is the name given to line-fishing with baited hooks on or very close to the sea bottom. This is a fishing method, which catches predatory fish that feed on bottom-living crustaceans, fish, etc. One or more hooks may be used. Deep-bottom fishing has been known for many years in the Pacific region, and has been practiced for generations in some of the remote island communities of the Pacific. In the old days fishing was carried out from paddling canoes using gear made from locally-available materials, and was a challenge to even the most experienced fisherman.  We however have the luxury of modern bottom fishing gear such as a winch to help bring up our catch.

One of the reasons for the popularity in the fish that are caught by bottom fishing is the species caught never carry ciguatera fish poisoning. This is a type of natural toxicity, which originates from reef and lagoon fish that feed on toxic reef algae. Ciguatera fish poisoning causes illness and makes the affected person unable to eat seafood for a long time. The possible presence of ciguatera is a major cause of concern for many consumers of reef and lagoon fish. The fact that it never occurs in deepwater fish, due to their diet, makes these fish all the more valuable.  Some of the fish we have caught include Ehu, Uku, Opakapaka, Kahala, Butaguchi and Gindai. (have fun pronouncing these).

Deep-bottom fishing gear can be made from a range of materials, but the basic structure  is generally the same:

  • a mainline, several hundred meters long, to lower the hooks to the bottom.
  •  a terminal rig, usually 2–5 m in length, with attachment points for the mainline,  several hooks, and a sinker. The terminal rig can be made of nylon, or steel cable to resist cutting by the sharp teeth of fish or rough rocks and corals on the sea floor. The attachment points may be loops made on the ends of the terminal rig and at intervals along its length, or may be swivels knotted or crimped into the rig.
  •  several hooks, each fixed to a short trace , which can be connected to or disconnected from the attachment points along the terminal rig. This allows the traces to be changed quickly and easily when damaged or when the size of the fish being caught calls for smaller or larger hooks.
  • a heavy sinker, 0.5–2 kg in weight depending on the strength of the current, to get the rig down to the bottom quickly. I do enjoy the bottom fishing and to date I have caught 3 bottom fish, 1 Kahala and 2 Ehu. In fact I have the record on the boat for the largest Ehu at 54.6 centimeters!
Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour holds up two examples of fish caught during bottom fishing on board OSCAR ELTON SETTE.  The fish on the left is a Ehu and the fish on the right is a Uku.

Chris Monsour holds up two fish caught during bottom fishing; Ehu (left) and Uku (right).

Personal Log 

I am glad to have tomorrow off so to speak.  It will be good to sleep in and catch up on all the e-mails I have gotten.  As mentioned before, Necker Island in the past has been slow because of its proximity to the inhabited islands. The bottom fish we are collecting are being used to get an idea of the health of the reefs.  During the processing of the fish, we collect weight, length, gonads, liver, fin, and bones from the skull.  Ryan is collecting these for his research. It is a very interesting process and bloody one too.

Animals Seen Today 

Spiny lobster, Slipper lobster, Ridgeback lobster (type of spiny), Sea anemone, Hermit Crab, and Spider Crab.

Questions of the Day 

  1. What can we learn from Hawaiian values and practices to guide our interactions  with the land and sea today?
  2. What can we do to help restore declining fish populations?

A hui hou,… Chris

Chris Monsour, June 21, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Monsour
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 21, 2007

A juvenile spiny lobster is a welcome sign on the board OSCAR ELTON SETTE.  This was the smallest spiny lobster caught to date.

A juvenile spiny lobster is a welcome sign on the board OSCAR ELTON SETTE. This was the smallest spiny lobster caught to date.

Science and Technology Log 

We have been trapping for 5 days now and I have been the cracker twice, runner, and setter twice. The days are going by very quick and I find it harder and harder to write because by the time I get done, I am exhausted and then it is time to bottom fish.  We have been having good days in terms of the number of lobsters we are collecting and returning. Just by what I have seen, the slipper lobster is the most numerous and I really can’t seem to find the answer to why.  I do know that I would rather tangle with a slipper lobster than a spiny.  The focus of this log will be on the spiny lobster and what makes it such an interesting organism. As with most lobsters, the spiny lobster is important in the reef community.  I have learned that the spiny lobsters are usually found under ledges or in caves with only their antennae sticking out. The term stridulation comes from the lobster’s ability to rub its antennae to warn other animals away.  I finally understand why we are setting the traps at night. Lobsters remain in their shelters during the day and emerge at night to forage over the reef and in our case for mackerel within the traps.

Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour captured this image of spiny and slipper lobsters waiting to be processed on board OSCAR ELTON SETTE.  All of the lobsters were released back to a spot near to where they were captured.

Chris Monsour captured this image of spiny and slipper lobsters waiting to be processed. All of the lobsters were released near the spot where they were captured.

The spiny lobster does not have the large chelipeds that the Maine lobster has.  The first thing I asked about was what do we do about the crusher and pincher (terms used to describe the front appendages of Maine lobster and crayfish). The spiny lobster does not have them; instead they have the spines that point forward that cover their antennae and dorsal surface.  During the reproductive period, which occurs during summer, male lobsters seek out females.  The males attach a sticky packet of sperm near the female’s reproductive opening and her eggs are fertilized as they leave her body.  The female attaches the fertilized eggs to the delicate limbs on the underside of her abdomen.  She aerates the developing embryos by fanning her abdominal limbs through the water.  Females with eggs are called “berried” females because the eggs resemble tiny, reddish or blackish berries. The embryos hatch months later and take up life in the plankton as wafer-thin phyllosome larvae.  The larvae spend up to 9 months in the plankton before settling out to begin life on the bottom.

As I have found through discussion with members of the crew, spiny lobsters are a popular food item in Hawaii.  Just as we have been doing, the commercial fishermen catch them using baited wire traps set on the seafloor.  Recreational fishermen, scuba divers, and snorkelers around the main Hawaiian Islands can only capture lobsters by hand (no nets or spears are allowed), and because of the long reproductive period, it is illegal to catch spiny lobsters during the summer months (May through August).  Females with eggs are protected throughout the year.

Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour holds up a Grey Reef Shark that was caught during the lobster cruise.  Data such as the stomach contents will be used to further understand the dynamics that occur on the Maro Reef.  Two of Chris’ shipmates, Ryan and Garrett show their excitement over Chris’s first shark encounter.

Chris Monsour holds up a Grey Reef Shark that was caught during the lobster cruise. Stomach contents will be used to further understand what occurs on the Maro Reef. Two of Chris’ shipmates show their excitement over Chris’s first shark encounter.

Personal Log 

As mentioned earlier I am worn out by the end of the day, but it is nice that I have gotten into a routine. We have 2 more days left here at Maro Reef then it is onto Necker Island for 2 weeks. I have been told that Necker Island is not as exciting because it was where more of the trapping occurred in the past and so the numbers are not as high. We will see what happens.

Animals Seen Today 

Uku albatross Ehu terns Reef sharks frigate birds Galopogos Sharks lemonhead eel Spiny Lobster conger eel Slipper lobster Hermit crab Spider crab Sponge crab

Questions of the Day 

  1. How does human debris have a negative impact on marine life, and what can we do       to solve this problem?
  2. What can we learn from a bolus about seabirds and human impact on their habitat?
  3. How do products we use on land affect our ocean and beaches?
  4. How effective are some alternative products that have less impact on the environment?

A hui hou… (Until we meet again) Chris

Chris Monsour, June 18, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Chris Monsour
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
June 12 – July 12, 2007

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical Area: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 18, 2007

Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour, holds up one of the large Uku that was caught.  The fish will be used for bottomfish studies.

Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour, holds up one of the large Uku that was caught. The fish will be used for bottomfish studies.

Science and Technology Log 

Yesterday and today were very busy days on board OSCAR ELTON SETTE as we set our first traps, cut bait and then pulled up traps and collected the lobsters, eels, sharks, and whatever else made it into the traps. Yesterday we set 160 traps off of Maro Reef. We set 10 lines of 8 traps and 4 lines of 20 traps. Each trap was assembled and 2 mackerel, which had been cut into thirds, was placed into the baiter. The baiter is a small container within the trap that holds the bait. The bait was cut earlier in the day. I volunteered to cut bait and I spent about an hour slicing and dicing the mackerel. Once the traps were baited we spent about an hour setting the traps. The traps were stacked into groups of fours and I would hand a trap to a fisherman who was standing on the stern and watch as the traps were pushed off into the water. I wish I could say my day was done but there was still a lot to do before tomorrow, including getting more bait.

Every night about 2100, the “crackers” for the next day go into a walk in freezer and pull out 13 boxes of frozen mackerel to thaw.  (The term “cracker” comes from the job of opening up the traps when they are pulled out of the water, one has to crack open the lobster trap and pull out whatever is in side.)  The next morning I got up at 0545 to cut the bait. The other cracker for the day was Matt and we spent a good hour cutting up the mackerel. I did learn that it is much easier to cut a half frozen mackerel as opposed to a thawed out mackerel.  The knives were kind of dull and the mackerel were full of blood and eggs and there were a few times where the mackerel ended up on my shirt.  No problems though.

Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour sorts through a trap that was brought up off the Maro Reef.

Teacher at Sea Chris Monsour sorts through a trap that was brought up off the Maro Reef.

The processing of pulling up 160 lobster pots takes up the good portion of the day so I will keep it simple.  Once the pots are pulled from the water and end up on the deck they first come to the crackers.  The crackers open the pots and remove all organisms from inside. Today, this included slipper lobsters, spiny lobsters, eels, sharks, crabs, fish and one octopus. The most difficult had to be the octopus, it just refused to come put and its tentacles stuck to every surface.  It took both Matt and me to pry the octopus from the trap. We both tried to avoid the mouth because they do have a beak like structure and neither of us wanted to see if it could remove a finger.  The spiny lobsters were also difficult because one, they are covered with spines but are a lot stronger than one would think. They would kick back with their tail and one time my pinky got caught by tail and blood was drawn. The slipper lobsters are easier to handle and taking them out the trap was not a problem because their bodies lack the spines.  Most of the lobsters that were pulled out were the slipper lobster, which are also the easiest to handle.  The worst part of the job as cracker is constantly being wet and having to dunk my hands in the bait buckets which are full of mackerel blood and organs.  The smell of the mackerel has found its way into my shoes, gloves, hair, and skin. I don’t think I will ever be able get rid of it. My job as cracker ended and tomorrow I start as a runner. Everyone who has done this cruise before says cracker is the best job. I guess I will soon find out.

Personal Log 

I would be lying if I said I was not tired. The job of cracker is not the hardest job, but when one has his hand in a trap that has eels, sharks, and spiny lobsters in it, it can be stressful. On top of emptying the traps, the old bait has to be removed and new bait placed in, all the while, a new trap is making its way down the table. So after eating dinner at 1630, I am ready to call it a day. By keeping so busy I have not had as much time to sit on the observation deck and look for whales and dolphins, but I have come face to face with some really amazing animals.  I am really fascinated by the eels.  They are very aggressive and strong animals. I almost had one get real personal with me when I was emptying a lobster pot and the eel had managed to hide on the bottom.  As I was picking up spiny lobster, this eel pops it head up by my hand and all I could say was EEL! EEL!  Everyone had a good laugh. We ended the day with a feeding frenzy in which all of the old bait is dumped over the side and the Galapagos Shark’s come in. It is an amazing sight to see and to be that close to such a great animal.  I am sure there will be many more moments like that to come.

Animals Seen Today 

Spiny lobster
Crabs
Slipper lobster
Lemon Head Eel
Galapagos Shark
Uku
Reef Shark
Hermit Crab

Question of the Day

Looking at the food web of The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, what would happen if a large predator like the Galapagos Shark was removed? Would there be another animal that could replace it in the web?

Aloha… Chris