Stephen Tomasetti: Gone Fishin’, August 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Tomasetti
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 11 – 25, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
You can view the geographical location of the cruise here at any time: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/
Date: Friday, August 15, 2014

Weather Data from Bridge:
Air Temperature: 30.5 Degrees C
Water Temperature: 30.3 Degrees C
Wind Speed: 10.2 Knots
Barometric Pressure: 1015.9 Millibars

Science and Technology Log:

On this ship’s longline survey we are trying to examine fish, sharks in particular, to monitor trends in population abundance and examine distributional patterns. In order to do all of that, you first have to catch them. I figured for this blog I’ll walk us through the process of catching sharks (before tagging them and returning them to the water).

You start with prepping everything on the deck. We have two barrels filled with 100 hooks in total that are pre-connected to gangions which are twelve feet in length each and will eventually be connected to the mainline that goes in the water. The first step is to bait the hooks. In this case we use mackerel, cut in half, so that one mackerel is used as bait for two hooks.

Barrels of bait on hooks

Barrels of bait on hooks

Once all of the hooks are baited, the ship is maneuvered to the location where the data is to be collected. The first thing to come off the ship is called a “hi-flyer”. It is basically a buoy that marks the end of the fishing line.

Samantha deploying the hi-flyer

Volunteer Samantha deploying the hi-flyer

Next some weights attached to the line are tossed into the water in order to take the mainline to the bottom. Then the individual gangions with the hooks and bait are numbered with tags and attached to the mainline that continually extends as the ship moves forward.

Eloy attaching the baited line to the main line

Fisherman Eloy Borges attaching the gangion to the mainline

I love slinging bait. It’s basically the process of tossing the baited gangions off the side before connecting it to the mainline. There’s a rhythm to it, and a groove that you get with a little practice. You have to toss it far enough while making sure not to drop the line. You also try to keep up with the proper pace so that the hooks accurately correspond to a given distance in the water.

Once all of the hooks are in the water, more weights go in, the line is cut, knotted, and attached to the second hi-flyer which is tossed in the water. All the while someone is at a computer marking when each hi-flyer, weight and hook hits the water. That’s the process. Then it’s about an hour wait before hauling in your sharks!

For the next update we’ll talk all about sharks.

Tre and I handling a smooth dogfish shark

Scientist and Director of Animal Operations Andre Debose and I handling a smooth dogfish (shark)

Personal Log:

We’ve been fishing for two days out in the Gulf and I’m getting real comfortable out here. I work 12pm – 12am daily with sporadic breaks out on deck. Slingin’ bait. Taggin’ sharks. Data. Music. Laughs. Can’t complain.

Prior to arriving in the Gulf, we spent about two days cruising down the coast of Florida. This large ship can start to feel pretty small when you go two days without working. Many of us and the crew members speed through books (I just finished a book called Long Division…check it out), watch movies, and hang out on deck. The first night many of us watched the sunset together as dolphins played in the wake of the ship. It was fantastic.

On the second day we participated in our emergency drills. These drills consist of a fire drill, a man overboard drill, and an abandon ship drill where we get to don these mammoth survival suits called “immersion suits”.

Immersion Suit Success

Immersion Suit Success

I’m sure volunteer Sarah Larsen would agree it takes some muscle to fit into these. One tip to help put these on quickly is to save your strong arm and put that in the suit last. That way you can maneuver yourself through the suit with your strong arm before you zip up.

The Gulf waters have been surprisingly smooth out here, which isn’t always the case. And small flying fish zip across the surface leaving streaks that resemble those of a knife in a tub of butter. I know I should be taking more photos of moments like these but it’s hard to remove myself from the moment, dig through my bags, get the camera out, and finally take a photograph (which still won’t do it justice). I keep thinking about my students in Brooklyn, and how privileged I am to be able to have this experience, which really challenges me to find meaningful ways to share it with them. They deserve to be here and be a part of this.

Rachel Pryor

LTJG(sel) Rachel Pryor

Crew Highlight: Meet LTJG(sel) Rachel Pryor

Job: Navigation Officer

How did you get involved with NOAA: Rachel was interested in science from a young age. She heard about NOAA Corps while working for the Environmental Protection Agency, and found out more while being an observer in the Northeast.

What is your favorite part of the job: Rachel loves standing up on the bridge, looking out the window at the open ocean and driving the ship. There are times when the job can become tense, for instance in heavy ship traffic, but in those moments she says she takes a deep breath and reflects on how lucky she is to not be stuck in a cubicle.

Did you Know? The smooth dogfish has blunt teeth that really can’t harm a human. More on sharks next time!

Annmarie Babicki, August 10, 2010

Time:NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki

NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longlining
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 10, 2010

Weather Data

Latitude:  25.36 degrees North
Longitude:  82.56 degrees West
Clouds: Overcast and occasional showers
Winds:  11.5 kts
Temperature: 28.6 Celcius or about 84 degrees Fahrenheit
Barometric Pressure; 1010.04

Science and Technology:

  I am working here in the Gulf of Mexico with a scientist who is completing shark stock assessments.  It is a long term study, which monitors population trends of all shark species in the Gulf.  The data collected from this survey is used in conjunction with data from many other studies to determine fisheries policy. One example of this could be the determinations of how large a catch can be and how long the catch season can be.  Policies are not only different by species, but also by whether the catch is for recreational or commercial use.
Today we began the shark survey and completed locations off the coast of Florida.  The locations are chosen at random, so that the data is objective and the findings are not skewed.  During each sampling the following information is recorded: shark species, its length, weight, sex, and the stage of its maturity.  The coordinates for each survey are also recorded, which enables scientists to know where particular shark populations exist. The number of stations completed per day varies depending on how far the stations are from one another.  Generally, the amount of time it takes to complete it is approximately two hours.

Bait bucket

Hi-flyer being dropped in the water

The methodology used to collect data on sharks is called bottom longlining.  This is when each hook are baited with mackerel and put on a gangion. We cut our own bait and attach it to the hooks.  Each hook is assigned a number, one to one hundred, so that it can be tracked. That line is then systematically hooked onto another line that runs one nautical mile.  Both ends of the line have what are called hi-flyers that float vertically in the water.  They are bright orange and have a blinking light on the top, so that they can be seen from a distance. There is a weight placed on both ends of the line and one in the middle. The weights help to keep the baited lines well below the surface.  After the last gangion is put on, we wait one hour and then begin to pull in all hundred lines. During this entire process the ship is moving, which can be sometimes challenging, especially in bad weather.

Measuring the length of a barracuda

weighing a barracuda

A tagged tiger shark

Although the focus of this survey is sharks, data is collected on all fishes that are captured. After the fish are pulled up on deck, data is collected and recorded by the hook number. The handling of sharks is different from the handling of fish.  Only sharks are fitted with a tag, which does not hurt them.  There are two types of tags, but to date we have only used one type.  In order to attach the yellow tag, a small slit is made underneath the dorsal fin. The tag has a sharp point on one end, which is inserted into the slit.  Also a small sample (5-10 cm) of the shark’s pelvic fin is taken.  This is then taken to the lab where DNA testing is done.  The DNA can be used to verify known species and unknown or new species. Also, scientists can compare the population of sharks in other oceans around the globe by their DNA. What I have observed on every catch is that the scientist carefully monitors the shark to ensure it is not being stressed or could be hurt in any way.
Today we caught this beautiful and powerful scalloped hammerhead shark.  When very large sharks like the hammerhead are caught, they are not pulled up by the line because it can damage them and they are too heavy to handle.  Instead they are guided onto a cradle which sits in the water. Once on securely they are hoisted to the side of the ship where scientists can collect the needed data. The hammerhead weighed in at 341lb. and was 8 feet long. What a catch this was, everyone was very excited.

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

The cradle used to raise sharks in and out of the water.

Personal Log

The day started out cloudy but eventually turned over to showers and then to a hard rain.  We are feeling the effects of the tropical depression, which explains why it is difficult for me to stay standing for any length of time.  I am hitting and seeing more walls than I care to!  Also, it is a very bizarre feeling when the chair you are sitting in moves from one side of the room to the other.  Luckily I have fended of sea sickness, but I did have a mild case of nausea, however, nothing that stopped me from continuing to work on deck.  Thank goodness for Bonine.
Sleeping has not been much of a problem for me except when the ship’s engine changes.  The engines make a deep loud growling sound that wakes me for just a few minutes. Being out in the fresh air does make me tired, so I have to set my alarm clock or I will sleep through my next shift. It’s hard to know what day it is because I am working a noon to midnight shift. You keep track of time by when the next sampling is due.

Being at sea and doing this type of research is definitely only for the hearty.  The weather changes often as does the pace of the work.  There are many jobs to do during sampling and I am trying to learn all of them.  Baiting a hook and taking off bait has been frustrating, particularly since it has to be done quickly.  The type of hook they use has a barb on it that goes in a different direction from the rest of the hook, so it doesn’t just slide out.  We wear special gloves to protect our hands from the hooks and skin of the sharks, which can feel like sand paper or razor blades depending on the shark.  They say that practice makes perfect. Well, I have a lot of practicing to do!
My next adventure is to learn how to hold sharks and not be afraid of them.  I’ll keep you posted.

“Answer to Question of the Day” The fin clip is an actual piece of a fin that has been cut off the shark to be used for DNA testing.”Question of the Day”  What is a wet and dry room on a research vessel?

“Animals Seen Today” red groupers, tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, scalloped hammerhead, sharpnose shark, and sea birds