Marian Wagner: From Fishing to Dissecting in the Wet Lab, August 22, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marian Wagner
Aboard R/V Savannah
August 16 — 26, 2011

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean (Off the Georgia and Florida Coasts)
Date: Monday, August 22, 2011

Science Team on R/V Savannah Aug 16-26, 2011: Back row: Chief Scientist Warren Mitchell, Christina Schobernd, Katie Rowe, Mike Burton. Front row: Shelly Falk, Stephen Long, Sarah Goldman, Marian Wagner, David Berrane.

Weather Data from the Bridge (the wheelhouse, where the controls of the ship are)
S-SW Wind at 15 knots
(This means wind is travelling 15 nautical miles per hour, 1.15 statute miles = 1 nautical mile)
Sea depth today ranged from 45 meters to 74 meters
Seas 3-4 feet in the morning, 2-3 feet in the evening (measure of the height of the back of the waves, lower the number = calmer seas and steadier boat)

Science and Technology Log

In my last blog, I explained what I am doing on the  first half of my shift (noon to around 6:00pm/dinnertime) and how we conduct our research on the aft deck of the boat: we drop chevron traps to the ocean floor with cameras attached and then pick up the traps with fish sample collections.  The fish we trap and the cameras recording the activity around the traps help us estimate the fish populations.  We finish up this segment of our work on the deck of the boat by recording this data in a systematic data collection sheet called “Length Frequency”.  If we didn’t record the data the same way every time, it would be impossible to compare the thousands of samples in the past and into the future and understand what is happening to the populations of fish over time.

Length Frequency Data Recording

Here is a picture of us recording the weight and length of the fish and the frequency (how many we caught) in a systematic way,  always keeping track of where the fish were caught as well.  Because we catch large numbers of certain fish species (such as Vermillion Snapper, Red Porgy, Gray  triggerfish, and Black Sea Bass), we do not keep all of them for further research.  When recording/reporting “toss” or keep” got monotonous, I found ways to communicate creatively—how many words can you think of that rhyme with “toss” and “keep”? I got 11 for toss and 16 for keep.  David, Katie, and Stephen were such sports for going along with my silly games!

After this point in the day, the fish are in bags and put on ice, and we wash up for dinner.

After dinner, our work moves into the wet lab, where we prepare biological samples for further research.  For the rest of this log section I describe more about how and why we
use the biological samples.

Dissecting vermillion snapper in wet lab, in search of otoliths and gonads.

We use the biological samples to obtain and report important biological measures such as age, length, weight, feeding habits, and genetics.  In order to know specific ages of the fish, we take out a small bone in the fish called the OTOLITH, which is located in the inner ear. An otolith is a reliable source to obtain the age of a fish. They show age in rings similar to how trees show their age in their growth rings.  We also take the GONADS from the fish to give important information about reproductive development.  Here is a picture of me dissecting a vermillion snapper and taking out the otolith (right hand) and gonads (left hand) to send to the lab back in Beaufort, North Carolina, where scientists work.

Here I just reeled in a gray triggerfish, one of our target species for hook and line catch.

Sometimes after dinner we had time to fish with hook and line in the stunning sunset.  This method of catching fish provided us with fish samples to study that did not have stomachs full of bait like the rest of our fish samples caught in traps. We did this so we could study their stomach contents and learn about what they are eating and get information about the ecosystem they are dependent upon. We were targeting vermillion snapper and gray triggerfish, fish that are known to really gorge on bait in the traps.  Sarah was dissecting the stomach of scamp grouper and found an octopus beak!

Sarah dissecting stomach of scamp grouper and finds octopus beak!

When Sarah was dissecting the stomach of a scamp grouper, she found an octopus beak, the last part of the octopus to be digested. Exciting find!!

When fishing becomes chaotic, teamwork is key.

Here is one of my favorite pictures of all, captured during one of our hook and line battles, and a testament to the incredible teamwork of the scientists and crewmen. How many people does it take to catch a fish? Here, 5 of us were working on the same task.  Lines from 4 reels were tied up from a strong fish swimming in circles, and it took an intense team effort to unravel them in a critical moment. Success was sweetly earned.

Click here for more info on the fish we are studying for stock assessments.

Personal Log

I’m on a boat!  This phrase has been repeated many times and it captures my enthusiastic awe (with a touch of humor) that I have had many privileges, and the fortune to be around some remarkable people, day in and day out. I took the opportunity to interview a few of them so I could share it here.  (Next blog: Interview with Captain Raymond Sweatte)

Richard's showing me how to tie the speed bowline knot, see http://survival.atactv.com/?mediaId=743 to learn this knot.

Interview with Richard Huguley, engineer

Marian: When you were a kid, would you have imagined yourself here now?
Richard: Yes. In Mobile, Alabama, where I grew up, I played with wooden boats, making them go up and down the creek, and spent time catching crawfish. I could see this as where I’d be.
M: How often did you play outside?
Richard: From sun-up to sun-down.  I skipped out to the woods all day some days.  I was never afraid to be in the woods. I played with snakes, frogs, had a baby pet squirrel I kept in my pocket.  It poked its head out to eat, and then crawled back into my pocket.
M: How did you become prepared for work as an engineer on a boat?
Richard: I have worked in all different fields required of an engineer: electrical, metal manufacturing-welding, automotive, building race cars and motor cycles, etc.  I always had the interest to take a challenge someone else wouldn’t take—not a challenge that just required physical strength, but more of intellectual puzzle.  It takes lots of time.  I took the time to figure the challenges out.  I can visualize math.  My dyslexia is a strength I use to my advantage.  I see people struggling with something, and it’s like I see it from the opposite end.  I do it without thinking about it.  Jigsaw puzzles are good for this kind of challenge.  It would be good for your students to try doing a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces upside down so they build the puzzle from the angles of the edges.
Thank you, Richard, for taking the time to talk and share your stories and the many skills you taught me. You are one-of-a-kind and I hope you can come visit my classroom someday!
Katie Rowe on the deck of the aft.

Interview with Katie Rowe, scientist and scuba diver/instructor

Marian: What do you like about working in a lab?

Katie: Lab work is about exploration, you don’t know entirely what you’ll find. We’re looking for otoliths, etc, but there is a possibility to find anything!

M: What makes the best partnerships in the lab?

Katie: I like working with people who are organized and efficient, people who can interpret and know what needs to be done next.  It takes an organized system for people to work like this, like we work here.  The system works well here so everyone knows what they are doing, and what happens next so we can all step in and do what needs to be done.

M: What’s your favorite animal?

Katie: Bull shark, Carcharhinus leucas, because they are adaptable.  They can survive in fresh water.  In Nicaragua, one was found in fresh water going after fish to eat, and they thought it was a new species, but then realized it was the bull shark.  They have the highest testosterone of any animal in the world, so they are bad-tempered, but I still love them.  I named my cat Leucas after the bull shark’s Latin name.

Thanks Katie!  It was great to work with you day in and day out!  You are a tough gal and make an excellent partner, very organized and efficient!

Tossing grappling hook to "catch" buoys attached to fish traps.

Fun extra:  How do we retrieve the buoys and pull up the fish traps?  I got to try my hand at this new sport, the grapple hook toss.  I am so grateful to have had the chance to try my hand at so many different roles.  Thanks for the opportunity!