Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)
Date: September 12, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 57 35.35 N Longitude: 153 57.71 W Sea wave height: 1 ft Wind Speed: 14 knots Wind Direction: 208 degrees Visibility: 8 nautical miles Air Temperature: 15.4 C Barometric Pressure: 1002.58 mBar Sky: Overcast
Science and Technology Log
Well, we only have a few days left on this trip and it looks like mother nature is going to force us to head for Dutch Harbor a little early. I thought this might be a good time to spend some time sharing some information on some of the species we have been pulling out of the ocean. This is far from a complete list, but just the ones that made “the cut”.
At the top of the list has to be the Pollock. After all, this is the primary objective of this study. On the left is an adult three-year-old pollock and on the right is an age-0 pollock. The sampling of age-0 pollocks is a good indicator of the abundance of the future population.
There were several species of salmon caught on our trawls. On the left is a Coho Salmon and on the right is a Pink Salmon. These fish are very similar, but are classified as separately Coho Salmon are larger and have larger scales. Coho also has a richer, fuller flavor with darker red meat while the Pink Salmon has a milder flavor and a softer texture.
Jellyfish were abundant on our hauls. Here are the five most common species that we found.
While the Smooth Lumpsucker is significantly larger than the Spiny Lumpsucker, both have unique faces. The Smooth Lumpsucker is also found in deeper water than the smaller Spiny Lumpsucker.
Most of the squid caught and recorded were larval. Here are a couple of the larger ones caught in a trawl.
There were a
variety of seabirds following us around looking for an easy meal. The Black-footed Albatross on the right was
one of several that joined the group one day.
In keeping with the admiration I have for the scientists and
crew I am working with, I will continue here with my interview with Rob
How long have you been
working with NOAA? What did you do
before joining NOAA?
One and a half years.
Prior to that, I was a professor at Oregon State University
Where do you do most
of your work?
In the Gulf of Alaska
What do you enjoy
about your work?
I really enjoy giving presentations to the general public, where we have to describe why we are conducting studies and results to an audience with a non-science background. It teaches you a lot about messaging! I also like working with writers, reporters, and journalists in conducting press releases for our scientific publications. I also use Twitter for science communication.
Why is your work
Having detailed knowledge about our
surroundings, especially the natural environment and the ocean. Finding
patterns in what sometimes seems like chaos in natural systems. Being able to
provide answers to questions about the marine environment.
How do you help wider
audiences understand and appreciate NOAA science?
I provide information and expertise to make
well informed resource management decisions, I inform the general public about
how our changing climate if affecting marine life, and I train (and hopefully
inspire) future generations of marine scientists
When did you know you
wanted to pursue a career in science an ocean career?
During middle school
What tool do you use
in your work that you could not live without?
Computer! So much of our instrumentation and sampling equipment
are controlled by software interfaces. Also, much of my research involves data
assimilation, analysis, creating graphs, and writing scientific papers.
Although, at the very beginning of my career, most of our data collection was
hand written, as were our scientific papers before typing the final version
with a typewriter. So glad those days are gone!
If you could invent
one tool to make your work easier, what would it be?
For in the office: a computer program that
would scan all of my emails, extract the important info that I need to know and
respond to, and populate my calendar with meetings/events. For the field: a
nano-power source that provided unlimited continuous power for instruments AND
global cell phone or wireless connectivity.
What part of your job
with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?
I joined NOAA later in my career and had
collaborated with NOAA scientists for many years, so everything was what I
expected for the most part.
What classes would you
recommend for a student interested in a career in Marine Science?
Biology, math, chemistry, and physics are good foundation
courses. If you have an opportunity to take a class in marine biology at your
school or during a summer program, that would be ideal. But keep in mind that
almost any field of study can be involved in marine science; including
engineering, economics, computer science, business, geology, microbiology,
genetics, literature, etc.
What’s at the top of
your recommended reading list for a student exploring ocean or science as a
I originally studied wildlife biology before marine science and one of my favorite books initially was A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold. For marine biology, I would recommend The Log from the Sea of Cortez, by John Steinbeck.
What do you think you
would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?
I would probably work at a university again –
I was a professor at Oregon State University before working for NOAA.
Do you have any
Pretty much any type of outdoor adventure, most frequently kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, camping, and beachcombing with my family and our dogs.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)
Date: September 7, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 56 15.09 N Longitude: 157 55.74 W Sea wave height: 8 ft Wind Speed: 1.9 knots Wind Direction: 179 degrees Visibility: 10 nautical miles Air Temperature: 12.8 C Barometric Pressure: 1010.45 mBar Sky: Clear
Science and Technology Log:
One of the more technologically interesting pieces of equipment we are using is the Bongo net. One of the main aspects of this cruise is the zooplankton survey. As I have stated before, this survey is important to studying the prey for the juvenile pollock and is done at the same stations where we trawl for juvenile pollock so that scientists looking at the data can compare the ecology of the pollock with the ecology of their prey. The Bongo net is used to collect the zooplankton. This contraption is a series of two large and two smaller nets attached to metal rings. It gets its name because the frame resembles bongo drums.
The diagram on the left shows a 20 cm bongo net set-up. (Photo credit: NOAA – Alaska Fisheries Science Center). The picture on the right shows the Bongo we are currently using on the Oscar Dyson with two 60 cm nets and two 20 cm nets.
The bongo net design we are using includes two large nets on 60 cm frames with 500 micrometer nets and two small nets on a 20 cm frames with 153 micrometer nets. The 500 micrometer nets catch larger zooplankton and the 153 micrometer nets catch smaller zooplankton. The diagram above has just two nets, but our Bongo has 4 total nets. At the top of the bongo net setup is a device called the Fastcat. This records information from the tow including the depth that bongo reaches and the temperature, salinity, and conductivity of the water.
This whole process involves a lot of working together and communication among the scientists and crew. It usually involves three scientists, one survey tech, a winch operator, and the officer on the bridge. All members involved remain in radio contact to ensure that the operations run smoothly. Two scientists and the survey tech work on the “hero deck”. They oversee getting the nets overboard safely and back on the deck at the end of the evolution. The unit is picked up and lowered over the side of the ship by a large hydraulic wench attached to the side A-frame. Another scientist works in the data room at a computer monitoring the depth and angle of the Bongo as it is lowered into the water. As the Bongo net is lowered, the ship moves forward at approximately 2 knots (2.3 mph). This is done to keep the cable holding the Bongo at a 45-degree angle. A 45-degree angle of the wire that tows the Bongo is important to make sure that water flows directly into the mouth opening of the net. One of the scientists on the hero deck will constantly monitor the wire angle using a device called an inclinometer or clinometer and report it to the officer on the bridge. The bridge officer will then adjust the speed if necessary, to maintain the proper wire angle.
The depth the Bongo is sent down depends on how deep the water is in that area (you wouldn’t want an expensive piece of equipment dragging on the ocean floor). The Bongo is deployed to a depth of up to 200 meters or to a depth of no less than 10 meters from the bottom. When the Bongo is at the designated depth, the survey tech will radio the winch operator to bring the Bongo back up slowly. It is brought back up slowly at 20 meters per minute and the 45-degree angle needs to continue to be maintained all the way back up. When the Bongo reaches the surface and is lifted back into the air, the survey tech and two scientists grab it and guide it back onto the deck. This operation can be difficult when the conditions are windy, and the seas are rough.
Once the Bongo has been returned to the deck, the scientist that was in the data room will record the time of the net deployment, how long it took to go down and back up, how much wire was let out, and the total depth of the station. They will also come back out to read the flowmeters in order to see how much water has flowed through the net during the deployment. If anything goes wrong, this is also noted on the data sheet.
Next the nets are washed down with sea water, rinsing all material inside the net towards the codend. The codend is the little container at the end of the net where all the plankton and sometimes other organisms are collected. The codends can then be removed and taken into the Wet Lab to be processed with all the collected material placed in glass jars and preserved with formalin for future study.
These samples are then shipped to Seattle and then on to Poland where they are sorted, the zooplankton identified to species, and the catch is expressed at number per unit area. This gives a quantitative estimate of the density of the plankton in the water column and can provide good information on the overall health of the ocean as they indicate health of the bottom of the food chain. After all, a high density of pollock prey means there is a good feeding spot for juvenile walleye pollock, which in turn means more Filet-O-Fish sandwiches down the line.
Species caught during the last Shift:
Common NameScientific Name
Capelin M. villosus
Northern Smoothtongue L. schmidti
Walleye Pollock G. chalcogrammus
Eulachon or Candlefish T. pacificus
Arrowtooth Flounder A. stomas
Rockfish S. aurora
Smooth lumpsucker A. ventricosus
Prowfish Z. silenus
Sunrise Jellyfish C. melanaster
Lion’s Main Jellyfish C. capillata
Moon Jellyfish A. labiata
Bubble Jellyfish Aequorea sp.
Fried Egg Jellyfish P. camtschatica
As I have said, I am working with some interesting people with some very interesting stories. I am going to start sharing a little of their stories here.
How long have you been working with NOAA? What did you do before joining NOAA?
Laura has been a commissioned officer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Corps for almost seven years. Before joining NOAA, Laura attended James Madison University, earning her degree in International Business. She went to Bali, working as a dive instructor before moving on to Australia to do the same. While in Australia, she decided she wanted to study Marine Biology and came back to the states to study at George Mason University.
Where do you do most of your work?
Most of the time, she can be found on the bridge navigating the ship.
What do you enjoy about your work?
Laura said the most fun thing about the job is driving a 209-foot ship.
Why is your work important?
She gets to safely navigate the ship safely while working with scientists to help them get their work done.
How do you help wider audiences understand and appreciate NOAA science?
Laura had the opportunity to be the second NOAA officer who completed a cross-agency assignment with the Navy. While there, she said she was able to show the Navy personnel that they were using NOAA products such as navigational charts and weather data. Most of them did not realize that these products were made by NOAA.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science an ocean career?
Laura said that while she was in Australia, she was working with another diver who was going out counting fish species for his PhD. She said that experience made her realize her father was right all along and she should have studied science.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?
What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?
Driving ships. She also stated that she never expected to be part of a Navy Command and shooting small arms weapons.
What classes would you recommend for a student interested in a career in Marine Science?
A lot of your regular classes, but definitely any conservation classes.
What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a student exploring ocean or science as a career option?
“Unnatural History of the Sea” – about overfishing throughout history
“The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemmingway
What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?
Laura said she would probably be going back to school to work on her Masters in Marine Biology, particularly coral conservation, or going to Fiji to be a dive instructor.
Do you have any outside hobbies?
Diving, reading, working on puzzles, and just being outside exploring (I also understand that she is a pretty good water polo player.)
Did You Know?
For each minute of the day, 1 billion tons of rain falls on the Earth.
Every second around 100 lightning bolts strike the Earth.
Question of the Day:
The fastest speed of a falling raindrop is __________.
Texas A & M- Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering
Wage Mariners-civil service federal employee (nonmilitary)
Do you have any plans for future education?
Currently investigating at master’s programs in Nuclear Engineering
Engineering aboard Fairweather
How did you find out about your current position at NOAA?
I met a NOAA recruiter at a job fair at Texas A & M, submitted resume and 3 weeks later I got the call! After that the lengthy background check and physical for Federal employees, I came to work at NOAA aboard Fairweather.
1) When you were a child, what was your dream career?
I wanted to be an astronaut when I was young. I looked into aeronautical engineering and attended a Federal Service academy – the United States Merchant Marine Academy. My Dad is an engineer and contractor, so I grew up on job sites and always had the mindset of math and science. I knew my career would be something in the STEM field
2) What was your
favorite subject in school?
My favorite class was
differential equations. Why I like
engineering so much is everything is one big puzzle, and differential equations
is like one big puzzle.
3) Why is what you do important to on the ship?
Engineers on ships are
essentially the lifeblood of the ship, we keep the ship moving. We are the electricians, plumbers, the
mechanics, and even the firefighters.
The ship can’t go anywhere without engineers!
4) What would you tell an elementary school student about your work that is important to you?
I enjoy solving the puzzles. When something goes wrong, I enjoy finding out why something is not working and then solving the problem. That is what is so rewarding — figuring out what is wrong and fixing it!
5) Where do you do most of your work?
In the engine room. That’s where I spend my 8-hour shifts. The engineering room is on A & B deck — the 2 bottom-most levels of the ship. That is where most of the mechanisms that run the ship are located.
6) What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?
A crescent wrench! Mine is handy because it can measure and tell
you the exact size of the nut which makes things a lot easier!
7) If you could invent any tool to make your
work more efficient and cost were no object, what would it be and why?
I would invent a tool
that could reach bolts at odd angles.
Like a magnetic wrench that could adjust to the size bolt head you need
and could bend around the odd angles and apply torque when I need it.
8) What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect?
I never expected to be in Alaska!
9) How could teacher help students understand and appreciate NOAA engineering opportunities?
I think it would be
valuable to have better understanding of what we engineers do! It’s a
really cool job, with a really good salary, and very few people know there are
positions like this available.
10) What is your favorite part of your day when you are working and why?
Every day is a little
different, you are never doing the same thing over and over again. Something is always breaking and needs
11) What was your favorite book growing up?
My favorite book
series when I was growing up was Junie B. Jones! I come from Florida and loved Jacques Cousteau.
He inspired me to become a scuba diver
12) What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?
I would be still be
working on a boat!
13) Do you have an outside hobby?
I love camping and hiking, I’ve hiked 40 miles
of the Appalachian Trail and
would like to hike the rest!
When you were a child, what was your dream career?
As a child, I always wanted to draw. I was drawing constantly and I wanted to somehow make my love for creating art into a career, whether that meant being a studio artist myself or helping to teach others to make art.
2. What was your favorite (and least favorite) subject in school?
Believe it or not, science! I grew to really enjoy my science classes starting in middle school and through high school, especially participating in the science fairs. My love for science was inversely related to my love for math. I started to dread all my mathematics courses as I went through high school, and really up into my earlier college years which often made my science courses difficult. During my junior year in college I took calculus taught by a great professor and things finally clicked!
3. At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to do the work you are doing now?
Sometime in between my junior and senior years in college, I realized I wanted to do what is I’m doing now. That’s when I was introduced to hydrography.
4. What do you enjoy the most (and the least) about your work?
I really enjoy working on the ocean and with small boats. It’s a really dynamic platform. The lifestyle that comes with living on a ship can be difficult. It’s a lot of traveling and spending time away from home.
5. Where do you do most of your work?
Most of my work is done on the ship in the Plot Room. It’s a big room on the ship where most of our processing systems live.
6. What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?
A computer! Computers are used for data acquisition, processing, and delivery. Everything is done via some sort of processing/work station.
7. What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?
I never thought I would be a NOAA Diver. I didn’t even know that NOAA had a dive program. Learning to be a working diver was an awesome experience and opportunity that I don’t think I would have ever had, or even would want to have outside of NOAA.
8. How could teachers help students understand and appreciate NOAA science?
Teachers could help students understand and appreciate NOAA science by sharing some of the awesome work we do that’s applicable to their classroom. NOAA is such a big administration with tons of cool science going on so by picking some interesting topics that are more relatable to their classroom audience might help engage their students.
9. What is your favorite part of your day when you are working and why?
When acquiring data, my favorite part of the day is the end, when the data is transferred and being processed. It’s not because the day’s over, but because I get to see all of the data we’ve collected throughout the day and remember the work that went into it. It’s also the beginning of the next stage of work for that dataset, the quality control stage.
10. What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?
It’s hard to say, but I’m not sure I would be doing anything hydrography related. NOAA has been a great learning platform for me to become the hydrographer I am now. NOAA has really taught me to appreciate ocean science.
11. Do you have an outside hobby?
My outside hobby is painting. It can be hard to find space on the ship to paint, but traveling around Alaska and being on the water always inspires me to be more creative.
12. What is your favorite animal?
Picking one is pretty difficult, but I’m really into jellyfish right now. They seem like they have a low-stress lifestyle.
13. If you could go back in time and tell your 10 year old self something, what would it be?
“Relax, being 10 is way cooler than you think.”
14. Have you traveled anywhere interesting travels while studying Geology?
I traveled to Northern India as my field study in college. We were studying the water quality and management stemming from the Ganges River. Also, most of my geology labs in college were trips to the field which often meant the beach. Traveling and being outside is an added bonus while studying geology.
Interested in learning more about Hydrography and NOAA? Check out the resources below:
Life aboard this research vessel is fast-paced and absorbing. I feel like I am a child in a toy shop, eager to learn and blog about so many of the happenings around me! I spend much of my time high above in the flying bridge (above the bridge) with a panoramic 360 degree view of the horizon, documenting seabirds and mammals with colleagues—more on this later. We suspend our surveying when the ship reaches a sampling station. We have about 150 random sampling stations out in the ocean, ranging from close to coast (depth about 15 m) to right at the edge of the continental shelf (up to 500 m so far). Cruising about 9 knots (about 10 mph), the ship zigzags along a predetermined track, stopping anywhere between 15-30 minutes at each sampling station.
each station, an array of measurements are taken or specimens sampled.
In my previous blog, I described a state-of-the-art device called the Imaging FlowCytoBot (IFCB). But plankton are also sampled using more traditional methods. We deploy Bongo Nets for plankton sampling. Can you guess why they are called Bongos? See the photo below.
Note that there is a pair of bigger bongos and a pair of “baby” bongos. These nets are lowered by a j-frame (arm that can be extended off the side of the ship) and winch, at various depths into the water and towed for particular distances through the water. The time spent inside the water (5 minutes minimum) and the depth traversed (up to 200 meters) varies with station depth, but there is a Flowmeter at the mouth of each net that counts volume of water sampled. So all measurements are standardized by volume. The mesh size is 333 microns (1 micron = 1 millionth of a meter; 1 meter = 3.3 feet), meaning anything over 333 microns will be trapped. (To put that in perspective, most cells in your body are about 100 microns).
When they are pulled out, research personnel swing into action. Most of them are undergraduate volunteers from various universities eager to get their hands wet (literally and figuratively) doing marine science. The bigger bongo nets are hosed to flush all organisms to the bottom. Then the bottom is opened and contents flushed into a sieve. These samples are then preserved in formalin for future examination in labs on the mainland.
What happens to the contents of the pair of smaller bongos? Our Chief Scientist Harvey Walsh freezes the sample from one of them into small ziplock bags for a Florida lab which will conduct Stable Isotope Analyses. The other one’s contents are preserved in ethanol for genetic testing (Ethanol is far easier on DNA than formalin) to determine such aspects as taxonomy and phylogenetic (evolutionary) relationships and use in larval fish age and growth studies.
what are Stable Isotope Analyses? If you are a beginning college student, you
may be unaware of this sophisticated and widely-used technique. (My ecology students should be well aware of
this!). Basically, the ratio of isotopes
of a chemical element in a given sample is used to yield insights into aspects
such as food preferences of the organism or to reconstruct its past
environmental conditions. It can also be
used to determine where the plankton originated and thus get insights into
ocean circulation. The analyses are done
with a device called mass spectrometer.
spoke with our Chief Scientist Harvey
Walsh about his career, research, and his advice for students.
Q. Harvey, tell us how a man from land-locked Minnesota ended up as a top marine biologist.
A. When I graduated from college I looked for a job with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, but they were very competitive. So I applied for several NOAA positions from North Carolina down to the gulf coast. I got a job offer in NC. This was after my B.S. in Aquatic Biology from St. Cloud State University.
Q. You did an M.S. while working with NOAA?
A. Yes, I went back to school part-time and got my Masters. I then went to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute [WHOI]
From WHOI you came back to NOAA?
Has ocean acidity changed since NOAA started EcoMon?
It is hard to say because of seasonal variability. We need more long-term data.
Is ocean acidity world-wide increasing?
That’s what I see in the scientific literature.
How about temperature?
A. Yes, the Northeast has seen an increase in water temperatures, especially in the Gulf of Maine, where it has increased about 0.9°C in about 4 decades.
Has EcoMon helped document declines in sharks or whales?
Again, we need long-term data for that.
Q. Can you name one recommendation from EcoMon that has benefited sea life?
We get larval fish data. Recently we
started calculating Atlantic Mackerel Egg Index in collaboration with Division
of Fisheries and Ocean Canada and the data indicated that there is a decline in
the adult population. This aided in the
determination to lower catch limits for that species.
Has the politics of climate change influenced your work?
A. No. I have not had anyone try to change my research or findings in any way. We have within NOAA good scientific integrity rules. We feel we have the ability to publish sound science research without any interference.
You are highly published. One of your
papers on larval fish otoliths was with my former student Michael Berumen. How are larval otoliths helpful in research?
A. One of the projects we have is trying to use larval hakes to examine stock structure (fish stock is a group of fish of the same species that live in the same geographic area and mix enough to breed with each other when mature) and estimate spawning stock biomass (the amount of mature fish). We have interns in the lab who remove otoliths and get daily growth increments. That allows us to estimate age of the larva and spawning seasonality.
Can you tell based on this where they hatched?
That’s where we are headed. Once we get
information on when they were born and where they were collected, we hope to
use oceanographic conditions to see if we can back-calculate where they may
have come from and thus plot spawning locations to aid in stock structure
One of the findings of past warming episodes is shrinking of foraminiferans and
other small shelled organisms. Is NOAA
monitoring size of plankton?
A. We are. That’s one of the projects we have just started: estimating size of Calanusfinmarchicus, or Cal fin [see photo below]. This is a copepod crustacean and an important food for the endangered Right Whales. We have a 40-yr time series and have seen evidence of declining size of late-stage and adult Cal fin. We are trying to see if this has resulted in a decline in their energetic value. They are a lipid-rich zooplankton. If their size is related to their lipid storage they may be less nutritious for their predators.
One of your papers indicated that about a third of fish and plankton species
assessed in the northeast are vulnerable to climate change. Is that trend continuing?
A. Yes, as we monitor we continue to see shifts
in fisheries, plankton, seabirds, and mammals.
Q. What is your advice to early college
undergraduates interested in marine science?
Be flexible. When I first started I
thought I’d stay in Minnesota and work on adult fish stocks. I ended up working
on larval fish and zooplankton. Not
focusing on one skill set and being able to adapt and look at various aspects
will help you in the long run.
At the end of the interview, Harvey gave me this card and encouraged students to contact him for volunteer opportunities with NOAA.
One of the best aspects of this voyage is the daily spectacular views of sunrises and sunsets. I spend a lot of time high up on the fly bridge assisting in sea bird, sea mammal, and sea turtle surveys. It’s also a treat to look around 360 degrees and see nothing but the horizon, nothing man-made except this big old ship gently bobbing up and down in the center, leaving a wide frothy wake behind. Yet, in the vastness of the ocean, we are but a mere speck. It really is humbling to experience this vista.
The ship crew are very serious about safety. We have periodic Fire and Emergency, Abandon Ship, and Man Overboard drills. A billet posted on my door advises where to report in each of these scenarios. We have “muster” points, meaning, where to meet, for each. I was trained to get into my Anti Exposure Suit in less than two minutes. That was easier said than done!
The food continues to be sumptuous and delicious, cooked by two expert stewards Margaret and Bronley. Never did I dream I will enjoy eggplant curry and coconut jasmine rice on a NOAA Ship far out into the sea.
Did You Know?
Hakes (see photo above) are lean whitefish belonging to the Cod family. They are known as Gadoids (Order Gadiformes) and are grouped with cods, haddocks, whiting, and pollocks. They are much sought-after for their delicate texture and mild flavor. We get some hake larvae in our plankton tows. Hake larvae are used by scientists for all kinds of studies. For example, their otoliths (tiny ear bones) can enable identification of species and even help determine where they were hatched (by Stable Isotope Analysis—see above). This information, combined with data on ocean currents and circulation, can help determine hotspots for hake reproduction to enable conservation and sustainable fisheries.
Interesting animals seen
Spotted Dolphins (riding the bow!)
In addition, several land birds on their south-bound autumn migration rested briefly on the ship. I was not expecting to see Prairie Warblers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Brown-headed Cowbirds on a pelagic (=ocean) cruise!
Iris Ekmanis is currently a Junior Officer with the NOAA Corps.
On this Teacher at Sea mission,
Officer Ekman is currently on bridge watch, and is a training and small craft
Current Position: Junior
Deck Officer on Bridge Watch, training officer, small boats officer
3-4 other duties in addition to
Years at NOAA: 2.5 months after a 4-month basic training
College and/or specialized training:
2017 Bachelors of Marine Science from
University of Hawaii
Junior Officer Ekmanis worked as a deckhand on tourism boats, dive boats, whale watching, and worked on a small live-aboard cruise ship.
When you were a child, what was your dream career?
I wanted to be a marine biologist – but then I fell in love with being out on the water and on boats. Surrounded by the science of hydrography, I really like driving small boats and like the navigation part of my job.
2. Do you have any plans to continue your education while working for NOAA?
We get the GI bill since we are uniformed service (after 3 years with NOAA) so I’m considering a master’s in marine biology.
3. What was your favorite subject in school?
My favorite subject was outdoor education. I went to high school in New Zealand so there were outdoor education, whitewater kayaks, rock climbing, caving. My favorite academic subjects were biology & geography.
4. At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to do the work you are doing now?
I heard about NOAA in college, so I applied, I completed basic training and have been working for 2 ½ months.
5. What would you tell an elementary school student about your work that is most important?
We are out here charting the seafloor to ensure safe navigation for other mariners who are traveling through the Pacific. All kinds of cruise ships, fisherman, and cargo ships travel through the Pacific and must get there safely. Also, it is important that we are researching the fault lines to learn more about earthquakes and tsunamis.
We navigate the ship to ensure safety and collaborate with the hydrotechs (hydrographic technicians) to make sure the ship’s travels are resulting in good hydrographic surveys.
6. What is the most enjoyable or exciting part of your work?
I would say it is constantly learning new skills. Every day, I’m on the bridge learning about navigation, on the launchers learning about hydrography, and the “office view” changes every day. Every single day is different, and most times wake up in a new place. I’m learning something new every day!
7. Where do you do most of your work?
Mostly on the bridge 8 hours a day, rest of the time working on computers, or my training workbooks, plotting courses, planning our next route. A lot of charting.
8. What tool do you use every day that you couldn’t live without?
Definitely the software systems that allow us to navigate, radar, etc.
9. What tool would you bring aboard to make your job easier?
Multi beam sonar that could see in front of us instead of below us, since we are in uncharted waters that would alleviate the possibility of us running into something.
10. Is there any part of your NOAA job that you didn’t expect?
The job is hands on right away, and the job is fast paced and very diverse. You started doing the jobs right away. I’m looking forward to learning more about hydro.
11. How could teachers help student understand and appreciate NOAA science?
12. What is the favorite part of your day and why?
My favorite time was in Alaska, in the launches (small boats) and navigating a vessel though the Inside Channel. Navigating through SE Alaska was beautiful! I also enjoyed seeing humpback whales and occasionally orcas.
13. What was your favorite book when you were growing up?
My favorite book series was Harry Potter when I was growing up. My idols were Jacques Cousteau and Sylvia Earle .
14. What would you be doing if you weren’t working for NOAA?
If I didn’t work for NOAA I would definitely be doing something in the marine science field or in the maritime industry, I love boats! I would probably be working on a boat or doing something in the ocean.
15. Do you have an outside hobby?
My outside hobbies include: paddle boarding, surfing, scuba, free diving, outrigger canoes were my passion growing up, hiking, camping, anything outdoors.
16. What is your favorite animal?
Hawaiianspinner dolphin and whale sharks.
17. If you could go back in time and tell you 10-year-old self something, what would it be?
Keep pursuing your dreams, don’t take life too seriously, enjoy life and enjoy the ride.
Interested in a career as a NOAA Corps Officer like Junior Officer Ekamanis? Want to learn more? See the resource links below:
When Sarah Stienessen was a little girl, she got a book about dolphins, and fell in love. She read the book over and over, dreaming about meeting a real-live dolphin one day. The problem was she grew up in Wisconsin, not a place with a lot of dolphins. However, as Sarah says “If you have an interest, don’t let location deter you from your dreams.”
When she grew up, Sarah studied zoology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, but her burning fascination with the ocean led her to graduate school at Texas A&M where she finally got to study DOLPHINS (more specifically, the vocal behavior of dolphins). Her research there included using a hydrophone to listen to dolphins. She later moved to Seattle and began working for NOAA conducting acoustic surveys on walleye pollock in Alaska. On this leg of the Oscar Dyson, Sarah acted as the Field Party Chief (or Chief Scientist). Sarah pointed out that while her use of acoustics with dolphins was passive (placing a hydrophone in the water and listening to the dolphins) she is now using acoustics actively by sending an audible PING into the water and reading the echos that the fish send back.
Sarah was part of the amazing NOAA
science team onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, which included, Denise
McKelvey, Kresimir Williams, and Taina Honkalehto.
Denise was on the day shift, so I mostly saw her during shift changes and on those rare mornings when I was still awake at 7 a.m. and came down for breakfast (okay, bacon). However, early in the trip, she took the time to explain the fish lab procedure to me, even drawing pictures and a flow chart. (Thanks!)
While the duties of the science team often overlap, Kresimir is definitely the “techie” who enjoys inventing and creating new underwater cameras and other devices. Do you remember the TV show MacGyver? MacGyver was a secret agent who was beyond resourceful and had an encyclopedic knowledge of science. Every episode, he would solve the problem at hand in a matter of minutes using a combination of ordinary objects such as duct tape, household cleanser, a Q-tip, and some matches. Kresimir reminded me of MacGyver. If something broke, he would enter the room, grab tools and items that just might work in place of the broken piece, and sure enough, within minutes, the device would be up and running again!
Taina was always in the chem lab during drop camera time, her eyes riveted on the screen. I was excited whenever the camera spotted something, but I loved that Taina seemed equally excited to see what marine species the camera would uncover each night. One of the most exciting, and clearly the biggest, was the Giant Pacific Octopus!
Science and Technology Log
The Giant Pacific Octopus (or Octopus dofleini) is often rumored to weigh more than 600 pounds, but most adult octopuses are much smaller. An adult female might weigh up to 55 pounds while an adult male can weight up to 88 pounds. According to NOAA, the plural of octopus is octopuses, NOT octopi as some people say. Because it doesn’t have bones, a giant octopus can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter! The body of an octopus is shaped like a bag and it has 8 long arms (or tentacles) covered in suction cups.
octopus can have as many as 280 suction cups on each arm. That’s 2,240
suction cups! The Giant Pacific Octopus loves to eat crabs, but it will also
eat snails, oysters, abalone, clams, mussels, and small fish. The octopus’
mouth or jaw is shaped like a parrot’s beak. It is the only hard part of an octopus,
and it’s more-or-less
indigestible. That means that if a sperm whale eats an octopus, and the
contents of the whale’s stomach are later studied, you will see the octopus
beak even if you find no other sign that he ate an octopus.
to avoid whales and other predators, an octopus will camouflage, or change its
color and skin texture to match its surroundings! When he feels threatened, he releases
a cloud of purple-black ink to confuse his enemy.
Octopus Elementary Math Time
(Remember, an octopus has 8 arms.)
If an octopus has 2 suction cups on each
arm, how many does he have all together? _______
If an octopus has 5 suction cups on each
arm, how many does he have all together? _______
If an octopus has 10 suction cups on each
arm, how many does he have all together? ______
If an octopus has 2 suction cups on 4 of
his arms, and 3 suction cups on his other 4 arms, how many does he have all
If an octopus has 4 suction cups on 7 of
his arms, but half as many on his 8th arm, how much does he all
If an octopus has 259 suction cups and
his octopus friend has 751 suction cups, how many do they have all together?