Catherine Fuller: This Was Not A Drill, July 17, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Catherine Fuller

Aboard R/V Sikuliaq

June 29 – July 18, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 17, 2019


Science Log

For the love of jellies 

Heidi and jelly
Heidi and the objects of her affection
Team Jelly
Team Jelly on the job!

Jellyfish (or jellies, since they’re not technically fish) are one of the “delights” of recovering instruments from the sea.  Often, the CTD returned to the surface covered in brown slimy tentacles, as did the sediment traps on occasion, which needed careful removal.  For most of us, the jellies were more of a nuisance, but for Heidi Mendoza Islas, the jellies are love. 

Heidi was on the night shift, which I didn’t get to spend as much time with as I would have liked, and her research was based on nightly Methot net drops and subsequent jelly inventories.  The Methot net is a 10-meter long net on a square metal frame (roughly 5 meters per side).  The net is dragged off the side of the ship for 20 minutes and then recovered.  Led by Dr. Ken Coyle, Heidi and the night shift team of Caitlin, Delaney and Adriana then counted the jellies, recorded their type and their volume by type.  One night, Heidi’s jelly count reached nearly 900! In the brief time I did spend with the team, I saw Heidi’s passion for jellies in her eyes and heard it in her voice as she lovingly explained the different types they had caught, often exclaiming, “Isn’t it beautiful?” Indeed, watching them swim next to the ship on our calmest days, they were.

What do you want kids to learn from your research?

Heidi: I would like to let people know that there are a ton of jellies out there in the ocean. They are very resilient to changes in the environment such as warmer temperatures, higher salinities, and low levels of oxygen, so this can allow them to easily scale up on the food chain and they might take advantage over other species like larval fish. As part of my research, I would like to determine if any correlations exist among jellyfish biomass, the environmental variables, and the early life stages of pollock.


Personal Log

This Was Not A Drill:

As on any ship, safety at sea is a top priority.  Early on in the voyage, Artie Levine, the Third Mate, gave us a safety briefing that included learning how to handle a fire extinguisher as well as how to put on our immersion suits and find our muster stations (gathering places) in case of emergency.  We were warned at that point that a drill would occur later in the trip.  Kira (my roommate) and I studied the information card on the back of our stateroom door that listed the signals for various emergencies just so we’d be prepared.  It’s a testament to how seriously everyone took the safety briefing that when the ship first started sounding fog signals a couple of nights later, many of us popped our heads out of our rooms, ready to muster! 

Near the end of the second week, we were indeed drilled, although we were kindly given advance warning on the message board in the mess hall.  In any type of emergency, each member of the science team is required to retrieve their immersion suits and PFDs from their rooms and report to their muster stations.  In addition, you must have a hat (watch cap or trucker hat) and clothing with long sleeves.  In order to reduce the stress of the event, the announcement of the drill is preceded by the statement, “This is a drill” repeated several times.

My exit from the ship was a little earlier than planned, but provided both the land and ship crew with essentially a live drill practice.  I woke up the morning of July 12th and found that I was experiencing severe vertigo from rolling over too quickly in bed overnight.  Needless to say, it’s pretty miserable when it happens on a moving ship!  Artie Levine, the Third Mate, and Christoph Gabaldo, the Chief Mate, came to take care of me and moved me to the infirmary.  After my symptoms had calmed down some, it was decided that, since we were about an hour out of Seward by small boat, and that the ship was scheduled to move on to the Kodiak Line, that it would be best to bring me ashore.  Artie took me in the next morning on the ship’s rescue boat.  Pete, having some work he needed to do ashore, plus being a genuinely nice guy, came with me as well.  Ed DeCastro, the Port Captain, met us at the dock, took me to get checked out and then found a place for me to stay.  In talking to Ed, the ship and land crews do go over procedures for evacuation in theory, and they were actually grateful to be able to practice the procedures in reality without having a serious situation on their hands.  I am grateful that they are prepared for any emergency, because I was taken care of very well.  Thank you, Artie, Christoph and Ed, for you compassion and your professionalism!

Operation Evacuation (VC: Bern Mckiernan)


Last thoughts…

I got on the ship not really knowing what to expect.  Everything was pretty new to me, from being in Alaska, to the research, to being on a big ship.  Despite my early exit, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the chance to meet a great group of people who really are unsung heroes for the research they are doing.  Whether they were adding data to years of previous research or developing new ways to track changes in the ecosystem, they are on the front lines of climate change research.  It was a privilege to be aboard the R/V Sikuliaq with them.  Speaking of…the R/V Sikuliaq is an amazing ship with capabilities I only began to learn about.  Thank you to Eric, our captain, for answering my questions about dynamic positioning and Z-drives.  My respect also goes out to the crew as well for being professional in all regards and unfailingly helpful, from launching and recovering all of our nets and traps, to fixing stuck closets and to cooking 5-star meals.

The ship is is back out now, with some of the same science team on board.  To them, and to the TAS who are out or yet to go, I wish you fair winds and calm seas!

Some memorable moments:

  • Clay conducting the music in his headphones while doing fluorescence testing
  • Heidi exclaiming, “Another beautiful girl!” whenever she found a female copepod
  • The food…it was 5-star at every meal! Doug’s midnight chocolate chip cookies were stellar
  • The night shift’s tales of how they stayed awake
  • Cribbage with Pete, Seth and Ana
  • Lunchtime talks with crew members Jim and Arnel
  • The “Grunden Girls” (Kate and Kira) on Calvet duty
  • Pete’s buoys disappearing…and then reappearing (not that we had any doubt)
  • Steffi and the “Loch Ness monster” (the sediment trap)
  • Questions of the day
  • Dan’s mealtime reports on the sea life he saw that day
  • The nightly run-down with Kira
  • The rowing machine!

Some of my favorite images:

Tropical green waters
Tropical green waters
Sun reflecting in the water
Sun reflecting in the water
Silhouette of a bird in flight
Mist obscuring the horizon
Seabird and ocean ripples
Seabird and ocean ripples
Ropes and Chains
Ropes and Chains
loops
Loops
two gulls
Two gulls
Storm clouds
Storm clouds
Seward
Seward Panorama

Mark Van Arsdale: What Makes Up an Ecosystem? Part IV – Jellies, September 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mark Van Arsdale

Aboard R/V Tiglax

September 11 – 26, 2018

 

Mission: Long Term Ecological Monitoring

Geographic Area of Cruise: North Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 16, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Mostly cloudy, winds variable 10 knots, waves four to six feet during the day, up to eight feet at night

57.27 N, 150.10 W (Kodiak Line)

Science Log

What Makes Up an Ecosystem? Part IV Jellies

Ever seen a jellyfish washed up on the beach? Ever gotten stung by one?  Most people don’t have very favorable views of jellyfish.  I’m getting to spend a lot of time with them lately, and I am developing an appreciation. We have a graduate student on board studying the interactions between fish and jellies.  Her enthusiasm for them is infectious.

Graduate student Heidi photographing a phacellophora (fried egg) jelly

Graduate student Heidi photographing a phacellophora (fried egg) jelly

Jellyfish really aren’t fish.  They belong to a group called Cnidarians, along with corals, sea anemones, and hydras.   It’s one of the most primitive groups of animals on the planet.  Ancient and simple, Cnidarians have two tissue layers, a defined top and bottom, but no left and right symmetry and no defined digestive or circulatory systems.  Jellies have simple nerves and muscles.  They can move, but they are unable to swim against oceanic currents and therefore travel at the whim of those currents.  Jelly tissue is made of a collagen protein matrix and a lot of water.  I have heard one scientist call jellies “organized sea water.”  That’s really not too far off.  Seawater has a density close to one kilogram per liter, and when you measure jellies, their mass to volume ratio almost always approaches one.

Despite their simplicity, jellies are incredible predators.  When we scoop them up with the Methot net, they often come in with small lantern fish paralyzed and dangling from their tentacles.  Jellies possess one of the more sophisticated weapons in the animal kingdom. Located in their tentacles are stinging cells, called cnidocytes. These cells contain tiny, often toxic harpoons, called nematocysts. The nematocysts are triggered by touch and can deploy as fast as a rifle bullet, injecting enough venom to kill small fish or to give the person weighing the jellies a nasty sting.

Me holding a Chrysaora (sea nettle) jelly.

Holding up a Chrysaora (sea nettle) jelly.

Jellies have not been thoroughly studied in the Gulf of Alaska, and the work onboard the Tiglax may take us closer to answering some basic questions of abundance and distribution.  How many jellies are there, where are they, and are their numbers increasing in response to increasing ocean temperatures?

In order to sample jellies each night, four times a night we deploy a Methot net. The Methot net is a square steel frame, two and a half meters on each side and weighing a few hundred pounds.   It is attached to a heavy mesh net, ten meters long. Even in relatively calm seas, getting it in and out of the water takes a lot of effort.  We have already deployed it in seas up to eight feet and winds blowing 20 knots, and that was pretty crazy. The net is attached by steel bridle cables to the main crane on the Tiglax.  As the crane lifts it, four of us guide it overboard and into the water.  We leave it in the water for 20 minutes, and it catches jellies – sometimes lots of jellies.  On still nights, you can sometimes see jellies glow electric blue as they hit the net.

As we retrieve the net there are a few very tense moments where we have to simultaneously secure the swinging net frame and lift the jelly-filled cod end over the side of the boat. A few of the hauls were big enough that we had to use the crane a second time to lift the cod end into the boat.

Smaller ctenophores (comb jellies) caught in the Methot net.

Smaller ctenophores (comb jellies) caught in the Methot net.

Once on board, the jellies have to be identified, measured, and weighed.  Assuming catches stay about the same, we will measure over one thousand jellies while on this cruise.  I don’t know how all of this data compares with similar long-term ecological projects, but on this trip the trend is clear.  Jellies are true oceanic organisms, the further we go offshore the larger and more numerous they get.  Go much beyond the continental shelf and you have entered the “jelly zone.”

Personal Log

Seasick teacher

Last night was tough.  During our transit from the Seward line to the Kodiak line, things got sloppy.  The waves got bigger, and their periods got shorter.  To make things more uncomfortable, we were running perpendicular to the movement of the waves.  I retreated to my bunk to read, but eventually the motion of the ocean got the better of me and I made my required donations to the fishes.  The boat doesn’t stop for seasick scientist (or teacher) and neither does the work; at 11:00 last night I dragged myself from bed and reported for duty.

The work on the Tiglax is nonstop.  The intensity of labor involved with scientific discovery has been an eye-opener to me.  We live in a world where unimaginable knowledge is at our fingertips. We can search up the answer to any question and get immediate answers.  Yet we too easily forget that the knowledge we obtain through our Google searches was first obtained through the time and labor of seekers like the scientists aboard the Tiglax.

The goal of this project is to understand the dynamics of the Gulf of Alaska ecosystem, but one of the major challenges in oceanography is the vastness of its subject.  This project contains 60-70 sampling stations and 1,800 nautical miles of observational transects, but that is just a few pin pricks in a great wide sea. Imagine trying to understand the plot of a silent movie while watching it through a darkened curtain that has just a few specks of light passing through.

 

Transect lines for the North Gulf of Alaska Long-term Ecological Research Program.

“Pinpricks in the ocean,” Transect lines for the North Gulf of Alaska Long-term Ecological Research Program.

Did You Know?

Storm petrels periodically land on ships to seek cover from winds or storms.  They are one of the smaller sea birds, at just a few ounces they survive and thrive in the wild wind and waves of the Gulf of Alaska.

Last night we had a forked-tailed storm petrel fly into the drying room as I was removing my rain gear between zooplankton tows.  A softball-sized orb of grey and white feathers, it weighed almost nothing and stared at me with deep black and nervous eyes as I picked it up, wished it well, and released it off the stern of the boat.  It was a cool moment.

Animals Seen Today

  • Fin whales
  • Lots of seabirds including Storm Petrels, tufted puffins, Laysan and black-footed and short-tailed albatross, flesh footed shearwater, and an osprey that followed the boat for half the night
  • Mola mola (ocean sunfish), which was far north of its normal range

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alex Miller: Making Waves, June 5, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015 

Putting ourselves in the way of beauty. Several members of the science crew joined me to witness this sunset.

Putting ourselves in the way of beauty. Several members of the science crew joined me to witness this sunset.

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Friday, June 5th, 2015

Weather Data:

  • Air Temperature: 14.0°C
  • Water Temperature: 12.7°C
  • Sky Conditions: Clear
  • Wind Speed (knots/kts) and Direction: 21.9 kts, NNW
  • Latitude and Longitude: 45°00’19”, 124°19’94”

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Before I go into the events of the research and life onboard the Shimada, let me explain the weather data I share at the beginning of posts at sea. Weather can change quickly out at sea so the ship’s Officer(s) of the Deck (OODs) keep a running record of conditions throughout the cruise. On the Shimada, the OODs all happen to be NOAA Corps Officers, but there are civilian mates and masters on other ships.

Another important reason to collect weather conditions and location information is that it’s need to be linked to the data that is collected. The ship collects a lot of weather data, but I’ve chosen to share that which will give you an idea of what it’s like out here.

IMG_8172

The bridge with a view of the captain’s seat.

First, I’ve shared the temperature of both the air and the water. Scientists use the Celsius temperature scale but Americans are used to thinking about temperatures using the Fahrenheit scale. On the Celsius scale, water freezes at 0°C and boils at 100°C, whereas on the Fahrenheit scale, water freezes at 32°F and boils at 212°F. I won’t go into how you convert from one scale to another, but to better understand the temperatures listed above, temperatures around 10°C are equal to about 50°F.

Second, the sky conditions give you an idea of whether we are seeing blue or gray skies or I guess at night, stars or no stars. Clear skies have graced us intermittently over the past few days, but we’ve seen everything from light showers to dense fog.

Third, is the wind direction and speed. Knots is a measurement used at sea. It stands for nautical miles per hour. 1 knot = 1.2 miles/hour or 10 knots = 12 mph.  The NOAA Marine Weather Forecast allows us to prepare for what might be coming at future stations. Depending on wind speed, some nets cannot be deployed. If wind speeds reach 25-30 kts, the kite-like neuston will literally fly away. If a weather day ends up keeping scientists from collecting data that can be very disappointing and, unfortunately, there’s no way to make up for lost time.

With the wind speeds picking up, so have the swell sizes, making for a rougher ride. As funny as it can be to watch a colleague swerve off their intended path and careen into the nearest wall, chair or person, we have to remember to, “save one hand for the ship,” meaning, be ready to steady yourself.

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Randy (foreground) and Larry (background) in their culinary kingdom.

Randy (foreground) and Larry (background) in their culinary kingdom.

Considering how well taken care of I’ve been on this cruise, it only seems right to tell you guys all about the heroes of the mess (also galley, basically, it’s the dining area), Larry and Randy. Larry and Randy plan and prepare three meals a day on board the Shimada. There’s always a hot breakfast and our dinners have included steak, mahi-mahi, and I like to think they were catering to the quarter of me that’s Irish when they made corned beef and cabbage last night. This dynamic duo really outdo themselves. Both are trained merchant mariners, meaning they hold their Z-card, and they tell me that working as a chef at sea definitely helps to bring home the bacon.

It feels good knowing that they don’t want us to just have cereal and sandwiches for the two weeks we are at sea.

Larry (background) and Randy (foreground) admiring their hard work.

Larry (background) and Randy (foreground) admiring their hard work.

I especially want to shout out Randy, the denizen of the desserts. So far Randy has made from scratch: bread pudding, chocolate white-chocolate cookies, rum cake and date bars. Good thing for me his mother was a chef because he’s been cooking since around the age of 6.

I just finished a Thanksgiving style turkey meal prepared by these two and all this told, I’m thankful there’s an exercise room on board with a stationary bike. Seriously though, these guys are doing a lot to make the ship feel like a home. With the disruption in my sleep cycle, I’ve been sleeping through some meals. Like 50% of meals. They noticed. When I came walking into dinner yesterday, after sleeping through two meals, they were full of concern and questions. Awww.

So, on behalf of all the crew and scientists, I want to say thank you for all that you do!

____________________________

Wednesday night, or Thursday morning–days tend to run together when you’re working the night shift–the net picked up an unusual jelly that Ric had to key out using a jelly identification manual. Using photos in the Pacific Coast Pelagic Invertebrates by Wrobel and Mills, Ric identifies this jelly as the Liriope (sp. ?). While Ric is an accomplished biologist, he specializes in fish identification, so the question mark after the scientific name of this jelly represents the need for a jelly expert to confirm the identification as Liriope. But what’s in a name, right? What’s really interesting about this jelly is that it usually inhabits warm water areas between 40S and 40N. We were towing north of the 44th parallel!

Liriope (?)

Liriope (sp. ?)

That wasn’t the only unusual sighting we had. Amanda, who does her surveys exclusively in the Northeast Pacific, meaning relatively close to shore (12 – 200 km) saw, for her first time in the wild, the Hawaiian petrel, a bird whose name alone suggests that Oregon is too far north to be seeing them. Additionally, it’s being more of an offshore bird makes it even more unlikely to see as far east as we are.

All images in this slideshow were taken by Amanda Gladics, Faculty Research Assistant, Oregon State University. 

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Her initial reaction to the sighting was mild surprise that she saw something she didn’t quite recognize, she decided to grab her camera and photograph the bird so she could take a second look at it. Later, she realized just how rare of a sighting she had made. After consulting with Josh Adams at USGS, it was confirmed that the bird was a Hawaiian petrel.

Though most of the community nests on the big island of Hawaii, smaller colonies are found on Oahu and Kauai, and Adams explained that they tend to loop around areas of high pressure when foraging (searching) for food. It just so happens that such an area is within our transect range. If you look at the image to the right you can see this area as a loop marked with 1024 (mb, millibars, a pressure measurement) just off the coast of Oregon.

Map of pressure systems

Map of pressure systems and precipitation in the Pacific. Note the high pressure system of the coast of Oregon (1024 mb). Photo courtesy of Amanda Gladics.

Amanda has also sent her images to Greg Gillson and Peter Pyle, two experts in the field; Gillson confirms the sighting as a Hawaiian petrel and is notifying the Oregon Birding Association Records Committee. She is still waiting to hear back from Pyle.

Super cool!

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Considering these two events alongside some warmer water temperatures the CTD and ship sensors have picked up in our transect area, the conclusion several of the scientists are reaching is that these unusual sightings are coincident with an El Niño event this year. El Niño events occur in a cycle. They are a disruption of the normal ocean temperatures, leading to anomalously warm temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. This can affect weather and climate and perhaps it can also affect animal behavior. There’s also that warm blob to consider. You yourself can see that the water temperature is warmer here than it was at our earlier transects.

For more information on how NOAA monitors El Niño events, please follow this link.

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Personal Log

In an effort to gain a deep understanding of all the research taking place on board the ship, I’ve started transitioning back to the day shift. After investing five days in training myself to stay up all night, I’m now trying to sleep through the night. My body is utterly confused about when it’s supposed to be asleep, so right now it’s settled on never being asleep. I’ve been able to catch naps here and there but I’m resorting to caffeine to keep me going.

However, there’s always a silver lining. This morning I climbed to the flying bridge for a bit of solitude with the rising sun. Few things can compare to a sunrise on a ship while it’s traveling northeast and to top it all off the swells crashing against the bow were so high that, at times, I could feel the sea spray. So I thought I would make this .gif so you can share this moment too.

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#shiplife

Until next time, scientists!

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Question of the Day:

Amanda can only survey when the ship is traveling faster than 7 kts. If the ship travels at 7 knots for 1 hour, how many nautical miles does it cover? Standard miles?

Alex Miller: Working the Night Shift, June 3, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015 

IMG_8309 (1)

The full moon lights up the night on top of the flying bridge.

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: June 3, 2015

Weather Data:

  • Air Temperature: 13.3°C
  • Water Temperature: 14.8°C
  • Sky Conditions: Partly Cloudy, I could still see some stars
  • Wind Speed (knots/kts), Direction: 5.5 kts, NNE
  • Latitude and Longitude: 43°29’84”, 124°49’71”

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Later on Monday, once all the night-shifters had risen from their beds and were beginning to get ready for the bongos and mid-water trawls, I took a tour of the engines with marine engineer and NOAA crewmember, Colleen. We started in the control room. With up to four engines operating at any one time, Colleen says it’s a relief that computer systems help to automate the process. As part of her four-year degree program at Seattle Maritime Academy, she learned how to operate the engines manually as well, but I think we can all agree computers make life easier.

Before moving on to the actual engine room, Colleen made sure I grabbed some ear protection. For a one-time visit they’re probably more for my comfort than to protect from any real damage, but because she’s working with the engines every night, it’s important to protect against early-onset hearing loss. Once the plugs were in, we were basically not going to be able to talk so Colleen made sure that I knew everything I was going to see before we proceeded.

Colleen in the control room.

Colleen in the control room.

First, we made our way past the fresh water tanks. I was really curious about how we get fresh water on the ship, since we’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The Shimada produces freshwater using two processes. Reverse osmosis produces most of the water, using high pressure to push the seawater across a membrane, a barrier that acts like a filter, allowing the water molecules to pass through but not the salt. This is an energy intensive process, but the evaporators use the excess energy produced by the engines to heat the seawater then pass it through a condensing column which cools it, and voilá, freshwater!

Next, we came to the four diesel engines. Four engines. These four engines are rarely all on at one time but never will you find just one doing all the work. That would put too much strain on and probably burn out that engine. While they burn diesel fuel, like a truck, instead of using that energy to turn a piston like the internal combustion engine of that same truck, they convert that energy to electricity. That electricity powers the two motors that ultimately make the ship go.

Panoramic view of the engine room, engines 1 and 3 can be seen in foreground and engines 2 and 4 in the background.

Panoramic view of the engine room, engines 1 and 3 can be seen in foreground and engines 2 and 4 in the background.

A ship the size of the Shimada requires a lot of power to get moving, but Colleen tells me it gets decent mileage. Though the ship’s diesel tank can hold 100,000 gallons, there’s only about 50,000 gallons in the tank right now and the ship only needs to refuel every couple of months.

After a quick pass by the mechanics for the rudder, the fin-shaped piece of equipment attached to the hull that controls the direction the ship is traveling we arrived at our last stop: Shaft Alley. Those two motors I told you about work together to turn a giant crankshaft and that crankshaft is attached to the propeller which pushes water, making the ship move. When I was down there the ship was on station, where it was holding its location in the water, so the crankshaft was only turning at 50 RPM (rotations per minute).

It was a pleasure getting a tour from Colleen!

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Throughout the night, the Shimada revisits the same transect stations that it visited during that day, but uses different nets to collect samples at each station. To the right, you can see a map of the stations; they are the points on the map. Each line of stations is called a transect. Looking at the map it’s easy to see that we have a lot of work to do and a lot of data to collect.

The transects and stations within them that the Shimada will survey at.

The transects and stations within them that the Shimada will survey at.

Why does this have to happen at night? At night, the greatest migration in the animal kingdom takes place. Creatures that spend their days toward the bottom layers of the ocean migrate up, some as far as 750 m (almost 2,500 ft)! Considering they’re tiny, (some need to be placed under the microscope to be reliably identified) this is relatively very far. And they do it every day!

To collect data on these organisms, three types of nets are used, two of which are not used during the day. Along with the surface-skimming neuston (which is used during the day), the bongo net, so named because it has two nets and looks like a set of bongo drums, and the Cobb trawl which is a very large net that needs to be deployed off the stern (back of the boat).

The operation of the bongo net is similar to the neuston, it is lowered off the starboard (when facing the bow, it’s the right side) side of the boat. Dropping down to 100 m below the surface and then coming back up, the bongo is collecting zooplankton, phytoplankton and fish larvae. The samples are poured from the cod-end into a strainer with a very fine mesh and since the water is full of those tiny bits, the straining can take a bit of time and some tambourine-like shaking.

The Cobb trawl on deck, waiting to be deployed.

The Cobb trawl on deck, waiting to be deployed.

These samples are then fixed (preserved) in ethanol and they will be analyzed for diversity (how many different species are present) and abundance (how many individuals of each species is present). The bongo is the net of choice for this survey because once scientists go to process the data, the double net provides a duplicate for each data point. This is important for statistical purposes because it ensures that the area that is sampled by one side of the net is similar enough to the area sampled by the other side of the net.

Below you can see video of the bongo net after it’s been hauled back. Scientists are spraying it down to make sure all organisms collect in the cod-end.

 

 

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Once the bongos are done, comes the real action of the night shift. The mid-water trawls take 15 minutes. I’ve become really great at communicating with the bridge and survey technicians who are operating the nets so that I can record data for the beginning and ending of the trawls. Once the catch is on deck, the survey technicians empty the cod-end into a strainer. The scientists prepare to sort, count and measure the species of interest. If the catch is large or particularly diverse, this can be a significant task that requires all hands on deck.

With four trawls a night, some with 30-50 minutes transit time with nothing to do in between, fatigue can set in and make the work hard to finish. To make it through the night, it takes great senses of humor and playful personalities. A little theme music doesn’t hurt either. The scientists of the night shift, under the direction of Toby Auth, a fisheries biologist with Pacific State Marine Fisheries Commission working as a contractor to NOAA and Chief Scientist Ric Brodeur, are Brittney Honisch, a marine scientist with Hatfield Marine Science Center, Paul Chittaro, a biologist with Ocean Associates working as a contractor to NOAA, Tyler Jackson, a fisheries science graduate student, and Will Fennie.


The data collected during these trawls provides a snapshot of the ecosystem. This data will help NOAA Fisheries Service understand the health of the ocean ecosystem as well as how large certain populations of commercially important fish are such as hake and rockfish.

In the meantime, it provides for some late night fun. Over the course of the nights that I’ve spent in the wet lab, we have uncovered some bizarre and fascinating creatures.

But in my opinion the real star of the trawls was the young female dogfish. A dogfish is a type of shark. I know what you’re thinking and no, she did not try to bite us. But dogfish do have two spines, one at the base of each dorsal (back) fin. We all fell in love, but, ultimately, had to say goodbye and return her to the sea.

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Thank you for your patience as I’ve gathered the images and video to make this and future posts as informative as possible. Stay tuned for Episode 5 coming soon!

Personal Log

First off, a heartfelt CONGRATULATIONS to the first 8th grade class at Village Leadership Academy. I wish I could be there when you walk across that stage on June 4th.

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Little did I know when I started hanging out with the scientists of the night shift that it would become a way of life. Each night I managed to stay up later and later and finally last night I made it through all four catches and almost to 0800, the end of the night’s watch. After dinner (some call it “breakfast”), I slept a full eight hours, and it felt completely normal to be greeted with “Good Morning!” at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Speaking of the night’s watch, I’m really grateful that someone was able to get one of my favorite TV shows last Sunday. And Game 7! The Blackhawks are in the finals! Even though I can’t call anyone back home to discuss my theories or that amazing goal by Seabrook in the third period, I can email and it feels like I’m missing less.

The only person I can’t email is my cat, Otto! I can’t wait to snuggle him until he scratches me.

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Otto the cat. He loves snuggling.

Question of the Day:

Comment with answers to these questions and I’ll shout your name out in the next post!

What is your favorite animal we have seen so far?

Acknowledgements:

Thanks to Paul Chittaro for assisting in the use of iMovie for this post!

Gregory Cook, The Marinovich Trawl, July 29, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gregory Cook

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: July 29, 2014

Science and Technology Log

It’s 4 in the morning. I make my way into the cave. The cave is the computer lab. On one wall the size of my classroom whiteboard, there are nine computer monitors, each one regularly updating with information about the fish under the boat. We’ll talk more about the tech on another day. Today is my first trawl. A trawl is when we drop a net and haul up whatever we can catch.

Chief Scientist Taina and Contracting Scientist Nate in the Cave

Chief Scientist Taina and Contracting Scientist Nate in the Cave

I’m still getting my head around a cup of coffee when Alyssa comes in wearing a hard hat and life vest.
“In about 20 minutes, I’m going to need another hand on deck wearing this.” She points to her gear.
I nod. “Where do I find that?”

Alyssa politely tells me where the gear is. I remember that I’m not supposed to go out on deck when they’re hauling up the net… at least not yet. “Who do you want me to tell?” I say.

“Nate would be great! Nate or Darin!” she says, referring to a pair of scientists… one of whom is going off duty (and probably going to sleep) and another who is coming on (and likely just waking up). She grabs some large tool that I can’t name and heads off. Alyssa, like a lot of the crew, is friendly and upbeat in the mess hall (the cafeteria), but is completely focused and efficient on the job, with an eye towards safety and getting the job done.

This is goopy!

Your teacher with a Jellyfish bigger than his head.

Our first trawl is the Marinovich Net. It’s a smaller net, but still takes several fishermen and a winch to bring up. It’s a fairly fine net, with holes about the size of a ping pong ball. In our first trawl of the trip, we mostly catch jellyfish. These aren’t your typical, East Coast jellies, though. Some of them are the size of basketballs, and you can see the fish THEY’VE caught through their see-through membrane (their skin!).

We ended up hauling in over 500 pounds of Jellyfish!

Glorp glorp Yummmmm!

Buckets and Buckets of Jellyfish I got to sort with my very own hands!

It’s not a bad first catch, but NOAA scientists aren’t content with that. Hanging on the side of the Marinovich are smaller “pocket” nets. This is where we find out what the Marinovich missed. Nate explains to me that, while we are mainly studying Pollock, there’s other valuable data that can be gleaned (collected) in the process. Other scientists studying Krill populations will be grateful for the data.

The pocket nets are labeled, and each net is placed in a labeled bucket. Then I grab a pair of tweezers and start sorting. It’s mostly krill… skinny shrimp-like organisms with beady black eyes. These tiny invertebrates, altogether, make up millions of metric tons of biomass, according to Misha, our resident Russian scientist on board. Biomass is the amount, by weight, of living things in an ecosystem.

Nate asks me to count out 100 krill with my tweezers, which is kind of like counting out 100 tiny pieces of wet spaghetti. Nate places the 100 on a scale and comes up with a mass of 5 grams. He then measures the rest of the krill, and uses the mass of the original 100 as a way to gauge the total number of krill caught in the pocket net.

Counting Krill

Counting Krill: That tiny pile near my nose? Exactly 100 krill, thank you very much!

What stands out to me about this whole process is the attention to detail. That each pocket is carefully sorted, measured, and entered into a computer base. There’s no “-ish” here. I’m not asked to sort “about a hundred.” Not only are the contents of each pocket net measured, but we make sure to note which pocket had exactly how much.
Some of the catch isn’t Krill, however. Sandi calls me over to see how she measures a tiny rock fish. Sandi is a marine biologist who studies reproduction in Pollock. With a gleam in her eyes she explains what’s so great about getting different size young in the net.

“What it means is that it’s possible that some of these fish might be from further away… and we don’t know how they got here, when they got here, or where they came from. And that’s exciting! We weren’t expecting that and it gives us a whole new set of questions!”

I get asked by a lot of kids “how do scientists know that?” My long answer is exactly this. That good scientists DO sweat the small stuff, they make sure that every little variable is accounted for, and collect massive amounts of data. They look for any possible error that might throw off their results or call their conclusions into question. They do the hard work of truly understanding.

So when I hear folks say they don’t believe something simply because it’s inconvenient for them… maybe it challenges a belief that they’ve clung to for no better reason than not wanting to be wrong… I just want to say “Did you do the work? Because I know some people who did.”
And this holds true for all the scientists I’ve been lucky enough to know. Whether they were counting krill, measuring background radiation, or looking for Dark Matter.

By the way, my short answer on “How do scientists know that?” They did their homework.;)

Personal Log

It’s the morning of our third day at sea. It’s taken some getting used to… the first piece is the motion of the boat. Any 8th graders that went on “Untamed!” with me at Canobie Lake Park know that I’ve got some limits as to how I handle a lot of “movement.” The first 8 hours onboard the Oscar Dyson were rough. I thought I might get sick at any moment! But over time, the body figures it out… It’s like your body just says “Oh, this is just what we’re doing now…” and gets OK with it. Now going to bed is like being rocked to sleep by mother earth. 🙂

Land of the Midnight

Alaska…Land of the Midnight Sunset!

The next, very different thing about life on the Bering Sea is time. My schedule is from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m… which in some ways is good. 4 a.m. in Alaska is 8 a.m. Eastern Time (Boston Time). So coming home won’t be that tough. The weird thing is going to sleep. This is the view out my window at 11:00 at night.

This is, of course, because the earth has that big old tilt of 23.4 degrees. This is why Alaska is known as “The Land of the Midnight Sun.” Well, we’re a little more than a month past the summer solstice, and we’re not currently above the Arctic Circle. So the sun DOES eventually go down… around Midnight! That means that I need to go to sleep during the daylight. Sometimes as early as 8 p.m.! And that means I need a lot of shades… Shades for my window, shades for my bed, even shades for my head!

Time has become an abstraction.

Shades for my window, shades for my bed. Every now and then I wear shades for my head!

We live in an amazing time, where we can travel about the planet, see the extremes that are possible under the physics of this world, and communicate that experience in the same day. Tune in next time when I tell you how to tell the gender of a Pollock. Hint: You can’t just lift their tail!

Kainoa Higgins: Jelly Fishing and C.U.F.E.S-ing! June 26, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kainoa Higgins
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
June 18 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northern California Current
Date: Thursday, June 26, 2014, 2000 hours

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Current Latitude: 42 ° 34.7’ N
Current Longitude: 124 ° 37.6’ W
Air Temperature:  13° Celsius
Wind Speed: 25-30 knots
Wind Direction: North
Surface Water Temperature: 14.6 Celsius
Weather conditions: Partly cloudy

Find our location in real time HERE!

Science and Technology Log:

Jelly Fishing

Jelly fishing

Patiently waiting for an opportunity to sneak up on an unsuspecting jelly

I feel a bit silly standing on the stern deck of the RV Ocean Starr with a long-handled dip net designed to skim the surface of your average suburban swimming pool. It is now my fisher net and I’m hunting jellies (which are not, in fact, fish). In my head I chant, ‘Here jelly jelly jelly’ as my squinting eyes strain to peer through the fertile layers of seawater for any sign of gelatinous zooplankton.

Sea Nettle

The Pacific Sea Nettle

I am assisting Sam Zeman, a graduate student at the University of Oregon, as she attempts to “reel in” the big one. We are keeping our eyes peeled for Chrysaora fuscescens, the Pacific Sea nettle supposedly common to these waters. Supposedly. Sam abides by the motto, “plankton are patchy” and so jelly hunting can be verrrrry frustrating.

Aggregation of Sting

Aggregating Sea nettles

Jelly aggregations are frequently seen at and around convergent zones, where one body of water meets another, each unique in physical and/or chemical characteristic (salinity, temperature, turbidity, etc). There are many such zones throughout the California Current, a classic example occurring near the plume of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific Ocean. While these aggregating patterns have been observed there is still much to understand concerning the behavioral mechanisms creating and sustaining these patches.

In the fishing community, jellies are generally perceived as nuisances, ripping apart gear thanks to sheer numbers and collective weight. There is evidence suggesting jellyfish compete with commercially important fish species and have the potential for making a dent in zooplankton stocks when they are abundant. That being said, more evidence needs to be gathered to support or refute these claims.

Sam is diving net first into this investigation. She wants to answer questions such as: What are the jellies eating? What time of day do they eat? If they feast continuously does the preferred prey change throughout the daily cycle? What significance do seasons have? Statistically, how much of a nuisance are they? These are all fundamental yet essential questions to better understand the niche that jellies occupy in their ecosystem and what impact that might have on humans.

Sam will take her collected samples of Chrysaora back to lab for further analysis. She hopes that by examining the gut content of these jellies, she will better understand the feeding dynamics of large scyphozoans along the Oregon coast. Surrounded by various instruments designed to assess jellyfish response to flow, Sam will continue to seek the answers to the most fundamental questions: Why do jellyfish aggregate around convergent zones and are they as big of a threat as we make them out to be?

Jelly

Sam Zeman hauls in her first Sea nettle!

 

Catching Eggs – The C.U.F.E.S

I stumble into the wet lab after a restless day of sleep expecting to find the usual hustle and bustle over box corers, CTDs and neuston nets. Instead I find Ric and Curtis consumed with a piece of scientific kit I had yet to see in action. After a brief morning greeting I am introduced to the Continuous Underway Fish Egg Sampler, C.U.F.E.S (pronounced Que-Fess) for short. Underway Fish Egg Sampler. In short, it is designed to collect eggs from the top two meters of the water column near the bow of the ship as we travel throughout the day. The water is piped back to the wet lab and collected in a wire mesh. The consolidated sample of eggs is then added to a vial which will be saved for further examination in the lab. The CUFES is essential to making predictions about future stock of commercially and ecologically important species of fish and it is not long before my sleeves are rolled up and I am honing in on the rhythmic and repetitious process.

Check out the video below to get a play by play of the C.U.F.E.S in action.

Personal Log:

I can feel myself evolving, adapting to life afloat the big blue. I’ve mentioned a variety of fundamental struggles associated with life at sea, struggles that I now feel I’m getting a handle on. I’m finding that small adjustments go a long way. For example, I’ve recently discovered a rope handle hanging above my bunk intended to assist both mount and dismount from bed. I’m not sure how I failed to notice it before but it sure beats having to power push-up in and out of bed each night. I still feel like I’m cliff hanging, one hand on the rope, toes outstretched as they struggle to find floor in the darkness. I’ve learned to shift my weight as the ship pitches and rolls. It’s funny to watch everyone’s body take a 45 degree angle in relation to the deck when we encounter a steep swell broadside. When seas get rough as I try to snooze, I wedge myself between my mattress and the wall to keep from rolling out. Believe it or not, I’ve even gotten a couple loads of laundry done. As a result of these changes and more, I’m beginning to feel more at home even though I’m not anywhere close to it.

Worlds Collide

Day and Night crews come together to greet the first trawl haul

My schedule has also altered slightly. What used to be a 12:00pm-12:00am run has now shifted toward the latter. While it was great to be a part of the day’s activities: box corer, CTD, neuston net and what-not, I was only catching one or two night trawls. I was so excited to see what mysterious creatures would come from the depths in the next haul I rarely called it quits before 3 am anyway. I am now a member of the grave shift, the “nights watch” we’ve come to call ourselves, on official duty between 6:00pm and 6:00am.   I sleep until roughly 2:00pm at the latest so that I can catch the last few day tests before heading to our first trawling station of the night. I spend transit time doing a bit of this and that and then the whole night sorting trawl hauls with a fun and invigorating team. Breakfast is ready as soon as the shift ends and I grab a bite before conking out for as long a sleep as weather permits.

I am also enjoying getting to know everyone on board, both science team members and the ship’s crew. I discovered that I share Hawaiian ties with a handful on board; small world. There are more than a few here who have spent much of their professional careers on the water and so are full of captivating stories.   Recently, I sat with Jerry, an Ocean Starr engineer, who told of his career as a professional treasure hunter in Florida. Though he kept from sharing the exact location of his findings he assured me there was still a plethora for the taking! As he reinvigorated my childhood fantasies of chests filled precious gems and pirate gold, he advised, “If you want to make a small fortune, put a large fortune into hunting treasure.” Hmmm, on second thought, maybe I’ll just start with a metal detector and a side-hobby.

Teaching in the field

SAMI students and I in the ideal classroom

There is a great dynamic amongst our team and I am learning a so much from these passionate scientists. Not only is everyone incredibly versed in their field of study but I’m finding their company to be enjoyable in general. I’ve been warmly accepted onto the team and they have asked just as many questions about SAMI and this program as I have about their research, and believe me, I’m asking a lot of questions.

As a science educator I sometimes forget that I’m a part of the “the team”. Occasionally I catch myself feeling like the kid on the outside of the fence looking in and wishing he could play ball with everyone else. This experience is helping me to realize that just because I’m not in the field doesn’t make me any less of a valuable asset to the scientific community. We are the recruiters, striving to engage, develop and inspire the scientists of tomorrow.  We are responsible for convincing the general populous and particularly the generation of next that they should care about what’s happening in our ocean, to learn something about it and then grow into leaders that will do something about it. I have never felt more value in what I do.

Notable Critters Spotted: Humpback Whales, Blue Whales (that I continue to miss), Mola Mola (Sunfish), Porpoises, SEABIRDS!!!

A Mola mola, or Ocean sunfish

Poll Answer:  W.R. & W.C. stands for Wash Room and Water Closet as seen below

W.R. & W.C.

It’s the Bathroom!

 

 

Sarah Boehm: Home Again, July 10, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Sarah Boehm
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 23 – July 7, 2013 

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 10, 2013

Personal Log

The Oregon II pulled into port Sunday morning after a successful 2 week leg of the summer groundfish survey. The first thing I wanted to do when we got to land was to go for a walk. It did feel great to stretch my legs and move more than 170 feet at a time. Being on land again felt funny, as if the ground was moving under me. I thought this “dock rock” would pass quickly, but even two days later I had moments of feeling unsteady. On Monday I made my way back home to Massachusetts, arriving after 12 hours of planes and cars to a delightfully cool evening (although I hear it had been very hot while I was gone.)

I still have some photos and videos I wanted to share, so I thought I’d put together one more blog post with some amazing and fun creatures we saw.

We saw sharks swimming near the boat a few times, but this video shows the most dramatic time. This group of at least 8 sharks attacked the net as it brought up a bunch of fish, ripping holes in the net and spilling the fish. They then feasted on all that easy food floating in the water.

puffers

Adult puffer fish on the left from a groundfish trawl and a baby puffer from a plankton tow on the right

jelly nets

Icicles? Nope. Those are jellies that got caught in the net.

small flying fish

A very small flying fish with its “wings” extended.

One of my favorite fish is the flying fish. These fish have very long pectoral fins on the side of their bodies that act like wings. They can’t really fly, but they can soar an impressive distance through the air. We sometimes caught them in the Neuston net as it skimmed the top of the water. They are great fun to watch as groups of them will take to the air to get out of the way of the boat. Even more fun was watching dolphins hunting the flying fish! I was unsuccessful at getting a video, but you can watch them in this BBC clip.

flying fish

It must be the end of watch. Me with a flying fish.

Another cool animal we found were hermit crabs. The ones we caught were bigger than any I had found at a beach. The shell they live in was made by a gastropod (snail). As the hermit crab grows it has to find a bigger shell to move into.

hermit crab

A large hermit crab in its shell.

hermit crab without its shell

We had to take the hermit crab out of its shell to weigh it. The head and claws have a hard shell, but the back part is soft and squishy.

hermit and anemones

This hermit crab has sea anemones living on its shell.

Look closely at the spots of color on this video of a squid. You can see how the color and patterns are changing.

A few more cool critters we found:

stargazer

This stargazer looks like a dragon, but fits in the palm of your hand. It buries itself in the mud and then springs out to grab prey.

mantis shrimp

We found many mantis shrimp. It gets its name because those front legs are similar to those of the praying mantis. Those legs are incredibly fast and strong to kill its prey.

I knew there were many oil rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico, but I was surprised by just how many we passed. There are almost 4,000 active rigs in the waters from Texas to Alabama. While we went through this area there were always a few visible. They reminded me of walkers, the long legged vehicles from the Star Wars movies, with their boxy shapes perched above the water. By comparison, the waters near Florida were deserted because offshore oil drilling is not allowed and there were few other ships.

oil rig

Oil rigs

evening rig

Work on an oil rig also goes on 24 hours a day.

It was fabulous spending this time out on the groundfish survey with the scientists and crew of the Oregon II. Now I have a greater understanding of the Gulf ecosystem and science in action.  I truly appreciate the time people on board spent to teach me new things and answer all my questions. I also have enjoyed all my students’ comments and questions. Keep them coming!

storm approaching

A storm approaches as we pull in to Pascagoula.