Callie Harris: Jellyfish Landslide, August 15, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13 – 26, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 8/15/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 57° 16.15 N
Longitude: 152 ° 30.38 W
Wind Speed: 6.53 knots
Wind Direction: 182°
Air Temperature: 17.1°C
Sea Temperature: 15°C
Barometric Pressure: 1026 mbar


Science and Technology Log

Now that we have been out to sea for 3 days, I can better describe what my 12 hour ‘work shift’ is like. We average about three stations (i.e. research locations) per shift. Each ‘station’ site is predetermined along a set transect.

transect map of stations
Transect Map of all of our tentative stations to survey (red dots). Image credit: Matt Wilson

Before we can put any scientific equipment in the water, we have to get the all clear that there are no marine mammals sighted within 100 yards of the boat. I was thrilled yesterday and today that we had to temporarily halt our survey because of Humpback Whales and Harbor Porpoises in the area. I rushed from the scientific deck up to the bridge to get a better look. Today, we saw a total of 6 Humpback Whales, one of which was a newborn calf. Chief Electronics Technician Rodney Terry explained to me that you can identify the calf because the mother often times pushes the calf up to help it breach the surface to breathe. We observed one tall and one short breathe ‘spout’ almost simultaneously from the mother and calf respectively.

humpback whale spout
Humpback Whale breath spout off of bow.

Once we arrive at each station, we must put on all of our safety equipment before venturing out on the deck. We are required to wear steel-toed boots, a life preserver, and hardhat at all times. On scientific vessels, one must constantly be aware that there is machinery (A frames, booms, winches, etc.) moving above you overhead to help raise and lower the equipment in the water. We survey each station using bongo nets, a midwater trawl, and sometimes a CTD device. In future posts, I will go more into detailed description of what bongo nets and a CTD device entail. This post I want to focus on my favorite survey method: the midwater trawl, aka the ‘jellyfish landslide.’

A midwater trawl (aka a pelagic trawl) is a type of net fishing at a depth that is higher in the water column than the bottom of the ocean. We are using a type of midwater trawl known as a Stauffer trawl which has a cone shaped net that is spread by trawl doors.

trawl net
Trawl net aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

One of the survey’s goals over the next two weeks is to assess the number of age-0 Walleye Pollock (aka Alaskan Pollock.) These juvenile fish hatched in April/May of this year. As NOAA Scientist Dr. Lauren Rogers, my fellow shift mate, explains, this population of fish species tends to naturally ebb and flow over the years. Fisheries management groups like NOAA study each ‘year class’ of the species (i.e. how many fish are hatched each year).

Typically, pollock year classes stay consistent for four to five years at a time. However, every so often management notes an ‘explosion year’ with a really large year class. 2012 was one of these such years. Hence in 2013, scientists noted an abundance of age-1 pollock in comparison to previous years. Based on the data collected so far this season (2019), scientists are hypothesizing that 2018 was also one of these ‘explosive’ years based on the number of age-1 pollock we are observing in our trawl net samples. It is extremely important scientists monitor these ebbs and flows in the population closely to help set commercial limits. Just because there is a rapid increase in the population size one year doesn’t mean commercial quotas should automatically increase since the population tends to level itself back out the next year.

If you have ever gone fishing before, you probably quickly realized just because you want to catch a certain species doesn’t mean you are going to get it. That is why I have nicknamed our midwater trawl samples, “The jellyfish landslide.” After the trawl net is brought back onto the deck, the catch is dumped into a large metal bin that empties onto a processing table. I learned the hard way on our late night trawl that you must raise the bin door slowly or else you will have a slimy gooey landslide of jellies that overflows all over everywhere. At least we all got a good laugh at 11:15 at night (3:15AM Florida time).

Jellyfish Landslide
Jellyfish landslide! (I’m desperately trying to stop them from falling over the edge.) Photo credit: Lauren Rogers.
jellyfish landslide thumbs up
Jellyfish landslide, managed. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers

Once on the processing table, we sort each species (fish, jelly, invertebrate, etc.) into separate bins to be counted and weighed. Each fish specimen’s fork length is also measured on the Ichthystick.

Measuring fork length
Measuring fork length of pollock.

We then label, bag, and freeze some of the fish specimens to bring back for further study by NOAA scientists in the future. There is a very short time window that scientists have the ability to survey species in this area due to weather, so each sample collected is imperative.

Callie and salmon
Our first salmon catch in the trawl. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers.


Personal Log

This experience is nothing short of amazing. Upon arriving in Kodiak on Sunday, I got to spend the next two days on land with my fellow NOAA scientists setting up the boat and getting to know these inspiring humans. Everyone on the boat, scientists and the Oscar Dyson crew, are assigned a 12 hour shift. Therefore, you may not ever see half of your other ship mates unless it is at the changing of a shift or a safety drill. I did thoroughly enjoy the abandon ship safety drill yesterday where we had to put on our survival (nicknamed the orange Gumby) suits as quickly as possible.

Survival Suit Practice.
Survival Suit Practice. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers

Everyone has been commenting that I brought Key West here to Alaska. The last three days at sea have been absolutely beautiful — sunny, warm, and calm seas. I am sure I am going to regret saying that out loud, haha. At the end of my work shift, I am beat so I am beyond thrilled to curl up in my bunk for some much needed rest. Yes, it does finally get dark here around 10:30PM. I was told we might be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights toward the final days of our survey. I am also getting very spoiled by having three delicious homemade meals (and dessert J) cooked a day by Chief Steward Judy. That is all for now, we have another trawl net full of fun that is about to be pulled back onto the deck.


Did You Know?

NOAA CORPS Officer LT Laura Dwyer informed me of the ‘marine mammal’ protocol aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Scientists must temporary halt research collection if any marine mammal (i.e. a Humpback Whale, porpoise, orca, seal, etc.) is within 100 yards or less of the vessel; if a North Pacific Right Whale is within 500 yards; or if a polar bear (yes you read that correctly) is within half a mile on land or ice.


Challenge Yourself

Do you know how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit? You take the temperature in Celsius and multiply it by 1.8, then add 32 degrees. So today’s air temperature was 17°C and the sea temperature 15°C. Therefore, what were today’s temperatures in Fahrenheit? Answers will be posted in my next blog.

Erica Marlaine: The Dreaded Melanasty and the Volunteer Biologists, July 12, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 12, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57º 09.61 N
Longitude: 152º 20.99W
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Wind Direction: 210 º
Air Temperature:  12º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1013 mb
Depth of water column 84m
Surface Sea Temperature: 12º Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson with me are two volunteer biologists: Evan Reeve and Nathan Battey.  Evan is on the opposite shift, so we often pass each other, but on occasion, we have been in the fish or chem lab at the same time.

Volunteer biologist Evan Reeve
Volunteer biologist Evan Reeve

I arrived here knowing very little about fish (other than how to care for a beta fish and how to cook salmon and trout).  Evan, on the other hand, is a recent graduate of the University of Washington (or as he likes to say, “U-DUB”) with a degree in Biology (and an emphasis in fish biology).  When I say recent, I mean recent. Evan graduated five days before we boarded the ship.

Evan has a remarkable “ready for anything” attitude whether it is the start of his 12-hour shift, or the end. His background may be one reason why. Originally from San Diego, he spent his freshman year at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. A planned-year studying abroad at the Universidad Veritas in San Jose, Costa Rica got cut short after one semester due to an illness that forced him to return to San Diego.  There, Evan made the decision to serve our country and joined the Navy. For a few years, he served as a Navy corpsman stationed with Marine infantry units until he was injured during training. That’s when Ready-for-Anything Evan resumed his studies, eventually arriving at his beloved “U-DUB”. 

Evan currently lives in Washington, where he volunteers with the NOAA Hatchery Reform Program in Port Orchard, Washington, tracking hatchery released juvenile salmon in Puget Sound using both acoustics and traditional fishing techniques.  When a biology professor mentioned the opportunity to spend time on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson in the Gulf of Alaska, Evan of course volunteered, eager to participate in a larger scale study involving different fish species.  In Puget Sound, the haul is often 10 salmon.  In contrast, the haul being studied onboard the Oscar Dyson is often 1000 pounds of Walleye pollock several times a day (along with prowfish, Pacific herring, rockfish, and a lot of jellyfish). Speaking of prowfish, herring, rockfish, and jellyfish…

FUN FISH FACTS AND PHOTOS:

PROWFISH: In my earlier blog, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, I wrote about the lumpsucker being the cutest fish I had ever seen.  A close runner up is the baby prowfish. 

juvenile prowfish
juvenile prowfish

Every time we get a prowfish in a catch, everyone wants to look at it! We usually get juvenile prowfish which are about the length of my finger. (Adults can get up to 3 feet long.) The juveniles are very soft and smooth looking, and their lower jaw juts out slightly, making them look like they are pouting.  Unlike adults prowfish, who spend most of their time near the bottom of the sea floor, juvenile prowfish spend their time in the middle levels of the water column, which is the area we are trawling on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.  I was surprised to learn that juvenile prowfish will try to avoid predators by hiding within the bells of large jellyfish.

PACIFIC HERRING, OR AS I LIKE TO CALL THEM, THE RAINBOW FISH:

Pacific herring
Pacific herring

As a special education preschool teacher, I often read and discuss The Rainbow Fish (by Marcus Pfister) with my students.

cover of The Rainbow Fish
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

It is a popular children’s book about a little fish with very sparkly scales who learns to share. Rainbow Fish was considered the most beautiful fish in the ocean because of his many sparkly scales.  When a plain, little fish asks for one of the sparkly scales, Rainbow Fish refuses to share. This makes all the other fish mad, and they no longer want to play with the Rainbow Fish. In the end, Rainbow Fish decides to share his sparkly scales with all the other fish, keeping only one for himself.  He is less beautiful than he was before, but he has new friends and is now the happiest fish in the sea.

The Pacific herring is similarly covered in sparkly scales, but boy, is he a super sharer (as we say in preschool)!  Since herring are a small fish, they compensate for their size by forming schools (or groups of fish that swim together). Swimming in schools protects them as it reduces the likelihood that any one of them will be eaten by a predator. Sometimes we get only one herring with our huge haul of pollock.  They are somewhat similar in shape and color.  Evan (the volunteer biologist) has a theory: that it’s a herring who got separated from his school and sought protection by joining and blending in with a school of pollock. As a preschool teacher, I love the idea that a group of pollock would allow or even invite a lost little herring to “play” with them.

Other times, we get a lot of herring, and as I mentioned they love to share their sparkly scales.  Everything (and everyone) ends up sparkly: the pollock, the fish belt, the measuring boards, the tables, and ME!  You can always tell when there is herring in a catch by the sparkly fish scales in my hair.

ROCKFISH: Occasionally a few rockfish are in the trawl net.  Rockfish have large eyes, and are not particularly sparkly or cute, but they are delicious! I even learned to fillet them!

Erica fillets a rockfish
My first time filleting a fish
Erica fillets a rockfish
It’s easier than I thought it would be!

It was exciting to later see the rockfish cooked and served for dinner.

prepared rockfish
The rockfish deliciously prepared by the Chief Steward, Judy Capper

AND FINALLY THE JELLYFISH: Not yet… keep reading…

FIRST, Nathan Battey: Nathan, the other volunteer biologist onboard, is on my shift, and works in the fish lab with me 12 hours a day processing the fish hauls. He is my “go-to fisheries biologist” whenever I need help identifying a fish or jellyfish.”

Nathan and lumpsucker
Volunteer biologist Nathan Battey with a lumpsucker

Since he is originally from Goffstown, New Hampshire, it should not come as a surprise that Nathan ended up on a ship since Goffstown is home to the famous Giant Pumpkin Regatta! Every October, Goffstown residents transform enormous pumpkins into boats. They scoop out the sometimes 1000-pound pumpkins, climb in, and race them down the Piscatoquag River. 

Nathan studied biology and earth science at the University of New Hampshire and took a lot of oceanography courses along the way.  Since graduating in 2015, he has done a myriad of fascinating things.  He quantified nitrogen cycling in the wetlands of coastal New England, worked in a microbiology lab, counted larval fish under a microscope, regulated the upstream passage of salmon on the Seattle fish ladder, worked as a scallop fisheries observer, was a State Park Ranger on the eastern shore of Virginia, and worked with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (alongside NOAA scientists, tribal scientists, fish and wildlife scientists, and National Park scientists) on the recolonization of the Elwha River for salmon and other fish after the dams there were removed.  (The tribe had successfully sued the U.S. for the removal of the dams based upon their right to fish there.)

The last two positions were through AmeriCorps, which he highly recommends! AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs.  It is sometimes thought of as the domestic Peace Corps since members serve on projects within the United States. According to their website: “AmeriCorps is your moment to take the path less traveled, to break the status quo, to stop talking about the problem and be the solution.” Whatever your passion, it is likely there is an AmeriCorps opportunity perfect for you. There are projects in the fields of education, public safety, health care, and environmental protection. If you are interested in learning more about AmeriCorps, visit https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps

Nathan is also a talented artist and drew detailed sketches of both marine and bird species which amazed everyone and now hang on the walls of the chem lab. 

Nathan's sketch
Nathan’s sketch of the albatross that would visit the ship during fishing times.

He will also be remembered for the nickname he gave to the Chrysaora melanaster jellyfish: Chrysaora melanasty.

Nathan's jellyfish
Nathan’s sketch of the beautiful but dreaded melanasty

AT LAST, THE JELLYFISH:

Chrysaora melanaster are magnificent creatures. The photo below, captured one night using the drop camera, shows how elegantly they glide through the water with their ribbon-like tentacles flowing gracefully behind them.

Chrysaora melanaster swimming
Chrysaora melanaster captured on drop camera

It is often my job to grab the jellyfish as they come down the belt, separating them from the pollock.  I have held some that are an inch wide, and some that are almost 3 feet wide (and quite heavy). Jellyfish are measured by their bell diameter, or how wide the top part is (not the tentacles).

Erica with large jelly
Here I am with a large Chrysaora melanaster. Before my time on the Oscar Dyson, if I saw a jellyfish in the ocean, I swam away as quickly as I could. Now I probably touch 100 jellyfish per day, albeit with gloves on. Also, look at the sparkly scales in my hair. It must have been a herring day!
Evan and jellies
Volunteer biologist Evan Reeve and a tangled mess of Chrysaora melanster

The photo above might give you an idea of how the nickname “melanasty” came to be.  In the net, all the glorious, long, sticky, ribbon-like tentacles of the Chrysaora melanaster get tangled and attached to all the glorious, long, sticky, ribbon-like tentacles of the other Chrysaora melanaster.  As you try to pull one jellyfish off the belt, several more are attached in a slimy mess, and you often get splashed in the face, mouth, or eyes with jellyfish “goo.”  One day, dealing with the tangle, Nathan dubbed them “melanasty” and the nickname stuck. 

Erica Marlaine: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! July 6, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 6, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 55º 4.07N
Longitude: 156º 42 W
Wind Speed: 3.2knots
Wind Direction: 96º
Air Temperature:  10.3º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1025.7. mb
Surface Water temperature: 11.05º Celsius
Depth of water column: 1,057.6 meters


If you love science and exploring, consider a career in the NOAA Corps!

NOAA Corps

The NOAA Corps is one of our nation’s seven uniformed services (along with the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Public Health Service Commissioned Officer Corps). NOAA Corps officers are an integral part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA and the NOAA Corps can trace their lineage to 1807 when President Thomas Jefferson signed a bill for the “Survey of the Coast.” The survey work was done by Army and Naval officers along with civilian men and women. The Coast Survey was actually the first federal agency to hire female professionals! Their duties included charting our nation’s waterways and creating topographic maps of our shorelines, which made our marine highways among the best charted in the world.

Today, the NOAA Corps is an elite group of men and women trained in engineering, earth sciences, oceanography, meteorology, and fisheries science. NOAA is comprised of the National Weather Service, National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (NOAA Research), National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, National Ocean Service, and the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. NOAA Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA.

NOAA Officer Spotlight

ENS Lexee Andonian
ENS Lexee Andonian

I had the opportunity to speak with Ensign (ENS) Lexee Andonian (although by the time this is published Ms. Andonian will have been selected for LTJG (Lieutenant junior grade)! ENS Andonian has been a member of NOAA Corps for almost 2 years, and loves her job, but it was not something she originally considered as a career (or even knew about). She first learned about NOAA while working at a rock climbing gym. A patron mentioned it to her, and offered to show her around a NOAA ship. She went home and googled NOAA. With her interest piqued, she decided to accept the patron’s offer, and went to Newport, Oregon to tour the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada (which is actually the sister ship of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. A sister ship means they were based off the same blueprint and can serve similar projects.)

ENS Andonian applied for the NOAA Corps, but was waitlisted. NOAA is highly selective and accepts a very limited number of applicants (approximately 15-25 twice a year.) Undeterred, she applied for the next NOAA class, and was once again waitlisted, but this time she was accepted off the waitlist. After 5 months of training at the Coast Guard Academy, she was ready to begin her assignment onboard a NOAA ship, where additional hands-on training occurs non-stop. Each NOAA Corps member wears a multitude of “hats” while onboard. ENS Andonian is currently the Acting Operations Officer, the Navigation Officer, the Environmental Compliance Officer, and the Dive Officer. ENS Andonian loves that her job allows her to see unique places that many people never get to explore since they are not accessible by plane or car. Asked what she misses the most from home, she said, “Bettee Anne” (her dog).


Science and Technology Log

Today I was introduced to a few new species in the fish lab. Until now, most of the jellyfish have been Chrysaora melanasta, which are beautiful and can be quite large, but today I saw 2 egg yolk jellyfish, aptly named as they look like egg yolks.

Egg yolk jellyfish
Egg yolk jellyfish

I also saw a lumpsucker, which is the cutest fish I have ever seen. Lumpsuckers look like little balls of grey goo. He (or she) seemed to look right at me and kept opening and closing its mouth as if trying to say something. Lumpsuckers have a suction cup on their bottom which allows then to adhere to rocks or other surfaces.

Lumpsucker
Lumpsucker


Personal Log

As a teacher, I create experiences for my students that will take them out of their comfort zone so that they can realize just how much they are truly capable of. On the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, it is my turn to step outside my own comfort zone. If you would have told me a few months ago that I would feel comfortable being elbow-deep in live fish and jellyfish, or dissecting fish to see whether they are male or female, or slicing into a fish’s head to collect otoliths (ear bones), I would not have believed you, but that is how I spend every day onboard the Oscar Dyson, and after 2 weeks, it feels like something I have done all my life.  It is an experience I highly recommend to everyone!

Erica Marlaine: No Peanut Butter and Jelly but PLENTY OF JELLYFISH, July 1, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 1, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 56º 50.94N
Longitude: 155º 44.49 W
Wind Speed: 11.3 knots
Wind Direction: 240º
Air Temperature:  12.98º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1027.5 mb

Crew Member Spotlight

At present, there are 31 people onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, and each plays a vital role in making sure that everything runs as it should.  One person whose job touches each and every one of us is Judy Capper, the Chief Steward.  One might think that being onboard a ship for three weeks would mean limited food choices, or lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but so far every meal onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson has been abundant and delicious. From shrimp kabobs to stuffed pork loin to homemade soups to delicious baked goods, Judy keeps everyone onboard fed and happy.

I got a chance to talk to Judy about her job and her journey to becoming a NOAA Chief Steward.  Judy’s first career was in the corporate world (including Hewlitt-Packard) but being the oldest of 5 siblings, she has been cooking since the age of 12.  An interest in cooking led her to study culinary arts at UCLA and other locations.  She then took seamanship training at Orange Coast College.  At the time, she owned a sailboat, and enjoyed cooking and entertaining on the boat.  The captain loved her cooking and asked if she would be interested in cooking on some sailboat charters.  That led to working on yachts and supply ships, and lucky for us, in 2015, Judy was hired by NOAA.  Judy loves her job as a NOAA Steward.  She says it is never boring and allows her to be creative.  Her advice for anyone interested in following in her footsteps is to eat in good restaurants so that you develop your taste buds, get good training, and watch cooking shows.

Judy Capper
Judy Capper, Chief Steward Extraordinaire


Science and Technology Log

Last night we used a different kind of net, known as a Methot net, in order to collect macroscopic zooplankton. Named after its designer, Richard D. Methot, it is a single net with a large square opening or mouth attached to a rigid steel frame. The net is deployed from the stern and towed behind the vessel.

Methot Net
Deploying the Methot Net

The Methot uses fine mesh (e.g. 2×3 mm) but has openings that are slightly larger.  This design allows the net to be towed at high speeds. A flowmeter suspended in the mouth of the Methot net measures the flow of water moving through the net.  Scientists use the flowmeter data to calculate the volume of water sampled.

The flowmeter
The flowmeter

Watching the crew preparing to launch the Methot net was a lesson in teamwork. Everyone knew their job, and they reviewed what each would do when.  They even discussed what hand signals they would use (“If I make this movement, that means XYZ”).

The Methot net did catch a lot more krill than I had seen before, as well as many jellyfish.

Erica and jellyfish
One of the many Chrysaora melanaster we came across.


Fun Jellyfish Facts:

Jellyfish are invertebrates, and have no brain, heart, eyes, or bones.  Instead they have a bag-like body that feels like slippery jello and tentacles covered with small, stinging cells.  They sting and paralyze their prey before eating it.  A jellyfish sting can be painful, but it is not usually harmful for humans.  However, some people may be allergic to the venom, and will have a reaction.

Karah Nazor: One Week Until I Board and I am Already Dreaming About Fish, May 22, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019


Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: May 22, 2019

Hi!  My name is Karah Nazor and I am a science teacher at McCallie High School, an all-boys college preparatory school in Chattanooga, TN, which is also my hometown. It is one week until I board the Reuben Lasker in San Francisco, and I am already dreaming about fish.  I teach marine biology, molecular biology and environmental science and “coach” students in our after-school science research program. We typically have around 20 tanks running at a time in my classroom including three species of jellyfish, a reef tank, zebrafish tanks, and a freshwater shrimp tank.  Ongoing marine research projects in my lab include primary culture of nerve nets of the jellyfish Aurelia aurita, moon jellyfish, (students Jude Raia and Danny Rifai), the effects of ocean acidification on the jellyfish Cassiopea xamachana, upside down jellyfish, (students Ian Brunetz and Shrayen Daniel) and spawning of the lobate ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi (Thatcher Walldorf). Seniors Keith Kim and Eric Suh just presented their findings on the effects of river acidification on freshwater snails at the International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, AZ, and sophomore Kevin Ward just wrapped up his research on the effects of a high sugar diet on tumor formation in tp53 zebrafish.

A corner of the Nazor Classroom/Lab
A corner of the Nazor Classroom/Lab
Freshmen Ian Brunetz and Shrayen Daniel Shenanigans
Typical shenanigans with Freshmen Ian Brunetz and Shrayen Daniel
Freshman Danny Rifai and Junior Jude Raia Culturing Moon Jellyfish Nerve Cells
Freshman Danny Rifai and Junior Jude Raia Culturing Moon Jellyfish Nerve Cells

Education

I am a lifelong competitive swimmer who loves the sea, marine mammals, and birds, and like many of my students today, as a high schooler I dreamed of becoming a marine biologist.  I earned a bachelors of science in biology with a minor in gerontology from James Madison University, where I was also on the swim team. I was interested in learning more about the neurodegenerative diseases of aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and attended the Ph.D. Program in Gerontology at the University of Kentucky and worked in the Telling Lab.  There I studied the molecular foundation of prion diseases, caused by protein misfolding which forms aggregates in the brain, a pathology similar to AD. I continued this research as a postdoc at the University of San Francisco (Prusiner Lab).

How did I come to raise jellyfish in my classroom?

Chattanooga is home to the world’s largest freshwater aquarium, the Tennessee Aquarium, located on the Tennessee River waterfront.  This non-profit public aquarium has two buildings, River Journey, which opened in 1992, and Ocean Journey, which opened in 2005. The Ocean Journey exhibit “Boneless Beauties and Jellies: Living Art” (2005-2019) featured exotic invertebrates including around 10 species of jellyfish, ctenophores, cuttlefish, giant Pacific octopuses, and spider crabs. On my first visit to Ocean Journey in 2005, I became transfixed with the “comb jelly” (the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi) tank, specifically its rapidly beating ctene rows, which refract light creating a rainbow effect, and function as the animal’s  swimming organ. Many people mistake the light refraction of the beating ctenes for electrical signals traveling along the ctenophore’s body.  This first visit to the comb jellies tank left a lasting impression on me, and I was truly inspired by their beauty and curious to learn more about this gelatinous creature..

A  comb jelly Mnemiopsis leidyi in my classroom tank
A comb jelly Mnemiopsis leidyi in my classroom tank

Six years ago, I visited the comb jelly exhibit again and decided to try to bring jellyfish into my classroom.  I missed swimming in the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay, so I sought to bring the cold ocean and at least one of it’s critters into my classroom. I chose to raise the Pacific Ocean variety moon jellyfish, which I so often encountered swimming in the San Francisco Bay and at Tomales Point!   A gifted student built a special jellyfish tank, called a Kriesel, and next I contacted the TN Aquarium’s invertebrate specialist Sharyl Crossley to inquire about how to raise jellyfish. I was beyond thrilled when she invited me to train under her for a summer!  That Fall, I began culturing moon and upside down jellies in my classroom and my students began research projects right away. Raising jellyfish is not easy, as they require perfect current, and water the salinity and temperature that matches their native habitat.  Jellyfish require daily live feed of two day old enriched brine shrimp nauplii and rotifers. We actually have to feed the jellyfish’s food. The next year, I was ready to introduce the more difficult to raise comb jellies into the lab and have cultured them ever since.  In 2017, I got to spend a week with Dr. William Brown at the University of Miami to learn how to spawn ctenophores, study hatchlings, and dissect out stem cell rich niches from the animals for in vitro work in the cell culture lab.   You can often find me in the lab late at night at the dissecting scope still mesmerized and awed by the simplistic nature and immense beauty and of ctenophores in their spawning bowl.

Moon Jellyfish (Pacific Ocean variety) in my classroom tank
Moon Jellyfish (Pacific Ocean variety) in my classroom tank

Back to the Bay Area for a cruise on NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker!

The years that I lived in San Francisco for my postdoc were some of the best of my life because of the science plus athletic opportunities afforded by living next to the ocean including open water swimming, surfing, and abalone diving.   I made lifelong friends partaking in these cold and rough water ocean sports. I lived in the Sunset neighborhood and I often went to Ocean Beach for the sunset and swam in the Bay several times per week at the South End Rowing Club (SERC).   In 2008 I swam the English Channel. While swimming in the Bay, we often saw NOAA ships and I never thought I would get to join a cruise one day as part of the science team! While living in San Francisco, I did have the opportunity to go on a couple of whale watching tours and swim all over the San Francisco, Richardson, and San Pablo bays for my training swims, but I have never got to spend much time on a boat and I have never spent the night at sea!  I am a bit nervous about becoming seasick and adjusting to being on the night shift next week.

Swimming with SERC friends in 2017 next to the Muni Pier at Aquatic Park in San Francisco (I am in the center with goggles on).
Swimming with SERC friends in 2017 next to the Muni Pier at Aquatic Park in San Francisco (I am in the center with goggles on).

Even though I was raised visiting the Atlantic ocean for summer vacations and am fond of the Caribbean Islands and the coral reefs, I am partial to the West Coast, where the mountains meet the sea.   I prefer the cold green rough seas, the winter swell, kelp forests, abalone at Fort Bragg, great white sharks at the Farallones, Pier 39 sea lions, harbor seals, salps, humpbacks, orcas and sea otters in Monterey Bay, Garibaldi of La Jolla Cove, sting rays of La Jolla Shores, and elephant seals of Ano Nuevo.  I enjoy kayak fishing for rockfish and yellowtail in San Diego with my brother, Kit.

Karah at Pillar Point near Half Moon Bay, CA in 2018
Karah at Pillar Point near Half Moon Bay, CA in 2018
Abalone shell on top of a cooler or some other white surface
A large beautiful abalone I harvested from about 40 feet down from Fort Bragg, CA in 2007. You can see the algae on its shell. The abalone diving season is now closed until 2021.

The rockfish recruitment survey is a longitudinal research project in its 30th year led by the NOAA chief scientist Keith Sakuma.  I have always been inspired by ichthyologists, specifically Dr. David Etnier, of the University of Tennessee, who worked with my step-dad, Hank Hill, on the snail darter case (Hill v. TVA) in the court’s first interpretation of the Endangered Species Act in 1978.   I am excited to learn from NOAA chief Scientist Keith Sakuma and the other members of the Reuben Lasker‘s science team about the rockfish and groundfish species we will be targeting in the recruitment survey. I look forward to learning how to identify up to 100 additional species of epipelagic fish, most of which I have never seen (or even heard of) before, as well as micronekton including several types of krill, tunicates, and hopefully jellyfish!  

The animals we will be surveying are known as forage species and are mostly primary and secondary consumers in the food web. These young of year rockfish and groundfish, epipelagic crabs, and small fish such as anchovies, sardines, and lanternfish are important prey for tertiary consumers including marine mammals, large fish, and seabirds. Long-term research studies allow for scientists to study the relationships between hydrographic data such as sea surface temperature, salinity, and density and the abundance and geographic distribution of forage species over decades, and in the case of this survey, three decades. An ecological rearrangement of forage species can affect not only the tertiary consumers and apex predators such as orcas and great white sharks, but will also impact the fishing industry. It is important to understand the impact of warming oceans and weakened California upwelling events have had and will have on the diversity and health of the ecosystem of the Pacific Coast.

Kimberly Godfrey: Night time..Day time! June 10, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Godfrey

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 31 – June 11, 2018

 

Mission: Rockfish recruitment and ecosystem assessment survey

Geographic Range: California Coast

Date: June 10, 2018

Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 36° 39.980′ N

Longitude: 122° 33.640′ W

Wind: 30.87 Knots from the SE

Air Temperature: 12° C

Waves: 2-3 feet with 6-8 foot swells

Science Log

As you may have gathered from my previous blogs, I spent my time working with the night scientists. However, there was a lot happening during the daylight hours that I would like to highlight. There was a separate team assigned to the day shift. Some of their tasks included analyzing water samples, fishing, and surveying marine mammals and seabirds.

Catching fish during the day allowed them to see what prey were available to diurnal predators, and they could also compare their daytime catch to the evening catches. They used a different net called a MIK Net, which is a smaller net used for catching smaller and younger fish.

MIK Net

The MIK net used by the day time scientists to catch juvenile fish.

The day shift is also the best time for spotting seabirds and marine mammals. Some of the bird species spotted included brown pelican, common murre, terns, black-footed albatross, shearwaters, and at least 1 brown booby. The marine mammals we spotted included humpback whales, fin whales, blue whales, common dolphins, and sea lions.

I had an opportunity to speak with Whitney Friedman, a postdoctoral researcher with NOAA, and she explained to me some of the goals of their marine mammal survey. Many may recall that there was a time when whale populations, especially humpback whales, were in significant decline. Today, humpback whales are considered a success story because of rebounded populations. The concern now is monitoring the success of their food sources. Humpback whales feed on krill and fish like anchovies. However, it is possible that when these sources are less available or as competition increases, they may feed on something else. The question is, what is that something else? During this survey, one goal was to collect whale scat for analysis. Studies have found that some seabirds feed on juvenile salmon incidentally when their preferred local prey is limited, and they move inshore to feed on anchovy. Is it possible that whales might do the same? What else might they be foraging on? Unfortunately, we did not have much luck catching whale scat this time around, but they will try again in the future, and hopefully will find the answers they are looking for.

As previously mentioned, we also did water quality tests and took water samples using the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) Rosette. This instrument has multiple functions. As the initials suggest, it detects conductivity (the measure of how well a solution conducts electricity) and temperature at any given depth. Salinity (the amount of dissolved salts and other minerals) and conductivity are directly related. By knowing the salinity and temperature, one can determine the density. Density is one of the key factors that drives the ocean currents. Many species depend on the ocean currents to bring in nutrients and food. It all comes full circle.

CTD

CTD Rosette used to capture conductivity, temperature, and depth. We also used this to take water samples at specified depths.

CTD

The CTD is lowered into the water by a winch with the assistance of the deck crew.

When we lowered the CTD we could also take water samples at any given depth. This allowed scientist to test for various parameters. For example, we filtered various water samples to determine the amount of chlorophyll at certain depths. This can help scientists estimate the growth rates of algae, which in the open ocean are called phytoplankton. One of the scientists collected water to analyze for environmental DNA (eDNA). This is DNA that might be left in the air, soil, or water from feces, mucus, or even shed skin of an organism. In her case, she was trying to find a way to analyze the water samples for sea turtle DNA.

I’ve heard of eDNA, but I have never actually understood how they collected and analyzed samples for this information. My understanding is that it can be used to detect at least the presence of an extant species. However, when collecting these samples, it is likely to find more than one species. Scientists can use previously determined DNA libraries to compare to the DNA found in their samples.

Personal Log

We started trawling again on the evening of June 7th. By then we settled ourselves into the protection of the Monterey Bay due to the weather getting bad. While we still had some off-shore stations, we tried our best to stay close to the bay because of the wind and swells. We had some interesting and challenging trawls in this area: lots of jellyfish. Some of the trawls were so full we had to actually drop the catch and abort the trawl. If not, we risked tearing the net. We tried to mitigate the overwhelming presence of jellies by reducing our trawls to 5 minutes instead of 15 minutes, and we still had similar results. One night, we had to cancel the final trawl to sew up the net. I’ve been told that sewing a fish net is an art form. Our deck hands and lead fisherman knew exactly what to do.

Let me tell you my experience with jellyfish during the survey. As you may recall, someone must be on watch for marine mammals on the bridge. This is the ship’s control room that sits on the 5th level above water.

Reuben Lasker

The Bridge of the Reuben Lasker is where we do inside Marine Mammal Watch. This is where the main controls of the ship are located.

From here you can see the surface of the water quite well, which makes it a great spot for the marine mammal watch. It was also great for watching hundreds of moon jellies and sea nettles float right by. It was one of the coolest things to watch. It was somewhat peaceful, especially hanging your head out of the window, the cool air blowing against your face, and the occasional mist of sea spray as the ship’s hull crashes against some of the larger swells. However, that same peaceful state disappears the moment you realize, “I’m gonna have to lift, count, and sort all those jellies!” I wasn’t too concerned about being stung; we had gloves for the sea nettles and the moon jellies were no real threat. However, the sea nettles (Chrysaora fuscenscens) smelled AWFUL, and the moon jellies (Aurelia spp.) are quite large and heavy. I’m honestly not sure how much they weighed; we did measure up to 20 per haul, some of them measuring over 400 mm. Even if they weighed about 5 pounds, lifting 50-60 of them consecutively until the count is complete is enough to get the muscles burning and the heart rate elevated. It was a workout to say the least. I was literally elbows deep in jellyfish. I also wore my hair in a ponytail most of the time. Anyone that knows me knows well enough that my hair is long, and definitely spent some time dipping into the gelatinous goop. I smelled so bad! HAHAHAHA! Nonetheless, it was still one of the most intriguing experiences I’ve had. Even though the jelly hauls proved to be hard work, I enjoyed it.

In those last few days, I felt like I became integrated into the team of scientists, and I felt comfortable with living out at sea. I had a few moments of nausea, but never really got sea sick. I still couldn’t walk straight when the ship rocked, but even the experts wobbled when the ship hit the big swells. Then, that was it for me. By the time I got the hang of it all, it was time to leave. I wish there were more hours in the day, so I could have experienced more of the day time activities, but I still got to see more than I thought I would, and for that I am grateful.

Did you know…

NOAA offers many career options. As a scientist, here are some things one might study:

  • track and forecast severe storms like hurricanes and tornadoes; monitor global weather and climatic patterns
  • Research coastal ecosystems to determine their health, to monitor fish populations, and to create policies that promote sustainable fisheries
  • Charting coastal regions and gathering navigational data to protect the ship from entering unsafe waters

NOAA Corps allows one to serve as a uniformed officer, commanding a ship or piloting aircraft. On NOAA Ships, they need engineers, technicians, IT specialists, deck hands, fishermen, and even cooks (The Reuben Lasker had two of the best, Kathy (Chief Steward) and Susan (second cook)). There are many opportunities available through NOAA, and there is a longer list of amazing experiences one can have working for this organization. If you want to explore in more detail, visit http://www.careers.noaa.gov/index.html

 

Lacee Sherman: Teacher in the Fish Lab, June 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lacee Sherman

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 6 – June 28, 2018

 

Mission: Eastern Bering Sea Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date:  June 12, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge on 6/12/18 at 13:00

Latitude: 56° 15.535 N

Longitude: 161° 17.273 W

Sea Wave Height: 2-3 ft

Wind Speed: 8.8 knots

Wind Direction: 30°

Visibility: 10+ nautical miles

Air Temperature: 7.7° C

Water Temperature: 7.52°C

Sky:  Blue with scattered clouds

TAS Lacee Sherman and Alaskan Pollock!!

TAS Lacee Sherman in the fish lab with an Alaskan Pollock. Photo credit: Sarah Stienessen

 

Science and Technology Log

There are many different types of samples that are taken on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.  Some of the samples collected on the ship are for the projects of the scientists that are here currently, and other samples are brought back for scientists working on related NOAA projects.  The scientists that I am working with are based out of NOAA in Seattle, Washington.

CTD through Port Hole

View through a port hole of the Hero Deck on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson of a scientific instrument called a CTD. The CTD is sent to the bottom of the ocean and back at specific locations. The CTD collects information related to conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth. The grey bottle attached to the side collects a water sample that will be analyzed later.

One of the projects that I have been helping with most frequently is processing the trawl samples once they have been collected.  When a trawl sample is collected, a large net is lowered off the stern of the ship that will collect the sample of fish (hopefully mostly pollock)  and other living things. The net also functions as a vessel to hold scientific instruments that collect other types of information. There is a camera (cam trawl) that is attached to the net and this records video that can be watched through a computer to actually see what is being caught in the net.  

Cam Trawl Jellyfish

Picture of a jellyfish captured by the Cam Trawl

Another useful instrument is the FS70, a sonar device that rides above the opening of the trawl net to ping on the fish going into it. Viewed from a screen on the Bridge in real time, this gives the scientists an idea of exactly how many fish are going into the net, so that they can adjust the depth of the net, or change the length of time for the trawl survey.  The goal for each trawl sample is to collect at least 300 pollock.

Pollock on length board

Photo of an Alaskan Pollock on a length board. Photo credit: Sarah Stienessen

Once the net has been brought in after haulback, the opening at the codend (bottom) of the net is released to allow the sample to be put in a metal tub called the table.  The table is capable of holding approximately 1 ton, or 2,000 pounds worth of fish.  Sometimes if there is more than can fit on the table, the crew will split the catch in half so that we are only measuring a portion of what was collected.  The rest of the fish are stored in another tank on the deck.  If we don’t end up with enough pollock on the table, we may need to pick through the other half that was saved on deck until we get enough. Measuring too few of them may not represent the accurate length compositions of the pollock.

On June 11th we collected trawl sample #7.  This haul was filled with mainly jellyfish, with pollock and a few herring.  The weight of this haul was very close to the amount that the table can hold so it was decided to split the catch.  Once we looked at what was put on the table and we realized that it wasn’t going to be enough pollock, Mike and Sarah jumped into the spare tank and pulled out all of the fish (whole haul) so that we would have enough to get as close to that 300 number as possible.

Funny in the fish lab

Photo of Sarah Stienessen and Mike Levine in the fish lab with a recent haul on the conveyer belt. TAS Lacee Sherman can be seen in the background sorting the haul. Photo Credit: Denise McKelvey

When the fish come into the fish lab, we sort out the different species and put them into separate baskets.  Each basket is weighed by species and input into a system called CLAMS (Catch Logging for Acoustic Midwater Surveys).  After all of the species have been sorted, a percentage of each species will be measured by length.  Another percentage of each species will be measured by length and weight.

 

From the pollock sample collected, 30 will be randomly picked to have their otoliths removed.  The otolith is the ear bone of the fish and it can be used to determine the age of that specific pollock.  They have rings, similar to tree rings that can be counted.  For information click here.

Pollock Otoliths

An otolith sample taken from an adult pollock in a glass jar.

Personal Log

I have not been shy with anyone onboard about the fact that I would love to see whales if they are around the ship.  I feel like this has almost turned into a game at my expense, but I don’t mind.  There have been multiple times when there have been “whales” and as soon as I run up the 3 flights of stairs and get to the Bridge, the whales are suddenly gone.  I think they are secretly timing me to see how quickly I can run up the stairs!  The exercise is good for me anyways.

I’ve finished two books already, which has been really nice.  I know that I love to read, but never really take the time anymore because it always seems like there is something else that I should be doing instead.  There’s a bookshelf here in the lounge, so I’ll find another to read after I finish the last one that I brought.

I try to spend some time outside every day, and it is so peaceful.  I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of waking up and looking at the ocean.  I don’t want to take any bit of this experience for granted.  I am so grateful that I have this opportunity and I want to take in as much of it as I can.  As I get to know more people on the ship I am starting to get to learn more from everyone about exactly what they do and why they chose to make this their profession.

Flying Bridge Selfie 6/10/18

Photo of TAS Lacee Sherman on the Flying Bridge of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

Everyone thinks of scientists, NOAA Corps officers, and engineers as being very serious all of the time, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Professionalism is incredibly important and is always the focus, but there is also space for fun.  Every other day there is a photo competition where a picture is taken somewhere on the ship and you need to find out where it was taken and submit your answer.  There are also plastic Easter eggs that keep popping up everywhere filled with positive messages, or candy.  The “Oscar Dyson Plan of the Day” sometimes has puzzles to figure out on it as well as important information such as location, meal times, sunrise/sunset times and any other important information.

Easter Egg return zone

Easter Egg return zone

Did You Know?

There are 6 different species of flatfish found in the Bering Sea.  There are 2 species of Flounder, 3 of Sole, and 1 Plaice.