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.

 

Jenny Smallwood: From Jellies to Worms, September 21, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Smallwood

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

September 4 – 17, 2017

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: September 21, 2017

Weather Data from Virginia Beach, Virginia
Latitude: 36⁰ 49’13.7 N
Longitude: 75⁰ 59’01.2 W
Temperature: 19⁰ Celsius (67⁰ Fahrenheit)
Winds: 1 mph SSW

In just a matter of days, my world has gone from this

(we often had a crazy amount of jellyfish to sort through to find the year 0 Pollock)

to this….

(my super worms are warming up their races at the scout overnight tomorrow)

It’s also given me a few days to reflect on the incredible experience I had at sea.

Science and Technology Log

Science is a collaborative. Many people do not realize the amount of teamwork that goes into the scientific process. For instance, several of the scientists on board my cruise don’t actually study Pollock. One of the guys studies Salmon, but he was still on the cruise helping out. I think that’s what really struck me. The folks from the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center pull together as a team to make sure that everyone gets the data they need. They all jump on board ships to participate in research cruises even if it’s not their specific study area, and it’s quite likely someone else is in another location doing the same thing for them. At the end of the day, it’s the data that matters and not whose project it is.

Personal Log

Since returning home, the most frequent question I have received is “what was your favorite part?” At first, I didn’t know how to answer this question. To have such an incredible experience crammed into two weeks, makes it difficult to narrow it down. After a few days of reflection, I finally have an answer.

The onboard relationships were my favorite part of my Teacher at Sea cruise. I appreciated that the entire crew took me under their wing, showed me the ropes, and made 12 hour shifts sorting through jellyfish for Pollock fun! This is the only place where I could have the opportunity to work and live with scientists in such close proximity. I was fascinated by each scientist’s story: how they got into their specialty, what their background is, why they feel what they’re doing is important, etc. I learned that 10 pm became the silly hour when the second cup of coffee kicked in along with the dance music. I learned that beyond Pollock research these folks were also rescuers taking in tired birds that fell onto the ship, warming them up, and then releasing them.

When the next person asks “what was your favorite part?” I will be ready with an answer along with a big smile as I remember all the goofy night shifts, the incredible inside look at sea based research, and the wonderful people I met.  Oh, and the views.

IMG_20170915_104329

The view from Captain’s Bay near Dutch Harbor, Alaska before a big storm blew in.

 

Jenny Smallwood: WWE at Sea, September 5, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jenny Smallwood
Aboard Oscar Dyson
September 2 – 17, 2017

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: September 5, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 56 38.8 N
Longitude: 155 34.8
Clear skies
Wind speed 10 mph NNE
Air temp 11.5 degrees Celsius (52.7 degrees Fahrenheit)

Science and Technology Log
Today I got smacked in the face by a jellyfish. It practically flew into my mouth. Don’t worry I’m perfectly fine. I’ll admit to a lot of silent shrieking when it happened. Perhaps even some gagging….How did this happen you might be asking yourself? Read on my friend, read on..

After a couple of days at the dock in Kodiak, Alaska, we are finally underway!  My first shift was spent hanging out and watching the scenery as we cruised to the first station.

Fluke

Here’s one of the whales we saw while cruising to our first station site. Photo courtesy of Jim McKinney

 We went through the aptly named Whale Passage where we saw orcas, whales, sea otters, and puffins!  It was also the first time we’d seen the sun in two days.  To be honest, that was more exciting than seeing whales.

It took about twelve hours for us to reach the first station site. The established routine is bongo net and Stauffer trawl, cruise to next site, bongo net and Stauffer trawl, cruise to next site, bongo net and…well you get the point.

When the Stauffer trawl net is hauled in, the science team and survey tech sort through everything in the net. Juvenile pollock (less than a year old) go into one bin, capelin into another bin, so on and so forth.

Stauffer Trawl Sorting

The science team and survey tech sort a pile of jellies and fish. *Caution! Watch out for flying jellyfish!*

Now what makes this really interesting is that we’re basically digging these fish out of one massive, gelatinous pile of jellyfish goop. Once all the fish are sorted, the jellies get sorted too, which is where the jellyfish face smack comes in. Picture a smallish conveyor belt with 5 people standing around throwing fish, squid, isopods, and jellyfish into appropriate bins. It turns out that when you throw jellyfish into a bin, it sometimes explodes on impact causing jellyfish goop to go flying, and sometimes it flies onto my face. *smh*

lumpsucker

We caught a cool looking smooth lumpsucker fish.

 

GOPR0491 - Edited.jpg

Here I am holding the smooth lumpsucker.

When the crew and science team aren’t working jellyfish laden Stauffer trawls, they’re busy with the bongo nets. These are my favorite because they pull up lots of plankton.

GOPR0498.JPG

The deck crew and survey tech bring in the bongo nets.

Most people would totally freak out if they knew how much stuff was swimming around in the water with them, including pteropods, which look a bit like slugs with wings. Pteropods are a type of zooplankton also know as sea butterflies for the small “wings” attached to their bodies. The ones we got today were big enough to be slugs. My goal over the next couple of weeks is to get a decent video of them swimming.

Personal Log
Peer pressure is a powerful thing. Even though I’ve never gotten seasick, I succumbed to peer pressure and took some meclizine before leaving the dock. I really didn’t want my memories of the Oscar Dyson to include yakking over the side of the ship. In this case, positive peer pressure was a good thing. I’ve been feeling just fine even when confined in small, fishy smelling rooms. Eau de poisson anybody?

The biggest adjustment has been the time change and 12 hour work shift from noon to midnight. I like to describe myself as the oldest, young person alive. We’re talking early bird specials, going to bed early, and waking up at the crack of dawn. So while the day shift I’m on is clearly a perk, it’s still taken me a few days to get used to it, especially since it’s 4 pm to 4 am east coast time. Judging by the 9.5 hours of sleep I got last night, it’ll be smooth sailing from here.

I can also report that the food on board is delicious. Ava and Adam crank out tasty options at every meal, and somehow meet the needs of about 35 people some of whom are vegetarian, vegan, low acid, etc. Since Kodiak was a washout, I tagged along on the shopping trip prior to our departure. Five shopping carts later we were ready to eat our way across the Gulf of Alaska!

Did You Know?
NOAA scientists on board the ship rotate through different at sea research cruises throughout the year. They even participate on cruises that have nothing to do with their actual research. It’s like a big group effort to get the data NOAA needs for its various research projects.

 

 

DJ Kast, Bongo Patterns, June 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
May 19 – June 3, 2015

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical areas of cruise: Mid Atlantic Bight, Southern New England, George’s Bank, Gulf of Maine
Date: June 1, 2015

Science and Technology Log:

Bongo Patterns!

Part of my job here on NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow is to empty the plankton nets (since there are two we call them bongos). The plankton is put into a sieve and stored  in either ethanol if they came from the small nets (baby bongos) or formalin if they came from the big nets (Main bongos).

What are plankton? Plankton is a greek based word that means drifter or wanderer. This suits these organisms well since they are not able to withstand the current and are constantly adrift. Plankton are usually divided by size (pico, nano, micro, meso, macro, mega). In the plankton tows, we are primarily focused on the macro, meso and megaplankton that are usually with in the size range of 0.2- 20 mm  (meso), 2-20 cm (macro), and above 20 cm (mega) respectively.

Group Size range Examples
Megaplankton > 20 cm metazoans; e.g. jellyfish; ctenophores; salps and pyrosomes (pelagic Tunicata); Cephalopoda; Amphipoda
Macroplankton 2→20 cm metazoans; e.g. Pteropods; Chaetognaths; Euphausiacea (krill); Medusae; ctenophores; salps, doliolids and pyrosomes (pelagic Tunicata); Cephalopoda; Janthinidae (one family gastropods); Amphipoda
Mesoplankton 0.2→20 mm metazoans; e.g. copepods; Medusae; Cladocera; Ostracoda; Chaetognaths; Pteropods; Tunicata; Heteropoda
Microplankton 20→200 µm large eukaryotic protists; most phytoplankton; Protozoa Foraminifera; tintinnids; other ciliates; Rotifera; juvenile metazoansCrustacea (copepod nauplii)
Nanoplankton 2→20 µm small eukaryotic protists; Small Diatoms; Small Flagellates; Pyrrophyta; Chrysophyta; Chlorophyta; Xanthophyta
Picoplankton 0.2→2 µm small eukaryotic protists; bacteria; Chrysophyta
Femtoplankton < 0.2 µm marine viruses

(Omori, M.; Ikeda, T. (1992). Methods in Marine Zooplankton Ecology)

We will be heading to four main geographical areas. These four areas are: the Mid Atlantic Bight (MAB), the Southern New England (SNE), Gulf of Maine (GOM), and George’s Bank (GB). I’ve been told that the bongos will be significantly different at each of these sites.  I would like to honor each geographical area’s bongos with a representative photo of plankton and larval fish.  There are 30 bongos in each area, and I work on approximately 15 per site.

DJ Kast holding the large plankton net. Photo by Jerry P.

DJ Kast holding the large plankton net. Photo by Jerry Prezioso

Bongos in the Sunset. Photo by DJ Kast

Bongos in the Sunset. Photo by DJ Kast

Here is a video of a Bongo launch.

 

Flow Meter Data. It is used how to count how far the plankton net was towed. Used to calculate the amount of animals per cubic meter. Photo by DJ Kast

Flow Meter Data. It is used how to count how far the plankton net was towed to calculate the amount of animals per cubic meter. Photo by DJ Kast

 

The plankton nets need to be wiped down with saltwater so that the plankton can be collected on the sieve.

 

Day 1: May 19th, 2015

My first Catch of Plankton! Mostly zooplankton and fish larvae. Photo by: DJ Kast

My first Catch of Plankton! Mostly zooplankton and fish larvae. Photo by: DJ Kast

Day 1: Fish Larvae and Copepods. Photo by: DJ Kast

Day 1: Fish Larvae and Copepods. Photo by: DJ Kast

 

 

Day 2: May 20th, 2015

Larval Fish and Amphipods! Photo by: DJ Kast

Larval Fish and Amphipods! Photo by: DJ Kast

Day 3: May 21st, 2015

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Day 3, the plankton tows started filling with little black dots. These were thousands of little sea snails or pteropods. Photo by DJ Kast

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Clogging the Sieve with Pteropods. Photo by DJ Kast

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Close up shot of a Shell-less Sea Butterfly. Photo by: DJ Kast

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Glass Eel Larva. Photo by DJ Kast

 

Day 4: May 22nd, 2015

Butterfly fish found in the plankton tow. Photo by; DJ Kast

Butter fish found in the plankton tow. Photo by; DJ Kast

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Baby Triggerfish Fish Larvae Photo by: DJ Kast

Swimming Crab. Photo by DJ Kast

Swimming Crab. Photo by DJ Kast

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Megalops or Crab Larva. Photo by: DJ Kast

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Polychaete Worms. Photo by: DJ Kast

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Salp. Photo by: DJ Kast

 

Day 5: May 23, 2015

Unidentified organism Photo by DJ Kast.

Unidentified organism
Photo by DJ Kast.

Sand Lance Photo by DJ Kast

Sand Lance Photo by DJ Kast

Polychaete worm. Photo by DJ Kast

Polychaete worm. Photo by DJ Kast

3 amphipods and a shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast

3 amphipods and a shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast

Such diversity in this evenings bongos. Small fish Larva, shrimp, amphipods. Photo by DJ Kast

Such diversity in this evening’s bongos. Small fish Larvae, shrimp, amphipods. Photo by DJ Kast

Small fish Larva. Photo by DJ Kast

Small fish Larvae. Photo by DJ Kast

Below are the bongo patterns for the Southern New England area.

I have learned that there are two lifestyle choices when it comes to plankton and they are called meroplankton or holoplankton.

Plankton are comprised of two main groups, permanent or lifetime members of the plankton family, called holoplankton (which includes as diatoms, radiolarians, dinoflagellates, foraminifera, amphipods, krill, copepods, salps, etc.), and temporary or part-time members (such as most larval forms of sea urchins, sea stars, crustaceans, marine worms, some marine snails, most fish, etc.), which are called meroplankton.

Day 6: May 24th, 2015

Copepod sludge with a fish larva. Photo by: DJ Kast

Copepod sludge with a fish larva. Photo by: DJ Kast

Baby Bongo Sample in ethanol. Photo by: DJ Kast

Baby Bongo Sample in ethanol. Photo by: DJ Kast

Megalops? Photo by: DJ Kast

Megalops?
Photo by: DJ Kast

Fish Larvae. Photo by: DJ Kast

Fish Larvae. Photo by: DJ Kast

Side station sample from the mini bongos on the sieve. Photo by: DJ Kast

Sample from the mini bongos on the sieve. Photo by: DJ Kast

Day 7: May 25th, 2015

???? Photo by DJ Kast

???? Photo by DJ Kast

Tiny Snail. Photo by DJ Kast

Tiny Snail. Photo by DJ Kast

Georges Bank- It is a shallow, sediment-covered plateau bigger than Massachusetts and it is filled with nutrients that get stirred up into the photic zone by the various currents. It is an extremely productive area for fisheries.

Photo by: R.G. Lough (NEFSC)

Photo by: R.G. Lough (NEFSC)

Today, I learned that plankton (phyto & zoo) have evolved in shape to maximize their surface area to try and remain close to the surface. This makes sense to me since phytoplankton are photosynthesizers and require the sun to survive. Consequently, if zooplankton are going to consume them, it would be easier to remain where your food source is located. I think this would make for a great lesson plan that involves making plankton-like creatures and seeing who can make them sink the least in some sort of competition.

Photo by DJ Kast

Photo by DJ Kast

Harpactacoid Copepod. Photo by DJ Kast

Harpactacoid Copepod. Photo by DJ Kast

The Biggest net caught sand lance (10 cm). Photo by DJ Kast

The Biggest net caught sand lance (10 cm). Photo by DJ Kast

Fish Larvae. Photo by DJ Kast

Fish Larvae. Photo by DJ Kast

Day 8: May 26th, 2015 Very Diverse day,  Caprellids- skeleton shrimp, Anglerfish juvenile, Phronima inside of salp! Photo by DJ Kast

Photo by: DJ Kast

Juvenile Anglerfish aka Monk Fish. Photo by: DJ Kast

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Sand Shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast

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A tiny krill with giant black eyes. Photo by DJ Kast

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A small jellyfish! Photo by: DJ Kast

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A phronima (the bee looking thing inside the translucent shell) that ate its way into a salp and is using the salp as protection. Photo by: DJ Kast

Video of the phronima:

Caprellids or Skeleton Shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast

Caprellids or Skeleton Shrimp. Photo by DJ Kast

Video of the Caprellids:

Day 9:  May 27th, 2015= Triggerfish and colorful phronima (purple & brown). Our sieves were so clogged with phytoplankton GOOP, which is evidence of a bloom. We must be in very productive waters,

Evidence of a Phytoplankton bloom in the water, Photo by: DJ Kast

Evidence of a Phytoplankton bloom in the water. Photo by: DJ Kast

Juvenile Triggerfish. Photo by: DJ Kast

Juvenile Triggerfish. Photo by: DJ Kast

Day 10: May 28th, 2015= change in color of copepods. Lots of ctenophores and sea jellies

A Sea jelly found in George's Bank. We are in Canada now! Photo by: DJ Kast

A comb jelly (ctenophore) found in George’s Bank. We are in Canada now! Photo by: DJ Kast

Gooseberry: a type of ctenophore or comb jelly. Photo by DJ Kast

Sea Gooseberry: a type of ctenophore or comb jelly. Photo by DJ Kast

Did you  know? Sea Jellies are also considered plankton since they cannot swim against the current.

Day 11: May 29th, 2015: Border between Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine!

Krill found in the Gulf of Maine. Photo by DJ Kast

Krill found in the Gulf of Maine. Photo by DJ Kast

Callenoid Copepods. Photo by DJ Kast

Callenoid Copepods- its so RED!!! Photo by DJ Kast

Gulf of Maine! Water comes in from the North East Channel (the Labrador current), coast on one border and George’s  Bank on the other. Definitely colder water, with deep ocean basins. Supposed to see lots of phytoplankton. Tidal ranges in the Gulf of Maine are among the highest in the world ocean

Gulf of Maine currents! Photo by NEFSC NOAA.

Gulf of Maine currents! Photo by NEFSC NOAA.

Day 12: May 30th, 2015: day and night bongo (Just calanus copepods vs. LOTS of krill.)

Krill, Krill, Krill! Photo by DJ Kast

Krill, Krill, Krill! Photo by DJ Kast

Krill are normally found lower in the water column. The krill come up at night to feed and avoid their predators and head back down before dawn. This daily journey up and down is called the vertical migration.

Video of Krill moving:

Day Sample. Photo by DJ Kast

Day Sample. Photo by DJ Kast

Night Sample. Photo by DJ Kast

Night Sample (look at all those krill). Photo by DJ Kast

Day 13: May 31th, 2015: Calanoid Copepod community.  Calanoida feed on phytoplankton (only a few are predators) and are themselves the principal food of fish fry, plankton-feeding fish (such as herring, anchovies, sardines, and saury) and baleen whales.

Calanious Community. Its so RED! Photo by DJ Kast

Calanus Community. It’s so RED! Photo by DJ Kast

Day 14: June 1st, 2015:

Brittle Stars caught in the Plankton Tow. Photo by DJ Kast

Brittle Stars caught in the Plankton Tow. Photo by DJ Kast

Tusk shell. Photo by DJ Kast

Tusk shell. Photo by DJ Kast

Side profile of Shrimp caught in the plankton nets. Photo by DJ Kast

Side profile of Shrimp caught in the plankton nets. Photo by DJ Kast

Shrimp Head. Photo by DJ Kast

Shrimp Head. Photo by DJ Kast

Shrimp Tail with Babies. Photo by DJ Kast

Shrimp Tail with Babies. Photo by DJ Kast

Day 15: June 2nd, 2015: Last Day

Gooey foamy mess in the sieve with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast

Gooey foamy mess in the sieve with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast

Gooey foamy mess in the net with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast

Gooey foamy mess in the net with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast

Gooey foamy mess in the jar with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast

Gooey foamy mess in the jar with all the phytoplankton. Photo by DJ Kast

Map of all the Bongo and CTD/ Rosette Stations. Photo by DJ Kast.

Map of all the Bongo and CTD/ Rosette Stations (153 total). Photo by DJ Kast.

Through rough seas and some amazingly calm days, we have all persevered as a crew and we have done a lot of science over the last 16 days. We went through 153 stations total. I have learned so much and I would like to thank Jerry, the chief scientist for taking me under his wing and training me in his Ecosystem Monitoring ways.  I would also like to thank Dena Deck and Lynn Whitley for believing in me and writing my letters of recommendation for the Teacher at Sea program. I would love to do this program again! -DJ Kast

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!