Tom Jenkins: Final Post, May 8, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Jenkins
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 10 – 27, 2018

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographic Area: Northeastern U.S. Coast
Date: May 3rd, 2018

Personal Log

When I applied to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I really didn’t know what to expect.  To learn more, I read through previous TAS blogs. It seemed that every teacher had a truly unique research cruise experience.  The type of mission, the ship (and it’s crew), and the composition of the science team were among other variables all factoring into their experiences.  To be truthful, the more I read, the more excited (maybe a tad anxious) I became about my upcoming adventure.

The ship that was utilized by the Northeastern Fisheries Science Center to carry out the Spring Bottom Trawl Survey was the Henry B. Bigelow.   Once onboard, I found this vessel so impressive, that I devoted an entire blog to the subject: https://noaateacheratsea.blog/2018/04/16/tom-jenkins-a-day-in-the-life-of-a-teacher-at-sea-april-15-2018/

What I didn’t know at the time was that her crew was equally impressive.  Every single crew member made me feel extremely welcome. The officers on the bridge provided a wonderful overview of how they run the ship, the engineers did a great job of allowing me to explore many of the moving parts within this floating city.  The cooks did an amazing job of providing us with seemingly endless amounts of a wide range of very tasty food. In retrospect, I laugh at the fact that I originally planned to diet during my 18 days at sea!

I was selected for a fisheries cruise.  This meant I would serve as 1 of the 14 member science team aboard the ship (Read more about the Spring Bottom Trawl Survey by reading this blog: https://noaateacheratsea.blog/2018/04/20/tom-jenkins-what-is-a-spring-bottom-trawl-survey-april-20-2018/).

NOAA ship Bigelow cruise tracks over lay on ocean map

NOAA ship Bigelow cruise tracks over lay on ocean map

While I did appreciate that few people have an opportunity to participate in this kind of study,  I couldn’t have imagined just how cool it was really going to be! Not only were there extremely large fish, but there was more diversity than I would have ever thought I would find off the coast of New England.  I found myself fascinated by fairly routine things: the length of a shrimp’s antenna, the dining habits of a lamprey, a skate’s eye, and the locomotion of an octopus. And that laundry list doesn’t even include the phronima that we found.  Did you know this intriguing little amphipod served as the inspiration for the namesake of the Alien movie franchise!? Obviously, I was able to witness wonders both large and small which stirred my intellectual curiosity and has inspired me to think of clever ways in which to incorporate these highly specialized adaptations into my curriculum.

After spending 16 nights aboard the Bigelow, I am convinced it’s the people that make the mission.  Not only was the ship’s crew great, but the science team was phenomenal! I can’t underestimate the value of this last statement as these were the people that shared almost every moment of my odyssey.  Without exception, they were knowledgeable, passionate, and all-around good people. I was encouraged to slow down as to better admire nature’s wonders. They were patient and took the time to explain ideas that would help me understand their scientific process.  These teachers helped me write blogs, answer my student’s questions, create video segments for an upcoming www.teachingchannel.org video, as well as brainstorm units of instruction for my classroom.  Their kindness as well as the aforementioned interactions quickly transitioned my initial role as an outsider (that was afraid to slow down the team) a to true member of the team that was also one of the gang.

To say my time spent as a Teacher at Sea was an incredible experience would be an understatement.   This immersive experience pushed me to grow in numerous ways. Thanks to this program, I am re-energized and find myself looking ahead to next school year.  While spending a significant amount time away from both my loved ones and students was a challenge, it was an adventure that I will never forget.

Me standing on the deck of NOAA ship Bigelow in front of a sunrise 

Me standing on the deck of NOAA ship Bigelow in front of a sunrise

Tom Jenkins: What is a Spring Bottom Trawl Survey? April 20, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Jenkins
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 10 – 27, 2018

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographic Area: Northeastern U.S. Coast
Date: April 20, 2018

Personal Log

A few months ago, I learned about my selection to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  When I learned I was offered a spot aboard the Henry B. Bigelow to help with the Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, my immediate reaction was “Yes!  I will do it!” I then quickly googled Spring Bottom Trawl Survey as I unsure exactly what I would be doing on my 18 day research cruise.

So, what is it?  The standardized Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) Spring Bottom Trawl Survey is annual event (an additional survey is conducted in the fall) that was initiated in 1968.  Its primary objective is to collect fishery-independent data during standardized research vessel surveys from Cape Hatteras to the Scotian shelf.   While out at sea, additional oceanographic and plankton data are collected. This allows for continuous monitoring of the health and status of marine resources and their habitat.

 

 

How is it planned?  The Chief Scientist will work with the ship’s officers to set a cruise track to a set of sampling locations that were randomly selected by a computer program (this eliminates bias).  A multitude of factors come into play while plotting the course for the day. These include: weather, time, the number of stations they would like to cover, the types of stations, as well as other factors.  Once the ship arrives at a station, several people aboard the vessel scout the location. A desirable sea floor (minimal slope, no obstacles, etc.), avoiding fixed gear (lobster pots for example), and minimal boat traffic are a few of the things that help them tow in a spot within the allowable radius from the original point.

 

 

What actually occurs once a towable spot is found?  Data from the location needs to be gathered as this will provide a reference for the scientists that will later be studying the organisms as well as the data mined from this specific spot.  This is done with a CTD (seen above). The ship’s crew will hoist this apparatus over the edge of the ship and lower this device to roughly 30 feet above the seafloor. Sometimes down to a depth of over 1,000 feet!   Knowing things like Conductivity, Temperature, and the Depth help researchers paint a more complete picture which will aid them in their effort to study and assess fish populations.

 

 

After both the preliminary data is gathered and the scouting is complete, the fisherman aboard the ship will kick it into high gear.  Fishing aboard the Henry B. Bigelow is an impressive feat of engineering.  Once in the water and fishing the net is about 36 feet across at the opening (the wings), and about 90 feet long; which is loaded with sensors, is fed out the back using a set of winches.  These reactive winches control the wires which manipulate the net to ensure the best trawl possible which will hopefully result in a representative sample for the science team to process (This system is known as “autotrawl” and it aims at maintaining equal pressure by both winches, enabling more consistent performance especially in rough weather, and also reduces the amount of damage due to of “hangs”).

 

 

Once out of the net, the organisms are then loaded into the checker pen.  A member of the science team will then slowly feed them onto the conveyor belt which then carries them inside the wet lab.  The other members of the science team will then sort the various species of marine life into buckets of various sizes. Each of the containers has an attached bar-code tag which is then scanned and associated with the species that is in the container.  This ensures that everything that comes off of the belt is accounted for during processing.

 

 

In the wet lab, there are three processing stations.  Once a bucket arrives at the work area, the tag will then be scanned into the computer will tell members of the science team the specific data as well as the specimens to gather.  Data includes things such as mass, length, sex, age structures (otoliths (a calcified part of the inner ear), illicium (the long fleshy filament attached to the forehead of anglerfish), & scales) and stomach contents whereas specimens can be the entire body or a specific part.  Examples of additional requested include things such as fin clips (DNA), and gonads (reproductive information).

 

 

After the specimens are processed, they are carefully preserved for later use.  Some things such as otoliths can preserved in an envelope whereas something like a stomach needs to be placed in a jar which is then filled with a fluid (formalin solution) that will keep its contents fresh.  Large freezers aboard the ship allow the science team to quickly freeze bagged specimens which will allow high quality samples to be shipped to research facilities; not only in northeast, but to laboratories all around the world.

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Night Shift Crew

(The amazing 12am-12pm team that teaches the Teacher at Sea)

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  As always, if you have any questions and/or comments, please feel free to post them below.

Tom Jenkins: A Day in the Life of a Teacher at Sea, April 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tom Jenkins
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 10 – 27, 2018

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey
Geographic Area: Northeastern U.S. Coast
Date: April 15, 2018

Personal Log

Stairwell

A ladder well on Henry B. Bigelow

The ladder wells.  On the Henry B. Bigelow these sets of steps will take you everywhere that you need to go throughout the day.  Life on a ship is interesting in the fact you don’t ever leave while on your mission.  This is where you sleep, where you eat, where you work and where you hang out with your friends.

One of the most frequently received questions from my students back home is about life on the ship.  Since the past couple of days have been relatively slow in terms of fishing (due to inclement weather), I have decided to highlight the areas of the ship where I spend the most of my time.

My room (likely about the size of your own room at home) happens to be a quad which means I share my room with 3 other people.  In addition to two bunk beds, we have a work area (w/a small TV) and a compact bathroom.  While it is definitely a bit cramped, the 4 of us are split between the 2 shifts (My shift is 12am-12pm.).   The end result is that there are no more than 2 people in the room at any time, so it ends up working out quite well.  Notice the handle in the shower.  This comes in handy when you are trying to clean up and not wipe out as sometimes the ship can move around quite a bit!  You may also notice the emergency billet  on the door.  This tells each member of the crew where to go and also what to do during emergency situations.

 

The food on the ship has been amazing.  As students in my classroom will attest, I swore I was going to go on a diet during this cruise .  While that would be possible, given there are always tons of healthy options, it’s not everyday when there is a BBQ spare rib option for lunch!  Additionally, when you are working off and on over the course of your 12 hour shift, eating food is sometimes a good way to pass the time.  While I don’t think I have gained weight, I definitely do not think I will lose weight over the final 12 days of the cruise.

 

The labs where the scientists work are obviously where we spend a large part of our day (or my case, night).  The picture to the left is where many of the fish are cataloged and processed.  The photo in the top right are where some of the specimens are preserved for later examination in not only NOAA facilities, but also other other research facilities around the world.  The area in the bottom is a planning/observation space where the science team goes to gather, plan and share information related to their research mission.

 

Finally, there is the lounge and fitness area.  The lounge is really nice with large recliners which are a wonderful way to relax after a long shift.  There is Direct TV which is nice for both sports and news and the ship also has an impressive collection of movies for the crew to enjoy.  The fitness area in the bottom right is my favorite space on the ship.  While neither expansive nor pretty, it is a great place to go to burn off steam.  There is a TV and enough equipment to break a sweat.  Although I must admit, its extremely challenging to use an elliptical during a storm with rough seas.  Especially with low ceilings! 🙂

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.  As always, if you have any questions and/or comments, please feel free to post them below.