Emily Sprowls: Whirlwind Return to Shore, April 11, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emily Sprowls

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

March 20 – April 3, 2017

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 11, 2017

Weather Data

The weather on the last scheduled day of the cruise was so bad (12 ft. seas! 30 knot winds!) that the ship came into port early on Sunday. The strong winds and waves kicked up and a string of severe storms and tornadoes swept through the area just after my flight home left on Monday morning.

Science and Technology Log

The last few days of the cruise brought in a lot of sharks, fish and data. We were kept pretty busy, putting in and hauling out 3 or 4 lines each shift. In total between both shifts we set 53 stations and caught 679 vertebrate specimens (not counting the invertebrates: sea stars, sea cucumbers and all those isopods)! There were points when this was totally exhausting and repetitive, but then there were moments when we were holding sharks and it was all worth it! We caught some amazing creatures, and some just floated or flew by for a visit like jellyfish and migrant birds.

In between stations the scientists worked to collect and label tissue samples from the specimens needed by different research labs, including fin clips, parasites, muscles, and eye lenses.

Personal Log

To be completely honest, there was a point about two-thirds through the cruise when I felt pretty tired, a little bit nauseous, and like I had already seen and learned so much that I was ready to go home. That happened to be a day when another thunderstorm blew in, and we had to take a break from sampling. That terrific weather break (during which we lounged with popcorn and a not-so-terrific movie) also coincided with the forecast suggesting a possible early end to the cruise. Suddenly, it seemed like my trip was almost over — I realized that I had so many more questions for my new scientist friends and not enough time to learn everything!

Fortunately, the scientists on board were very kind and eager to answer my students’ questions with the best information they could find. We had several engaging discussions while answering the kids’ questions… in fact, at one point we were so engrossed in a conversation about dogfish life history that we were suddenly interrupted by radio calls from the deck and bridge that we had missed hauling in our line! We grabbed all our gear: boots, gloves, life jackets, hardhats, clipboards, cameras, laptop; and ran out on deck as fast as we could muster. We had all forgotten it was April Fool’s Day! Ha!

Oregon2 crew
NOAA Corps Officers LCDR Lecia Salerno, LT Reni Rydlewicz and ENS Chelsea Parrish

I am so grateful to the entire crew for their hospitality and their willingness to teach me about their jobs. They shared not only their homes on the boat, but also their own stories and knowledge about the work we were doing. I was lucky to share my first boat experience with Ensign Parrish, who was on her first cruise as a newly minted NOAA officer. Her infectious smile and clear love for being at sea, all while learning the ropes of the Oregon II, helped pull me right along with her enthusiasm.

The main person responsible for my excellent experience aboard was the Field Party Chief.

Baby tiger shark
The amazing shark wrangler Kristin Hannan with a young tiger shark!

Kristin Hannan was friendly and generous with her time, all while coordinating stations with the bridge, managing the scientific crew, and preparing for the next research trip. She was also indefatigable! By the time I would get my baiting gloves off, catch my breath, and get ready to help clean up, she had already finished scrubbing the barrels and decks! Most endearing, however, were her encyclopedic knowledge of shark anatomy and population ecology, and her love of all things shark (even the movie JAWS), tempered by a clear, rational, scientific perspective on issues facing the Gulf of Mexico.

Eventually, the trip drew to a close. As we approached the final sampling stations, there were many species I had hoped to see that hadn’t come up yet. It was as if all I had to do was wish for them and they appeared in the final hauls: Stingrays – CHECK! Big bull shark – CHECK! Beautiful baby tiger shark — CHECK! Adorable spinner shark — CHECK!

I started to see why this work was so addictive and attractive to the crew. But, at the end, I was definitely ready to be on stable land and order whatever I wanted from a restaurant. Going home to my incredibly spacious queen-sized bed and enormous 50 square foot bathroom was also quite nice! I loved my adventure at sea, while I also so admire the tenacity and grit that the scientists and crew on the Oregon II have for living the boat life for much, much longer than two fun weeks. Thank you!

Kids’ Questions

What types of sharks will you catch in the Gulf?

On our leg, we caught the following shark species:

Scalloped hammerhead
Scalloped hammerhead
  • Blacknose shark , CARCHARHINUS ACRONOTUS
  • Little gulper shark, CENTROPHORUS UYATO
  • Dusky smoothhound shark, MUSTELUS CANIS
  • Scalloped hammerhead shark, SPHYRNA LEWINI
  • Cuban dogfish shark, SQUALUS CUBENSIS



Clearnose skate
Clearnose skate

We also caught the following batoid species:

  • Southern stingray, DASYATIS AMERICANA
  • Roughtail stingray, DASYATIS CENTROURA
  • Clearnose skate, RAJA EGLANTERIA


What is the most populous type of shark in the Gulf of Mexico?

Sharpnose sharks were the most common in our sampling (we caught 247!) Bonnethead sharks are the more common species closer to shore, and blacktip sharks tend to be more common out farther to sea.

Are some shark species more or less sensitive to pollution?

Bull sharks are tolerant of extremes in water conditions (they have been found in the Mississippi River!), so they may be less sensitive to pollution. In general, hammerhead species are more sensitive and younger sharks are also in sensitive life stages, so they might be more sensitive. This is exactly the kind of questions that scientists might be able to answer more definitively someday using the large amounts of data collected by the Oregon II.

What are sharks’ lifespans?

Each shark species is different, but generally they live a long time. Small sharpnose sharks can live about 10 years. Dogfish can live up to 70 years. Other sharks average about 30 years. There is speculation that a Greenland shark has lived over 100 years! These long lifespans are part of the reason many shark populations are vulnerable because it takes them a long time to reach maturity and they do not reproduce quickly. Life history information about sharks is important to know as the NOAA scientists help manage fisheries.



Julie Karre: Let’s Haul it Back Now, Ya’ll! July 30, 2013

 NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013 

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Range of Cruise: Atlantic
Date: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Science and Technology Log

Preparing for a haul back. Everyone wears a PFD (personal flotation device) during a haul and a helmet if the cradle is used.
Preparing for a haul back. Everyone wears a PFD (personal flotation device) during a haul and a helmet if the cradle is used.

What an incredibly fast-paced morning/end of shift for the night shift! As the day shift was getting up and wandering out to check in, the night shift was putting out their first set of the cruise. Day shift, which I’m on, put out two sets the afternoon/night before. Night shift had to skip two last night because of the current. But this haul back made up for it. The crew processed 64 sharks – Sharpnose and Blacknose – at a swift, demanding pace. It was a learning experience to see them handle it so calmly, never missing a beat.

Night shift volunteers Page Vick and Claudia Friess work together to remove a hook.
Night shift volunteers Page Vick and Claudia Friess work together to remove a hook while Ian Davenport records the data.
Night Shift Watch Leader and NOAA scientist Lisa Jones takes a Sharpnose Shark from a fisherman.
Night Shift Watch Leader and NOAA scientist Lisa Jones takes a Sharpnose Shark from a fisherman and removes its hook.
A weighed, measured, sexed shark is released to the ocean.
A weighed, measured, sexed shark is released to the ocean.

At noon it was our turn and by 2pm we were putting out the first of three hauls we would do that day. That first haul brought up 56 sharks in just over an hour’s time. I was recording the data as measurements were taken. We brought up Sharpnose Sharks and Blacknose Sharks. It has been such an eye-opening experience bringing up sharks these last two days because it is so easy to imagine sharks as being enormous and ferocious, which of course some are, but we are bringing up sharks that, for the most part, can be held up with one hand and weigh less than 4.5kg. I think it is important to remember that the images of The Great White and Bull Sharks are not necessarily representative of all sharks. That doesn’t mean that these smaller sharks are not dangerous, it just means they’re not enormous and overwhelming.

Volunteers Holly Perryman and Kevin Travis handle sharks as I record the data.
Volunteers Holly Perryman and Kevin Travis handle sharks as I record the data. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

We had just enough time to rebait the hooks and hang out for a few minutes before we set out another set 9 miles later. That haul back was light, but did come with a Scalloped Hammerhead. When we get these large sharks (Nurse, Tiger, Hammerhead, Sandbar), it requires a large cradle attached to a crane. The cradle is lowered into the water and the shark is led on with the line attached to the hook. This requires a lot of precise coordination. The person operating the crane cannot see the shark and is then dependent on those at the opening to be clear and loud with directions. Two people hold ropes that stabilize the cradle. They have to stay in sync so that the moving shark doesn’t throw itself over a side, while another person is trying to control the shark with the line attached to the hook. It’s really incredible to watch this team of skilled fishermen and scientists work so quickly with such a large animal. Each large animal is measured, weighed, tagged, and a small tissue sample is taken. Then the cradle is lowered and it swims gracefully away.

It's Hammer time! This Scalloped Hammerhead was very exciting. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess
It’s Hammer time! This Scalloped Hammerhead was very exciting. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess
It's Hammer time! This Scalloped Hammerhead was very exciting. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess
It’s Hammer time! Chief Boatswain Tim Martin keeps a firm grip on the head of the shark. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

A quick dinner later and then we set out what ended up being our last set around 9:30 pm. At 10:50 pm we began our haul back, which was light on Sharpnose and Blacknose. We got a few and they were small, but the real treat was hauling up 4 Sandbars. Of the 4, we brought up 2 because the other 2 got away. The Sandbar is a really beautiful shark. It has a high first dorsal fin and is one of the largest coastal sharks in the world. According to Chief Scientist Kristin Hannan, the Sandbar’s large fin makes it more desirable by fishermen harvesting fins. Having seen these large, but gorgeous, animals and how gracefully they swim makes me sad that they would be desirable for such an unsustainable practice. Fortunately, in 2008 the National Marine Fisheries Service banned all commercial landings of Sandbar Sharks. The Sandbar is currently listed as a vulnerable species due to overfishing.

Kristin Hannan measuring a Sandbar Shark in the cradle.
Kristin Hannan measuring a Sandbar Shark in the cradle.

This haul back gave me a unique perspective. In previous hauls I’d been over where the fish are measured, weighed, and data recorded. But this time I was racking hooks as they came back, which means that I was just below the window where NOAA Corps Officer ENS Rachel Pryor was driving the ship. This is ENS Pryor’s first longline survey and she said it’s the survey that has the deck and bridge the most connected. Because we’re pulling up animals from a bottom longline, the control of the ship is crucial. The driver must control the ship on station making sure it doesn’t drift over the longline and in those instances of bringing up big sharks on the cradle, he or she keeps us on the station so there isn’t too much tension on the line. Whether it’s ENS Pryor, another NOAA Corps officer, or the Captain, Master Dave Nelson, he or she is just as essential to the survey as the people handling the sharks. Truly a team effort.

The set ended right at a shift change and we were lucky to make that switch on a light haul. Most of the hooks came up empty, including emptying of our bait, so something down there enjoyed an easy free meal.

I took the opportunity to watch the stars for a while before heading to bed. I was not disappointed.

Personal Log

During those first three days of no fishing, much reading was done. I finished a book on Sunday and am waiting to start my other book since I only brought two, but others on the ship have been reading a lot during breaks. At least two people have read the entire Hunger Games Trilogy while on board. It should come as no surprise to my students that this makes me VERY happy. The seventh and eighth graders of Armistead Gardens will be returning to school in August for a Hunger Games semester. The eighth graders read the first book before we left school last year, so we are set to keep reading. The seventh graders begin the Games when we meet in August.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let the 19th Longline Games begin!
Ladies and Gentlemen, let the 19th Annual Longline Games begin! Volunteers Claudia Friess and Mike Hendon devouring the Hunger Games trilogy. Both have started and finished the series since we departed Pascagoula.


I finished the debut novel by Carrie Mesrobian, which is scheduled to be released this fall. I began reading on Thursday the 25th when I moved onto the ship, but I had to slow myself down because I only have one other book. So I paced it enough to give me a few more days of pleasure. And what a pleasure it is to read such a raw and real book. I read a lot of young adult fiction, mostly for pleasure and sometimes to know what my students are in. I love what young adult literature offers readers in terms of dealing with certain experiences. I have not read many young adult novels written from the male perspective, though. I know there are many, but I have not done a very good job of getting into them. I loved reading Evan. His self-loathing was so real that I was immediately on his side. I thought the sensitive subject matter was handled realistically and appropriately. Well done. Can’t wait to read it again.

An exquisite sunset at the end of a beautiful day.
An exquisite sunset at the end of a beautiful day.

Did You Know?

I learned this from a science teacher at Armistead Gardens Elem/Middle school – there are FOUR meteor showers peaking last night and tonight – Piscis, Austrinids, Aquariids, and Capricornids. Maybe some of my “shooting stars” were from these meteor showers. Thanks Ms. Palmisano for sharing your knowledge!

This is the 19th year of doing the Shark and Red Snapper Longline Survey. That’s a lot of data!

Animals Seen

Sharpnose, Rhizoprionodon terraenovae
blacknose, Carcharhinus acronotus
Sea Nettle, Chrysaora quinquecirrha
Sandbar, Carcharhinus plumbeus
Scalloped hammerhead, Sphyrna lewini


Volunteer Kevin Travis with a starfish that came up on a clip. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess
Volunteer Kevin Travis with a starfish that came up on a clip. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess