Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 26, 2018
Weather Data from the Air
Conditions at 0634
Altitude: 9585 meters
Outside Temperature: -38 ℃
Distance to Destination: 362 km
Tail Wind: 0 km/h
Ground Speed: 837 km/h
(While NOAA Ship Oregon II has many capabilities, flight isn’t one of them. These were the conditions on my flight home.)
Science and Technology Log
The idea of placing an elementary school teacher on a Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey seems like a reality show premise, and I couldn’t believe that it was my surreal reality. Several times a day, I took a moment to appreciate my surroundings and the amazing opportunity to get so close to my favorite creatures: sharks!
Anyone who knows me is aware of my obsession with sharks. Seeing several sharks up close was a hallowed, reverential experience. Reading about sharks, studying them through coursework, and seeing them on TV or in an aquarium is one thing. Being only a few feet away from a large tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) or a great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) is quite another. Seeing the sharks briefly out of the water provided a quick glimpse of their sinewy, efficient design…truly a natural work of art. Regardless of size, shape, or species, the sharks were powerful, feisty, and awe-inspiring. The diversity in design is what makes sharks so fascinating!
Even just a quick peek of this tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) reveals her strong muscles and powerful, flexible design.
This female tiger shark was large enough to require the shark cradle. The reinforced netting on the cradle provided support for the 10.5 foot shark.
The shape of this sandbar shark’s (Carcharhinus plumbeus) head and eye is quite different from the tiger shark’s distinct design.
Even in the dark, the shape of the great hammerhead’s (Sphyrna mokarran) cephalofoil is unmistakable.
I envied the remora, or sharksucker, that was attached to one of the sharks we caught. Imagine being able to observe what the shark had been doing, prior to encountering the bait on our longline fishing gear. What did the shark and its passenger think of their strange encounter with us? Where would the shark swim off to once it was released back into the water? If only sharks could talk. I had many questions about how the tagging process impacts sharks. As we started catching and tagging sharks, I couldn’t help but think of a twist on the opening of MTV’s The Real World: “…To find out what happens…when sharks stop being polite…and start getting reeled.”
Sadly for my curiosity, sharks have yet to acquire the ability to communicate verbally, despite their many advantageous adaptations over millions of years. To catch a glimpse of their actions in their watery world, scientists sometimes attach cameras to their fins or enlist the help of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to learn more. The secret lives of sharks… reality TV at its finest.
Underwater camera footage is beginning to reveal the answers to many of the questions my Kindergarten-5th grade students have about sharks:
How deep can sharks swim?
How big can sharks get? How old can sharks get?
Do sharks sleep? Do sharks stop swimming when they sleep? Can sharks ever stop swimming?
Do sharks have friends? Do sharks hunt cooperatively or alone?
Is the megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon) still swimming around down there? (This is a very common question among kids!)
The answers vary by species, but an individual shark can reveal quite a bit of information about shark biology and behavior. Tagging sharks can provide insight about migratory patterns and population distribution. This information can help us to better understand, manage, and protect shark populations.
These tools are used to weigh (scales on bottom right), collect samples (scissors and vials), remove hooks (pliers, plus other instruments not pictured), apply tags (leather punch, piercing implement, and tags), and record data (clipboard and data sheet).
Using several low-tech methods, a great deal of information could be gleaned from our very brief encounters with the sharks we caught and released. In a very short amount of time, the following information was collected and recorded:
• hook number (which of the 100 longline circle hooks the shark was caught on)
• genus and species name (we recorded scientific and common names)
• four measurements on various points of the shark’s body (sometimes lasers were used on the larger sharks)
• weight (if it was possible to weigh the shark: this was harder to do with the larger, heavier sharks)
• whether the shark was male or female, noting observations about its maturity (if male)
• fin clip samples (for genetic information)
• photographs of the shark (we also filmed the process with a GoPro camera that was mounted to a scientist’s hardhat)
• applying a tag on or near the shark’s first dorsal fin; the tag number was carefully recorded on the data sheet
• additional comments about the shark
Finally, the hook was removed from the shark’s mouth, and the shark was released back into the water (we watched carefully to make sure it swam off successfully)!
Longline fishing uses 100 numbered hooks. When a fish is caught, it’s important to record the hook number it was caught on.
Depending on the shark’s size, we either attached a swivel tag (on left and middle, sometimes called a Rototag or fin tag; used for smaller sharks) or a dart tag (on right, sometimes called an “M” tag; used for larger sharks).
Other fish were retained for scientific samples. Yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus), blueline tilefish (Caulolatilus microps), and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) were some of species we caught and sampled. Specific samples from specific species were requested from various organizations. Generally, we collected five different samples:
• fin clips: provide genetic information
• liver: provides information about the health of the fish, such as the presence of toxins
• muscle tissue: can also provide information about the health of the fish
• gonads: provide information about reproduction
• otoliths: These bony structures are found in the inner ear. Similar to tree rings, counting the annual growth rings on the otoliths can help scientists estimate the age of the fish.
Samples were taken from this yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus).
Samples were preserved and stored in vials, jars, and plastic sample bags, including a Whirl-Pak. These bags and containers were carefully numbered and labeled, corresponding with the information on the data sheets. Other information was noted about the fish, including maturity and stomach contents. Sometimes, photos were taken to further document the fish.
This Whirl-Pak sample bag will be used to store samples from a bony fish. To close it, the yellow tabs are held tight and the bag is whirled around until it closes.
A tissue sample containing muscle from a fish was placed inside the Whirl-Pak and frozen. Later, it will be studied at a lab.
Thinking of the Oregon II as my floating classroom, I looked for analogous activities that mirrored my elementary students’ school day. Many key parts of the elementary school day could be found on board.
Sometimes, my students struggle to tell the time with analog clocks. The ship uses military time, so this 24-hour clock would probably cause some perplexed looks at first! We usually ate dinner between 1700-1800.
Physical Education: Fitness equipment could be found in three locations on the ship.
Health: To stay energized for the twelve-hour shifts, it was important to get enough sleep, make healthy food choices, and stay hydrated. With lots of exercise, fresh air, and plenty of water, protein, and vegetables, I felt amazing. To sample some local flavors, I tried a different hot sauce or Southern-style seasoning at every meal.
There wasn’t a nurse’s office, but first aid and trained medical personnel were available if needed.
Some fresh paint for the ship.
Fresh NOAA blue stripes echoed the sky and surrounding water.
Art and music: While I was there, the ship received a fresh coat of paint. Many people on board enjoyed creative pursuits in their free time. We listened to and talked about music while deploying the longline gear.
With my young readers and writers in mind, I applied my literacy lens to many of the ship’s activities. Literacy was the thread that ran through many of our daily tasks, and literacy was the cornerstone of every career on board. Several ship personnel described the written exams they’d taken to advance in their chosen careers. Reading and writing were used in everything from the recipes and daily menu prepared by Second Cook Arlene Beahm and Chief Steward Valerie McCaskill in the galley to the navigation logs maintained by Ensign Chelsea Parrish on the ship’s bridge.
The menu changed every day. You could also make your own salad, sandwiches, and snacks. If you had to work through mealtime, you could ‘save-a-meal,’ and write down your food choices to eat later. This was kind of like indicating your lunch choice at school. Instead of a cafeteria, food was prepared and cooked in the ship’s galley.
Library: The ship had a small library on board. To pass the time, many people enjoyed reading. (And for my students who live vicariously through YouTube: that sign at the bottom does say, ‘No YouTube’! Computers were available in the lab, but streaming wasn’t allowed.)
I often start the school year off with some lessons on reading and following directions. In the school setting, this is done to establish routines and expectations, as well as independence. On the ship, reading and following directions was essential for safety! Throughout the Oregon II, I encountered lots of printed information and many safety signs. Some of the signs included pictures, but many of them did not. This made me think of my readers who rely on pictures for comprehension. Some important safety information was shared verbally during our training and safety drills, but some of it could only be accessed through reading.
Without a visual aid, the reader must rely on the printed words. In this environment, skipping words, misreading words, or misunderstanding the meaning of the text could result in unsafe conditions.
On a watertight door, for example, overlooking the opposite meanings of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ could have very serious consequences.
Not being able to read the sign or the words ‘open’ and ‘closed’ could result in a scary situation.
Did You Know?
Thomas Jefferson collected fossils and owned a megalodon tooth. The Carcharocles megalodon tooth was found in South Carolina. One of the reasons why Jefferson supported expeditions to lands west of the Mississippi? He believed that a herd of mammoths might still be roaming there. Jefferson didn’t believe that animal species could go extinct, so he probably liked the idea that the megalodon was still swimming around somewhere! (There’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that either Thomas Jefferson or the megalodon are still around.)
If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams
This picture book acknowledges the scariness of sharks, but explains that a world without sharks would be even scarier. Shown through the eyes of a curious young girl and her family, the book highlights the important role that sharks play in the ocean food web. As apex predators, sharks help to keep the ocean healthy and balanced.
The book includes some mind-blowing facts, such as the concept that sharks existed on Earth before trees. Through easy-to-follow examples of cause and effect, the author and illustrator explores complex, sophisticated concepts such as overfishing, extinction, and trophic cascade. The glossary includes well-selected words that are important to know and understand about the environment. Additional information is provided about shark finning and ways to help save sharks. An author’s note, bibliography, and additional sources are also included.
If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams; Published by Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2017
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 24, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Conditions at 1705
Latitude: 29° 15.17’ N
Longitude: 86° 11.34’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1014.82 mbar
Air Temperature: 31.2° C
Sea Temperature: 32.6° C
Wind Speed: 2.44 knots
Relative Humidity: 57%
Science and Technology Log
Life at sea provides fathoms of real-life examples of the nonfiction text structures I teach my students to identify: description, order and sequence, compare and contrast, fact vs. opinion, problem-solution, cause and effect, and several others.
While on the Oregon II, I was very fortunate to observe a dive operation that took place.
Here’s how an account of the dive operation might read for my elementary school students. Embedded in the text, I’ve included opportunities for developing readers to use context clues, to notice words that signal order/sequence (first, next, then…), to notice words that signal compare and contrast (similar, unlike), etc.
A ‘diver down’ scuba flag on the Oregon II.
Today’s lesson: Problem-Solution.
Problem: Sometimes, the hull (or watertight body) of a vessel can become encrusted with marine life such as algae or barnacles. This is called biofouling. To prevent biofouling, underwater surfaces are inspected and cleaned regularly. To further prevent creatures from making the body of the Oregon II their home, the hull is painted with a special anti-fouling paint.
Occasionally, man-made materials, like rope and fishing gear, can get tangled in the equipment that sits below the surface of the water, such as the rudder or propeller.
Underwater GoPro camera footage suggested that a piece of thick plastic fishing line (called monofilament) was near the Oregon II’s bow thruster. The bow thruster, located in the front of the ship, is a propulsion device that helps to steer the ship to the port (left) or starboard (right) side. This makes navigating and docking the 170-foot ship easier. When the powerful bow thruster is engaged, the entire ship rumbles, sounding like a thunderous jet soaring through the sky.
Something like entangled fishing line is problematic for navigation and safety, so the line must be removed if found. Because the bow thruster is located beneath the water’s surface, this task cannot be completed while on the ship. So how can the crew remove any tangled line and inspect the hull for damage?
Solution: Divers must swim under the ship to inspect the hull. If fishing line is suspected, divers can investigate further. This opportunity to “inspect and correct” allows them to take a closer look at the hull. If fishing line or other damage is found, divers cut away the line and report the damage. Routine hull inspections are part of regular ship maintenance.
Led by Divemaster Chris Nichols, also the Oregon II’s Lead Fisherman and MedPIC (Medical Person in Charge), the team gathered on the bridge (the ship’s navigation and command center) to conduct a pre-dive safety briefing. Nichols appears in a white t-shirt, near center.
The entire process is not as simple as, “Let’s go check it out!” NOAA divers must follow certain rules and safety regulations.
First, the Oregon II’s dive team developed a Dive Operations Plan to investigate the bow thruster and hull. Dive details were discussed in a pre-dive briefing, or meeting. The Diving Emergency Assistance Plan (DEAP) was reviewed and a safety checklist completed.
The team prepared to send two divers, Lead Fisherman (LF) Chris Nichols and Navigation Officer Ensign (ENS) Chelsea Parrish, to inspect the bow thruster and remove any fishing line if needed. For this task, they carried scrapers and line-cutting tools.
To prepare for the dive operation, ship navigation plans were made. Equipment beneath the boat was secured. This ensured that the divers would be kept safe from any moving parts such as the propeller or rudder.
Next, announcements were made before and after the dive to notify the entire ship that divers would be entering and exiting the water. That way, everyone on board knew to stop any fishing activity and avoid putting fishing gear in the water.
To let nearby vessels know that divers are in the water, two flags are hoisted. The scuba flag (red and white) indicates “diver down,” and the International Code of Signals flag ‘Alfa’ (blue and white; sometimes spelled ‘Alpha’) lets other vessels know that the ship is engaged in a dive operation. This tells other vessels to ‘keep well clear at slow speed’.
During the pre-dive briefing, procedures were reviewed and agreed upon. If needed, clarifying questions were asked to make sure that everyone knew and understood exactly what to do. This was similar to the ‘Checking for Understanding’ that I do with my students after giving directions.
Then the team agreed upon a dive time and a maximum diving depth. In this case, the team planned to dive a maximum of 25 fsw (feet of sea water). The surrounding water was about 160 feet deep.
A smaller, 18-foot rigid rescue boat was launched from the Oregon II, prepared to assist the divers in the water if needed.
On the deck of the Oregon II, a Topside Supervisor and Line Tender kept watchful eyes on the divers. Chief Boatswain (pronounced “boh-suhn”) Tim Martin was the standby diver, prepared to provide immediate assistance to the other divers if needed.
Before entering the water, the divers checked one another’s gear for safety.
Potential risks and hazards, such as currents, obstacles, and dangerous marine life, were identified ahead of time. Multiple solutions were in place to minimize or eliminate these risks. Checking equipment before entering the water ensures that divers are prepared.
As the divers prepared to enter the water, the rest of the team was equally well prepared with checks, double-checks, back-up plans, communication, and contingency (emergency) plans. Hopefully, emergency plans are never needed during a dive operation, but just in case, everyone was well-trained and prepared to jump into action.
Plans for entry into the water and exit from the water were reviewed in the pre-dive briefing. In this case, Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols entered the water with an entry method called a Giant Stride.
Ensign Chelsea Parrish enters the water with a Giant Stride. An exit plan, plus two back-up exit options, were also reviewed beforehand. If needed, the divers had three possible ways to exit the water.
The water was calm and the weather fair. The divers signaled to the ship that they were OK in the water, and slipped beneath the surface. Soon, the only trace of them was a lighter blue trail of bubbles.
The divers are OK and ready to dive. For breathing under water, the divers used compressed air in tanks. Because this was open circuit scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) equipment, air bubbles could be seen in the water once they disappeared beneath the surface.
As divers descended, air bubbles could be seen beneath the surface. For safety, a Reserve Air Supply System (RASS) was also worn by each diver.
This was a working dive. Unlike recreational diving, this was not the time for the divers to leisurely swim and explore, but to follow the plan precisely. To communicate with each other under water, hand signals were used.
The dive was an opportunity to inspect the hull. Divers checked fore (front, toward the bow of the ship) and aft (rear, toward the stern of the ship). Photo credit: Ensign Chelsea Parrish, NOAA
The bow thruster looked fine…no fishing line nearby! Photo credit: Ensign Chelsea Parrish, NOAA
The dive was an opportunity to inspect the hull. Divers checked fore (front, toward the bow of the ship) and aft (rear, toward the stern of the ship). All looked well! Photo credit: Ensign Chelsea Parrish, NOAA
While in the water, the divers also practiced a ‘sick diver’ drill to rehearse what to do if a diver needed medical attention. Similar to a fire drill or other safety drill, but performed in the water, this was one of several drills performed on the Oregon II.
After the dive was completed, a post-dive briefing was held to review and critique the dive operation. The dive team discussed how the dive actually went, in comparison to the dive plan. This was similar to the reflection I do after teaching lesson plans.
The divers reported back on the condition of the bow thruster and hull, as well as the dive conditions. They discussed their equipment, the undercurrent, and how they felt while under the pressure of the water. Dive data was collected from each diver and recorded on a form. The divers reached a depth of 21 feet.
Success! After inspecting the hull, the divers reported that they didn’t see any fishing line on the bow thruster or damage to the hull. Instead, they saw some small fish called jacks and some moon jellies drifting by.
Finally, the scuba equipment is removed and rinsed with fresh water. Once dry, it will be carefully stowed away until the next dive.
Dive operations don’t happen often on the Oregon II. Normally, the team practices and performs their dives in a swimming pool in Mobile, Alabama. This dive near the Florida Keys was the first at-sea operational dive in two years as a full team—a rare and exciting treat to witness!
This reflection captures my own dive into the world of longline fishing. Switching roles from educator to student, this is also where I transition from writing for my students to writing for my peers and colleagues.
Gloves for handling bait (left) and grippy gloves for handling live fish (right)
Every time I attempt something brand new, some optimistic part of me hopes that I’ll be a natural at it. If I just try, perhaps I’ll discover some latent proclivity. Or perhaps I’ll find my raison d’être—the reason why I was placed on this planet.
So I try something new and quickly recognize my naïveté. Many of these new skills and sequences are difficult, and I’m slow to master them. I compare my still-developing ability to that exhibited by seasoned veterans, and I feel bad for not grasping it quickly.
Spoiler alert: Longline fishing may not be my calling in life.
Life on and around the water, however, suits me quite well. As I’ve acclimated to life on a ship, the very act of being at sea comes naturally. Questions and curiosity flow freely. An already-strong appreciation for the water and its inhabitants deepens daily. And while I may not learn new concepts quickly, I eventually learn them thoroughly because I care. This journey has been a culminating opportunity in which I’ve been able to apply the nautical knowledge and marine biology fun facts I’ve been collecting since childhood.
Much of the daily work is rote, best learned through repetition, muscle memory, and experience. Very little of it is intuitive or commonsense, and my existing nautical know-how isn’t transferable to the longline gear because I’ve never handled it before.
The tops of two high flyers
Buoys and snap clips
Additional buoys are sometimes added to the mainline.
At first, making sense of the various steps and equipment used in longline fishing felt like a jumbled, tangled barrel of gangions.
At any point during my twelve hour shift, I’m keeping track of: the time, several other people, several locations on the ship, my deck boots (for working outside), sneakers (for walking inside), personal flotation device (PFD), sun hat, hard hat, bait gloves (for setting bait on hooks), grippy work gloves (for handling equipment and slippery, slimy fish), water bottle, camera, and rain gear…not to mention the marine life and specialized equipment for the particular task we’re performing.
The longline gear is deployed off the stern.
Somewhere, Mr. Rogers is feeding his fish and chuckling with approval every time I sit down to swap out my deck boots several times a day.
Swapping out my sneakers for deck boots…again.
There’s a great deal of repetition, which is why it’s so frustrating that these work habits haven’t solidified yet. It should be predictable, but I’m not there…yet. Researchers believe it takes, on average, more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic. Maybe I’m being hard on myself for not mastering this in less than two weeks.
Unlatch the door. Relatch the door. Fill water bottle. Sunscreen on. Sneakers off. Boots on. Boots off. Sneakers on. Bait gloves on. Bait gloves off. Work gloves on. Work gloves off. Regular glasses off. Sunglasses on. Sunglasses off. Refill water bottle. Regular glasses on. Unpack the tool bag. Repack the tool bag. Hat on. Hat off. Repeat sunscreen. Refill water bottle. PFD on. PFD off. Hard hat on. Hard hat off…and repeat.
It seems simple enough in writing, but I struggle to remember what I need to be wearing when, not to mention the various sub-steps involved in longline fishing and scientific research.
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
During the dive operation, I ventured up to the bow for a better vantage point. Alone on the bow, glorious water teemed with fascinating marine life as far as I could see. Below me—and well below the surface—an actual dive operation was taking place: an opportunity to apply the diving knowledge I’ve absorbed and acquired over the past several years.
If I were in a certain movie musical, I would have burst into song, twirling in circles on the bow, unable to resist the siren song of the sea. (And, as I’ve discovered from handling a few of the slimier species we’ve caught, the depths are alive…with the stench of mucus. And its slimy feel.)
As I struggle to keep track of all of the routines, equipment, and fishing gear, I feel like Maria in the opening scene of The Sound of Music. Lost in reverie and communing with nature, she suddenly remembers she’s supposed to be somewhere and rushes off to chapel, wimple in hand. She’s supposed to be wearing it, of course, but at least she made it there and remembered it at all.
My Teacher at Sea path was filled with an Alpine range of mountains to climb, but I climbed every mountain, and I’m here on the Oregon II. All of the hard work I’ve put in for the past ten years culminated into that harmonized, synchronous moment on the bow…
And then I remembered that my shift was starting soon, so I dashed off, PFD in hand.
I know that I’ll need a PFD at some point. And my gloves. And my boots. And a hard hat. I have them all at the ready, but I’m not always sure which one to wear when. As I fumble through the transitions, routines, and equipment, I sympathize with Maria’s difficult search for belonging. I certainly mean well, and my appreciation for the water around us cannot be contained.
Being on and around the water fills me with joy…
Eventually, Maria realizes that she’s better suited to life as a governess and later, a sea captain’s wife. I’m discovering that perhaps I was not destined to be a skilled longline fisherman, but perhaps there is some latent proclivity related to the life aquatic. I may not always know which equipment to use when, but I know—with certainty—that I definitely need the ocean.
Taking a curtain cue from Maria, perhaps I could fashion a dress or a wetsuit from the curtains hanging near my berth…?
Did You Know?
Sharks secrete a type of mucus, or slime, from their skin. The mucus provides protection against infection, barnacles, and parasites. It also helps sharks to move faster through the water. Ship builders are inspired by sharks’ natural ability to resist biofouling and move through the water efficiently.
Students may be surprised to learn that barnacles are not only marine animals, but they begin their life as active swimmers and later attach themselves permanently to a variety of surfaces: docks, ships, rocks, and even other animals.
Barnacles by Lola M. Schaefer is part of the Musty-Crusty Animals series, exploring how the animal looks and feels, where it lives, how it moves, what it eats, and how it reproduces. This title is part of Heinemann’s Read and Learn collection of nonfiction books for young readers. Other creatures in the series include: crayfish, hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs, lobsters, and sea horses. These books are a great introduction to nonfiction reading skills and strategies, especially for younger readers who are interested in fascinating, unconventional creatures.
Each chapter begins with a question, tapping into children’s natural curiosity and modeling how to develop and ask questions about topics. Supportive nonfiction text features include a table of contents, bold words, simple labels (as an introduction to diagrams), size comparisons, a picture glossary, and index.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 16, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Conditions at 1106
Latitude: 25° 17.10’ N
Longitude: 82° 53.58’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1020.17 mbar
Air Temperature: 29.5° C
Sea Temperature: 30.8° C
Wind Speed: 12.98 knots
Relative Humidity: 76%
Science and Technology Log
Before getting into the technology that allows the scientific work to be completed, it’s important to mention the science and technology that make daily life on the ship safer, easier, and more convenient. Electricity powers everything from the powerful deck lights used for working at night to the vital navigation equipment on the bridge (main control and navigation center). Whether it makes things safer or more efficient, the work we’re doing would not be possible without power. Just in case, several digital devices have an analog (non-electronic) counterpart as a back-up, particularly those used for navigation, such as the magnetic compass.
To keep things cool, large freezers are used for storing bait, preserving scientific samples, and even storing ice cream (no chumsicles for dessert—they’re not all stored in the same freezer!). After one particularly sweltering shift, I was able to cool off with some frozen coffee milk (I improvised with cold coffee, ice cream, and milk). More importantly, without the freezers, the scientific samples we’re collecting wouldn’t last long enough to be studied further back at the lab on land.
Electricity also makes life at sea more convenient, comfortable, and even entertaining. We have access to many of the same devices, conveniences, and appliances we have at home: laundry machines, warm showers, air conditioning, home cooked meals, a coffee maker, TVs, computers with Wi-Fi, and special phones that allow calls to and from sea. A large collection of current movies is available in the lounge. During my downtime, I’ve been writing, exploring, enjoying the water, and learning more about the various NOAA careers on board.
To use my computer, I first needed to meet with Roy Toliver, Chief Electronics Technician, and connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi. While meeting with him, I asked about some of the devices I’d seen up on the flying bridge, the top deck of the ship. The modern conveniences on board are connected to several antennae, and Roy explained that I was looking at important navigation and communication equipment such as the ship’s GPS (Global Positioning System), radar, satellite, and weather instrumentation.
The weather devices on top are called anemometers, and they measure true wind speed and direction relative to the ship’s speed and direction. The term comes from the Greek word ‘anemos,’ which means wind. On the right is the fishing day shape, indicating to nearby ships that the Oregon II is using fishing gear.
These satellites help to provide the television and internet on the ship.
I was also intrigued by the net-like item (called a Day Shape) that communicates to other ships that we are deploying fishing equipment. This lets nearby ships know that the Oregon II has restricted maneuverability when the gear is in the water. At night, lights are used to communicate to other ships. Communication is crucial for safety at sea.
When I stopped by, Roy had just finished replacing some oxygen sensors for the CTD (that stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth). For more information about CTDs click here: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/ctd.html
A dissolved oxygen sensor to be mounted on the environmental profiler, which collects environmental data through the water column.
A CTD refers to several electronic instruments that measure conductivity, temperature, depth, and other properties in the water column. Scientists are interested in changes in these properties relative to depth.
Without accurate sensors, it’s very difficult for the scientists to get the data they need. If the sensors are not working or calibrated correctly, the information collected could be inaccurate or not register at all. The combination of salt water and electronics poses many interesting problems and solutions. I noticed that several electronic devices, such as computers and cameras, are built for outdoor use or housed in durable plastic cases.
On this particular day, the ship sailed closer to an algal bloom (a large collection of tiny organisms in the water) responsible for red tide. Red tide can produce harmful toxins, and the most visible effect was the presence of dead fish drifting by. As I moved throughout the ship, the red tide was a red hot topic of conversation among both the scientists and the deck department. Everyone seemed to be discussing it. One scientist explained that dissolved oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico can vary based on temperature and depth, with average readings being higher than about 5 milligrams per milliliter. The algal bloom seemed to impact the readings by depleting the oxygen level, and I was able to see how that algal bloom registered and affected the dissolved oxygen readings on the electronics Roy was working on. It was fascinating to witness a real life example of cause and effect. For more information about red tide in Florida, click here: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/redtide-florida/
Chief Electronics Technician Roy Toliver in his office on the Oregon II. The office is like the ship’s computer lab. When he’s not working on the ship’s electronics, Roy enjoys reading out on the stern. It’s a great place for fresh air, beautiful views, and a good book!
Preparing and packing for my time on the Oregon II reminded me of TheOregon Trail video game. How to pack for a lengthy journey to the unfamiliar and unknown?
I had a hard time finding bib overalls and deck boots at the general store.
I didn’t want to run out of toiletries or over pack, so before leaving home, I tracked how many uses I could get out of a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, shampoo bottle, and bar of soap, and that helped me to ration out how much to bring for fifteen days (with a few extras, just in case). The scientists and crew of the Oregon II also have to plan, prepare, and pack all of their food, clothing, supplies, tools, and equipment carefully. Unlike The Oregon Trail game, I didn’t need oxen for my journey, but I needed some special gear: deck boots, foul weather gear (rain jacket with a hood and bib overalls), polarized sunglasses (to protect my eyes by reducing the sun’s glare on the water), lots of potent sunscreen, and other items to make my time at sea safe and comfortable.
I was able to anticipate what I might need to make this a more efficient, comfortable experience, and my maritime instincts were accurate. Mesh packing cubes and small plastic baskets help to organize my drawers and shower items, making it easier to find things quickly in an unfamiliar setting.
This is where we sleep in the stateroom. The blue curtains can be closed to darken the room when sleeping during the day. On the left is a sink.
Reading and dreaming about sharks!
Dirt, guts, slime, and grime are part of the job. A bar of scrubby lemon soap takes off any leftover sunscreen, grime, or oceanic odors that leaked through my gloves. Little things like that make ship life pleasant. Not worrying about how I look is freeing, and I enjoy moving about the ship, being physically active. It reminds me of the summers I spent as a camp counselor working in the woods. The grubbier and more worn out I was, the more fun we were having.
The NOAA Corps is a uniformed service, so the officers wear their uniforms while on duty. For everyone else, old clothes are the uniform around here because the work is often messy, dirty, and sweaty. With tiny holes, frayed seams, mystery stains, cutoff sleeves, and nautical imagery, I am intrigued by the faded t-shirts from long-ago surveys and previous sailing adventures. Some of the shirts date back several years. The well-worn, faded fabric reveals the owner’s experience at sea and history with the ship. The shirts almost seem to have sea stories to tell of their own.
As we sail, the view is always changing and always interesting!
Being at sea is a very natural feeling for me, and I haven’t experienced any seasickness. One thing I didn’t fully expect: being cold at night. The inside of the ship is air-conditioned, which provides refreshing relief from the scorching sun outside. I expected cooler temperatures at night, so I brought some lightweight sweatshirts and an extra wool blanket from home. On my first night, I didn’t realize that I could control the temperature in my stateroom, so I shivered all night long.
It’s heavy, tough, and grey, but it’s not a shark!
My preparing and packing didn’t end once I embarked (got on) on the ship. Every day, I have to think ahead, plan, and make sure I have everything I need before I start my day. This may seem like the least interesting aspect of my day, but it was the biggest adjustment at first.
To put yourself in my shoes (well, my deck boots), imagine this:
Get a backpack. Transport yourself to completely new and unfamiliar surroundings. Try to adapt to strange new routines and procedures. Prepare to spend the next 12+ hours working, learning, exploring, and conducting daily routines, such as eating meals. Fill your backpack with anything you might possibly need or want for those twelve hours. Plan for the outdoor heat and the indoor chill, as well as rain. If you forgot something, you can’t just go back to your room or run to the store to get it because
Your roommate is sleeping while you’re working (and vice versa), so you need to be quiet and respectful of their sleep schedule. That means you need to gather anything you may need for the day (or night, if you’re assigned to the night watch), and bring it with you. No going back into the room while your roommate is getting some much-needed rest.
Land is not in sight, so everything you need must be on the ship. Going to the store is not an option.
Just some of the items in my backpack: sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, sweatshirt, a water bottle, my camera, my phone, my computer, chargers for my electronics, an extra shirt, extra socks, snacks, etc.
I am assigned to the day watch, so my work shift is from noon-midnight. During those hours, I am a member of the science team. While on the day watch, the five of us rotate roles and responsibilities, and we work closely with the deck crew to complete our tasks. The deck department is responsible for rigging and handling the heavier equipment needed for fishing and sampling the water: the monofilament (thick, strong fishing line made from plastic), cranes and winches for lifting the CTD, and the cradle used for safely bringing up larger, heavier sharks. In addition to keeping the ship running smoothly and safely, they also deploy and retrieve the longline gear.
Pulleys, winches, and cranes are found throughout the boat.
Another adjustment has been learning the routines, procedures, and equipment. For the first week, it’s been a daily game of What-Am-I-Looking-At? as I try to decipher and comprehend the various monitors displayed throughout the ship. I follow this with a regular round of Now-What-Did-I-Forget? as I attempt to finesse my daily hygiene routine. The showers and bathroom (on a ship, it’s called the head) are down the hall from my shared stateroom, and so far, I’ve managed to forget my socks (day one), towel (day two), and an entire change of clothes (day four). With the unfamiliar setting and routine, it’s easy to forget something, and I’m often showering very late at night after a long day of work.
I’m more than ready to cool off and clean up after my shift.
One thing I never forget? Water. I am surrounded by glittering, glistening water or pitch-black water; water that churns and swells and soothingly rocks the ship. Swirling water that sometimes looks like ink or teal or indigo or navy, depending on the conditions and time of day.
Another thing I’ll never forget? This experience.
In case I forget, the heat of the sun reminds me to drink water all day long.
Did You Know?
The Gulf of Mexico is home to five species, or types, or sea turtles: Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley.
Many of my students have never seen or experienced the ocean. To make the ocean more relevant and relatable to their environment, I recommend the picture book Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene. A young girl’s grandfather moves to the city and notices there’s nowhere to fish. She and her grandfather imagine fishing from their high-rise apartment fire escape. The “fish” they catch are inspired by the vibrant ecosystem around them: the citizens and bustling activity in an urban environment. The catch of the day: “Flying Litterfish,” “Laundry Eels,” a “Constructionfish,” and many others, all inspired by the sights and sounds of the busy city around them.
The book could be used to make abstract, geographically far away concepts, such as coral ecosystems, more relatable for students in urban, suburban, and rural settings, or as a way for students in rural settings to learn more about urban communities. The young girl’s observations and imagination could spark a discussion about how prominent traits influence species’ common names, identification, and scientific naming conventions.
Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Point Hope, northwest Alaska
Date: August 17, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude 64 42.8 N
Longitude – 171 16.8 W
Air temperature: 6.2 C
Dry bulb 6.2 C
Wet bulb 6.1 C
Visibility: 0 Nautical Miles
Wind speed: 26 knots
Wind direction: east
Barometer: 1000.4 millibars
Cloud Height: 0 K feet
Waves: 4 feet
Sunrise: 6:33 am
Sunset: 11:45 pm
I was asked yesterday by one of my students what life is like aboard the NOAA Ship Fairweather? So I thought I would dedicate this entry to address this and some of the other commonly asked questions from my students.
Life on board the ship is best described as a working village and everyone on board has many specific jobs to ensure the success of its mission; check my “Meet the Crew” blog. The ship operates in a twenty four hour schedule with the officers rotating shifts and responsibilities. When the ship is collecting ocean floor data, the hydrographers will work rotating shifts 24 hours a day. With so much happening at once on a working research vessel, prevention of incidents is priority which leads to the ship’s success. A safety department head meeting is held daily by the XO (executive officer of the ship) to review any safety issues.
During times when the weather is not conducive for data collection, special training sessions are held. For instance, a few days ago, the officers conducted man over board drills. Here, NOAA Officers practice navigating the ship and coordinating with deck hands to successfully rescue the victim; in this case it’s the ship’s mascot, “Oscar.”
(Fun fact: at sea, ships use signal flags to communicate messages back and forth [obviously, this was more prevalent before the advent of radio]. For example: the “A” or “Alpha” flag means divers are working under the surface; the “B” or “Bravo” flag means I am taking on dangerous cargo [i.e. fueling]; and the “O” flag means I have a man overboard. The phonetic name for “O” is, you guessed it, “Oscar” … hence the name. You can read about other messages here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_maritime_signal_flags).
Precision and speed is the goal and it is not easy when the officer is maneuvering 1,591 tons of steel; the best time was 6:24. This takes a lot skill, practice and the ability to communicate effectively to the many crew members on the bridge, stern (back of boat), and the breezeways on both port and starboard sides of the ship. Navigating the ship becomes even more challenging when fog rolls in as the officers rely on their navigation instruments. Training can also come in the form of good entertainment. With expired rescue flares and smoke grenades, the whole crew practiced firing flares and activating the smoke canisters. These devices are used to send distress signals in the event of a major ship emergency. I had the opportunity of firing one of the flares !
Practicing the release of emergency smoke canisters ~ photo by Tom Savage
What are the working conditions like on board?
At sea, the working environment constantly changes due to the weather and the current state of the seas. Being flexible and adaptive is important and jobs and tasks for the day often change Yesterday, we experienced the first rough day at sea with wave heights close to ten feet. Walking up a flight of stairs takes a bit more dexterity and getting used to. At times the floor beneath will become not trustworthy, and the walls become your support in preventing accidents.
View from the Bridge in fog. ~ photo by Tom Savage
Where do you sleep?
Each crew member is assigned a stateroom and some are shared quarters. Each stateroom has the comforts from home a bed, desk, head (bathroom & shower) sink and a port hole (window) in most cases. The most challenging component of sleeping is sunlight, it does not set until 11:30 pm. No worries, the “port holes” have a metal plate that can be lowered. It is definitely interesting looking through the window when the seas are rough and watching the waves spin by. Seabirds will occasionally fly by late at night and I wonder why are they so far out to sea ?
My stateroom – photo by Tom
Generally, when sharing a stateroom, roommates will have different working shifts.
Meals are served in the galley and it is amazing! It is prepared daily by our Chief Steward Tyrone; he worked for the Navy for 20 years and comes with a lot of skills and talents ! When asking the crew what they enjoy the most on board the ship, a lot of them mention the great food and not having to cook.
Fairweather’s Galley ~ photo by Tom
Are there any activities?
Keeping in good physical shape aboard any vessel out at sea is important. The Fairweather has a gym that can be used 24 hours a day. The gym has treadmills, elliptical, weights and a stair climber.
The exercise room – photo by Tom
There is the lounge where movies are shown in the evening. Interestingly, the seats glide with the motions of the waves. Meetings are also held here daily, mostly safety briefings.
What are the working hours like?
During any cruise with NOAA, there is always things that come up that were not planned, staff and schedules are adjusted accordingly. On this leg of the trip during our transit back to Kodiak Island, we stopped by Nome, Alaska, to pick up a scientist from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab PMEL office. One of their research buoys separated from its mooring and went adrift in the Bering Sea (it drifted over 100 miles before we were able to catch up to it. The Fairweather was dispatched to collect and store the buoy aboard, after which it will eventually be returned to PMEL’s lab in Seattle Washington.
Retrieval of NOAA’s PMEL (Pacific Marine Environmental Lab) buoy. photo by NOAA
The place with the most noise is definitely the engine room. Here, two sixteen piston engines built by General Motors powers the ship; the same engine power in one train engine ! It is extremely difficult to navigate in the engine room as there is so many valves, pipes, pumps, switches and wires. Did I mention that it is very warm in the room; according to the chief engineer, Tommy, to maintain a healthy engine is to ensure that the engine is constantly warm even during times when the ship is docked.
Navigating the engine room …… I did not push any buttons, promise! Photo by Kyle
Mission: Spring Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) Survey (Plankton and Hydrographic Data)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean
Date: June 3, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Sky: Scattered Clouds
Visibility: 12 Nautical Miles
Wind Direction: 270°W
Wind Speed: 8 Knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 Feet
Swell Wave: 1-3 Feet
Barometric Pressure: 1009.5 Millibars
Sea Water Temperature: 10.2°C
Air Temperature: 11°C
Science and Technology Log
Here I am with a canister of plankton we collected from the bongo nets.
You may have begun to notice that there are several methods of sampling plankton. Each technique is used several times a day at the sampling stations. The baby bongo nets collect the same type plankton as the large bongos. The primary difference is that the samples from the baby bongos are preserved in ethanol, rather than formalin. Chief Scientist, David Richardson explained that ethanol is being used more and more as a preservative because the solution allows scientists to test specimens’ genetics. Studying the genetics of plankton samples gives researchers a greater understanding of the ocean’s biodiversity. Genetics seeks to understand the process of trait inheritance from parents to offspring, including the molecular structure and function of genes, gene behavior in the context of a cell or organism, gene distribution, and variation and change in populations.
Jars and jars of plankton samples ready to be studied.
The big bongos use formalin to preserve plankton samples. Formalin has been used by scientists for decades, mainly because the preservative makes it easier for labs to study the samples. Today’s scientists continue to use formalin because it lets them compare their most recent sampling data to that from years ago. This presents a clearer picture of how marine environments have or have not changed.
Every so often, we use smaller mesh nets for the baby bongos which can catch the smallest of zooplanktons. The specimens from these special bongo nets are sent to CMarZ which stands for Census of Marine Zooplankton. CMarZ are scientists and students interested in zooplankton from around the world who are working toward a taxonomically comprehensive assessment of biodiversity of animal plankton throughout the world ocean. CMarZ samples are also preserved in ethanol. The goal of this organization is to produce a global assessment of marine zooplankton biodiversity, including accurate and complete information on species diversity, biomass, biogeographical distribution, and genetic diversity. [Source — Census of Marine Zooplankton]. Their website is incredible! They have images galleries of living plankton and new species that have been discovered by CMarZ scientists.
Another interesting project that Chief Scientist, David Richardson shared with me is the Census of Marine Life. The Census of Marine Life was a 10-year international effort that assessed the diversity (how many different kinds), distribution (where they live), and abundance (how many) of marine life—a task never before attempted on this scale. During their 10 years of discovery, Census scientists found and formally described more than 1,200 new marine species. [Source —Census of Marine Life] The census has a webpage devoted to resources for educators and the public. Contents include: videos and images galleries, maps and visualizations, a global marine life database, and links to many other resources.
Plankton samples are preserved in jars with water and formalin.
It is incredibly important that we have institutes like CMarZ, the Census of Marin Life, and the Sea Fisheries Institute in Poland where samples from our EcoMon Survey are sent. Most plankton are so small that you see them best through a microscope. At the lab in Poland, scientists remove the fish and eggs from all samples, as well as select invertebrates. These specimens are sent back to U.S. where the data is entered into models. The information is used to help form fishing regulations. This division of NOAA is called the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NOAA Fisheries. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources and their habitat. The organization provide vital services for the nation: productive and sustainable fisheries, safe sources of seafood, the recovery and conservation of protected resources, and healthy ecosystems—all backed by sound science and an ecosystem-based approach to management. [Source —NOAA Fisheries]
Vertical CTD Cast
In addition to collecting plankton samples, we periodically conduct vertical CTD casts. This is a standard oceanographic sampling technique that tells scientists about dissolved inorganic carbon, ocean water nutrients, the levels of chlorophyll, and other biological and chemical parameters.
The CTD’s Niskin bottles trap water at different depths in the ocean for a wide-range of data.
The instrument is a cluster of sensors which measure conductivity, temperature, and pressure. Depth measurements are derived from measurement of hydrostatic pressure, and salinity is measured from electrical conductivity. Sensors are arranged inside a metal or resin housing, the material used for the housing determining the depth to which the CTD can be lowered. From the information gathered during CTD casts, researchers can investigate how factors of the ocean are related as well as the variation of organisms that live in the ocean.
Here’s how a vertical CTD cast works. First, the scientists select a location of interest (one of the stations for the leg of the survey). The ship travels to that position and stays as close to the same spot as possible depending on the weather as the CTD rosette is lowered through the water, usually to within a few meters of the bottom, then raised back to the ship. By lowering the CTD close to the bottom, then moving the ship while cycling the package up and down only through the bottom few hundred meters, a far greater density of data can be obtained. This technique was dubbed a CTD cast and has proven to be an efficient and effective method for mapping and sampling hydrothermal plumes. [Source —NOAA]
Survey Tech, LeAnn Conlon helps recover the CTD.
During the vertical CTD cast, I am in charge of collecting water samples from specified Niskin bottles on the rosette. The Niskin bottles collected water at different levels: surface water, maximum depth, and the chlorophyll maximum where the greatest amount of plankton are usually found. I take the collected seawater to the lab where a mechanism filters the water, leaving only the remainder plankton. The plankton from the water contains chlorophyll which a lab back on land tests to determine the amount of chlorophyll at different water depths. This gives researchers insight about the marine environment in certain geographic locations at certain times of the year.
Meet the Science Party
Meet Chief Scientist, David Richardson!
David Richardson planning our cruise with Operations Officer, Libby Mackie.
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am the Chief Scientist for this 10 day cruise. A large part of the Chief Scientist’s role is to prioritize the research that will happen on a cruise within the designated time period. Adverse weather, mechanical difficulties, and many other factors can alter the original plans for a cruise requiring that decisions be made about what can be accomplished and what is a lower priority. One part of doing this effectively is to ensure that there is good communication among the different people working on the ship.
What is your educational/working background?I went to college at Cornell University with a major in Natural Resources. After that I had a number of different jobs before enrolling in Graduate School at the University of Miami. For my graduate research I focused on the spawning environment of sailfish and marlin in the Straits of Florida. I then came up to Rhode Island in 2008, and for the last 10 years have been working as a Fisheries Biologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service.
What is the general purpose of the EcoMon Survey? The goal of the Ecosystem Monitoring (EcoMon) surveys is to collect oceanographic measurements and information on the distribution and abundance of lower trophic level species including zooplankton. The collections also include fish eggs and larvae which can be used to evaluate where and when fish are spawning. Over the years additional measurements and collections have been included on the EcoMon surveys to more fully utilize ship time. Seabirds and Marine Mammals are being identified and counted on our ship transits, phytoplankton is also being imaged during the cruise. Finally, the EcoMon cruises serve as a means to monitor ocean acidification off the northeast United States.
What do you enjoy most about your work? I really enjoy pursuing scientific studies in which I can integrate field work, lab work and analytical work. As I have progressed in my career the balance of the work I do has shifted much more towards computer driven analysis and writing. These days, I really enjoy time spent in the lab or the field.
What is most challenging about your job?I imagine the challenge I face is the similar to what many scientists face. There are many possible scientific studies we can do in our region that affect the scientific advise used to manage fisheries. The challenge is prioritizing and making time for those studies that are most important, while deprioritizing some personally interesting work that may be less critical.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?By the end of high school I was pretty certain that I wanted to pursue a career in science. Early in college I settled on the idea of pursuing marine science and ecology, but it was not until the end of college that I decided I wanted to focus my work on issues related to fish and fisheries.
What is your favorite marine animal? Sailfish, which I did much of my graduate work on, remains one of my favorite marine animals. I have worked on them at all life stages from capturing the early life stages smaller than an inch to tagging the adults. They are really fascinating and beautiful animals to see. However, now that I live in Rhode Island I have little opportunity to work on sailfish which tend to occupy more southern waters.
In terms of local animals, one of my favorites is sand lance which can be found very near to shore throughout New England. These small fish are a critical part of the food web, and also have a really unique behavior of burying in the sand when disturbed, or even for extended periods over the course of the year. In many respects sand lance have received far less scientific attention than they deserve in our region.
Meet CTD Specialist, Tamara Holzwarth-Davis!
CTD Specialist, Tamara Holzwarth-Davis
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? CTD Specialist which means I install, maintain, and operate the CTD. The CTD is an electronic oceanographic instrument. We have two versions of the CTD on board the ship. We have larger instrument with a lot more sensors on it. It has water bottles called Niskin water samplers, and they collect water samples that we use on the ship to run tests.
How long have you been working at sea? I worked for six months at sea when I was in college for NOAA Fisheries on the Georges Bank. That was 30 years ago.
What is your educational background? I have a Marine Science degree with a concentration in Biology.
What is your favorite part about your work? I definitely love going out to sea and being on the ship with my co-workers. I also get to meet a lot of new people with what I do.
What is most challenging about your work? My instruments are electronic, and we are always near the sea which can cause corrosion and malfunctions. When things go wrong you have to troubleshoot. Sometimes it is an easy fix and sometimes you have to call the Electronic Technician for support.
What is your favorite marine animal? My favorite animal is when we bring up the plankton nets and we catch sea angels or sea butterflies. They are tiny, swimming sea slugs that look gummy and glow fluorescent orange.
Meet Seabird and Marine Mammal Observer, Glen Davis!
Seabird and Marine Mammal Observer, Glen Davis
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am on the science team. I am an avian and marine mammal observer.
What is your educational/working background? I have a bachelor’s in science. I have spent much of my 20-year career doing field work with birds and marine mammals all around the world.
Do you have much experience working at sea? Yes. I have put in about 8,000 hours at sea. Going out to sea is a real adventure, but you are always on duty or on call. It’s exciting, but at the same time there are responsibilities. Spending time at sea is really special work.
What is most challenging about your work? Keeping your focus at times. You are committing yourself to a lifestyle as an animal observer. You have to provide as much data to the project as you can.
Where do you do most of your work on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter?I am going to be up on the bridge level where the crew who pilots the vessel resides or above that which is called the flying bridge. On Gordon Gunter that is 13.7 meters above sea level which is a good vantage point to see birds and marine mammals.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? My binoculars. It is always around my neck. It is an eight power magnification and it helps me identify the birds and sea life that I see from the flying bridge. I also have to record my information in the computer immediately after I see them, so the software knows the exact place and time I saw each animal.
What is your favorite bird? Albatrosses are my favorite birds. The largest albatross is called a Wandering/Snowy Albatross. The Snowy Albatross has the longest wingspan of any bird and its the longest lived bird. This bird mates for life and raises one chick every 3-5 years which they care for much like people care for their own babies.
Meet Seabird and Marine Mammal Observer, Nicholas Metheny!
Seabird and Marine Mammal Observer, Nicholas Metheny
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? Primary seabird/marine mammal observer.
What is your educational background?I have my bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Marine Biology from the University of New England in Maine.
What has been your best working experience? That’s a tough one because I have had so many different experiences where I have learned a lot over the years. I have been doing field work for the past 11 years. Each has taught me something that has led me to the next position. The job I cherish the most is the trip I took down to Antarctica on a research cruise for six weeks. That was an amazing experience and something I would advocate for people to see for themselves.
What do you enjoy most about being a bird/marine mammal observer? The excitement of never knowing what you are going to see next. Things can pop up anywhere. You get to ask the questions of, “how did this animal get here,” “why is this animal here,” and correlate that to different environmental conditions.
What is most challenging about your work? You are looking at birds from a distance and you are not always able to get a positive ID. Sometimes you’re just not seeing enough detail or it disappears out of view from your binoculars as it moves behind a wave or dives down into the water. For marine mammals all you see is the blow and that’s it. So, it is a little frustrating not being able to get an ID on everything, but you do the best you can.
What is your favorite bird? That’s like choosing your favorite child! I have a favorite order of bird. It’s the Procellariiformes which are the tube-nosed birds. This includes albatross, shearwater, storm petrels, and the fulmars.
Meet Survey Tech, LeAnn Conlon!
Survey Tech, LeAnn Conlon
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am a student volunteer. I help deploy the equipment and collect the samples.
Do you have much experience working at sea? This is my second 10-day trip. I did the second leg of the EcoMon Survey last year as well.
What is your educational background? I am currently a PhD candidate at the University of Maine where I am studying ocean currents and how water moves. I also have my master’s degree in Marine Science, and my undergraduate degree is in Physics.
When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in science? I have always wanted to study the oceans. I think I was at least in first grade when I was telling people I wanted to be a marine scientist.
What do you enjoy most about your work on board NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? My favorite thing is being at sea, working hard, and enjoying the ocean.
Where will you be doing most of your work? Most of the work is going to be working with the equipment deploying. I will be on the aft end of the ship.
What is your favorite marine animal? Humpback whale, but it is really hard to pick just one.
Meet Survey Tech, Emily Markowitz!
Survey Tech, Emily Markowitz
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? I am a volunteer. I did my undergraduate and graduate work in Marine Science at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York. My graduate work is in Fisheries Research.
Where will you be doing most of your work on the ship?I will be doing the night shift. That is from midnight to noon every day. I will be doing the nutrients test which helps the scientists figure out what is in the water that might attract different creatures.
Do you have much experience working at sea? Yes, actually. When I was 19, I spent two weeks on a similar trip off the coast of Oregon. We were looking for Humboldt Squid. I also worked on the university’s research vessel as a crew member on one of their ocean trawl surveys.
What are your hobbies? I love being outside. I enjoy hiking and being on the water sailing.
What is your favorite marine animal? The Humboldt Squid.
Meet Survey Tech, Maira Gomes!
Survey Tech, Maira Gomes
What is your position on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter? My position on Gordon Gunter is a volunteer. I got this opportunity from Suffolk County Community College (SCCC) where I have recently just graduated in January 2017 with my associates in Liberal Arts. Professor McNamara (Marianne McNamara) one of my professors at SCCC, forwarded me the email that was sent from Harvey Walsh looking for volunteers to work on Gordon Gunter for the Ecosystem Monitoring Survey. They had Leg 1 which was May 16th May -May 26th and Leg 2 May 29th-June 7th. I never had been out to sea! I got super excited and signed up for both legs!
Where do you do most of your work aboard the ship? On the ship I do mostly taking care of the Bongo Nets, CTD, and CTD Rosette. With the Bongo baby and large nets I help the crew to hook them up on a cable to set out to the ocean to retrieve the data from the CTD and all kinds of plankton that get caught in the nets. Once it comes back to the boat we hose the nets down and collect all the plankton and put them in jars filled with chemicals to preserve them so we can send them back to different labs. The Rosette is my favorite! We send out the Rosette with 12 Niskin bottles empty into the water. They come back up filled with water. We use this machine to collect data for nutrients, Chlorophyll, and certain types of Carbon. We run tests in the dry lab and preserve the samples to be shipped out to other labs for more tests.
What is your educational/working background? I just finished my associates in Liberal Arts at SCCC in January. In the Fall 2017 I will be attending University of New Haven as a junior working towards my bachelor degree in their Marine Affairs Program.
Have you had much experience at sea? Nope, zero experience out at sea! Which was one of the reasons why I was kind of nervous after I realized I signed up for both legs of the trip. I am glad I did. I am gaining so much experience on this trip!
What do you enjoy most about your work? It would be the experience I am gaining and the amazing views of the ocean!
What is most challenging about your job? The most challenging part of working on the ship would be the one-hour gap between some of the stations we encounter on our watch. It is not enough time to take a nap but enough time to get some reading in. It can be kind of hard to stay awake.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without? Tool I could not live without working on the ship would probably be the chart that has all our stations located.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career? Ha! This is a great question! So it all started, as I was a little girl. I always wanted to be a veterinarian and work with animals. Once I was in fifth grade my teacher inspired me to be a teacher like herself, a Special Education teacher. I felt strongly with wanting to pursue a career in that field. It was not until my second year in college when I had to take a Lab course to fulfill my requirements for the lab credits, that I took a Marine Biology Lab. Once I was influenced and aware of this side of the world more in depth, I had a change of heart. Not only that but my professor, Professor Lynch (Pamala Lynch) also influenced me on changing my major to Marine Biology. I knew from the start I always wanted to be involved with animals but never knew exactly how, but once I took her class I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my career. With that being said, my goal is to be able to work with sharks someday and help to protect them and teach everyone the real truth behind their way of life and prove you cannot always believe what you see on TV.
What are your hobbies? I really love to line dance! I line dance about at least three times a week! I absolutely love it! I have made so many friends and learned so many really cool dances! I have been doing it about two years and through the experience of getting out of my shell I gain a whole new family from the country scene back at home! I also, love catching UFC fights on TV with my friends!
What is your favorite marine animal? I have multiple favorite marine animals. My top two picks would be sharks and sea turtles!
The Work Continues (Thursday, June 1)
After lunch the fog began to dissipate, letting in rays of sunshine. I could see the horizon once again! You do not realize the benefits of visibility until it is gone. Yet, even with the ability to see all of my surroundings, my eyes were met with same object in every direction—water! Despite the fact that the ocean consists of wave swells, ripples, and beautiful hues of blue, I longed to see something new. Finally, I spotted something on the horizon. In the distance, I could faintly make out the silhouette of two fishing boats. I was relieved to set eyes on these vessels. It might not seem like anything special to most people but when you are more than 100 miles from land, it is a relief to know that you are not alone.
Work during my shift is a distraction from the isolation I sometimes feel out at sea. When it is time for a bongo or CTD station, my mind becomes preoccupied with the process. My brain blocks all worries during those 30 minutes. Nonetheless, as quickly as a station begins, it ends even faster. Then we are left waiting for the next station which sometimes is only 20 minutes and other times is more than two hours away. The waiting is not so bad. In between stations I am able to speak with crew members and the science team on a variety of issues: research, ship operations, and life back on land. Every person on board Gordon Gunter is an expert at what they do. They take their work very seriously, and do it exceptionally well. Still, we like a good laugh every now and then.
TGIF! (Friday, June 2)
Members of the Science Party stay busy collecting samples from the bongo nets.
At home, Friday means it is practically the weekend! The weekend is when I get to spend time with family, run errands, go shopping, or just hang around the house. For those who work at sea like NOAA Corps and NOAA scientists, the weekend is just like any other day. The crew works diligently day and night, during holidays, and yes, on the weekends. I can tell from first-hand experience that all personnel on NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter are dedicated and high-spirited people. Even when the weather is clear and sunny like it was today, they continue their duties work without wavering. NOAA crew are much like the waves of the sea. The waves in the Northeast Atlantic are relentless. They don’t quit—no matter the conditions. Waves are created by energy passing through water, causing it to move in a circular motion [Source —NOAA]. NOAA crew also have an energy passing through them. Whether it be the science, life at sea, adventure, love for their trade, or obligations back home, personnel aboard Gordon Gunter do not stop.
Today, we left Georges Bank and entered the Gulf of Maine where we will stay for the remainder of the cruise. The seabird and marine mammal observers had a productive day spotting a variety of wildlife. There have been sightings of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, Ocean Sunfish, and Right Whales to name a few. Even though I did not get photographs of all that was seen, I am optimistic about observing new and exciting marine wildlife in the days to come.
Cod (Gadus morhua)
Flounder (Paralichthys dentatus)
Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis)
American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliates)
Comb Jellies (Ctenophora)
Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)
Pilot Whale (Globicephala)
Plankton: the passively floating or weakly swimming usually minute animal and plant life of a body of water
Phytoplankton: planktonic plant life
Zooplankton: plankton composed of animals
Larval Fish: part of the zooplankton that eat smaller plankton. Larval fish are themselves eaten by larger animals
Crustacean: any of a large group of mostly water animals (as crabs, lobsters, and shrimps) with a body made of segments, a tough outer shell, two pairs of antennae, and limbs that are jointed
Biodiversity: biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals
Genetics: the scientific study of how genes control the characteristics of plants and animals
Did You Know?
Phytoplankton samples from the bongo nets.
Through photosynthesis, phytoplankton use sunlight, nutrients, carbon dioxide, and water to produce oxygen and nutrients for other organisms. With 71% of the Earth covered by the ocean, phytoplankton are responsible for producing up to 50% of the oxygen we breathe. These microscopic organisms also cycle most of the Earth’s carbon dioxide between the ocean and atmosphere. [Source — National Geographic].
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Bill Henske Aboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster June 14 – 29, 2015
Mission: Spawning Aggregation Survey
Geographical Area: Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas Date: Monday, June 22, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: East winds 10-15 kts. Seas 2-4 ft (1 ft inside reef) Isolated showers and thunderstorms)
Science and Technology Log
Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs)
We were talking on board today about the olden days, you know, when Jaques Cousteau and Marlin Perkins could reliably be found on a majority of American televisions. Remember Generation X?
Jeff from FWC at the controls of the ROV searching for signs of spawning aggregations.
Yes- we are in our 40s now. Kids my age had the spirit of scientific adventure to look forward to on Sunday nights. The same generation of kids grew up with monitors and joysticks, interacting with worlds that were somewhere beyond the “real world” on our Ataris and Commodore computers. Our 1980s parents might be incredulous to learn that we are now doing these same things to investigate critical habitat, monitor fish populations, and gather geographic data. I know many futurists predicted it would happen but the grownups I knew were skeptical, to say the least.
NF3 Dive Boat loaded for ROV Miss
The remotely operated vehicle has been a staple of marine research for many years now. Called an ROV for short, these devices are human operated machines that can do many of the same things humans divers can do but in much more difficult circumstances, for much longer periods of time, and at greater depths. ROVs are “employed” by resource managers, marine scientists, construction crews, engineering companies, and just about anyone else who has work to do under water.
Loading ROV gear into dive boat.
We have been using an ROV on our current mission on the Nancy Foster to collect fisheries data. With the ROV we can investigate different areas identified on hydrographic maps and from previous studies without labor intensive dive operations. The ROV does not need to stick to a dive schedule and as long as it has power and a willing operator, it can do its job. The ROV has several components that must all be brought onto our dive boat in order to operate.
The primary need of the ROV is electricity. Rather than running on combustion or cellular respiration, which both require oxygen, the ROV needs a steady supply of electrical current. Because many variables can affect the power demands of an ROV such as speed, depth, wind, and current, the FWC team has chosen to operate a small generator to power their ROV.
ROV being set up for deployment. Note the spool of tether cable and control panel.
The ROV has a specialized cable that carries the electricity from the boat to the motors. This cable, called a tether, also carries the signal from the controller to the motors to tell the ROV where to go. The video input the ROV gathers is relayed through this cable in order to allow the operator to see through the “eyes” of the ROV, and, of course, record what it sees.
Operating the ROV requires a good deal of coordination. The craft is controlled much like a slow, unresponsive airplane. It can move forward, reverse, side to side, up and down, and operate at a tilt. This dizzying array of motions are necessary to track and study the reef fish as they travel through the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Jeff from FWC records the coordinates before beginning ROV survey
Jeff Renchen of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is, among many other things, our ROV operator on this cruise. He is using the small ROV to collect data on spawning aggregations of several important fish species. Jeff explained that the ROV allows researchers to explore deeper than divers are able to easily go. ROV camera operations can follow aggregations of fish and provide insights into the behaviors and conditions of spawning fish, as well as structures and locations that are important for spawning behavior.
With the ROV in the water Jeff takes it for a swim away from the boat. Once the ROV’s line has 50 feet of slack, the tether is attached to a drop line. In strong currents, it is possible for smaller ROVs, like the one here, to get carried off. The drop line allows us to raise or lower the ROV in the water column faster, increasing our ability to focus in on fish of interest or specific depths.
ROV swimming away.
There are some things that seem special no matter how many times you have seem them before. I remember a long time student of Appalachian ecology saying that he could not remember what he had for lunch but he could describe every time he had seen a bear. There are some things in our world that have that the ability to mesmerize us, silencing the combating thoughts that often clutter our minds and setting a reset button somewhere in our brain stem.
One of those things that stands out for me, and kindly keep it to yourself if you disagree, is seeing dolphins interact. We came in from some drop camera operations on Wednesday evening and found this pod of dolphins playing in the wash of the Z-Drive motors of the Nancy Foster. There would more footage but if you are taking video rather than living in this moment, you are probably doing it wrong.
Watching dolphins play and interact appeals to so many of us. I think it reminds us of the pleasure of physicality and the joy that can be had as social creatures.
Then there is the thrill of hearing “There’s a shark” from the scientist monitoring the camera you have been steadily lowering below a 17 foot dive boat bobbing in the small but steady waves.
The enormities of life at sea give us an awe inspiring sense of scale. Every day at sea there is at least one endless horizon and yesterday they surrounded us on all sides. Just past sunset I caught this small cumulonimbus that had previously drizzled on our afternoon drop camera trip. I thought about the thermal energy required to make such a structure. I wondered at the amount of fresh water it carried. And then my brain quieted down and I just watched it.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Bill Lindquist Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier May 6-16, 2013
Mission: Hydrographic surveys between Ketchikan and Petersburg, Alaska Date: May 9, 2013
Weather on board. Taken at 1600 (4:00 in the afternoon)
Clear skies with a visibility of 10+ nautical miles
Light variable wind
Sea wave height – O
Air temperature 17.3° C
Water temperature 7.2° C
It’s hard to get enough of this majestic view.
Science and Technology Log: Mapping the Ocean
The work we do on board the Rainier is all centered on the task of gathering data of the ocean bottom – shoreline to shoreline. These data are used to update the nautical charts (maps) used by sailors. The project we have been working on is a section of Behm Canal in SE Alaska.
Nautical map of Behm Canal
Hydrographic data on parts of this stretch of water haven’t been updated for over 100 years. The tools and methods utilized have changed significantly during that time. Hydrographers of 1900 lowered a rope tied to a lead weight to the ocean bottom. Measurements were taken on the length of rope. The area we were surveying ranges from 150 to over 300 fathoms (one fathom = 6 feet) deep – that is a lot of rope. At each measure, they sighted a bearing to two or more locations on shore to locate where on the chart they could mark the depth. It’s surprising how closely their data matches what we found with the use of sophisticated modern techniques.
So how is it done? A good activity in the classroom is to make a sounding box with an ocean floor shaped on the bottom of the box. The top is covered and marked with a grid. Skewer sticks can be inserted at the grid corners, pulled out, measured, and transferred to another grid. A map is made. If only it were as easy. Simply put, modern hydrographers ping sound waves (sonar) from the bottom of the ship. The sound waves travel through the water to the ocean bottom and bounce back. We know how fast sound travels so measurements of time can be made and the distance calculated – just like the skewer sticks. If only it were as easy!
My learning curve has been high as I have tried to understand all the moving variables that need to be taken into account before an accurate map can be made.
Here’s what I am beginning to understand:
Starts with referencing benchmarks – both vertical and horizontal (see blog, May 7) to gain a standard of tidal variation (high and low tide can vary by as much as 20 feet) and GPS location.
A measurement is made from the ship’s deck to the water surface. The twin sonar beams are located on the bottom of the ship. We know how far it is from the bottom of the ship to the deck – subtracting the deck to the water line gives the distance below the surface the sonar equipment is found at the time of measurement.
The chart is marked off in rectangles. A line is marked for the ship to follow. Traveling at 10 knots, the multibeam equipment located on the bottom of the ship pings sound waves and measures how long they take to return from the bottom. A broad swath of ocean bottom can be measured at the same time. These data are transferred to a computer in the plotting lab where the computer archives it and generates visual images as they come in.
The speed of sound varies in different water conditions, including temperature and salinity. Making it more complicated, temperature and salinity varies by depth in the water column beneath the ship. To capture these variables, we cast out a Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP) behind the ship while we travel along. The MVP looks like a small torpedo and is affectionately referred to as the fish. Attached is a sensor that reads temperature, conductivity (a measure for salinity), and depth. These data are transferred along a cable bound within the attached line to a computer on board the ship. “Casting” the fish means letting the line out until the fish approaches the bottom of the ocean – or 500 meters of line – whichever comes first. At that point the fish is retrieved. The data acquired as the fish makes its journey is transferred to the Plotting Lab computer.
The sensor on the “fish” captures temperature, conductivity, and depth data on the water column beneath the ship.
As the ship moves along the ocean surface it is subjected to constant movement. It pitches up and down from front to back (pitch), rolls side to side (roll), and rises up and down with the ocean swells (heave). As the survey data is collected, heave, roll, and pitch data is captured to allow for adjustments in the sonar data. All of this varies further with the tide level. All these data are captured and fed into the Plotting Lab computer.
Data from the ship’s multibeam sonar comes to the Plotting Lab
The ship travels its projected line, turns around and comes back on another.
Small boats with similar beams are dispatched to capture the same measurements closer to the shoreline where it is too shallow for the ship (for tomorrow).
This continues until the full ocean bottom in our project area is captured.
Finally all these data sets are brought together and stored.
During the off season, the data sets are utilized to generate the finished nautical charts ending a long, sophisticated process.
Personal Log: Life on the sea
I have to admit the living spaces on board a working ship are a bit tight. My “state room” measures approximately 10’ x 12’ and is shared with a roommate. In that space are our bunk beds, a sink, desk, and locker closets. I can’t sit up in bed without hitting my head on the bunk above. Shared between two rooms is a bathroom that is only 4’ x 8’ with a head (mariner’s term for a toilet) and shower. All this space rests on a floor that drops with the curve of the ship approximately 10” from one end to the other. The hallways in the ship are narrow and the stairways steep. Everything is bolted or tied to the floor or table to keep them from being tossed about in choppy waters.
While tight, I have yet to hear anyone wish for more. Perhaps the salt that runs in their mariner blood provides the sustenance they need to thrive in these close quarters at sea.
While my shipmates will call the Rainier home for the duration of the research season, I will be on board for only two weeks before I return to the comforts of my own home and spacious bed. I have to respect these hardy folk for who they are and all they do.
A cozy state room at sea
A cozy state room at sea – looking toward the door.