Stephen Kade: What is Long Line Fishing? August 19, 2018

Longline Fishing infographic

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Stephen Kade

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 23 – August 10, 2018

 

Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1

Geographic Area: 30 35’ 34’’ N, 80 56’ 48’’ W, 20 miles off the coast of Jessup, Georgia

Date: August 2, 2018

Weather Data from Bridge: Wind speed 14 knots, Air Temp: 27c, Visibility 10 nautical miles, Wave height 2 ft.

Science and Technology Log

Longline fishing is a technique that consists of one main fishing line with many baited hooks that come of that line on shorter lines, (like branches off a tree) attached at various distances. Long lines are used in both coastal areas and the open ocean and are often placed to target specific species. If the long line is suspended in the top or mid depth water, it is called pelagic longline fishing. If it is on or near the ocean floor by weighting it down to the sea floor, it is called bottom longline fishing. A high-flyer buoy is placed at either end to mark the position of the line in the water so boats can see it while submerged, and so it can be found when it needs to be retrieved. Weights are placed on each end and the middle of the line to hold the line down to a specified depth.

Longline_KadeTAS2018
Computer created infographic of long line fishing process by NOAA TAS 2018 Stephen Kade

On board NOAA Ship Oregon II, the mission is a red snapper/shark longline fishing survey in the Gulf of Mexico and the Western North Atlantic coast. I was on the first of four legs of the survey that left Pascagoula, Mississippi, rounded the bottom of Florida and stopped for 44 stations between West Palm Beach FL, up to Cape Hatteras, NC, and back down to Port Canaveral, FL. NOAA’s mission is to research current shark and snapper populations in specific areas as determined by NOAA shark scientists and related state Fishery Departments.

The Oregon II has a large spool of 3mm monofilament fishing line on deck. For our survey, we used a line that was one mile long, and had 100 baited hooks approximately 50 feet apart. The hooks are attached to the line by gangions. Gangions are 12 foot long monofilament lines with a hook on one end and a manual fastener at the other end that can be taken on and off each time the line is deployed. All 100 hooks on the gangions are baited with Atlantic mackerel.

numbering gangions
The team attaches the gangion numbers and hands over for deployment

To deploy the line into the water, it takes a team of 6 people. The first person strings the line from the spool and through various pulleys along the length of the ship moving toward the back of the boat before tying it to the high flyer buoy and returning to the spool control to deploy the mile long line into the water. A team of two works to attach a specific number tag onto each gangion, and then to retrieve the 12 foot long gangion from a barrel. The numbered, baited, gangions are handed one by one to the next team member who attaches the gangion of the main long line every 60 feet as the line descends into the water. This crewman also places three weights on the line to hold it onto the ocean floor, one at each end, and one in the middle. When all hooks are deployed, the line is cut from the spool and the high-flyer buoy is attached to mark the end of the line in the water.

deploying high-flyer
Deploying the high-flyer buoy after all 100 gangions and weights are attached.

The last member of the science team is at a computer station on deck and they are in charge of inputting data into the computer. Each time a buoy, weight, or gangion goes into the water, a specific button is pushed to mark the items place in the water. This is done so when a shark comes up on a numbered hook, NOAA scientists know exactly the latitude, longitude and depth of where that specific shark was caught. Scientists upload this important data immediately to NOAA servers for later use so they can assess average populations in specific areas, among many other data points.

Input
Each time a gangion, weight, or high-flyer buoy is deployed, its location is input in the computer.

The bait stays down on the ocean floor for about an hour before the boat returns to retrieve it. The retrieval process is similar to deploying the line except that it takes longer to bring it in, as there are now some fish and sharks attached to the hooks. If the hooks are empty, the number is taken off the line, and the gangion is placed back in the barrel until the next station. If there is a shark or fish on the line, it is pulled onto the deck and data is collected before the shark is safely placed back into the water. The first step is unhooking the fish, before it is measured. The shark is measured from the tip of the nose to various parts of the body to determine the size in those areas. The gender of the shark is also determined, as well as the maturity. Finally, the shark is weighed on a scale and most are tagged before being photographed and released. The process only takes about two minutes to safely ensure the shark survives. The data is recorded on a data log, and after the retrieval, the data is input into a database.

Removing Gangions
Gangions are taken off the long line, de-baited, de-numbered and put back in barrel.

 

Personal Log

Before coming on the Oregon II, I knew only about the fishing process on a larger scale from what I’d read about, or seen on television. I was slightly intimidated that without experience, I’d likely be slowing down the experienced team of professionals from their difficult job. As we headed out to sea, I found out it would take a few days before we reached our first station and that gave me time to get to know the crew, which was very valuable. There are two crews, each work 12 hours a day, so fishing was happening around the clock. I was able to listen to their advice and explanation of the techniques used in the long line process, and also some fantastic stories about their lives and families. Their patience with me and the other volunteers during those first few stations gave us time to get up to their speed, and from then out it was like clockwork. It was certainly hard to work outside all day, but the passion, skill, and humor of the crew made it quite fun work each day and night. It was impressive and amazing to see how this efficient process is used to help NOAA scientists and fishermen collect data from vast areas of the ocean for two weeks. I am proud to say I helped a great team to get information that can help us understand how to help populations of sharks and fish for long into the future.

Stephen removes shark
TAS 2018 Stephen Kade taking shark off gangion, ready to measure, weigh, and put back in ocean

Stephen Kade: The Shark Cradle and Data Collection, August 8, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Stephen Kade

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 23 – August 10, 2018

 

Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1

Geographic Area: 31 41 010 N, 80 06 062 W, 30 nautical miles NE of Savannah, North Carolina

Date: August 8, 2018

 

Weather Data from Bridge:

Wind speed 11 knots,
Air Temp: 30c,
Visibility 10 nautical miles,
Wave height 3 ft.

Science and Technology Log

Normally you wouldn’t hear the words shark and cradle in the same sentence, but in our case, the cradle is one of the most important pieces of equipment we use each day. Our mission on the Oregon II is to survey sharks to provide data for further study by NOAA scientists. We use the long line fishing method where 100 hooks are put out on a mile long line for about an hour, and then slowly hauled up by a large mechanical reel. If a shark is generally three feet and weighs 30lbs or less, it is handled by hand to carefully unhook, measure and throw back. If the shark is much larger and cannot be managed safely by hand, it is then held on the line by the ships rail until it can be lifted on deck by the cradle to be quickly measured, tagged, and put back into the ocean.

The shark cradle
The shark cradle

The shark cradle is 10 ft. long, with a bed width of roughly 4 feet. It is made from thick aluminum tubing and strong synthetic netting to provide the bed for the shark to lie on. It is lifted from the ship’s deck by a large crane and lowered over the ships rail into the ocean. The shark is still on the line and is guided by a skilled fisherman into the cradle. The crane operator slowly lifts the cradle out of the water, up to the rail, so work can begin.

A team of 3 highly skilled fishermen quickly begin to safely secure the shark to protect it, and the team of scientists collecting data. They secure the shark at 3 points, the head, body and tail. Then the scientists come in to take 3 measurements of the shark. The precaudal measurement is from the tip of nose to the start of the tail. The fork measurement is from the tip of the nose to the fork of the tail (the place where the top and bottom of the tail meet). Finally there is a total length taken from the tip of the nose to the furthest tip of the tail.

When all measurements are complete, a tag is then placed at the base of the first dorsal (top) fin. First a small incision is made, and then the tagger pushes the tag just below the skin. The tag contains a tracking number and total length to be taken by the person who finds the shark next, and a phone number to call NOAA, so the data can recorded and compared to the previous time data is recorded. The yellow swivel tags, used for smaller sharks, are identical to ones used in sheep ears in the farming industry, and are placed on the front of the dorsal fin. The measurements and tag number are collected on the data sheet for each station. The data is input to a computer and uploaded to the NOAA shark database so populations and numbers can be assessed at any time by NOAA and state Departments of Natural Resources.

removing hook
A skilled fisherman removes the hook so the shark can be released.
longline
The longline is mile long and carries up to 100 hooks.

The shark is then unhooked safely by a skilled fisherman while the other two are keeping the shark still to protect both the shark and the fishermen from injury. The cradle is then slowly lowered by crane back into the ocean where the shark can easily glide back into its environment unharmed. The cradle is then raised back on deck by the crane operator, and guided by the two fishermen. All crew on deck must wear hardhats during this operation as safety for all is one of NOAA’s top priorities. This process is usually completed within 2 minutes, or the time it took you to read this post. It can happen many times during a station, as there are 100 hooks on the one mile line.

 

 

Personal Log

It is amazing for me to see and participate in the long line fishing process. I find it similar to watching medical television shows like “ER” where you see a highly skilled team of individually talented members working together quickly and efficiently to perform an operation. It can be highly stressful if the shark is not cooperating, or the conditions aren’t ideal, but each member always keeps their cool under this intense work. It’s also amazing to see the wealth of knowledge each person has so when an issue arises, someone always knows the answer to the problem, or the right tool to use to fix the situation, as they’ve done it before.

Animals Seen Today: Sandbar shark, Tiger shark, Sharpnose Shark, Sea Robin, Toadfish, Flying Fish

Stephen Kade: Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth, August 5, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Stephen Kade

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 23 – August 10, 2018

 

Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1

Geographic Area: 30 54 760 N, 76 32 86.0 W, 40 nautical miles E of Cape Lookout, North Carolina

Date: August 5, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Wind speed 11 knots,
Air Temp: 30.c,
Visibility 10 nautical miles,
Wave height 1 foot

Science and Technology Log

While our main mission aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II is to survey and study sharks and red snapper, it is also very important to understand the environmental conditions and physical properties of the sea water in which these animals live. The CTD instrument is used to help understand many different properties within the water itself. The acronym CTD stands for Conductivity (salinity), Temperature, and Depth. Sensors also measure dissolved oxygen content and fluorescence (presence of cholorphyll).

CTD
The CTD instrument itself is housed in a steel container and is surrounded by a ring of of steel tubing to protect it.

Conductivity is a measure of how well a solution conducts electricity and it is directly related to salinity, or the salt that is within ocean water. When salinity measurements are combined with temperature readings, seawater density can be determined. This is crucial information since seawater density is a driving force for major ocean currents. The physical properties and the depth of the water is recorded continuously both on the way down to the ocean floor, and on the way back up to the surface.  There is a light, and a video camera attached to the CTD to provide a look at the bottom type, as that is where the long line is deployed, and gives us a good look at the environment where our catch is made. These data can explain why certain animals gather in areas with certain bottom types or physical parameters. This can be particularly important in areas such as the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. This is an area of low oxygen water caused by algal blooms related to runoff of chemical fertilizers from the Mississippi River drainage.

The CTD instrument itself is housed in a steel container and is surrounded by a ring of of steel tubing to protect it while deployed and from bumping against the ship or sea floor. Attached water sampling bottles can be individually triggered at various depths to collect water samples allowing scientists to analyze water at specific depths at a particular place and time. The entire structure is slowly lowered by a hydraulic winch, and is capable of making vertical profiles to depths over 500 meters. An interior computer display in the ship’s Dry Science Lab profiles the current location of the CTD and shows when the winch should stop. We have found this to be a tricky job, during large wave swells, as the boat rocks quite a bit and changes the depth by a meter or more. The operator must be very careful that the CTD doesn’t hit the ocean floor too hard which can damage the equipment.

Dry Lab
An interior computer display in the ship’s Dry Science Lab profiles the current location of the CTD and shows when the winch should stop.

The data collected while deployed at each station is instantly uploaded to NOAA servers for immediate use by researchers and scientists. The current data is also available the general public as well, on the NOAA website. Once safely back aboard the Oregon II, the CTD video camera is taken off and uploaded to the computer, The CTD must be washed off and the lines flushed for one minute with fresh water, as the salt water from the ocean can damage and corrode the very sensitive equipment inside. The instrument is also calibrated regularly to ensure it is working correctly throughout all legs of the long line survey.

Personal Log

TAS Stephen Kade
TAS Stephen Kade

I am having such a great time during my Teacher at Sea experience. In the 9 days aboard ship so far, we have traveled the entire coasts of Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Never in my life did I think I would get an opportunity to do something like this as I’ve dreamed about it for decades, and now my dreams have come true. I’m learning so much about fishing procedures, the biology of sharks, navigational charting, and the science of collecting data for further study while back on land at the lab. I can’t wait to get home and spread the word about NOAA’s mission and how they are helping make the world a better place, and are advocating for the conservation of these beautiful animals!

 

Animals Seen: Sharpnose shark, Tiger Shark, Grouper, Red Drum fish, Moray Eel, Blue Line Tile fish

Kate Schafer: The Importance of Science, October 4, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: October 4, 2017

 

Weather Data from the San Francisco Bay area:

Latitude: 37o 38.4’ N
Longitude: 122o 08.5’ W

Visibility 16 km

Winds 5-10 mph

San Francisco Bay Water Temperature 16 oCelsius

Air Temperature 17 o Celsius

 

Science and Technology Log:

Well, I’m back on dry land, with lots of great memories of sharks, big and small, and all the interesting people who I spent two weeks with on the Oregon II.  And let’s not forget the red snappers either.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The largest shark we caught: 10 foot tiger shark

 

CubanDogfish
Cuban dogfish: The smallest species we caught

On our last day, we fished at a couple of sites right off the coast of Alabama and caught lots of sharks, plus a new species of grouper for the trip.  The scamp grouper (Mycteroperca phenax) is apparently not frequently found on the longlines along the coast of Texas but becomes more common along the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama and up the Eastern Atlantic coast as well.

ScampTail
Tail of a Scamp Grouper

The groupers are mostly protogynous, meaning that when they become sexually mature, they are always females.  Only later in life, when they have grown bigger (and have the right environmental influences), do they transition to males.  This species can live for more than 30 years, but that’s actually relatively short for a lot of the grouper species, some of which can live to 60 years or more. Scamp grouper come together in groups to reproduce, so this makes them vulnerable to overfishing.  The management councils take this into consideration when making a management plan and will close off areas known to be spawning grounds during the reproductive season.  These are also great areas to target as Marine Protected Areas.

ScampHead
Scamp Grouper being measured

All of this knowledge about the scamp grouper (and other species we encountered on this survey) was gained through careful scientific research.  As mentioned before, the long line survey was started in 1995 and has been conducted using the same methods every year since then.  These data are used by fisheries managers to set catch limits and detect changes that might indicate problems for the species living in these areas.  In other words, the science forms the basis for decision making and planning.

This is true for the various surveys that NOAA conducts in the Gulf each year.  The Groundfish Survey, for example, provides vital information about the extent of the Dead Zone off the coast of Louisiana, by measuring dissolved oxygen levels on the sea floor as part of the survey.  This data tells us that we need to continue to work on controlling nutrient inputs into the Mississippi River from agriculture lands and cities that span much of the eastern United States.  Scientific research also tells us that we need to be planning for and mitigating the effects of the looming problem of climate change.

Climate change will certainly bring about significant change to the Gulf.  As ocean temperatures rise, water becomes less dense and therefore takes up more space.  Along with continued melting of land-supported ice in the polar regions, this is contributing to a cumulative increase in sea level of 3.2 mm per year (https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sealevel.html).  In the Gulf, this increase will particularly impact estuarine ecosystems that are rich nurseries for many fish species and are extremely productive habitats.

One of the predictions of many climate models is that increased global temperatures are likely to bring about more frequent and more intense hurricanes.  This 2017 hurricane season is a stark reminder of the devastating impacts that hurricanes can have, even when we have the scientific tools to predict approximately where and when the storm will make landfall.

Finally, the increase in global temperatures will make the regions surrounding the Gulf less pleasant places for people to live.  The summers are already very hot and humid, and a degree or two hotter will make a lot of difference in the livability of the region.

We know all of this through careful scientific research, and there is a consensus amongst scientists that this is happening.  To prepare for the effects of climate change and to know how to best minimize those effects, we must continue to collect data and do science.  After all, what is the point of scientific research if we don’t use the results to make better choices and to address the problems that are facing us?

IMG_4151
At the end of my time on the Oregon II

Personal Log:  I am so grateful for the opportunity to go on this research survey and for the Teacher at Sea program as a whole.  I strongly encourage any teacher thinking of applying to the program to do so.  Thanks to NOAA and everyone at the TAS office for all your help and support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kate Schafer: A Day in the Life… September 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 29, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 29o 11.3′ N
Longitude: 88o 18.3′ W

Few clouds

Visibility 10 nautical miles

Wind speed 8 knots

Sea wave height 1 foot

Temperature Seawater 29.4 o Celsius

Science and Technology Log:

So, as my time on the Oregon II is winding down, I thought I’d share a bit about what it is like to do science on a boat.  First of all, there is a tremendous amount of planning that must go into a successful survey in the weeks and months beforehand.  In addition to all the logistics of going to sea for two weeks, there is the challenge of putting together a crew of scientists that can be away from their day to day jobs and lives, and agree to work 12 hour days, for weeks on end.  Lisa Jones is the Field Party Chief for this survey and must figure out those logistics plus organize the science part as well.  This survey has been going since 1995, and one of the keys to longitudinal data sets is that they keep standard methods throughout, or else the data aren’t comparable.

This can be challenging in all sorts of unforeseen ways.  For example, a few years ago, it became difficult to find the mackerel used as bait on the longlines.  During an experimental survey in the spring, they tried out squid as an alternative and caught a totally different composition of species.  Fortunately, the mackerel became more available again, and the problem is no longer an issue, for now.

MackerelBaitedHooks
Hooks baited with mackerel

Lisa is also the one responsible for working with the captain and his crew to determine sampling locations and a plan for getting to those locations.  There’s a plan at the beginning, but, of course, that changes frequently, due to weather, the locations of other ships and a myriad of other unforeseen circumstances.  The goal is to reach 200 sites per year, with 50% between 5-30 fathoms (1 fathom=6 feet), 40% between 30-100 fathoms, and 10% between 100-200 fathoms.  These percentages reflect the depths of the continental shelf area throughout the sampling region. Below is a sampling map for the 2015 longline survey.

SamplingStations
Sampling stations for 2015 Longline survey from 2015 Cruise report

During a longline set, the line is deployed for one hour before retrieval, with 100 baited hooks.  As the line comes in, each fish is given three to four measurements (depending on the species) and is weighed.  Many of the sharks are tagged, as this provides the possibility of someone finding the tagged shark in the future.  With a tag retrieval, we can learn about how far the organism has traveled and how much and how quickly it has grown.

Shark Cradling team_Shark LL SEP2017
Measuring and tagging shark in the cradle

As I mentioned in my post about the red snappers, the snappers, groupers and tilefish are dissected for their otoliths and gonads.  They can’t be successfully released in most circumstances anyway, due to barotrauma from pulling them quickly to the surface from depth.

YellowEdgeGrouper
A Yellowedge Grouper weighing nearly 20 kg

Sharks are less affected by barotrauma because they don’t have swim bladders to maintain their buoyancy like the bony fishes we’ve been catching.

PullingInShark
Caught on the longline

Here are a couple examples of our data sheets.  As you can see, some sets have more fish than others (in fact the full one, was only one of three pages).  Once all the data are collected, they have to be entered in the computer for later summary and analysis.  Some days it can be a big challenge to get all the data entered before it’s time to start all over again.  Other days, like today, include lots of travel time.

DataSheetEmpty
Only a tilefish on this set…

 

DataSheetFull
Many more on this one…in fact this is only one of three pages

 

Personal Log:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Tiger shark filling the 10 foot cradle

For me, it has been truly wonderful to get to work as a scientist again, if just for a couple of weeks, especially with such an amazing group of scientists.  I’ve learned so much from my fellow day crew members (Lisa, Christian, Nick and Jason).  They have patiently answered all my questions, even when it was keeping them from getting to dinner.  Lisa Jones has gone above and beyond in her support of me, even though she has had many other responsibilities on her plate.  I also appreciate being made to feel welcome lurking around the night crew’s catches.  Thanks especially to Christophe, Vaden, and Eric for allowing me to hang out in the measuring pit.  I love my job as a teacher, but part of me definitely misses working as a field biologist.  I am grateful for the opportunity and especially thankful for my wonderful family.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support and love.

 

Kate Schafer: So Many Snappers… September 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 24, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 28o 25.1’ N
Longitude: 94o 50.3’ W

Broken sky

Visibility 10 nautical miles

Wind speed 13 knots

Sea wave height 2-3 feet

Temperature Seawater 28.8 o Celsius

Science and Technology Log:

This is a shark and red snapper longline survey, and the sharks tend to steal the stage.  They are bigger (for the most part), more diverse and definitely have more of a reputation.  I have been surprised, however, by how much I’ve been drawn to the snappers.  They are a beautiful color, and tend to come up in groups that are pretty similar in size.

RedSnapper
Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) ready to be measured

The Northern Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) is commonly fished in the Gulf of Mexico, both recreationally and commercially.  It turns out that the commercial fishers get 51% of the catch quota and the recreational fishers get 49%.  The methods for dividing up those two basically equal pieces of the pie is different between the commercial and recreational fishers. In addition, the commercial fishing catch is monitored very closely, while the recreational fishing catch numbers are largely unknown.  Plus, the states have their own waters that extend out to different distances, depending on the state, and the federal waters extend from the state water boundary to 200 nautical miles offshore.  So, in other words, managing the fishery is quite complicated.

So, how do all these fishing rules and regulations get established and modified over time?  A law was passed in 1976, called the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and one of the key parts of the act established eight regional management councils for regulating fishing in federal waters (more information on the act here: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/laws_policies/msa/).  It also established the 200 nautical mile extension of federal waters from land.  The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (GMFMC) is responsible for creating Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs) for fisheries within the U.S. federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, from southern Texas, along Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and down the west coast of Florida.  This graphic shows the catch limits for red snapper and other species for 2017 set by the GMFMC.  For red snapper, the catch limit is close to 14 million pounds.

2017ACLBLOGGraphic_07-17-1024x663
Annual Catch Limits as set by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (http://gulfcouncil.org/fishing-regulations/federal/)

The data that we are collecting helps scientists and policy makers to determine what the annual catch limit for a particular season should be.  For each fish that we bring on board, we measure the fish length and weight, as well as the weight of the gonads.  In addition, we collect their otoliths (ear bones) and samples of the ovaries of females.  These both help managers to estimate the age and size of the population, and future populations as well.

Otoliths are calcium carbonate hardened structures and are present in the part of the inner ear that is responsible for balance.  Humans and other vertebrates have them too, and they can be used to tell the age of the fish.  The otoliths of Lutjanus campechanus are quite large.  There seems to be an overall relationship between the habitat of the fish species and the size of the otolith.  Species like Lutjanus campechanus that live along reefs and rocky structures have much larger otoliths than species like tuna that swim up in the water column.  Flying fish, which we’ve seen a lot of, also have large otoliths, given their body size, probably aiding them in knowing where they are as they glide through the air.

Otoliths
Otoliths taken from one of the red snappers we collected

Well, we have been collecting a lot of data over the past couple of days to help inform these policies in the future!  Each line we’ve pulled in lately has had a dozen or more snappers on it,  and they are a lot of extra work as compared with the sharks, due to all the samples we have to collect once we’re done.  A couple times, we’ve barely finished before it was time to start baiting lines again.

Personal Log:

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve really come to love the red snappers.  Their eyes are the same color as their skin and I’m just awed by their size.  I am used to snappers that I’ve watched on coral reefs, and even the largest species I’ve seen on reefs are nothing compared with these guys.

SnapperEye
Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) eyes

I’ve also adjusted to the shift in my day, as evidenced by the fact that I’m finishing this up at 1 a.m.  It has been a long time since I’ve been on this kind of late night schedule.  I’m enjoying it, especially because I know when I return to California, I’ll be getting up at 5:30 a.m. again.

 

Did You Know?

That snappers eat a wide variety of different foods, including fish and various types of crustaceans? Here are a couple of items we’ve found in the ones we’ve caught.  Can anyone identify them?  I studied the second group for my Ph.D. dissertation!

MoleCrab
Mystery snapper food
Stomatopod
More snapper food

 

 

 

 

 

And We’re Fishing…

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 21, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 27o 15.5’ N

Longitude: 97o 01.3’ W

Haze

Visibility 6 nautical miles

Wind SE 15 knots

Sea wave height 3-4 feet

Sea Temperature: 29.6o Celsius

Note: Just a month ago Hurricane Harvey was bringing 20 foot seas to this area, but today we’re enjoying the 3-4 foot swell.

Science and Technology Log:

Well, we’ve gotten to the fishing grounds, and we’ve gone from waiting to very busy!  We put out the first lines starting at around 8 pm on Tuesday evening.  The process involves first baiting 100 hooks with Atlantic mackerel.  When it’s time for the line to be deployed, first there is a tall buoy with a light and radar beacon (called a high flyer) on it that gets set into the water, attached to the monofilament fishing line.  Then there’s a weight, so the line sinks to the bottom, a series of 50 baited hooks then get clipped onto the line as the monofilament is being fed out.

Those 50 hooks are referred to as a “skate”.  This confused me last night when I was logging our progress on the computer.  I kept thinking that there was going to be some kind of flat, triangular shaped object clipped on to help the line move through the water…not really sure what I was imagining.  Anyway, Lisa Jones, the field party chief and fisheries biologist extraordinaire, has so kindly humored all my questions and explained that skate is just a term for some set unit of baited hooks.  In this case, the unit is 50, and we’ll be deploying two skates each time.

After the first skate comes another weight, the second skate, another weight and then the last high flyer.  Then the line is set loose and we wait.  It’s easy to locate the line again, even at night, because of the radar beacons on the high flyers.

Why are we collecting this data?

As mentioned in my previous post, one of the tasks of NOAA, especially the National Marine Fisheries Service Line Office, is to collect data that will help with effective fisheries management and assist with setting things like catch quotas and so forth.  A catch quota refers to the amount of a particular species that can be harvested in a particular year.  Fisheries management is incredibly complicated, but the basic idea is that you don’t want to use up the resource faster than it is replenishing itself.  In order to know if you are succeeding in this regard, you must go out and take a look at how things are going.  Therefore, the Oregon II goes out each year in the fall and samples roughly 200 sites over about eight weeks.  The precise locations of the sampling sites change each year but are spread out along the SE Atlantic Coast and throughout the U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

We’ve put out three long lines so far.  Last night, we caught a single fish, but it was a really cool one.  It’s called the Golden Tilefish but has an even better species name: Lopholatilus chamealeonticeps.  As Lisa was explaining that they dig burrows in the sea floor, I realized that I had seen their cousins while snorkeling around coral reefs but would never have made the connection that they were related. This guy was big!

 

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Golden tilefish (Lopholatilus chamealeonticeps) caught in first longline of the trip

This afternoon, things got really hectic.  Of our 100 hooks, 67 had a fish on it, and 60 of those were sharks.  As we were pulling in the last bit of line, we pull on a shark that was missing its back half!  Another had a bite taken out of it.  And then on hook number 100, was a bull shark.  This shark had been snacking along the line and got caught in the process.

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Bull shark caught on the last hook of a very productive bout of fishing (Photo courtesy of Lisa Jones, NOAA)

And I haven’t even mentioned the red snappers.  I will save them for another post, but they are absolutely beautiful creatures.

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Red snapper being measured

 

Personal Log:

I definitely continue to feel out of my element at times, especially as we were pulling in all these hooks with sharks on them, and I could barely keep up with my little job of tracking when a fish came on the boat.  All the sharks started running together in my mind, and it was definitely a bit stressful.  Overall, I feel like I’ve adjusted to the cadence of the boat rocking and have been sleeping a lot more soundly.  I continue to marvel at how amazing it is that we’re relatively close to shore but, except for a few songbirds desperate for a rest, there is no evidence of land that my untrained eyes can detect.  Lastly, I’ve realized that a 12-hour sampling shift is long.  I have a lot of respect for the scientists and crew that do this for months on end each year with just a few days break every now and then. Well, it time to pull in another line.  Next time, we’ll talk snapper.

 

Kate Schafer: Setting off for Brownsville, TX, September 18, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 18, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 27o 02.5’ N
Longitude: 94o 32.6’ W

Scattered clouds

Visibility 14 nautical miles

Wind speed 10 knots

Sea wave height 1 foot

Temperature Seawater 29.9 o Celsius

 

Personal log

Sunday afternoon, September 17

I arrived in Pascagoula, Mississippi in the late afternoon on Saturday after a long day of travel.  Things were so quiet on the ship that evening as most of the crew had gone home during the break between legs of the survey.  It was great to be met and shown around by a friendly face, the Officer on Duty (OOD) David Reymore.  I definitely was feeling a bit like a fish out of water, even though we hadn’t even left the dock yet. As people start to arrive back on the ship, they all know their role and are busy getting ready for our departure later on today. It’s a good experience to feel like you’re out of your element every now and again and I guess a small part of why I decided to apply for a Teacher at Sea position in the first place.

NOAA

As I was preparing to depart on this adventure and was explaining that I was going to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I had a number of people ask me what NOAA stood for, so I thought I’d provide a bit of information about what they are and what they do.  First, NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the name definitely suggests the broad mission that the agency has.  Their mission involves striving to understand the oceans, atmosphere, climate, coastlines and weather and making predictions about how the interactions between these different entities might change over time.

That is a tall order, and the agency is divided up into different offices that focus on different aspects of their mission.  The National Weather Service, for example, is focused on forecasting the weather and makes predictions about things like where hurricanes will travel and how intense they will be when they get there.  The National Marine Fisheries Service is tasked with studying the ocean resources and habitats in U.S. waters and to use that understanding to create sustainable fisheries.

So far, I’ve met many people that I’ll be sharing the boat with over the next two weeks.  They have all taken time to introduce themselves and talk for a bit, even though I know that they’ve got tons to do before we sail.

Sunday evening

Well, we’re underway towards our first sampling sites off the coast of Brownsville, Texas.  The seas are really calm, and I’m sitting up on the deck enjoying the light breeze and digesting the delicious dinner of jambalaya, vegetables and blackberry cobbler.  On our way out from Pascagoula, we saw a few dolphins, beautiful white sand barrier islands and mile after mile of moon jellies, but now we’re no longer in sight of land.

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Barrier island off the coast of Mississippi

We’ve passed an occasional oil rig off in the distance but haven’t seen much else.  The sun just set behind just enough clouds to make the colors spectacular and then as I was climbing down the stairs, I saw a handful of dolphins playing in the boat’s wake.

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Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

Monday, September 18

Today will be a full day of travel to reach our fishing grounds.  Assuming we continue to make steady progress, we should arrive in the late afternoon or early evening on Tuesday to begin fishing.  We will be baiting 100 hooks that, once deployed, will remain in the water for an hour before we pull them back in.  We’ll be fishing in a variety of depths while working our way back towards Pascagoula.  We practiced some drills this afternoon, including a “man overboard” simulation, using a couple of orange buoys.  They deployed a rescue boat and had retrieved the buoys in a matter of minutes.  I have to admit that watching them get out there with such speed and skill put me at ease.

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Rescue boat deployed during the “man overboard” drill

 

 

Kate Schafer: Off to the Gulf, September 16, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 16, 2017

Introduction

Welcome to my Teacher at Sea blog!  My name is Kate Schafer, and I am a teacher at the Upper School at the Harker School in San Jose, California, right in the middle of Silicon Valley.  I teach biology, marine biology and food science to mostly juniors and seniors.  This may seem like an odd mix of courses, but I am so fortunate to be able to teach students about all my favorite topics.  I have heard that the food is delicious on the Oregon II, and I’m interested in learning more about the challenges of keeping a crew fed when you can’t pop down to the corner grocery store when you realize that you forgot to order that crucial ingredient.  I have spent many hours on the ocean, and spent six years studying coral reefs in Belize, Central America, but I’ve never been to sea on a research vessel.  I’m thrilled to have that opportunity and to share it with my students.

My husband, daughter and I ready to tour the Atlantis in Woods Hole, MA this summer

Weather Data

The weather has been a big topic of conversation of late here in San Jose.  Two weekends ago set all-time record high temperatures throughout the Bay Area, even along the coast.  Living in close proximity to the ocean, we expect relief from that rare hot day to come rather quickly, but the heat lingered for days.  We’re back to normal fall weather as I head off, though.  This morning is cool and seasonable.  I know from growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, that I’m heading to warm and humid conditions on the other end of my travels.

Science and Technology Log

On this research cruise, we will be conducting long line surveys, looking at shark and red snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico.  I will report more on where we are going and what we’re studying once the leg of the survey begins. There are multiple legs to the survey, and I’ll be joining in for the fourth and final leg.  It has been a tumultuous time in the Gulf over the past few weeks, and it will be interesting to learn about how this has impacted the coastal waters in the area we will be surveying.

Personal Log

I am sitting in the airport in San Jose, ready to board my flight to Dallas, en route to Gulfport and my final destination of Pascagoula, Mississippi.  Wow! It’s been a frantic week of getting all sorts of last minute pieces put together to allow things to, hopefully, run smoothly in my absence.  It’s early morning, so I’m still in a bit of a groggy cloud, making the fact that I’m actually heading off on this adventure all the more unreal.

Even the grogginess cannot stifle my excitement, though, as I head off for two weeks of working with scientists and collecting data.  As I was packing last night, I couldn’t help but be reminded of all the previous trips I packed for more than 15 years ago to conduct field research on coral reefs in Belize.  I was studying a type of crustacean called the stomatopod and learning about the role that they play in coral reef ecosystems, how they interact with other species like pygmy octopus and crabs, their main source of prey.

I am thrilled to be heading out on this research trip and feel so fortunate for the opportunity.  I look forward to questions from you about what we are doing and learning on our voyage.  Check in frequently for updated blog posts once the trip commences.

Did You Know?

That the Oregon II has been part of the NOAA fleet since 1977?

Susan Brown: Who Needs Sharks Anyway? September 13, 2017

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Brown

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 3 – 15, 2017

 

Mission: Snapper/Longline Shark Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 13, 2017

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sunset through jaws of a blacktip shark

 

Science and Technology Log

We have been sampling along the coast of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas at varying depths – “A” stations ( 5- 30 fathoms), “B” stations (30 -100 fathoms) and “C” stations (100 – 200 fathoms). A fathom is six feet or approximately 2 meters. The longlines are baited the same – mackerel on 100 hooks spread out across one nautical mile and then set on the bottom of the ocean. As we reel in the long line, the click and whine of the line as it’s being spooled, we wait in anticipation of what it may bring. Each station yields something different and you never know what you are going to get. Below is a list of some of the animals we have encountered.

 

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baby hammerhead

Shark species: blacktip, sharpnose, blacknose, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, bull, tiger, spinner and bonnet head (to learn more about each of these species, select it for a NOAA fact sheet).

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Scallop Hammerhead in cradle

Other animals: southern ray, cownose ray, roughtail stingray, red snapper, black drum, sharksuckers, catfish, red drum, yellowedge grouper, king snake eels and even some blue crabs.

So why survey sharks? Did you know that people are one of only a few species that prey on sharks — killer whales and other sharks are the others– killing over a hundred million per year?* Sharks are apex or top predators in an ocean food web and play a vital role in keeping this food web in balance. With the hunting of sharks as well as over fishing the prey that sharks eat we are disturbing the natural balance. This survey is used determine the number of sharks and other species that are present in the Atlantic Ocean including the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. With these numbers, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) regulate how many sharks, swordfish and tuna can be harvested without impacting the total population. In the Pacific Ocean, NOAA fisheries work with fisheries in developing how to best manage sharks.

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red snapper

Apex predators in any ecosystem are vital to the health of that ecosystem. These top predators keep numbers down on the more abundant prey species and keep their numbers in check. Here is a simplified illustration of what happens when we lose apex (top) predators in an ocean ecosystem.

If the number of sharks goes down then the food the sharks eat goes up (forage fish) because they are not being eaten by the sharks. With more of those forage fish around their need for food – the zooplankton – increase. With more forage fish eating the zooplankton there are less zooplankton and their numbers begin to decrease. If there are less zooplankton then the phytoplankton numbers increase because the zooplankton aren’t around the eat them. Removing top predators from any ecosystem can have an impact on the entire food web and this phenomena is called a trophic cascade.

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Removing Hook

Personal Log

When people think of sharks, they think of the movie Jaws. Unfortunately this has given sharks a bad reputation and has vilified these animals that are essential to the ocean food webs. Sure, there have been shark attacks, but did you know that more people are killed each year by electrocution by Christmas tree lights than by shark attacks? When people imagine sharks, they think of enormous sharks that eat everything in sight. The reality is that sharks come in all sizes and shapes. A mature Atlantic sharpnose shark will only get to be 3.5 feet long with the world’s smallest shark being the dwarf lantern shark that can fit in the palm of your hand. The largest shark is the harmless-to-human whale sharks that feeds primarily on plankton and can grow up to 60 feet!

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Smooth-hound (Mustelus Sinusmexicalis)

Did You Know?

Scientists can tell the age of a shark by counting the rings on its vertebrae (similar to how they can tell how old a tree is by counting its rings!)

Question of the day:

What is an example of a terrestrial (land) apex predator that has been over hunted impacting the entire ecosystem?

hint: watch this video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q

 

 

 

Susan Brown: Weather or Not, September 9, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Brown

NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 3 – 15, 2017

 

Mission: Snapper/Longline Shark Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 7, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 2095.92N
Longitude: 08825.06W
Sea wave height: 1.2 m
Wind Speed: 20.3kt
Wind Direction: 50 degrees
Visibility: (how far you can see)
Air Temperature: 025.6 degrees Celsius

Barometric Pressure: 1018.36 mb
Sky: cloudy

Science and Technology Log

The weather has been a big topic of conversation on this survey and for good reason. The original plan was to fish off the coast of Texas from Brownsville to Galveston. Due to Hurricane Harvey and possible debris in those waters, the survey changed course to sample off the coast of Florida. As we motored east, Irma was building up to a category 5 hurricane.

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Captain Dave

 

Captain Dave has been keeping a keen eye on the weather and after a few days of fishing off the coast of Florida, we headed back toward Pascagoula, Mississippi to pick up a crew member and let another off to tend to his family in Florida which is in the current path of Irma. We have been looking at the various computer modeling showing where Irma will land and this determining our path. Fortunately, a cold front to the west of us is pushing Irma east which will allows to stay out instead of docking and ending the survey early. This cold front is unusual for this time of year according to the Captain. Earlier models showed Hurricane Irma hitting the west side of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico where we are which would end our survey. Now, with the updated weather, we may get to stay out as planned but staying close to Mississippi and then heading West to work off the coast of Texas and Louisiana.

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Daily updates and rerouting due to weather

This ship is part of the Ship of Opportunity Program (SOOP). This program enlists ships to collect weather data that is sent to the National Weather Service (a line office of NOAA) every hour. This is the data that supplies information to weather forecasters! Information that is gathered includes wind speed and direction, barometer reading, trend in pressure over the past few hours, as well as wind, wave and swell information. Have you every noticed on TV that the weather reports have a notification that states the data is coming from NOAA? Weather forecasters get weather information from ships out in the ocean like the one I am on.

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another beautiful sunset from the top deck

This morning I headed up to the bridge to chat with Captain Dave. Here are some of the questions I asked.

Q: How long have you been a captain?

CD: 9 years

Q: What got you interested in this type of work?

CD:I grew up in Mississippi where you hunt and fish so when I got out of high school I always wanted to work on the water due to my upbringing. We were always taking out the boat to hunt or fish growing up. It’s in my blood.

Q: What is your schooling? What advice would you give someone that is interested in this as a career?

CD: I graduated high school in 1980 and made my living on the water commercial fishing and working on the oil rigs until January 4, 1993. I started as a deck hand and worked my way up to Commanding Officer (CO). I’ve been on the Oregon II 25 years. The hardest thing was taking the test to be a Master.

Captain Dave is a civilian Master which is rare – there are only two in the NOAA fleet. Most NOAA ships are run by NOAA Corps Officers. 

Q: What is the biggest storm you have seen?

CD: East of Miami, Florida in the gulf stream we were seeing 12-15 foot seas. The engine room calls the bridge regarding a busted intake valve. The boat was sinking. The engineers were in knee deep water and were able to find the broken valve and stop the flooding. In another 7 minutes the generator would have been under water and we would have lost power and would be forced to abandon ship in 12-15 foot waves.

Q: Is this weather unusual for this area this time of year?

CD: We never get a NE wind bringing in cooler weather which is probably what is turning Hurricane Irma. Normally it’s blazing hot here with southwest winds at 10 miles. This cold front is the reason we are not going in.

Check out this cool animated site for wind patterns. You can see how the hurricanes impact the flow of air.

https://www.windy.com/?47.680,-122.121,5

Personal Log

So far the seas have been calm and I keep expecting things to pick up because of all the weather happening around us. Sleeping pretty good with slow rocking of the ship and we will see how I do with some bigger swells. The crew has been super helpful in doling out advice from how keep from getting seasick ranging from eating, drinking and even how best to walk! I’m listening to all this advice and so far so good. I do wonder how much of Hurricane Irma we will feel now that we are heading west a few hundred miles.

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The one that got away!
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baiting the line with Mackerel
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Spinner shark

We have caught a few sharks and I am excited to catch some more. Other critters we have caught were a bunch of eels and a suckerfish. On yesterday’s shift I learned how to tag one of the big sandbar sharks. She was about 6’ long. The night crew caught a 10’ tiger shark! Maybe we will get lucky on today’s shift as I would love to see more sharks and handle some of the smaller ones.

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suckerfish

Update: Last night our shift brought in 16 sharpnose sharks so things were busy. These sharks don’t get much bigger than 3 ½ feet. All of the ones we pulled in last night were female. The oceans have gotten a bit rougher with swells 4-5 feet! I have gained a new appreciation for all the rails available along the corridors of the ship and have learned to make sure my door is clicked shut as well as all the cabinets and drawers. Nothing like waking up to drawers slamming open and shut in the middle of the night!

Did You Know?

A Captain of the ship can be ranked as a Captain or a Commander within the NOAA Corps but a civilian does not hold a commissioned rank because they are not in the NOAA Corps and is called a Captain since he holds a Master license gained by taking extensive coursework and an intensive exam through the United States Coast Guard.

Question of the day:

What is the difference between a category 5 hurricane and lesser hurricanes? (hint: check out the link below)

http://abcnews.go.com/US/hurricanes-form-explained-abc-news-chief-meteorologist-ginger/story?id=49650211

 

 

 

 

 

Susan Brown: So You Want To Study Sharks? September 6, 2017

 

 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Brown

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 3 – 15, 2017

 

Mission: Snapper/Longline Shark Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 6, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29 51.066 N
Longitude: 088 38.983W
Sea wave height: .3 m
Wind Speed: 11.6
Wind Direction: 5.3 degrees starboard
Visibility: (ask bridge)
Air Temperature: 27.5 degrees Celsius

Barometric Pressure: 1014.88 mb
Sky: cloudy

 

Science and Technology Log

Lisa Jones is a fisheries biologist and the field party chief responsible for planning and logistics, manning the survey and the day to day operations. She is in charge of the science team. The Captain, Captain Dave Nelson, is charge of the ship. These two work together on the Oregon II making decisions on where we go.

Lisa has been doing this for 20 years and has been to locations including the Gulf of Mexico, Cuba, California, the western north Atlantic, and Mexico. The research has varied from a focus on shark/snapper like the one we are on to marine mammals, plankton, aeriel surveys, and harbor seals. Here are some of the questions I asked. 

Q: What is the most interesting thing you have brought up from the ocean?

L: As far as sharks are concerned, one year off the Florida panhandle, we caught a sixgill shark so big we couldn’t even tag it.

Q: How big do you estimate the size of that shark?

L: Approximately fifteen feet

Q: What got you interested in sharks?

L: When I was working for the Cal Fish and Game, radio tagging and doing aerial surveys for harbor seals, we would see shark bitten seals as well as sharks during the aerial surveys. One of the coolest things we ever saw off the Channel Islands was a blue whale. 

Q: Those are big, right? How big do you think it was?

L: I don’t know but it looked liked a small building in the water.

Q: What is your training?

L: My undergraduate degree is in geology. I took a lot of oceanography classes during that time. Later, in my 30s, I went back to graduate school for a degree in biology in Tennessee. It’s a long story but I knew I wanted to study sharks. Land locked in Tennessee, I attended a national conference that included many shark specialists. I introduced myself to get connected – basically anyone who would talk to me.

Lisa Jones explains a career in shark research, part 1:

Lisa Jones explains a career in shark research, part 2:

What questions do you have for Lisa? Post them in the comment section. She is happy to answer them!

Personal Log

I am adjusting to life on the ship and the 12-hour shifts. It’s been fun learning all the different jobs we have as we rotate through different stations. I have now baited hooks, recorded data on the computer as we deploy baited hooks and retrieve the longline to record what we catch, a slinger where I get the baited line ready to be attached to the longline, the high flyer pushing the buoy out that marks the start and end of the longline, and even tagged a large sandbar shark.

Check out this video of me slinging the bait:

There have been several questions regarding our route. The survey area has changed due to both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. The next post will be all about weather so you can see how this has impacted our trip. I am wondering how much these hurricanes have impacted what and how much we catch.

 

Did You Know?

Salinity and dissolved oxygen in the water impacts what we catch.

 

Question of the day:

What advice did Lisa give for anyone interested in doing the kind of work she does? (hint: watch the video embedded in this post)

Susan Brown: Probing for Parasites, September 5, 2017

 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Brown

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 3 – 15, 2017

 

Mission: Snapper/Longline Shark Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 5, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge (get data from bridge)

Latitude: 29 degree 36.0 N
Longitude: 86 degree 10.1 W
Sea wave height: < 1
Wind Speed: 7 kts
Wind Direction: 185
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature:
Barometric Pressure: 1016.3
Sky: BKN

Science and Technology Log

The Oregon II has two sets of crew – the ship’s crew headed by Captain Dave Nelson and the science crew headed by Lisa Jones. Captain Dave and Lisa work closely together making decisions that impact the survey. The ship’s crew keeps us afloat, fed and ultimately determines where we go based on weather. The science crew, well you guessed it, is focused on the science and collected data at predetermined sampling sites.

This post will look at some of the science happening on board. On board are four NOAA scientists as well as other volunteers and researchers that are helping with this survey. NOAA’s focus on this survey is all about sharks and snapper. We are collecting data on what we haul up from the longlines as well as abiotic factors including temperature, depth of line, dissolved oxygen, and salinity of the water. The data is entered into a computer and becomes part of a larger data set.

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NOAA parasitologists Carlos and Brett

Two researchers on board working as volunteers are Brett Warren and Carlos Ruiz. They are parasitologists meaning they study parasites that sharks and other organisms carry. A parasite is an organism that lives off other organisms (a host) in order to survive. They are finding all sorts of worms and copepods embedded in the nose, gills and hearts of fish and sharks. These two spend much of their time using microscopes to look at tissue samples collected.

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Brett looking for parasites

In speaking with Brett, the life cycle of parasite can be simple or complex. The simple direct life cycle is when the parasite spends its entire life on the host organism. A complex indirect life cycle for a parasite is when the parasite reproduce, the young hatch and swim to an intermediary host, usually a snail, mollusk or polychaete. This is where it gets really cool, according to Brett. It’s the intermediate host where the parasites asexually reproduce by cloning themselves. Next, the parasite leaves the intermediate host and swim to their final host and the process starts all over again. From a parasite perspective, you can see how difficult it would be for an indirect life cycle to be completed, because all the conditions need to be right. Brett is studying flatworms that have complex lifecycles and Carlos is studying copepods that have direct life cycles.

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Can you guess what this is? Answer in the comments and first right answer gets a prize!

Their main focus on this survey is to discover new species of parasites and understand the host- parasite relationship.

 

Personal Log

The past few days have been slow with only a few stations a shift. We have hauled up some sharks, eels and even a sharksucker fish. One station had nothing on the 100 hooks set! Talk about getting skunked. As we move west I am hoping we get to see more sharks as well as more variety. Other wildlife spotted include dolphins, jellyfish and birds.

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Finding the length of a sharpnose shark
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size of hooks we are using

Did You Know?

Just because it’s a parasite doesn’t mean it harms the host. Some just live off of another organism without harming it.

 

Question of the day:

What are the two types of life cycles a parasite can have? (hint: read the blog)

Karen Grady: It’s Not ALL About The Sharks! April 18, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karen Grady

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

April 5 – April 20, 2017

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 18, 2017

 

Weather Data

Latitude 2827.10
Longitude 09148.6
75 degrees
Sunny
No precipitation
Winds at 10 KTS
Waves at 2-4 FT

Science and Technology Log

There are always many things happening on a research vessel. As we moved from station to station, scientists Paul Felts and Kevin Rademacher have been deploying a trolling camera with a lure attached. I asked Kevin about the camera and he explained what they are trying to accomplish.  The ultimate goal of this experimental camera system is to help develop an index of abundance for pelagic species (billfish, dolphinfish, King mackerel, tunas, etc) to be used in stock assessments for those species.  Currently, there are no fishery independent indices for adults of these species. We are trying to achieve this by attaching a camera in front of a hook-less trolling lure. If it is successful, the plan is to deploy it when running between stations on all of our surveys. This would give us enough samples to hopefully create an annual index for these species.

This trip they have taken the system from the idea and initial system build back at the lab, and are trying it in the real world; modifying portions that are not working to get it to work. What is desired is towing the system to where the lure is acting as potential prey, is not being negatively affected by the vessel’s propeller wash or bubbles from the vessel or waves, at a vessel’s transit speed, and is depth adjustable.

a

The scientists were working opposite watches and during watch changes they would share what they had observed and discuss small changes that they wanted to make to obtain better results.   The camera allowed them to watch video footage to assess how clearly the lure could be viewed under the water as it traveled behind the ship.  The ship’s crew up in the bridge worked with the scientists requests for the changes in speed they needed for short periods of time while the trolling camera was in the water during a transit to another station.

The longline hooks often yield other species besides sharks. On one set we caught 3 king snake eels, Ophichthus rex, that have long bodies, that are very stoutly built.  Instead of a tail fin they have a fleshy nub.  One of them was almost as long as scientist Paul Felts is tall.  This species is distributed in the Gulf of Mexico.  It is often caught around oil rigs.  The species is consumed on a very small scale and is prepared and sold in Florida as “keoghfish”. This a burrowing species that inhabits mud, sand and clay between 15-366 meters deep.  King snake eels may reach sizes up to 11 feet.

 

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Paul Felts weighs a large King Snake eel

 

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King Snake eels don’t like to stretch out for measurements. It took a few extra hands to get this large one to cooperate.

 

Personal Log

What is a day in the life of this NOAA Teacher at Sea like?

We are on the downhill side of this cruise. It has been full of so many amazing things. I miss my family and will be ready to see them, but am so thankful for this experience.  Life on the ship is quite a unique experience. There are 29 of us on this cruise. But because of working 12-12 approximately half are working while the others are sleeping and having some down time.  This means we don’t see each other except around shift changes.  You are very aware of not banging things, or accidentally letting the motion of the boat slam a door because someone is always sleeping.   The berths are small but functional.  I am sharing a berth with the XO, LCDR Lecia Salerno, who is also on day watch.  You can see from the photo below that the space in any of the berths is limited.  I have the top bunk which is kind of scary for those who know how graceful I am, but as of yet I haven’t had any mishaps.

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This is a typical berth on the Oregon II. Usually one crew member has it for 12 hours then they switch. This allows for uninterrupted sleep and  a little privacy on a small ship with 29 crew members onboard.

 

What is a day like onboard the Oregon II for me? I wake up around 8 am and try to convince myself to do a few minutes on the Jacob’s Ladder and a few weights for upper body.  Breakfast for me is a power bar, each watch usually eats two meals in the galley and mine are lunch and dinner.  There is time to do laundry if the washer is available. Twenty-nine people using one washer and dryer calls for everyone to be courteous and remember to get your laundry done and out of the way.  I usually spend about an hour reading or working on blogs and even some new plans for my students next year. I am lucky that the boat has wifi that bounces in and out so I can use I-message and stay in touch with some of my family and friends as well as facebook, and email.

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Crew’s lounge where we watched the occasional movie, and I wrote all my blogs.

 

Lunch is at 11 and our watch eats and gets out of the way because we are on at noon and need to let the other watch get into the galley for their lunch. Did I mention the galley only has 12 seats and that courtesy is the big thing that makes life on the ship work?  When we aren’t baiting hooks, setting out the line, or pulling in the line we hang out in the dry lab.  There are computers in the dry lab and the scientists are able to work on emails, and data that is being gathered.  There is also a television and we have watched some random things over the long shifts.  Lots of laughter happens in this room, especially the more tired we get.  I will also admit that we joined the rest of the internet world in stalking April the Giraffe until she had that baby!!! There is time between sets to go do a little bit of a workout and sometimes I take advantage of this.  An important activity is hydration. You do not realize how the warm weather on the deck depletes your system.  There are notes posted reminding us to stay hydrated.  It is also important for me to keep a little food in my stomach to ward off any seasick feelings.  I try not to snack at home, but dry cereal or a piece of toast have become my friends on this cruise.  Other than the first night at sea I have not had any real queasy moments so I am going to continue this pattern as long as we are moving.  One thing is that I tend to snack and drink a lot of water.  Dinner is at 5 and occasionally it falls about the time we have to set out a line or pull in a line. This means we eat really fast and get back to work.

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The stewards cook three meals a day out of this small galley kitchen. They did a great job of giving us menus with lots of options.

When it is time to set a line we all go out on deck and we bait 100 hooks. The hooks will be baited with either chunks of mackerel or squid.  There is nothing glamorous about this at all. If you aren’t paying attention you can even take a shot of squid or mackerel juice to the face.   When it is time to get the line in the water there are jobs for each of us.  One person puts the high flyer in the water, this marks the start and end of the line of hooks and has a flashing light for night time.  One person attaches a number to each hook’s line and hands it to the slinger who puts the hook over the side and hands the line to one of the fisherman to attach to the line and send it on its way.  One person mans the computer and inputs when the high flyer, three different weights and each hook go over the side.  The computer records the bait used, the wave height, cloud cover, precipitation, longitude and latitude of each hook.  I told you the scientists’ collect a lot of data on these cruises.  The last person scrubs the barrels clean and places them up front on the bow for the haul back.  The deck gets washed down.  The crew works hard to keep the ship clean.

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I had no idea how much squid ink or juice one person could get on them until I learned to bait a hook with squid for long-line. Mackerel is SOOOO much better!

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Putting the high flyer over the rail. One marked the beginning and end of each line we put out.

When the crew on the bridge gives us the 10 minute call we all dawn our life jackets, grab our gloves and head to the bow to see what we might have caught. The deck crew is getting ready to pull in the high flyer, the computer gets set up and all the necessary equipment for collecting data is laid out.  We have two measuring boards, a small sling for weighing bigger sharks on deck, two types of taggers, scales, scissors, tubes for fin clips, pliers, measuring tape, bolt cutters, data sheet, and hard hats for all.   One person works the computer, recording if we caught a fish, or whether or not there was any bait left on the hook, another person takes the line and hook and places it in a barrel ready to be baited next time, the number is removed and placed on a cable, two people are ready to “play” with the sharks and fish, meaning they will do the measurements, weights and any tagging, and one person fills out the data sheet.  It all works very quickly and efficiently.  Sometimes it gets a little crazy when we have fish and sharks on several hooks in a row. I spent most of my time doing the data recording and I must say my experience working the chutes with tagging and vaccinating cattle sure came in handy when it came to keeping the information straight.

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Science team works check if a female bull shark is pregnant using an ultrasound machine
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Measuring a sharp nose shark
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Sometimes the more active sharks took more than one person to remove the hook so we could release them.

The day watch comes on shift at midnight, but they usually show up around 11:30 to visit and see what has happened on our shift. By midnight we are free to go.   I stop in the galley for a quick sandwich made of toast and ham.  Next up is the much needed shower.  We use mackerel and squid for bait and let’s just say the juice and squid ink tends to fly around the deck when we are baiting hooks.  Then you get the salty sea air, handling sharks, red snapper, king snake eels, and it makes a hot shower is much anticipated.  Lastly, I crawl into my top rack (bed) and adjust to the pitch and roll of the ship.

Did You Know

Typically, biologists can age sharks by examining cross sections of shark’s vertebra and counting the calcified bands, much like you can count the rings on a cross section of a tree trunk. The deep-water sharks we are looking for are trickier to age because their vertebra do not become as calcified as sharks found in shallower depths.

Karen Grady: Let’s Catch Some Sharks, April 7, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karen Grady

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

April 5 – 20, 2017

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 7, 2017

 

Weather Data

74 Degrees

Clear Skies

Calm Seas

Location

Latitude 2754.34N

Longitude 08905.93W

 

 Science and Technology Log

This is the second leg of the Oregon II’s experimental longline survey.  A longline is a type of fishing gear that will deploy one fishing line that is very long and very thick and has many hooks attached to it.  We will be doing a survey by collecting systematic samplings to assess fish populations.   This mission is an experimental one because the longline is being placed at depths deeper than they fish during the annual longline survey and are able to alter the bait type and leader material to see how it could affect catch rates.

The longlines are baited with pieces of squid. Squid live in deep water so it makes sense to use them to attract deep-sea sharks.  Squid also stays on the hooks better than the mackerel and these hooks have to make it a LONG way down on this survey. The lines are placed in the water and then allowed to soak for several hours.  This allows the squid bait to settle down into the deep water (aided by the weights attached) and for sharks to find the bait.  The fishing line with the hooks is a mile long, but the total line put out can be up to 3 miles long because of the scope needed to allow the 1 mile of gear to reach the deep bottom depths.

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Scientist Kevin Rademacher baiting hooks with squid

As we bring in the catch we will be gathering data on the species caught, sex, maturity stage for male sharks, and certain sharks will be tagged. There are different tags for different sizes of sharks and a small piece of fin is collected on all tagged sharks for genetic purposes. The weight and three or four different measurements will be taken on the all species. Photos of any uncommon species are also taken if time allows to help with identification processes in the future, and so everyone can see them if they weren’t on the watch when the catch occurred.

On my dayshift team is James Sulikowski, a scientist from the University of New England in Maine, who will be using an ultrasound on larger female sharks that we bring on board. Ideally, he and Trey Driggers, the night watchleader from the NOAA MS Labs, would like to catch some large female hammerhead or dusky sharks.  James will use the ultrasound to determine if the large females are pregnant. If they are pregnant, a satellite tag will be placed on the sharks that will stay on for approximately 30 days.  This is perfect as females could be giving birth over this time frame.  The tags will be used to track the sharks with the hope that important habitats where the adults give birth can be identified.  James (and Neil Hammerschlag) has conducted similar research on tiger sharks, but linking pregnancy to specific movements has not been conducted with sharks captured in the Gulf of Mexico.  Our experimental longline survey is happening at a perfect time to gather data for this research.

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James Sulikowski ultra sounding some small pregnant sharks.
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How many baby sharks do you see? We saw THREE!

 

Personal Log

We are at sea now but since getting somewhere is half the fun…..isn’t that what they always say….I wanted to tell you a little about my trip to the ship. On Tuesday night as I was packing we had a storm and lost power for a few hours.  No big deal since I was on the ball and pretty much packed at this point. Wednesday morning, I leave for the airport and about 15 miles down the road I realize I left something I had to have. So, I made a quick turn around and retrieved it. It was a nice drizzling rain and some fog for the drive to the airport.  Now my luck continued when I arrived at airport. Long term parking was full so I had to park at the BACK of the economy lot.  I don’t mind a walk normally but it was raining and that made THREE parking lots to walk through.  Luckily the airport has a little shuttle van to pick up travelers in just such situations.  Oh wait…. This one just drove past us all and kept circling but never actually picked anyone up.  Hmmm.  I had a very bumpy ride to Dallas due to the weather and was relieved to make it to my gate for my connection in Dallas.  Then comes the announcement that they need to change a tire on our plane.  I was completely ok with this hour wait since I see the value in having tires when we land in Gulfport! So only an hour late I made it safely to my destination.

I had a great visit with the scientist who picked me up at the airport. I found out that he and his family intend a vacation in the future to canoe on the Buffalo River. I forget what an amazing state I live in sometimes when it comes to our state parks and outdoor adventures.   One of his areas of focus is Cownose Rays and we discussed how he uses networking to find opportunities to gather data.  My students know how important I feel networking can be.   You never know when that person you meet can help answer a question, provide guidance or solve a problem for you somewhere down the road.  He told me how he took the time just this week to meet some folks who are at NOAA from other countries and ask them to share his contact information because it could help him fill in some needed data for his research.

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Arriving at the Oregon II! Ready to get this adventure started.

Arriving the day before most everyone else made my first night a little bit of an adventure. I had a short tour of the boat and then was on my own.  I was talking with my son on the phone and he asked if it felt like an episode of Scooby Doo where they are on an abandoned ship.  Well.. a little like that.  There were lots of new noises to get used to. And for such a small ship there are lots of doors and rooms.  It is a definite culture shock from the cruise ship I was on during spring break just two weeks ago.

My students all wanted to know what the ship would be like. I will be posting some pics so you can get an idea of what it’s like. I will be sharing my cabin with someone else.  We will basically take turns using it about 12 hours apiece each day.  I knew it would be small but let’s just say I won’t be doing any workouts in my room.  But it has a place for everything and my bunk is comfortable.  There are metal stairs from level to level on the ship.  These are an adventure with my tri-level glasses.  One hand for the rail and I am good.  For those that know me well one of their concerns was that I wouldn’t be able to make it without going for a run.  Crisis averted…there is a rowing machine, weights, a stationary bike etc. onboard. So I guess I will not have to resort to running in place as some people thought.

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The stairs require you to pay attention and use a hand rail..especially if your wearing tri-level glasses like I am
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A boat deck is a busy place with lots of equipment.

The first day onboard was spent getting ready to sail. I just stayed out of the way and introduced myself to the crew as they passed by. We were underway in the early afternoon and it was an adjustment getting used to the motion of the boat.  We had some very informative safety meetings and I got an overview of what we would be doing the next day.  Had a great dinner, our stewards really will keep us fed well!  Then we spent the evening talking and getting to know one another, watching tv, catching up on emails, going through data collection and trying to stay up till midnight so we could get our bodies started on our new schedule.

Day two and we are ready to rock and roll. I slept amazing and woke up to calmer seas.  I was up on deck enjoying the sunshine and getting to watch James ultrasound a few smaller sharks.   I have participated in ultrasounds on dogs, cows, and horses but never a shark.  It was a lot of fun trying to identify how many babies were inside and the best way to use the ultrasound on these smaller sharks.

The day continued to be gorgeous. We pulled one set and caught several sharks, red snapper, and a few eels.  After pulling one set we had several hours of downtime as we head to our next station.  The timing looks like we will get the next set out for the night crew to pull.  The downtime allows everyone to catch up on computer work, and emails.   You can also just sit out on the deck and enjoy the sunset.

 

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Gorgeous sunset our first full day at sea.  Like working 12pm-12am because sunsets are my favorites.

 

Did You Know

  • The Gulf of Mexico has a broad range of ocean ecosystems from shallow reefs to sea forests and has both shallow coastlines and deep ocean waters reaching as deep as 14,300. There is an ample food supply and the perfect habitat for several species of sharks.
  • Sharks do not have swim bladders like bony fish.
  • Sharks store energy in their liver in the form of a viscous oil.   This means their liver is very large.

Karen Grady: Planning, Packing and Anticipation….the Countdown has Begun! March 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karen Grady

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

April 5 – 20, 2017

Mission:  Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date:  March 29, 2017

Weather Data

I live in Arkansas and the weather is probably changing as I am typing this!  It is Spring so that means our weather is unpredictable.  Today we woke up to red creepy skies and predictions of severe thunderstorms.  As I am writing this it is 75 and we are still waiting to see if any storms pop up. I am fine with storms, just keep the tornadoes away!

Introduction

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Checking out the local wildlife in one of my favorite places… Daytona Beach

 

Hi all!   My Name is Karen and I am the K-12 Gifted and Talented teacher for the Lavaca School District in Lavaca, Arkansas. I have the best job because I am on the move all day working with students from all grade levels.  I have an BSA in Animal Science, Master’s degrees in Teaching and Gifted, Talented and Creativity.  I am able to utilize my degrees and my personal background to create activities for my students that keep them moving and their brains working.  I feel that my participation in the NOAA Teacher at Sea program is setting an important example for my students about stepping out of one’s comfort zone to chase a dream.

Science and Technology Log

In just a few days I will join the crew of the Oregon II  for the start of their second research trip of 2017.  You’ll notice that this trip is referred to as an “experimental” longline survey.  This is because our trip is happening earlier in the year than the normal longline surveys. The scientists will be experimenting with some different methods and its earlier in the year so everyone will be anxious and excited to see what types of sharks and fish are brought on board over the two weeks at sea…

Personal Log

I have only been a teacher for 5 years.  I spent several years as a Water Quality Technician working with farmers and poultry growers to manage the nutrient content in their soil and protect water sources.  I then was blessed with some great adventures working for the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Women in the Outdoors Program in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.  I also spent many years as a poultry farmer.  I went back to school in 2011 and began teaching in 2012 while finishing my Masters of Art in Teaching. I taught seventh and eighth grade science for three years and then was chosen to fill an opening for Gifted and Talented teacher in the district.  I completed my Master’s in Gifted and Talented and Creativity this past December.

My past job experiences have provided me many great ideas that I use in my classroom. I also believe in the power of networking and I use my network of contacts to gather information, activities or speakers for my classes.   I have always been interested in biology and had a love of animals.  As a teacher I continue to lean towards professional development that focuses on science and then I add other components to make some very creative lessons for my students.

It was during a professional development session 4 years ago that I first learned about the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.  I looked at the application process and considered applying, but my oldest son was in high school sports, my youngest wasn’t quite old enough for me to want to be gone that long, I just got married….there was always an excuse. Each year I looked and considered and I waited.  This past November I talked to my family and if filled out the application.  I remember sitting and deciding whether to hit submit when it was all done.  I took a deep breath and submitted!  Then I tried not to think about it.

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Spending time exploring helped take my mind off the wait!

 

Fast forward to February 1 of this year… I walk into my classroom and turn on my computer and there is an email from NOAA. I was afraid to open it. When I saw the message that I had been selected I think I sat with my mouth hanging open. I kept reading it thinking surely the wording was going to change and they were going to let me down easy.  I remember texting my husband and telling him I had been chosen and asking him what I was going to do and his response was “ You’re going to go, of course!” It really did take a week for it to sink in that I was going to be a part of the class of 2017.

I completed all of the requirements as quickly as possible because I couldn’t wait to see which research trip I would be matched with.  Within just a few weeks I was matched with a research cruise heading into the Gulf of Mexico  and we would be doing studies with sharks. I realized I had just under 4 weeks to get everything in order and report to the ship.  Of course I had to make it more complicated by having a huge networking event at school with 38 speakers and a SKYPE with NOAA Teacher at Sea Program to pull off, a 7 day cruise for spring break that we had already had on the calendar, a couple Quiz Bowl tournaments with my students plus squaring away things at home. Did I mention our mare is due to foal any day and that one of the dogs is diabetic and has to have insulin twice a day? Let’s just say the weeks have flown by.  Thank goodness my husband and kids are awesome and my friends rock because it will all be lined out before I leave next week.

I cannot even find words to express my appreciation to NOAA for offering me as an educator this opportunity.  I am excited that I will get to share my time with the scientists and the things I learn with not only my students but with many schools in my area.  One more week and I will be setting foot on the Oregon II and praying for calm seas!

Did You Know?

Fish supply the greatest percentage of the world’s protein consumed by humans. This makes the health of our ocean vitally important even if you do not live near the ocean.

Denise Harrington: What Fish Do I Eat? October 3, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Denise Harrington

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 16-30, 2016

Mission: Longline Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Monday, October 3, 2016

I asked Kevin Rademacher, Research Fisheries Biologist at the Pascagoula, Mississippi Lab, what fish I could eat and still support sustainable fisheries.  He answered with a question, “Have you read the book Four Fish?” When I finished reading the book by Paul Greenberg, I spoke to Kevin again. “What do you think now?” He asked.

I said “There is something about wild fish that makes me want to catch and eat them, but I worry about whether we are eating wild fish out of existence.”

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Yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus itajara). Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

“Have you talked with Adam?  He’s the numbers guy,” Kevin said.  It seems like the good teachers are always sending students away in search of their own answers.

Adam Pollack is a contract Fisheries Biologist with Riverside Technology, Inc., and works on the night crew.  We sometimes cross paths at midnight or noon.  Catching him wouldn’t be easy.

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Here, Adam measures a shark too large to bring on deck.  Photo: NOAA Fisheries

During one of these transition times, we had a moment to talk.  I asked Adam about his earliest fish memory.  He smiled.  “At about five, I went fishing with my dad.  We had a house in the mountains surrounded by a bunch of lakes.”  Adam and his dad would sit by the lake with their lines in the water “watching the bobber disappear.”  He smiles again.  These little largemouth bass changed his life.

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Adam takes a selfie with a red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus).

At first, he was set on becoming a professional bass fisherman but made a practical switch to marine biology.  He took all the science electives and the hardest math classes he could.  He went on to Southampton College on Long Island, New York, where he got lots of hands-on experiences beginning in his freshman year.  He believes a good education should include lots of opportunities, as early as possible, for interactive learning in a real world environment.

Once he graduated, Adam got his dream job: working in the Gulf of Mexico during the field season and then crunching numbers the rest of the year.  He takes the data scientists collect to the SouthEast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR).  SEDAR is a cooperative process through which scientists, fishermen, and policy makers look at the life history, abundance trends, and other data to determine how many fish we can catch sustainably.

Adam, and many others, also look at how catastrophic events like Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill affect marine species in the Gulf of Mexico.  After Hurricane Katrina, he said, shrimping efforts died down by about 40%.  The effects of the oil spill are still a little murky.  Many of the biologists on board initially predicted dire and immediate effects.  Yet unlike the spill in Alaska, the warm Gulf of Mexico water is host to bacteria, plants, and other living things that might be eating up the oil.  Many questions, such as whether these living things will mitigate the effects of a spill, are still being asked. “Deepwater Horizon is always on our minds,” Adam says.  There are also naturally occurring events like harmful algal blooms and long term issues like climate change that affect fish populations.

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Oil rigs dot the horizon as Tim Martin, Chief Boatswain, gets ready to retrieve the longline. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

 

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Here, Paul Felts, Fisheries Biologist, weighs a yellowedge grouper (Hyporthodus flavolimbatus). Photo Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

“Can you tell me about snapper?” I asked Adam.  Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), assessed every other year, is a hot button topic for commercial and recreational fishermen alike in the Gulf. The species was in decline. Recreational fishermen went from a 180 day season to catch fish to an 8 day season and from 10 to 2 fish a day per person.  Commercial fishermen weren’t happy either: they could only take 49% of the year’s quota for red snapper, while the recreational fishermen get to catch 51% of the quota.  Fairness is not just a second grade concern, it is a major sticking point in regulating fisheries world wide.

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Snapper is as tasty as it is beautiful.  Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

Red snapper is a vulnerable species.  Snapper settle to the bottom of the water column from larvae.  They are at high risk of mortality from ages 0-5, the same time when they are close to human activity such as oil rigs, shrimping grounds and easy to access fishing areas.  Those who manage the fisheries are trying to get the snapper through that vulnerable stage.  Like money in the bank accruing interest, a 10 year old snapper can produce more eggs than a five year old.  Before we take snapper from the sea, we must make sure a healthy older population remains to reproduce.

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TAS Denise Harrington holds up two red snapper. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries.

Once an assessment is complete, scientists determine a maximum sustainable yield:  how many fish can be taken from the population and still keep enough around to make more fish for the future.  Take a look at a shark assessment and a snapper assessment. Looking at these long and complicated assessments, I am glad we have people like Adam who is willing to patiently work with the numbers.

Gathering the best data and making it available to people who collaborate to make informed decisions is an important part of Adam’s job. We all want fish and NOAA fisheries biologists are doing their best to make that happen for us, and for generations to come.

Personal Log

My time aboard the Oregon II has come to an end.  Bundled up in my winter clothes,  I look out over a rainy Oregon landscape filled with fishermen hoping to catch a fall Chinook salmon. Two places with different weather and many different fish species.  Yet many of our challenges are the same.

Back at school, students and teachers welcome me enthusiastically.  Instead of measuring desks and books as part of our Engage NY curriculum, we measured sharks and their jaws.  Many of these students have never been out of Oregon, many have not been to the beach, even though it is only 4 miles away.  With NOAA, South Prairie Elementary students were able to learn about faraway places and careers that inspire them.

Soon these seven year old children will be in charge. I am thankful to the NOAA crews and the Teacher at Sea program staff, as they’ve prepared generations of students of all ages to collaborate and creatively face the task that lies ahead.

 

 

Denise Harrington: First Day Jitters, September 21, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Denise Harrington

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 16-30, 2016

Mission: Longline Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My first day on the longline cruise seems so long ago with three days of work under my belt. The night before my first shift, just like when school starts, I couldn’t sleep. Trying to prepare was futile. I was lost, lost in the wet lab, lost in my stateroom, lost in the mess. I needed to get some gloves on and get to work, learning the best way I know how: by doing.

At noon, I stepped out the fantail, life vest, gloves, hard hat, and sunscreen on, nervous, but ready to work. The Gulf of Mexico horizon was dotted with oil rigs, like a prairie full of farmhouses. Heat waves rose from the black deck.

Fifteen minutes before arriving at our first station, our science team, Field Party Chief Dr. Trey Driggers, Field Biologist Paul Felts, Research Biologist Kevin Rademacher, NOAA Science Writer Matt Ellis, and I began to prepare for our first station by baiting the hooks with mackerel (Scomber scombrus). I learned quickly that boots and grubby clothes are ideal for this task.

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Once all the hooks were baited, Chief Boatswain Tim Martin and Paul release a high flyer, a large pole with a buoy at the bottom and a reflective metal flag on top.

The buoy, connected to the boat by the longline, bobbed off toward the horizon.

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Tim attached the first of three weights to anchor the line to the sea floor.

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As the longline stretched across the sea, Kevin attached a numbered tag to the baited hook held by Paul.

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Paul passed the baited, tagged hook to Tim, who attached 100 hooks, evenly spaced, to the one mile longline.

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On another station, Paul attached numbers to the gangion (clip, short line, and baited hook) held by Trey.  Each station we change roles, which I appreciate.

Setting the longline is rather predictable, so with Rush and Van Halen salting the air, we talked about our kids, dogs, riots in the news, and science, of course. The tags will help us track the fish we catch. After a fish is released or processed, the data is entered in the computer and shared with the scientific community. Maybe one of these tagged fish will end up in one of the many scientific papers Trey publishes on sharks each year.

The line soaked for an hour waiting for snapper, tilefish, eels, sharks, and other fish to bite. While the line soaked, Mike Conway, skilled fisherman, and I lowered the CTD, a piece of equipment that measures conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth, into the water.  Once the biologists know how salty, cold, and deep the water is, they can make better predictions about the species of fish we will find.

We attached a bag holding a few Styrofoam cups to see how the weight of the water above it would affect the cup.  Just imagine the adaptations creatures of the deep must have developed to respond to this pressure!

The ship circled back to hook #1 to give each hook equal time in the water. After an hour, we all walked up to the well deck, toward the bow or front of the ship. We pulled in the first highflyer and weight.  We pulled in the hooks, some with bait, and some without.  After 50 hooks, the middle weight came up. We still didn’t have a fish.  I began to wonder if we’d catch anything at all.  No data is still data, I thought. “Fish on eighty three!” I heard someone yell.   I wake from my reverie, and get my gloves on.

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It was a blacknose shark (Carcharhinus acronotus), “pound for pound, the meanest shark in the water,” says Trey. He would know, he’s the shark expert. It came up fighting, but was no match for Kevin who carefully managed to get length, weight, and sex data before releasing it back into sea.

With one shark to process, the three scientists were able to analyze the sexual maturity of the male blacknose together. I learned that an adult male shark’s claspers are hard and rotate 180˚, allowing them to penetrate a female shark. An immature shark’s claspers are soft and do not rotate. For each male shark, we need to collect this data about its sex stage.

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Here, you can see Trey rotating the clasper 180 degrees.

Later, Paul talked about moments like these, where the field biologists work side by side with research biologists from all different units in the lab.  Some research biologists, he notes, never get into the field.  But Kevin, Trey, and others like them have a much more well-rounded understanding of the data collected and how it is done because of the time they spend in the field.

Fortunately, the transition from inexperienced to novice was gradual. The second line was just as easy as the first, we only brought in two fish, one shark and one red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus).

For the red snapper, we removed the otoliths, which people often call ear bones, to determine age, and gonads to determine reproductive status.  I say “we” but really the scientists accomplished this difficult feat. I just learned how to process the samples they collected and record the data as they dissected the fish.

We set the longline a third time. The highflyer bobbed toward the orange sun, low on the horizon. The ship turned around, and after an hour of soaking, we went to the well deck toward the front of the ship to pull in the longline.  The sky was dark, the stars spread out above us.

“One!” “Three!” “Seven!” “Nine!”  The numbers of tags with fish on the line were being called out faster than we could manage.  It seemed like every other hook had a shark on it.  Two hours later we had collected twenty-eight Atlantic sharpnose (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) sharks and had one snapper to process. Too busy working to take pictures, I have nothing to document my transition from inexperienced to novice except this data sheet.  Guess who took all this data? Me!

p1080265

Personal Log

NOAA Ship Oregon II is small, every bunk is filled.  I share a stateroom with the second in command, Executive Officer (XO) Lecia Salerno, and am thankful she is such a flexible roommate, making a place for me where space is hard to come by.

Last night, as I lay in my bunk above XO Salerno and her office, I felt like Garth on Wayne’s World, the thought that “I’m not worthy” entering my head.  All members of the crew are talented, experienced, and hard-working, from the bridge, to the galley, to the engine room, and out on the deck where we work. I’ve made a few mistakes.   I took the nasty thought and threw it overboard, like the slimy king snake eels (Ophichthus rex) we pull from the deep.

o-rex
King Snake Eel (Ophichthus rex)

In the morning I grabbed a cup of coffee, facing the risk of being the least experienced, slowest crew member to learn, with curiosity and perseverance.  First day jitters gone, I’m learning by doing.

Denise Harrington: Joining the Longline Crew, September 17, 2016

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Denise Harrington

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 16-30, 2016

Mission: Longline Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Saturday, September 17, 2016

Location: 29 2.113’ N  93o 24.5’ W

Weather from the Bridge: 28.9C (dry bulb), Wind 6 knots @ 250o, overcast, 2-3′ SE swell.

Science Log

The muggy afternoon air did not dampen my excitement as we left Galveston, Texas, aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ship Oregon II.  I am a NOAA Teacher at Sea, participating in a  longline survey in the Gulf of Mexico, surveying sharks and bony fish.

p1080113
Fellow volunteers Leah Rucker and Evan Pettis and I bid farewell to Galveston. Evidence of human influence, such as development, oil rigs, barges, and ships, is not hard to spot. Photo: Matt Ellis, NOAA

When I tell people about the Teacher at Sea program, they assume I teach high school or college, not second grade in rural Tillamook, Oregon.  Yet spend a few moments with any seven or eight year old and you will find they demonstrate significant potential as scientists through their questions, observations, and predictions. Listen to them in action, documented by Oregon Public Broadcasting, at their annual Day at the Bay field trip.

Just as with language acquisition, exposing the young mind to the process of scientific inquiry ensures we will have a greater pool of scientists to manage our natural resources as we age.  By inviting elementary teachers to participate in the Teacher at Sea program, NOAA makes it clear that the earlier we get kids out in the field, the better.

dsc_0447
Each year, my students develop a science or engineering project based upon their interests.  Here, South Prairie Elementary students survey invertebrates along a line transect as part of a watershed program with partners at Sam Case Elementary School in Newport, Oregon.

The NOAA Teacher at Sea program will connect my students with scientists Dr. Trey Driggers, Paul Felts, Dr. Eric Hoffmayer, Adam Pollock, Kevin Rademacher, and Chrissy Stepongzi, as they catch sharks, snapper, and other fish that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico. The data they collect is part of the Red Snapper/Shark Bottom Longline Survey that began in 1995. The survey, broken into four legs or parts each year, provides life cycle and population information about many marine species over a greater geographic distance and longer period of time than any other study of its kind.

Leg IV is the last leg of the survey.  After a long season of data collection, scientists, sailors, and fishermen will be able to return to their families.

My twelve hour shift begins tomorrow, September 17, at noon, and will continue each day from noon until midnight until the most eastern station near Panama City, Florida, is surveyed.  Imagine working 12 hour shifts, daily, for two weeks straight!  The crew is working through the day and night, sleeping when they can, so shutting the heavy metal doors gently and refraining from talking in the passageways is essential.  I got lucky on the day shift:  my hours are closer to those of a teacher and the transition back to the classroom will be smoother than if I were on the night shift.

Approximately 200 stations, or geographic points, are surveyed in four legs. Assume we divide the stations equally among the legs, and the first three legs met their goal. Leg IV is twelve days in duration. How many stations do we need to survey each day (on average) to complete the data collection process?  This math problem might be a bit challenging for my second graders, but it is on my mind.

p1080124
Mulling over the enormity of our task, Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin and I discuss which 49 year old fisherman will end up with more wrinkles at the end of the survey. Currently, I am in the lead, but I bet he’s hiding some behind those shades. Photo: Mike Conway

I wonder what kind of sharks we will catch.  Looking back at the results of the 2015 cruise report, I learned that there was one big winner.  More than half of the sharks caught were Atlantic sharpnose (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) sharks. Other significant populations of sharks were the blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) shark, the sandbar (Carcharhinus plumbeus) shark, and the blacknose (Carcharhinus acronotus) shark.

My fellow Teacher at Sea, Barney Peterson, participated in Leg II of the 2016 survey, and by reading her blog I learned that the shark they caught the most was the sandbar shark.

p1080106
In this sample data sheet from the end of Leg III, all but one of the sharks caught were the blacknose sharks.  Notice the condition of two of the fish caught: “heads only.”  Imagine what happened to them!

 

 

Personal Log

My first memory of a shark was when my brother, an avid lifetime fisherman, took several buses across the San Francisco Bay area to go fishing.  That afternoon, he came home on the bus with a huge shark he’d caught.  I was mesmerized. We were poor at the time and food was hard to come by, but mom or dad insisted sharks were not edible, and Greg was told to bury the shark in the yard.  Our dog, Pumpkin, would not comply, and dug that shark up for days after, the overpowering smell reminding us of our poor choice. I don’t have many regrets, but looking back on that day, I wish we had done something differently with the shark.

Since then, I’ve learned that shark is a popular source of protein in the diets of people around the world, and is growing in popularity in the United States.  In our survey area, Fisheries Biologist Eric Hoffmayer tells me that blacktip and sandbar sharks are the two most commercially important species. Our survey is a multispecies survey, with benefits beyond these two species and far beyond our imagination. As demand increases, so too does the need for careful management to keep fisheries sustainable. I am honored to be part of a crew working to ensure that we understand, value, and respect our one world ocean and the animals that inhabit it.

Jeff Miller: Sharks and Dead Zones, September 12, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 12, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed:  9.2 knots
Wind Speed:  8.8 knots
Air Temp: 27,7°C
Sea Temp: 30.2°C
Seas: 1-2 meters
Sea Depth:  457 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat:  27 47.142 N
Long:  094 04.264 W

Science and Technology Log
On September 8 – 9, we surveyed a number of stations along the Texas and Louisiana coasts that were in shallow water between 10-30 meters (approximately 30-100 feet).  Interestingly, the number of sharks we caught at each station varied dramatically.  For example, we pulled up 65 sharks at station 136 and 53 sharks at station 137, whereas we caught only 5 sharks at station 138 and 2 sharks at station 139.  What could account for this large variance in the number of sharks caught at these locations?

Weighing a bonnethead shark
Weighing a bonnethead shark caught off the coast of Texas.

One key factor that is likely influencing shark distribution is the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.  Oxygen is required by living organisms to produce the energy needed to fuel all their activities.  In water, dissolved oxygen levels above 5 mg/liter are needed for most marine organisms to thrive. Water with less than 2 mg/liter of dissolved oxygen is termed hypoxic, meaning dissolved oxygen is below levels needed by most organisms to thrive and survive.  Water with less than 0.2 mg/liter of dissolved oxygen is termed anoxic (no oxygen) and results in  “dead zones” where little, if any, marine life can survive.

As part of several missions, including the ground fish and longline shark surveys, NOAA ships sample the levels of dissolved oxygen at survey stations in coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  Measurements of dissolved oxygen, salinity, and temperature are collected by a device called the CTD.   At each survey station, the CTD is deployed and it collects real-time measurements as it descends to the bottom and returns to the surface.

CTD
Standing with the CTD, which is used to measure dissolved oxygen, salinity, and temperature.

Data collected by the CTD is used to produce maps showing the relative levels of dissolved oxygen in coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico.    For more environmental data go to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

2015 Gulf Hypoxia Map
Map showing dissolved oxygen levels in the coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico. Red marks anoxic/hypoxic areas with low dissolved oxygen levels.  Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Environmental surveys demonstrate that large anoxic/hypoxic zones often exist along the Louisiana/Texas continental shelf.  Because low dissolved oxygen levels are harmful to marine organisms, the anoxic/hypoxic zones in the northern Gulf of Mexico could greatly impact commercially and ecologically important marine species.  Overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that excess organic matter, especially nitrogen, from the Mississippi River drainage basin drives the development of anoxic/hypoxic waters.  Although natural sources contribute to the runoff, inputs from agricultural runoff, the burning of fossil fuels, and waste water treatment discharges have increased inputs to many times natural levels.

Runoff in the Mississippi basin
Map showing sources of nitrogen runoff in the Mississippi River drainage basin. Source NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

Nitrogen runoff from the Mississippi River feeds large phytoplankton algae blooms at the surface.  Over time, excess algae and other organic materials sink to the bottom.  On the bottom, decomposition of this organic material by bacteria and other organisms consumes oxygen and leads to formation of anoxic/hypoxic zones.  These anoxic/hypoxic zones persist because waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico become stratified, which means the water is separated into horizontal layers with cold and/or saltier water at the bottom and warmer and/or fresher water at the surface. This layering separates bottom waters from the atmosphere and prevents re-supply of oxygen from the surface.

Since levels of dissolved oxygen can  greatly influence the distribution of marine life, we reasoned that the high variation in the number of sharks caught along the Louisiana/Texas coast could be the result of differences in dissolved oxygen.  To test this idea, we analyzed environmental data and shark numbers at survey stations along the Louisiana/Texas coast.  The graphs below show raw data collected by the CTD at stations 137 and 138.

CTD 137
Dissolved oxygen levels at station 137 (green line; raw data). At the surface: dissolved oxygen = 5.0 mg/liter. At the bottom: dissolved oxygen = 1.5 mg/liter.  Notice the stratification of the water at a depth of 7-8 meters.

 

CTD 138
Dissolved oxygen levels at station 138 (green line; raw data).  At the surface: dissolved oxygen = 5.5 mg/liter. At the bottom: dissolved oxygen = 0 mg/liter.  Notice the stratification of the water at a depth of 7-8 meters.

Putting together shark survey numbers with environmental data from the CTD we found that we caught very high numbers of sharks in hypoxic water and we caught very few sharks in anoxic water.  Similar results were observed at station 136 (hypoxic waters; 65 sharks caught) and station 139 (anoxic waters; 2 sharks caught).

Data table
Relationship between dissolved oxygen levels and numbers of sharks caught at stations 137 and 138.

What can explain this data?  One possible answer is that sharks will be found where there is food for them to eat.  Thus, many sharks may be moving in and out of hypoxic waters to catch prey that may be stressed or less active due to low oxygen levels.  In other words, sharks may be taking advantage of low oxygen conditions that make fish easier to catch.  In contrast, anoxic waters cannot support marine life so there will be very little food for sharks to eat and, therefore, few sharks will be present.  While this idea provides an explanation for our observations, more research, like the work being done aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II, is needed to understand the distribution and movement of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.

Personal Log
My time aboard the Oregon II is drawing to a close as we move into the last weekend of the cruise.  We have now turned away from the Louisiana coast into deeper waters as we travel west to Galveston, Texas.  The weather has changed as well.  It has been sunny and hot for much of our trip, but clouds, rain, and wind have moved in.  Despite this change in weather, we continue to set longlines at survey stations along our route to Galveston.  The rain makes our job more challenging but our catch has been relatively light since we moved away from the coast into deeper waters.  Hopefully our fishing luck will change as we move closer to Galveston.  I would like to wrestle a few more sharks before my time on the Oregon II comes to an end.

Jeff Miller: Wrestling Sharks for Science, September 9, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 9, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed: 9.4 knots
Wind Speed: 6.75 knots
Air Temp: 29.4°C
Sea Temp: 30.4°C
Seas: <1 meter
Sea Depth: 13 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat:  N 29 25.103
Long:  W 092.36.483

Science and Technology Log
The major goal of our mission is to survey shark populations in the western Gulf of Mexico and collect measurements and biological samples.  The sharks are also tagged so if they are re-caught scientists can learn about their growth and movements.

Sharks are members of the class of fishes called Chondrichthyes,which are cartilaginous fishes meaning they have an internal skeleton made of cartilage.  Within the class Chondricthyes, sharks belong to the subclass Elasmobranchii together with their closest relatives the skates and rays.  There are about 450 species of living sharks that inhabit oceans around the world.

Sharks, or better put their ancient relatives, have inhabited the oceans for approximately 450 million years and have evolved a number of unique characteristics that help them survive and thrive in virtually all parts of the world.  The most recognizable feature of sharks is their shape.  A shark’s body shape and fin placement allow water to flow over the shark reducing drag and making swimming easier.  In addition, the shark’s cartilaginous skeleton reduces weight while providing strength and flexibility, which also increases energy efficiency.

Blacktip shark
Measuring a blacktip shark on deck. The blacktip shark shows the typical body shape and fin placement of sharks. These physical characteristics decrease drag and help sharks move more efficiently through water.

When I held a shark for the first time, the feature I noticed most is the incredible muscle mass and strength of the shark.  The body of a typical shark is composed of over 60% muscle (the average human has about 35-40% muscle mass).  Most sharks need to keep swimming to breathe and, therefore, typically move steadily and slowly through the water.  This slow, steady movement is powered by red muscle, which makes up about 10% of a sharks muscle and requires high amounts of oxygen to produce fuel for muscle contraction.  The other 90% of a sharks muscle is called white muscle and is used for powerful bursts of speed when eluding predators (other sharks) or capturing prey.

Since sharks are so strong and potentially dangerous, one lesson that I learned quickly was how to properly handle a shark on deck.  Smaller sharks can typically be handled by one person.  To hold a small shark, you grab the shark just behind the chondrocranium (the stiff cartilage that makes up the “skull” of the shark) and above the gill slits.  This is a relatively soft area that can be squeezed firmly with your hand to hold the shark.  If the shark is a bit feisty, a second hand can be used to hold the tail.

Holding a sharpnose shark
Smaller sharks, like this sharpnose shark, can be held by firmly grabbing the shark just behind the head.

Larger and/or more aggressive sharks typically require two sets of hands to hold safely.  When two people are needed to hold a shark, it is very important that both people grab the shark at the same time.  One person holds the head while the other holds the tail.  When trying to hold a larger, more powerful shark, you do not want to grab the tail first.  Sharks are very flexible and can bend their heads back towards their tail, which can pose a safety risk for the handler.  While holding a shark sounds simple, subduing a large shark and getting it to cooperate while taking measurements takes a lot of focus, strength, and teamwork.

Holding a blacktip shark
Teamwork is required to handle larger sharks like this blacktip shark, which was caught because it preyed on a small sharpnose shark that was already on the hook.

 

Measuring a blacktip shark
Collecting measurements from a large blacktip shark.

 

Holding a blacktip shark
Holding a blacktip shark before determining its weight.

When a shark is too big to bring on deck safely, the shark is placed into a cradle and hoisted from the water so it can be measured and tagged.  We have used the cradle on a number of sharks including a 7.5 foot tiger shark and a 6 foot scalloped hammerhead shark.  When processing sharks, we try to work quickly and efficiently to measure and tag the sharks to minimize stress on the animals and time out of the water.  Once our data collection is complete, the sharks are returned to the water.

Tiger shark in the cradle
Large sharks, like this tiger shark, are hoisted up on a cradle in order to be measured and tagged.

Personal Log
We are now in full work mode on the ship.  My daily routine consists of waking up around 7:30 and grabbing breakfast.  After breakfast I like to go check in on the night team to see what they caught and determine when they will do their next haul (i.e. pull in their catch).  This usually gives me a couple hours of free time before my shift begins at noon.  I like to use my time in the morning to work on my log and go through pictures from the previous day.  I eat lunch around 11:30 so I am ready to start work at noon.  My shift, which runs from noon to midnight, typically includes surveying three or four different stations.  At each station, we set our baited hooks for one hour, haul the catch, and process the sharks and fishes.  We process the sharks immediately and then release them, whereas we keep the fish to collect biological samples (otoliths and gonads).  Once we finish processing the catch, we have free time until the ship reaches the next survey station.  The stations can be anywhere from 6 or 7 miles apart to over 40 miles apart.  Therefore, our downtime throughout the day can vary widely from 30 minutes to several hours (the ship usually travels at about 10 knots; 1 knot = 1.15 mph).  At midnight, we switch roles with the night team.  Working with fish in temperatures reaching  the low 90°s will make you dirty.  Therefore, I typically head to the shower to clean up before going to bed.  I am usually in bed by 12:30 and will be back up early in the morning to do it all over again.  It is a busy schedule, but the work is interesting, exciting, and fun.  I feel very lucky to be out here because not many people get the opportunity to wrestle sharks.  This is one experience I will always remember.

Jeff Miller: Fishing for Sharks and Fishes, September 6, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 6, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed: 9.7 knots
Wind Speed: 5.6 knots
Air Temp: 30.9°C
Sea Temp: 31.1°C
Seas: <1 meter
Sea Depth: 52 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat:  N 28 06.236
Long:  W 095 15.023

Science and Technology Log
Our first couple days of fishing have been a great learning experience for me despite the fact that the fish count has been relatively low (the last three sets we averaged less than 5 fish per 100 hooks).  There are a number of jobs to do at each survey station and I will rotate through each of them during my cruise. These jobs include baiting the hooks, numbering and setting the hooks on the main line, hauling in the hooks, measuring and weighing the sharks/fish, and processing the shark/fish for biological samples.

Numbering the baited hooks
Each gangion (the baited hook and its associate line) is tagged with a number before being attached to the main line.

 

Number clips
A number clip is attached to each gangion (baited hook and its associated line) to catalog each fish that is caught.

After the line is deployed for one hour, we haul in the catch.  As the gangions come in, one of us will collect empty hooks and place them back in the barrel to be ready for the next station.  Other members of the team will process the fish we catch.  The number of fish caught at each station can vary widely.  Our team (the daytime team) had two stations in a row where we caught fewer than five fish while the night team caught 57 fish at a single station.

Collecting empty hooks
Empty hooks are collected, left over bait is removed, and the gangion is placed back in the bucket to be ready for the next station.

So far we have caught a variety of fishes including golden tilefish, red snapper, sharpnose sharks, blacknose sharks, a scalloped hammerhead, black tip sharks, a spinner shark, and smooth dogfish.  The first set of hooks we deployed was at a deep water station (sea depth was approx. 300 meters or 985 feet) and we hooked 11 golden tilefish, including one that weighed 13 kg (28.6 pounds).

Golden tilefish
On our first set of hooks in deep water, we caught a number of golden tilefish including this fish that weighed nearly 30 pounds.

We collect a number of samples from fishes such as red snapper and golden tilefish.  First we collect otoliths, which are hard calcified structures of the inner ear that are located just behind the brain.  Scientists can read the rings of the otolith to determine the approximate age and growth rate of the fish.

Otolith
Otoliths can be read like tree rings to approximate the age and growth rate of bony fishes.  Photo credit: NOAA Marine Fisheries.

The answer to the poll is at the end of this post.

You can try to age fish like NOAA scientists do by using the Age Reading Demonstration created by the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center.  Click here to visit the site.

When sharks are caught, we collect information about their size, gender, and sexual maturity.  You may be wondering, “how can you determine the sex of a shark?”  It ends up that the answer is actually quite simple.  Male sharks have two claspers along the inner margin of the pelvic fins that are used to insert sperm into the cloaca of a female.  Female sharks lack claspers.

Male female shark
Male and female sharks can be distinguished by the presence of claspers on male sharks.

Personal Log
After arriving at our first survey station on Thursday afternoon (Sep. 3), everyone on the ship is in full work mode.  We work around the clock in two groups: one team, which I belong to, works from noon to midnight, and the other team works from midnight to noon.  The crew and science teams work very well together – everyone has a specific job as we set out hooks, haul the catch, and process the fishes.  It’s a well oiled machine and I am grateful to the crew and my fellow science team members for helping me learn and take an active role the process.  I am not here as a passive observer.  I am truly part of the scientific team.

I have also learned a lot about the fishes we are catching.  For example, I have learned how to handle them on deck, how to process them for samples, and how to filet them for dinner.  I never fished much my life, so pretty much everything I am doing is new to me.

I have also adjusted well to life on the ship.  Before the cruise, I was concerned that I may get seasick since I am prone to motion sickness.  However, so far I have felt great even though we have been in relatively choppy seas (averaging about 1-2 meters or 3 to 6 feet) and the ship rocks constantly.  I have been using a scopolamine patch, an anticholinergic drug that decreases nausea and dizziness, and this likely is playing a role. Whether it’s just me or the medicine, I feel good, I’m sleeping well, and I am eating well.  The cooks are great and the food has been outstanding.  All in all, I am having an amazing experience.

Poll answer:  This fish is approximately nine years old (as determined by members of my science team aboard the Oregon II).

Jeff Miller: Cruising to the Survey Stations, September 2, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 2, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed: 11.6 knots
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Air Temp:  24.7°C
Sea Temp:  29.6°C
Seas:  3-4 ft.
Sea Depth: 589 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat: 28 01.364 N
Long: 091 29.104 W

Cruising Map
Map showing our current location and the site of our first survey station

Science and Technology Log
After a one day delay in port at Pascagoula, MS we are currently motoring southwest towards our first survey station in the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville, TX. Our survey area will include random stations roughly between Brownsville and Galveston, TX.

Survey stations are randomly selected from a predetermined grid of sites.  Possible stations fall into three categories: (A) stations in depths 9-55 meters (5-30 fathoms), (B) stations in depths between 55-183 meters (30-100 fathoms), and (C) stations in depths between 183-366 meters (100-200 fathoms).  On the current shark longline surveys, 50% of the sites we survey will be category A sites, 40% will be category B sites, and 10% will be category C sites.  Environmental data is also collected at each station including water temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen.

Several questions you may have are why do a shark survey, how do you catch the sharks, and what do you do with the sharks once they are caught?  These are great questions and below I will describe the materials and methods we will use to catch and analyze sharks aboard the Oregon II. 

Why does NOAA perform shark surveys?
Shark surveys are done to gather information about shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico and to collect morphological measurements (length, weight) and biological samples for research.

How are shark surveys performed?
At each collection station, a one mile line of 100 hooks baited with Atlantic Mackerel is used to catch sharks. The line is first attached to a radar reflective highflyer (a type of buoy that can be detected by the ship’s radar).  A weight is then attached to the line to make it sink to the bottom.  After the weight is added, about 50 gangions with baited hooks are attached to the line.  At the half mile point of the line, another weight is attached then the second 50 hooks.  After the last hook, a third weight is added then the second highflyer.  The line is left in the water for one hour (time between last highflyer deployed and first highflyer retrieved) and then is pulled back on to the boat to assess what has been caught.  Small sharks and fishes are brought on deck while larger sharks are lifted into a cradle for processing.

Longline equipment
Sampling gear used includes two highflyers, weights, and 100 hooks

 

Longline hooks
Longline hooks used for the shark survey

 

Longline hooks
Longline hooks used in the shark survey

 

Shark cradle
Shark cradle used to collect information about large sharks

 

What data is collected from the sharks?
Researchers collect a variety of samples and information from the caught sharks.  First, the survey provides a snapshot of the different shark species and their relative abundance in the Gulf of Mexico.  Second, researchers collect data from individual sharks including length, weight and whether the shark is reproductively mature.  Some sharks are tagged to gather data about their migration patterns.  Each tag has an identification number for the shark and contact information to report information about where the same shark was re-caught.  Third, biological samples are collected from sharks for more detailed analyses.  Tissues collected include fin clips (for DNA and molecular studies), muscle tissue (for toxicology studies), blood (for hormonal studies), reproductive organs (including embryos if present), and vertebrae (for age and growth studies).

Personal Log
One of the desired traits for participants in the Teacher at Sea program is flexibility – cruising schedules and even ports can change.  I have now experienced this first-hand as we were delayed in port in Pascagoula, MS for an extra day.  Though waiting an extra day really isn’t a big deal, it is hard to wait since myself and the rest of the scientific crew are all anxious to begin the shark survey.  Since we also have two days of cruising to reach our first survey site, this means we all have to find ways to pass the time.  I have used some of my time trying to learn about the operation of the ship as well as the methods we will be using to perform the longline survey.  I also watched a couple movies with other members of the science team.  The ship has an amazing library of DVDs.

The Oregon II
Getting ready to leave Pascagoula aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II

Safety is very important aboard the Oregon II so today we performed several drills including an abandon ship drill.  This drill requires you to wear a survival suit.  Getting mine on was a tight squeeze but I got the suit on in the required time.

Safety suit
In my safety suit during an abandon ship drill

Did You Know?
The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.  Can you name the other six uniformed services?  Think about this and check the answer at the bottom of this post.

NOAA Corps Officers perform many duties that include commanding NOAA’s research and survey vessels, flying NOAA’s hurricane and environmental monitoring planes, and managing scientific and engineering work needed to make wise decisions about our natural resources and environment.

Answer: The seven uniformed services of the United States are: (1) Army, (2) Navy, (3) Air Force, (4) Marine Corps, (5) Coast Guard, (6) NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, and (7) Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

Lynn Kurth: Summer Adventure At Sea, July 22, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynn Kurth
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon  II
July 25 – August 9, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 22, 2014

Personal Log

Hello, from the Badger State! My name is Lynn Schultz-Kurth. I am a 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Prairie River Middle School in Merrill, WI, a small town in the center of the state. Summer is an exciting time here in Wisconsin, but even more exciting this year as we survived one of the nastiest winters on record. As the rivers are finally warm enough to comfortably swim in and the black-eyed susans are in full bloom, I am going to be leaving my home on the Wisconsin River for Pascagoula, MS to be part of NOAA’s (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) Teacher at Sea program.

Black-eyed susans in my garden on the Wisconsin River
Black-eyed susans in my garden on the Wisconsin River

I am honored to be joining the crew aboard the Oregon II, a 170ft. national marine fishing vessel, for a Shark/Red Snapper longline survey, departing from Pascagoula, MS on July 26th and returning to port in Mayport, FL on August 9th. During my mission sharks will be caught, measured, tagged, and released in order to assess their abundance, distribution, and migrational patterns, and to examine their distribution with regard to oceanographic features. I had some experience aboard a research vessel in the summer of 2011, when I participated in Sea Grant’s week long workshop for teachers aboard the R/V Lake Guardian on Lake Superior. Based on that experience, I am expecting to learn a lot, meet amazing people, work long hours and have the experience of a lifetime that will enable me to share “real” science with my students now and in the years to come.

Liz Harrington: Good to the End, August 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
 Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug 25 , 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly Sunny
Lat. 30.15 °N  Lon. 88.46 °W
Temp. 80 °F (26.9 °C)
Humidity 82 %
Wind speed   8.26 knots
Barometer  30.08 in (1018.75 mb)
Visibility  10  mi

Science and Career Log

It has been just over two weeks since I boarded the Oregon II. In that time I have had the chance to speak with many people who work aboard the ship. These people are either members of the NOAA Corps, members of the scientific team or civilian mariners employed by NOAA.  The NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps is one of the seven uniform services of the United States. Corps graduates operate NOAA’s ships and aircraft and work in positions to support NOAA’s environmental and scientific missions. Their job assignments alternate between sea duty (or air duty if associated with the aviation program) and land duty. It is an interesting career that offers the opportunity to travel as well as to be a participant in NOAA missions.

Of the five ship officers, four are members of the NOAA Corps: the Executive Officer (second in command of the ship) LCDR Eric Johnson, Operations Officer LTJG Matthew Griffin, Navigation Officer Brian Adornato and Junior Officer Rachel Pryor. The Commanding Officer, Master Dave Nelson, is a civilian captain who has spent his life on the water and has worked his way up from a deck hand. All of the ship’s officers are friendly, knowledgeable and professional. I’m in great hands with them in charge.

During some free time away from her NOAA Corps duties, ENS Rachel Pryor would sometimes help the day shift. Here she teaches Micayla how to remove otoliths.
During some free time away from her NOAA Corps duties, ENS Rachel Pryor would sometimes help the day shift. Here she teaches Micayla how to remove otoliths.
choosing the best course
Officers and Chief Scientists often discuss the best possible course when sites are clustered together.
possible course
One possible route for the day. This may change depending on weather, tide and currents.

The deck crew who worked the day shift with me consisted of the Chief Boatswain Tim Martin and the Skilled Fishermen Chuck Godwin and Mike Conway. They work well together and they were very helpful to me while I was learning the deck routines. The Chief Boatswain (pronounce bō´ sun) supervises members of the deck crew and oversees all deck operations, including safety, training and maintenance.

There are four NOAA scientists onboard, two for each shift. Scientists Lisa Jones and Eric Hoffmayer are both on the night shift with the three volunteers Dave, Al and Muri. The day shift is covered with research biologists Kristin Hannan and Amy Schmitt, along with volunteers Mikayla, Cliff and Daniel. Kristin is the Chief Scientist for this leg of the cruise, so she is in charge of making the decisions dealing with the scientific portion of the cruise. This involves coordination between herself, officers on the bridge (where the ship is being driven) and the deck shift leader. This role is rotated among the some of the scientists. Lisa will be the Chief Scientist for the next leg of the cruise.

Ready to set the line
Kristin and Tim are ready to set the line. They will receive word from the bridge when the ship has reached the correct coordinates.

One important job on this ship that I have to mention is the Chief Steward, which is held by Walter Coghlan.  Walter is in charge of feeding everyone on board and he is great at what he does. As a Chief de Cuisine, he is very well trained and it shows in his meals. When living aboard a ship I think the food takes on more importance. It is not easy to keep everyone happy but Walter is doing it. The menu always has a number of choices and the meals are prepared fresh daily. I’m eating like a queen.

Chief Steward Walter Coghlan keeps everyone well fed.
Chief Steward Walter Coghlan keeps everyone well fed.

Personal Log

My days aboard the Oregon II are coming to an end. We had been working our way north along the western coast of Florida. Now the fishing has stopped and we are traveling along the panhandle towards the home port of Pascagoula, Mississippi. This morning, far on the horizon, I could just barely make out the rectangular shapes of beachside hotels and condominiums. But the fishing remained good to the end with two different shark species being caught. One was an Angel Shark (genus Squatina), which I’m told is not normally caught on a longline. The other was a Cuban Dogfish(Squalus cubensis), which was the first one caught this season. So, we are ending on a good note.  We will now travel to the harbor entrance off the coast of Pascagoula. We will wait until morning and arrive at the dock bright and early.

I have mixed feelings about the going to shore. I’m happy to be going home to see my family and begin school, but I am sorry this experience is coming to an end. I have enjoyed every minute of this trip. Of course it is the people that have made it so rewarding. They have been so friendly and welcoming to me. The science has been very interesting to me as well.  I have lots of stories to share and a new interest in sharks. Back at school we’ll be following the sharks with the satellite tags. One part of this experience that I hadn’t put much thought into before coming is the life at sea. Living aboard a ship is a unique experience with the limited amount of space, the 24/7 schedules, the weather and the constant motion of the waves. It bonds the people into a big family, one that I’m going to miss but will be talking about for a long time.

New Term- Dock rock = The sensation the ground is moving after spending time at sea.

David holds an Angel Shark caught on the last haul back. (photo courtesy of David Seay)
David holds an Angel Shark caught on the last haul back. (photo courtesy of David Seay)
Liz with Tile Fish (photo courtesy of Micayla Keipert)
Liz with Tile Fish (photo courtesy of Micayla Keipert)
Pale Spotted Eel can be difficult to measure.
Pale Spotted Eel can be difficult to measure.
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There is lots of life on this piece of coral that was brought up on the line.
Cliff weighs a Barracuda.
Cliff weighs a Barracuda.
Tagging a Nurse Shark
Tagging a Nurse Shark
door latch
Everything aboard a ship needs to be secured due to the motion of the waves. The doors are secured with a hook like this one.
getting ready for haul back
Getting ready for the haul back – rain or shine. (photo courtesy of Micayla Keipert)
Removing hook
Chuck and Kristin remove a hook from a Sandbar Shark.
"The Day Shift". In back from left: Cliff, Daniel, Kristin and Micayla. Front from left: Liz and Amy. (Photo courtesy of Tim Martin)
“The Day Shift”. In back from left: Cliff, Daniel, Kristin and Micayla. Front from left: Liz and Amy. (Photo courtesy of Tim Martin)
Weighing a shark
Scientists Kristin Hannan and Amy Schmitt prepare to weigh a shark that has been brought up on deck.
Oregon II in Pascagoula.
One last picture before leaving the Oregon II. (photo courtesy of Lisa Jones)

Liz Harrington: Back into Action, August 23, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
 Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug. 23, 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly cloudy
Lat. 29.31 °N  Lon. 84.18 °W
Temp.  83 °F (28.8 °C)
Humidity 79%
Wind speed   10-15 kts
Barometer  30.03 in ( 1017.15mb)
Visibility  10 mi

Science and Technology Log:

The weather hasn’t been cooperating with us too well as we have run in to an occasional squall. It is amazing just how quickly that wind can pick up. Yesterday in the course of hauling in the line the wind increased from 18 to 34 knots (A knot is similar to mph, but it uses a nautical mile as a distance. One knot = 1.15 mph).

Red Grouper await processing. Occasionally the catch becomes the bait and we pull in half of a fish.
Red Grouper await processing. Occasionally the catch becomes the bait and we pull in half of a fish.

But the fish have been cooperating. The lull is over and the catch has increased. For the most part we are catching Red Grouper, an occasional Red Snapper and a variety of sharks. Click here to see the shark species found in the Gulf of Mexico. The majority of the sharks have been large enough to cradle. When we hear “hard hats that means it’s a big one” and our team jumps into action. Some of the sharks come up in the cradle quietly, but others come up thrashing about.  They are quickly held down by the fishermen of the deck crew which keeps the sharks quiet and safe. Then the science team steps in to collect the data and insert a tag.  As the cradle is lowered back down it is paused to obtain the shark’s weight. There is an electronic scale located at the top of the cradle. It is then lowered into the water and the shark swims away. I’m still amazed at how efficient the process is. The sharks are measured, tagged and weighed in a matter of just a few minutes.

There is a level of excitement when catching any of these fish and sharks, but the exceptional catch raises that level.  This occurred a couple of days ago. We had something on the line and it was big – really big. Even the crew was yelling about its size.  I knew it was something special. As it got closer to the boat it was identified as a huge Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). The crane operator was bringing the cradle and the science team was getting ready when ……it was gone. It had bitten through the line. I guess there always has to be that big one that got away.

The huge Tiger Shark that got away.
The huge Tiger Shark that got away.

The level of excitement rose again when the next day we caught a Great Hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran). Any of the larger Hammerheads or Tiger Sharks are being fitted with a satellite tag. This is attached to their dorsal fin (the large fin on their back).  Whenever the shark comes to the surface, the tag will transmit its location via radio waves to a satellite. The satellite will then send the signal back down to a receiving antennae and on to various labs. This is a type of remote sensing that is commonly used to track animals.  It gives scientists  information about animal’s behavior and migration patterns. These particular satellite tags are from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.  It is a collaborative effort to get the tags on as many sharks as possible so they can study where they go after being caught.

Satellite tag on Great Hammerhead
Attaching a satellite tag to the dorsal fin of a Great Hammerhead Shark.

While working with the scientists I noticed that they use a combination of metric units, maritime units and imperial units. The fish are measured in millimeters, the electronic scale measured in pounds (normally it measures in  kilograms, but there was a technical issue that required changing to pounds), the handheld scale measure in kilograms, the water current is measured in knots, the depth for the CTD is measured in meters, the distance is measured in nautical miles and the survey areas are divided by fathoms ( 1 fathom = 6 feet), just to name a few.  It is helpful to be familiar with all of them and be able to convert from one type of unit to another.  It has made me think that we should be practicing our metric conversions even more than we currently do in class.  So, my incoming freshmen, get ready.

Personal Log :

The time is passing so quickly here on the ship. I think that is because there is always something happening here.  My daily routine consists of rising around 7:30 am, grabbing a light breakfast and then going to see what the night shift is doing. Often times they are preparing to haul in the line and I can’t resist watching that.  I have an early lunch since my shift will begin at noon, but we are usually prepared to go before that time. For the next twelve hours we will set the line, run the CTD, haul in the line and move on to the next site. Dinner is at 17:00 ( 5:00 pm) but if we are busy we can request a plate be set aside for us.  The distance between sites can be anywhere from less than a nautical mile (nm) to over 60 nm.  The ship can travel about 10 knots depending upon the wind and the current. So, there are times when we have a number of hours between sites. On these occasions I check my email, work on my blog, edit my pictures or just stand on the deck and look out over the water.  I always have my eyes open for animals, but it isn’t often that I see any.  Just water as far as the eye can see.  It gives me a sense of the vastness of the ocean. And I am seeing lots of beautiful cloud features and sunsets.

A beautiful sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.
A beautiful sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.

I had the special privilege of getting a tour by the Chief Marine Engineer, Sean Pfarrer, of the engine room. It is very  loud down there so we had to wear ear plugs.  Sean pointed to different things and I took  pictures. Then upstairs, in the relative quiet of the galley, he took the time to explain to me the role of each component. We had a really interesting discussion. Any mechanical questions that arose after that, Sean was the one I’d go to.  When I return, anyone interested in mechanics can listen to my presentation of the engine room – it’s more interesting than you may think.

The two main engines of the Oregon II
The two main engines of the Oregon II
wind picks up
As the wind picks up the day team scurries to clean up and put gear away because it is too rough to fish. Amy and Cliff clean and rinse the deck.
Sharpnose Shark
Weighing a Sharpnose Shark. photo courtesy of David Seay.
satellite tag
A closer view of the satellite tag attached to the dorsal fin.
measuring shark
Kristin calls out measurements to Amy as Daniel and Eric help hold the shark still.
otoliths
A pair of otoliths from a Red Grouper (Epinephelus morio).
yellowedge grouper
The day team only caught one Yellowedge Grouper (Hyporthodus flavolimbatus). Photo courtesy of David Seay.
sharpnose shark
Teamwork is the key to the quick processing of this Sharpnose Shark. Amy, Daniel and I were done in no time. Photo courtesy of David Seay.

Liz Harrington: The Temporary Lull in the Action, August 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
 Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 21, 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly cloudy
Lat. 29.18 °N  Lon. 84.06 °W
Temp. 75 °F (24 ° C)
Wind speed  10-15  mph
Barometer  30.04 in ( 1017.3 mb)
Visibility  10 mi

Science and Technology Log:

It has been just over a week now since I’ve been aboard the Oregon II.  The catch has not been as abundant as it was the first couple of days of fishing, but that tells the scientist something as well. So far I’ve experienced three water hauls – not one fish on any of the 100 hooks!  Even though we are not catching many fish (for now), the fishing will continue until it is time to return to port.  Don’t get me wrong, we are still catching fish, just not as many as we had been.  Occasionally we pull up something other than fish, like eels, skates, crabs or sea stars. This is called the bycatch. In the previous blog I explained how the line was set. In this one I’ll explain about the catch.

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“Fish On”. A Sandbar Shark is brought alongside the ship to be cradled.
crab as bycatch
This crab, part of the bycatch, wouldn’t let go of the bait.
preparing for haul back
Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols (right) and Fisherman Buddy Gould prepare to retrieve the high flyer.

Hauling in the line is similar to setting it out.  The fisherman handle the line and the science team process the fish. Our team includes a person manning the computer to keep track of the hook numbers and the condition of any remaining bait;  a person “racking” (carefully but quickly returning the gangions into the storage barrels); and a “data” person to write down information about each fish, and the rest of the team will be “wranglers” (those who handle the catch).  We all rotate through the jobs.  I like to be a wrangler, but the racker and computer folks get a nice view of the fish being brought on board.  Everything we catch is brought on board, weighed and measured.

tagging Tiger Shark
The Day Team tagging a Tiger Shark

Many species of sharks are tagged and a fin clip is taken to obtain its DNA.  They are given an injection of a chemical which will help to age the shark if it is caught again.  The entire process only takes a few minutes because they are trying to get the sharks back into the water as soon as possible. The scientists and crew are all very conscientious about doing what is best for the marine life.  What’s really nice is that we all take turns tagging the sharks.  It is just so exciting to be up close to them, especially the big ones. You can feel the strength and power beneath that sandy skin.

weighing a shark
Sometimes sharks are too heavy for the handheld scale, so they are hoisted up to be weighed. Notice the scientist to the right to get sense of its weight.
processing fish
Kristin and Cliff find otoliths at the end of the rainbow.

The boney fish that are caught are also weighed and measured. After the haul back (when the line is in, gangions are stored, high flyers returned and deck hosed down), they are brought to the back of the ship to have otoliths removed and tissue samples taken. The otoliths are boney structures in the fish’s inner ear which are sensitive to gravity and acceleration. As the fish grows, each year a new layer is added to the otoliths – similar to tree rings. By examining the otoliths under a microscope its age can be determined. I was taught how to remove the otoliths, so now (given enough time – I need plenty) I can help process the fish. Learn more about the procedure here.

Personal Log

stateroom
I have the bottom bunk in stateroom #5

It has been easy for me to acclimate to life aboard the ship because all of the people are so friendly and interesting.  The ship is always rocking but I don’t even notice it any more. It actually lulls me to sleep at night, along with the constant sound of the engine and particularly the gurgling sound of the water moving along the hull (frame of ship). I was a little worried that I might get seasick in the beginning of the cruise, but I didn’t. The only problem I had was that reading or working on the computer made me queasy, but that only lasted for a couple of days.  Quarters are tight, but they make good use of all of the space. Most of the bedrooms (called staterooms) sleep two people. We all eat in a room called the galley. It only holds twelve people at a time, so when we are done eating we leave to make room for someone else. The food on board is delicious and abundant. The chief steward, Walter Coghlan, does a great job providing a variety of choices. There is literally something for everyone.  If we have free time, there is a lounge area with a huge selection of movies.

I like to spend my free time out on the decks, if I can find a place in the shade and the breeze. I love to look out over the water. And the sky stretches from horizon to horizon in all directions, something I don’t see in the mountains of Vermont.  The cumulus clouds develop during the day and I can usually see a thunderstorm somewhere by late afternoon. It’s a beautiful view.  Yesterday we were visited briefly by a small group of dolphins. Their acrobatics were very entertaining. They were here and then gone. That seems to be the continuing theme here; you never know what you are going to see.

Dolphin visit
A small group of dolphins swim along side the ship.
thunderstorm
A distant passing thunderstorm.

Did you know?  The ship makes it own fresh water from the sea water.  There is a reverse osmosis desalination system located down in the engine room. The fresh water is stored in large tanks, so it is always available.

volunteers await a haul
Volunteers Micayla, Daniel, David and Cliff waiting to do some wrangling.

New Term

Foul Hook – when a fish is hooked in a place other than its mouth (ie -fin or body)

More examples of bycatch.

clearnose skate
Clearnose Skate
little tunny
Micayla holds a Little Tunny (yes, that’s it’s real name)
yellowedge grouper
Yellowedge Grouper ready for processing
sea star
Sea Star

Liz Harrington: Let’s Go Fishing! August 17, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
 Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug 17, 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly cloudy, scattered showers and thunder storms
Lat. 27.19 °N  Lon. 84.38 °W
Temp. 92 °F ( 33.4° C)
Wind speed   10-15 knots
Barometer  30.1 in  (1015 mb)
Visibility  10 mi
Sea temp  83 ° F   (28.8  ° C)

Science and Technology Log

We have arrived at the survey sites, the fishing has begun and I’m having the time of my life! The process is a collaborative effort between the science team and the crew of the ship.  In upcoming blogs I’ll focus on all the different people on board the ship and their roles, but I’d like to first tell you about the fishing from my perspective as part of the science team. The science team consists of four scientists and seven volunteers. We are divided into day shift (noon to midnight) and night shift (midnight to noon). I am assigned to the day shift.

I was told that about a mile of line with 100 hooks would be let out and weighted to stay close to the bottom.  I was interested to see how they could let the line out and haul it back in again without all those hooks getting tangled. Well, I learned that the hooks are removable.  The hooks are attached to one end of a 12 foot section of line. The other end holds a snap. This set up is called a gangion.  The gangions are snapped onto the longline as it is let out and taken off the line as it is reeled in.  They are stored in a very orderly way to avoid tangles, although an occasional tangle does occur.  As the ship is approaching a designated site we prepare for setting the line. This is done from the rear of the ship, called the stern.

gangion
Parts of a gangion
baited gangions
Gangions baited and ready to set

We bait the hooks and decide on job assignments.  The jobs that need to be done while setting the line are “Data” (manning the computer to keep a count of the gangions that are put on the line); “High Flyer” (throwing out the buoys that will mark the beginning and end of the line); “Slinger” (throwing the baited hook over the edge of the ship and holding the other end of the gangion to receive a numbered tag); and “Numbers” (snapping numbered tags on to the gangions).  The weather conditions and the speed of the current must be checked before the final approval is given to set the line.  When the signal is given our team gets to work.

high flyer
Skilled fisherman Chuck Godwin and I get ready to put out the high flyer
High Flyers mark each end of the longline
High Flyers mark each end of the longline
slinging
Lead scientist for this trip, Kristin Hannan, slinging while we set out the line. The bait is Atlantic Mackerel.

After the line is set and the work station is cleaned up (that bait can get a little messy!), a CTD is deployed to gather data on the water – Conductivity (a measure of salinity), Temperature and Depth. The CTD also measures the dissolved oxygen in the water – remember that fish breathe by absorbing oxygen from the water as it runs over their gills.

An hour after the last high flyer is set, the line is hauled in. This is done from the bow (the front deck of the ship). During this part of the process I am full of anticipation as we wait to see what each hook holds. It might be a light catch with a couple of fish or it might be a very busy catch.  When the crew yells “fish on”, the action begins. Anything that is caught is brought on board and data is collected (more on this later). If it is too big to be pulled in, then it is lifted into a cradle and worked on along the side of the ship. The crew will determine if cradling is needed and will shout out “hard hats”, as we all need to be wearing hard hats when the crane is being used to move the cradle. In our first two days of fishing, the day shift has cradled five sharks. It is so exciting to be next to such a big, beautiful creature.

The final step to the fishing process is clean up. Our gear is put away, the deck is hosed down (using salt water, as fresh water is in precious on a ship), numbers are checked for proper order and damaged gangions are repaired. If there were fish caught that require dissection, this would be done now as well. In the meantime, Oregon II steams on to the next survey site.  So, you can see that the ship is a busy place 24 hours a day.

repairing or replacing worn gangions
Members of the day shift science team repair gangions after a recent haul. Foreground- Micayla and Cliff, volunteers. Background – Amy Schmidt, scientist.

Personal Log

I am having so much fun on the Oregon II. The work is really interesting and the people have been fantastic.  Not only has everyone on board been very friendly and helpful, but they have really made me feel like a member of the team. Right from the start we were trained for the various jobs and expected to do them, with lots of help and encouragement always available. I initially thought I’d be more of an observer, but that is not the case at all.  All of the volunteers are actively involved in every aspect of the fishing routine.

sharpnose shark
Here I am taking measurements on a Sharpnose Shark

I find it fascinating that people from all over the country have come together to cross paths here aboard a ship in the Gulf of Mexico. In future blogs I’d like to highlight some of their stories, but for now there is work to be done (although I’m not to the point where I can call this work. It’s way too much fun!)

New Terms

Shark Burn – the abrasion received when a wiggling shark rubs against your skin.

Water Haul – nothing at all is caught during a set.

night shark
Daniel, volunteer, prepares to release a Night Shark
removing hook
Removing a hook from a cradled Sandbar shark
CTD
Micayla and Cliff stabilize the CTD during deployment.
data collection
Micayla logs hook numbers as line is let out.

Julie Karre: Back to My Reality, August 12, 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: Monday August 12, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Sadly, I don’t know because I’m not there anymore.

The sunset on the last night. Exquisite. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman
The sunset on the last night. Exquisite. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

Post-Cruise Log

I have been back on land for three days now and all I want to talk about are my adventures aboard the Oregon II. I miss everyone I met and hope that we all remain friends. But now that I am not in the moment and experiencing the adrenaline rush of handling sharks, I have time to think about all that I have learned and how I will make this experience valuable to my students. Because, while it was a true honor and privilege to have been aboard the Oregon II for two weeks, the real honor and privilege of my life is spending 10 months with students of Baltimore City Public Schools. And they matter the most right now.

I begin school in two weeks. Two weeks from now I will be standing in my classroom setting up what I hope to be a remarkable year of learning with 40 or so 7th graders and 40 or so 8th graders. Just picturing their faces coming through the door and the hugs and the squeals of delight as we get excited about seeing each other makes me the happiest version of myself.

My Armistead Gardens 7th graders received homemade cookies as a New Years Gift. I look forward to seeing them for a new year beginning August 26th.
My Armistead Gardens 7th graders received homemade cookies as a New Years Gift. I look forward to seeing them for a new year beginning August 26th.

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So what am I going to do with this experience? How will I make two of the most meaningful weeks of my life meaningful for kids who were not involved? How will I make what was mine, theirs?

Those are the questions that bounce around in my head all of the time now. No amount of blog writing and sharing pictures on Facebook matters if I don’t do this justice to those kids. And in the meantime, I would really like to make the people who made this possible proud. From the NOAA employees who run Teacher at Sea to the crew and scientists on the Oregon II to the volunteers who cheered me on and supported me to my parents who watched my dog, I want to make them proud.

So the brainstorming begins and this is where it starts. Over the course of the cruise, I kept track of our latitude and longitude at 11am each day and at each of our stations. During a 1-2 week unit during my Ecosystems In and Out of Balance semester of study, we will be using the research from my cruise to celebrate Shark Week – Armistead Gardens Style. We will begin by plotting the course of the Oregon II from July 26 to August 8. We will study the written descriptions of the shark species I encountered and see if we can match them with pictures. We will hypothesize how the flow of energy works in the marine ecosystems where these sharks are found – will the students guess that some of the big sharks eat some of the little sharks? I didn’t know that. Then we will begin to study what struggles these species encounter in an out-of-balance ecosystem – things like fishing and hypoxia and oil spills.

Beyond the marine science, we will look at who makes marine science possible. I cannot wait to share with these students the opportunities that abound in marine careers, from becoming a scientist like Kristin to driving a ship like Rachel.

This is just a beginning and I look forward to sharing the final product as I continue to develop it.

Thank you so much to everyone who followed my adventure. Thank you so much to everyone who made this possible. I will not let you down.

The volunteers from the first leg take their leave of the Oregon II and head back to their other lives. Photo Credit: Amy Schmitt
The volunteers from the first leg take their leave of the Oregon II and head back to their other lives. Photo Credit: Amy Schmitt
And now I am home with my lovely dog, Maddox.
And now I am home with my lovely dog, Maddox.


Animals Seen Over Two Weeks

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark

I handle an Atlantic Sharpnose in one of my last hauls aboard the ship. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess
I handle an Atlantic Sharpnose in one of my last hauls aboard the ship. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

Blacknose Shark

Nurse Shark

Scalloped Hammerhead

Bull Shark

Sandbar Shark

Night Shark

Silky Shark

Ribbonfish

IMG_0977

A ribbonfish makes an appearance. Quite the face it has.
A ribbonfish makes an appearance. Quite the face it has.

Grouper

Red Snapper

Black Sea Bass

A black sea bass makes a guest appearance in one of the final hauls on the Oregon II's first leg.
A black sea bass makes a guest appearance in one of the final hauls on the Oregon II’s first leg. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

Sea Turtles

Dolphins

Pilot Whales

Mahi Mahi

Mahi Mahi swim along as the night shift brings in the line. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman
Mahi Mahi swim along as the night shift brings in the line. Photo Credit: Holly Perryman

Sea stars

Jelly fish

Sea Pansy

Liz Harrington: The Adventure Begins – Setting Sail! August 13, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
 Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 13, 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly Cloudy
Lat. 24.24 ° N  Lon. 81.17 ° W
Temp.  86.9° F ( 30.5 °C)
Wind speed 12.1 knots
Barometer 1017 mb
Visibility 10 mi

Science and Technology Log

I’m very excited to finally be aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II.  Everyone I have met has made me feel very welcome.  I know I’m going to have a fantastic time.

Oregon II
Oregon II docked in Mayport, FL

The Oregon II set off from Mayport, Florida (near Jacksonville) Saturday at 1:30 pm (which is 13:30 our time since the crew uses the 24 hour time system).

24-hour Clock
24-hour Clock

We will travel along the entire eastern coast of Florida, around the Florida Keys and into the Gulf of Mexico where the fishing will begin.  I am on the second leg of a four leg Shark/Red Snapper survey.  This is a yearly survey with the purpose of gathering data on a number of shark species and Red Snapper, a popular commercial and recreational fish.  The majority of the sharks caught are weighed, measured, tagged and released.  A few are dissected, with tissue samples being taken for further studies.  The focus on the Red Snapper is to assess the health of the population.  With this information the fishing regulations are revised to ensure a sustainable Red Snapper stock.

The general public is beginning to understand that sharks don’t deserve their reputation as vicious killers but are actually an important link in the marine food web.  The data collected from the surveys will be used to better understand the various shark species and to inform those responsible for updating the fishing regulations.

The Oregon II is a beautiful ship with a friendly and welcoming crew.  One thing that stands out to me is the focus on safety.  Upon arriving at the ship I immediately noticed the bright red message stenciled upon her.  The commitment to that message is evident throughout the ship with safety equipment readily available, briefings for the new people arriving, life raft assignments and safety drills carried out.

Safety is an important practice on the Oregon II.
Safety is an important practice on the Oregon II.

Yesterday we participated in two safety drills.  The first was a Spill Drill.  When the alarm sounded people went to their assigned stations.  Members of the Science Team went to the dry lab and were all accounted for. Other members of the crew reported to the spill area with the appropriate gear to contain and clean up the mock spill.  A second drill we performed was an Abandon Ship drill.  In this drill we all needed to report to the foredeck with our survival suit, our PFD (personal flotation device or life jacket) and a set of clothing to protect against sun exposure (hat, long pants and long-sleeved shirt). We all had to demonstrate putting on our PFD as well as our survival suit. It may not surprise you to hear that I had plenty of room inside my survival suit and it was very easy to get into.

Fire fighting gear ready to go.
Fire fighting gear ready to go.

However, I did have to concentrate to zip the suit with my big, mitted hand. You may have thought, as I had, that survival suits were for the chilly northern waters.  But the ocean temperature here is close to 80° F while our body temperature is 98.6°.  It wouldn’t take long to chill and become hypothermic.  It is very comforting to know that safety plays such an important role on this ship and the captain and crew follow the saying “plan for the worst, hope for the best”.

survival suit
Abandon ship drill requires putting on a survival suit.

This morning we are located just south of the Florida Keys.  Our latitude is 24.24° N.  We are close to the Tropic of Cancer, but we won’t be crossing it.

sunrise off Florida Keys
Sunrise off the Florida Keys

Once around the Keys we’ll begin to head north again.  We may begin fishing this evening or early tomorrow morning, as soon as we reach our first survey point.  I’m looking forward to learning how the fishing is done and especially seeing what we catch.

storing suit
Survival suit is properly stored so it is always ready for use.
PFD
Easy access to PFDs stored in our rooms.
life raft
Self-inflating life raft. I am assigned to Life Raft #1.

Julie Karre: A Weekend with the Wind and Wild Sharks, August 2-4, 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 Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean off the Coast of Florida
Date: Friday, August 2 – Sunday, August 4, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Friday – SW WINDS 10 TO 15 KNOTS
SEAS 3 TO 5 FEET
SCATTERED SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS

Saturday – SW WINDS AROUND 15 KNOTS
ISOLATED SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS MAINLY AFTER MIDNIGHT
SEAS AROUND 4 FEET

Sunday – W WIND 5 TO 7 KNOTS BECOMING VARIABLE AND LESS THAN 5 KNOTS
A CHANCE OF SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS MAINLY AFTER 10PM
SEAS AROUND 3 FEET

Science and Technology Log
In this log we’ll take a closer look at the sharks we’ve brought on board:

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark:

Volunteer Arjen Krigsman works on a Sharpnose on his birthday!
Volunteer Arjen Krijgsman works on a Sharpnose on his birthday!

The Atlantic Sharpnose has been the most abundant shark on our survey and will continue to be abundant for the rest of the cruise, even in the Gulf of Mexico. It is in fact one of the species that is on the Least Concern list in terms of its vulnerability. It is often a victim of by-catch and makes up 1/3 of the commercial landings of sharks in the United States. But being capable of producing offspring in abundance, the Sharpnose remains a steady species with moderate population growths. As indicated by its name the Atlantic Sharpnose is found all along the U.S. Atlantic coast and even as far as New Brunswick, Canada. When the Oregon II makes its way back into the Gulf of Mexico, it will likely continue to make an appearance on deck.

Blacknose Shark

Blacknose Shark Photo Credit: Claudia Friess from her 2009 Longline cruise on the Oregon II. Unfortunately, when we caught the Blacknose it was too dark to get a good picture.
Blacknose Shark
Photo Credit: Claudia Friess from her 2009 Longline cruise on the Oregon II.  When we caught a Blacknose on this cruise it was too dark to get a good picture.

The Blacknose Shark shares a similar body with the Sharpnose, but is marked by a (drumroll please) black mark on its nose. Unfortunately, the Blacknose doesn’t share its abundance with the Sharpnose. The Blacknose is listed as Near Threatened due to its high mortality rates in shrimp trawl nets. The Blacknose is suffering a decline in its population. The Oregon II has only seen 5-6 Blacknose during this leg of the survey.

Nurse Shark

Nurse Shark Photo Credit: Claudia Friess from her 2009 Oregon II cruise. Unfortunately, it was too dark to get quality photos from our Nurse Shark.
Nurse Shark
Photo Credit: Claudia Friess from her 2009 Oregon II cruise. Again, it was too dark to get quality photos of our Nurse Shark.

The Nurse Shark, the first big shark we cradled, is characterized by sedentary and relatively docile behavior. They are still relatively mysterious in their migratory behavior and the gene flow between populations. Recently, it has been shown in population decline in certain areas perhaps due to its vulnerability to catch, but also perhaps because of habitat alteration.

Scalloped Hammerhead

Measuring a Scalloped Hammerhead.
Measuring a Scalloped Hammerhead.

The Scalloped Hammerhead has been my favorite so far. A friend of mine characterized it as the hipster of the shark world. There is something truly magnificent about those wide-set eyes. Unfortunately, the Scalloped Hammerhead is Endangered. The Scalloped Hammerhead can be found in coastal temperate waters all around the world. In each of these regions, it is threatened by capture, mostly as by-catch in fishing gear, gillnets, and longlines. Hammerhead shark fins are also more valuable than other species because of their high fin count. The species is in decline.

Bull Shark

Bull Shark! 232 pounds!
Bull Shark! 232 pounds!

The Bull Shark is a unique shark species because it can survive in freshwater for extended periods of time. This ability has caused it to be categorized as Near Threatened because it often gets caught in fisheries, but it is not a target species the way others are. Here’s what Kristin Hannan had to say: “Bull sharks’ ability to tolerate greater salinity extremes means that it is likely to be in more productive areas like at the input of rivers.  The rivers which dump high levels of nutrients into the system spur on production, high nutrients means more phytoplankton, more phytoplankton means more small critters eating and so on up.  These areas also mean hot spots for fishing activities as productivity means more fish, more fish means more predators, more interaction with gear, more possibilities for shark mortality.”

Sandbar Shark

A Sandbar Shark coming up on the cradle.
A Sandbar Shark coming up on the cradle.

The Sandbar Shark, which we caught in abundance one night, is a widespread species in warm temperate waters. Studies have found that it is a long-lived species, but it does not reproduce quickly so it has become Vulnerable due to overfishing. The species is currently in decline. The Sandbar is considered valuable because of their fins, which are large.

Tiger Shark 

A medium sized Tiger Shark was brought on deck to be measured and tagged. Kristin Hannan stands waiting for it to stop moving.
A medium sized Tiger Shark was brought on deck to be measured and tagged. Kristin Hannan stands waiting for it to stop moving.

The Tiger Shark is commonly found world wide in tropical and warm coastal waters. Aside from the Sandbar, it is the largest shark we have caught the most of. Fortunately, it is considered a fast-growing species with the ability to reproduce abundantly. It is not considered at a high risk for extinction, but the desire for fins makes the risk of further population decline a distinct possibility.

Night Shark

This Night Shark was the only of its kind we brought up so far.
This Night Shark was the only one of its kind we’ve brought up so far.

We have only caught 1 Night Shark during our survey. It is a Vulnerable species. It is prized mostly for its fins and meats and is caught in abundance off the coast of Brazil. Studies have shown that most of the Night Sharks landed were below 50% maturity, which is 8 years for males and 10 years for females. In the United States, the Night Shark is listed as a prohibited species.

When talking to Kristin about these sharks, she shared this about their reproduction, “All sharks are considered K-selected species like humans; we are late to mature, grow slowly and reproduce relatively few young comparatively to say a bony fish that might produce thousands of babies in its lifetime (s-selected).  So when we talk about a tiger [shark] vs. a sandbar [shark] being more or less productive, it is definitely in relation to each other and not all fish. A tiger [shark] does produce more young than some other species but way less than the red grouper he goes after for dinner.  This is why all sharks are so sensitive to fishing pressures; they have a considerably longer bounce back time.”

Personal Log
It’s hard to believe that over a week has passed, but given how much we have seen and done, it makes sense.

As I get more and more comfortable handling sharks and working on the boat, I have noticed a few things. My sister-in-law Elizabeth noticed a few years ago that my family has a love for responding to each other (and often friends and acquaintances) with movie quotes. The most commonly quoted movies in our family include The Big Lebowski, The Princess Bride, Blues Brothers, To Kill A Mockingbird, and many more. I am no exception to this family trend.

So while we’re all eagerly awaiting the call that a shark is on the hook, it occurred to me that this movie-quoting affliction had not escaped this trip. When a fish or shark is caught on one of our hooks, the fishermen call out “Fish on” to notify those of us handling to come over and retrieve the animal. I realized that this was no common call in my head, though. Each time I hear the “Fish on” I hear it more in the call of “Game Ooon” from Wayne’s World. I suppose that’s a hazard of anyone growing up in the 90s. What proves I am truly a Karre though is that when I’m talking to the shark I’m handling, asking and sometimes begging it to be still so I can remove the hook quickly and reduce its harm and pain, in my head the shark is responding “Oh I’m cooperating with you” in the voice of William H. Macy from the movie Fargo.

"Fish ooonnn" - A Sharpnose comes up to join us.
“Fish ooonnn” – A Sharpnose comes up to join us.
"Oh I'm cooperating with you" says the Sharpnose that has just come aboard the Oregon II.
“Oh I’m cooperating with you” says the Sharpnose that has just come aboard the Oregon II.

Did You Know?
There are over 6000 known coral species around the world. We have brought up several pieces of coral on our clips. Kevin found a bright red piece of coral, which prompted a lesson for us about how many red corals release an irritant that will make our skin burn and sting. Fortunately, that’s not what Kevin brought up!

The sun is setting on my trip and all I can say is that it has been extraordinary.
The sun is setting on my trip and all I can say is that it has been extraordinary.

Liz Harrington: Introductory Blog, July 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
Soon to be aboard  NOAA ship Oregon II (NOAA Ship Tracker)
At Sea August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical Area of Cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 25, 2013

Weather: current conditions from Morrisville-Stowe State Airport
Sunny
Lat. 44.53°  Lon.- 72.61°
Temp.  64°F (18° C)
Humidity 54%
Wind speed   3 mph
Barometer  30.16 in (1021.3mb)
Visibility  10.00 mi

Personal Log:

Mt. Mansfield
Mt. Mansfield

Greetings from Vermont, the Green Mountain State.  My name is Liz Harrington and I live in Cambridge, VT.  Cambridge is a small town at the foot of Mount Mansfield, our state’s tallest mountain with a peak of 4395 feet (1340 meters).  Ok, the Green Mountains aren’t as big as the Rockies, but they provide us with recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat and scenic beauty. We love them.   I am a science teacher at Essex High School in Essex Junction, VT.   Currently I am teaching Earth Science and Forensics.  I also help teach a Belize Field Study class.

Essex High School
Essex High School

My teaching career has worked out perfectly for me.  After graduating from UConn with an Animal Science degree, I married and raised four wonderful children.  As they grew, I returned to school to earn my teacher certification in secondary science education.  When my youngest went to kindergarten, I began teaching part time at Essex High School. I had the best of both worlds.  It was during these first few years of teaching that I heard about NOAA’s Teacher at Sea (TAS) program.  I immediately knew I wanted to be involved in the program, but it required being a full time teacher.  A few years ago my teaching became full time.  I applied to TAS, was accepted and will be aboard the NOAA ship Oregon II this summer.  I’m thrilled!

I have always had a close connection with the ocean as I grew up on the shore of southeastern Connecticut.  I spent many hours swimming off the docks or climbing out onto the rocks to crab.  I also did lots of fishing and boating, but I took the ocean for granted.  I didn’t realize how much I would miss it when I moved away.  I am fortunate that my parents still live at the shore and my children have had the opportunity to create their own ocean experiences.  And it is always an amazing sight to see their Vermont friends encounter the sounds, smells, textures and activities of the ocean for the first time!

CT shore
Recent visit to the Connecticut shore.
Belize
Belize class trip

The Belize Field Study class has a culminating ten day trip to Belize.  The first four days are spent exploring the coral reefs and learning more about issues concerning the reef.  Some of the students snorkel and some of them scuba dive, but either way they are able to explore the underwater world.  Here, again, I am able to bring students to the ocean and I love to see their excitement, interest and concern.  The ocean’s fate will soon be in their generation’s hands and these personal connections make a difference.

Belize sunset
Belize sunset

Science and Technology Log:

The Oregon II is a NOAA ship which supports the programs of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  The ship conducts studies at various times of the year on organisms such as ground fish, sharks, plankton, reef fish and marine mammals.  I will be joining a Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey.  We will be sailing from Mayport, Florida and spending two weeks in the Gulf of Mexico.  The trip will end in the home port of Pascagoula, Mississippi. I am honored at having been chosen as a Teacher at Sea.  I can’t wait to be working with the scientists and crew aboard the Oregon II and participating in real scientific research.  I’m also looking forward to sharing my experiences with my students and bringing new topics into the classroom.  Through this trip I’m hoping they can make connections to the ocean as well.  I’ll be sharing my adventures a few times a week with this blog.  I hope you will follow along.

Oregon II
NOAA ship Oregon II

 

Steven Frantz: Critters at Sea, August 5, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Frantz
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the coast of Florida
Date: August 5, 2012

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Air Temperature (degrees C): 29.0
Wind Speed (knots): 10.28
Wind Direction (degree): 138.68
Relative Humidity (percent): 076
Barometric Pressure (millibars): 1022.33
Water Depth (meters): 28.45
Salinity (PSU): 35.612

Location Data:
Latitude: 3323.40N
Longitude: 07808.17W

Critters at Sea

On my last blog I introduced you to five species of shark found so far. I think you can tell which one is my favorite, which is yours?

Even though our mission is to collect data on sharks, you never know what might come up on the end of a hook (or tangled in the line!). Data is still collected on just about everything else we catch. For today’s blog I have put together a photo journey on the so many other beautiful creatures we have caught.

Basket Starfish
Basket Starfish with pieces of soft red coral
Black Sea Bass
Black Sea Bass
Blue Line Tile Fish (Unfortunately damaged by a shark)
Blue Line Tile Fish (Unfortunately damaged by a shark)
Box Crab
Box Crab
Clearnose Skate
Clearnose Skate
Conger Eel
Conger Eel
Red Grouper
Red Grouper
Mermaid's Purse (egg case from a skate or ray)
Mermaid’s Purse (egg case from a skate or ray)
Candling the Mermaid's Purse reveals the tail and yolk of the animal
Candling the Mermaid’s Purse reveals the tail and yolk of the animal
Hammerjack
Amberjack
Scallop Shell
Scallop Shell
Scomberus japonicus (Can you come up with a common name?)
Scomberus japonicus (Can you come up with a common name?)
Sea Urchin
Sea Urchin
Spider Crab
Spider Crab
Starfish
Starfish
Red Snapper (10Kg)
Red Snapper (10Kg)

There you have it. I hope you enjoy the pictures of just some of the beauty and diversity in the Atlantic Ocean. Be sure to visit my next blog when we tie up loose ends!

Sunset
Sunset

Steven Frantz: Sharks at Sea, August 3, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Frantz
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the coast of Florida
Date: August 3, 2012

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Air Temperature (degrees C): 28.79
Wind Speed (knots): 14.14
Wind Direction (degree): 199.05
Relative Humidity (percent): 070
Barometric Pressure (millibars): 1017.95
Water Depth (meters): 58.0
Salinity (PSU): 35.635

Location Data:
Latitude: 3409.72N
Longitude: 17611.11W

SHARKS AT SEA

Our 300th mission aboard the Oregon II is a Longline Shark Survey.  Stratified randomly selected sites have been generated using Arc GIS Software. This eliminates potential bias in sampling and each area has an equal opportunity to be sampled. Two depth strata zones (A: 5-30 fathoms, B: 30-100 fathoms) have been factored for the Atlantic. In order to avoid all sampling sites randomly bunched all together, the area has been divided into 60 nautical mile geographic zones from southern Florida to North Carolina. 60% of our effort (ex. time at sea) is put toward “A” stations and 40% of our effort is put toward “B” stations. This method of picking stations is called proportional allocation.

We are here to find sharks. This is important because so very little is known about them, or many of the other animals living in an extreme environment (extreme for people to live in).

One if the first sharks we caught was a blacknose shark, Carcharhinus acronotus. It is relatively small, a uniform gray color, and has a black tip on its nose.

Black-Nose Shark
Here I am holding Black-Nose Shark

The most common shark found so far has been the sharpnose shark, Rhizoprionodon terraenovae. Both sharpnose and blacknose sharks are considered to be small coastal sharks by the National Marine Fisheries Service. While similar in size to the black nose shark, the sharpnose shark is spotted. When brought on board, their size is nothing compared to their strength. I guess you have to act tough when you’re little!

Sharpnose being Weighed
Sharpnose being Weighed

Tough though they may be, we caught several sharp-nose sharks that have become bait themselves! I wonder what (kind of shark?) it was that ate the back half of this sharp-nose?

Shark as "Bait"
Shark as “Bait”

One of the many data we are collecting is the sex of the sharks. Pictured below are a male (top), then female (bottom). The male shark has claspers, which are used for internal fertilization. Claspers are also used to determine a male’s age depending on how calcified they are.  This is the standard way to determine sex on all the sharks we have caught thus far.

Male Sharpnose Shark
Male Sharpnose Shark
Female Sharpnose Shark
Female Sharpnose Shark

Another piece of data collected is a clip of flesh from a fin. This is a non-lethal way for scientists to obtain DNA for genetics studies and possibly for use in population structure for identification purposes.

Fin Clipping
Fin Clipping

As we saw above, some sharks don’t make it on board alive. While this is uncommon, the opportunity does present itself for more invasive study not done on living animals. Sharpnose sharks give birth to live young (viviparous). Pictured below are young sharks taken from a female. It is interesting to note that whether the shark is male or female can be determined at this early stage. Remember, not all sharks reproduce this way.

Baby Sharpnose
Baby Sharpnose

Sandbar sharks, Carcharhinus plumbeus, have been the next most common sharks caught. These are quite a bit larger than sharp-nose sharks, averaging 150 centimeters long and 35 kilograms in mass.

Sandbar Shark
Sandbar Shark

We must be safe when collecting data. Shark’s skin is like sandpaper, so if the teeth or tail doesn’t get you, you can also be given a pretty red rash by the scrapping of their skin against your skin.

Measuring a Sandbar Shark
Measuring a Sandbar Shark
Tagged Sandbar Shark
Tagged Sandbar Shark

Sandbar sharks were popular with the shark fin soup industry because they have a very large dorsal fin compared to their body size. Sharks were caught, their fin was cut off, and then the still-living shark was released back into the ocean to die. This practice has been outlawed in U.S. waters.

Sandbar Shark & Me
Sandbar Shark & Me

Watch the video below as a sandbar shark is caught and brought to the Oregon II.

The prettiest shark (at least to me) I’ve seen so far is the tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier. They can get very large. Three meters long or more! The ones we’ve found have been smaller. The one I’m holding is very young. The umbilical scar was still visible! Tiger shark teeth are different from most sharks in that a tiger shark’s teeth are made to slice their prey, like the shells of sea turtles.

Tiger Teeth
Tiger Teeth
Tiger Shark & Me
Tiger Shark & Me

Sharks don’t have eyelids, like we have eyelids, to protect their eyes. They have what is called a nictitating membrane to protect their eyes. Here is a picture of the nictitating membrane partially covering a sharpnose shark’s eye.

Nictitating Membrane
Nictitating Membrane

The most unusual shark we’ve caught has been the scalloped hammerhead shark, Sphyrna lewini. Once on board the Oregon II they seemed to be docile (for a shark), however, their eyes on the far ends of their head were always looking, watching what was going on.

Why is their head shaped like it is? Even scientists don’t know for sure. Some think it acts as a hydrofoil to help it move through the water. Other scientists think (because of its large size) it helps detect electrical impulses in the water (like a sixth sense). Do you have any ideas why their head is shaped the way it is?

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
Scalloped Hamerhead Shark
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
Scalloped Hamerhead Shark
Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

I have been working the day shift: from noon to midnight. The other crew is the night shift. In addition to what we have seen so far, the night shift has also seen a great hammerhead, Sphyrna mokarran and a silky shark, Carcharhinus falciformes.

We still have five days of fishing left. What will we catch next? I’ll let you know!

Jennifer Goldner: Shark Week- All day, every day!, August 16, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Goldner
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
(NOAA Ship Tracker)
August 11 — August 24, 2011

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Southern Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 16, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 25.15 N
Longitude: 82.48 W
Wind Speed: 2.09 kts
Surface Water Temperature: 29.20 C
Air Temperature: 30.10 C
Relative Humidity: 69.00%

Science and Technology Log

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I’ve been on this trip it is that both science and technology are crucial for doing a shark survey. Keep in mind NOAA Ship Oregon II’s mission is not to fish for sharks, rather it is to survey them. In other words, it is to find out how the sharks are doing and where they like to hang out in the ocean. Thus, the ship doesn’t ONLY go to the “shark hot spots” so to speak. Instead, there are various locations the ship stops at to perform a survey. These are called stations. The stations vary greatly in depth, temperature, dissolved oxygen, etc. It would be similar to marketers taking a survey to see what restaurants people prefer.

With that being said, there is a certain science to performing a survey of the sharks. Here is how it is done. There is much preparation before leaving port to do a survey. NOAA Ship Oregon II cannot leave port without Atlantic mackerel, and lots of it. This is the bait that is used to catch the sharks. The hook of choice is a circle hook. The fishing line is monofilament and extremely strong. These are the basic items needed, but there are numerous other tools needed such as the cradle for larger sharks, tagging tools, vials for samples, and the list goes on. Suffice it to say, once the ship leaves from port, everything has to be on board in order to have a productive survey.

Anyone who fishes knows there are numerous ways to catch a fish. So how do you catch a shark? If you’ve ever seen the movie, “The Perfect Storm,” then you have a good idea. The method used is called longlining. As the name claims, this method makes use of a long line. The line must first be prepared. In order to do this the circle hooks are baited with Atlantic mackerel. There are 100 hooks in total to put on the line. The hooks are part of a unit called a gangion. A gangion consists of a leader, a monofilament line, and a circle hook. These are placed in a barrel. There are 50 gangions with bait per barrel, for a total of 2 barrels per fishing set.

Mark, Chief Scientist, and Adam, Scientist, preparing Atlantic Mackeral for the next station
Mark, Chief Scientist, and Adam, Scientist, preparing Atlantic mackerel for the next station
Preparing the bait
Preparing the bait
Hooks are baited and ready to go!
Hooks are baited and ready to go!
Gangion bucket- Notice when the line is set the bait is given out in a clockwise direction.  When it is hauled back in, it is put in a counterclockwise direction.
Gangion bucket- Notice when the line is set the bait is given out in a clockwise direction. When it is hauled back in, it is put in a counterclockwise direction.

Incidentally, there are 2 shifts: day shift (noon until midnight) and night shift (midnight until noon). I am on the day shift. Thus there are stations being worked 24 hours a day. The bridge will announce when we are coming on another station. Also, it is posted on the dry lab door so we can all be prepared for the next station. Knowing this, the shift gets the mackerel ready by thawing it out, then cutting it up to bait the
hooks.

Once the ship is to the station, everyone gets in their places, and the OOD (Officer of the Deck) disconnects the engine. At this point the drift test begins. This takes into account both the wind and the current to determine what direction to set the line. If there is too much current, determined by the Field Party Chief and the OOD, the station is either canceled or moved closer to shore. Next the ship slowly moves forward (4 knots) and the line is fed from the ship. The line, which is 1 nautical mile, is let out at the stern (back) of the ship. The fishermen are responsible for feeding it through blocks (pulley) system. The 1st thing on the line is a high flyer. This is an orange flotation device put at the end of the line.

High flyer
High flyer

The next thing put on the line is a weight. This sinks the line to the bottom. At this point, the first of 50 baited gangions are handed to the fishermen to clip to the line, each being evenly distributed. It should be noted that each gangion has a hook number so that an accurate record can be kept. The hook numbers are taken off a line and clipped on the gangion as the bait is being fed over the deck to the fisherman. After the 50th gangion, another weight is put on the line, followed by 50 more gangions, another weight, and lastly, a high flyer. While all of this is going on, one person on the team records data on the computer which is instantly uploaded with such things as the latitude and longitude and real time of when each hook is deployed.

Longline Diagram, courtesy of Dr. Trey Driggers
Longline Diagram, courtesy of Dr. Trey Driggers
100 hook number tags
100 hook number tags
Scientists getting the gangion ready to give to Jeff, Chief Boatswain
Scientists getting the gangion ready to give to Jeff, Chief Boatswain
The night shift crew preparing the bait
The night shift crew preparing the bait
Greg, Fisherman, clipping a gangion on the line
Greg, Fisherman, clipping a gangion on the line
Chief Scientist, Mark Grace, records data
Chief Scientist, Mark Grace, records data

The longline is allowed to soak for 1 hour before it is brought back on board on the starboard (right) side of the well-deck, just aft of the bow (front). During this time the deck and buckets are cleaned up and the CTD is deployed (Conductivity Temperature Depth).

The CTD takes many measurements including temperature, salinity, turbidity, chlorophyll, depth, and dissolved oxygen. These measurements give the scientists valuable information for the habitats of the sharks. For example, any level of dissolved oxygen 2.0 mg/liter or lower is considered apoxic and causes physiological stress on an animal. Most animals live in an area between 2-7 mg/liter of dissolved oxygen. A reading of 7 would only be found in very cold water such as the Arctic.

CTD
CTD
CTD Screen
CTD Screen
Water color test
Water color test

In addition to the CTD readings, the scientists report the water color along with the current weather conditions.

After the line has soaked, the team meets at the bow to haul in the line. The fishermen unclip the gangions from the line and hand it off to a scientist who records the hook number and the condition of the bait. If a fish is caught, it is brought aboard and morphometric (total length, fork length, sex, and weight) data is collected.

Travis, Scientist, taking measurements
Travis, Scientist, taking measurements

In the event a larger fish is caught, it is placed in the cradle.What are the benefits of doing a longline survey? It gives the scientists presence/absence data from looking at what was caught and was not caught. It gets samples from the Gulf to compare with other areas.

Personal Log

Mark, Chief Scientist, taking measurements
Mark, Chief Scientist, taking measurements

One word: WOW! Let me say it backwards: WOW!!! This week is DEFINITELY making my “Top Ten Life Experiences” list!! Shark Week has absolutely nothing on this NOAA crew! It is evident they eat, sleep, and live sharks and other fish all year long. NOAA Ship Oregon II needs to have a camera follow them for a reality show called “Shark Year.” If they aren’t catching it, they are studying about it. I am amazed at the depth of knowledge of the entire crew, including each and every member on board, of the ocean. What impresses me even more is their enthusiasm and patience in teaching this teacher how it all works.

Now for your questions. . .

One of you asked about shark finning. According to the scientists and fishermen on board it is not a big problem off the coast of the United States like it is in Asia. Here it is regulated. In fact, when commercial fishermen bring in their sharks, the fins have to be attached, so that cuts down on this practice.

Another question that came up was in regards to tagging. On this ship the scientists mainly use passive tagging techniques. This requires the fish to be recaptured after it has been tagged. The tag has a phone number to call when the shark is caught as well as an identification number. Another method of tagging is active tagging, for instance satellite tags. Satellite tags are attached to animals to study migration. These are very expensive, ranging from $3,000-$5,000. They are set to pop off the animal at a predetermined time and date and transmit data to a satellite in order to plot the shark’s course. Many shark species are migratory so this type of tag is beneficial to see their migration patterns.

Also, a question was asked about how deep it needs to be to safely navigate. According to Cap, the draft for the ship is 15 feet. The ship can safely sail in 30 feet of water. That’s unbelievable for a ship of this size, huh? It makes Orgeon II a great vessel to do the shallow water surveys. Most other ships can’t go that shallow.

By the way, great job class on last blog’s poll! The correct answer was 70! You all aced the quiz!

My son, Hayden on his 1st day of 6th grade
My son, Hayden on his 1st day of 6th grade

I also have to share a picture of my son, Hayden. His 1st day of school was Monday. I can’t believe he is already in 6th grade! Hayden is a shark enthusiast and is following my blog at home with my parents. Cap has already told me he is welcome on the ship. Someday he can come study sharks, just like his Mom!

Shark Gallery Pictures

The next blog will be a lesson on specific sharks, but for now, enjoy the pictures!!

Me with a dogfish shark
Me with a smooth dogfish
Adam, Scientist, getting ready to measure a tiger shark
Adam, Scientist, getting ready to measure a tiger shark
Drew, Scientist, measuring a blacknose shark
Drew, Scientist, measuring a blacknose shark
Me touching a sandbar shark
Me touching a nurse shark

Peggy Deichstetter, September 2, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date:  September 2, 2010

 

Me, tagging the shark
Me, tagging the shark
Finally, my first taste of shark.! My shift started at midnight. We baited 100 large hooks with mackerel. Then at a precise location the hooks were released one by one on a long line. The hooks were left in the water for one hour. Then the hooks were pulled out in the same order they were put in the water.

My first shark
My first shark

We cleaned up everything because it is really good to wash fish slime off before it smells too bad. After our shark adventure, we did another plankton tow. This time we collected pounds of sea grass. A piece of discarded plastic about the size of a Frisbee blocked the plankton shoot so that grass accumulated.
We arrived at our next site and once again baited 100 hooks, released them and waited an hour. Our luck was a little better this time. We got two large sharks, one of which I got to tag, a couple small ones and a remora.

Peggy Deichstetter, September 1, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 1, 2010

 

Teacher at Sea Peggy Deichstetter in her hard hat
Teacher at Sea Peggy Deichstetter in her hard hat
On the bridge
On the bridge

Day 4 Sept . 1

We are about an hour away from out first data collection area. This morning just before dawn I got a tour of the bridge. The CO showed my all the computers that keep track of where we are. I learned a lot, not only about the bridge but also about careers in NOAA.(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).. NOAA is made up of several parts, the CO and I talked about the oceanic parts; the officers and crew who run the ship and the scientists. The officers follow the same rules as the military. If you are in the Navy you can transfer directly into this division.

The scientists do the actual research designed by NOAA to answer questions about the ocean. In this cruise we are counting, tagging and releasing shark. This will tell us about how many sharks are in this area at this time of year. NOAA has collected data for twenty year so they will be able to tell the health of the shark population.

To help collect information of the effect of the oil spill we are also doing water analysis and plankton tows.

After lunch we were taught how to do a plankton tow. I have done numerous plankton tows in my life but never on this scale. I used all the skills that I learned when I did research in the Arctic except on a much larger scale.

Peggy Deichstetter, August 31, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Day 1 August 30


Peggy Deichstetter in her Safety Suit
Peggy Deichstetter in her Safety Suit
Peggy Deichstetter in her safety suit
Peggy Deichstetter in her safety suit
Peggy Deichstetter in her safety suit
Peggy Deichstetter in her safety suit

I woke up at 2:30am. Why didn’t my alarm go off? Now, I have to get dressed with all the stuff I will need for the rest of the day without waking my roommate. I make my way to the galley for some coffee. I pour a cup and take a gulp. This is soooooo bad. This is ever stronger than Mr. D’Agostino’s coffee. I make a new pot and sit down to work on my blog.

We have not had internet access since we departed yesterday and it looks like we won’t have it until noon tomorrow. Oh, life at sea. I also found out that we have another day at sea before we get to our fishing spot.

With a controlled experiment you need to have everything the same. So the spots we will be fishing in will be the same spots that they have done for the last 20 years. Our assignment is the coast of Mexico to Galveston Texas.

In my quest to stay awake for shift I went to bed at noon. At 12:30 the abandon ship drill was sounded, a difficult challenge, wake up, get down from the upper bunk, grab my survival suit and get to muster station. Once checked for roll call I got opportunity to don my survival suit. I have included some great pictures so everyone can have a good laugh.

Peggy Deichstetter, August 30, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Peggy Deichstetter
Aboard Oregon II
August 29 – September 10, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Day 1 August 30

Stateroom
Stateroom

I met my roommate, Claudia, this morning. She was on this cruise last year. Basically we catch, tag and release sharks and any other fish we may catch. I walked into town to pick up things I forgot. Ashley, Guy and I run into town for our last meal on land, a Subway. During the excitement of casting off, I’m informed that I have the night shift. Me, the goddess of the morning. they must be kidding. As we reach open water the sea is really rough.

At dinner I’m advised to go to bed right after dinner and get up at 2:00am to acclimate my body to the night shift. So right after (6:30pm) dinner I head off to bed. My roommate is already there, she is green. She tells me she doesn’t feel well and needs to lie down. There is no way I can fall asleep. I lie there, waiting to fall asleep. Finally, I’ve been lying there so long, it most be time to get up. I look at my watch… its only 9:00. I finally fall asleep.

Stateroom
Stateroom

Annmarie Babicki, August 27, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 27, 2010

Before I left for this cruise, I believed this would be a once in a lifetime experience.  This trip exceeded all of my expectations and was due to everyone on board the Oregon II.  I am forever grateful for all that I learned from all of you.  I left the Gulf not just with knowledge about species of sharks, but also about what and how scientists collect data.  There’s a great deal of responsibility in knowing that the data you collect, will be used to determine policy, which will impact the lives of so many people who live in the Gulf.
Your admiration, respect and compassion for sharks was evident in so many ways. You introduced me to some of the most beautiful and powerful creatures on this earth and I thank you for that. I am so very grateful to Trey for being open to having me as part of his team. He listened to and answered my many questions and was indeed very patient with me.  I will bring back to my young students not only what I have been taught, but also the passion, I too, now feel for these animals.  My hope is that it will inspire some of them to think about becoming scientists.
Rainbow
Rainbow from the Oregon II
To NOAA’s Captain Dave and his very capable and wonderful crew, I would like you to know how much I appreciate you sharing your lives and expertise with me.  I know that for much of the year, the Oregon II is your home and I am grateful that you were willing to share it with me.  You are all so knowledgeable in what you do and I felt very safe on board your ship.  The teamwork that I witnessed was impressive and you made running and driving the ship seem so easy.  I will certainly convey to my students the role that your teamwork played in making our trip a successful and productive one.   One of my goals upon returning to school will be to share your stories and the work you do.  I want my students to know about the many career opportunities that are available to them if they have a love for the ocean. It could be that your story will be their inspiration.
I am very grateful to all of you for this incredible journey.  I feel blessed to have so many memories that will last a lifetime.  Safe Travel.
Sunset
Sunset from the Oregon II

Annmarie Babicki, August 20, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date  August 20, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude:  28.52 degrees North
Longitude:  85.52 degrees West
Clouds: partly cloudy
Winds:  10.37 kts.
Waves:  2-3 Feet
Air Temperature: 31.3 degrees C or 88 degrees F
Water Temperature:  29.7 degrees C or 85 degrees F
Barometric Pressure:  1014.28
Bull shark in the cradle

Science and Technology:

  There have been a couple of times when we have worked through a station and have not caught a fish.  That has been very discouraging and rather boring.  However, we had several stations that made up on it and we could barely keep up with bringing in the catch.  One catch, we caught seven sharks that needed to be put in the cradle because they were so large.
Underside of a bull shark
Bull sharks can be dangerous in the Gulf area because they swim in shallow waters where recreational activities take place.  They are one of the most abundant species of sharks, so you do have to be watchful of them.  It is fairly easy to recognize them because of the width of their midsection is and by their rounded nose.  The bull shark was a big male weighing 130 lb.  The black lines you can see just behind his head are the gills slits.  It’s amazing to think that he was enticed with a three inch piece of mackerel. This was only  second bull shark we have caught on our trip thus far.  The night shift also caught one and they were as excited as we were.
We also caught three sandbar sharks, which is the most common large shark we are catching out here.  They ranged in weight from 82 lb. to 136 lb.  Their colors vary from being a light sandy color to a grayish brown.  We had one fighter that thrashed around in the cradle.  The scientists was able  to calm it down, so that it did not hurt itself.  I made a video of one of the catches and it took the scientist and his assistants three min. to weigh, measure, tag and get the hook out of that shark.  I did tag a sandbar shark, but generally do not handle the really big ones.  This expert shark scientist is so skilled at handling sharks and the collecting of data he needs without stressing the sharks. I am in awe of his work and I very much admire the work he is doing to protect the shark populations in the Gulf.
We have caught several little sharks from the dogfish family that are not easily identifiable just by observing them. In order to identify them, the scientist takes a biopsy punch, which takes a small piece     (approx. .8 cm.) of skin just below the dorsal fin. It doesn’t hurt the shark and does not go deep into the muscle tissue. When the DNA testing is completed, the scientist will have the correct genus and species of the shark, which they can then enter into their data base.  Having accurate data is a must.  Without valid data, the shark populations will not be managed properly, which impacts sharks and fisheries.
Two embryos from a sharpnose shark
Another small shark that we caught was the sharpnose shark, which we dissected a few days ago.  Once again it was dissected and the data was collected on the female and her embryos.  They were measured and were old enough that the sex could be determined.  That was amazing to me as they were so small and translucent.  I will be bringing two of the embryos home with me.  I am sure my students will be excited them because you really can see their shark features.
In addition to the scientists on board, we have two contracted bird watchers, who have come to observe birds in the Gulf.  What has brought them here is in part the impact of the oil spill on the birds in open waters.  The other reason is that there have been few studies of Gulf birds, so at the very least they have begun to set a baseline for the species and populations.  Early on in our trip, we saw a very small bird called a cliff swallow that was migrating south to Argentina, which is its home.  It was fun to watch how they glided as they circled the ship.  It was aerodynamics at its best.  I was told that in February or earlier, it flies to North America where is mates and bears its young.  These birds travel this distance every year, which may account for why they live only 2 or 3 years.
A cliff swallow

 Personal Log

I have interviewed many of the officers and members of the science team since I arrived.  They come from diverse backgrounds and their journeys coming on the Oregon II are also very different.  Everyone has been very helpful and kind, even though I have so many questions that are both personal and professional in nature.  I look forward to sharing their stories with my students.
Sleeping has been a little more difficult for the past couple days.  I think it is the constant running of the engines.  I have not experience any soundless time, which I often have at home.  It will be nice to get home where it is quiet.  The crew has informed me that the lack of noise may bother me because it does them whenever they return from a trip.  They also stated that I will need a couple of days to adjust to land life.  I hope not since I start school on Thursday!
I will complete one more blog
“Animals Seen Today”  blacktip shark tiger shark, sharpnose.  yellow wedge grouper, golden tile fish, king snake eel.
Did You Know” that if a  hook is left in a shark’s mouth, it will rust out and the shark will expel what is left.

Annmarie Babicki, August 17, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date  August 17, 2010

Weather Data from the bridge

Latitude:  26.96 defgrees North
Longitude: 83.95 degrees West
Clouds: partly cloudy
Winds:  5.0 kts.
Temperature: 31.70 C or 89 degrees F
Barometric Pressure: 1014.55
A blacknose shark

Science and Technology:

shark embryo
Measuring the shark embryo
It was afternoon when we caught a sharpnose shark, a silky shark and 6 blacknose sharks. This was very exciting because the blacknose shark is the chief scientist’s project out here in the Gulf. In order for him to make observations of age, maturity and reproduction, he has to dissect the shark. Three of the blacknose were put back in the ocean after they were weighed, measured and tagged. The other three waited for dissection. I watched as the three sharks were dissected and the only part that cause me to look away was cutting off the head.  Some of my team members were so excited because they could keep the head and later remove the jaw.  That is a lot of work, which I do not have the patience for, so I will not be bringing home a shark’s jaw and teeth.  If there is time, one of the observers said she would prepare a jaw for me. Even if I do not get the jaw, I will be bringing back a shark fin, shark blood and several shark embryos.  The shark fin is currently drying out and the embryo is being stored in ethanol, which is used for all specimens. I won’t go into all the gory details, but the scientist removed the entire reproductive system.  He was looking to see if the shark had given birth and he can tell this by the color of the uterine tissue.  The sharks collected, had produced 4-5 embryos each. The yellow yolk is a soup like fluid that the embryo feeds on the nutrients from its mother.  There is a thin mucus that covers both the embryo and the yolk. It reminds me of a chicken’s egg. Each shark embryo was measured and cataloged.  The data will be used when the scientist writes his paper on the reproduction of sharks, which will then be published.
This evening there was a good deal of excitement on board.  We were hauling back our catch when the line broke.  The thought was that it could be caught on something on the ocean floor or a small reef.  It also could be that the line snapped because there was a large shark on it. This is not a common occurrence, but it has happened before.  When this happens the ship sails to the last hi-flyer and we work our way backwards.  In the end, everything was accounted for.
This really was no ordinary night. We were about 40 miles off shore from Cedar Keys, FL, at about 11 P.M., when we saw a small boat drifting about 3/4 mile from us with no lights on.  The officers on the bridge saw a red flare shoot into the air, so they knew the boat could be in distress. Our ship got close enough so that they could shine a light onto it and kept track of them as it drifted.  The NOAA officers talked to the boaters via radio and discovered that they had left port at 7 A.M. and that the motor on the boat kicked out about 2 P.M. They had been floating for nine hours and in a boat they could not repair. We were so far off shore, it was certainly understandable that they were very relieved to see us and get the help they needed.
Along the coast there is a company called “Sea Tow”. Their job is to haul in boats that are unable to get to land by themselves.  You do have to pay for this service and it is like having car insurance, but costs a whole lot more money.  Luckily this boat had that insurance, so Sea Tow immediately started out to get them.  In the meantime our ship monitored them.  They said they were OK and didn’t need any supplies, they just wanted to get on land.  Sea Tow reached them about 4 A.M. and the Captain thinks they probably docked about 10 A.M.  Thank goodness the Oregon II was out there, because they would have floated out there for many more hours before being seen by another ship.  I asked the Captain what would happen if the boaters did not have Sea Tow and he said they would have called the Coast Guard, who in turn would come out to rescue them.  This is like a story you hear on the news.  This officers and crew feel they were just doing their job.  They are very humble indeed.

Personal Log

Speaking of dress,  I thought you would like to know what I am wearing while I am here.  It is so warm here that shorts are in order.  Sometimes I wear sleeveless shirts, but most time I wear short sleeve shirts. I am wearing sneakers, but wish I had rubber boots.  My sneakers are soaked just about everyday.  Luckily the engine room is hot so I can put my sneakers there to dry. Rubber gloves that are heavy and have a very thick layer of weaved cotton one one side are always worn when we are catching sharks and fish.  They really don’t protect you so much from bites, but rather from the scales of these animals, which are like little knives.  Whenever you are catching fish, you have to wear either sunglasses or safety glasses.  Hard hats are required anytime machinery is being used, which is when we put sharks in the cradle.  Finally and most important is a PFD.  They are not too heavy and come equipped with flashlights in case of an emergency.  My challenge is to make sure I have everything when I need it.  We put out lines on the stern of the boat, but catch them on the bow, so we are not always working in the same place.  It sounds simple, you just have to get into the routine, which I almost have down.
We are starting to move more quickly up the coast of Florida and continuing to complete stations as we go.  We will be back in port on Sunday. The ship can sail at about nine or ten miles per hour, so it will take us awhile to get back to Pascagoula at that rate.  The time on this ship is going by so fast, it’s hard to believe I have been on this ship for over a week!Answer to question of the day:  There are many, many ways that the officers and captain can communicate with ships.  One way is GMDSS,which stands for Global Maritime Distress Safety System.  This system has many components, some of which are overlapping and the expectation is that boaters will have some of them on their boats, whether they are commercial or recreational.  There are computer systems, whistles, flags, and a lighting system that uses the Morse Code.  As you can see this is very complicated.  There are courses that captains and officers have to take in order to understand how the communicate and keep a boat or ship safe.
Kristen and 2 red snapper
“Animals Seen Today”  sharpnose shark, blacktip shark, red groupers, red snappers, nurse shark, blacknose shark. A sandbar shark that was much darker that the one we saw a few days ago.  A few days ago we caught a great hammerhead, which is a light gray color and different from the scalloped hammerhead.
A great hammerhead shark

Beth Spear, August 17, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Beth Spear
Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II

Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date of Post: August 17, 2010

I sadly said farewell to the Delaware II after 10 days and six night watch shifts hauling back sharks. It was a wonderful experience, but it was nice to get off the ship. 🙂 I think my favorite moment was watching the sun rise one morning while a small pod of spotted dolphins surfed in the ship’s wake. I even saw two sets of mothers and babies playing together and thought I heard some faint clicks and chirps from them.

Something my fellow shipmates warned me about when we returned to land was dock rock, or sea legs. I did find myself swaying on the dock after disembarking from the ship. I thought that was the extent of it. However my first night on dry land my internal clock woke me up promptly at 11:45 PM for my night watch . I stumbled out of bed to visit the bathroom. I nearly fell flat on my face trying to compensate for the ship’s rocking even though the floor was steady. I think it took about 5 days for the bed to stop rocking like the ship. It was really strange I’d go to bed and it was fine, but when I woke up it felt just like the bed was pitching around as if I was back at sea.

While I was on board the ship I was unable to upload videos. I have attached a couple videos below showing the crew and scientists setting and hauling back the catch.

This video shows the night watch setting of the first 1/10 of the botton longline. The video begins just after Khris, a NOAA deckhand, had released the high flyer and bouy. Arjen, a volunteer, clips a numbered sample tag to the gangion held by Ryan, a grad student volunteer. Ryan feeds the gangion over the side of the ship and passes it off to Richie, a NOAA deck hand. Richie clips the gangions to the longline approximately every 60 feet. Adrian, the chief bos’n, is running the winch feeding out the longline. If you watch carefully Richie almost loses one of the gangions. We teased him about stagefright after I stopped taping.

The winch
NOAA deck hands

This video shows the night watch hauling back a catch. The vast majority of sharks were Atlantic Sharpnose, shown in this video. Richie and Khris are hauling in the line while Adrian is overseeing operations from the upper deack. Ian is collecting the numbered tags from the gangions. Lisa is collecting the gangions and reloading them into the barrels used to store them between sample locations. Ryan and Arjen are handling the sharks. Christian is recording data. There are 100 hooks and things can get pretty lively hauling back a catch with a lot of sharks. As you may notice removing the hook can be difficult. Ryan is good at it, but Arjen, much like myself find it more difficult. In fact I usually asked Christian to help me with the hook. I was very proud of the single, solitary hook I removed all by myself. 🙂

On the deck of the Delaware II
On the deck of the Delaware II

Annmarie Babicki, August 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki

NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longlining Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 15, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude:  26.96 degrees North
Longitude: 83.18 degrees West
Clouds: scattered clouds
Winds:  6.13 kts.
Air Temperature:  33.5 C or
Barometric Pressure:  1014.93

Science and Technology:

Today was another fantastic day of seeing biology at its best.  I had the opportunity to observe the dissection of a sharpnose shark.  It is a small shark (about 2′ long) and rather docile, so it has been a good shark for me to practice on learning how to handle sharks.  The Chief Scientist works with many other scientists who are researching the  reproduction of a variety of sharks in the Gulf.  Although this species of  shark is not the one that he is researching (he is researching the blacknose shark), shark colleagues throughout the Gulf work together in order to obtain as much data as possible, and therefore collect data for one another.  Scientists look at the reproductive stages by observing and performing tests on the reproductive organs.  The shark dissected was a female in advanced puberty, but was in the process of collecting developing eggs. The samples taken on this shark were the follicles, where the eggs are stored, a piece of tissue and a blood sample. They will be taken to the NOAA lab in Pascagoula for examination.

A sharpnose shark
Yellow follicles where eggs are stored.

One recent finding on the blacknose shark study is that it was thought to reproduce annually. The Shark Scientist has recently found samples of blacknose sharks that show some reproduce biennially and some annually.  This came about by looking at the physical features and chemical makeup of the sharks.  The Chief Scientist stated that they will need to go back and review all of the data they have collected on these sharks over the many seasons they have been conducting the bottom longline survey.  The reason why this is so important is that the federal regulation of the catch is based in part on this data.  The outcome could be that the shark population is being depleted at a faster rate than was expected or the population is larger than anticipated, which means the catch regulations could be changed to reflect that. The shark biologist and the shark endocrinologist ( researching the hormonal makeup of sharks) were both sure that their data was accurate and valid, yet their results contradicted one another.  As you would hope, these scientists are open-minded enough to review their findings again and will try to solve this unexpected puzzle.

There is a great deal of data that is collected during these types of surveys.  Some data is recorded with pencil/paper, other data, such as that collected with a piece of equipment called a CTD (for “conductivity”, “temperature”, and “depth”), is recorded with computers.  The actual measurements of sharks are written with pencil/paper, but once each station is done, the information is entered into one of the computers that are in the dry lab.  There are six computers in the dry lab, 2 of which are laptop computers  called Toughbooks.  The Toughbooks are used when the hi-flyers, weights and numbered tags are put out on the fishing line and when they are hauled in. They are recording the position and time each twelve foot line is being dropped into the water.
CTD lowered into the water.
The CTD is an extremely expensive and sensitive piece of equipment that is placed in the water immediately after the crew and scientists have finished setting the longline.  The CTD sits below the surface for 3 minutes and is then lowered nearly to the ocean floor.  The crew needs to be careful not to let it touch bottom because it can damage the sensors causing the unit to fail. All of the data from this equipment is analyzed by the Chief Scientist when he returns to the lab.  There are also computers in many offices on the ship.  As of this writing, I have not had the opportunity to explore what their functions are.  That is for another day.

Personal Log

 It is incredibly hot here today and I have not adapted very well this week.  For a person who is always cold and who rarely sweats, it is quite a surprise to have sweat dripping from everywhere.  I even had sweat dripping from my forehead into my eyes! That is not fun. Although I do not generally drink Gatorade, I am drinking a lot of it on this trip!  I really am not complaining, just making a statement. I am really having such a great time on board this ship. It truly is a once in a life time experience.
 In the past couple of days I have had the opportunity to interview the five scientists (which includes the shark scientist) that I work with, and the captain of the ship. Their backgrounds are very different, but they all agreed that their love for the ocean has always been there.  The also all stated that while in high school, there were not marine biology classes.  It was not until they were at the college level that there were course offerings in their area of interest. The shark scientist has a PhD., but the other crew members do not.  They are planning to work on their master’s degree in the future. All of the crew have set goals for themselves and I am sure they will achieve them.  Each one gave advice to my fifth graders and that is do what you love. I really enjoyed spending time with all of them and have a lot to share with my students and teachers when we are back in school.
“Answer to the Question of the Day:
A flying fish caught in the night.
The answer is yes.  There is this wonderful little fish that swims very fast under water, but will fly or skip like a rock over the water.  It is a great adaptation that helps it to survive because the dolphins just love to feast on them.  Often times where there are flying fish, there are dolphins.  The other evening a flying fish flew out of the water and bounced off one of the crew members who was walking to the bow.  One of the volunteers, who happens to be from UNE, caught it.  That was so amazing in itself and getting to see it upfront was even better. Another example of the wonders of the ocean.
“Question of the Day”
How do captains and crew members communicate with ships that are far away?
“Animals Seen Today” a pale spotted eel that has very sharp teeth and bites.
A pale spotted eel

Annmarie Babicki, August 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Sharks and Red Snapper Bottom Longlining Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 13, 2010
Calm seas in the Gulf off the coast of Florida

Weather Data from the Bridge                                

Latitude: 26.18 degrees North
Longitude: -84.07 degrees West
Winds: 5.25 knts.
Air Temperature: 30.5 C or 87 F
Barometric Pressure: 1013.84

Science and Technology:

Today we entered a fishing area that had once been closed to fishing due to the oil spill.  Since the spill, NOAA scientists have the added responsibility of collecting data on the fish they catch and preparing them for return to a lab. Scientists will to keep up to ten fish of each species for each station they fish.  There is a protocol that is followed in the handling of these fish. Basically, they are wrapped in a industrial strength aluminum foil, labeled, bagged, and placed in a freezer.  Upon returning to port, the Chief Scientist with sign over each individual fish to the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) at Pascagoula.  Toxicology testing will be performed on each fish to determine if chemicals from the oil have entered their body. The data will be analyzed and determinations will be made.  Many marine biologists have been out to sea for long periods of time since the spill.  They have been away from their family and friends, but feel that what they are doing is very important for marine life and the people along the Gulf.  Their passion and dedication is much like the passion and dedication I see in teachers.
Ready for Testing

On a lighter note, yesterday I was able to tag my first shark.  The sandbar shark was large enough to be  brought up in the cradle.  The Chief Scientist made the slit just below the dorsal fin, while two other assistants held the shark in place.  I did not get the tag in on the first try, but finally did get it into position.  The shark’s skin was so tough and full of razor-like scales.  If a shark’s tail slaps and hits you, it can leave a burn-like mark that is very painful.  Hopefully I will not have that experience while I’m here. Tagging the shark was amazing and frightening all at the same time.  I was very aware that I needed to get it done quickly before the shark became restless.  A shark’s movements are swift and powerful and you don’t want to be in their way.  Everyone out here has a great respect for these animals and appreciates the beautiful creatures that they are.  I, too, am learning what they already know.

Sandbar Shark in Cradle
Tagging the Sandbar Shark

Personal Log

I almost never know where to begin as I write a blog.  There is always so much going on, so much to see, learn, and write about,  it is sometimes overwhelming.  I always have questions for everyone here and they are willing to take the time to answer them with great detail.  Today the Chief Scientist was explaining to me about the swim bladder on a particular fish that we pulled out at one of the stations.  One of the lessons in the ocean unit is about swim bladders, so I was very curious to hear more about them.  After listening to him, I came away with a better understanding, which I will be able to share with my students.
Well, we all like to eat and if you like really good food and lots of variety, the Oregon II is the place to be.  Our chef served in the Navy as a Culinary Specialist and upon retiring joined NOAA.   You can tell he loves his job and that he’s not just cooking.  He creates meals that tickle all of your taste buds and some you never knew you had.  No one misses mealtime around here.  And if you think you may, he will put a plate aside for you so that you don’t miss his luscious meal. If you’re sitting in the mess hall you hear lots of “thank you’s” and if you look at the chef, you will see a wide, proud smile on his face.
When I can, I try to head up to the bridge to learn about all the complicated and sophisticated electronics that this ship is furnished with.  The equipment provides a staggering amount of information that the officers must analyze prior to making decisions about how to manuever their way from station to station.  I was told that it is very unlikely a NOAA ship can get lost at sea.  There are multiple systems in place, so that if one fails, there is at least one other to take its place.  Even though the ship has navigational and radar systems, the officers continue to use paper nautical charts as a backup.  The Captain and all of the officers who sail this ship love what they do and put safety for everyone above all else.

The Bridge on the Oregon II

“Answer to the Question of the Day”
The wet lab of the ship is where the scientists process marine life and store supplies they will need to work with while they are out to sea.  In the dry lab you will find computers that are used entering data and for general communications.
“Question of the Day”  Is there a fish that really flies?

Annmarie Babicki, August 10, 2010

Time:NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki

NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longlining
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 10, 2010

Weather Data

Latitude:  25.36 degrees North
Longitude:  82.56 degrees West
Clouds: Overcast and occasional showers
Winds:  11.5 kts
Temperature: 28.6 Celcius or about 84 degrees Fahrenheit
Barometric Pressure; 1010.04

Science and Technology:

  I am working here in the Gulf of Mexico with a scientist who is completing shark stock assessments.  It is a long term study, which monitors population trends of all shark species in the Gulf.  The data collected from this survey is used in conjunction with data from many other studies to determine fisheries policy. One example of this could be the determinations of how large a catch can be and how long the catch season can be.  Policies are not only different by species, but also by whether the catch is for recreational or commercial use.
Today we began the shark survey and completed locations off the coast of Florida.  The locations are chosen at random, so that the data is objective and the findings are not skewed.  During each sampling the following information is recorded: shark species, its length, weight, sex, and the stage of its maturity.  The coordinates for each survey are also recorded, which enables scientists to know where particular shark populations exist. The number of stations completed per day varies depending on how far the stations are from one another.  Generally, the amount of time it takes to complete it is approximately two hours.
Bait bucket
Hi-flyer being dropped in the water

The methodology used to collect data on sharks is called bottom longlining.  This is when each hook are baited with mackerel and put on a gangion. We cut our own bait and attach it to the hooks.  Each hook is assigned a number, one to one hundred, so that it can be tracked. That line is then systematically hooked onto another line that runs one nautical mile.  Both ends of the line have what are called hi-flyers that float vertically in the water.  They are bright orange and have a blinking light on the top, so that they can be seen from a distance. There is a weight placed on both ends of the line and one in the middle. The weights help to keep the baited lines well below the surface.  After the last gangion is put on, we wait one hour and then begin to pull in all hundred lines. During this entire process the ship is moving, which can be sometimes challenging, especially in bad weather.

Measuring the length of a barracuda
weighing a barracuda
A tagged tiger shark

Although the focus of this survey is sharks, data is collected on all fishes that are captured. After the fish are pulled up on deck, data is collected and recorded by the hook number. The handling of sharks is different from the handling of fish.  Only sharks are fitted with a tag, which does not hurt them.  There are two types of tags, but to date we have only used one type.  In order to attach the yellow tag, a small slit is made underneath the dorsal fin. The tag has a sharp point on one end, which is inserted into the slit.  Also a small sample (5-10 cm) of the shark’s pelvic fin is taken.  This is then taken to the lab where DNA testing is done.  The DNA can be used to verify known species and unknown or new species. Also, scientists can compare the population of sharks in other oceans around the globe by their DNA. What I have observed on every catch is that the scientist carefully monitors the shark to ensure it is not being stressed or could be hurt in any way.
Today we caught this beautiful and powerful scalloped hammerhead shark.  When very large sharks like the hammerhead are caught, they are not pulled up by the line because it can damage them and they are too heavy to handle.  Instead they are guided onto a cradle which sits in the water. Once on securely they are hoisted to the side of the ship where scientists can collect the needed data. The hammerhead weighed in at 341lb. and was 8 feet long. What a catch this was, everyone was very excited.

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
The cradle used to raise sharks in and out of the water.

Personal Log

The day started out cloudy but eventually turned over to showers and then to a hard rain.  We are feeling the effects of the tropical depression, which explains why it is difficult for me to stay standing for any length of time.  I am hitting and seeing more walls than I care to!  Also, it is a very bizarre feeling when the chair you are sitting in moves from one side of the room to the other.  Luckily I have fended of sea sickness, but I did have a mild case of nausea, however, nothing that stopped me from continuing to work on deck.  Thank goodness for Bonine.
Sleeping has not been much of a problem for me except when the ship’s engine changes.  The engines make a deep loud growling sound that wakes me for just a few minutes. Being out in the fresh air does make me tired, so I have to set my alarm clock or I will sleep through my next shift. It’s hard to know what day it is because I am working a noon to midnight shift. You keep track of time by when the next sampling is due.

Being at sea and doing this type of research is definitely only for the hearty.  The weather changes often as does the pace of the work.  There are many jobs to do during sampling and I am trying to learn all of them.  Baiting a hook and taking off bait has been frustrating, particularly since it has to be done quickly.  The type of hook they use has a barb on it that goes in a different direction from the rest of the hook, so it doesn’t just slide out.  We wear special gloves to protect our hands from the hooks and skin of the sharks, which can feel like sand paper or razor blades depending on the shark.  They say that practice makes perfect. Well, I have a lot of practicing to do!
My next adventure is to learn how to hold sharks and not be afraid of them.  I’ll keep you posted.

“Answer to Question of the Day” The fin clip is an actual piece of a fin that has been cut off the shark to be used for DNA testing.”Question of the Day”  What is a wet and dry room on a research vessel?

“Animals Seen Today” red groupers, tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, scalloped hammerhead, sharpnose shark, and sea birds

Annmarie Babicki, August 8, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Eastern Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 8, 2010

A cargo ship off the starboard side.

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 16:17 Military time, 4:17 P.M.
Latitude: 2636.96 degrees North
Longitude: 8510.18 degrees West
Clouds:  Mostly cloudy
Winds:  7.68 knots (kts.)
Air Temperature:  30.4 Celsius (C)
Sea Temperature: 30.2 Celsius (C)
Dry Bulb Temperature: n/a
Wet Bulb Temperature: n/a
Barometric Pressure: 1012.97 mB

Science and Technology:

Today the sea is very calm, so it was a great opportunity to have a diver’s drill. This was a very special event because they occur only once a month, so it was great to be able to watch the drill in action. Safety is of the utmost importance in everything both ship personnel and scientists do on this ship.  Prior to the dive, the Captain, Dave Nelson, called a meeting for all who were involved. Their  discussions included their mission, current and potential weather changes, possibility of sharks in the water, the role of each pair of divers and what the plan is in case of an emergency.  There is an in depth checklist to follow along with the recommendations of the Captain, Executive Office, Navigator, Junior Officer, Diver Master, Chief Boson, divers and skilled fisherman. Everyone on board has multiple roles and the key to everything going to plan is teamwork and safety.

The rescue boat, called a RHIB, was put into the water prior to divers going in. There were two people in the boat who monitored the divers and were there in case of an emergency.  This boat costs about $125,000 and needs to be cared for carefully so that it does not incur any damage. The divers jumped in the water, which was about 80 degrees and gave the OK (a pat on the head) that they were ready to begin their mission.  When they were about 12 feet down in the water,  I could clearly see them (No oil in these parts).

RHIB, the rescue boat used in the diver’s drill

They checked out the bow and propeller blades to make sure there was not a barnacle build up that could impact them functioning properly. The dive went off without a hitch and their diving gear was hauled out of the water prior to the divers coming aboard.  The Captain explained that this was done because the equipment is over 40 pound and would make it difficult for the divers to climb the floating ladder which is over the side of the ship. After the dive was completed, they had a debriefing session, where they discussed the status of the barnacles and concluded that at this time they were not having any impact the propeller or hull.

Personal Log

What an unbelievable 24 hours.  The crew and scientists have been so supportive and patient with me, as I asked them a thousand questions.  They are all willing to share their time, knowledge and experiences with me. I keep a small notebook with me at all times as there is so much I am learning every minute of the day.
We have been traveling to our first survey site, which is over 400 or so miles from the port in Pascaguola, Mississippi.  At a speed of about 12 knots, it will take us about 34 hours to reach our destination.  This has given me time to get my “sea legs”, which I’m still working on.  No sea sickness yet, and besides there’s too much I want to see and do to have time to get sick.

One thing I have been struck by is the color of the ocean.  It has change color many times since we left port.  It has been a muddy brown because the fresh water coming down from the Mississippi River is carrying sediment, which is then mixing with the salt water of the ocean. As we got farther away from shore, the color changed from a muddy brown, to a green and then to a very dark blue. We are currently in very deep waters  (approx. 10,750 feet) and the color of the ocean is a beautiful blue like I have never seen before. It almost took my breath away.

Blue waters

We will reach the survey site about 2 A.M. and get to work right away.  It is a 24 hour working ship, which means that surveying never stops.  I am part of a group of 5, who will work noon to midnight, therefore my work will start tomorrow.  I have lots to do and learn in the meantime and can’t wait to see my first shark.

“Question of the Day”: What is a fin clip?  Find out tomorrow after we begin the survey.