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.

 

2

Paul Felts weighs a large King Snake eel

 

3

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.

4

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.

5

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.

6

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.

8

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!

7

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.

11

Science team works check if a female bull shark is pregnant using an ultrasound machine

10

Measuring a sharp nose shark

9

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.

baiting hooks

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.

ultrasounding sharks

James Sulikowski ultra sounding some small pregnant sharks.

shark-ultrasound.jpg

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.

arriving at ship

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.

stairs

The stairs require you to pay attention and use a hand rail..especially if your wearing tri-level glasses like I am

stern.jpg

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.

 

sunset

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

end of july 206

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.

end of july 511

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.”

img_2656

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

adam-fishing

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.

img_1611

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

 

img_1372

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.

img_3226

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.

img_3230

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.

p1080831

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.

p1080429

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

p1080443

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

p1080326

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

p1080838

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.

p1080432

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.

p1080172

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.