Emily Sprowls: The pressure is on! March 23, 2017

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emily Sprowls

Aboard Oregon II

March 20 – April 3,2017

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

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NOAA Ship Oregon II

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: March 23, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

13:00 hours

28°03.9’ N 89°08.3’W

Visibility 10 nm, Haze

Wind 3kts 100°E

Sea wave height <1 ft.

Seawater temp 25.1°C

 Science and Technology Log

The past two days have been devoted to setting extremely deep longlines. Each of these sampling lines take many hours, as we have to slowly reel out over 3 miles of line, give it time to sink, soak, and then reel it back in.   The line that we put out today is even a bit longer than usual, because I got to be in charge of “slinging” the hooks onto the line and I was not very fast at getting the four different sizes of hooks ready

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A Mexican grenadier fish

. Have I mentioned how patient everyone is with the “Teach” aboard?

This morning we pulled up 97 empty hooks from 1250 meters before we caught the amazing grenadier fish! It suffered barotrauma, which is a nicer way of saying that its eyes and swim bladder inflated like balloons from the inside as it was hauled up from the high pressure depths.

One of the scientists onboard studies ocean food chains by examining the contents of fish stomachs. The stomach of the Mexican grenadier fish contained a fully intact armored shrimp!

Personal Log

Today I took advantage of the calm, calm seas to try the workout equipment onboard. They have all kinds of gear to help folks stay active and work off the delicious food in the galley. There is a rowing machine, stationary bike, weight bench, Jacob’s ladder, and elliptical. I used the elliptical machine because it was way too hot on the upper decks to use the exercise bike. Even with the very calm seas, there is a little bit of rolling, which made it an extra challenge for me keep it going!

Kids’ Questions of the Day

These questions about the Oregon II are from Harmony elementary students:

  • How big is the boat?       How tall? How long?

The boat is 175 feet long and 80 feet tall.

  • How much does the boat weigh?      

The boat weight is 800 tons. This is not how much the boat would weigh if you put it on a scale, but how

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TAS Emily Sprowls dons a survival suit

much weight the boat can carry if it were loaded full of cargo. We are not carrying nearly that much weight because a lot of the space on the boat is for equipment and for scientists and crew to live aboard.

  • How fast can it go?

Typically, the boat can go about 10 nautical miles per hour using both engines. She can go a little faster if the wind and current conditions are just right.

  • What is the boat made of?

The boat is made of steel and aluminum.

  • What are the white balloon things on top of the boat?

The white domes cover satellite dishes for the internet and phone.

  • What are the poles on the boat for? Are there sails?

The two yellow poles on either side of the boat are the outriggers used to

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This array houses the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth probe.

pull a wide trawling net, much like a shrimp boat. Scientists trawl the bottom to study benthic organisms, including shrimp, but also sponges, crabs and bottom-dwelling sharks.

  • What new technologies does the boat have?

The Oregon II turns 50 years old this year!   It has been sailing the Atlantic Ocean since before I was born, but the crew is constantly fixing and replacing equipment on the boat. Even though she is old, she is very safe and reliable. Nevertheless, we still have to prepare for emergencies, including the possibility of needing to abandon ship while wearing the goofy-looking, but life-saving survival suits.

 

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Styrofoam Cup Test!

Scientists have brought new technology on board, including plenty of computers to collect, sort, store and analyze all the data we collect. One of the computers is connected to a device called the “CTD” with a set of sensors for Conductivity, Temperature, Depth and Dissolved Oxygen. Today the CTD went all the way to about 1100 meters (3700 ft.), and we tethered some styrofoam cups to the outside to subject them to the extreme pressure at that depth.

 

Emily Sprowls: It’s a shark eat shark world down there! March 22, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emily Sprowls

Aboard Oregon II

March 20 – April 3, 2017

 

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: March 22, 2017

Science and Technology Log

This first leg of the Oregon II’s research for the season is an experimental longline survey. This is an exciting cruise for everybody, as we are all anxious to see what comes in on each line, and we hope to find some rare and little-studied species.

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Reeling in a shark caught on one of hook of the longline

A longline is a type of fishing gear that deploys one very long and very thick fishing line with many hooks attached. A fisheries survey is a systematic sampling of the ocean to assess fish populations. This mission is experimental because we are testing the longline at extreme depths and we are using different kinds of hooks in order to catch as wide a variety of species as possible.

Things have been busy onboard from the very first day, as we have been setting out and hauling longlines around the clock. We are headed deeper and deeper into the Mississippi canyon of the Gulf of Mexico with each station, starting at 100m and have worked our way down to 750 m, where we currently have a line “soaking” before we haul it up to record what we caught.

Personal Log

Life on the ship is divided into night and day watch. I’m “on days,” which means I’m work noon to midnight. I am so lucky to be a cruise with a lot of seasoned marine scientists and a great, hard-working crew. Shark scientist Kristin Hannan is the Field Party Chief and has taken me under her wing to get me settled and teach me as much as she can (without making me feel like the newbie that I am)!

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Oil rigs on the horizon

The seas have been calm and the water is the most beautiful color of blue! We are pretty far out to sea, and I have been amazed to see so many oil rigs off in the distance. They glow like small cities at night, and I think they look like strange robots walking on the horizon during the day.

 

Kids’ Questions of the Day

These questions are from the 1st-2nd grade and multi-age classes at Harmony School.

  •  How do you catch the sharks?

We catch the sharks by setting out 100 baited hooks at a time on a very long fishing line. A winch reels in the 3 miles of line after a couple of hours, and we record what is on every single hook.

  • How do you find the sharks?

We rely on the sharks finding our baited hooks. We put weights on the line so that it will sink all the way down to the bottom. We are fishing so deep that it takes almost an hour just for the line to sink! The sharks find the bait using their incredible sense of smell.

  •  What do sharks eat? Fish? Squid? Cookies? Other sharks?

We are baiting the hooks with pieces of squid. The process of baiting hundreds of hooks has left my clothes covered with squid ink!

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Hooks baited with pieces of squid

Sometimes they catch sharks with fish (mackerel), but squid bait stays better on the hooks, and deep-sea sharks clearly like squid, which also live in deep water. While this mission is experimental, the scientists onboard do not think we will have much luck baiting a hook with a cookie – it will just dissolve in the sea (besides the cookies in the galley are so delicious that there are no leftovers)! One type of deep-sea shark makes their own cookies… cookie-cutter sharks (Isistius) bite “cookies” out of other fish with their amazing jaws. Maybe we’ll catch one!?!

Last night we hauled in one hook with only a shark head on it…. What do you think happened to the rest of the shark?

 

Denise Harrington: A Shark A Day, September 29, 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: Thursday, September 29, 2016

Science Log

The cruise is coming to a close. Looking back at my three experiences with NOAA, hydrography (mapping the ocean), fisheries lab work, or shark and snapper surveys,  I couldn’t decide which was my favorite.  Like the facets of a diamond, each experience gave me another perspective on our one world ocean.

Just like different geographic locations and work, each shark species give me a lens through which I can appreciate the mysteries of the ocean.  Every day, I held, measured, kissed, or released a different species of shark. In the Gulf of Mexico, there are 44 shark species frequently caught.  Fortunately, I saw quite a few, and will share some, in the order in which I met them.

Our first night fishing, we caught many Atlantic sharpnose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae).  They are named for their long flat snout and sharp nose. It seemed whenever we caught one, a bunch more followed. They were abundant and kept us busy.

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Paul Felts, Fisheries Biologist, records measurements while Kevin Rademacher, Fisheries Biologist, wrestles and measures the shark. Matt Ellis, NOAA Science Writer, took amazing pictures throughout the cruise.

Day two, we caught a deep water Cuban dogfish (Squalus cubensis).  

 

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The Cuban dogfish’s huge iridescent eyes were entrancing.

On September 2o, we almost caught a bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas).  We brought the cradle down, but the shark thrashed its way off, refusing to be studied. The bull shark, along with the tiger shark, are “one of the top three sharks implicated in unprovoked fatal attacks around the world.”

Within a couple days of catching the Cuban dogfish, we caught another shark with iridescent eyes. It turns out this similar looking shark was not a Cuban dogfish, but a rare roughskin spiny dogfish (Cirrhigaleus asper).  

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Dr. Trey Driggers, Field Party Chief, and prolific shark researcher, surprised us all when he reported this was the first roughskin spiny dogfish he had ever caught!

The beautifully mottled, sleek, immature tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) caught on September 23 had remarkable skin patterns that apparently fade as the shark ages. Adult sharks can get as large as 18 feet and 2,000 pounds.  Along with the bull shark, it is one of the top three species implicated in unprovoked, fatal attacks worldwide.

September 24 we caught a fascinating scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini).  The flat extended head of this hammerhead is wavy, giving it the “scalloped” part of its name.  Its populations in the Gulf have drastically decreased since 1981, making it a species of concern.

 

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Here, Kevin measures one of several scalloped hammerhead sharks we caught on Leg IV of the survey.

We also caught a silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis). Like other Carcharhinus sharks, the silky shark has a sharp “Carchar,” nose “hinus” (Greek derivation), but also has a silky appearance due to its closely spaced dermal denticles.

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I instantly felt the silky was the most beautiful shark I’d seen. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

 

We  saw two of the three smoothhound species present in the Gulf.  On September 25, we caught a Gulf smoothhound, (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), a species named less than 20 years ago. Much is left to learn about the ecology and biology of this recently discovered shark.

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Getting ready to weigh the gulf smoothhound, Kevin Rademacher, Fisheries Biologist, stops for a photo.                                                      Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

Then, I watched the night crew catch, measure and tag a dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus).

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Photo: NOAA Fisheries

On September 26, we caught a sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus).  Despite its size,  the sandbar shark poses little threat to man.

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The sandbar shark’s large fin to body ratio and size make them a prime target for commercial fisheries. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

Due to over-fishing, sandbar shark populations are said to have dropped by as much as 2/3 between the 1970’s and the 1990’s. They are now making a comeback, whether it be from fishing regulations, or the decreased populations of larger sharks feeding on juvenile sandbar sharks.

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This sandbar shark attacked a blacknose shark that had taken our bait. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

We tagged many sharks during my two weeks on the Oregon II.  If you never catch one of those sharks again, the tag doesn’t mean anything.  But this week, we also caught a previously tagged sandbar shark!  Recapturing a wild marine animal is phenomenal.  You can learn about its migration patterns, statistically estimate population sizes, and learn much more. The many years of NOAA’s work with this species in particular demonstrates that thoughtful, long term management of a species works.

 

On September 27, we almost caught a nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum). The barbels coming from its mouth reminded me of a catfish or exotic man with a mustache.

Today, September 29, was our last day of fishing, a bittersweet day for me.  That nurse shark that got away, or more likely, another one like it, came up in our cradle.

Every day we caught sharks, including a few other species not mentioned here.  Only once our line came back without a fish.  The diverse characteristics and adaptations that allow each of these species to survive in a challenging marine environment inspire biologists as they try to categorize and understand the species they research.   While catching so many different species of sharks gives me hope, many members of the crew reminisce about times gone by when fish were more abundant than they are now.

Personal Log

I am the kind of person who always struggles to return from an adventure.  I have learned so much, I don’t want to leave.  Yet I know my class at South Prairie is waiting patiently for my return. I hope to share these many marine species  with my class so that we all may view every moment with curiosity and amazement.

 

 

 

 

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!

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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.

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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.

Barney Peterson: What Are We Catching? August 28, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Barney Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 13 – 28, 2016

Mission: Long Line Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Sunday, August 28, 2016

Weather Data is not available for this post because I am writing from the Biloxi/Gulfport Airport.

WHAT ARE WE CATCHING?

This is a long-line survey.  That means we go to an assigned GPS point, deploy hi-flyer buoys, add weights to hold the line down, add 100 baited hooks, leave it in place for an hour, and retrieve everything.

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Mackerel is used to bait the hooks.

As the equipment is pulled in we identify, measure and record everything we catch.  Sometimes, like in the case of a really large, feisty shark that struggles enough to straighten or break a hook or the lines, we try to identify and record the one that got away.  We tag each shark so that it can be identified if it is ever caught again.  We tally each hook as it is deployed and retrieved, and the computer records a GPS position for each retrieval so scientists can form a picture of how the catch was distributed along the section we were fishing.  The target catch for this particular survey was listed as sharks and red snapper.  The reality is that we caught a much wider variety of marine life.

We list our catch in two categories: Bony fish, and Sharks.  The major difference is in the skeletons.  Bony fish have just that: a skeleton made of hard bone like a salmon or halibut.  Sharks, on the other hand, have a cartilaginous skeleton, rigid fins, and 5 to 7 gill openings on each side.  Sharks have multiple rows of sharp teeth arranged around both upper and lower jaws.  Since they have no bones, those teeth are embedded in the gums and are easily dislodged.  This is not a problem because they are easily replaced as well.  There are other wonderful differences that separate sharks from bony fish.

Bony Fish we caught:

The most common of the bony fish that we caught were Red Groupers (Epinephelus morio), distinguished by of their brownish to red-orange color, large eyes and very large mouths.  Their dorsal fins, especially, have pointed spikes.

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Chrissy holding an enormous grouper

We also caught Black Sea Bass (Centropristus striata) which resemble the groupers in that they also have large mouths and prominent eyes.

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Black Sea Bass

A third fish that resembles these two is the Speckled Hind (Epinephelus drummondhayi).  It has a broad body, large mouth and undershot jaw giving the face a different look.  Yes, we did catch several Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), although not as many as I expected.  Snappers are a brighter color than the Red Groupers, and have a more triangular shaped head, large mouth and prominent canine teeth.

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Red Snapper

The most exciting bony fish we caught was barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda).  We caught several of these and each time I was impressed with their sleek shape and very sharp teeth!

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TAS Barney Peterson with a barracuda

Most of the bony fish we caught were in fairly deep water.

 

Sharks:

We were fortunate to catch a variety of sharks ranging from fairly small to impressively big!

The most commonly caught were Sandbar Sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus): large, dark-gray to brown on top and white on the bottom.

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Sandbar Shark

Unless you really know your sharks, it is difficult for the amateur to distinguish between some of the various types.  Experts look at color, nose shape, fin shape and placement, and distinguishing characteristics like the hammer-shaped head of the Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) and Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) sharks that were caught on this trip.

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Great Hammerhead Shark

The beautifully patterned coloring of the Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is fairly easy to recognize and so is the yellowish cast to the sides of the Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris).

Other sharks we caught were Black-nose (Carcharhinus acrontus), Atlantic Sharp-nosed (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), Blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) and Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus leucus).

Several of the sharks we caught were large, very close to 3 meters long, very heavy and very strong!  Small sharks and bony fish were brought aboard on the hooks to be measured against a scaled board on the deck then weighed by holding them up on a spring scale before tagging and releasing them.  Any shark larger than about 1.5 meters was usually heavy and strong enough that it was guided into a net cradle that was lifted by crane to deck level where it could be measured, weighed and tagged with the least possibility of harm to either the shark or the crew members.  Large powerful sharks do not feel the force of gravity when in the water, but once out of it, the power of their weight works against them so getting them back into the water quickly is important.  Large powerful sharks are also pretty upset about being caught and use their strength to thrash around trying to escape.  The power in a swat from a shark tail or the abrasion from their rough skin can be painful and unpleasant for those handling them.

PERSONAL LOG

The Night Sky

I am standing alone on the well deck; my head is buzzing with the melodies of the Eagles and England Dan.  A warm breeze brushes over me as I tune out the hum of the ship’s engines and focus on the rhythm of the bow waves rushing past below me.  It is dark! Dark enough and clear enough that I can see stars above me from horizon to horizon: the soft cloudy glow of the Milky Way, the distinctive patterns of familiar favorites like the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper with its signature bright point, the North Star.  Cassiopeia appears as a huge “W” and even the tiny cluster of the “Seven Sisters” is distinct in the black bowl of the night sky over the Gulf of Mexico.  The longer I look the more stars I see.

This is one of the first really cloudless nights of this cruise so far.  Mike Conway, a member of the deck crew came looking for me to be sure I didn’t miss out on an opportunity to witness this amazingly beautiful show.  As I first exited the dry lab and stumbled toward the bow all I could pick out were three faint stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper.  The longer I looked, the more my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, and the more spectacular the show became.  Soon there were too many stars for me to pick out any but the most familiar constellations.

As a child I spent many summer nighttime hours on a blanket in our yard as my father patiently guided my eyes toward constellation after constellation, telling me the myths that explained each one. Many years have passed since then.  I have gotten busy seeing other sights and hearing other stories.  I had not thought about those long ago summer nights for many years.  Tonight, looking up in wonder, I felt very close to Pop again and to those great times we shared.

 

Barney Peterson:Welcome to OREGON II, August 14, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship OREGON II
August 13 – 28, 2016

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 14, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 25 23.297 N

Longitude: 083 40 .794 W

Air temperature: 87.6 F

Pressure: 1017.04 Mb

Sea Surface Temperature: 30.6 C

Wind Speed: 16.6 Kt    East 86.74 degrees

Science Log:

We will set clocks tonight SHIP WIDE.  At 0100 it will become 0000.  Please plan accordingly.

What this translates to is that when we moved into the Gulf of Mexico we went to the Central Time Zone.  That means only a 2-hour difference between the ship and my home in the Pacific Northwest.  That also means I, who am on the noon-to-midnight shift, got one more hour to sleep (or whatever) Sunday night.

I am busy learning about schedules on the ship. The science group is split into 2 shifts.  We work days: noon to midnight; or nights: midnight to noon.  These hours rule our lives. Meals are served at 0630, 1100, and 1700.  You eat your first meal before you go on shift and your last at shift’s end.  During the 12 hours you are off shift your stateroom is yours and your roommate is expected to stay away and let you sleep.  The opposite is true for your time on: take everything you may need with you when you leave.  Showers, laundry and personal business are fit into your 12 hours off.  Shipboard courtesy requires that we keep voices low in the passageways and be careful not to let doors slam.  Somebody is always trying to sleep.  There is always a quiet spot somewhere to relax for a moment if you get the time: on the flying bridge, at the table on the stern, in the lounge or at a galley table.

Sunday, at 1230 hours, we had safety drills, required for all personnel within 24 hours of departure and once a week thereafter on every cruise.  Reporting stations for 3 different types of drills are posted in staterooms and throughout the ship.  Nobody is exempt from participation.

The signal sounds: a 10 second ringing of the bell: FIRE!  The PA announces a drill: “All hands report to assigned stations.”  Members of the science team quickly make their way to the stern.  By the galley stands a crew member with a sign reading: Fire ahead – detour.  After we arrive at our station, get checked off and, when all crew have been accounted for, return to our staterooms.

Next – 7 short and one long ring on the bell: ABANDON SHIP!  Announcement: “Drill.  All hands report to the bow with PFD’s and survival suits.”  We grab our life jackets and “Gumby suits” and head to the bow where we are checked off as we arrive.  We are required to don our “Gumbies” in 2 minutes or less – not impossible, but not simple either.  I’ve done it before.  The hardest part is getting the hood on and zipping up with your hands jammed into the lobster-claw gloves and your shoes and hat crammed into the suit with you…that’s when you discover just how much too long the arms and legs are.  It isn’t pretty, but if we actually end up in the water, those neoprene suits will be our best protection against the deadly, energy-sapping effects of hypothermia!

Just after we have stripped out of the “Gumby” suits, rolled them up and stowed them and our life jackets back in staterooms, we get the next signal.

3 long bells: “MAN OVERBOARD!” This drill is important too, but feels almost like an anti-climax.  It could mean the difference between life and death to a fellow crew member who falls into the water when the ship is moving.  Science team reports again to the stern and, in a real emergency, would receive instructions for participating in spotting or assisting in a rescue.  This time we stay and listen to a safety talk about our work with long lines, hooks, bait, and our possible catch which could include all kinds of fish and sharks.  There are very definite rules and procedures to ensure crew are safe and our catch is handled with care and respect.  If all goes well…our first lines will be set Monday night!

Personal Log:

Sitting on the flying bridge about 1900 Sunday evening, 3 of us spotted a small boat about ½ mile away that seemed to be drifting aimlessly.  There were two enormous cruise ships coming up behind us and they went around it on either side after cutting their engines to reduce their wake.  A crew member from the bridge watched from our deck as somebody on the boat fired a flare.  We were informed that radio contact was established: the boat was adrift, out of fuel, and we would stand by until the Coast Guard arrived. The OREGON II cut speed and circled back to stay closer to the small boat.  One of the cruise ships was also standing by while the other went on its way.  After about 20 minutes the white and red Coast Guard ship appeared and, when it reached the small boat, we were released to go on our way.

Seeing this response to another vessel in need of help put emphasis upon the importance of participating fully in our drills and understanding the measures in place to keep us safe and aid other ships sharing this big ocean.

Did You Know?  What is the largest shark found in the Gulf of Mexico?

going aboard

Teacher at Sea Barney Peterson about to board NOAA ship OREGON II

Jeff Miller: Getting Ready to Sail, August 19, 2015

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

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 19, 2015

Personal Log

Hello from Phoenix, Arizona.  My name is Jeff Miller and I teach biology at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) in Avondale, AZ.  EMCC is one of ten community colleges in the Maricopa Community College District, which is one of the largest college districts in the United States, serving more than 128,000 students each year.  I have been teaching at EMCC for eight years.  I currently teach two sections of a general biology course for non-majors (that is students who are majoring in subjects other than biology) and one section of a human anatomy and physiology course primarily taken by students entering healthcare-related fields.

Jeff Miller

A photo of me at Tuolomne Meadow in Yosemite National Park

EMCC is an outstanding place to teach because of all the truly wonderful students.  EMCC serves a diverse set of students from recent high school graduates to adults seeking a new career. EMCC students are also ethnically diverse. Thus, students bring a wide range of knowledge, ideas, and talents to our classrooms. Despite this diversity, one thing most students lack is real world experiences with marine organisms and environments. We are, after all, located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert.  Arizona does, however, possess many unique and amazing environments and when I’m not in the classroom, hiking and exploring nature with my family is one of my favorite things to do.

Cathedral Rock

Cathedral Rock in Sedona, AZ

Great Horned Owl

A Great Horned Owl perches on a log in the desert near Tucson, AZ

Saguaro

A saguaro cactus in the Sonoran desert near Tucson, AZ

White Mountains

Arizona is home to the largest unbroken Ponderosa Pine forest in the world. My wife (Weiru), daughter (Julia), and dog (Maya) in the White Mountains of Arizona

I applied to the Teacher at Sea program to deepen my knowledge of marine systems as part of my sabbatical.  A sabbatical is a period of time granted to teachers to study, travel, acquire new skills, and/or fulfill a personal dream. I have always loved the ocean and even worked with sea urchin embryos in graduate school.  However, my knowledge and experience of marine organisms and ecosystems is  limited.  Therefore, participation in the Teacher at Sea program will give me the opportunity to learn how marine biologists and oceanographers collect and analyze data and how their investigations can inform us about human impacts on marine ecosystems. I plan to use the knowledge and experiences I gain to develop curriculum materials for a marine biology course at EMCC that to helps my students gain fundamental knowledge of and appreciation for our world’s oceans. I hope to foster greater curiosity and excitement about marine science and the scientists who explore our oceans and help students see why it is so important to protect and conserve the oceans resources for future generations.

To help fulfill my dream of learning more about the oceans, I have the opportunity of a lifetime – to sail on the NOAA Ship Oregon II.  I will be working with the crew and scientists aboard the Oregon II to perform part of an annual longline shark survey.  The goal of the mission is to gather data about shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast.  Some of the data collected includes length, weight, and sex of each individual, collection of tissues samples for DNA analysis, and collection of environmental data.  Please visit the main mission page or the Oregon II Facebook page for more detailed information and images, videos, and stories from recent cruises.  Also check out a recent article from the Washington Post featuring Kristin Hannan, a fisheries biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Services describing the shark research being conducted aboard the Oregon II.

Longline Shark Survey Map

Map showing the region of the Gulf of Mexico where I will participate in the longline shark survey aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II

Needless to say, I am extremely excited, though a bit nervous, about my upcoming cruise.  I have little experience sailing on the open ocean and have never been up close to a shark let alone actually handled one in person.  All that will change soon and I know that I will treasure the knowledge and experiences I gain aboard the Oregon II.  I am currently packing up my gear and preparing myself for the experience of a lifetime.

The next time you hear from me I will be in the Gulf of Mexico on my mission to learn more about sharks.