Stephen Tomasetti: Gone Fishin’, August 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Tomasetti
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 11 – 25, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
You can view the geographical location of the cruise here at any time: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/
Date: Friday, August 15, 2014

Weather Data from Bridge:
Air Temperature: 30.5 Degrees C
Water Temperature: 30.3 Degrees C
Wind Speed: 10.2 Knots
Barometric Pressure: 1015.9 Millibars

Science and Technology Log:

On this ship’s longline survey we are trying to examine fish, sharks in particular, to monitor trends in population abundance and examine distributional patterns. In order to do all of that, you first have to catch them. I figured for this blog I’ll walk us through the process of catching sharks (before tagging them and returning them to the water).

You start with prepping everything on the deck. We have two barrels filled with 100 hooks in total that are pre-connected to gangions which are twelve feet in length each and will eventually be connected to the mainline that goes in the water. The first step is to bait the hooks. In this case we use mackerel, cut in half, so that one mackerel is used as bait for two hooks.

Barrels of bait on hooks

Barrels of bait on hooks

Once all of the hooks are baited, the ship is maneuvered to the location where the data is to be collected. The first thing to come off the ship is called a “hi-flyer”. It is basically a buoy that marks the end of the fishing line.

Samantha deploying the hi-flyer

Volunteer Samantha deploying the hi-flyer

Next some weights attached to the line are tossed into the water in order to take the mainline to the bottom. Then the individual gangions with the hooks and bait are numbered with tags and attached to the mainline that continually extends as the ship moves forward.

Eloy attaching the baited line to the main line

Fisherman Eloy Borges attaching the gangion to the mainline

I love slinging bait. It’s basically the process of tossing the baited gangions off the side before connecting it to the mainline. There’s a rhythm to it, and a groove that you get with a little practice. You have to toss it far enough while making sure not to drop the line. You also try to keep up with the proper pace so that the hooks accurately correspond to a given distance in the water.

Once all of the hooks are in the water, more weights go in, the line is cut, knotted, and attached to the second hi-flyer which is tossed in the water. All the while someone is at a computer marking when each hi-flyer, weight and hook hits the water. That’s the process. Then it’s about an hour wait before hauling in your sharks!

For the next update we’ll talk all about sharks.

Tre and I handling a smooth dogfish shark

Scientist and Director of Animal Operations Andre Debose and I handling a smooth dogfish (shark)

Personal Log:

We’ve been fishing for two days out in the Gulf and I’m getting real comfortable out here. I work 12pm – 12am daily with sporadic breaks out on deck. Slingin’ bait. Taggin’ sharks. Data. Music. Laughs. Can’t complain.

Prior to arriving in the Gulf, we spent about two days cruising down the coast of Florida. This large ship can start to feel pretty small when you go two days without working. Many of us and the crew members speed through books (I just finished a book called Long Division…check it out), watch movies, and hang out on deck. The first night many of us watched the sunset together as dolphins played in the wake of the ship. It was fantastic.

On the second day we participated in our emergency drills. These drills consist of a fire drill, a man overboard drill, and an abandon ship drill where we get to don these mammoth survival suits called “immersion suits”.

Immersion Suit Success

Immersion Suit Success

I’m sure volunteer Sarah Larsen would agree it takes some muscle to fit into these. One tip to help put these on quickly is to save your strong arm and put that in the suit last. That way you can maneuver yourself through the suit with your strong arm before you zip up.

The Gulf waters have been surprisingly smooth out here, which isn’t always the case. And small flying fish zip across the surface leaving streaks that resemble those of a knife in a tub of butter. I know I should be taking more photos of moments like these but it’s hard to remove myself from the moment, dig through my bags, get the camera out, and finally take a photograph (which still won’t do it justice). I keep thinking about my students in Brooklyn, and how privileged I am to be able to have this experience, which really challenges me to find meaningful ways to share it with them. They deserve to be here and be a part of this.

Rachel Pryor

LTJG(sel) Rachel Pryor

Crew Highlight: Meet LTJG(sel) Rachel Pryor

Job: Navigation Officer

How did you get involved with NOAA: Rachel was interested in science from a young age. She heard about NOAA Corps while working for the Environmental Protection Agency, and found out more while being an observer in the Northeast.

What is your favorite part of the job: Rachel loves standing up on the bridge, looking out the window at the open ocean and driving the ship. There are times when the job can become tense, for instance in heavy ship traffic, but in those moments she says she takes a deep breath and reflects on how lucky she is to not be stuck in a cubicle.

Did you Know? The smooth dogfish has blunt teeth that really can’t harm a human. More on sharks next time!

Jason Moeller: June 17-18, 2011

NOAA TEACHER AT SEA
JASON MOELLER
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 17-18, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 52.34 N
Longitude: -167.51 W
Wind Speed: 7.25 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 6.6 Degrees C
Air Temperature: 7.1 Degrees C
Relative Humidity: 101%
Depth:  63.53 meters

All of the above information was found on http://shiptracker.noaa.gov. Readers can use this site to track exactly where I am at all times!

Personal Log

Welcome back, explorers!

It has been a very eventful 24 hours! We have started fishing, but have done so little that I will wait to talk about that in the next log. Tammy, the other Teacher at Sea, has not begun fishing yet, and as we will be writing the science and technology log together, I will save the fishing stories until she has had a chance to fish.

After turning in last night’s log, we managed to spot eight or nine humpback whales on our starboard side that appeared to be feeding at the surface. They were too far away to get any decent photos, but it was a lot of fun to watch the spouts from their blowholes tower up into the air.

Whale Spouts

Ten whale spouts rise in the distance.

This afternoon started off by dropping an expendable bathythermograph (from here on out this will be referred to as an XBT). The XBT measures the temperature and depth of the water column where it is dropped (there will be more on this in the Science and Technology section). I was told that I would be dropping the XBT this time, and was led off by Sarah and Abby (two of the scientists on board) to get ready.

Ready to launch!

The first thing I had to do was to get dressed. I was told the XBT would feel and sound like firing a shotgun, so I had to put on eye, ear and head protection. I was also put in a fireman suit to protect my body from the kickback, since I am so small. The XBT launcher is the tube in my hands.

Pranked!

This is me launching the XBT. Why no smoke? All we actually needed to do was drop the device over the side. The whole shotgun experience was a prank pulled off by the scientists on all of the new guys. Their acting was great! When I turned towards Sarah at one point with the launcher, she ducked out of the way as if afraid I would accidentally fire it. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

However, the prank backfired somewhat. As the scientists were all laughing, a huge wave came up over the side of the ship and drenched us. I got nailed, but since I was in all of the gear, I stayed dry with the hem of my jeans being the only casualty. Sarah didn’t get so lucky. Fun times!

Sarah

Sarah looking a bit wet.

Science and Technology Log
Today, we will be looking at the XBT (the expendable bathythermograph). Bathy refers to the depth, and thermo refers to the temperature. This probe measures the depth and temperature of the water column when it is dropped over the starboard side of the ship.
“Dropping” isn’t exactly the right phrase to use. We use a launcher that resembles a gun. See the photo below to get an idea of what the launcher looks like.
XBT Launcher

This is the XBT Launcher.

Pin

The silver loop is the pin for the launcher. To launch the probe, we pulled the pin and flung out our arm. The momentum pushed the probe out of the tube and into the water below.

The probe

The probe.

The probe is connected to a length of copper wire, which runs continuously as the probe sinks through the water column. It is important to launch the probe as far away from the ship as possible, as the copper wire should never touch the ship. If the wire were to touch the ship, the data feed back to the ship would be disrupted and we would have to launch another probe, which is a waste of money and equipment. The survey technician decides to cut the wire when he/she has determined that sufficient data has been acquired. This normally occurs when the probe hits the ocean floor.

This is a quick and convenient way to collect data on the depth and temperature of the water column. While the ship has other methods of collecting this data (such as a Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) probe), the XBT is a simpler system that does not need to be recovered (as opposed to the CTD).

CTD

A CTD

Data collected from the most recent XBT.
Latitude: 53.20 degrees N
Longitude: 167.46 degrees W
Temperature at surface: 6.7 degrees C
Temperature at bottom: 5.1 degrees C
Thermocline: 0 meters to 25 meters.
The thermocline is the area where the most rapid temperature change occurs. Beneath the thermocline, the temperature remains relatively constant.
Thermocline

This is a graph showing a thermocline in a body of water. Source: http://www.windows2universe.org

Species Seen

Humpback Whales

Northern Fulmar

Albatross

Northern Smoothtongue

Walleye Pollock

Mackerel

Lumpsucker

Squid

Pacific Sleeper Shark

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Today’s reader questions come from James and David Segrest, who are two of my students in Knoxville Zoo’s homeschool Tuesday classes!

1. Did pirates ever travel the path you are on now? Are there any out there now?

A. As far as I know, there are no pirates currently operating in Alaska, and according to the scientists, there were not any on the specific route that we are now traveling. However, Alaska does have a history of piracy! In 1910, a man named James Robert Heckem invented a floating fish trap that was designed to catch salmon. The trap was able to divert migrating salmon away from their normal route and into a funnel, which dumped the fish off into a circular wire net. There, the fish would swim around until they were taken from the trap.

Salmon and trap

Workers remove salmon from a fish trap in 1938. Historic Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife - Fisheries Collection - Photographer: Archival photograph by Mr. Sean Linehan, NOS, NGS.

For people who liked eating fish, this was a great thing! The salmon could be caught quickly with less work, and it was fresh, as the salmon would still be alive when taken from the trap. For the traditional fisherman, however, this was terrible news. The fishermen could not compete with the traps and found that they could not make a living. The result was that the fishermen began raiding the floating traps, using any means possible.

Salmon barge

A barge of salmon going to a cannery. Fishermen could not compete with traps that could catch more fish. Historic Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife - Fisheries Collection -Photographer: Archival photograph by Mr. Sean Linehan, NOS, NGS

The most common method used was bribery. The canneries that operated the traps would hire individuals to watch the traps. Fishermen would bribe the watchers, steal the fish, and then leave the area. The practice became so common that the canneries began to hire people to watch the trap-watchers.

2. Have you seen any sharks? Are there any sharks that roam the waters where you are traveling?

shark

Hi James and David! Here is your shark! It's a Pacific Sleeper Shark.

shark in net

The shark in the net

Shark

Another image of the shark on the conveyor belt.

This is a Pacific Sleeper Shark. It is called a sleeper shark as it does not appear to move a great deal, choosing instead to glide with very little movement of its fins. As a result, it does not make any noise underwater, making it the owl of the shark world. It hunts much faster fish (pollock, flounders, rockfish) by being stealthy. They are also known to eat crabs, octopus, and even snails! It is one of two animals known to eat giant squid, with the other one being sperm whales, although it is believed that these sharks probably scavenge the bodies of the much larger squid.

The other shark commonly seen is the salmon shark. Hopefully, we will catch one of these and I will have photos later in the trip.