One hour after the last highflyer is entered into the water it is time to retrieve the longline. The ship pulls alongside the first highflyer and brings it on board. Two people carry the highflyer to the stern of the ship. The longline is then re-attached to a large reel so that the mainline can be spooled back onto the ship. As the line comes back on board one scientist takes the gangion removes the tag and coils it back into the barrel. The bait condition and/or catch are added into the computer system by a second scientist. If there is a fish on the hook then it is determined if the fish can be brought on board by hand or if the cradle needs to be lowered into the water to bring up the species.
Protective eye wear must be worn at all times, but if a shark is being brought up in the cradle we must all also put on hard hats due to the crane being used to move the cradle. Once a fish is on board two scientists are responsible for weighing and taking three measurements: pre-caudal, fork, and total length in mm. Often, a small fin clip is taken for genetics and if it is a shark, depending on the size, a dart or rototag is inserted into the shark either at the base of the dorsal fin or on the fin itself. The shark tag is recorded and the species is then put back into the ocean. Once all 100 gangions, weights and highflyers are brought on board it is time to cleanup and properly store the samples.
Fish Data: Some species of snapper, grouper and tile fish that are brought on board will have their otoliths removed for ageing, a gonad sample taken for reproduction studies and a muscle sample for feeding studies and genetics. These are stored and sent back to the lab for further processing.
It has been a busy last few days. We have caught some really cool species like king snake eels (Ophichthus rex), gulper sharks (Centrophorus granulosus), yellow edge grouper (Hyporthodus flavolimbatus) and golden tile fish (Lopholaatilus chamaeleontiiceps). There have been thousands of moon jelly fish (Aurelia aurita) the size of dinner plates and larger all around the boat when we are setting and retrieving the longline. They look so peaceful and gentle just floating along with the current. When we were by the Florida-Alabama line there were so many oil rigs out in the distant. It was very interesting learning about them and seeing their lights glowing. One of them actually had a real fire to burn off the gases. There were also a couple sharks that swam by in our ship lights last night. One of the best things we got to witness was a huge leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) that came up for a breath of air about 50 feet from the ship.
Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 6.5ºC (43.7ºF)
Surface water temperature: 6.9ºC (44.42ºF)
Wind speed: 7 knots (8.05 mph)
Wind direction: 265ºT
Barometric pressure: 1011 millibar (0.998 atm, 758 mmHg)
Science and Technology Log
Not much science to discuss yet since we just left port at 0900 and I won’t be working in the fish lab until my 0400-1600 shift tomorrow (that’s 4am-4pm for anyone unfamiliar with military time). More to come on the pollock survey in a later post.
However, I did have the opportunity to spend a few hours up in the bridge today and I learned A TON thanks to NOAA Corps Officers ENS (ensign) Libby Chase and LT (lieutenant) Matt Davis! The chemistry teacher in me was amazed by all of the conversions used. Just a few of the things I learned today on the bridge:
* During the majority of transiting time, the Beier Radio Dynamic Positioning System is used. This is like an auto-pilot that controls the rudder to keep the Oscar Dyson on course using a gyro compass. They have nicknamed her “Betty” because she talks to you in a female voice, kinda like Siri on the new iPhone.
* A gyro compass is different from the magnetic compass that I am more familiar with using. The wind direction is measured in degrees true, which is based on true north being at 0º. Magnetic compasses have about a 9º variation, but things on the ship can also influence the deviation in the magnetic compass reading, so it is much better to use the gyro compass.
* You can drive the ship from multiple locations on the bridge. The main location looks to the bow/forward (front) of the ship. The starboard (right) location is used when the CTD is deployed (more on this later) and also whenever the boat is docked. The aft/stern (back of the ship) location is used when setting and recovering nets during a trawl. And the port (left) location is a ghost town that is rarely used.
* I learned the distance equation used in determining something called DR, or dead reckoning. This allows you to notice any set and drift while going along your course and tells where the current may or may not be pushing you to allow you to correct the course. The equation is as follows:
D = S x T
D is distance (in nautical miles)
S is speed (in knots)
T is time (in hours)
For example, if we were traveling at 11.35 knots, after 30 mins (or 0.5 hours), we should travel a distance of 5.7 nautical miles (D = 11.35 x 0.5). The bridge officers will plot this and see after half an hour if the ship has stayed on course based on the DR and the new coordinates after 30 minutes. Also, in case you didn’t know, 1 nautical mile = 1.15 miles.
* There is no common set of units for any given measurement, so everyone has to be familiar with how to do conversions. For example, when determining barometric pressure, you can use millibar, atmospheres, millimeters of mercury, torr, etc. (1 atm = 1013.25 mbar = 760 mmHg = 760 torr). For speed, you can use knots or miles per hour (1 knot = 1.15 mph).
What an adventure this has already been. Long story short, it took an extra day to get to Dutch Harbor due to weather conditions, giving me an overnight stay in Anchorage. I have come to discover that this is not an uncommon occurrence. It did give me a chance to meet plenty of people from the ship at the airport before we even arrived since we were all sitting around the terminal waiting on standby for flights. But I finally made it, had an exit row seat (see photo) and all of my luggage arrived with me!
I had the entire day yesterday in Dutch Harbor to explore, so I ran the 3ish miles back to town, checked out the Museum of the Aleutians (history lesson!), did some shopping, and headed back to the Oscar Dyson.
DYK? (Did You Know?): Dutch Harbor was bombed by Japanese naval aircraft on June 3 & 4, 1942 during WWII (about six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor).
I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time eating a late lunch when the opportunity to kayak in Captains Bay came up. Four of us unloaded the ocean kayaks from the ship into the water, made our way down to the kayaks, and enjoyed breathtaking views while paddling against the current (doing it this way made our return trip much easier). This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me and the people I was with were amazing. I plan to introduce everyone on board in a later blog so you can get to know them a little as well. I can also now say that I have swum in the freezing Alaskan waters because at the end three of us jumped in!
I was able to watch as we left port from the flying bridge (the highest bridge on the ship). Since there isn’t much to do until we are farther out to sea, today I have just done a lot of exploring and talking to people. Basically this is a little community afloat for the next 17 days. There are two things you really need to successfully live on board in such close quarters: you need to be flexible and able to work with others and you need to do your part around the ship, both on and off your shift. Our staterooms are nice (the mattress is actually extremely comfy), the bathrooms are good, we can keep our clothes clean in the laundry room, read books in the library/conference room, watch movies in the theater/lounge (we already have the Hunger Games and other new movies), the galley (where we have food access 24/7 but meals are served at 0700, 1100, and 1700) is amazing thanks to our incredible chief steward, and there are two gym areas on board to work off all the delicious calories! Check out the photos of these areas below:
Before I arrived in Alaska, I thought of the bald eagle as a majestic creature that you rarely see in the wild and mostly see in zoos. Here, they have been fondly called “sky rats” by some people – they are EVERYWHERE: in the sky and on the ship. They are still gorgeous and I can’t help but take multiple photos every time I see them. Make sure to check out the link for the bald eagle and the root of its scientific name; it really makes a lot of sense! I’ve seen more eagles in the past two days than in my entire lifetime.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard R/V Hugh R. Sharp June 7 – 18, 2011
Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Dates: June 8-9, 2011
June 9, 2011
Weather Data from the Bridge Time: 10:00 am
Winds 10 to 20 knots
Seas 3 to 4 feet
Science and Technology Log
This morning is the first day that I have awoken on board the ship. It will be my first twelve-hour shift. The scientists work either from noon until midnight or from midnight to noon. Kevin, the chief scientist, has assigned me to the day shift. I am very happy about this! We suit up in our foul weather gear. Those who have done this before explain to me that it is easiest to slip on the black rubber boots and rain pants like a firefighter who just got a call might do. We eagerly wait for the winch to pull the catch out of the water. The net drops everything out on the table. When we receive word from the engineer that all is clear, I don a hardhat, and hop up on the table with a white board that lists the station, strata and tow. My shipmate, La Shaun, snaps a photo record of the catch. We stand around the table and begin the inventory. We are looking for sea scallops and any we find go into a big orange basket. Other species that we separate out include: red hake, monkfish, haddock, skate, and ocean pout. We measure the length of the fish that we have separated. I imagine how the data might be used by scientists back on land to indicate the health of that portion of the ocean. As soon as we finish the haul and clean up, it is time to do it all over again. Every third catch we count the number of starfish and cancer crabs. I am excited to hold sponges, sea urchins, and hermit crabs. I am surprised to learn that the sand dollars are red.
Once all the sea life on the table has been sorted, it is time to head to the wet lab. There, the buckets of animals are counted and measured. Two persons work at each table measuring the fish. The fish is laid flat against the scale and one scientist uses a magnetic tool to capture the length electronically. During one catch, Aaron and I measured the length of 37 skate. I am impressed by the knowledge of the scientists who can easily tell the difference between a winter skate and a little skate. I hope by the end of the trip, I will be able to do so as quickly as they can.
I hardly notice the rocking of the ship while we are working. I think I may be starting to get my sea legs. On this first day there is very little time in between stations, and there is no real down time. I have learned how to shuck a sea scallop and seen the anatomy of the animal for the first time. I had been promised that I would get to work hard out on the open ocean and I am not disappointed.
Question of the DayDo you know the shape of the sea scallop shell? If you open the shell of a sea scallop you can immediately tell if it is a male or a female. How?
June 8, 2011
I reported to the Woods Hole dock at 7:30 in the morning. The day was bright and sunny, with temperatures in the 70s. The sight of the ship docked next to the NOAA building was so exciting. I climbed on board and introduced myself to Captain Jimmy who showed me right to the galley and offered me a cup of coffee. He was so welcoming! The ship had arrived in port at about 5:00 am and the crew and scientists were working to get everything ready to go by noon. I was shown my room, which is meant for four persons and has two sets of bunk beds. The room is so much bigger than it appeared in the photographs I saw! I chose a lower bunk and stowed my duffel bag underneath the bed in a cubby that was designed just for that. As more of those traveling on the journey arrived, I was interested to find that five of us have ties to Maine. We gathered to hear a briefing on the research that we will be supporting while on board the ship. Did you know that the American Sea Scallop is the most valuable fishery in the United States? Then we went off to lunch in the galley. The cook, Paul, served us an amazing lentil soup and sandwiches. The galley is full of snacks, a fridge with ice cream, and milk juice, coffee and tea, all of which are available day and night. As we were eating, I felt the ship start to move. We were told our first station is about eight hours away. (A station is a place where we collect a sample of the sea life.) Away we go!
Question of the Day What is the reason that Woods Hole became the location on Cape Cod for ocean research?
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Channa Comer On Board Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp May 11 — 22, 2011
Mission: Sea Scallop Survey Leg 1 Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic Date: Monday, May 15, 2011
Weather Data from the Bridge
Air Temperature: 16.2C, Mostly Cloudy
Wind Speed: 11.6 knots
Water Temperature: 13.4C
Swell Height: 1.0 meters
Science and Technology Log
Question of the Day (See the answer at the end of the post)
How do you count a basket of crabs?
It’s hard to believe that we’re already at the halfway mark of the cruise. Since my last log, we’ve covered a total of 966 nautical miles. Today, we’ve traveled from Hudson Canyon which is 60 nautical miles east of Atlantic City to about 50 nautical miles from the coast of Point Pleasant, NJ.
Each day, the boat stops at predetermined points along the route. At each stop, the scallop dredge is lowered to the ocean floor at depths ranging from 15 to 60 fathoms. The dredge is then towed for 15 minutes at a speed of 3.8 knots. When 15 minutes has passed, the dredge is brought up and the catch is dumped onto a platform were we all wait anxiously to see what comes up. Once the empty dredge is secure, we get to work sorting the catch. Scallops and fish get separated, with everything else collected into baskets, cataloged as “trash” and returned to the ocean. The scallops are measured, and the fish are sorted by species, then counted, weighed and in some cases saved for further scientific study back at NOAA labs. Once everything has been counted, weighed and measured, it’s time for my favorite activity – shucking! Scallops are shucked and if there’s time, washed bagged and placed in the deep freezer for Paul to use in the galley for meals. To date, we’ve completed 90 tows and dredged 23,212 scallops.
What comes up at each catch depends on the location of the tow. The southernmost, areas that have been open, or those areas that have recently been closed will usually yield fewer scallops. Scallop yields increase as we head northward and in areas that are closed to fishing. In addition to scallops, our tows have included a variety of deep sea fish, starfish, lots of live sand dollars (with their accompanying green slime), and very often, mud.
At select tows, representative samples of scallops are processed beyond the usual length measurements. The shells are scrubbed clean and weights are recorded for the meat and gonad (reproductive organ). The shells are then labeled and bagged for transport to the lab where they will be aged. The age of scallops are determined by counting the number of growth rings on the shell – similar to counting rings on a tree.
Every three tows is my favorite – Crabs and Stars!! In this tow, in addition to the usual sorting and measuring, all Cancer crabs are collected, counted and weighed and a representative sample of starfish are sorted by species, then counted and weighed. Astropecten, a small starfish is a predator of scallops and the most abundant species of starfish that we’ve counted. Usually, a tow that has large numbers of Astropecten has very few scallops. Being a stickler for detail, having the job of counting starfish has been perfect for me.
Did you know?
Starfish eat a scallop by attaching themselves to the scallop in numbers, forcing the shell open, then extruding their stomachs into the shell and digesting the meat.
Four Spot Flounder
Red Sea Robin
Gulf Stream Flounder
Black Sea Bass
Personal Log Day 3 – Thursday, May 12, 2011
With my sea sickness over after the first day and having adjusted to my new sleep schedule — I actually get to sleep a full 8 hours! — the days are starting to take on a nice flow. It’s been great being part of a team. We’re like a well-oiled machine. Everyone in my crew continues to be generous, sharing the best shucking techniques and giving me a little extra time to take photos and collect samples. We’ve jokingly renamed the “crabs and stars” tow to “crabs, stars and mud”. It’s really hard to count starfish when they’re covered in mud. Dinner was especially delicious today with salmon in pesto sauce with potatoes and broccoli.
Day 4 – Friday, May 13, 2011
The day started out cloudy and overcast, but the sun made an appearance late in the afternoon. The first tow of the day was my favorite — Crabs and Stars!! — with accompanying mud. As part of the Teacher at Sea program, in addition to my logs, I am required to write a lesson plan. I’ve started to draft what I think will be a great unit using the sea scallop as a springboard to explore issues in ecology and the nature of ecological science. Highlights will be an Iron Chef style cooking competition using scallops and a design challenge where students will have to build a working model of a scallop dredge. Vic has been great with providing whatever data, materials and background information that I need for my lessons. Lunch today was chicken burritos with fresh, spicy guacamole.
Day 6 – Sunday, May 15, 2011
Since its Sunday, I decided to take it easy and instead of trying to get a lot done before my shift and during the breaks, I took it easy and watched a little TV. With satellite TV and a large selection of DVDs, there are always lots of options. Although the guys tend to prefer sports or reality TV. The first few tows were back to back which meant little time for breaks, or snacks, or naps. Just enough time to clean up, shuck and be ready for the next tow.
Day 7 – Monday, May 16, 2011
The trip is half over. It’s hard to believe. The tows were once again, back to back with a fair amount of scallops, but I think after today, we won’t need to shuck anymore. Yay! Today was the day that the animals fought back. I was chomped by a scallop and a crab! The scallop was more of a surprise than a pain, but the crab clawed right through my glove. After days with no restrictions, we received the warning from the engineers today that we have to be careful with the faucets. Dripping faucets waste water and it takes time for the water to be converted through condensation in the condenser to usable water. If we’re not more careful, we’ll be faced with restrictions on how much water we can use……… I hope that doesn’t happen since I think we all officially smell like fish. Lunch today was cream of asparagus soup, yummy and reminiscent of my recent trip to Peru. The only thing missing was Quiona. And finally, today was the day that I’ve been waiting for. I found my favorite ice cream. I’ve been rationing myself to one per day, but after I found my favorite – butter pecan ice cream sandwiches – I could not resist a second.