Carmen Andrews: A Fishing Expedition in the Atlantic, Continued, July 13, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews
Aboard R/V Savannah
July 7 – 18, 2012

Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey
Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Daytona Beach, Florida
Date: July 13, 2012

Latitude:      29 ° 19.10   N
Longitude:   80
° 24.31’  W       

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 28.3° C (82.94°F)
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Wind Direction: from Southeast
Surface Water Temperature: 27.48 °C (81.46°F)

Weather conditions: Sunny and Fair

Science and Technology Log

Catching bottom fish at the reef

As the fish trap lies at the bottom of the ocean at the reef site, fish can enter and exit freely through the opening.

Red snapper swimming near a fish trap

Red snapper swimming near a sunken fish trap

 

At the end of approximately 90 minutes, the R/V Savannah returns to the drop site and begins the process of raising the trap with whatever fish remain inside. The six traps are pulled up in the order in which they were dropped.

Scientists and crew waiting to arrive at a trap location

Scientists and crew waiting to arrive at a trap location

The crew member on watch in the wheelhouse will maneuver the boat toward the paired poly ball buoys at a speed of about 5 knots. The boat draws alongside each pair on the starboard side.

R/V Savannah approaching poly ball buoys on the starboard side

R/V Savannah approaching poly ball buoys on the starboard side

One of the scientists throws a grappling hook toward the line that links the  poly balls.

Throwing the grappling hook to secure buoys

Throwing the grappling hook to secure buoys

The line is hauled in and passed to a waiting scientists, who pull the poly balls on deck. There is substantial hazard associated with this step. Undersea currents can be very powerful near the bottom where traps are set. As scientists are pulling in the cable by hand, unexpected current force can yank the trap cable, rope and buoys out of their hands and off the deck in an instant. If personnel on deck aren’t mindful and quick to react, the speeding rope can cause serious rope burn injury.

Nate is pulling poly balls and rigging onto the deck, as Adam P. gets ready to take the line

Nate is pulling poly balls and rigging onto the deck, as Adam P. gets ready to take the line

The cable connecting the fish trap and the poly balls is pulled in and threaded through the pulley system of a pot hauler. The pot hauler is an automated lifting tool that is operated by the second crew member on watch. At this time the first crew member on watch has left the wheel house and is piloting the boat from a small cab on deck above the pot hauler, so he can monitor the action below.

Pot hauler hoisting the fish trap to the boat

Pot hauler hoisting the fish trap to the boat

The pot hauler makes a distinctive clicking sound as it draws the trap toward the surface at an angle. It can take one to five minutes to raise the trap to the deck, depending on the depth of the water.

Tight cable raising submerged fish trap

Tight cable raising submerged fish trap

As the fish trap becomes visible, shimmering rapidly changing shapes can be seen as  fishes’ bodies catch and reflect sunlight.

Fish trap breaking the surface of the water

Fish trap breaking the surface of the water

The trap clears the water and gets pulled aboard.

Grabbing the fish trap

Grabbing the fish trap and pulling it aboard

Very quickly, and with two scientists holding each side, the trap is upended onto its nose and suspended above the deck. A third scientist opens the trap door at the bottom and the fish are shaken into a plastic bin.

Orienting the fish traps to ready them for dumping into bins

Orienting a fish trap to ready it for dumping the catch into a bin

Freshly caught red snapper and black sea bass

Freshly caught red snapper and black sea bass

 

Ice pellets are shoveled onto the fish and a cover is snapped on the bin. If the catch is small, fish may be placed in a bucket or tub and cover with ice.

Fish are covered in ice before the bin cover is snapped on

Fish are covered in ice before the bin cover is snapped on

A numbered tag is removed from the trap and tied onto the bin to identify specimens from each catch. The containers holding the day’s catch are set aside for later processing.

Every so often, unexpected sea life is brought up in the traps. The catch has included sea stars, sea urchins, several kinds of tropical fish and many moray eels.

Moray eel slithering on the deck.

Moray eel slithering on the deck. A moray’s bite can be very severe.

Video cameras are also removed from the top of the trap. Their data cards will be downloaded. Fish behavior and surrounding habitat videos will be analyzed, along with anatomical specimens and size data taken from the fish themselves in the wet lab.

Personal Log

Every day brings more wildlife encounters and sightings. I am dazzled by the many fascinating organisms I’ve been able to see up close. Sometimes I am quick enough to grab my camera and put the animal into my view finder, focusing clearly enough to catch a great image. Here are a few of those images (including some new friends from the cruise):

Adam P. holding a barracuda

Adam P. holding a barracuda

Daniel with a wahoo

Daniel with a wahoo

Trolling with a hooked dolphinfish

Trolling with a hooked dolphinfish

Sea stars

Sea stars

A sheerwater -- bird found in open water

A sheerwater — bird found in open water

Sheerwaters dive beneathe the surface to catch fish.

Sheerwaters dive beneath the surface of the water to catch fish. This bird is consuming a fish with its wings open to balance itself on the water.

Other times I have to capture a memory. Last night I tried reef fishing. I have no experience fishing. At all. Adam P. handed me his own rod and reel. The hook was baited and the line was already lowered to the bottom, down at around 40 meters (more than 120 feet).

Shortly after I took it, the tip of the rod began to bend downward and pull. I asked Adam if that meant something had been hooked.  He said, “Go ahead. Reel it in.” That’s when I discovered that even recreational fishing is tough work – particularly this unfamiliar technique of holding the rod with the right hand and reeling in with the left. Neophyte to fishing is me.

When the fish got to the surface, Adam took the big, beautiful black sea bass off the hook for me. On the deck it splayed out the spines of its dorsal, caudal and pectoral fins defensively. I was concerned because the fish’s air bladder was hanging out of its mouth from its rapid ascent to the surface. Adam punctured the air bladder to deflate it. He threw the fish back into the sea at my request, and assured me that the fish will go on with its life.  I’m optimistic it will.

Marian Wagner: Deep in the Work, August 20, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marian Wagner
Aboard R/V Savannah
August 16 — 26, 2011

Mission: Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean (Off the Georgia and Florida Coasts)
Date: Saturday, August 20, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge (the wheelhouse, where the controls of the ship are)
E-SE Wind at 5 knots (wind is travelling 5 nautical miles per hour, 1.15 statute miles = 1 nautical mile)
Sea depth at 12:42 pm was 51.2 meters
Water Temperature 29.62 Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Research aboard the R/V Savannah has commenced and is at full throttle.  Scientists and crew are well-trained and everyone knows their jobs thoroughly.  All work is moving along with great efficiency!  Now that I have learned and experienced the details this research, I’ll explain it here:

As a reminder, our mission is to survey the population of commercially-important species to inform stock assessments, or, put another way, we study how many fish there are and where they exist, and we provide information to help fisheries managers set a sustainable harvest (so we don’t run out of fish). We conduct our research by dropping chevron fish traps onto the ocean floor to catch samples of fish we can use to estimate a population and report important biological measures (for example, age, length, weight, feeding habits, and genetics). The method of using chevron traps to catch live biological samples doesn’t work well for all species, so another way of estimating abundance is by recording the activity that is happening around the traps with video cameras.

We cannot begin dropping fish traps until one hour after sunrise because the cameras need natural light to record the habitat and the activity (if we were to use artificial light it would change everything: sometimes fish are attracted to artificial light, other fish avoid it, so our research would be compromised, or messed up, if we used artificial light). So, the crew that works the shift from midnight to noon gets the first traps ready, and they start deploying them around 8:00 am.  Here’s what it looks like to drop traps off the boat:

Cameras rolling, we are almost at the target spot to drop the trap.

The traps stay down on the ocean floor for 90 minutes.  We usually deposit 6 traps at a time in the same general area (each a mile or less apart), and we pick them up in the same order we dropped them.  To pull the traps out of the water, we use a hydraulic pot hauler (that was made in Seattle, WA!) and a team effort of coordinated and careful action.  If we were not extremely careful doing this work on the deck, not only could the science data be useless, but people could easily be hurt.  This is what we look like in action:

Pulling up trap, excited to see what we caught

I get up in the morning around 9AM, I have breakfast and relax during the few hours I have off before my shift begins.  I like to talk to people, visit the bridge for weather and information on our direction, and when I can get on the single computer, I sometimes do so before my shift begins.

My shift begins at noon, when I suit up to work on the deck of the stern (the back).  We work dropping traps, picking them up, and processing fish that we catch.  The work is very carefully conducted, with everyone having specific roles but also helping each other in every way so we can do our best job.  The amount of teamwork is incredible.

I am extremely impressed with how well each scientist and crewman clearly thinks of the team first, and his/her individual needs second.  Everyone (I mean EVERYone) works hard (I mean VERY hard), is very thoughtful and conscientious of the “big picture”, is fun to laugh with and be around, and, in general, everyone is just easy to live with.  Doing field science research like this would be really tough if scientists did not also get along well as a member of a team.  Because conducting this research depends upon teamwork, being able to live and work well together is perhaps as important as one’s research skills.

This door is charming yet inconvenient during a middle-of-the-night bathroom run, but esential in case of emergency.

Personal Log

Living on a ship has so many opportunities for adventure!  I mean…going to the head (bathroom) is still an adventure for me!  Walking through two watertight doors to get to the bathroom is an adventure.  Keeping my balance in a rocking shower, a place where I am often most relaxed, is a new adventure.  Being constantly aware of the amount of water I am using so we don’t run out of running water (and knowing everyone else is doing the same) is a reality, and an adventure of sorts.  Not being able to get away from the strangers-who-are-now-family is an adventure.  And there are all the work-related adventures…wrestling with a moray eel against its gaping teeth (which could have infected and killed the muscles in my arm for life) was a foolish adventure (I should have let it get out of the tub and slither away instead of wrestling it), but I successfully made it through to tell about it with no injury.  There are so many adventures.  I am remembering how much I love learning by immersing myself in new experiences.  I really believe the most powerful way to learn about another way of life is to live it.

After being iced for 30 minutes to take data on him, this moray was still fighting but with much less vigor. I threw him off the ship after this photo. He's alive.

Also, I love being in the unique environment of the pelagic ocean, the part of the ocean that is not near land. It is another experience of immersion to be around this environment for a length of time, and really get to live within it. I can feel the changes of the rocking motion of the ship when the seas are rougher, I can see when the clouds spell rain, I know the phase of the moon and the smell of the ocean air.  I know this environment now just as well as I know my own neighborhood.