Karah Nazor: Myctophids, Rockfish, eDNA, and Interview with NOAA Lab Operation Officer Keith Hanson, June 1, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019


Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: June 1, 2019

Game Plan and Trawling Line: Four trawls on the San Miguel Line in the Channel Islands.

Time Recap: 5:00 PM: Wake up and then Squat Challenge. 5:30 PM: Dinner. 8:30 PM: Report to fish lab.  Learn how to count to ten in French. Kristin sang France’s National Anthem (she learned in 7th grade). 10 PM: First Haul. 3AM: Kaila used her face flip app to turn us into the opposite sex and it was the most hilarious thing ever. 4AM: Latte made by Kaila. A lot of laughing. 6:20 AM: Finish fish lab clean up. 6:21 AM: Still heavily caffeinated so Team Red Hats headed up to the flying dock to watch the sunrise. The sea was very smooth and glassy as we approached Conception Point. We saw several dolphins and a humpback whale. 7:00 AM: To the Galley for a breakfast of blueberry pancakes. 7:45 AM: Lights out.

Part 1: How to distinguish between myctophid species in our catches

In this survey, we are conducting trawls at 30 meters, which is technically the epipelagic zone, so why do we catch deep sea creatures?   Many deep sea creatures, such as myctophids, participate in a daily vertical migration where they swim up into the upper layer of the ocean at night, likely following the migration of zooplankton on which they feed.  Myctophids are also known as lantern fish or lampfish and they feature photophore organs which bioluminesce. Around 250 species of mcytophids have been described. Graduate student Ily Iglesias is saving a lot of the myctophidae we catch on this cruise for her dissertation work.

Tonight most of the catches were small in volume (filling about 10% of a blue bucket), but had good species density. The catches consisted mostly of salps, anchovies and several species of myctophids. It is important to learn how to properly distinguish between the various myctophids in our catches. This is a daunting task for the novice fish sorter, such as myself, since these fish are small (1 to 2 inches long) and appear very similar to each other. It is worth noting that most of the myctophids lose their skin (scales) during the trawling operation. This exposes the underlying pink muscle tissue, however, their photophores remain intact. Fish collected in a bongo net deployment typically have better preserved scales.

Northern lampfish, Stenobrachius leucopsarus, have 3 photophores in a slanted line under the lateral line while the similar looking Mexican lampfish, Triphoturus mexicanus, have more streamlined bodies and have 3 photophores on the lateral line. Many of the Northern lumpfish had a heart parasite which is evident in the photo below. California lanternfish, Symbiophorus californiensis, are typically larger fish and have a distinguished lateral line. California headlight fish, Diaphus theta, have two photophores “headlights” on the front on their face. Blue lanternfish, Tartetonbeania crenularis, are easy to distinguish from the others because they have wider bodies and blue/silver scales.

Northern lampfish photophores
Northern lampfish, Stenobrachius leucopsarus, have three photophores in a row (circled).
Mexican lampfish
Mexican lampfish, Triphoturus mexicanus, are more narrow than Northern lampfish and have three photophores right on the lateral line.
California lanternfish, Symbiophorus californiensis, have a distinguished lateral line.
California headlight fish
California headlight fish, Diaphus theta, are easy to distinguish because of the two large photophores on the face.
Blue lanternfish
Blue lanternfish, Tartetonbeania crenularis, collected in a bongo net with intact scales. Photo courtesy of Lauren Valentino.
Blue lanternfish Photoorgans
Photoorgans lining ventral surface of Blue lanternfish, Tartetonbeania crenularis.


Part 2: Rockfish: why are we catching so few?

Last night there were 4 rockfish in the last haul, and the fish sorting team got excited because we have not seen very many.  The title of this survey is officially “Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey,” however, sampling for pelagic juvenile rockfish is only one of the project’s objectives. Other objectives include sampling for other epi-pelagic micronekton species, studying prevailing ocean conditions and examining prominent hydrographic features, mapping the distribution and abundance of krill (Euphausiacea), and observing seabird and marine mammal distribution and abundance.

Rockfish, perch, or redfish are common names for the Sebastes genus of fish (with more than 100 species) which are abundant off of the California coast, and are a very important genus for the commercial fishing industry. Rockfish are benthic fish that live among rocks, and can be found in kelp forests or in the bathypelagic zone. One of the goals of this survey is to inform the fishing industry on the status of the population of rockfish so that reasonable catch limits can be set.

This year is proving to be a poor year for the rockfish pre-recruitment index, lower than the previous several years, says Chief Scientist, Keith Sakuma. He explains that one year of a weak young of year (YOY) rockfish class is not enough to have an impact on the fishing industry, but if the index was low for say, 10 years in a row, then this could potentially affect the exploitable population. He explains that since rockfish can live to be 100 years old or greater, they have many seasons to reproduce. Rockfish prefer cold water habitats. Keith’s research has demonstrated that most poor pre-recruitment index years are correlated to El Nino events which cause an increase in water temperatures and a reduction in cold water upwelling. This year’s slump in terms of rockfish numbers is not correlated to a strong El Nino event.

 young Cabazon Rockfish
Two young Cabazon Rockfish, Scorpaenichthys marmoratus.


Part 3: Environmental DNA (eDNA) Sampling on the Reuben Lasker

Last night Flora Cordoleani and I helped Dr. Kelly Goodwin collect water from the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) bottles for the purpose of collecting environmental DNA (eDNA).  Kelly’s assistant, Lauren Valentino, is primarily on the day shift (see photo of Lauren with the CTD apparatus below). Isolation of eDNA from seawater is a newer technique used to determine which species swam through a particular location based on the DNA they left behind, through shedding of cells. This technique does not require that the organism be harvested to know that it had been present, and could be of value in detection of the presence of endangered species, for example.

For this CTD deployment, three bottles are filled at depths of 5 and 100 meters, and at the chlorophyll max somewhere between 5 – 20 meters. The water from each depth is run through a filter (pore size of 2 microns) in the eDNA lab on the ship (see photo below). The vacuum filtration procedure is a time-consuming process, as samples must be processed in triplicate, and in which aseptic technique is paramount so that human DNA does not contaminate the water.  Once the DNA is trapped on the filters, they are stored at -20C. The DNA will be purified from the filters back in the San Diego NOAA lab using a Qiagen kit. Species-specific regions of DNA known as bar-code regions will be amplified by Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using 3 primers sets for analysis of DNA from bacteria, plankton, and fish. Illumina techology will be used to obtain DNA sequences, which are compared to DNA libraries for species determination.

The results from the eDNA study will give us a list of species that were present at each trawling station up to 48 hours prior to CTD deployment and fishing using the Cobb Trawl. We will be able to compare this list with the list of species that were physically caught in nets. Nighttime CTDs are deployed at the same station as bongo nets. Daytime CTD trawls occur at the same stations as night fishing.

Lauren with CTD
Lauren Valentino with the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) Rosette on the Reuben Lasker.
Kelly Goodwin in the eDNA lab
Kelly Goodwin filtering water in the eDNA lab on the Reuben Lasker.


Part 4: Career Spotlight: NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, Scientist Interview: Keith Hanson, NOAA Lab Operation Officer B.S. Marine Biology, University of Miami (UM) Hometown: Rye, New York

Keith H. and anchovies
NOAA Lab Operation Officer Keith Hanson with a large catch of anchovies.
Keith H sorting the catch
NOAA Lab Operation Officer Keith Hanson sorting the catch.

Keith Hanson joins this survey to assist with research and is a knowledgeable and experienced member of the science team.  Keith has taught me a lot about the fish we are collecting and was the first to show me around the ship.

Keith earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology from the University of Miami (UM) where he was vice president of the scuba club.   His favorite part of being a student at UM was being located so close to ocean and the many trips he took to Biscayne Beach and The Everglades.  While at UM, Keith worked as a Naturalist at the Biscayne Nature Center and with the Marine Operations Department at The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS), where he managed boats and vehicles.  

After graduating from UM, Keith started the NOAA Corps Basic Officer Training Class (BOTC) at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.  His first assignment as a Junior Officer was on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster in Charleston, SC which has a multi-mission platform with fish habitat and population studies, seafloor mapping surveys, oceanographic studies, and maritime heritage survey.  Keith enjoys the traveling opportunities afforded in this line of work. On the Nancy Foster, he got to travel to Cuba, the Caribbean, and Mexico. After 2.5 years of service, Keith advanced to OP Officer.

Keith is currently on his land assignment in Santa Cruz NOAA working as the Vessel Operations Coordinator and he manages a fleet of small boats from kayaks to a 28 foot barge.  Most vessels are used for river salmon work and groundfish research. His favorite vessel is the Egret offshore fishing boat which is used for rockfish hook and line sampling.

When asked what advice he has for undergraduate students wanting to purse degrees and careers in marine biology, he suggests getting involved in a research lab early on to gain a competitive edge.

Amanda Dice: Using Light for Survival, September 13, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Amanda Dice

Aboard Oscar Dyson

August 21 – September 2, 2017

 

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Fishery Survey

Geographic area of cruise: Western Gulf of Alaska

Date: September 13, 2017

Weather Data: Rainy, 76 F

Baltimore, MD

Science and Technology Log

Now that I am back home, I have some time to think about the variety of animals I saw on the cruise and do a little more research about them. Many of the animals we caught in our net have the ability to light up. This adaptation is known as bioluminescence. Different species use bioluminescence in different ways to help them survive.

 

Myctophids are a type of fish also known as a lantern fish. These small fish can occupy the same habitat as juvenile pollock, and we caught several of them at our sampling stations. I got a chance to look at them closely and I could see small spots, called photophores, along the sides of their bodies. In dark waters, these spots have bioluminescent properties. Lantern fish can control when to light them up and how bright the spots will glow.

 

There are many different species of lantern fish. Scientists have learned that each species has a unique pattern of bioluminescent photophores along the sides of their bodies. For this reason, it is believed that lantern fish use their bioluminescent properties to help them find a mate.

myctophid

The photophores can be seen as white spots on this lantern fish. Image courtesy of NOAA.

Lantern fish also have bioluminescent areas on the underside of their bodies. This adaptation helps them achieve what is known as counter-illumination. In the ocean, a predator can be lurking in the dark waters below its prey. Since many things feed on lantern fish, it is important for them to have a way to camouflage into the environment. When a predator looks up, during the day, a fish that is lit up on the bottom will blend in with the lighter waters above it, making it hard to see.

counterillumination 2

The camouflaging effect of counter-illumination can be seen when this bioluminescent fish lights up its underside. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian.

Lots of animals use this technique to help them hide from predators, including squid. We pulled in many small squid in with our samples that had patterns of photophores on them. Depending on the species, squid also use bioluminescence to attract mates and to confuse predators.

squid NOAA 2

The pattern of lighted photophores can be seen on this squid. Image courtesy of NOAA.

In addition to fish and crustaceans, we also pulled in a variety of jellyfish. Jellyfish also have bioluminescence characteristics. Many jellyfish use light as a way to protect themselves from predators. When a jellyfish is threatened by a predator, it flashes in a rapid pattern. This signals other fish nearby that it is being hunted. This can alert larger predators, who may be hunting the predator of the jellyfish. The larger predator will then swoop in after the jellyfish’s predator, allowing the jellyfish to escape!

Jellyfish NOAA

Many jellyfish use bioluminescence to protect themselves from predators. Image courtesy of NOAA.

Personal log

I have been home for over a week and I think I finally have my land legs back again. Looking back on the experience, there were so many little surprises that came with living onboard a ship. One thing I noticed is that I got much better at walking around the longer I was there. I learned to always have one hand available to grab a railing or brace myself during any sudden movements. However, I never quite mastered getting a decent workout in on the treadmill! Another surprise is how relaxing the rocking of the ship could be when I laid down. I thought the movement would be distracting, but it actually helped me drift off to sleep!

Did you know?

There are many superstitions surrounding life on a ship. It is considered bad luck to have bananas on board and whistling is discouraged. Whistling onboard a ship is thought to bring on wind and storms!

 

Emilisa Saunders: We Do Science Here! May 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emilisa Saunders
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
May 14, 2013 to May 30, 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Spring Plankton Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Weather Data: Wind speed: 19.02 knots; Surface water temp.: 24.7 degrees C; Air temp: 25.7 degrees C: Relative humidity: 91%; Barometric pressure: 1007.4 mb.

Science and Technology Log:

Plankton jar

A nice jar of plankton from an early morning tow.

Getting just one small jar of plankton back to the lab on shore requires a lot of work. First comes all of the net-dropping work I described in the last post, which is a team effort from everyone on board, just to bring the samples onto the ship. From there, we have to take several more steps in order to preserve the sample.

Step 1: After the nets are brought back onto the bow of the ship, we hose them down very thoroughly using a seawater hose, in order to wash any clinging plankton down into the cod end.

Here I am, hosing down the Bongo nets. Photo by Alonzo Hamilton

Here I am, hosing down the Bongo nets. Photo by Alonzo Hamilton

Then we detach the cod end and bring it to the stern of the ship, where a prep station is set up. The prep table is stocked with funnels, sieves, seawater hoses and jars, and the chemicals that we need to preserve the plankton that we collect – formalin and ethyl alcohol.

Prep station

Prep Station

Step 2: We carefully pour the specimen through the fine-mesh sieve to catch the plankton and drain out the water. It’s amazing to see what’s in the sample. This, of course, includes lots of tiny plankton; all together, they look kind of like sludge, until you look very closely to see the individual creatures. Lots of the fish larvae have tiny, bright blue eyes. (On a funny note, my breakfast granola has started to look like plankton after a week of collecting!)

Plankton in a sieve

Plankton in a sieve

Getting to see what makes it into each sample is kind of like a treasure hunt.  Sometimes bigger organisms like fish, sea jellies, eel larvae, pyrosomes and snails end up in the sample. Quite frequently there is sargassum, which is a type of floating seaweed that does a great job of hiding small creatures. Take a look at the pictures at the end of the post to see some of these!

Step 3: Next, the sample goes into a jar. We use seawater from a hose to push the sample to one side of the sieve, and let the water drain out. Then, we put a funnel in a clean, dry jar and use a squeeze bottle of ethyl alcohol to wash the sample into the jar through the funnel. We top the jar off with ethyl alcohol, which draws the moisture out of the bodies of the plankton so that they don’t decompose or rot in the jar. The sample from the left bongo – just this sample and no other – is preserved in a mixture of formalin and seawater because it goes through different testing than the other samples do once back on shore. We top all of the bottles with a lid and label them: R for Right Bongo, L for Left Bongo, RN for Regular Neuston, and SN for Subsurface Neuston.

plankton

Plankton Ready to go in the Jar

Step 4: After the jars are filled, Alonzo and I bring them back to the wet lab, where Glenn attaches labels to the tops of the jars, and puts a matching label inside of each jar as well. The label inside the jar is there in case the label on the lid falls off one day.  These labels provide detailed information about where and when the sample was collected, and from which net.

Plankton jar label

A label on the jar gives detailed information about the plankton inside

Step 5: After 24 hours, it’s time to do transfers. Transfers involve emptying the samples from the jars through a sieve again, and putting them back into the jars with fresh ethyl alcohol. We do this because the alcohol draws water out of the bodies of the plankton, so the alcohol becomes watered-down in the first 24 hours and is not as effective. Adding fresh alcohol keeps the sample from going bad before it can be studied. Once the transfers are done, we draw a line through the label to show that the sample is well-preserved and ready to be boxed up and brought back to the lab!

Jars of Plankton

Boxes full of plankton samples ready to be brought back to shore

Personal Log:

I have the great fortune of working with some intelligent, knowledgeable and friendly scientists here on the Oregon II.  Jana is my bunkmate and one of the scientists; she pointed out to me that just about every animal you can imagine that lives in the ocean started off as plankton. As a result, while the scientists who work with plankton do each have a specialty or specific type of plankton that they focus on, at the same time, they have to know a little bit about many types of organisms and the basics of all of their life cycle stages. In a way I can relate to this as a Naturalist; I need to have a bit of knowledge about many plants, animals, minerals and fossils from the Mojave Desert and beyond, because chances are, my smart and curious Nature Exchange traders will eventually bring them all in for me to see and identify!

Team Plankton

The science team, from left to right: Andy, Alonzo, Glenn, me, Jana and Brittany.  Photo by Brian Adornado

I want to take a few moments to introduce all of the members of the science team. I thought I’d have fun with it and use my own version of the Pivot questionnaire:

Meet Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton, scientist, testing water samples in the Wet Lab.

Alonzo is a Research Fisheries Biologist; he has been working with NOAA since 1984.  Alonzo earned an Associate’s degree in Science, a Bachelor’s degree in biology, and a Master’s degree in Biology with an emphasis in Marine Science.  Alonzo was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Mississippi.

What is your favorite word? Data

What is your least favorite word? No or can’t.  There’s always a solution; you just have to keep trying until you find it.

What excites you about doing science? Discovery

What do you dislike about doing science? The financial side of it.

What is your favorite plankton? Tripod fish plankton

What sound or noise on the ship do you love? The main engines

What sound or noise do you hate? The alarm bells

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? An electrician.  There are some neat jobs in that field.

What profession would you not like to do? Lawyer.  There’s a risk of becoming too jaded.

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? A coelacanth.  What is your life history?  What’s a typical day of feeding like?  Is there a hierarchy of fish, and what is it?  What determines who gets to eat first?

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Meet Glenn Zapfe

Zapfe

Glenn Zapfe, scientist, contemplating the plankton samples.

Glenn is a Research Fisheries Biologist; he worked with NOAA as a contractor for 8 years before being hired on as a Federal employee three years ago.  Glenn earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Life, and a Master’s degree in Coastal Science.  He grew up in the Chicago area.

What is your favorite word? Quirky

What is your least favorite word? Nostalgia

What excites you about doing science? Going to sea and seeing organisms in their natural environment.

What do you dislike about doing science? Statistics.  They can sometimes be manipulated to fit individual needs.

What is your favorite plankton? Amphipods

What sound or noise on the ship do you love? The hum of the engine

What sound or noise do you hate? The emergency alarm bells

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Glenn grew up wanting to be a cartoonist – but he can’t draw.

What profession would you not like to do? Lawyer

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? A cuttlefish, to ask about how they are able to change the color of their skin.

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Meet Jana Herrmann

Jana Herrmann

Jana Hermann, scientist and volunteer, aboard the Oregon II

Jana is a Fisheries Technician with the Gulf Coast Research Lab, and is on this cruise as a volunteer.  She has worked with the Gulf Coast Research Lab since February 2013, but worked within the local Marine Sciences field for 8 years before that.   Jana earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and Environmental biology, and will be starting graduate school in the fall of 2013.  Jana grew up in Tennessee.

What is your favorite word? Pandemonium

What is your least favorite word? Anything derogatory

What excites you about doing science? Just when you think you have it all figured out, something new comes up.

What do you dislike about doing science? Dealing with bureaucracy and having to jump through hoops to get the work done.

What is your favorite plankton? Janthina

What sound or noise on the ship do you love? This is Jana’s first cruise on the Oregon II, so she doesn’t have a favorite noise yet.

What sound or noise do you hate? Any noises that keep her from sleeping.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? A baker or pastry chef.

What profession would you not like to do? Any mundane office job with no creative outlet.

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it? She would ask a blue whale if it is sad about the state of the environment, and she would ask it if mermaids are real.

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Meet Brittany Palm

Brittany Palm

Brittany Palm, scientist, aboard the Oregon II

Brittany is a Research Fisheries Biologist; she has worked with NOAA for 4 years.  Brittany earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology, and is currently working on her Master’s degree in Marine Science.  Brittany grew up on Long Island.

What is your favorite word? Midnattsol – the Norwegian word for “midnight sun”

What is your least favorite word? Editing.  That’s not a fun word to hear when you hand in drafts of your thesis!

What excites you about doing science?  Constantly learning.  All of the fields of science, from chemistry to physics to biology, are interwoven.  You have to know a little bit about all of them.

What do you dislike about doing science?  Also, constantly learning!  Every time you think you know something, a new paper comes out.

What is your favorite plankton? Glaucus

What sound or noise on the ship do you love?  The ship’s sound signal, which is a deep, booming horn that ships use to communicate with each other.

What sound or noise do you hate? When she’s trying to sleep in rough seas and something in one of the drawers is rolling back and forth.  She has to get up and go through all of the drawers and cabinets to try to find it and make it stop!

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Opening a dance studio.  Brittany competed on dance teams throughout high school and college.

What profession would you not like to do? Anything in the health field, because she empathizes more with animals than people.

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it?  The Croaker fish.  Brittany is studying Croaker diets and has dissected over a thousand stomachs.  She would like to be able to just ask them what they eat!

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Meet Andy Millett

Andy Millett

Andy Millett, scientist, in the Dry Lab of the Oregon II.

Andy is a Research Fisheries Biologist, and is the Field Party Chief for this cruise.  He has worked with NOAA for 3 years.  He has a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and a Master’s degree in Marine Science.  Andy grew up in Massachusetts.

What is your favorite word? Parallel

What is your least favorite word? Silly

What excites you about doing science?  When all of the data comes together and tells you a story.

What do you dislike about doing science?  Having to be so organized and meticulous, since he is typically pretty disorganized.

What is your favorite plankton? Pelagia

What sound or noise on the ship do you love?  Spinning the flowmeters on the nets.  It sounds like a card in the spokes of a bicycle.

What sound or noise do you hate?  Alarms of any kind, whether they are emergency alarms or alarm clocks.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Video game designer

What profession would you not like to do? Anything in retail or customer service

If you could talk to any marine creature, which one would it be, and what would you ask it?  A giant squid, because we don’t know much about them.  Andy would ask what it eats, where it lives, and other basic questions about its life.

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Challenge Yourself:  Hey, Nature Exchange traders!  The scientists shared their favorite plankton types; all of them are truly fascinating in their own way.  Research one of these animals and write down a few facts.  Or, pick your favorite Mojave Desert animal and write about that.  Bring your research into the Nature Exchange for bonus points.  Tell them Emmi sent you!

Don’t forget to track the Oregon II here: NOAA Ship Tracker

Animals We’ve Seen (and one plant):

Bristletooth Conger Eel Larva

Bristletooth Conger Eel Larva.  See its tiny little face on the left?

Sargassum

Sargassum is a floating seaweed that often ends up in our Neuston nets. We record its volume and throw it back.

Sea Jelly

Sea jelly

Sargassum fish

Sargassum fish – they hide in the sargassum!

Porpita jelly

Porpita jelly

Myctophid

Myctophids are shiny silver and black, and quite pretty!

Flying fish

A juvenile flying fish. I’ve seen some adults gliding through the air as well!

Filefish

Alonzo holding a juvenile filefish

Emilisa Saunders: Finding the rhythm aboard the Oregon II, May18, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emilisa Saunders

Aboard NOAA ship Oregon II

May 14, 2013 – May 30 2013

Mission: SEAMAP Spring Plankton Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico

Date: May 18, 2013

Weather Data: Wind Speed: 13.94 knots; Surface water temperature: 25.4;  Air temperature: 26.4; Relative humidity: 87%; Barometric pressure: 1,015.33 mb

IMG_1991

Science and Technology Log:

For the scientists on board the Oregon II, each shift follows roughly the same routine.   When we start our shift, we check in at the dry lab to see how much time we have until the next sampling station.  These stations are points on the map of the Gulf of Mexico; they were chosen to provide the best coverage of the Gulf waters.  Our ETA, or estimated time of arrival, is determined by how fast the ship is moving, which is influenced by wind and currents, which you can see in the map below.  A monitor mounted in the dry lab shows us a feed of the route mapping system that is used by the crew on the Bridge to drive the ship.  This system allows us to see where we are, where we are headed, and what our ETA is for the next station.  We also get warnings from the Bridge at one hour, at thirty minutes, and at ten minutes before arrival.

Gulf Currents

The currents in the Gulf of Mexico, plus our planned route.  Image courtesy of NOAA.

At the 10-minute mark, we put on our protective gear – more on that later in this post – and bring the cod ends up to the bow of the boat, where we attach them to the ends of the appropriate nets.  Then, we drop the Bongo nets, the regular Neuston net, the Sub-surface Neuston net, and the CTD into the water, in that order.  These all go down one at a time, and each one is pulled out and the samples collected before the next net goes in.

Neuston

Towing the Neuston net on the night shift

The idea of dropping a net into the water probably sounds pretty simple, but it is actually a multiple-step process that requires excellent teamwork and communication amongst several of the ship’s teams.  The scientists ready the nets by attaching cod ends and making note of the data that tracks the flow of water through the net.  Because the nets are large and heavy, and because of the strong pressure of the water flowing through the nets, they are lifted into the water using winches that are operated by the ship’s crew.  The crew members operate the machinery, and guide the nets over the side of the ship.  While this is happening, the crew members communicate by radio with the Bridge, providing them with information about the angle of the cable that is attached to the net, so that the Bridge can maintain the a speed that will keep the net at the correct angle. At the same time, a scientist in the dry lab monitors how deep the net is and communicates with the deck crew about when to raise and lower the nets.  This communication takes place mostly over walkie-talkies, which means that clear and precise instructions and feedback are very important.

Operating the winches

Crewmember Reggie operating the winch, while crewmember Chris measures the angle of the cable

When each net is pulled back out of the water after roughly 5-10 minutes, we use a hose to spray any little creatures who might be clinging to the net, down into the cod end.  At stations where we run the MOCNESS, we head to the stern of the ship, where the huge MOCNESS unit rests on a frame.  Lowering the MOCNESS takes a strong team effort, since it is so large.  After we retrieve each net, we detach the cod ends and bring them to the stern, where a station is set up for us to preserve the specimens.  I’ll go into more detail about the process of preserving plankton samples in a later post.

Hosing down the nets

Alonzo, hosing down the Bongo nets before bringing them aboard.

We’ve had a couple of nights of collecting now, and so far it has been completely fascinating.  I’m in awe of the variety of organisms that we’ve come across.  The scientists on my shift, Glenn and Alonzo, are super knowledgeable and have been very helpful in explaining to me what we are finding in the nets.  Although this is a Bluefin Tuna study, we collect and preserve any plankton that ends up in the nets, which can include copepods, myctophids, jellies, filefish larvae and eel larvae, to name a few.  When we get the samples back to shore, they will be sent to a lab in Poland, where the species will be sorted and counted; then, the tuna larvae will be sent back to labs in Mississippi or Florida for further study and sometimes genetic testing.

My favorite creature find so far has been the pyrosome.  While a pyrosome looks like a single, strange creature, it is actually a colony of tiny creatures called zooids that live together in a tube-shaped structure called a tunic.  The tunic feels similar to cartilage, like the upper part of your ear.  Pyrosomes are filter feeders, which means they draw in water from one opening, eat the phytoplankton that passes through, and push out the clean water from the other end.  So far on the night shift, we’ve found two pyrosomes about four inches in length and one that was about a foot long; the day crew found one that filled two five-gallon buckets!

Me holding a pyrosome.  So neat!

Me holding a pyrosome. So neat!

Alonzo and the pyrosome

Alonzo holding the pyrosome

Challenge Yourself:

Hello, Nature Exchange Traders!  Pick one of the of the zooplankton listed in bold above, and research some facts about it: Where does it live?  What does it eat?  What eats it?  Write down what you find out and bring it in to the Nature Exchange for bonus points.  Be sure to tell them Emmi sent you!

Gumby Suit

In the Gumby suit, practicing the Abandon Ship drill. Photo by Glenn Zapfe

Personal Log:

Safety is the top priority on board the Oregon II.  We wouldn’t be able to accomplish any of our scientific goals if people got hurt and equipment got damaged.  We started our first day at sea with three safety drills: the Man Overboard drill, the Abandon Ship drill and the Escape Hatch drill.  For Man Overboard, everyone on board gathered, or mustered, at specific locations; for the Science team, our location was at the stern, or back of the ship.  Aft is another word for the back.  From there, we all scanned the water for the imaginary person while members of the crew lowered a rescue boat into the water and circled the Oregon II to practice the rescue.

For the Abandon Ship drill, we all grabbed our floatation devices and survival suits from our staterooms and mustered toward the bow, or front of the ship.  I got to practice putting on the survival suit, which is affectionately called a Gumby suit.  In the unlikely event that we would ever have to abandon ship, the suit would help us float and stay relatively warm and dry; it also includes a whistle and a strobe light so that aircraft overhead can see us in the water.

For the Escape Hatch drill, we all gathered below deck where our staterooms are, and climbed a ladder, where crew members helped pull us up onto the weather deck (the area of the ship exposed to weather) on the bow of the ship.  This is meant to show us how to escape dangers such as fire or flood below deck.

Safety gear

Safety gear on; ready for station!  Photo by Glenn Zapfe

But safety isn’t just practiced during drills; it’s pretty much a way of life on the ship.  Whenever winches or other machinery are in operation, we all have to wear hard hats and life jackets; that means that we wear them every time we reach a station and drop the nets.  We are also all required to wear closed-toed and closed-heeled shoes at all times, unless we’re sleeping or showering.  Another small safety trick that is helpful is the idea of, “keep one hand for yourself and one hand for the ship.”  That means we carry gear in one hand and leave one free to hold onto the swaying ship.  This has been really useful for me as I get used to the ship’s movements.

Until next time, everyone – don’t forget to track the Oregon II here: NOAA Ship Tracker

Jennifer Fry: March 13, 2012, Oscar Elton Sette

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship, Oscar Elton Sette
March 12 – March 26, 2012

Mission: Fisheries Study
Geographical area of cruise: American Samoa
Date: March 13, 2012

Pago Pago, American Samoa 

Science and Technology Log:

The Teacher at Sea program in the South Pacific is going swimmingly.

Nighttime Midwater Cobb Trawls:

I’m on the night watch for the first week of our time at sea. Our research day starts at 8:30 p.m. The scientific team of 7 is trawling for bioluminescent fish, myctophids throughout the night.  We trawl at several different depths then bring the net up to the surface.  We sort the catch into five categories.

1.  Myctophids

2.  Non-Myctophids

3.  Cephalopods: octopus/squid

4.  Crustaceans: shrimp/lobster/krill

5.  Gelatinous zooplankton: salps/jellies

5.  Misc. zooplankton

Then we weigh measure and record all the contents of the net, Last night was our first attempt. The first trawl began at 9:00 p.m.   With the NOAA crew members’ help, the net was lowered into the water after securing several tracking devices, TDR and Netminds, at different places on the net, which measured the longitude, latitude, water’s temperature and depth.   The clock started and the net trawled with 350 meter line out from the ship.  The trawl lasted for 30 minutes at which time the winch operator brought the line into 100 meters where the clock started for another 30 minutes.

In all, the net was positioned at 350 meter from the ship for 30 minutes and at  100 meters for  another 30 minutes.

The second trawl attempt occurred around 1:30 a.m. The winch stopped, appearing to overheat, and couldn’t bring the net up to the surface.  When it finally was retrieved, the time factor was no longer a constant, but became a variable. The total trawl time exceeded the 30 minutes.   The scientists took very careful notes and  made sure to record that the second net had been in the water for much longer that the first experiment/ attempt/ round.  Scientists refer to each experiment as “replicate”  By running many experiments in the same manner, ensures accuracy and careful data collection. They want to keep  the constants and variables all standardized.

We got to bed around 4:30 in the morning.

Safety First aboard at all times:  I was just awakened to a false alarm fire drill, which got my heart pumping, that’s for sure.  It’s a good thing we have these drills for practice and accuracy.

The day was spent sleeping and acclimating to the new nighttime schedule.

The team of scientists working the Night Cobb Trawls re-convened at 8:30 p.m.  We began the first trawl around 9:00 p.m. and continued the second at approximately 1:30 p.m.

Midwater Cobb Trawl #1  Tow #1   The data collected included:

Name of fish: Numbers Count Volume (milliliters) Mass (grams)
Myctophids 173 300 310
Non-Myctophids 296 85 75
Crustaceans 67 16 20
Cephalopods: 19 44 30
Gelatinous zooplankton 7 24 40
Misc. zooplankton n/a 80 110

 

Jennifer Fry: March 9, 2012, Oscar Elton Sette

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship, Oscar Elton Sette
March 12 – March 26, 2012

Mission: Fisheries Study
Geographical area of cruise: American Samoa
Date: March 9, 2012

Personal Log

Pago Pago

With the morning light, the island’s landscape came into view.  Looking back toward land was the single road, a variety of buildings, consisting of numerous churches, restaurants, schools, and hotels.  I have come to learn that each small village has its own church and outdoor meeting hall.  Behind the buildings the topography extended upward forming a steep hillside covered with green, lush tropical plants, including a variety of palms and fruit trees laden with mangoes and papayas.

After a hearty Samoan breakfast with ten of the scientists that will be on the research vessel, we met with representatives from the local marine sciences community at the American Samoan government building.  Chickens, chickens, and a small clutch of baby chickens happily pecked on the lawn in front of the building which put a smile on my face.

These chickens found their home in front of the Government Building of Pago Pago, American Samoa.

Scientific Log

The chief scientist, Dr. Donald Kobayashi, began by introducing the team of scientists and gave a brief overview of the upcoming mission aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette.

The variety of investigations that will be conducted during these next 2 weeks which include:.

  1. Midwater Cobb trawls:  Scientists, John  Denton, American Museum of Natural History, and Aimiee Hoover, acoustics technician , Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research of the University of Hawaii, will conduct nighttime tows that will focus on epipelagic and pelagic juvenile reef fish and bottomfish species.
  1. Bot Cam: Using a tethered camera that is later released to float to the surface, and using acoustics–a.k.a. sonar readings–scientists Ryan Nichols, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center , Meagan Sundberg, Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research of the University of Hawaii, and Jamie Barlow , Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, will collect samples of fish at selected sites during the cruise.
  1. CTD experiments: “Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth.”   At predetermined locations scientists Evan Howell, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and Megan Duncan, Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at the University of Hawaii, will collect water samples called “profiles” taken of the water column at different depths.  This data is very important in determining the nutrients, chlorophyll levels, and other chemical make-up of the ocean water.
  1. Plankton tows:  Using plankton and Neuston nets, scientists Louise Giuseffi, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, and Emily Norton,University of Hawaii, Manoa, Biological Oceanography department, will conduct day and nighttime plankton tows focusing on plankton and microplastic marine debris.  Scientists will be  looking at a specific species of plankton called the copepod.  This study will also be collecting microplastic pieces, some of which are called “nurdles” which are small plastic pellets used in the manufacturing process. Unfortunately most plastic debris will never degrade and just break into smaller and smaller pieces potentially working their way into the food web, making this research and its findings very important to environmental studies.
  1. Handline fishing using a small boat, the Steel Toe: Scientists Ryan Nichols, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Meagan Sundberg, Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at the University of Hawaii, and Jamie Barlow, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, will conduct daily fishing expeditions obtaining scientific data on bottomfish, grouper and snapper species.   They will be focusing on life history factors including age, growth, male/female ratios, length and weight.  This is very exciting research since the last data collected from this region was from the 1970s and 80s.

I am very excited and fortunate to be part of this important scientific research project, and the significant data collected by the scientists.

Did You Know?
American Samoa pronunciation: The first syllable of “Samoa” is accented.
Pago Pago (capital of American Samoa): The “a”  pronunciation uses a soft “an” sound as in “pong.”

Animals Seen Today
Frigate birds
Common Myna
“Flying Foxes” Fruit bats
Kingfisher
Brown tree frog
Dogs, various
Chickens, various

Becky Moylan: Preliminary Results, July 13, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Becky Moylan
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
July 1 — 14, 2011


Mission: IEA (Integrated Ecosystem Assessment)
Geographical Area: Kona Region of Hawaii
Captain: Kurt Dreflak
Science Director: Samuel G. Pooley, Ph.D.
Chief Scientist: Evan A. Howell
Date: July 13, 2011

Ship Data

Latitude 1940.29N
Longitude 15602.84W
Speed 5 knots
Course 228.2
Wind Speed 9.5 knots
Wind Dir. 180.30
Surf. Water Temp. 25.5C
Surf. Water Sal. 34.85
Air Temperature 24.8 C
Relative Humidity 76.00 %
Barometric Pres. 1013.73 mb
Water Depth 791.50 Meters

Science and Technology Log

Results of Research

Myctophid fish and non-Myctophid fish, Crustaceans, and gelatinous (jelly-like) zooplankton

Crustaceans

Chief Scientist guiding the CTD into the ocean

Chief Scientist guiding the CTD into the ocean

Beginning on July 1st, the NOAA Integrated Ecosystem Assessment project (IEA) in the Kona region has performed scientific Oceanography operations at eight stations.  These stations form two transects (areas) with one being offshore and one being close to shore. As of July 5th, there have been 9 CTD (temperature, depth and salinity) readings, 7 mid-water trawls (fish catches), over 15 acoustics (sound waves) recordings, and 30 hours of marine mammal (dolphins and whales) observations.

The University of Hawaii Ocean Sea Glider has been recording its data also.The acoustics data matches the trawl data to tell us there was more mass (fish) in the close to shore area than the offshore area. And more mass in the northern area than the south. This is evidence that the acoustics system is accurate because what it showed on the computer matched what was actually caught in the net. The fish were separated by hand into categories: Myctophid fish and non-Myctophid fish, Crustaceans, and gelatinous (jelly-like) zooplankton.

Variety of Non-Myctophid Fish caught in the trawl

Variety of Non-Myctophid Fish caught in the trawl

The CTD data also shows that there are changes as you go north and closer to shore. One of the CTD water sample tests being done tells us the amount of phytoplankton (plant) in different areas. Phytoplankton creates energy by making chlorophyll and this chlorophyll is the base of the food chain. It is measured by looking at its fluorescence level. Myctophids eat phytoplankton, therefore, counting the amount of myctophids helps create a picture of how the ecosystem is working.

The data showed us more Chlorophyll levels in the closer to shore northern areas . Phytoplankton creates energy using photosynthesis (Photo = light, synthesis  = put together) and is the base of the food chain. Chlorophyll-a is an important pigment in photosynthesis and is common to all phytoplankton. If we can measure the amount of chlorophyll-a in the water we can understand how much phytoplankton is there. We measure chlorophyll-a by using fluorescence, which sends out light of one “color” to phytoplankton, which then send back light of a different color to our fluorometer (sensor used to measure fluorescence). Myctophids eat zooplankton, which in turn eat phytoplankton. Therefore, counting the amount of myctophids helps create a picture of how the ecosystem is working.   The data showed us more chlorophyll-a levels in the closer to shore northern areas.

Bringing in the catch

The Sea Glider SG513 has transmitted data for 27 dives so far, and will continue to take samples until October when it will be picked up and returned to UH.

Overall the mammal observations spotted 3 Striped dolphins, 1 Bottlenose dolphin, and 3 Pigmy killer whales.  Two biopsy “skin” samples were collected from the Bottlenose dolphins. A main part of their research, however, is done with photos. They have so far collected over 900 pictures.

Looking at all the results so far, we see that there is an area close to shore in the northern region of Kona that has a higher concentration of marine life.  The question now is why?

We are now heading south to evaluate another region so that we can get a picture of the whole Eastern coastline.

Personal Log

In the driver's seat

In the driver's seat

Krill

Krill

And on deck the next morning we found all kinds of krill, a type of crustacean. Krill are an important part of the food chain that feed directly on phytoplankton. Larger marine animals feed on krill including whales. It was a fun process finding new types of fish and trying to identify them.Last night I found a beautiful orange and white trumpet fish. We also saw many transparent (see-through) fish with some having bright silver and gold sections. There were transparent crabs, all sizes of squid, and small clear eels. One fish I saw looked like it had a zipper along the bottom of it, so I called it a “zipperfish”. A live Pigmy shark was in the net, so they put it in a bucket of water for everyone to see. These types don’t ever get very big, less than a foot long.

I have really enjoyed living on this ship, and it will be sad to leave. Everyone treated me like I was part of the group. I have learned so much about NOAA and the ecosystem of the Kona coastline which will make my lessons more interesting this year. Maybe the students won’t be bored!

Sunrise over Kona Region

Sunrise

Sunrise