Julie Karre: Let’s Haul it Back Now, Ya’ll! July 30, 2013

 NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013 

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Range of Cruise: Atlantic
Date: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Science and Technology Log

Preparing for a haul back. Everyone wears a PFD (personal flotation device) during a haul and a helmet if the cradle is used.
Preparing for a haul back. Everyone wears a PFD (personal flotation device) during a haul and a helmet if the cradle is used.

What an incredibly fast-paced morning/end of shift for the night shift! As the day shift was getting up and wandering out to check in, the night shift was putting out their first set of the cruise. Day shift, which I’m on, put out two sets the afternoon/night before. Night shift had to skip two last night because of the current. But this haul back made up for it. The crew processed 64 sharks – Sharpnose and Blacknose – at a swift, demanding pace. It was a learning experience to see them handle it so calmly, never missing a beat.

Night shift volunteers Page Vick and Claudia Friess work together to remove a hook.
Night shift volunteers Page Vick and Claudia Friess work together to remove a hook while Ian Davenport records the data.
Night Shift Watch Leader and NOAA scientist Lisa Jones takes a Sharpnose Shark from a fisherman.
Night Shift Watch Leader and NOAA scientist Lisa Jones takes a Sharpnose Shark from a fisherman and removes its hook.
A weighed, measured, sexed shark is released to the ocean.
A weighed, measured, sexed shark is released to the ocean.

At noon it was our turn and by 2pm we were putting out the first of three hauls we would do that day. That first haul brought up 56 sharks in just over an hour’s time. I was recording the data as measurements were taken. We brought up Sharpnose Sharks and Blacknose Sharks. It has been such an eye-opening experience bringing up sharks these last two days because it is so easy to imagine sharks as being enormous and ferocious, which of course some are, but we are bringing up sharks that, for the most part, can be held up with one hand and weigh less than 4.5kg. I think it is important to remember that the images of The Great White and Bull Sharks are not necessarily representative of all sharks. That doesn’t mean that these smaller sharks are not dangerous, it just means they’re not enormous and overwhelming.

Volunteers Holly Perryman and Kevin Travis handle sharks as I record the data.
Volunteers Holly Perryman and Kevin Travis handle sharks as I record the data. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

We had just enough time to rebait the hooks and hang out for a few minutes before we set out another set 9 miles later. That haul back was light, but did come with a Scalloped Hammerhead. When we get these large sharks (Nurse, Tiger, Hammerhead, Sandbar), it requires a large cradle attached to a crane. The cradle is lowered into the water and the shark is led on with the line attached to the hook. This requires a lot of precise coordination. The person operating the crane cannot see the shark and is then dependent on those at the opening to be clear and loud with directions. Two people hold ropes that stabilize the cradle. They have to stay in sync so that the moving shark doesn’t throw itself over a side, while another person is trying to control the shark with the line attached to the hook. It’s really incredible to watch this team of skilled fishermen and scientists work so quickly with such a large animal. Each large animal is measured, weighed, tagged, and a small tissue sample is taken. Then the cradle is lowered and it swims gracefully away.

It's Hammer time! This Scalloped Hammerhead was very exciting. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess
It’s Hammer time! This Scalloped Hammerhead was very exciting. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess
It's Hammer time! This Scalloped Hammerhead was very exciting. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess
It’s Hammer time! Chief Boatswain Tim Martin keeps a firm grip on the head of the shark. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

A quick dinner later and then we set out what ended up being our last set around 9:30 pm. At 10:50 pm we began our haul back, which was light on Sharpnose and Blacknose. We got a few and they were small, but the real treat was hauling up 4 Sandbars. Of the 4, we brought up 2 because the other 2 got away. The Sandbar is a really beautiful shark. It has a high first dorsal fin and is one of the largest coastal sharks in the world. According to Chief Scientist Kristin Hannan, the Sandbar’s large fin makes it more desirable by fishermen harvesting fins. Having seen these large, but gorgeous, animals and how gracefully they swim makes me sad that they would be desirable for such an unsustainable practice. Fortunately, in 2008 the National Marine Fisheries Service banned all commercial landings of Sandbar Sharks. The Sandbar is currently listed as a vulnerable species due to overfishing.

Kristin Hannan measuring a Sandbar Shark in the cradle.
Kristin Hannan measuring a Sandbar Shark in the cradle.

This haul back gave me a unique perspective. In previous hauls I’d been over where the fish are measured, weighed, and data recorded. But this time I was racking hooks as they came back, which means that I was just below the window where NOAA Corps Officer ENS Rachel Pryor was driving the ship. This is ENS Pryor’s first longline survey and she said it’s the survey that has the deck and bridge the most connected. Because we’re pulling up animals from a bottom longline, the control of the ship is crucial. The driver must control the ship on station making sure it doesn’t drift over the longline and in those instances of bringing up big sharks on the cradle, he or she keeps us on the station so there isn’t too much tension on the line. Whether it’s ENS Pryor, another NOAA Corps officer, or the Captain, Master Dave Nelson, he or she is just as essential to the survey as the people handling the sharks. Truly a team effort.

The set ended right at a shift change and we were lucky to make that switch on a light haul. Most of the hooks came up empty, including emptying of our bait, so something down there enjoyed an easy free meal.

I took the opportunity to watch the stars for a while before heading to bed. I was not disappointed.

Personal Log

During those first three days of no fishing, much reading was done. I finished a book on Sunday and am waiting to start my other book since I only brought two, but others on the ship have been reading a lot during breaks. At least two people have read the entire Hunger Games Trilogy while on board. It should come as no surprise to my students that this makes me VERY happy. The seventh and eighth graders of Armistead Gardens will be returning to school in August for a Hunger Games semester. The eighth graders read the first book before we left school last year, so we are set to keep reading. The seventh graders begin the Games when we meet in August.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let the 19th Longline Games begin!
Ladies and Gentlemen, let the 19th Annual Longline Games begin! Volunteers Claudia Friess and Mike Hendon devouring the Hunger Games trilogy. Both have started and finished the series since we departed Pascagoula.


I finished the debut novel by Carrie Mesrobian, which is scheduled to be released this fall. I began reading on Thursday the 25th when I moved onto the ship, but I had to slow myself down because I only have one other book. So I paced it enough to give me a few more days of pleasure. And what a pleasure it is to read such a raw and real book. I read a lot of young adult fiction, mostly for pleasure and sometimes to know what my students are in. I love what young adult literature offers readers in terms of dealing with certain experiences. I have not read many young adult novels written from the male perspective, though. I know there are many, but I have not done a very good job of getting into them. I loved reading Evan. His self-loathing was so real that I was immediately on his side. I thought the sensitive subject matter was handled realistically and appropriately. Well done. Can’t wait to read it again.

An exquisite sunset at the end of a beautiful day.
An exquisite sunset at the end of a beautiful day.

Did You Know?

I learned this from a science teacher at Armistead Gardens Elem/Middle school – there are FOUR meteor showers peaking last night and tonight – Piscis, Austrinids, Aquariids, and Capricornids. Maybe some of my “shooting stars” were from these meteor showers. Thanks Ms. Palmisano for sharing your knowledge!

This is the 19th year of doing the Shark and Red Snapper Longline Survey. That’s a lot of data!

Animals Seen

Sharpnose, Rhizoprionodon terraenovae
blacknose, Carcharhinus acronotus
Sea Nettle, Chrysaora quinquecirrha
Sandbar, Carcharhinus plumbeus
Scalloped hammerhead, Sphyrna lewini


Volunteer Kevin Travis with a starfish that came up on a clip. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess
Volunteer Kevin Travis with a starfish that came up on a clip. Photo Credit: Claudia Friess

Paul Ritter: Getting Ready to Sail with the Pisces and Her Crew! July 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Paul Ritter
Almost on board NOAA Ship Pisces
July 16 – August 1, 2013

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographical area of cruise:southeastern US Atlantic Ocean waters (continental shelf and shelf-break waters ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC to Port St. Lucie, FL)
Date: July 16, 2013

Personal Log

My name is Paul Ritter and I am Biology and Earth Science teacher at Pontiac Township High School, in Pontiac, Illinois.  I have an amazing wife by the name of Jodee and am the proud papa to my two girls, Baylee and Taylor.  Even though I have only been gone for one day, I miss them already.  Pontiac is located 130 miles south of Chicago on Interstate 55.  Our community, where my wife, children, and I were born and raised,  is the epitome of Corn Town USA.  With that being said, our community does have several distinctions that set us apart from being a typical agricultural town.  Pontiac is home to the National Pontiac Automobile Museum, the Wall Dogs Museum for international artists, the National Route 66 museum, and a museum call the War Museum that showcases our service men and women who were in all of the major wars of the USA.  Our town is the number two tourism town in Illinois behind Chicago.  The number two largest landfill in the USA calls Pontiac home.  We have a maximum security prison that houses around 1,200 inmates.  Caterpillar, among other industry, is a valued company that hangs its hat in Pontiac. It hardly seems possible but this is my 20th year of being a teacher. You know, for me teaching is just as exciting today as it was that first year in the classroom.

The Ritter Family
The Ritter Family

Being from the Midwest, people from my region associate NOAA with our planet’s weather.  In reality, NOAA is so much more.  NOAA plays a major role in Environmental Satellite Data, Marine Fisheries, Oceans, Weather, and Atmospheric Research.  NOAA is so vitally important to the sustainability of our world.   It is for this exact reason that I applied to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  It is my goal to find real ways to integrate the amazing work of NOAA into our classes. My specific mission is aboard the NOAA Ship Pisces with the Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS) group which is a fishery-independent monitoring and research program targeting reef fish in southeast U.S. continental shelf waters.  Initiated in 2010, SEFIS works cooperatively with the long-term and ongoing Marine Resources Monitoring, Assessment, and Prediction (MARMAP) sampling program to:

  • provide fishery-independent data to support reef fish stock assessments
  • perform reef fish ecology research, including, but not limited to
    • assessment of spatiotemporal distribution
    • habitat affiliation patterns
NOAA Ship Pisces was launched at VT Halter Marine, in Moss Point, Mississippi on December 19th, 2007, christened by Dr. Annette Nevin Shelby, wife of Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. Commissioned on November 6, 2009, Pisces is the third of four new Fisheries Survey Vessels to be built by NOAA. The ship was named Pisces by a team of five seventh grade students from Sacred Heart School in Southaven, Mississippi.
NOAA Ship Pisces was launched at VT Halter Marine, in Moss Point, Mississippi on December 19th, 2007, christened by Dr. Annette Nevin Shelby, wife of Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. Commissioned on November 6, 2009, Pisces is the third of four new Fisheries Survey Vessels to be built by NOAA. The ship was named Pisces by a team of five seventh grade students from Sacred Heart School in Southaven, Mississippi.

Monday July 15, 2013

I woke up extra early for some reason around 5:00 A.M even though the night before was a late night with the final night of my daughter Baylee’s play, the Little Mermaid.  Excited and anxious about leaving on my great expedition, I knew I needed to get out of the house or I was going to wake everyone else.  I headed to town and filled up the car with fuel.  Wanting to waste some time, I headed to some of our local stores to get some last minutes for the trip.  Around 8:30, Jodee and the girls drove me to the airport in Bloomington, Illinois.  It was exciting and sad at the same time.   I was very much looking forward to my expedition, but I wished I could take the family to be a part of the adventure.  We have had so many adventures together and I know they would have had a great time.  Maybe next time.  I flew from Bloomington to Chicago O’Hare International Airport and then finally landing in Jacksonville, Florida.  The ride from Bloomington to Chicago was quick and easy but the same could not be said for the next leg of the flight to Florida.

Our plane to Jacksonville was around 30 minutes late to land in Chicago and then when finally aboard we taxied around the runway for about 25 minutes.  It felt like we were on a behind the scenes tour of O’Hare.  I was waiting for the pilot to come over the announcements and say “Ladies and gentlemen if you look to your right you can see Lake Michigan”.  Finally in the air, somewhere over Georgia we hit the turbulence.  Man it was bumpy.  While this was going on, I took the opportunity to get to know the guy who was next to me in seat 11B.  Ironically, we went to the same college at the same time and lived in the same dormitory.  Small world.  We finally arrived in Jacksonville and off to the hotel I went.  You know it is funny,  I have been so fortunate to be able to travel to some amazing places, but I have never been on a ship in the ocean for pleasure or otherwise.  I am not really sure if I will get sea sick or not.  I’m thinking not, but I am guessing I will find out very quickly.

Tuesday July 16, 2013

Dr. Zeb Schobernd and the rest of the scientists are making their way down to meet me in Jacksonville to pick me up at the hotel.  Here is another very cool part of this trip….  Zeb’s hometown, which is Bloomington, Illinois, is only 35 miles from where my family I live.   From there we are headed to the Pisces which is in port to spend our first night on board.  I look forward to getting to know my new shipmates.

Did You Know?  NOAA does more than just weather? In fact, NOAA is involved in every aspect of our amazing world.  Here are some of their divisions. ·  National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service ·  National Marine Fisheries Service ·  National Ocean Service ·  National Weather Service ·  Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research  

Andrea Schmuttermair: Eager Anticipation from Land-locked Colorado, June 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 22 – July 3, 2012

Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico (between Galveston TX and Pascagoula, MS)
Date: June 7, 2012

Personal Log (pre-cruise)

What does

      +     +       =   ?

That’s right! Ms. Schmuttermair is heading to sea this summer as a participant in NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program!

Me and my forever hiking pal, Wesson

Hi! My name is Andrea Schmuttermair, and I am a 3-6 grade science teacher at The Academy in Westminster, CO.  I just finished up my first year in this position, and absolutely love engaging my students in important science concepts. Outside of the classroom, I can be found hiking, biking, and exploring the mountains of beautiful Colorado with my dog, Wesson.

Growing up in San Diego, CA, I would definitely consider myself an “ocean lover”. I grew up spending countless hours at the beach, checking out the sea life that washed up in the tide pools and snorkeling in La Jolla Cove. When I heard about the Teacher at Sea program, I knew it was right up my alley. Living in land-locked Colorado, I strive to bring both my love and knowledge of the ocean to my students. One of the most memorable teaching moments for me this year was seeing my 3rd graders have that “Aha!” moment when they realized what we do here in Colorado greatly affects our oceans, even though they are hundreds of miles away.

Now, in just a couple short weeks, I will  don my sea legs, leave dry land behind, and set sail on the Oregon II. The Oregon II, one of NOAA’s 11 fishery vessels, conducts fishery and marine research to help ensure that our fish population in the ocean is sustainable. Fishery vessels work with the National Marine Fisheries Service to provide important information about fish populations and what regulations about fishing practices need to be in place.

This summer, we will be conducting the summer groundfish survey, a survey that has been conducted for the past 30 years. This particular survey is conducted during the summer months between Alabama and Mexico. On this second leg of the survey, we will be sailing from Galveston, TX to the Oregon II’s home port of Pascagoula, MS.

What exactly is a groundfish survey, you ask? When I first received my acceptance letter, they informed me that this was the “critter cruise”, and I, being the critter lover, was thrilled! The main goal of this survey is to determine the abundance and distribution of shrimp by depth. In addition to collecting shrimp samples, we may also collect samples of bottomfish and crustaceans. It will also be important to collect meteorological data while out at sea. I am excited to see what kind of critters we pull up!

Ms. Schmuttermair LOVES critters, as seen here with Rosy the scorpion.

How will we be catching all of these critters and collecting data while out at sea? The Oregon II has a variety of devices to help collect information about the ocean, including bottom trawls and a CTD. The bottom trawl is a large net that is towed to collect shrimp and other bottom dwellers that will be sorted once the catch is brought aboard. A CTD (stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth) is an instrument that can collect a wide variety of data, including temperature, salinity and oxygen content. I can’t wait to learn how some of these tools are operated!

What are my goals while out at sea?

  • To learn as much about the environment I am in as possible.
  • To ask the scientists plenty of questions about their research, and why collecting data is so important.
  • To take many pictures to bring back to my students
  • To get to know the crew on board, and how they came to work on the Oregon II
  • Not getting seasick!

Now it’s your turn: What would YOU like to know more about? Is it more about the animals we bring up in our trawls? Maybe it’s to learn more about life on the Oregon II, and specifications about this ship. Perhaps you’d like to know how to become a scientist with NOAA and work on board one of their many ships.  Leave your questions in the “Comments” section below (you are welcome to do this in any of my entries), and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the challenge questions, which from this point forward I will refer to as the “Critter Query”.

Ellen O’Donnell: Where Am I? May 17, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ellen O’Donnell
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
May 14 – May 25, 2012

Mission: Northern Right Whale Survey
Geographical are of the cruise: Atlantic Ocean out of Provincetown. MA
Date: May 17, 2012

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Winds out of the Northwest, 5 to 10 knots. Mid-level clouds.Ocean swells 1 to 3 meters

Science and Technology Log:

We pulled up anchor and set sail out of Provincetown, Cape Cod at 6AM. We followed the Cape Coastline for several miles and then headed out to Georges Bank again. Unfortunately, today was windy so the ocean had a lot of whitecaps. In addition, the swells were between 1 to 3 meters throughout the day. This made it hard to spot whales. The wind also disperses their spout very quickly so they are hard to see. Around 3PM the wind lessened such that there were far fewer whitecaps. We started to see more whales but not a lot.

Atlantic White Sided Dolphin (Photo: Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation)

One right whale came close to the ship and we were able to slow the boat down and get several pictures. Other than that we saw fin and sei whales and one minke whale. A bit of excitement for me, though, is that several pods of common Atlantic white sided dolphins swam past the ship. One pod had about 15 dolphins!

Humpback entanglement (photo Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies)

The last time we were out at sea we took the little gray boat out to get closer to the right whales. One of the whales was entangled. Entanglement is when a gillnet, lobster trap or crab pot or any other marine debris gets caught on a whales fin, head or flippers. It is the second leading cause of human-related right whale deaths. In fact, nearly three out of four whales bear scars from these types of interactions.

NOAA created a central response network on the East Coast through its National Marine Fisheries Service, developed by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. When a whale that is entangled is spotted, they send out a crew to remove the fishing gear from the whale. Now this is no easy task. Remember  whales can weigh up to 70 tons and won’t just sit still for you to remove the nets. Responders will typically try and slow the whale down and keep it on the surface. In order to do this they attach buoys to a trailing line in order to cause drag on the animal. Fin, sei and humpbacks react well to this because they are lunge feeders so they actively chase after their prey, and because of this they experience this periodic drag. Once this happens and the whale has slowed down, the responders get close in a small inflatable boat and try to remove the nets with strategically placed cuts, working to remove the net as quickly as possible. They use tools that are on the end of long poles to do this.

However, this method does not work well with right whales. They are grazers and therefore oftentimes don’t react to additional drag. Jamison Smith, biologist for NOAA, said that they even attached a large boat to the drag line but the whale just kept swimming and eventually broke the line! So they have been trying something new with them. Recently they have administered tranquilizers to the whales to slow them down. They found that this changed the right whales behavior, and they were able to get closer. They have even administered antibiotics to those whales that had severe damage from the fishing gear. View this video to see a whale getting darted. NOAA Biologist Darts Right Whale (courtesy NOAA)

Researchers continue to work on more efficient and better ways to deal with this threat to our whale populations. One method that has worked well is to work with fisherman to design fishing gear, which have weak links so that they break easier when whales swim through them. It is a controversial issue between many parties, but hopefully we will see a decline in whale entanglements in the future.

Personal Log:

You might think it’s easy to navigate a ship. Just point and drive, right? No. Navigation of a ship is a complex endeavor which requires skill and the use of many different technologies. Think about it. You need to consider wind, tides, currents, depth of water and other ships in the area. Luckily the Delaware II has a great deal of equipment and skilled operators to get our ship from point A to B.

So let’s dive into the art of navigation. First off you need to know where you are.

Lieutenant Claire Surry-Marsden and Ensign Jason Wilson showing me how the instruments work

The Delaware II has a global positioning system, which is a satellite-based navigation system. It works something like this. The US government launched satellites up into orbit around our Earth. They constantly send out light wave signals with a time the message was sent, and the location of the signal at that time. A receiver on the ground needs to receive at least 4 of these signals, sometimes three will work, to get an accurate reading on where that receiver (you)  is located. But you just don’t want to rely on one system, so the Delaware II has 2 back-up systems. The crew also utilizes a magnetic compass, and a Gyrocompass. As you know the magnetic compass points toward magnetic north (considering the declination of your area). However the Gyrocompass is an instrument that is mounted in a device so that it spins freely. When the device is moved in a different direction, such as ocean swells or turns, the gyroscope will always point to true North. A gyroscope  spins about three axes of angular freedom due to its inherent properties  and its being acted upon by the earth’s rotation and gravity. Control devices are applied to balance the forces so that the gyro seeks and continually aligns itself with the meridian and points to true north.

You also need to know what is going on down in the water. If the ocean floor gets shallow or the currents change this is going to affect the ship’s safety and or progress. The Delaware II gets this information through two navigation depth sounders. They emit sound waves out of the bottom of the boat and time how long it takes for the waves to get back. Remember our formulas during our energy units? Speed equals distance divided by time. Well we know the speed of sound in water at various temperatures (remember the speed changes with different mediums and the temperature), so you multiply the time (divided by 2)  by the speed and you get the distance. Luckily the navigation depth sounder does all this math for you automatically and you get a picture on the screen showing the depth of the water below the ship.

Computer with chart of the area

The Delaware II has a large computer which uses software called Nobeltec. This displays the most recent charts, or as we call them maps, on the screen. These charts indicate all land and the depths of the water. Before leaving the navigators plot the course on the chart and this is what they use to steer the ship. Of course, safety is incredibly important so this course is also drawn out on paper charts in case the on-line computer goes down. I watched Ensign Junie Casson transferring this information and it isn’t easy. Knowing latitude and longitude are key as well as determining the degrees in which you want to travel. See that! Math and social studies really do come in handy! Junie is also responsible for keeping the ships charts up to date as information is constantly being acquired on the topography of the ocean floor.

Ensign Junie Casson shows me how to plot a course on the chart

You also need to know how the currents are moving in the water you are traveling through. Especially should the ship release equipment, such as nets or instruments. This is done with the Doppler speed log. It emits 3 sonic beams and the information is used to determine the speed and direction of the water in three different layers. Speed and direction of the water is affected by winds, rotation of the Earth (remember the Coriolis Effect – it affects the direction of the water as well as the air) and tides. Deeper layers tend to move more slowly because there is less energy transfer between layers as you go down.

Lastly we want to make sure that no other ships are getting too close, that we aren’t getting too close to certain objects or to fix ourselves upon a certain point. For this the ship has two different kinds of radar. One radar called x-band, has  a higher frequency and shorter wavelength. The second radar is called s-band, and has a lower frequency and longer wavelength. Both are used to get the best accuracy with identifying objects.To avoid collision, The Delaware II  uses an integrated ARPA (Automated Radar Plotting Aid) to quickly analyze trial maneuvers.  Different courses and/or speeds are assessed and the calculated outcome in terms of a CPA (closest point of approach) is determined. Whenever possible at sea, one nautical mile CPA from all other traffic should be kept.

Poll Update:

On my first blog I asked which of the following whales is the longest; sei, fin, humpback, right and minke. While most of you picked the humpback the fin whale is actually the longest.

Questions of the Day:

When you determine the time in our equation to determine the water’s depth you would need to divide it by two. Why?

In ancient times, ships didn’t have the equipment I just described to you. How did they navigate the ship?

Maria Madrigal: Highlighting the NOAA Corps, April 18, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Maria Madrigal

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

April 2-18, 2012

Mission: Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods

Geographical area of cruise: Tutuila, American Samoa

Science & Technology Log: April 18, 2012

One of the first individuals I met when I came on-board the Oscar Elton Sette was Operations Officer, Justin Keesee. Not only was he friendly but he also looked like he knew what he was doing. So, who is he and what does he do?

Lieutenant Justin Keesee
Lieutenant Justin Keesee

The NOAA research vessels are operated by commissioned officers that are part of the NOAA Corps. The NOAA Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States and is administered by the Department of Commerce. The other uniformed services are the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. “NOAA Officers can be found operating one of NOAA’s 19 ships or 12 aircraft to provide support to meet NOAA’s missions.”

Justin’s knowledge of the NOAA Corps didn’t come until after a few years of experience working in Alaska where he was a fisheries observer collecting data on Pollock and Pacific Cod. Periodically, he would travel back to NOAA’s Western Regional Center’s Sand Point Facility in Seattle, Washington for debriefing meetings with a FMA (Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis) staff member and thoroughly reviewing the data collected. He worked as an observer over the span of five years.

He learned about the NOAA Corps when he reconnected with a college friend that joined the NOAA Corps right after earning his undergraduate degree. Having a degree within the major fields of study “that align with NOAA’s scientific and technological activities” is one of the educational requirements to apply to the NOAA Corps. Justin studied marine biology and earned his degree from the Florida Institute of Technology. His interest in science and the appeal of working for a government agency drove his decision to apply.

Lt Justin Keesee on watch
Lt Justin Keesee on watch

He confided that he was more interested in the science aspect of the job and he didn’t really know what he was getting into until he began his basic training. He described it as an intensive course in piloting a ship; the training ranged from learning navigational rules to mastering his knot tying skills. After completing basic training, officers are assigned to a NOAA ship for three years and then are appointed to a shore assignment for two years, which varies from working in a laboratory to doing administrative work. Officers are then on a continual rotation between ship and shore assignments. NOAA Corps officers are eligible for all military benefits including the new GI bill which delivers military education benefits to not only veterans but also active duty personnel. Keesee is taking advantage of this opportunity and working towards earning a master’s degree in business administration from his undergraduate alma mater.

Officer Keesee was first assigned to the NOAA ship Oregon II  based out of Pascagoula, Mississipi.  Before arriving on the Oscar Elton Sette, he also completed his first shore assignment at the Panama City Lab which is one of the five laboratories that conducts research as part of the Southeast Fisheries Science Centers. He currently serves as the Operations Officer, which means he is responsible for communicating with the scientific staff and the ship’s crew to ensure all needs are met and procedures are carried out safely. He has two four-hour shifts on the bridge as the officer on watch. The bridge is basically the control room that has a clear view of the ship’s path and holds all the necessary equipment to safely navigate the ship including nautical charts and various radar screens. During this watch time, he is responsible for the overall safe navigation of the ship ensuring that the ship is maintaining a safe distance from other vessels, tracking any weather patterns, maintaining communication with any small boats that may be out on the water, and ensuring any scientific equipment isn’t damaged by other boats. One perk of his job, is that he has a great view from his office.

When asked “if you you only knew then, what you know now what advice would you give yourself” his response was “to relax a little and enjoy my time with NOAA.” He further explained that he sometimes takes things too seriously but it is only because he wants to do a great job. He communicates well with the scientific staff and holds the respect of the ship’s crew. I’m only a visitor on this ship but it is evident that Officer Keesee has a great work ethic and represents the caliber of the personnel that comprise the NOAA Corps.

NOAA Corps Officers
NOAA Corps Officers

There were a total of five NOAA Corps officers aboard the Oscar Elton Sette during the research cruise. The ship normally has four officers but due to the busy workload associated with the comparison study, LCDR Colin Little was added to the ship’s crew.

NOAA Corps Officers
NOAA Corps Officers, (Pictured from left to right): Lieutenant Commander Kurt Dreflak, Lieutenant Justin Keesee, Ensign Daniel Langis, Lieutenant Commander Colin Little & Chief Mate Richard Patana (front) Ensign Justin Ellis

Maria Madrigal: My Teacher at Sea Adventure: March 31, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Maria Madrigal

NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

April 2-16, 2012

Mission: Comparison of Fishery Independent Sampling Methods

Geographical area of cruise: Tutuila, American Samoa

Personal Log: March 31, 2012

Maria Madrigal, Teacher at Sea on Oscar Elton Sette
Maria Madrigal, Teacher at Sea on Oscar Elton Sette

My name is Maria Madrigal and I am one of the lucky few to be selected as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I am not a classroom teacher, and I have to admit that I stumbled upon my career. I actually graduated with a degree in Studio Arts. What was I going to do with an art degree? Good question.  I didn’t know myself.  So, I began a search for different AmeriCorps programs where I could gain some work experience.

Luckily, I found the SEA Lab. The SEA Lab is a small aquarium located in Redondo Beach managed by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. My days were spent sharing “cool” and “interesting” facts about the marine animals housed at our facility.  The animals were our ambassadors as we relayed the importance of taking care of our environment to students throughout the Los Angeles area.  However, my teaching was lacking in that I had never explored the marine environment beyond the shoreline.

How can you truly relay the beauty and importance of a kelp forest if you have never explored it? I wanted to experience for myself what it would be like to swim through a kelp forest. It was then that I decided I would face my fears and learn how to swim. That’s right, I didn’t know how to swim but I wasn’t going to let that be an obstacle.

I took some swim lessons and a few months later with my heart racing I dove into the cold waters off Santa Cruz Island. It was a life-changing experience. Naturally, my teaching became greater from my personal experience. The excitement I used to teach was genuine and informed.  Being accepted into NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program is providing me with a similar experience. A teacher’s experience can truly enrich the learning of his/her students whether it is in a classroom setting or outdoors.

It is with that same mentality that I embark on this new adventure.

I am traveling to American Samoa where I will join a team of scientists aboard NOAA’s research vessel, the Oscar Elton Sette. I will be working alongside scientists that are assessing the fish populations that inhabit the shallow and deepwater coral reef environments around the island of Tutuila. The project is being lead by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC)  which is one of the six regional science centers of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  Also aboard are scientists from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the University of Western Australia. Their work is basically to assess fish populations to ensure sustainable fisheries. The study will involve two of NOAA’s Hawaii-based research vessels , the Oscar Elton Sette and the Hi’ialakai.

It will undoubtedly be an enriching experience.  It will provide me with first-hand knowledge of current research that will help me develop new educational activities at the SEA Lab. I also look forward to gaining some insight on career paths to properly guide my current and future corpsmembers.

It has been twelve years since I started working at the SEA Lab. I am currently the Program Manager and my managerial responsibilities typically keep me behind a desk or sitting in traffic, so I’m thrilled to immerse myself again and explore what is beyond the shoreline. I hope you join me along the way. You can track the ship’s journey using NOAA’s ship tracker.

If you want to learn more about the overall mission plan, head over to the mission overview page. There’s one for the Oscar Elton Sette (http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/cruise/se1202.php) and another for the Hi’ialakai (http://www.pifsc.noaa.gov/cruise/ha1201.php).