Jenny Gapp: Aboard a Floating Library of Data, July 27, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Gapp (she/her)

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

July 23, 2023 – August 5, 2023

Mission: Pacific hake (Merluccius productus) Survey (Leg 3 of 5)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean off the Northern California Coast working north back toward coastal waters off Oregon.
Date: July 26, 2023

Weather Data from the Bridge

Sunrise 6:31am | Sunset 8:46pm
Current Time:  0700 (7:00am Pacific Daylight Time)
Lat 40 16.7 N, Lon 124 33.6 W
Visibility: 10 nm (nautical miles)
Sky condition: broken cloud cover, aka partly sunny
Wind Speed: 25 knots
Wind Direction: 355°
Barometer: 1014.3 mb
Sea Wave height: 4-5 ft | Swell: 340°, 6-8 ft
Sea temp: 9.8°C | Air Temp: 12.6°C

Science and Technology Log

The Wet Lab:

In addition to interviewing members of the crew, working on my blog, and doing a bit of independent research, I am here to help in the wet lab. What does this entail? It begins with waiting. First, there is a marine mammal watch that lasts for 10 minutes. If an animal is within 500 meters we wait until it moves off. Then a second 10-minute watch is started. We continue monitoring mammal activity even after the net is deployed. Sometimes the navigation crew scouts the transect first to make sure the ocean floor won’t cause issues with the net when it is deployed. 

Deploying the net is a team effort among deck crew, navigation officers, and scientists. Once the net is off the reel and in the water, the crew disconnects the wire line to the reel and it is transferred to the doors. Winches connected to the trawl doors take the weight of the load. Depending on fish sign, the net is payed out according to depths the acousticians wish to fish at.

The length of time the net is streamed is also determined by the scientists. They monitor how many fish are going into the net via an FS70 third-wire trawl sonar which has a similar function to Doppler radar. Nicknamed “the turtle,” it is attached to the head rope. Sometimes there’s a “thunderstorm” of fish, and sometimes a “drizzle.” Once the acousticians have determined how much to punish the wet lab (joke), the lead scientist calls, “haul back.” The average fishing time is around 20 minutes, although it can be as little as a half minute in a fish thunderstorm or as long as 40 minutes in a fish drizzle. A sensor attached to the net records temperature and depth.

Once the net is back on board and we get a look at the catch size, a decision is made where to dump the haul. Under 100kg (220lbs), the catch goes in a black crate; over 100 kg, it goes into a hopper that leads to a conveyor belt inside the wet lab. The hopper door is opened a little at a time to avoid a fishy waterfall over the sides. Dominant species—hake in this case—go down the belt, and all other species are pulled out and sorted. 

All our hauls to date have been on the smaller side, and so the net is hoisted and dumped into the black crate containing three smaller baskets. The deck crew slides this through double doors leading into the wet lab and we begin sorting species. Crew members often linger to see what cool things have been hauled aboard, and when they are impressive enough—like medium-sized squid and King-of-the-Salmon almost as long as you are tall—we take photos of each other, shaking our heads at the marvel of it. Ethan weighs the biomass of creatures that are not hake, then they go down the chute back to the ocean and return to the food chain. 

Jenny, wearing black overalls, rubber boots, gloves, and a Teacher at Sea hat, stands in the wet lab surrounded by plastic sorting bins. With her right hand, she hoists up a very large fish by its gills. it is pinkish in color, with a large head and a body that tapers all the way from a large round eye to the tail. the top of its open mouth is about in line with Jenny's hat, and the tip of its tail rests on her boot.
A King-of-the-Salmon almost as long as me!

The goal is 400 hake per haul, and to date we’ve counted 282 as the biggest catch. A handful of other species are measured, usually others that are commercially fished.

Depending on the number of hake collected, 50 have otoliths (ear bones) removed for aging and a random 10 of these have their stomachs examined. Krill and Blue lampfish appear to be favorite foods. A measuring device for the stomachs provides us with a number for the volume of food in their stomach.

If the ideal haul is taken, 350 hake are sexed and measured. The sexes are sorted into baskets of different colors: green (“little green men”) for the males and white (“snow white”) for the females. A set number of females have their liver and gonads taken for examination. I have yet to find out why just the females have this done.

After we’ve processed everything we clean the lab after each haul. If you don’t, the fishy aspect can get out of control quickly. Allegedly herrings are the smelliest. 

two scientists work at adjacent tables in the wet lab; Ethan in foreground, and Liz in the background. each wears navy blue shirts, orange overalls, orange gloves, and hats. they are working up fish on electronic boards connected to computer screens mounted above the tables. With his left hand, Ethan holds a sliced-open fish (probably a hake) steady; with his right, he reaches with tweezers to remove a part of the fish.
Ethan Beyer, Wet Lab Lead
Liz Ortiz, Fisheries Technician

Taxonomy of Sights

Day 3. Multiple whale spouts throughout the day. Species that appeared in our hauls: King- of-the-Salmon, Pyrosomes, Spiny dogfish, Brown cat shark, Glass shrimp, Jewel squid, and a viperfish that looked like the stuff of nightmares! A couple of albatross cruised behind us during one of the trawls, hoping for some fishy treats.

Day 4. One Jack mackerel mixed in with hake, a monitored species, so we took its measurements. One partial squid tangled in the trawl net.

You Might Be Wondering…

Do you have to wear a life jacket the whole time?

Life jackets and hard hats are required on the aft deck when there is an operation in progress. The safety mantra is, “If you don’t need to be on the deck, don’t go on the deck.” Each of us carries a PLB, or personal locator beacon, in the event of a worst-case scenario. Life jackets, along with immersion suits, are located in staterooms as well as the wet lab. No, I do not wear a life jacket while sleeping, showering, and spending time on the interior of the ship. Safety equipment is never far away. Emergency egress arrows show you a way out, and there are three emergency shower and eye wash stations on the ship. There are also devices called EEBD (Emergency Escape Breathing Device) that contain 15 minutes of oxygen. 

If you have questions you are curious about, please leave them in the comments section!

Floating Facts

Nautical Terms
Aft is the back of the boat where the trawling happens. The bow, or forward, is the front of the ship. Port is left, which you can distinguish from starboard because port and left have the same number of letters. Starboard is right. Stairs are referred to as “ladders,” walls are “bulkheads,” not to be confused with “bulwark,” which are the sides of the vessel above the main deck.

New Blue Economy
The “blue economy” is a new term for me. According to Dr. Richard Spinrad, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere & NOAA Administrator, it’s “a knowledge-based economy, looking to the sea not just for extraction of material goods, but for data and information to address societal challenges and inspire their solutions.”

40% of the U.S. population lives in or near coastal communities. A NOAA article on the blue economy states, “If American coastal counties were an individual country, they would rank third in the world in gross domestic product, surpassed only by the United States and China.” I assume this means as compared to the remainder of the United States that do not qualify as a “coastal community.”

The demands of climate change only hasten the need for information about our oceans and coastal regions. NOAA serves as a foundation for the blue economy, providing free, open source data–temperature, water level, hydrography, fisheries health, pH, salinity, and surface currents to name a few. The shipping challenges that the recent global pandemic posed have increased the need for U.S. seaports to add terminals and piers. Maritime commerce is expected to triple by 2030. (source: New Blue Economy, NOAA)

Educator Resources
If you are an educator and have not been to the Oregon Coast STEM hub website, it is highly recommended. It is managed by Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. There’s something for everyone, even if you and your students aren’t located in Oregon.

While aboard I learned that the University of Oregon—my alma mater—also has a Marine Biology program. In fact, U of O’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB), located in Charleston, Oregon near Coos Bay, is a field institute like the Hatfield Marine Science Center. OIMB also has a section on its website for educators including lessons and resources. There is some crossover with the STEM hub, but both sites are valuable and worth examining. Note that at the time of my visit to the OIMB site there were some broken links on the resources page. 

watercolor illustration of a Pacific giant octopus. handwritten words at the top read: HATFIELD MARINE SCIENCE CENTER Oregon State University.
A watercolor and pen drawing from a previous visit to HMSC.

Personal Log

The NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada has seven levels: (from top to bottom) flying bridge–where our marine mammal and bird observers spend much of their time; bridge–where officers spend much of their time, where navigation happens, where a marine mammal watch happens before a trawl, where the boatswain, also known as a bosun, (deck boss) has a view of the nets going in and out, operates the net reel and communicates between nav crew and deck crew; officers berth–along with the hospital and quarters for the Chief Engineer; science berth–including lounge and offices; labs, mess deck, and access to the aft deck where the net is pulled in and the catch is transferred to the wet lab; deck crew berth–along with gym, winch and trawl rooms, centerboard access; and finally additional machinery rooms–including one for the bow thruster. I have been promised a tour of the engine room toward the end of our cruise, so I am looking forward to that!

Monday and Tuesday were great days, particularly Tuesday. I felt good, held all my meals, talked with a variety of crew members about their work, and got my hands dirty for the first time in the wet lab. Julia Clemons said of Tuesday, “It was a great day for science!” We made a record number of trawls—three—for the 2023 survey thus far.

a gloved hand holds a fish (possibly a hake) straight toward the camera so we can see down its open mouth to its gill rakers
Oh, the horror of being seasick!

Highlights of Wednesday’s trawl were part of a squid tangled in the net (much larger than the jewel squid), and some baby hake. I got into a rhythm assisting Ethan with entering data. He measured, weighed, sexed, examined stomach contents of some, and removed otoliths. I supported by entering the barcodes from the otolith collection vials manually (nothing new for a librarian who has her own trouble with temperamental barcode scanners from time to time), entered sex and maturity level, entered data on stomach contents (primarily blue lanternfish, and euphausiids, aka krill).

Librarian at Sea

“The world turns and the world spins, the tide runs in and the tide runs out, and there is nothing in the world more beautiful and more wonderful in all its evolved forms than two souls who look at each other straight on.” ~Gary D. Schmidt, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

In this middle-grade novel, a friendship is formed between Turner Buckminster, son of a preacher, and Lizzie Bright Griffin, a resident of Malaga Island. Malaga is located off the coast of Maine and was founded by people who were formerly enslaved. The quote above refers to a moment when the two young people are in a boat and Turner comes eye to eye with a whale five times the size of the dory they are traveling in. It reminds me a little of looking into the eyes of the creatures who come aboard in our net. I wonder if some are still capable of seeing… 

Hook, Line, and Thinker

The NOAA Teacher at Sea program requires fortitude, flexibility, and following orders.
On Monday the crew followed orders for our first safety drills. These include special signals indicating fire, abandon ship, and man overboard. The science crew (which includes me) musters in the wet lab for fire, where the Chief Scientist reports muster to the bridge. “Muster” means that all are assembled who should be there. During an abandon-ship drill, the crew is split up between six life rafts, three on each side of the ship. New members of the crew try on their immersion suit, a bulky get-up that guards against hypothermia and increases flotation. I tried on two different sizes, and while neither was quite right we concluded bulkier was better than too small. As the XO put it, “It will save your life. Throw in your shoes and a loaf of bread and you’re good to go!” The man overboard drill requires the science crew to muster on the flying bridge where we locate the individual in trouble (in the case of a drill, a couple of buoys tied together) and point.

Can you think of an example in which following orders may save your life?

A Bobbing Bibliography

On the bridge you will find binoculars on the sill of many windows. You will also find whale and dolphin identification guides, as well as one for birds. Some of the binoculars are “reticulated.” When you look into the eyepieces of these you see a series of fine lines (reticules) to determine distance between marine mammals and the vessel. Line up the top line to the horizon and you have the distance between objects and the ship.

There are many great spots along the Oregon Coast for whale watching that don’t require going out on the ocean. Oregon State Parks has a whale watching site with more information. 

The book Whales and Other Marine Mammals of Washington and Oregon, by Tamara Eder and illustrated by Ian Sheldon, is propped up against a window. Through the window we can see a deck of the ship, the ocean, sea spray.

Robert Ulmer: Know Your Surroundings, June 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Robert Ulmer
Aboard NOAA Ship Rainier
June 15–July 3, 2013

Mission:  Hydrographic survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Southeast Alaska, including Chatham Strait and Behm Canal, with a Gulf of Alaska transit westward to Kodiak
Log date:  June 28, 2013

Current coordinates:  N 56⁰40.038’, W 134⁰20.908’ (southeast of Point Sullivan in Chatham Strait)

Weather conditions:  13.53⁰C and falling, scattered cumulus clouds with intermittent light rainfall, 81.05% relative humidity, 1019.55 mb of atmospheric pressure, breezy with gusts of wind out of the NNW at 10 to 15 knots

Explorer’s Log:  The layout of the ship

An explorer who doesn’t make himself familiar with his new surroundings is truly no explorer at all, and he might just as well stay home.  Why would you venture forth if not to witness the events and items along the way?

The "big eyes" on the flying deck with the anchor deck visible below
Keep your eyes open.  There’s so much to see everywhere!

For the past few days, NOAA Ship Rainier has been continuing its mission to complete a detailed and thorough survey of the sea floor along Chatham Strait, a channel used by many nautical vessels in their transit of the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska.  So, aside from noticing the appearance and disappearance of some rock features in the rising and falling tides and the daily incremental reduction of snow as it melts on the high mountaintops nearby in the relative warmth of early summer, most of what I see from the deck of the ship and from the smaller launch vessels is the same topography in every direction that I’ve seen for the past week, along with occasional clouds, whales, otters, birds, and other boats.  The scenery beyond the rails is very beautiful, but the temporary respite from faster passage to any new geographic destination also has given me a chance to take a few photos of the space around me:  the ship herself.
Using the shadow cast by a gnomon in one city while the sun reflected straight up from the bottom of a well in another city, along with alternate interior angles and a proportion, Eratosthenes calculated Earth’s circumference in 240 BCE. Image by Dr. John H. Lienhard, University of Houston.

However, instead of writing nautical miles* of text to talk you through a verbally descriptive tour of the entire vessel, I’ve posted a bunch of captioned photos that will give you some view of what I see while wandering around my current home away from home.

Before we begin the tour, a brief note:  In case you’ve ever wondered (as I have!), a nautical mile is a unit of length approximately equal to one minute (1/60 of a degree, and there are 360 degrees in a circle) of latitude measured along any meridian or about one minute of arc of longitude measured at the equator.  Because our understanding of the exact shape of Earth has evolved from a perfect circle into that of an ellipsoid since Eratosthenes of Cyrene calculated the circumference of his perfectly round model of the planet (and assigned the first latitudes and longitudes), the definition of nautical mile has changed over time.  To address the variation in actual one-minute arc lengths around Earth, the definition of a nautical mile has been standardized by international agreement to be 1,852 meters (approximately 6,076 feet).  A statute mile, by comparison, evolved both in etymology and in length-definition from the Latin term mille passuum (“one thousand paces”), commonly used when measuring and marking distances marched by Roman soldiers across Europe.  Healthier and better-fed soldiers often took longer strides, and so their “miles” were longer than the miles marched by less-healthy counterparts.  To address this variation, most countries eventually agreed to standardize the statute mile at its current length of 5,280 feet (about 1,609 meters).

Now for some snapshots from NOAA Ship Rainier:

This log, called a "camel," is used as a buffer alongside less-equipped docks to protect both the dock and the ship.
This log, called a “camel,” is used as a buffer alongside less-equipped docks to protect both the dock and the ship.

Mechanism for operating the port side davits
Mechanism for operating the port side davits, which use hydraulics to lift and lower the launch vessels

Starboard side walkway to the launch vessels at their raised and secured positions in the davits
Starboard side walkway to the launch vessels at their raised and secured positions in the davits

Ventilation pipe from the incinerator
Ventilation pipe from the incinerator

Some interesting-looking tube joints
Some interesting-looking hydraulic hose fittings for the davits

The galley
The crew’s mess and the galley

Fire Station No. 23, starboard, deck D
Fire Station No. 23, D deck starboard side

Crane, anchor, vents, and the stowed gangplank on the bow
Crane, anchor windlass, vents, and the stowed gangway on the bow

Muster Station 1
Muster Station 1, where I am to report in the event of an abandon ship order

Docking bits on the bow
These large bits on the bow are used for securing lines while docking.

Cranes on the bow
Cranes on the bow

Electric boxes on the forward mast
Electric boxes keep the important electrical equipment that is mounted on the forward mast properly powered

The view along starboard from the flying deck
The view along the starboard side from the flying bridge

Machinery for lowering and hoisting the anchor
The anchor windlass (machinery on the bow for letting go and weighing anchor) includes gypsy heads, a riding pawl, a devil’s claw or pelican hook, and a wildcat.  (Many other “animals” are referenced on a ship, including a goose neck and a bull nose.  Look up others on your own!)

The forward mast
The forward mast carries radar equipment for navigation. The halyards (lines from the mast) are for support and for hanging items used for distant communication.

The "big eyes" on the flying deck
The “big eyes” on the flying bridge allow magnified distant viewing from above the bridge.

Passageways are narrow, from deck (floor) to bulkhead (ceiling)
Passageways are narrow aboard NOAA Ship Rainier from the overhead to the deck and bulkhead to bulkhead.

Stateroom C-04-103-U
This is the view from corner to corner of stateroom C-04-103-U, one of the larger two-man staterooms on the ship, which I share with HSST John Doroba. (His is the lower bunk.)

Some of the internal communications equipment on the bridge
A phone on the bridge that gets its power from the energy of sound waves spoken into it (so that the phone still can work even if the generators fail — awesome, right??)

Ensign Micki Ream plotting a course on the bridge
Ensign Micki Ream uses old-fashioned compass-and-straightedge geometric constructions and calculations to plot a course through Hecate Strait on the bridge.

Bicycles for use ashore during liberty
Bicycles for use ashore during liberty

Port ladder to launches alongside Rainier
Launch crews usually board launch vessels by walking directly level off the deck onto the smaller boats while the davits hold the small launch vessels in place. This Jacob’s ladder is lowered to launch vessels like the skiff when they are placed in the water alongside NOAA Ship Rainier.

Fishing poles
Fishing poles, to be used only when licensed and permitted

A cool light and electric fixture
A cool-looking light and electric fixture

A hatch on the fantail
A hatch on the fantail that leads to After Steering

The winch control mechanism for the "fish"
The “fish” is a very heavy brass device that is towed on a strong Kevlar-sheathed electric cable up to 600 meters behind the ship, and it requires a sophisticated winch mechanism for casting, retrieval, and transfer of data to the computer system aboard the NOAA Ship Rainier.

A lifebuoy and the "fish"
On the fantail the “fish,” a part of the Moving Vessel Profiler (MVP), is the very heavy CTD device that is towed by winch behind NOAA Ship Rainier, usually during multi-beam sonar data acquisition. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature, and depth of the water, all of which affect the speed of sound from and to the ship’s sonar device.  (The lifebuoy is a nearby safety measure, of course.)

One of many ladders
One of many ladders (which is what staircases are called aboard ship)

The skiff secured on the fantail
The skiff secured on the fantail underneath a sign that reminds everyone of NOAA’s culture of safety

Stowage space
All stowage space is used efficiently aboard NOAA Ship Rainier.

The emergency pull station, just in case
The emergency pull station, just in case

The galley service line
The galley service line

Pyrotechnic locker for emergency flares, on the flying deck
Pyrotechnic locker for emergency flares, on the flying bridge

Launch vessels secured in starboard davits
Launch vessels secured within the starboard davits

A tie-down the port deck
Line (rope in use aboard a ship) is one of the most important tools on a ship for tying, supporting, securing, pulling, and hoisting, and so it is treated with proper respect at all times.

Warnings on the stack
Noise, fire, and heavy equipment can be dangerous if not addressed with caution, as these signs on the stack warn.

Kayaks for exploration (and sometimes recreation)
Kayaks for exploration (and sometimes recreation)

Life rafts 2 and 4 alongside the port bridge wing, with davits in the background
Life rafts 2 and 4 alongside the port bridge wing, with davits in the background

Alidade on the port bridge wing
The alidade on the port bridge wing, which is used for determining a “true” line of sight for navigation

I aligned the photos to give you a more authentic feel of passing waves.  Oh, I hope that you didn’t get seasick!  If you did, just head to the dispensary on D deck near the bow amidships, and then go on deck and look at the horizon so that your inner ears and your eyes can agree about which way actually is up.

Now that you’ve seen many random angles in no particular order — but  — maybe you also need a tour to put the whole package together into a meaningful map of NOAA Ship Rainier.  Fortunately, HAST Christiane Reiser created a video of just such a tour for visitors, and you can watch it here.

The gangplank
This is the gangway to board Rainier when the ship is docked. Uniformed personnel must salute the colors when boarding or exiting the vessel.

… And now you’re ready to come aboard!

Remember always that half the fun of the journey is getting there… but the other half is actually being somewhere.  So look at the scenery in the world around you — wherever you happen to be — as you keep exploring, my friends.

Did You Know?

Before you board a seagoing vessel, you’d better be able to talk the talk.  People on ships have a vernacular that can sound like a foreign language if you’re not familiar with the terminology, so here’s a list of some key words worth knowing before you come aboard, with definitions and descriptions from a glossary of terms provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, a partner agency of NOAA with regard to training crew members and making nautical travels safer:

  • Starboard:  The right side of the ship when facing forward.  The name is a very old one, derived from the Anglo-Saxon term steorbord, or steering-board.  Ancient vessels were steered not by a rudder amidships, but by a long oar or steering-board extended over the vessel’s right side aft.  This became known, in time, as the steering-board side or starboard.
  • Port:  The left side of the ship when facing forward.  The original term was “larboard,” but the possibility of confusing shouted or indistinct orders to steer to larboard with steering to starboard at a crucial moment was both obvious and serious.  The term was legally changed to ‘port’ in the British Navy in 1844, and in the American Navy in 1846.  The word ‘port’ was taken from the fact that ships traditionally took on cargo over their left sides (i.e., the side of the vessel facing the port).  This was probably a holdover from much earlier times when ships had steering-boards over the right side aft; obviously, you couldn’t maneuver such a vessel starboard side to the pier without crushing your steering oar.
  • Wings:  Extensions to either side of the ship.  Specifically, the port and starboard wings of the bridge are open areas to either side of the bridge, used by lookouts and for signaling.
  • Bow:  The forward end of any vessel.  The word may come from the Old Icelandic bogr, meaning “shoulder.”
  • Stern:  The rear of any vessel.  The word came from the Norse stjorn, meaning “steering.”
  • Deck:  What you walk on aboard ship.
  • Below:  Below decks, as in “going below to C Deck,” never “down.”
  • Fore:  An adverb, meaning “toward the bow.”
  • Aft:  An adverb, meaning “toward the stern.”
  • Boat:  Any small craft, as opposed to a ship, which carries boats.
  • Ship:  A general term for any large, ocean-going vessel (as opposed to a boat).  Originally, it referred specifically to a vessel with three or more masts, all square-rigged.
  • Stateroom:  An officer’s or passenger’s cabin aboard a merchant ship, or the cabin of an officer other than the captain aboard a naval ship.  The term may be derived from the fact that in the 16th and 17th centuries, ships often had a cabin reserved for royal or noble passengers.
  • Stack:  The ship’s funnel on an engine-powered vessel.
  • Bridge:  The control or command center of any power vessel.  The term arose in the mid-19th century, when the “bridge” was a structure very much like a footbridge stretched across the vessel between or immediately in front of the paddle wheels.
  • Galley:  The ship’s kitchen, where food is prepared.  The origin is uncertain but may have arisen with the ship’s cook and helpers thinking of themselves as “galley slaves.” (A galley was originally a fighting ship propelled by oars rowed by slaves, from the Latin galea.)
  • MessPart of the ship’s company that eats together, (such as the officers’ mess) and, by extension, the place where they eat.
  • Head:  The bathroom.
  • Ladder:  On shipboard, all stairs are called “ladders.”