David Madden: Preparing for Pisces 2019, July 11, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Preparing to Board NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15 – 29, 2019

Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35º30’ N, 75º19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27º00’N, 75º59’W)

Date: July 11, 2019

NOAA Ship Pisces
NOAA Ship Pisces. Photo by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Introductory Post

Personal Log:

Hello friends,

My name is David Madden. I am a high school science teacher at Maclay School in Tallahassee, FL, and I’m getting ready to go on my NOAA Teacher at Sea cruise! I recently completed my 21st year teaching – it’s been a super fun journey. I am as excited heading into year 22 as I was in years 1-5. I’ve been in love with nature since I can remember.

Madden Science logo
Madden Science logo

Over the course of my career I’ve taught: AP Biology, regular Biology, Physics, Integrated Science (bio, chem, phys combined), and Marine Biology. This upcoming year I will also be teaching AP Environmental Science. I’ve loved every minute of my job – teaching and learning with students, challenging myself and being challenged by my friends and colleagues, and exploring new adventures – like NOAA Teacher at Sea. Along the way I’ve also been a coach, helping kids learn the value of sports, including: volleyball, basketball, tennis, and track.

Over the last few years I’ve started making educational videos for my students – as a way for them to further develop their love of science and grow their scientific literacy: Madden Science on YouTube and www.maddenscience.com.

Madden family
The hardest part of the trip will be missing these two!

Starting on July 15th, 2019, I will be aboard NOAA Ship Pisces as part of the Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS). The mission of the cruise will be to conduct “applied fishery-independent sampling with chevron fish traps and attached underwater video cameras, and catch rates and biological data from SEFIS are critical for various stock assessments for economically important reef fishes along the southeast US Atlantic coast.” It’s an amazing opportunity for me to participate in important scientific research. I have the opportunity to work alongside and learn from some of the best scientists in the world.

Pisces Picture Wikipedia
NOAA Ship Pisces. Photo by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

There are so many things about NOAA Teacher at Sea that I’m looking forward to. Here’s a few:

  1. Spending time out on the ocean, experiencing the energy and power of the wild sea.
  2. Working with and learning from some of the world’s leading oceanic and atmospheric scientists.
  3. Learning about fish and marine biodiversity in the Atlantic.
  4. Asking tons of questions and hopefully learning more about the ocean and its central importance in our changing world.
  5. Sharing my experience with you; my family, friends, students, and the public.   I’ll share this adventure via this blog and also via videos I hope to create while on NOAA Ship Pisces. My goal is for these blog posts and videos to serve as a real-time record of the cruise, to be helpful and interesting right now, and also to help serve as resources for my classes and other classrooms around the world.

Neato Fact:

NOAA Ship Pisces is 209 feet (64 meters) long. To give you an idea, that’s basically 70% of a football field. That’s longer than two blue whales (~90 feet), the largest and longest animal to ever live! Usain Bolt can run that far in 6.13 seconds (assuming 9.58 s for 100 m). A starfish, traveling at 60 feet/hour, would take about 3.5 hours to travel the length of Pisces.

Madden Pisces diagram
NOAA Ship Pisces is 209 ft long.

I’d love it if you could join in with me on this adventure – please comment and ask questions. I’ll do my best to respond in a helpful and interesting way!

Stephen Kade: Oregon II Spotlight: Chelsea Parrish, August 2, 2018

Chelsea Parrish

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Stephen Kade

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 23 – August 10, 2018

Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1
Geographic Area: 30 54 760 N, 76 32 86.0 W, 40 nautical miles E of Cape Lookout, North Carolina
Date: August 2, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed 11 knots,
Air Temp: 25.c,
Visibility 10 nautical miles,
Wave height 3 foot


Spotlight: ENS Chelsea Parrish

During my NOAA Teacher at Sea experience, I have truly been inspired and impressed by how many important roles of our operation on the Oregon II are fulfilled by females. One of the most important crew members is Ensign (ENS) Chelsea Parrish who is one of our OOD’s. or Officers of the Deck. I think her story will inspire my daughter and female students to aim high for their future!

As a young child, Chelsea was inspired by her father who spent 20 years in the US Navy. She loved hearing stories about his role working aboard Navy submarines, and all of the interesting things one must do to work below the sea. After high school she attended the Savannah State University, in Georgia. She was able to train aboard the R/V Savannah where she learned about biological, chemical, physical, and geological oceanographic studies in estuaries and continental shelf waters in the southeastern US Atlantic and Gulf coasts. She earned her Bachelor degree in Biology, and received her Masters degree in Marine Science. While she didn’t need her Masters to get into her field, she knew that in the long run it would put herself above others in a highly competitive field and would be an advantage in the future.

A year into graduate school, she attended a conference, where she learned about the NOAA Corps. The NOAA Corps is one of the seven federally uniformed services of the United States, and is made up of scientifically and technically trained and commissioned officers. It was there that she met Lt. Commander Adler, whom she kept in contact with. Just a short time later, she was called for an open opportunity to join the NOAA Corps. She had 17 weeks of real world training at the Coast Guard Academy for Officer Candidate School (OCS). It was there that she learned how NOAA is different than the US Navy. The Navy focuses on various military actions, while NOAA Corps focus is on science and their motto is: “Science, Service, Stewardship”. It was then Chelsea knew she came to the right place to fulfill her professional goals.

After graduating from training, she earned her Officer of the Deck qualification aboard Oregon II in September, 2017. She will be aboard completing her assignment in January, 2019. Chelsea has many important duties to perform on the ship, including steering the ship. This entails following the chart that the CO (Commanding Officer, or Captain) has planned out to fulfill the mission of the ship. In our case the mission is long line fishing of Red Snapper and Sharks at many stations along the southeastern US and the Gulf of Mexico. While the CO is off duty, she must keep him informed of any changes that need to made to the Navigation trackline to ensure there is a safe navigational watch during her shift, which is normally 4 hours at a time.

The most common thing to happen that happens to create a change in course is foul weather, but there are many unforeseen events as well. Chelsea must study reports from the US Coast Guard which let her know various events happening in the region we are sailing. This can be other ships performing science missions, merchant navy ships of other countries in the area, oil drilling operations, or in our case yesterday, live ammunition firing exercises by the US Navy.

Chelsea Parrish
ENS Chelsea Parrish on the bridge of NOAA Ship Oregon II

Chelsea is also the environmental compliance officer aboard the ship, and she must follow specific rules set up by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to ensure Oregon II is environmentally responsible while at sea. She must be sure there aren’t any issues with fuel, garbage, or any other foreign substance being put in the ocean while at port, or at sea. She also keeps a recycling log to track all activity and incidents that occur. Chelsea also runs the ship store and keeps track of all the items to be sold to the crew and volunteers aboard the ship.

Finally, Chelsea is the go- to rescue swimmer aboard Oregon II, and is the first to jump into the ocean if there is someone overboard to be retained from our ship, or another at sea near us. I saw her in action during our drills at the beginning of our trip and I was impressed at how quickly the crew launched our rescue boat, so Chelsea could rescue our life ring that acted as our “person overboard”. She also took a 3 week class to get certified as a NOAA working scuba diver. This certification allows her to be in the ocean to find, and/or fix any issues we have with the ship while at sea that can’t be fixed from the deck or rescue boat. She is certified to dive down to 130 feet below the surface.

It certainly is impressive how much Chelsea has accomplished in her 28 years. I hope this post inspires all my students, but especially the girls to go out into the world and do anything they can dream of, as that is exactly what Chelsea did. When her time aboard Oregon II is over, Chelsea plans to be a Cetacean Photogrammetry Specialist in La Jolla, California. She will be getting to get her FAA drone license to fly hexacopter drones from ships. Her duties will be to find, count and track marine mammals such as seals, dolphins, and whales. She said she loves helping NOAA fulfill their mission of helping marine animals and data collecting to further the study of these creatures and helping ensure their survival in the future.

Personal Log:
Now that I am almost a week into the survey, I am starting to fall into the rhythm  of working on the ship. The 12 hour work days are certainly long, but we do get breaks between stations to rest, converse, and prepare for the next run. If it’s a good station and we haul in a lot of catch, we often spend time talking about each of the things we caught and become like kids on Christmas if it’s something new and interesting. We also spend time logging all the data we collect into the computer for later research on land.
We have seen just about all the different weather scenarios you could imagine, and have endured bright, 93 degree cloudless days, and windy days with 6 foot waves and pouring rain. We’ve had to call off a few stations until our way back south down the coast due to  poor conditions, because on all NOAA ships, the motto is “Safety First”. The real trick is working during the big wave conditions and learning how to function as a human being while the boat is rocking and rolling all about for the entire day. I’m getting better at anticipating where my next step will land and compensating for the constant shifting gravity under my feet. It will make walking on earth again seem so easy!
Animals Seen Today: Sandbar sharks, Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Blue Line Tile Fish, Grouper, Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, Squid


Denise Harrington: Big Sharks Bite, Itty Bitty Sharks Intrigue – May 11, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces (In Port)
May 04, 2016 – May 12, 2016


Date: Saturday, May 11, 2016

Dr. Trey Driggers shares a great white shark jaw with me.  Photo courtesy of Kevin Rademacher

My children sometimes complain when they find a bird in the freezer next to their frozen waffles.  Yet in Pascagoula, Mississippi, relentless digging in the freezer is how discoveries are made.

Mark Grace, in his office.

Mark Grace has been a biologist with NOAA for 30 years.  If he counted all his time at sea, excluding volunteer and international research, he spent “seven solid years floating.” Out of 200 surveys with NOAA, he was the field party chief for 41 of those projects.  In all of those years, he had never discovered a new species, almost no one ever does.   Yet, in 2013, he discovered an extremely rare, tiny species of pocket shark that had been identified only one other time, in 1979 off the coast of Peru.

pocket shark
This photo of the pocket shark shows its remarkable pocket, just behind the pectoral fin, and some skin damage in front of the eye that may have occurred from the pressure of being harvested from the depths.  Credit J. Wicker NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC

Scientists happened to find the 5 ½ inch shark while doing research on sperm whale feeding habits in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.    The pocket, unnoticed at first, is what makes this shark so unique. Jesse Wicker took this photo in 2010, aboard NOAA Ship Pisces during the whale survey while processing mountains of sea creatures.  Scientists must pay meticulous attention to detail as they document and photograph specimens at sea.  You never know when your photo may prove crucial to scientific discovery.

The Discovery

The specimens collected in 2010 were identified and then placed in freezers to preserve them for further analysis.

freezer of fish
Photo courtesy of Mark Grace

Mark began to work through the specimens, but it took much longer than he had imagined.  He’d undo a bag, and there would be a hundred fish to process. Each bag seemed bottomless.  By the time Mark got to the last bags, the shark had been in the freezer for three years, eight months.  Brrr…..

Yet he knew the fish weren’t worth much if they stayed in the freezer. He was particularly interested in the cookie cutter shark named after the cookie shaped bites they leave in their prey.  He kept on.

cookie bite
NOAA photo The round mark left on the back of this toothed whale is a telltale sign of a cookie cutter shark, such as this one below.

cookie cutter shark

Cookie Cutter Shark, NOAA’s Fisheries Collection, Photo taken aboard NOAA Ship Pisces.

A shark caught his eye. The shark was identified as belonging to the Dalatiidae family (kitefin sharks), many of whom share luminescent features.

pocket shark bottom
Kitefin shark harvested in 2010 aboard Pisces. Credit: J. Wicker NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC 2010

Yet this shark did not look like the other cookie cutter sharks he had studied.  It had a remarkable fold of skin behind the pectoral fin that did not look like an injury or parasite.  Once Mark saw a matching feature behind the other fin, he realized this shark was like no other species he had ever seen.  Looking in his reference books, he could not find this shark, because it did not exist in any book on his shelf.

Photo credit: Mark Grace – The pockets behind the pectoral fin of the 2010 specimen.

pocket shark diagram

Over hundreds of millions of years, shark adaptations have helped them survive.  They have become smoother, faster, and better at sensing out their prey.  Many sharks have the hard, smooth, scales on their skin called denticles that increase their speed and reduce noise, just like my friend’s fast blue Sterling fiberglass kayak compared to my noisy, orange, plastic Avocet kayak.

Just below the snout, this shark had has a translucent denticle, or scale, at the center of surrounding denticles, giving the appearance of a flower.

pocket shark denticle
Magnified photo of modified denticle.

Mark hypothesized that this unique adaptation might be a pit organ, used to sense currents, or prey.  Scientists have many thoughts about the purposes for this organ.  Each unique feature of the shark inspired Mark to research further.

bioluminescent creatures
Composite of images of bio luminescent species collected with pocket shark by Mark Grace.

One adaption many creatures of deep ocean waters is they glow.  Small photophores, or organs on their body, emit light and signals to communicate with other animals.  In this picture, Mark created a composite of several of the other glowing animals that were pulled up in the trawl net with the pocket shark (middle).

In 30 years, he had never seen a species this rare.  A vitelline scar, like the belly button of a human, indicated that the five and a half inch fish was only a few days to no more than a few weeks old when it was born near the place it was harvested. It was a baby. There had to be at least one other fish like it somewhere in the world.

Connections to others

After a little research, Mark connected this pocket shark with the only other pocket shark ever recorded, in 1979 off the coast of Peru and Chile in the east Pacific Ocean.  His research was particularly challenging because Dolganov, the scientist who first identified the new species pocket shark, wrote up his findings in 1984, in Russian.  Mark had to find a Russian scientist to translate the document to English.


Sheiko pocket shark
The only other known pocket shark, harvested in 1974, is not in great condition.  Photo 2013, Boris Sheiko


pocket shark with ruler
Look at those unique photophore clusters on the shark’s underside.  Photo credit: J. Wicher NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC, 2010

The older pocket shark was a female, and probably an adult, at 20 inches long. Between the two sharks, there were many similarities, but also many differences.

In second grade, we like to make Venn Diagrams in situations such as these.  So I drew this one, comparing the shark harvested in 1974 to the shark harvested in 2010.

Once again, I find myself swirling in a sea of questions.  Are these two pocket sharks, which lived far away from each other, of the same species?  Are their morphological (physical) differences enough to make them unable to reproduce with each other?  Scientists ask similar questions to determine if they have found a new species.

What makes a species unique?

Species identification is no easy task.  Mark reached out to experts, as we all do, with his questions.  At the Hollings Marine Laboratory, Gavin Naylor began to collaborate with Mark as part of his global effort to collect DNA of all living things.  He added the pocket shark to the portion of the tree of life he manages at Sharksrays.org.  John Denton, of the American Museum of Natural History, and Michael Doosey and Henry Bart from the Tulane University Biodiversity Research Institute became part of this group of five scientists who would be connected for life through this 5 ½ inch shark. Together they read many books, sliced and diced the shark digitally, and traveled around the world to meet with other biological explorers. They determined that the specimen collected in the Gulf of Mexico, like specimen in the east Pacific, was a pocket shark, Mollisquama.

pocket shark ct
This three dimensional image obtained by Gavin Naylor through a high resolution CT scan at the Hollings Marine Laboratory allows Mark and Gavin to share their research digitally, with scientists around the world, while keeping the baby pocket shark intact.


The American Museum of Natural History in New York used a three dimension printer to obtain a model of the shark from the CT scan.

The most intriguing part of the scientists’ research lies in the title of their work, hidden in Latin: Mollisquama sp., the name for our Gulf of Mexico baby, and Mollisquama parini, its Russian relative. I notice that the second part of their name is different! Yet in order to establish our shark as a new species of Mollisquama, these scientists will have to write a paper that is “strong enough to withstand many layers of peer review,” says Mark. They will need to demonstrate that the physical differences (e.g. teeth and vertebrae) are significant enough to support a new species identification.

If they are successful in proving their pocket shark is different than its eastern Pacific Ocean relative, what should he name this species of shark?  Mark suggests an international competition, as it will take many minds “to be good enough for NOAA.”

Mark reminds us that when we learn about this shark, we realize that the one great interconnected ocean and its inhabitants are a still a place of mystery and discovery.  We have much more to learn about the ocean and its inhabitants than we know.

Personal Log

Often the greatest discoveries come when you least expect them, hiding in expectations dashed, problems, or the path less traveled. While the Pisces was scheduled to depart last week, the crew continues to work on long and short term projects on the ship and in the lab.

me on screen

Photo courtesy of William Osborn

I am being supervised by Engineering Department Chief “Chief” Brent Jones, on one of many cameras around the ship, as I “assist” the engineering crew get through their list of duties.  His words of wisdom? “Hands off!”

Here, Dana Reid, General Vessel Assistant, and I are opening up the aft valve, so that Travis Martin can switch out the strainers in the main water system.  Dirty strainers get hosed out at least every other day.  Today we caught a small eel in the strainer.

righty tighty

Photo Courtesy of William Osborn


cleaning the strainer

Travis Martin, TAS Denise Harrington, and Dana Reid are switching out the strainer, while Farron “Junior” Cornell, Fisherman, photo bombs us.

Acronyms abound at NOAA, and teachers are affectionately referred to, not by our names, but as “TAS,” for Teacher at Sea.  I’d like to name a new species of this family of adventuresome NOAA educators, “TIP” for those Teachers in Port who adapt by learning about all the amazing discoveries that take place on land following successful projects at sea.  I want to extend a big thank you to Mark Grace and the fishery biologists in the lab who did not know they’d be hosting a TIP.

While in port, I have been able to explore the various land based habitats which are much easier to study than their underwater counterparts. Standing on the water’s edge at David Bayou, I wondered how the area would look from a kayak.  I posted a message to the Mississippi Kayak Meetup Group. Both Eric and Keigm Richards and their friends responded, sharing their knowledge and boats, showing me parts of the watershed very few people see. Coincidentally, Eric was one of the talented NOAA Ship Pisces builders, and knows everything from the finest detail of an itty bitty kayak skeg, to the gigantic architecture and versatile features of the Pisces.

Here is a slideshow of the one of the most unspoiled, diverse and scenic estuaries I’ve paddled.

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Most of the were taken by Eric.  Notice the changes in vegetation as we travel away from mouth of the Pascagoula River, up the estuary.  The decreasing salinity has a remarkable effect on the flora and fauna of the area.  Mississippians are proud of the Pascagoula, “the last unimpeded river system in the continental United States.” http://ltmcp.org/pascagoula-river-watershed.


Most, around 80%, of the creatures in the water column are bio-luminescent, or emit light.  They can vomit out the glowing liquid, hold and release it from a pouch, and/or send it out through photophores (organs like eyes which emit light instead of collecting it).


Kelly Dilliard: Day 1 and 2, May 17, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kelly Dilliard
Onboard NOAA Ship
 Gordon Gunter
May 15 – June 5, 2015

Mission: Right Whale Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northeast Atlantic Ocean
Date: May 17, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Pressure:  1018.34 millibars
Air Temperature: 11.3 degrees C
Wet Bulb Temperature: 11.0 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 97%
Wind Speed: 10.4 knots
Wind Direction: 33. 69 degrees

Science and Technology Log

The Right Whale cruise that I am on has several objectives.  The main objective is to collect photo identification and biopsy samples of baleen whales, specifically Right Whales and Sei Whales, and apply dermal tags to the whales via small boats (RHIB = Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) launched from the stern on the Gordon Gunter.

Once the targeted whales are tagged, a team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) will conduct oceanography sampling around the tagged whales using a CTD (which measures conductivity, temperature, and depth).  The CTD will be deployed every 20 minutes for as long as the tag stays on the whale and will collect vertical profile data including conductivity, temperature, depth, and information about zooplankton using a video plankton recorder (VPR) and an optical plankton counter (OPC).

Zooplankton will also be sampled via ring nets off the ship or the small boats.  Another objective is to do visual scans and report observations from the observation deck via large binoculars referred to as “big eyes”.  These observations will be tied into acoustical data being collected by two autonomous vehicles, referred to as gliders, which are surveying the Great South Channel, and sonabouys that can be deployed from the ship or small boats.  The gliders can detect and classify the calls of various baleen whales almost in real time.  Today let’s talk about identification of various marine mammals that we have seen and might see on this cruise.  In future blogs we will look into the acoustics of marine mammals and zoo plankton.

Every day there is a watch schedule with three scientists on watch at once, unless there is fog, and then there is only one monitoring the weather.  These scientists stand above the bridge with two big eyes, one on the port side (left) and one on the starboard side (right).  The third scientist is stationed at the computer inputting sightings.

Via the big eyes, you can record the bearing of the sighting, somewhere between 270 and 90 degrees, and the distance of the sighting, in reticles.  The binoculars are at 25 power, that is an object looks 25 times larger than seen with the naked eye.  The scientists are on the half hour rotation between the three stations, starting with the port side, then the computer, then starboard side.  Watch starts at 6 am and ends at 8 pm (or until it gets dark).  Data collected for a sighting includes the type of animal (right whale, sei whale, minke whale, unidentified dolphin, unidentified whale, etc…), number seen, number of calves, swim direction, certainty of identification, and what was the indicator (blow, breach, body…).  So in order to help out with watch, one needs to learn how to recognize the different species that one might see.

Me standing at the big eyes scope on watch.  (photo taken by Divya )
Me standing at the big eyes scope on watch. (photo taken by Divya Panicker)

The target species of the cruise are North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis), which are an endangered species and are protected under both the U.S Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Right whales are identified by: their “V” shaped blow, a large head with an arched jaw, black and white patterns on the head (callosities are the white), and no dorsal fin or hump.

North Atlantic Right Whale drawing. Note the curved jaw and the white callosities. (image from Duke University – OBIS Seamap)

Another targeted species are sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis), which are another endangered species.  Sei whales are large whales reaching almost 19.5 meters (64 feet) long.  Sei whales are identified by: their pointed head with one ridge, a tall dorsal fin, and seeing the blow and the dorsal fin at the same time.

Sei whale drawing (from BBC news).

Other whales include humpback whales, fin whales, and minke whales.  Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are identified by: knobs on their head, white or black undersides (ventral), a low dorsal fin with a broad base that can have distinct nicks or scarring, an S-shaped fluke with a distinct notch, and unique white or black coloring on the ventral side of their fluke.  Humpback whales also tend to breach (come up out of the water) and flap their tails and flippers.  Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) are commonly mistaken for Sei Whales and vice versa.

Luckily the data collected usually groups the two whales, fin/sei.  Fin whales have a dorsal fin that sits far back, like a sei whale.  They have a lower, white right jaw and a chevron pattern behind their blowhole.  Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) have a pointed head with a ridge, they are small in size, and have a pointed fluke.  Their blow is not usually seen.  Other marine mammals that can be seen include dolphins (various species) and seals.

Humback whale
Drawing of a humpback whale courtesy of NOAA Fisheries: West Coast Region.

Fin whale drawing. (Image from University of California – San Diego)

Minke whale drawing. (image from NOAA PMEL Acoustics Program)

Personal Log

Today is day three on the ship.  We set sail from Newport, RI on Friday at 5 pm and headed towards the Great South Channel, which is located to the southeast of Cape Cod between the Nantucket Shoals and Georges Bank.  Both the Nantucket Shoals and Georges Bank are remnants of past glaciations and have been subsequently modified by marine transport.  The Great South Channel provides a link between the Gulf of Maine and the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and is funnel-shaped with a wider and deeper end toward the north and the Gulf of Maine.  Water flowing in the channel results in the upwelling of nutrients and zooplankton that whales, especially right whales, like to feed on.  The autonomous acoustic gliders picked up signals of whales in the area so we headed towards those waypoints.

Map of Great South Channel
Bathymetric map showing the location of the Great South Channel with reference to the Nantucket Shoals and Georges Bank. The ship path is shown in red (map is from Saturday, May 16th).

We had a beautiful day on Saturday, May 16th.  We woke up to glassy water and blue skies.  The watch started around lunchtime and we had an active day of spotting whales and other marine animals.  We saw humpback whales, minke whales, fin whales and sei whales.  We also saw lots of dolphins playing, a seal or two and some basking sharks.  Towards the later afternoon/early evening we came across a group of sei whales and we stopped the ship to observe.  A sonabouy was deployed in the midst of the whales.  It was a fun experience watching these whales swim around the sonabouy for hours (marked by a small orange blow-up float).  Last light, three of the scientists saw two right whales, recognized by their distinct V-shaped blow.

Sei whales
Sei whales swimming around the orange float of the deployed sonabuoy.  (Images taken under permit NEFSC MMPA number 17355.)

In the middle of the afternoon we performed the safety drills, including mustering on the correct deck with our life jacket and immersion suit, also known as the “gumby suit”.  We then went back to our rooms and had to put on our “gumby suit” in under a minute, without assistance.  This is not an easy feat and after doing it once with a large size (which was way to big for me), I had to do it again with a small size.

Gumby suit
Me in a “gumby suit”. (Photo taken by Suzanne Yin)

Sunday, May 17th, we woke to the ships’ foghorn.  We had fog for most of the morning and off and on during the day.  When fog occurs the person who would normally be on the computer (the center) is stationed up on the bridge observing the weather.  I was a bit intimidated about going on the bridge, but once there had some wonderful conversations with the Captain and several of the crew.  I ended up spending an hour and half up there (well past my shift).  Today was not as active with whales, but we saw several dolphins playing off the bow of the ship.

Whale #1
Whale #1  (Images taken under permit NEFSC MMPA number (17355)

Whale #2
Whale #2  (Images taken under permit NEFSC MMPA number (17355)

Whale #3
Whale #3 (Images taken under permit NEFSC MMPA number (17355)

Elise Olivieri, May 18, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elise Olivieri
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp 
May 9 – 20, 2009 

Mission: Sea Scallop Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwest Atlantic
Date: May 18, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Air Temperature: 10.44 Degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1020 mb
Humidity: 62 %

Scallops and sea stars
Scallops and sea stars

Science and Technology Log 

Today was a great day. It was a little cooler than usual but many tasks were accomplished.  I am now able to identify almost every species of fish that comes up in the dredge. I know how to run events and my night watch team works together in harmony.  Everything ran so smoothly today, and I believe it is all due to the fact that we get along so well. I have become good friends with everyone on my watch and some day crew as well.  Relationships are important when you’re living with all different people in close quarters.

I had a chance to talk with Steve Ellis today. He is a port agent for NOAA Fisheries North East Regional Office. He works with management plans and is a Fisheries Reporting Specialist.  Port agents like Steve are stationed where major commercial activity is located.  He works under the fisheries statistics office and monitors commercial fisheries landing in order to supply data for proper fisheries management.  Steve tracks fishery events and maintains reporting requirements that operate in U.S. waters. This helps the government get quota for different species of fish along with their age and growth. This also becomes a part of our Gross National Product.  Steve also helps interpret regulations and provides a link between fishermen and managers. 

Glenn Rountree (left) and I sorting the animals in our buckets
Glenn Rountree (left) and I sorting the animals in our buckets

I also got a chance to sit and talk with Glynn Rountree. He is a volunteer on this NOAA Sea Scallop Survey and he has been volunteering on many cruises since graduate school. So far he has been a volunteer on at least 50 cruises for the Environmental Protection Agency and NOAA. Glynn has a Master’s Degree in Oceanography and is very helpful in answering almost any question you have about various animals and fish. Glynn worked in research administration for 8 years, and now has a job with environmental regulation of home building.  It is important to understand that you do not have to be a scientist to work in a science field.  There are so many significant issues that will affect us directly that it is very important we stay educated on issues like global warming, climate change, and endangered species. We need more college students studying these issues not business administration.

Animals Seen Today 

Windowpane Flounder, Fluke, Sea Cucumber, Gulf Stream Flounder, and Fourspot Flounder. 

Methea Sapp-Cassanego, July 19, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Methea Sapp-Cassanego
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
July 19 – August 8, 2007

Mission: Marine Mammal Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: July 19, 2007

NOAA Ship Delaware II
NOAA Ship Delaware II

Delaware II: Ship Specifications 
Length: 155ft
Breadth: 30ft
Draft 16.6 ft
Hull: Welded steel
Displacement: 891 tons
Cruising Speed: 10 knots
Range: 5,300 nm
Endurance: 24 days
Commissioned Officers: 4
Licensed Engineers: 3
Crew: 10 Scientists: 14 (Max)
Launched: December 1967
Commissioned: March 12th 1975
Builder: South Portland
Engineering, S. Portland Maine

I arrived in Woods Hole Massachusetts at 10:30 pm and rolled my luggage up and down the main street trying to find the DELAWARE II.  Following a not so encouraging conversation with a bus station security officer who said to me “The DELAWARE II never docks here”, I managed to indeed find the ship that would be home for the next 3 weeks.

A large tiger shark awaits examination and tagging
A large tiger shark awaits examination and tagging

Over the course of a calendar year, the DELAWARE II will be at sea for ~200 days during which a crew of 17 will attend to her maintenance and operation.  Most of its crew members are hired via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA; 6 of which work on deck, 4 others serve as engineers, 2 work in the galley, 1 serves as an electronic technician, and 4 more are NOAA  Corp officers. These officers are in charge of ship operations and manage all other operations which are carried out on board.  The DELAWARE II conducts a variety of fishery and marine resource research in support of NOAA. The ship has also been utilized to carry out research conducted by private entities, such as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the US Geological Survey in addition to other government agencies and universities.  Typically DELAWARE specializes in 5 different survey projects which are as follows:


The Northeast Ecosystems Monitoring Survey monitors the Northeast continental shelf by assessing both its physical and biological aspects.  For example, one of the methodologies employed during this survey uses a set of Bongo tows which are designed to catch plankton, small fish fry, larvae, and other small invertebrates.  These minuscule creatures are the foundations for most of the ocean’s food webs and therefore their populations are used to indicate and predict the overall health of the ecosystem.  The Northwest survey is conducted on a repetitive basis so that these populations may be monitored over time, thus enabling researchers to monitor changes over time.

A smaller tiger shark will receive a tag before being released as part of the ongoing Apex predator survey
A smaller tiger shark will receive a tag before being released as part of the ongoing Apex predator survey

Apex Predator Survey is conducted every three years and is designed to assess the relative abundance, distribution, population structure, species composition, and to tag sharks so that migration patterns may be studied.  Sharks are captured via longlining and then released after tagging and biological samples have been gathered.

Atlantic Herring Hydroacoustic Survey combines a variety of advanced technologies including multi-frequency echo integration, omni-directional sonar, and underwater video to assess hearing populations. The stability of herring populations is central to the sustainability of many commercial fisheries as well as the ecosystem as a whole.

Ocean Quahog and Surf Clam Survey conducts dredges through the silty and/or sandy portions of the ocean floor where these filter feeding bivalves dwell. Such dredges enable researchers to calculate relative abundances and thus derive sustainability yields.  Since both the ocean quahog and surf clam are edible bivalves, they are of commercial value and contribute to the economic stability of the Atlantic fisheries.  The surf clam is especially coveted in the restaurant and other food industries for making clam strips and chowders. The ocean quahog has a stronger flavor and is used in recipes where the clam is used in conjunction with other strong flavored ingredients like pasta dishes.  (who knew you would get a cooking lesson here) Also of significance is the reproductive biology of the quahog: This bivalve is extremely slow growing and long lived, it does not reach maturity for 20 years and will live up to 200 years.  Those that are eaten are typically between 40-100 years old.

Marine Mammal, Large Whale Biology aims to examine the relative abundance and distribution of the Atlantic’s large whales.  A variety of data gathering methodology is used, ranging from visual and photographic recording to biopsy sampling for genetic studies. Studies which focus on the whales’ food abundance are also included in this survey.

Commanding Officer (CDR) Richard Wingrove
Commanding Officer (CDR) Richard Wingrove

So who’s in charge of all this nautical navigation and science? As one can imagine there is allot going on aboard the DELAWARE II at any given time.  Of course, numerous highly trained personnel insure that the engines work, that everyone gets three meals a day, that the toilets flush, that scientific protocols are being met, and that we are on course. But one individual is ultimately responsible for the coordination of these individual efforts. During my tenure aboard the DELAWARE II that role was fulfilled by the Commanding Officer (CDR) Richard Wingrove.  CDR Wingrove has spent a lifetime working in, and studying marine environments.  After earning a degree in Marine Science from the University of Miami, the Commander joined the Peace Corp and was stationed on the Caribbean island of Antigua. As a fisheries officer for the Peace Corp, his job was to monitor fishing practices while helping fishermen develop and implement techniques that would improve their catches. Following his service in the Peace Corp, CDR Wingrove went to work as a Satellite Oceanographer for the private sector; it was during this job that he happened to attend a conference and met a NOAA officer:  Soon after, it was on to officer training school in Fort Eustis, Virginia where after 5 months of training, officers emerge with the foundational knowledge to navigate the seas and drive a ship.  

Following completion of officer training, CDR Wingrove was appointed to the NOAA Ship MILLER FREEMAN which is stationed in Alaska.  After enjoying the northern latitudes for two years, NOAA then sent him back to his home state of Florida where he worked in the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.  Following two years in the sanctuary he returned to the Western Seaboard and set to work on the NOAA Ship JOHN N. COBB which is stationed out of Seattle.  Again, after two years of surveying salmon, killer whales and other marine mammals CDR Wingrove was headed back to the Eastern Seaboard. This time he would spend three years based in Miami where his job was to oversee oil spill responses for South Carolina, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean.   As he explained to me, working to clean up such an event is a rather delicate job since each of the involved entities including the company who spilt the oil, state agencies, federal agencies, and community leaders are each represented by their own biologists, ecologists, scientists, and researchers which then assess the spill, evaluate its impacts, and determine how the clean up should be executed. CDR Wingrove’s job was to take all the data and information presented to him by each of the involved parties, and then coordinate their findings in order to determine a course of action for clean-up, as well as monitor the clean-up process.

After three years of cleaning up other peoples’ messes CDR Wingrove was appointed as Executive Officer aboard the NOAA Ship DELAWARE II. He worked aboard the DELAWARE for two years before being sent to the Great Lakes area where he spent another three years coordinating the clean-up oil spills.  Then once again he was headed back to the DELAWARE II this time as the ships Commanding Officer.  CDR Wingrove will finish his service aboard the DELAWARE II in May yet he does not know where NOAA will send him next.  Regardless of the locale I have little doubt that CDR Wingrove will continue his legacy of service to the natural world and to all whom benefit from healthy seas.

Brenton Burnett, June 28, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Brenton Burnett
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
June 26 – July 6, 2006

Mission: Shark Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: California Coast
Date: June 28, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 300 degrees
Wind speed:  17 kts
Sea wave height: 2-3’
Swell wave height: 3’
Seawater temperature: 19.6 degrees C
Sea level pressure:  1015 mb
Cloud cover: Scattered clouds

A National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) tag and insertion  tool.
NOAA Fisheries tag and insertion tool

Science and Technology Log 

Dr. Kohin, our chief scientist, tapped me to assist on the shark platform this morning!  This means I helped remove the hook from sharks’ mouths and helped with the tagging.  Note: I didn’t get bit once nor was I lost overboard.  And the sharks did well, too. There are many tasks that lead up to shark tagging and hook removal.  As the long line is drawn in by electric winch, one member of the science team unclips the gangion (or the buoy) and passes it on to others for stowing. If no catch was made on that hook (which is the case most of the time), the bait has to be removed before stowing.  If there is a shark, however, it is walked “on its leash” to the stern (back) of the ship to the shark platform where Russ Vetter and Rand Rasmussen  (and often Suzy Kohin though she is also busy coordinating the efforts of everyone) work to collect data and release the animal.  Others record data and provide the materials necessary for tagging.  As is often the case when conducting scientific research, much of this work can be repetitive.  But when something comes in on the line, or when something unexpected happens like when a gangion is twisted on a line, there is lots of activity and excitement.

A ROTO tag clamp.
A ROTO tag clamp.

To be sure, the most excitement is on the shark platform.  This 4 foot by 8 foot (approximate) platform is connected along its long side to the shark trough. The shark platform is accessed from the deck by a large chute that is as wide as the platform is long.

The shark trough is lowered just under the water until the shark (still on the line) can be maneuvered into the shark trough by Russ.  Once there, Russ and Rand are quick to hold down the shark so that they can safely work on it.  Rand uses a small thick blanket to cover the shark’s mouth and sharp teeth.  Before releasing the animal, however, he needs to remove the hook.  While the two of them hold the shark, another person (which was me this morning) cuts the hook or wire lead. By this time the sex of the shark has been determined.  This is easily accomplished by observing the rear underside of the shark— two finger like “claspers” near the pelvic fins are present if the shark is a male.  The last step before releasing the shark is to measure its length.  A meter stick along the edge of the trough makes this an easy task.

SPOT tags being programmed for use.
SPOT tags being programmed for use.

If the shark is a mako or a thresher, however, a number of other tasks are undertaken before hook removal and release of the shark. First, a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)”spaghetti tag” is attached just forward and to the side of the dorsal fin. These are “conventional tags” which give the animal a number and provide an address to send the tag to if the animal were recaught.  The spaghetti tag is barely more than a plastic wire attached to a pointed piece of metal.  To insert it, a small incision is first made in the shark’s back.  Then, using an awl shaped tool, the metallic portion of the tag is wedged through the incision just under the skin. Because these tags may not stay in for life, a backup tag is also used.  These are called ROTO tags and they are attached directly to the dorsal fin. Sharks returned with ROTO tags also indicate to researchers that oxytetracycline has been injected into the shark. These tags, like others, contain reward information for the return of specimens or information about them.

For larger and healthier sharks, satellite tags, of which there are two, may be attached to the shark. The SPOT tag (smart position and temperature tag) is a bit thinner and smaller than a computer mouse.  Attached to the dorsal fin (in lieu of the ROTO tag), the SPOT tag has two metal washers on its exterior.  If the shark rises to the surface, with its dorsal fin out of the water, these washers dry long enough to disrupt the electrical current that normally passes between them through the water.  This cues the tag to transmit the shark’s position to a satellite.  Using these tags costs more than $2,000 each, so it is important to use them with animals that are large enough to receive them and ones who are in good health.

PAT tags ready for use.
PAT tags ready for use.

If a shark receives a SPOT tag, a PAT tag (popoff and archival tag) will also be attached. The PAT tag records water temperature, depth and light levels at one minute intervals. After a few months or some other specified time, the tag is designed to pop off and float to the surface.  At that time the tag transmits a summary of its data collection to researchers via satellite.  If the PAT tag can actually be recovered, the full set of data at its full resolution can be retrieved.

It is interesting to note that light levels act as a proxy for time of day given that noon and midnight can easily be determined from them.  And, in turn, this information can be translated into a longitudinal position as one notes the shift of day time from the location of tagging. Light level can also be used to determine latitude as on all days except those nearest the equinoxes, the length of day is dependent upon how far one is north or south.

Between the SPOT and PAT tags, the horizontal as well as vertical movement of the animal can be tracked over a period of time.  Using only conventional tags, only one additional location can be mapped, and that only with a recatching of the animal. With these methods, it is hoped that the travels of these young makos and threshers, will be better understood as they feed and breed.

Personal Log 

Every day has been exciting, but today helping on the shark platform has topped it all.  I was lucky, too, as that set was the most productive, so far.  We caught 57 sharks on 202 hooks—a pretty good batting average.  And five of these were makos.  We also caught a larger thresher shark, rare out this far.  I was thrilled to think I’d get to see this guy up close, but alas it was not to be. The thresher threw the hook and escaped—the big one got away! Fortunately, later in the trip we’ll likely be more in thresher waters!