Alex Eilers, September 1, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

Teacher at Sea Alex Eilers releasing an XBT

Teacher at Sea Alex Eilers releasing an XBT

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: September 1, 2008

Science Log

The second week has been absolutely fabulous as we found a leatherback – in fact we found three!!! This week has been all about the turtle: from identifying the biotic and abiotic conditions that define leatherback turtle habitat and foraging grounds, to tracking and tagging – we’ve done it all.

• Abiotic oceanographic data provided by scientific instruments such as XBTs (expendable bathythermographs), CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth), and water samples containing nutrient data to characterize the abiotic foraging habitats of the leatherback turtle.

Alex working with the CTD device

Alex working with the CTD device

• Net tow samples characterized the biotic conditions such as the jellyfish species prevalent in the turtle diet: moon jellies, sea nettles, and egg yolk jellies.

Alex Eilers measuring a moon jelly

Alex Eilers measuring a moon jelly

Egg yolk jelly with pipefish and larval rex sole

Egg yolk jelly with pipefish and larval rex sole

Tracking the turtles via air surveillance and handheld antenna

Tracking the turtles via handheld antenna

Aerial survellance

Aerial surveillance

Tagging a big leatherback

Tagging a big leatherback

Alex Eilers, August 31, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: August 31, 2008

Alex putting glow sticks on branch line.

Alex putting glow sticks on branch line.

August 29 – Longline fishing for swordfish

Today’s major objective was to catch swordfish for tagging using a fishing method called longlining. Longline fishing uses one main line held just below the water’s surface with several buoys.  Attached to the main line are several smaller branch lines with hooks and bait.  The branch lines extent 42 feet or 7 fathoms into the ocean.

Preparing to launch the longline is quite a sight and it requires a number of individuals, each working in unison. There is a person who baits the hooks on the branch line then hooks it to the main line, another person attaches a glow stick (used to attract the swordfish), and a third person attaches the buoy to the main line.  There are also a number of people working behind the scenes sorting lines and working the winch. After all the branch lines are hooked to the main line, the line soaks in the water for several hours – in hopes that a swordfish will take the bait.

Crew setting gear

Crew setting gear

Reeling in the line took about two hours because the line was 4 miles long and held over 200 hooks.  I thought this was an extremely long line but was told that commercial fishing vessels use between 40 to 60 miles of line with thousands of branch lines. Wow!

Unfortunately, we were unable to tag any swordfish but hope to try again on Labor Day. What an incredible experience today has been.

August 30 and 31 – Rock’n and Roll’n

Whoa, Whoa… is about all you heard me say over the past two days.  We’re going through a rough patch today – high winds and swells up to 5 or 7 meters – between 15 and 20 feet.  We sure were glad the scientific equipment was secured during the first few days – because everything that wasn’t tied down went flying – including chairs, drinks and the crew.  The closest thing I could come to describing this experience would be like riding a non-stop Disney ride.  The inclinometer reading (an instrument that is use to detect the degrees a boat rolls) recorded a maximum tilt of about 36 degrees.   To put thing into perspective, I am now typing with one hand and holding the table with the other.  Unfortunately, many of the science projects were cancelled due to high seas.  We hope to be in the calmer waters of Monterey Bay area tomorrow.

Alex Eilers, August 27, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: August 27, 2008

Everyone! Here’s the latest from my adventures at sea.

Today the crew was busy testing equipment.  We tested both long-line fishing gear and box trawl netting!  Both

tests were successful and we are looking forward to the real thing – more to come on this subject later. The picture below shows Scott Benson holding the box trawl net “catch.”  Although it looks like group of eggs, they are actually members of the jellyfish family know as ctenophores or “comb jellies.”

Jellies

Jellies

We had a successful observation session today.  I’ll introduce you to some of the “stars” of the day.

Common Dolphins were everywhere.  We saw over 100 riding the waves on the bow of our boat.  They move with great speed – especially when you are trying to take a picture of them.

Common dolphins

Common dolphins

Risso’s Dolphins – This is an unusual looking dolphin with a rounded head – unlike the traditional dolphin we all know. These creatures have numerous scratches and scars over their body from other Risso’s and from the squid they eat.  They are gray when born and gradually become white with age.

Fin Whales – OK – I must admit – We didn’t actually see the Fin Whale but we did see the whale spouts from the three that we spotted.

Jelly Fish – We were excited to see so many Jellies – a favorite food of the Leatherback.  Most looked like “Moon Jellies” but without catching them we cannot be sure of the type since there are many species.

To Do… Research one or more of the animals highlighted above.

Alex Eilers, August 24, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

In the picture, the “Big Eyes” are covered and on the left side of the picture, the antennas are directly above me.

In the picture, the “Big Eyes” are covered and on the left side of the picture, the antennas are directly above me.

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: August 24, 2008

Today we were in assembly mode and I spent the majority of my time on the flying bridge (top deck). With the help of several scientists, we cleaned and replaced the viewing seats, installed the “Big Eyes” – (the largest pair of binoculars I’ve ever seen), and assembled and tested the Turtle tracking antennas.  The “Big Eyes” will be used to help track and identify marine mammals, leatherbacks and birds near the boat.  This is especially important prior to and during the times scientists have equipment in the water so we don’t catch or injure these animals. The receiver will be used to track the Leatherback Sea Turtles who have a transmitter attached to their carapace. The good news is we are receiving reports that there is a Leatherback approximately 110 miles off the coast of Monterey – the bad news is he may not be there when we arrive.

Safety training During our first true “day at sea” we had two practice safety drills; a fire in the galley (kitchen) and an abandon ship.  The crew handled both drills quickly and efficiently.  The abandon ship drill was exciting. When the bell rang, everyone was responsible for his or her own billet (job duty). My billet required me to grab my life preserver and survival suit and muster to the O1 deck (report to an area for role call).

Survival suit

Survival suit

Training to be a VO – visual observer We started the day on the flying bridge. Karin Forney, marine mammal researcher, trained us on how to be a marine animal visual observer or VO for short.  During the first observing session, we only saw a few animals – sea lions and various birds.

I’m getting fairly good at spotting kelp beds (seaweed), however, the scientists are not interested in them, so I still need more practice identifying marine mammals.

By the afternoon, we started to see more marine life.  A large pod of common dolphins swam playfully near the ship.  This was a beautiful sight to see but not ideal for net testing. We waited 30 minutes without a mammal sighting then successfully tested the nets. As the scientists were pulling the nets aboard we spotted another smaller pod of common dolphins, some California sea lions and a small mola mola (sun fish).  All in all it was a good day!

Watching for kelp

Watching for kelp

Alex Eilers, August 21, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: August 21, 2008

Well I’ve arrived in San Diego safe and sound.  The weather here is fantastic – warm, mostly sunny and a bit breezy.  Let’s hope it stays like his throughout my time at sea.  Here is a brief outline of how I’ve been preparing for the research cruise.  I started the day at a LUTH survey orientation meeting.  LUTH stands for Leatherback Use of Temperate Habitat. Lisa Ballance, the director of Protected Resources Division and Scott Benson, Chief Scientist welcomed the entire team.  We spent the morning listening to the research planned for the trip and I was amazed at the amount of science to be conducted.  This is going to be an exciting adventure. I must admit though – I’ve got some homework to do.  I have to become more familiar with the acronyms the scientists are using, like CTD’s, TSG’s and especially XBT’s – because I have to load these this afternoon.

After lunch we piled in the vans and headed toward the ship to begin the loading process.  My assignment was to load and store the XBT’s and help load the oceanographic equipment.  And, I did my homework – I found out that the XBT stands for eXpendable BathyThermograph and they are used for the collection of oceanographic temperature data.

I took a quick break after unloading the van to pose for a picture.  I’m standing beside NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan and the real work is now beginning.  Better get busy – more to come later.  Keep checking the website.

I took a quick break after unloading the van to pose for a picture. I’m standing beside NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan and the real work is now beginning. Better get busy – more to come later.

Sue White, June 7, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
May 27 – June 7, 2008

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Assessment
Geographical Area: Central California Coast
Date: June 7, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge for Sat. 06-07-08 19:00 GMT 

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The DAVID STARR JORDAN Deck crew watches from the bow

The DAVID STARR JORDAN Deck crew watches from the bow

Science and Technology Log 

Heading for San Francisco!

The weather has again had an effect on the scheduled research tasks. As the week went on the weather deteriorated so that some nights we could only do one trawl before the waves crashing over the aft deck made it too dangerous to be out there. Safety was the primary issue in everyone’s mind on the ship – bridge officers and the scientists discussed weather conditions and forecasts and the deck crew were careful to point out safety concerns involving equipment or wearing protective clothing. Even with the ship feeling like it was doing a wild tango at one point, I felt very secure.  Last night was a complete wash as far as doing the scheduled work.  By evening the ship officers decided to stay out the night in Drake’s Bay since the peninsula would give some shelter from the wind and waves.  We used the time to prepare for a new group to come aboard in San Francisco, cleaning our staterooms and doing laundry.    

I sorted through notes and organized the dozens of photos taken over the last 12 days.  Here are some squid facts Ken Baltz, the cruise leader told me about earlier in the cruise:

  • The Humboldt squid we caught were probably around 5 months old and will only live about 1 year
  • These squid are one of the fastest growing organism
  • They have a very rapid metabolism, eating about 20% of their body weight daily vs. our human requirement of 0.5 to 1%
Keith not only can tell you the scientific name of this big cephalopod, he can identify an incredible number of ocean animals

Keith not only can tell you the scientific name of this big cephalopod, he can identify an incredible number of ocean animals

The bongo plankton tow ties in with the squid sampling in an interesting way.  It shows how all of the research coordinated on the DAVID STARR JORDAN this cruise (and really all NOAA projects) is working towards understanding what life is like in the ocean and how the distribution of organisms is changing.  One plankton sample from each bongo tow was preserved in ethanol. The other sample was preserved in formalin (a formaldehyde solution).  The rationale behind this was that formalin denatures or destroys the structure of an organism’s DNA.  The ethanol sample could be used to do genetic testing. When the samples are examined back in the lab, the researchers are hoping to find paralarvae of the Humboldt squid in the same location as the adults collected this cruise. This would give credence to the idea that they are now breeding off the coast of California, rather than in the tropics as has been the accepted understanding.  Bill and Robert (two of the volunteers on this leg of the cruise) had great questions while Ken was explaining this part of his research. Bill (and the others) had been using a fluorescent lure to “jig” for squid. Squid are attracted to the bioluminescence found in some ocean animals, like the “headlights” on a California Headlight fish.

NOAA Teacher at Sea Sue White shows how gripping life at sea can be.

NOAA Teacher at Sea Sue White shows how gripping life at sea can be.

He asked if the squid are caught in the nets because they are hoping to feed on the small fish being concentrated there. His hypothesis was to see if luminescent lures in the net would increase the number of squid caught.  Robert asked about using radioactive isotopes to label squid and then look for the radioactive label in the paralarvae as a way to see patterns in breeding. Such intriguing thinking.  I was not alone in wanting to be awake for our entry into San Francisco Bay.  We enjoyed a hot breakfast for the first time in days (and for some the first time ever on the ship!) and were invigorated by bright sunshine. Well, the sun seemed bright through the San Francisco haze after being on the night shift! Everyone was outside by the time land was sighted and we enjoyed watching the Golden Gate Bridge get closer. For days I had not noticed much traffic at sea (especially at night)  so it felt like driving into a major city in that the traffic kept increasing the closer we got to the Bay.  Huge shipping barges and small personal sailboats were all out on a beautiful Saturday morning.

The map distance from Drake’s Bay was not far, but our speed entering the bay was such that it took several hours to get around the bend and in to where the piers are in San Francisco. Just as in leaving San Diego, the ship officers were busy piloting the ship to its place at the pier.  Staff from the Santa Cruz lab were waiting to help offload specimens, some ship personnel were already off duty and looking forward to a day in the city, and my husband was patiently waiting on the pier to hear my stories of life at sea.

Personal Log 

After almost two weeks at sea it was interesting to adjust to life on land. I did feel the ground moving as I walked and especially felt phantom ocean waves when I tried to sleep or take a shower (no grab bars to steady yourself on land though!). The sounds were so different too with less of the ongoing sound of the ship engine or the air system in my stateroom and more collective noise of traffic and airplanes. I had missed the simple sounds of my backyard birds, but did not notice this until I realized how wonderful the familiar can sound.  I am brimming with new information and connections to make with classroom labs and activities.  I (and my husband) can  hardly wait until school starts so I have a new audience for my Teacher at Sea stories.

Challenge Yourself 

  • Think about the area where you live. How many people in your neighborhood can you name?  List the types of dogs that live in your neighborhood, too.
  • Name any of the birds that may fly into your area.  (Is this naming business getting harder?)
  • Name any other wildlife that may inhabit your neighborhood.  (Remember that wildlife can be small and not all will be mammals!)
  • How many insects can you identify?  Can you name specific types of one kind of insect? In other words, can you tell the difference between a monarch and swallowtail butterfly? What about a skipper and a sulfur butterfly?
  • Scientists, from experience, can name an incredible number of organisms.  Often they can even give the scientific name for exactly one species that differs only slightly from another. You can also increase your naming ability with practice… what would you like to become an expert in identifying???
A unique view below the Golden Gate Bridge

A unique view below the Golden Gate Bridge

“We can only sense that in the deep and turbulent recesses of the sea are hidden mysteries far greater than any we have solved.”     ~Rachel Carson

What mysteries will I see next?

Sue

Sue White, June 1, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Terry Welch
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
May 27 – June 7, 2008

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Assessment
Geographical Area: Central California Coast
Date: June 1, 2008

Weather Data from the Bridge for Sun. 06-01-08 04:00 GMT 

Screen shot 2013-05-24 at 7.22.35 AM

Joao Alves treats us to squid and salsa, Brazilian style.

Joao Alves treats us to squid and salsa, Brazilian style.

Science and Technology Log 

It’s shrimp night!  We continue on up the coast of California.  The transect schedule for tonight is off Point Reyes, north of San Francisco. The catch tonight surprised us (again) by being completely unique from earlier trawls. Usually the largest part of what we sort is krill.  The first night it was very strange to see all of those eyes, but now the krill just seem like background to look past as you see other colors and textures. When we spread the catch out on our trays tonight, it was an orange pink instead of the typical brownish color. The nets were loaded with market shrimp!  Joao took off with some after we sorted and came back later with boiled shrimp and cocktail sauce. This was the second time he had acted as a seafood chef for everyone. Friday night Joao brought down the squid he had saved from Tuesday and Wednesday night.  He had been marinating it in his special recipe and spent the time before his shift sautéing squid strips for us.  He had also made some salsa that was perfect with it . . . and the saltine crackers some of us were needing tonight due to the waves. It brought to mind this passage from John Steinbeck’s introduction to The Log from the Sea of Cortez: “…we could see the fish alive and swimming, feel it plunge against the lines, drag it threshing over the rail, and even finally eat it.”

Vlad Zgutnitski, Sam Brandal, and Jose' Coito ready to do a trawl

Vlad Zgutnitski, Sam Brandal, and Jose’ Coito ready to do a trawl

We have a pattern down for the nights now. The scientists, deck crew and bridge are seamless in their coordination of a trawl. Everyone knows their job now and down to who turns the deck lights off once the nets are in the water seems to be done intuitively.  As soon as the nets are brought in, the sorting starts. Big fish, or worse the big jellyfish, are caught as the nets are being rolled up.  Some fish and the jellies are measured and added to a database by location.  Jellyfish are especially hard on the nets because of their weight.  If they become too plentiful, trawls can be cancelled to keep the nets from being destroyed.

Looking for rockfish - Gabe, Ben, Keith, Bill, and Robert (left to right)

Looking for rockfish – Gabe, Ben, Keith, Bill, and
Robert (left to right)

Here is my count from one tray of catch tonight:

  • 38 Myctophid (fish)
  • 22 Californian Headlight (fish)
  • 8 Sergestid ( tiny red dot shrimp)
  • 5 Black Smelt (fish)
  • 3 Black-tip (squid)
  • 1 Blue Lantern (fish)
  • 1 Gonatus (squid)

The fish are more familiar by now.  The Myctophid and Headlight fish looked so similar at first, but now I can see the two bioluminescent dots between the eyes on the Headlight fish. With more experience, it became even more obvious that there were many differences differences, but harder when they are hidden behind the more generic krill, or in the case of tonight’s haul, the pinkish shrimp.  The rockfish (Fig. 4) also have to been identified as separate from other fish also similar in size and color.  Side by side it is easy to see that these fish that are both dark in color.

Personal Log 

Juvenile Rockfish Sebastes saxicola

Juvenile Rockfish Sebastes saxicola

The waves just keep getting rougher as the cruise progresses.  The motion onboard varies with different activities. The bars to grasp in the shower and at various places around the ship are very practical, to say the least. Sleep is an interesting process where you can wake up with tired muscles from trying to keep yourself in place! Those with more experience have said that it is physically tiring to be onboard and that we should expect to need more sleep.  It is amazing how I have adjusted to sleeping during the day now.  The volunteers have been great to work with. They are now bringing their music down to play as we sort the catch from each trawl.

Unsorted catch (krill, Sergestid shrimp, fish, squid)

Unsorted catch (krill, Sergestid shrimp, fish, squid)

It is fun to hear the eclectic playlists they have.  I have also been impressed with how well-read they are.  We have been able to talk about books that range from Steinbeck to environmental awareness.  They also enjoy the oddities we find on our sorting trays… anything with suckers must be stuck on your finger to see how long it will hold on (little squid or octopi require peeling off!)  One night we had double tailed fish.  Somehow several of the fish that night managed to get one head caught in the other’s to the point that it looked like the head was in the center with a tail going off each side.

Challenge Yourself 

  • Look at Figure 6 above. How many different types of animals do you see? (Hint: Different colors are easy to spot, but also look for different eyes since some of the animals we found were transparent!  )
  • Can you find any animals that are not fish?  We found tiny squid and octopi most nights.  Squid tended to have really big eyes for their overall size.  Most of what you see in Figure 2 is krill.
  • Describe what makes the juvenile rockfish different from the sand dab shown above.

“We can only sense that in the deep and turbulent recesses of the sea are hidden mysteries far greater than any we have solved.”     ~Rachel Carson

What mysteries will I see next?

Sue