Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 29, 2023
Latitude: 39° 9′ 0.6084” N
Longitude: 123° 12′ 28.0332” W
Air Temperature: 29.4° Celsius
Science and Technology Log
Sharks use many senses to hunt their prey. For long range hunting, they use smell and detecting pressure changes, similar to hearing. They are famous for having a keen sense of smell. Some studies conclude that they can, in theory, detect blood at 1 per 20 million parts in water. So, they clearly use smell to hunt. They also have a keen sense of “hearing.” They can detect some low frequency sounds, the kind made by injured fish, from a kilometer away.
As sharks get closer to their prey, they use their eyesight. While they see in black and white, they can see well unless it is nighttime or if the water is cloudy.
They also have a sense that humans do not. They have a lateral line along the side. This is a series of canals that helps them detect vibrations in the water.
As the shark closes in on the prey, sharks engage their ability to detect slight electrical impulses, electrosense. For this they use their ampullae of Lorenzini. These are pores on the skin that lead to canals filled with a conductive gel containing keratan sulphate. They can detect the electrical impulses that are given off by other fish. Some sharks use this sense to find fish that are hidden under sand on the ocean floor.
Sharks may use their sense of touch by bumping into a potential prey target. Finally, they might use their sense of taste to decide if their target is indeed food.
As I return to my own teaching position in a classroom, I continue to reflect back on how everyone on board NOAA Ship Oregon II took all of the volunteers under their wing to “show them the ropes,” and teach them more than they could have learned in any classroom. It was clear that the whole crew was proud and eager to share their own specialty with us. For me, I was poking my nose into every nook and cranny, looking for stories to include in my blog. I was always welcomed with a smile and regaled with great stories. Far too many to include in my blog. I was impressed with the detailed and patient answers to my basic questions. This included not only the professional NOAA scientists and crew but also the other volunteers on board as I was the only one on the science crew who was a novice in marine biology. So, thank you Josh, Cait, Hannah, Macie and John.
But I was not the only one to be tutored in the details of life on the ship. Trey Driggers spent many hours discussing shark science with the other volunteers. The NOAA Corps members joined in the hauls and shared their experiences with the other volunteers. Their friendliness, openness and supportive presence added a lot to the team. They shared their own career journeys and at least one of the volunteers is seriously considering joining the NOAA Corps. John Brule, a volunteer, was working on his dissertation on parasites. (I am a convert. Parasites are fascinating and well deserving of detailed scientific study.) He engaged with the other volunteers on wide ranging subjects and guided them on dissections.
The fishing/deck crew readily discussed not only their jobs and experiences but also shared their knowledge of fish behavior and how weather conditions affect the likely catch.
In the end, of all the amazing things I experienced, my most enduring memories are of people sharing their love of their chosen field, reaching out to guide and teach the novices. It is really people, connecting to others, that makes an education impactful.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 7, 2023
Air Temperature: 31° Celsius
Wind Speed: 12.01 knots
Navigating NOAA Ship Oregon II is at once one of the most important and complex tasks on board. It is in motion 24 hours a day and must have skilled individuals to keep the crew safe and accomplish the mission of the survey. I spoke with Commander Adam Reed, Acting Commanding Officer, and Lieutenant Commander Rachel Pryor, Executive Officer, about this task.
Oregon II operates on two engines with one propeller (prop). It has a controllable pitch prop. This means that the pitch of the blades can be changed in order to change speed or even reverse the direction of the ship. The rudder turns the ship to port or starboard. There are also bow thrusters that turn the bow one way or the other.
There are a variety of devices that the navigator uses to know where the ship is, and to stay on course. They have two different GPS devices, in case one goes out. Additionally, they have a magnetic compass as well as a gyrocompass.
There are two radar units to see where other ships are and to get detailed weather information. One unit is more precise than the other but may pick up rain storms which may interfere with spotting ships. The other unit will still work in that situation.
When navigating, it is important to not just maintain the correct heading but also monitor course over ground. Even though the ship is heading in the right direction it can be pulled off course by the water currents and winds. This is very important to keep in mind not only across long distances but also when approaching the high flyer to pick up the longline. They must approach at a 90° angle and then turn to follow the longline. This is a fairly precise maneuver that is affected by both wind and current.
One important factor affecting the operation of the ship is the weather. Careful consideration of any weather conditions must be factored into any decisions made. No one is allowed on the deck if there are winds of 25 knots or more, waves of 4-5 feet, or lightning within 25 miles. Weather information is always monitored through five different sources. Decisions must be made while consulting and comparing different sources of data.
Executive Officer Rachel Pryor explained that there are two types of weather patterns to keep in mind when considering operations. The first are small squalls, which can be fast moving and may have lightning. These squalls may keep moving in the same direction and you can calculate when they will arrive. But they can sometimes dissipate, change course, or stay where they are. There are also larger weather systems to consider. These tend to be slower moving but can have seas “kicking up,” increased wind speeds, and lightning. These may require seeking some sort of shelter or even docking at a port.
Weather has impacted the survey several times during this cruise. One of the most memorable was when I was working my shift and we were told to expect a long delay due to the weather. After about 30-45 minutes we were told to go ahead and bait the hooks and lay the longline. It takes about 2 ½ hours to run a station from putting the first hook in, to pulling the last one out of the water. The weather was beautiful and the seas were relatively calm during the station. Within a few minutes of finishing, the winds began to kick up as a system approached. In my estimation, these were pretty amazing calculations by Lieutenant Commander Pryor who was Officer of the Deck (OOD) for the haul.
The other incident to include here was a larger storm system that we were told on a Tuesday would arrive on Friday. Sure enough, it did. We headed in for cover near Cape Fear, NC. In this case, all fishing stopped and we sailed in an oval pattern keeping the waves to the bow or stern as much as possible. This led to a work stoppage of about 36 hours. In both cases careful calculations were made to keep the crew safe and maximize mission success.
Meet the Crew: Taniya Wallace, Fish Biologist
Taniya Wallace is a fish biologist contractor on the science team here on Oregon II. Taniya hails from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, where she grew up and still lives. Her mother is a teacher and her father works in naval ship design. Taniya credits her 6th grade teacher with first inspiring her interest in science. She says, “Science challenged my mind and made me wonder how things worked.”
After graduating high school, she got a summer internship at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory where she developed an interest in marine biology. Taniya attended Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Mississippi. She played softball for her university and they won the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship three years in a row! At Mississippi Valley State, she earned a degree in biology with a minor in chemistry.
After college she was hired as a contractor during the Deepwater Horizon disaster working on small boats trawling for fish and crustaceans to gather samples for NOAA Fisheries Seafood Inspection program. This was a three month contract.
Next, she was contracted to work with NOAA for the Plankton Unit for the next four years. On the surveys, she worked with the team to collect plankton (microscopic organisms) in three different sized nets. Then, back in the lab, she sorted and identified decapods (crabs, lobster, shrimp) and red snapper.
In 2014, she moved to the trawl survey. In this survey, they pulled a large net behind the boat and caught a variety of marine animals. They sort, identify and record measurements on what they find on the boat. Back at the lab, they would identify unknown species. This included different kinds of fish as well as invertebrates. She explained to me that the science team uses only scientific names so, often, she may not know the common name of species she is cataloging.
Here on the shark and red snapper survey her computer and data entry skills are evident. She catalogs otoliths (ear bones) and other parts quickly and easily. I am not sure if patience, kindness and equanimity are requirements of her job but she, like the other members of the science crew, excels in these qualities. And, her shark handling skills are really impressive.
Personal Log: A very exciting haul!
Every day continues to be full of new experiences and animals. Yesterday, there was a haul which on paper would look pretty boring but it proved to be anything but. First, we brought up a royal sea star ( Astropecten articulatus), a beautiful hand sized star with cream colored feet, with orange edges filled by a deep purple band. I half expected Trey, our lead on the science team, to claim it for Clemson. (Go tigers! Or, is that LSU? Yes, there is a school rivalry playing out among the science team.)
Hook number 33 had a feisty seven foot nurse shark. The next shark, a nearly seven foot sandbar shark, was on hook number 43.
Hook number 49 had a baby tiger shark that was being pursued by a great hammerhead. The hammerhead was closing in on its prey when the gangion tightened and the tiger shark was hauled out of the water. I cannot say what was in the hammerhead’s brain, but it was certainly animated. For the next few minutes, it searched in vain for the tiger shark, circling and making several passes on the starboard side of the ship and showing its dorsal fin.
Confusion? Anger? We can only speculate but I can imagine how strange the situation was from the hammerhead’s point of view. “Just another second and then, yum. Wait… where did it go?” I know this is purely unscientific and I am anthropomorphising (giving human characteristics to animals) but it really was a sight to witness.
Later on that same haul, we hooked into a large tiger shark. It is not unusual to see a shark sucker or cobia, maybe two, hanging out around the shark as we bring it in. We have even caught a shark sucker on a hook. But this tiger had at least 10 cobia following it in.
She broke the line, and we were not able to measure and tag her. In this haul, only one fish was landed, but each of those events excited all involved and will be remembered and shared long into the future.
Animals seen: Shark sucker, royal sea star, brittle star, sea fan, nurse shark, cobia, royal tern
Did you know? Sometimes hammerhead sharks swim on their sides.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 4, 2023
Latitude: 33°47.753′ N
Longitude: 78°13.019 W
Air Temperature: 22.3 kph
Wind Speed: 26° Celsius
Science and Technology Log: Meeting the tiger shark
Let’s face it, sharks are cool! They are an apex predator of the ocean. They are hunters and capture our imagination. Like most people, sharks are fascinating creatures if you take the time to get to know them.
Sharks are an ancient group of fishes. They have been on Earth since before there were any trees. They are intelligent and can be are very curious creatures that want to investigate new objects. Some species have social structures and recognize each other, and form relationships that last over many years. Some sharks have been observed hunting in groups. Personality, or should I say “sharkonality,” wise, individuals have been observed to be more assertive or more timid. They have sensory organs called ampullae of Lorenzini that sense electricity to help them find prey.
Sharks are quite varied. Some sharks must keep moving to breathe, while others can sit on the sea floor for hours at a time. Some sharks lay eggs, while others have live pups.
So far we have caught sandbar, Atlantic sharpnose, tiger, scalloped hammerhead, and great hammerhead sharks. The Atlantic sharpnose, sandbar, and tiger sharks all belong to the family Carcharhinidae, or requiem sharks. They have a flattened but not wide snout. In many species teeth are similar because in the top row the teeth are triangular and serrated (like a saw) and in the bottom row they are narrow and smooth-edged. Their eyes have a nictitating membrane that functions like an eyelid, but they can see through it. Interestingly, reproduction varies within this family of sharks.
Tiger sharks are striking to see up close. Their markings on their skin gives them their name and makes them easy to identify, even for a novice. Young tiger shark markings tend more toward spots that can grow into bars or stripes as they age. The bars will fade as the shark grows older.
The teeth of a tiger shark are easily identifiable as they are curved with a notch in it. Unlike other sharks in the Carcharhinidae family, the bottom row of teeth has the same triangular, serrated teeth as the top row. They eat a variety of food including crabs, squid, bony fishes, turtles, rays and birds as well as many other animals even other sharks. They have also been known to eat boat cushions, tin cans and even license plates.
They are one of the larger sharks, often growing 11 – 14 feet long and up to 1400 pounds. In the United States, tiger sharks are found from Massachusetts to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.
Tiger Sharks have live babies called pups. They are ovoviviparous, and young develop inside their body before giving birth to live young. It is common for them to bear between 35 and 55 pups but have been known to have as many as 104. Because they bear so many pups, and the gestation is between 15 to 18 months, it is believed that they reproduce every three years.
Depredation: When a shark takes your fish
Depredation is when a fish has been hooked by a fisherman and is then attacked and eaten or partly eaten by another marine animal. This is obviously a problem for the fisherman because the fishermen cannot use the fish. According to Dr. William Driggers, Chief Scientist on the Oregon II Longline Shark and Snapper survey, depredation is on the increase in U.S. waters because shark populations are increasing. Shark populations are increasing because of good management of the shark populations. The most likely shark species to take a hooked fish is the whatever shark species is most common in that area. In other words, no one species is the worst offender. We have witnessed this at least six times on this survey leg.
Meet the Crew: Fisherman/Deckhand Josh Cooper
Josh is a professional fisherman aboard the Oregon II! Yup, one position on this crew is to be a professional fisherman.
The responsibilities of a fisherman are many. Everyone on the boat has very well defined duties and must be flexible and a good team member. He helps load the ship before it leaves the dock. He helps with docking by handling the lines. There are many duties once underway. There is painting and cleaning to be done, preparing gear and running the machinery used for fishing.
Then there is the fishing. Josh loves fishing. The fishermen are on board to help handle the big sharks and other large fish. Josh has done a lot of fishing. He sometimes operates the crane when the cradle is needed for a big shark. In emergency situations Josh is on the fire team and operates the small rescue boat that is aboard the Oregon II.
Josh graduated from the University of Alabama, but a degree from a university is not required to be a fisherman/deckhand. After earning a dual major in biology and marine biology, he went to Alaska as a fisherman on commercial fishing vessels.
After that, he joined NOAA as a fisheries observer. In this job, he was on commercial fishing boats. He would be assigned to join a fishing boat, usually a small boat with two to three fishermen. It was his job to collect data on the fish caught. This would include species, length and weight. After doing this for two years in Alaska, he moved to do the same job in the Gulf of Mexico. Josh continued to do this work for six more years.
He first came to the Oregon II as a contractor working with Artificial Intelligence (AI) teaching the computers to recognize fish species. He was doing this when a position opened up as a part of the deck/fisherman crew. He has been on the Oregon II for two years. He likes that the accommodations are better than many of the other boats that he has lived on and he likes the people that he works with.
Being a fisherman is a big commitment. Josh says that he is out to sea about 140 days a year. When the ship is docked there are many maintenance tasks to be done.
Personal Log: Schedules
Life on the Oregon II is dictated by schedules, until it’s not. My basic schedule is dictated by my shift. I am on the day shift, which means that I work from noon until midnight. The night shift is midnight until noon. We use a 24 hour time schedule to avoid any confusion about which 8:00 or 10:30 we are referring to. So I am working from 12:00 – 0:00. During that time we might set and haul as many as three stations, or as few as one, so far.
Many factors might impact this schedule, including transit time between stations, as well as weather. I usually wake up some time between 7:00 and 8:00. Breakfast closes at 8:00 and I do like breakfast. On those mornings that I do not make it to breakfast, there is always fruit, cereal, and a variety of leftovers available. The rest of the morning I can use to exercise, write, read and relax. I like to enjoy a few minutes up on the flying bridge watching the ocean or observing a haul below. Lunch begins at 11:00 and I like to get in there fairly early to be sure that I am ready for my shift at 12:00. Our shift simply takes over where the last one left off. Sometimes we are in transit, but we might take over with the set or haul. We continue for the rest of the shift with the station schedule until midnight. Dinner is scheduled from 17:00 – 18:00. If we are not able to make it to the galley due to working, they will hold a dinner for us.
The ship operates and holds to schedules 24-7 unless there is a problem with the weather or mechanical problems. It has taken a while, but I have adjusted to this schedule and it feels pretty normal. Currently, we are taking shelter near shore to wait out a storm. We are expecting a 24 hour delay with no fishing stations.
One of the real treats is the natural beauty. The ocean is not just a repetitive body of water, but an everchanging montage of colors and shapes. Sometimes a light green, to deep blue at other times. At night, the blanket of black is broken by the white foam of the bow waves and whitecaps. There are dolphins, sea turtles, sea birds, not to mention all of the interesting creatures that come up on the longline. Sunsets never fail to disappoint, and then of course, the moonrises. We were lucky enough to be hauling in the longline when the Antares rocket was launched from Wallops Island, Virginia. We watched as the orange glow slowly receded into the clouds. Just a few minutes later, the Sturgeon Supermoon rose behind the clouds on the horizon. That was an incredible experience. There is always some new natural beauty to be found out here. Nature may be beautiful but it is not subject to our schedules.
Animals seen: spotted dolphins, laughing gulls, gag grouper, scamp grouper, oyster toadfish, bonita, great hammerhead, scalloped hammerhead, sucker fish
Did you know?
Have you ever had someone wish you “fair winds and following seas?” Josh explained this saying to me. While we were talking, the boat was rocking back and forth in 3-5 foot waves. Not a particularly smooth ride. He commented that, “It seems like we always find the trough.” I asked him what he meant. He explained that when waves are coming from one side or the other, this is said to be “in the trough.” The low point between waves is called the trough. The smoothest ride on a boat comes when the waves are coming from the stern, following the ship, so to speak. That would be the seas following the boat.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean
Date: July 30, 2023
Air Temperature: 27.5° C.
Wind Speed: 6.79 kph
Science and Technology Log: Longline Fishing
Teacher at Sea Stephen Kade created this graphic to help explain longline fishing.
We have started the longline survey and it is well organized and exciting. The first part of the process is called the set. We start the fishing process by baiting circle hooks. These hooks are attached to a 12 foot length of 3 mm line called a gangion (gan-jin). We use mackerel for bait. Each piece of fish is hooked through a circle hook.
Circle hooks ready for baiting
Next we drop over a buoy with a radar reflector on top called a hi flier. Attached to this is a 4 mm line called the main line. Then a weight is attached to the line and dropped. This anchors the beginning of the fishing line to the seafloor. Next, a numbered clip is attached to each gangion. The gangions are attached to the main line in order from 1- 50. A second weight is then attached to the main line and the process is repeated with gangions numbered 51- 100. A third weight is then attached to anchor this end of the line to the seafloor.
Tagging and attaching the gangions
Finally, a second hi flier buoy is attached and released to mark the end of the line. As each of these steps is done a member of the team records it on a computer. This gives a precise time that each baited hook went in the water as well as when and where the anchors and buoys were released.
Ready to drop the hi flyer
The next step is to take water measurements. This is done with a remarkable device called a CTD. CTD stands for conductivity, temperature and depth. Conductivity is related to how much salt is in the water (salinity) and is related to how well it will conduct electricity. It also measures the temperature and depth of the ocean at that spot. We attach a camera to it to see what the seafloor is made of at that spot. We want to know if it is a sandy bottom, sea grass, muddy, etc.
Then we wait one hour.
The second part of the process is called the haul. The haul is simply the set done in reverse, except that we often catch fish. The fishermen use a grappling hook to retrieve the main line attached to the hi flier.
Grappling hook ready to thrown
When it is brought on board, the main line is attached to a winch. The winch is used to pull the main line up of the seafloor. As the main line is pulled in the gangions are detached and replaced in a barrel, the numbered clips are detached and kept on a line in number order. That way, everything is ready to be used for the next set. Whatever is on, or not on, the hook is recorded on the computer. If the bait is missing or damaged is noted.
Weighing a barracuda
Any fish caught is noted on the computer and the team jumps into action. For sharks there are several things that happen. They are identified by species. The hook is removed and the shark is weighed. It is then measured for three different lengths, precaudal (before the tail fin), fork (at the fork in the tail, and total (the end of the tail fin). The sex, male or female, and maturity is determined. Tissue samples are taken by cutting off a small piece of a fin. This tissue sample is placed in a small plastic vial and labeled. They are also often given a numbered tag. This information is all recorded and entered into the computer.
Me, tagging a sandbar shark.
Meet the Crew: Lieutenant James Freed
NOAA Corps Lieutenant James Freed is the operations officer for the Oregon II. He has many responsibilities as part of his job. Part of his job is to liaison, or maintain communication, between the science party and the ship’s commanding officer (CO). That means making sure that everything that the science team needs is on the ship. If the science team has needs then we would go through him and not directly to the CO. As Operations Officer he is also in charge of organizing materials when they come aboard the ship. He posts the Plan of the Day which lets everyone on board know what to expect that day. Lieutenant Freed coordinates port logistics for the ship. This means he coordinates the loading and unloading of materials. His duties also include acting as Officer of the Deck (OOD). During this 4 hour shift he is responsible for the ship’s navigation and safety. His emergency response assignments on the Oregon II include being the nozzleman on the fire team, launching life rafts for abandon ship and he goes out on the rescue boat for man overboard. Lieutenant Freed grew up in Santa Rosa, California. He attended Santa Rosa Junior College and then transferred to University of California, Santa Cruz where he studied marine biology. During this time he worked as an intern on a fishing vessel and this is where he first heard about the NOAA Corps. He has now been in the NOAA Corps for 6 years. Before being assigned to the Oregon II he was first assigned to the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada in Newport, Oregon. He then moved to Seattle working with the Marine Mammal Laboratory at Alaska Fisheries Science Center. For this assignment his duties were quite varied. They included doing a lot of field work, flying drones, and doing whale biopsies. Lieutenant Freed is clearly enthusiastic about his career in the NOAA Corps. He describes it as an “incredible career” that supports his growth with leadership and management training. The NOAA Corps is growing with new ships and aircraft and will need to recruit new members.. The ships participate in a wide variety of tasks including fisheries research, oceanographic and atmospheric data collection and hydrographic mapping.
Well these last few days have been quite a transition. After 2 1/2 days of transit from Pascagoula, MS to Miami. It was a bit shocking to see how the skyline has changed after 40+ years. It has grown, to say the least. We started fishing just north of Miami. The 10 person science team is split into two shifts. I am on the “day” shift. We work from noon to midnight. These long shifts are filled with alternating periods of activity and waiting. After the set we wait for an hour before the haul. Then, depending on where the next set is, there will be another wait of between two to three hours. The hauls seem to follow the same patterns. As the mile of line is reeled in, there are long periods with not much happening. Then, there might be three fish online within a few hooks. Last night it was two baby tiger sharks and a 1200 mm (3 ft. 11 in.) barracuda within about 5 minutes. When there is a shark too big to haul up by hand on the gangion, the crane is used. We all don hardhats, the crane is moved into place and everyone is busy taking measurements, preparing tags, and taking tissue samples. I was warned to bring a lot of reading material for the down time and I did that. However, with so many things to learn, interesting people to talk to, and beautiful scenery to watch, I have had little time for boredom to creep in.
Ready to release a baby tiger shark.
One of the most common questions that I had before I left concerned getting motion sick. Dare I utter the word… seasick. So far, I have been lucky… hmm, I can’t seem to find any wood around here to knock on. I started the voyage with what I consider to be a rational decision, take the Dramamine. We started with two days of beautiful weather. By the first sign of rough seas I had stopped taking the Dramamine so I went outside and watched the horizon for about an hour. I decided that watching the horizon on a beautiful day at sea had no drawbacks. I never did feel nauseaus. Some people recomended that I buy the accupressure bands which I did. When seas get rough and I am inside I will sometimes wear those. I have not been seasick, yet. I still take precautions like not doing computer work inside when in rough seas but so far I have been fine. In fact, as far as I know none of the volunteers or crew have been sick.
I cannot end this blog without acknowledging the stewards in the gally and the impressive menu available at each meal. I think that there are always three choices for a main dish and a variety of sides. Additonally, a salad bar is always available, snacks, and my favorite, ice cream.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean
Date: Jul 28, 2023
Weather Data from the Bridge
Temperature: 30.5° Celcius
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Science and Technology Log
NOAA conducts the Shark/Snapper Longline Survey each year at the same time and place. It goes from July through September and surveys from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to West Palm Beach, FL, and the U.S. northern Gulf of Mexico from southwest Florida to Brownsville, TX. This is a longline survey and one mile of gear is baited and laid down for one hour.
When the line is reeled in, the science and fishing teams take them off the hooks and record data on the fish. The data gathered includes what species (kind of fish) are caught, if they are male or female, their age, weight and length. Additionally, the sharks will be tagged with a number and released.
The data collected will be used by NOAA to help manage the health of the fishery. It is one set of data that goes into deciding how many fish can be safely taken from the ocean each year. Without this information, fishermen might take too many fish to keep the population stable.
NOAA Ship Oregon II is the ship that is used to conduct this survey each year. It takes a lot of people working together to accomplish this. The crew of the Oregon II is made up of several teams. Everyone has a job as a part of the team to make sure everything works as needed.
The NOAA Corps are the officers on the ship. They are responsible for the overall operation of the ship and are in charge of navigation, steering and everyone’s safety. They work in shifts from the “bridge.”
The engineering team makes sure that everything is working properly. This includes the engines, electrical systems, fresh water and the all-important air conditioning.
The deck crew includes the professional fisherman who do boat maintenance, prepare fishing gear as well as handle the big fish.
There are two stewards who prepare our meals and keep the dining area clean. They keep us well fed with several choices available at each meal three times a day.
The electronics department has just one person who is responsible to make sure all of the technology is working properly. That is a very big responsibility on this ship.
Finally, there is the science team. That is where I fit in. There are four NOAA scientists and six volunteers. I am one of the volunteers. The other volunteers are all university students.
There are 29 people on board and everyone works on shifts. The ship operates 24 hours a day so all jobs must be done around the clock. Most teams have two shifts that each last for… you guessed it… twelve hours.
These first few days have been spent getting acquainted with the layout of the ship, learning the routines of life on the ocean and the people on the ship. The most striking feature is that there seems to be an incredible amount of equipment packed into such a small space. Everything a crew of 29 could need for three weeks, emergency equipment and replacement parts. Yet, in any one place, there is adequate room to move and work. I have a “stateroom” that I share with one other member of the science team. Each of us have a “rack” to sleep in, lockers and drawers for personal belongings as well as a fold out desk to work at. We also have a sink and mirror. All this in a room that is about 7’X10’.
Rarely are we both in there but there is adequate room when that happens. The “passageways” are narrow and it takes coordination to pass another crewmember. The “mess” seats twelve people, at most, so we have to eat meals in shifts.
There are three bathrooms and two showers available for general use. Showers should be short to preserve water as well as to make it available for others to use. There are three different “gym” areas with equipment to work out in. My favorite is the flying bridge where you can look out over the ocean.
Safety is a priority on board the ship. We start by using basic safety procedures while moving around the ship. While underway, the pitch (front to back motion) and roll (side to side motion) of the ship never stops. This becomes more or less pronounced depending on the weather. So moving through the passageways and doorways and especially on the outside decks, one must be careful to use a hand to keep their balance. The stairwells are narrow and steep but negotiable. When using stairwells always have 3 points of contact, that means use two hands and then a foot is the third point of contact.
Moving around comes more easily with time. No open toed shoes are to be worn except on the way to and from the shower. Safety equipment must be worn when working. We will be wearing hard hats, gloves, glasses and a work vest. The work vest looks a lot like a personal flotation device but flat. If you fall overboard it will automatically inflate. There is a lot of equipment and devices all over the ship for use in emergency situations.
Fire extinguishers, AEDs, masks for smoke, and, of course, life rafts. We have to do drills to make sure that we know what to do in emergencies.
Did You Know?
Did you know that not all sharks reproduce the same way? Be sure to check future blogs to find out how.
Animals Seen Today:
and also: masked booby, swallow, flying fish, barracuda.
I teach third grade at Nokomis Elementary, The Greatest School In The Universe, in Ukiah, California. Ukiah is a thriving metropolis of about 17,000 people located about 2 hours north of San Francisco. The economy of our beautiful community is primarily agricultural and tourism based. We are known for pears, wine, and redwoods. The coast of Mendocino county is about an hour away, through the redwoods, and features beautiful cliffs, beaches and even the Lost Coast.
I grew up I n South Florida fishing in the mangroves and flats of the Everglades, Florida Bay, the Keys and Biscayne Bay so this is a bit of a return home for me. This will, however, be a very different endeavor. I look forward to being part of a science team collecting data. I want to learn about the sharks and other fish that we catch. I look forward to meeting and working with a variety of people from different professional backgrounds and regions.
I recently completed my 25th year of teaching as a classroom teacher and it has been quite a journey. I have taught grades K-6th and have enjoyed different aspects of each of them. Before becoming a classroom teacher, I taught English in Taiwan and traveled in China, Tibet, and Japan as well as working in schools in Philadelphia. Because I see how my own enthusiasm helps my students to connect with whatever I am teaching, I integrate my own interest in science, nature and the outdoors. The best that I can bring to my students is what I know and love. Through the Teacher At Sea program, I look forward to expanding my experiences and knowledge about applied science and careers at sea so that I can better bring the world of science to my students.
New Terms: Forward is a nautical directional term referring to the bow at the front of the ship while aft refers to the stern at the back of the ship.
Now that we have departed Cape Canaveral, I’m enjoying the Florida coastline! It didn’t take long for Fisherman Josh Cooper to catch a Wahoo. He must have read my mind about plans for dinner.
On Wednesday, August 31, 2022, NOAA Ship Oregon II departed Cape Canaveral and started a path along the Florida coastline headed to the Gulf of Mexico. All of us took another Covid-19 test before departure to keep everyone safe. We had to wait for 17,000 gallons of diesel fuel to load the vessel. I was surprised about the amount of fuel needed for our journey! Although my shift begins at 12pm, I have time to get adjusted since we haven’t made it to the 1st location. I included my students in the interviews with several shipmates. Heather Moncrief-Cox, Senior Research Associate, and Jim Patterson, Fisheries Biologist, sat with me while I logged into Google Meet during my 9th grade Algebra Math class. They seemed happy to answer the questions shown below and were patient with the students. Mrs. Ashanti Raymond, teacher at McNair High School, did an excellent job monitoring the students working while they took their turn asking questions in front of the screen.
On Thursday, September 1, 2022, the students from my Coordinate Algebra & Pre-Calculus classes interviewed Chuck Godwin, Lead Fisherman, and Collin Lynch, Chief Electronics Technician. Their careers & lives are quite interesting! We found out more information about the logistics of fisheries surveys, different careers, education & certifications. I appreciate them taking the time to talk to us! This experience helps me and others understand the purpose of research, safety rules, and how everyone’s part is important!
The carousel of pictures was taken while students logged into Google Meet to interview my shipmates. Many of the students took notes & emailed me their summary.
McNair High Students Interview Jim Patterson, NOAA Fisheries Biologist aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II:
What was your most memorable moment at sea?
While I was doing my job a sperm whale came up from the water! It rolled over to the point where you could see its eye and we just stared at each other. It was so remarkable to me that I forgot to turn on my camera.
How does being at sea affect your family life?
I don’t have my own family so therefore that’s not a problem for me. I talk to and meet new amazing people all the time.
What advice can you give students?
Do whatever you are interested in and the work you do in the end will all be worth it! You’ll be happy that you did it.
What is rewarding about your job?
There’s so much that I’ve discovered over the years and new things that I’ve learned. The experience also is something that’s worth it, along with the view of the ocean and sights of the creatures.
How are environmental issues related to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math)?
STEAM applies to just about everything in life.
McNair High Students of Dekalb County, Georgia, interview Chuck Godwin, NOAA Lead Fisherman:
What certificates or degrees do you have?
I have a Wildlife Management Ecology degree and Multi-Management Certification.
How does your job affect your family?
When my kids were younger this would affect them because I would be gone 2 weeks to 2 months. They are grown now so not so much.
What was your most memorable moment at sea?
We caught a 27 foot basking shark.
What are some of the rewards with your job?
I like the long-lasting friendships and my shipmates are like a second family to me.
What are you looking forward to aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II?
I’m hoping to catch a record-winning great white shark.
Why is your research important?
I protect species and keep them going. I make sure they are okay.
McNair High Students of Dekalb County, Georgia, Interview Heather Moncrief-Cox, NOAA Senior Research Associate:
When did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in science or ocean care?
I’ve always wanted to do this ever since 3rd grade when I dressed up as a Marine Biologist. At 13, I started shark diving.
Why is your research important?
It’s important to do research because it allows you to learn information you might not have known before. You can also gather evidence or proof to contribute to the information you learned.
Heather makes sure data is recorded and tissue samples are stored properly for later research.
On Friday, September 2nd, 2022, the students in my Analytic Geometry class interviewed Fisherman Josh Cooper. He was very helpful with different positions on the deck. He explained his life at sea & talked about some of the fish he recently caught. Later during the week, he prepared ceviche for everyone with the fresh catch of the day.
McNair High Students of Dekalb County, Georgia, interview Josh Cooper: NOAA Fisherman
What are your normal duties?
I maintain the deck, catch fish, and work where I’m needed.
McNair High Students of Dekalb County, Georgia, interview Colin Lynch: NOAA Chief Electronics Technician
How does your job affect your social life?
You have to know what you are getting into. I’ve been on the vessel for about 2 months. It’s a challenge and it’s all about knowing how to manage your time. NOAA is really good about giving time off.
On Thursday, September 8th, 2022, I interviewed my supervisor Trey Driggers & Fisherman Chris Love. I was able to use a Voice Recorder APP & my phone to capture the moments. Trey was very detailed with explaining the purpose of collecting the data & helped me increase my marine life vocabulary. Chris shared lots of sunrise pictures & we often compared photos between shifts.
McNair High Math Teacher of Dekalb County, Georgia, Interviews Trey Driggers: Supervisor and Chief Scientist:
“We collect otoliths (inner ear bones) from bony fish species that help the fish navigate near reefs. Then we send the samples to the Panama City Lab to determine the age of the fish. They compare the age & length to see how fast they grow.”
How do you keep the bait organized?
You have to go in order so the lines don’t get crossed. We put a total of 50 hooks with bait in each barrel. The last one in is the first one out. Make sure you put the hooks in the Mackerel bait twice to be more secure. Sometimes you’ll get pieces of the bait back or none at all. If we’re lucky, then we’ll catch a few fish. The numbers on the hooks help us stay organized too.
McNair High Math Teacher of Dekalb County, Georgia, Interviews Chris Love: NOAA Able-Bodied Seaman/Fisherman:
What challenges do you face?
Being away from home. Sometimes you miss out on things. If you play around and don’t pay attention, then you can get seriously hurt.
Do you have any memorable moments?
You get to go to different places and experience things away from home. You meet new people on the ships and ports you visit.
On Friday, September 9th, 2022, my students interviewed Lieutenant Commander, Aaron Colohan. He has a lot of responsibilities & made sure we were safe on the ship. He has a large budget of 1.2 million dollars with many factors to consider.
McNair High Students of Dekalb County, Georgia, interview Aaron Colohan, NOAA Lieutenant Commander:
What are some rewards you get from your job?
I believe in what I’m doing. My reward is doing something for my country, the world, and the planet. This is an opportunity to work outside of the military for public good.
I have to work with 23-30 people a day and make sure they are happy in their environment along with me. I make sure they are well fed and safe with a $1.2 million budget.
On Monday, September 12th, 2022, I interviewed James McDade, Junior Engineer. I had to use ear plugs because the noise level is very loud on the bottom of the ship where the engine & equipment is located. It was very hot & the space was tight.
McNair High Math Teacher of Dekalb County, Georgia, Interviews James McDade: NOAA Junior Engineer:
What made you choose this career?
I got lucky because I was supposed to only work for 60 days, but I was offered a permanent position over 20 years ago. I had no idea. I’ve been able to travel and see beautiful places all around the Hawaiian Islands.
What challenges do you face?
What I do is maintenance. If anything breaks down, I repair it. I check the refrigeration, water leaks, engines, change filters, and pipe system. Before, it was easy to save money while at sea, but now due to online services I spend more.
Can you describe a memorable moment?
When I worked in Hawaii it was fun going to all the different islands and meeting new people. I also visited Taipan China & Guam. I enjoyed having fun in those places. The atmosphere is nice with everyone getting along.
Do you need a degree or certification for your career?
Yes, I went to training at SIU Piney Point Maryland. That’s where I picked up my last endorsement. I need one more license to be an official engineer. I have to study on my own & take the test.
What advice would you give students?
Check out the different careers. Keep a clean record because you are dealing with the government. You want to make sure you can travel, get a passport so you can see the world. I would also say learn how to work with people. You don’t have to like everybody but be respectful & know how to work together.
I am glad we are on our way to the Gulf of Mexico! The shoreline is gorgeous & the skyline is ever changing into patterns of colorful art. Soon I will no longer see land & view the ever-changing skyline. I’m excited that I get to share this experience with my students & colleagues while sailing. My shipmates work well together & are willing to pitch in wherever they are needed.
On Monday, August 30, 2022, I met my shipmates in Cape Canaveral in front of the ship. We all had to take a self-administered Covid-19 test and wait 30 minutes for the results to appear on the sensor. I was so nervous staring at the apparatus every 5 seconds waiting for the light to brighten on a negative result. That was too much stress! What if it said positive? Would I have to head back to Atlanta or wait a few days? Once the ship leaves the dock, then it does not disembark until the end of the research project. That would have been a disaster! Luckily my results were negative! I was able to board the 170 feet ship NOAA Oregon II, locate my room and take a quick tour.
This ship’s homeport is Pascagoula, Mississippi and conducts a variety of research surveys in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and Atlantic Ocean. The surveys focus on fisheries, marine mammals, and plankton. Commanding Officer Eric Johnson can lead his staff for up to 33 days at a time. The following are the maximum numbers for the staff.
Commissioned Officers/Mates = 5, Licensed Engineers = 3, Unlicensed Engineers = 2, Deck = 6, Stewards = 2, Electronic Technician = 1, Total Crew = 19, Scientists = 12. Up to 12 people can sit in the dining area at one time with 6 people spread amongst 2 tables.
The ship is equipped with a 275 square feet wet lab, 210 square feet hydro lab, 100 square feet bio lab, 75 square feet computer lab, 4 dive team equipment, 2 cranes, a cradle, trawl nets, hydraulics, ropes, long line fishing gear, a medical treatment room, a laundry room, and a rescue boat that can hold 6 people.
We had to wait for 17,000 gallons of diesel fuel to fill the ship, stock the kitchen, and get other necessary supplies. Can you calculate how much this gas costs in your city? There are a lot of factors that affect the outcome of our journey as we crisscross around the Gulf of Mexico. Luckily, we have trained professionals doing their job!
I appreciate my Uncle Bill who made sure I arrived in Cape Canaveral safely. It was good to see him with his gracious welcome to Orlando, Florida. Now that I completed the initial paperwork & received a negative Covid result, I am happy to meet my shipmates! My work schedule will be from 12pm to 12am with breaks in between. I’m the only Teacher at Sea on this ship along with 2 college interns and a volunteer. We are all excited about the upcoming experience. There’s a lot of information to learn in a short period of time, but I think I can manage. My state room has a full bathroom, lots of storage space & twin bunkbeds with curtains. I chose the top bunk. I met with Mr. Collin Lynch, Chief Electronics Technician as soon as I got settled into my room. He made sure my computer & cell phone are connected to the Wi-Fi system. I really appreciate him because I still need to connect with my students, plan lessons & make sure they get assistance as needed during my breaks.
While my shipmates & I waited for the supplies to come in, we had dinner at the local restaurants along the waterfront. I learned how to keep score in a darts game and still lost. I had hoped to see a rocket launch, but the mission was cancelled/postponed. The disappointed people were in traffic starting at 3am in the morning to get a good spot. Oh well, maybe next time.
I enjoyed listening to the stories, having great meals & asking a few questions. I found out that some of them conduct surveys for up to 45 days before they go home. Some are married with kids while others are single, or kids are grown now. Either way, they adjust to life at sea. Check out a few pictures from my flight to time in Cape Canaveral.
Greetings from Atlanta, Georgia. Join me during my research on the NOAA Ship Oregon II in an expedition studying shark and red snapper. I am excited to board the ship in Cape Canaveral, Florida and head to the Gulf of Mexico for about 14 days. Be a part of my journey and interact through my blog.
I first learned about NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program while at the Georgia Aquarium for a workshop two years ago. I immediately looked up more information & started the application process. Although I was accepted & thrilled to participate, Covid-19 delayed my departure. Please understand how frustrated I was as the world’s plans changed before my eyes! Normally I delete spam emails, but I did several searches to make sure I didn’t miss out on the email contacting me back to the original plan. I was so excited to finally get the news I’ve been waiting for that I did a happy dance.
In 2017 I was fortunate to participate in the Georgia Aquarium “Rivers to Reefs” program where educators spent one week testing water in the Altamaha River Watershed. We started in Atlanta and worked our way to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Savannah, Georgia. Our field experiences included a behind the scenes tour of the Georgia Aquarium, testing water in Shoals Creek on Glenwood Avenue, High Falls State Park in Jackson Georgia, canoe the Ocmulgee River where it meets the Oconee River, Sapelo Island Marine Institute, and Skidaway Island Marine Science Center. This experience opened my eyes to more opportunities for my students and enlightened me on how humans effect the environment. I immediately worked on developing student project presentations and fieldtrips the next school year. I love seeing the “Aha” moments and taking my students to Skidaway Island and other places around the world. I get just as excited as them when they figure out things work.
While studying Math & Computer Science at Savannah State University, I spent a lot of time in the Marine Biology building working on projects, catching small crabs at the school’s dock, walking to the docks at Thunderbolt, and Tybee Island collecting samples. This allowed me to relax, rejuvenate, learn about the environment and be creative. Now I challenge my students and people around me to do the same. Currently I teach Algebra, Geometry & Pre-Calculus and would like to incorporate more cross-curricular projects with my students.
Upcoming Surveys in the Gulf of Mexico
My work hours will be from 12pm – 12am leaving from Cape Canaveral & headed to the Gulf of Mexico aboard the NOAA Ship OregonII. I am excited to work with all types of sharks & red snapper along the way. Listen, if I pull a shark from the tail will it try to bite me? How close do I need to be? How long can the fish be out of water while I carefully examine it & put back in the ocean? What will I use all this information for? Are you trying to make me shark meat? Which statistic will I increase? What if a hurricane approaches, do I need to record that too or leave town? Soon I will find out. Let’s get started!
What did the faculty & students have to say before I depart?
Last week students & faculty members had something to say about this exciting journey I will participate in with NOAA. I am honored to carry the torch for the Teacher at Sea Program this year and proudly immerse myself in the entire experience. Check out what a few people had to say.
Student Da’Vaughn T. : “I would like field trips such as helping the marine life and be able to visit underwater animals.”
Math Instructional Coach Eboni Arnold: “Science research can help students at McNair High School by enhancing their critical thinking skills, mathematical competency as well as gain an in-depth knowledge of science based real life practical skills to enhance their learning. Environmental issues are related to STEAM because the more students and educators know about the environment, they are able to raise awareness of the importance of being environmentally safe and protecting our society through learned experiences. Everyone can benefit from this amazing experience through Ms. Hastie sharing her blogs, notes, her own experiences, and the connections she will make with her students, colleagues, and within McNair High School. Ms. Hastie is an excellent choice for this opportunity because she always connects real-life opportunities to her classroom instruction. She provides opportunities for students to experience life outside the classroom through field trips and project-based learning.”
Principal Dr. Loukisha Walker:
“Hello, my name is Dr. Loukisha Walker and I am a proud principal of Dr. Ronald E. McNair High School in Atlanta, Georgia. I would like to speak on why Ms. Hastie is the perfect choice for the Teacher at Sea Program.
“For Ms. Hastie, this opportunity is simply an extension of prior and current activities that she has used to expose students to opportunities and programs that would otherwise be out of reach for our students. This allows students to broaden their scope of possibilities for careers and even travel. Ms. Hastie, in addition to all of these things, is an avid blogger, project creator, and loves to communicate what she has learned to students to give them wisdom and insight, though they did not experience it first hand. For this reason and others, Ms. Hastie is simply the perfect choice for the Teacher at Sea Program. I know that Ms. Hastie, and her work ethic, and the way she pays attention to detail, she will take all of that information and bring it back to our students and make sure that she relays that information to them. She’s gonna talk about how exciting it is for them. She’s going to even speak on just her experience for being at sea for so many days. So with all of those things in mind, Ms. Hastie is going to not only do an amazing job while she’s at sea for 15 days, but she’s going to record, she’s going to continue to blog while she’s there, she’s gonna take a ton of photos and she’s going to come back and make sure our students experience it as if they were there with her.
“This is Ms. Hastie, this is her work ethic, and we’re so proud of her and we know she’s going to do an amazing job with the Teacher at Sea Program. Congratulations once again, Go Mustangs, and we are proud of you.“
Assistant Principal of Attendance & Testing, Dr. Barbara Long:
“Good afternoon, my name is Dr. Barbara Long. I serve as the assistant principal of attendance and testing at the fantastic Dr. Ronald E. McNair High School. We are so proud of Ms. Maronda Hastie and all that she is going to learn, do, and share when she returns from this amazing adventure. Science research can benefit our students at Dr. Ronald E. McNair High School in multiple ways. Number 1, it will surely help to develop our students’ problem solving, analytical, and critical thinking skills. Hopefully students will engage in actionable research projects following this pursuit and partner and collaborate with others to devise solutions to these real life problems and ultimately benefit the communities in which we live. So I’m looking forward to the engagement, activities, and application of the real science for our students. Proud to be a leader here.”
Art Teacher Debra Jeter:
“There’s something that’s universal about science research that could not only benefit the students at McNair, but benefit anyone to know what’s going on around us. How else can we, you know, contribute or help or even understand and live in this world if we don’t have some understanding of, you know, what’s going on around us. And the ocean is so important to us. And I think Ms. Hastie is a great choice for this, because not only has she been well traveled, but she has a great interest in science research and the environment.
“And not only that, but she does the most, you know? Like, she’ll be in there, following them and asking questions and writing it down and making sure she bring it back and share with McNair. And so many of these environmental issues are related to STEAM, too, which is a big concern for all the teachers at McNair, because environmental issues, as global warming continues, is gonna be vital for us all to understand how we can contribute to making our environment more peaceful. And not so hostile, and, you know, so many species are going extinct, if we just let this continue, we might be extinct too. And I’m sure that she’s gonna benefit… We’ll all benefit from her experience of being out there. I can’t wait to hear her stories and see her photos. I’ve been on journeys with her before she’s a marvelous… She know how to find places and go places and do things, she’s very capable. It’s gonna be fascinating just to hear her second-hand stories of what she found and how we can help make the world a better place.”
Business & Technology Teacher Wanda Charles-Henley
“Hello, my name is Wanda Charles-Henley and I’m a business teacher here at McNair High School. And I’d like to answer question number two: how and why is Ms. Hastie a good choice for this opportunity? I think Ms. Hastie is a perfect candidate for this opportunity because she’s always willing to go above and beyond for not only the students here at McNair, but also the staff members. She’s always willing to lend a helping hand. As a new teacher here, she was the first one to come and say she would teach me some of the new programs ’cause I’d been out of education for a while. She’s always one of the last teachers to leave the building. So she has a number of programs that she has coordinated for the students, exposing them to a lot of the opportunities outside of school. She also has the Chick-fil-A Leadership Program. She’ll coordinate activities for the students such as skating, coordinate activities such as environmentally cleaning up the Chattahoochee River. She’s always coming up with innovative ways to get the students involved. And I just think she will be an excellent candidate, and she is an outstanding teacher, and I can’t wait to see what she brings back to McNair High School and all the information she’s gonna share with us. Go Ms. Hastie!”
Culinary Arts Teacher Chef Leslie Gordon-Hudson:
“Okay, my question that I will be answering is how and why is Ms. Hastie a good choice for this opportunity… Ms. Hastie is a good choice for this opportunity, ’cause she is one teacher, I know, that will go out and get the resources and the information and bring it back not just to her math class, but in the entire school and engage the entire school, and whatever the idea is or the project or the learn resource or whatever the systems that she learned, that’s why I think she’s a great choice for this program.”
Student Dieynabou D.:
“I believe that everyone can benefit from this great experience because it will provide excellent exposure into many things, including careers into oceanography. As a student leader, and a member of the National Beta Club here at McNair High School, I’m looking forward to creating community service activities that are involved with the environment.”
And here’s what I have to say:
“Hi, my name is Maronda Hastie. I am a representative of McNair High School in DeKalb County, Georgia. I am so excited to have been selected to be a part of the Teacher at Sea Program. I first heard about it at the Georgia Aquarium, and it is a program from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So I’m excited that I’m gonna be studying shark and red snapper (hope the shark doesn’t eat me!) but I’m excited about studying the shark, because once I do all of my research for a few weeks, I get to bring it all back and I will share it with my colleagues, I will share it with my students, and I will share it with the community. So I feel like my job is to just spread the information about oceanic opportunities, as well as opportunities for the students to know about more careers, more field trips, more hands-on activities in the classroom. So I’ll develop a few lessons, so although I teach math, we can do interdisciplinary projects, so I’ll be working with, say, the science teacher, I work with the art teacher, I work with any teacher who would like to create lessons with me, so that we can, you know, expose our children. So I’m excited.“
Welcome to the inaugural post of my blog, describing my observations and reflections as a NOAA Teacher at Sea on my upcoming expedition in June 2022. My name is George Hademenos and I am excited to invite you along on this field trip of a lifetime to learn about marine science and the research that will be conducted during the research cruise. This is a particularly momentous occasion as this experience has been two years in the making (Dang that COVID!) – more on the application process, the NOAA Teacher at Sea program, and the instructional possibilities that this program presents will follow in upcoming posts.
Before I go any further, I want to take this opportunity to address the 800-lb sea lion in the room. The “sea lion” I am referring to is the title of the blog. “I am (George Hademenos, NOAA Teacher at Sea), I Said.” is a rather peculiar title for a blog entry and I did want to take this opportunity to explain the rationale for this title and set the stage for the blog entries to follow.
I have always loved music not only for the melodies but also for the lyrics that draw the listener into a story. Music has played an important part of my life not only as a hobby but also as a job. Beginning in high school and continuing through college, I was an announcer at radio stations in my hometown of San Angelo, Texas, the West Texas city that I grew up in. My love of music combined with my love of talking (which greatly prepared me for the classroom) made this an ideal job for me. Below is a picture of me at one of these radio stations that I worked at, KGKL.
In any event, returning to the blog title discussion, I decided to incorporate this time in my life into my current experience by titling this blog entry (as well as every other blog title that follows) with the exact title (or a modified title) of a recorded song. What better way to begin a blog than with Neil Diamond!
With that explanation out of the way, I would like to use this first blog entry to introduce myself, explain why a high school physics teacher in Texas is interested in marine science and, most importantly, provide details about my cruise assignment as well as ways you can learn more about my expedition and marine science, in general. I am currently in my 21st year of teaching physics at Richardson High School in Richardson, Texas, a suburb north of Dallas.
I know that physics often gets a bad reputation among high school students as being hard, involving math, and quite frankly a class that they are forced to take. And these students would be correct on all counts. However, I often tell my classes at the beginning of each school year, “the reason I love teaching physics is that each of you experience physics on a daily basis and I do not have to think long and hard to come up with examples and applications of every topic and concept covered in class that directly impact your life.” I know that if I am successful in this regard, then perhaps my students might actually grow to tolerate and some maybe to even enjoy physics.
How did I end up in the classroom?
When I graduated from high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to be but I knew what I didn’t want to be… a teacher. I did not want or even entertain the notion of a career as a teacher. What makes this even more astounding is that everyone in my family were teachers, except me. My dad was the Education Department chair at the university I attended but I still was not interested. I wanted to pursue a career in medical research. Following my pursuit of advanced degrees in physics, two postdoctoral fellowships (one in nuclear medicine and another in neuroradiology), and a career as a staff scientist for stroke at the American Heart Association, I lived my dream but realized it was impacting my reality. My wife, Kelly, and I have a daughter, Alexandra, who always loved school and invested her time in any and all extracurricular activities she could possibly handle. My time was invested in activities that required my direct attention such as meetings, conferences, grants and drafting manuscripts for publication and not activities that I wanted to focus on such as attending recitals, performances, parent-teacher conferences and help with homework.
I understand that there are priorities in life and for me, they finally came into focus. I decided to change careers – change into the one career I thought I would never pursue – teaching. Twenty years later, I still have not regretted the move. So, what am I like in the classroom? The video below gives you a snapshot of what it is like to have me as a teacher.
Why marine science?
One thing you will come to learn about me through my blog postings is that I am a teacher who not only loves to teach but also, first and foremost, loves to learn. I am always looking for novel, innovative, and creative approaches to instructional activities, experiences, and projects that I can engage my students with, as well as share these approaches with other teachers. When a program such as NOAA Teacher at Sea comes about with opportunities for teachers to learn about marine science and “walk a mile in the shoes” of researchers, teachers like me jump at the chance to apply and hopefully are selected for such an honor.
I will be a participant on NOAAS Oregon II for Leg 2 of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey where I will be working with and learning from Andre J. Debose, Chief Scientist with NOAA Fisheries Service and his research team based in Pascagoula, MS. I am beyond ready for my Teacher at Sea cruise where I plan to pursue the following two objectives: (1) to share my knowledge and experiences of this journey with you through a blog and a Google Site and (2) initiate and contribute to a dialogue about the importance of planning, collecting, and evaluating surveys of shrimp, groundfish, plankton, and reef fish, conducted in the Gulf of Mexico, that you in turn can share with your students and colleagues.
More information regarding the cruise will follow in subsequent blog posts prior to and during the cruise (if the internet is behaving). I hope that you will not only read the blog posts but ask questions ranging from the Teacher at Sea program to the cruise details to the ship NOAAS Oregon II to the research conducted aboard the vessel to ways you can learn more marine science (or if you are a teacher, to design instructional activities to engage your students in marine science). I may not know the answers to all of your questions but rest assured that, if I do not know how to respond to a particular question, I will let you know and take steps to find a prompt and factual response. I would like to make this journey a positive learning experience for everyone!
Latitude: 26.17 Longitude: 81.34 Temperature: 89° F Wind Speeds: ESE 11 mph
Our last day on Oregon II together was filled with lots of hugs and new Facebook friends. I left Pascagoula, MS and arrived back in Naples, FL around midnight. It was nice to be back in my big bed but I really missed the rocking of the ship to put me to sleep.
The next morning I was greeted at my classroom door at 7 am by my students who had a lot of questions. They all had been following along on my blog and have seen a few pictures that were posted. I made a PowerPoint of pictures from the ship so they could see what my living and working arrangements were like. The funniest part was when I showed them my sleeping arrangements. They thought it was great that I was on the top bunk, but surprised at how small the room was and how I didn’t have a TV. (I think some thought it was more like a hotel room – boy were they wrong.) The part they were shocked the most was the size of the shower and the toilet area. I was able to organize my pictures into folders of the same species. I was then able to show them all of the wonderful pictures that the crew, scientists, volunteers and I had taken during our excursion.
The following week a reporter from the Naples Daily News and her photographer came to my classroom to interview me about my trip as well as what the students were learning in AICE Marine.
I was able to bring back with me the one of the 12 foot monofilament line and hook that is attached to the longline. I was able to explain to them how the lines are attached and the process for leaving the longline in the water for exactly an hour. We also started a lesson on random sampling. I discussed how the location for the longline deployment is chosen and why scientist make sure they are randomly chosen.
My biggest surprise was a package I received from my Uncle Tom a few days after I returned home. He is a fantastic artist that paints his own Christmas cards every year. In the package I received he painted the sunset picture I had taken of Oregon II when we were docked in Galveston. It is now hanging in my classroom.
In December I will be presenting about my experiences with
NOAA. Students, their families, and
people from the Naples community will all be welcome to attend. I will be working with fellow colleagues from
other high schools in Naples that also teach marine to spread the word to their
students. My goal is to get as many
students who are interested in a marine career to attend the presentation so
that going forward I will be able to work with them in a small group setting to
help with college preferences and contacts for marine careers.
I can’t thank NOAA enough for choosing me to participate as
the NOAA Teacher at Sea Alumnus. The
experiences I have received and the information I will be able to pass along to
my students is priceless!
Science and Technology Log
My students have been able to see and touch some of the items I was able to bring home from Oregon II that I discussed. I was able to answer so many questions and show them a lot of the pictures I took. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a sharp-nosed shark that is being sent to us from the lab in Pascagoula, MS. For students that are interested I will be conducting a dissection after school to show the anatomy of the shark as well as let them touch and feel the shark. (An additional blog will be posted once the dissection is competed)
One hour after the last highflyer is entered into the water it is time to retrieve the longline. The ship pulls alongside the first highflyer and brings it on board. Two people carry the highflyer to the stern of the ship. The longline is then re-attached to a large reel so that the mainline can be spooled back onto the ship. As the line comes back on board one scientist takes the gangion removes the tag and coils it back into the barrel. The bait condition and/or catch are added into the computer system by a second scientist. If there is a fish on the hook then it is determined if the fish can be brought on board by hand or if the cradle needs to be lowered into the water to bring up the species.
Protective eye wear must be worn at all times, but if a shark is being brought up in the cradle we must all also put on hard hats due to the crane being used to move the cradle. Once a fish is on board two scientists are responsible for weighing and taking three measurements: pre-caudal, fork, and total length in mm. Often, a small fin clip is taken for genetics and if it is a shark, depending on the size, a dart or rototag is inserted into the shark either at the base of the dorsal fin or on the fin itself. The shark tag is recorded and the species is then put back into the ocean. Once all 100 gangions, weights and highflyers are brought on board it is time to cleanup and properly store the samples.
Fish Data: Some species of snapper, grouper and tile fish that are brought on board will have their otoliths removed for ageing, a gonad sample taken for reproduction studies and a muscle sample for feeding studies and genetics. These are stored and sent back to the lab for further processing.
It has been a busy last few days. We have caught some really cool species like king snake eels (Ophichthus rex), gulper sharks (Centrophorus granulosus), yellow edge grouper (Hyporthodus flavolimbatus) and golden tile fish (Lopholaatilus chamaeleontiiceps). There have been thousands of moon jelly fish (Aurelia aurita) the size of dinner plates and larger all around the boat when we are setting and retrieving the longline. They look so peaceful and gentle just floating along with the current. When we were by the Florida-Alabama line there were so many oil rigs out in the distant. It was very interesting learning about them and seeing their lights glowing. One of them actually had a real fire to burn off the gases. There were also a couple sharks that swam by in our ship lights last night. One of the best things we got to witness was a huge leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) that came up for a breath of air about 50 feet from the ship.
My last blog left off with a late night longline
going in the water around 9:00pm on 9/23/19.
We were able to successfully tag a great hammerhead, a scalloped
hammerhead, and a tiger shark. We also
caught a blacknose shark, three gafftopsail catfish (Bagre marinus), and three red snappers.
Deploying the Longline
Today I’m going to explain to you the five jobs that we rotate through when we are deploying the longline. When there are about 15-20 minutes before deployment we grab our sunglasses, personal floatation device (pfd) and rubber boats and head to the stern of the ship. All scientists are responsible for helping to cut and bait all 100 gangions (hooks and line). The hooks are 15/0mm circle hooks and the gangion length is 3.7m long. The bait used for this is Atlantic mackerel cut into chunks to fit the hooks. We are all responsible for cleaning the deck and the table and cutting boards that were used.
The first job on the deployment is setting up the laptop computer. The scientist on computer is responsible for entering information when the high flyer, the three weights (entered after first high flyer, after gangion 50 and before final high flyer), and the 100 baited gangions entered into the water. This gives the time and the latitude and longitude of each to keep track of for comparison data.
The second job is the person actually putting the high flyer and buoy in the water. Once the ship is in position and we receive the ok from the bridge it is released into the water. The high flyer is 14ft from the weight at the bottom to the flashing light at the top. (see picture)
The third job is the “slinger”. The slinger takes each hook, one by one, off of the barrel, lowers the baited hook into the water, and then holds the end clamp so that the fourth scientist can put a tag number on each one (1-100). It is then handed to the deckhand who clamps it onto the mainline where it is lowered into the water off the stern.
The final job is the barrel cleaner. Once all the lines are in the water the barrel cleaner takes a large brush with soap and scrubs down the inside and outside of the barrel. The barrels are then taken to the well deck to get ready for the haul in. The last weight and high flyer are put into the water to complete the longline set, which will remain in the water for one hour. Everyone now helps out cleaning the stern deck and bringing any supplies to the dry lab. At this time the CTD unit is put in the water (this will be described at a later time).
Last night was so exciting, catching the three large sharks. During this station I was responsible for the data so I was able to take a few pictures once I recorded the precaudal, fork, and total length measurements as well as take a very small fin sample and place it in a vial, and record the tagging numbers.
Out: Today’s shout out goes to
my wonderful 161 students, all my former students, fellow teachers, especially
those in my hallway, my guest teachers and all the staff and administration at
Palmetto Ridge High School. I would also
like to thank Mr. Bremseth and Michelle Joyce for my letters of
couldn’t have been able to do this without all of your help and support. I have sooo much to tell you about when I get
back. Go Bears!!
Data from the Bridge (at beginning of log)
Latitude: 28.07 Longitude: 93.27.45 Temperature: 84°F Wind Speeds: ESE 13 mph large swells
Science and Technology Log
9/21/19-We left Galveston, TX late in the afternoon once the backup parts arrived. After a few changes because of boat traffic near us, were able to get to station 1 around 21:00 (9:00 pm). We baited the 100 hooks with Atlantic Mackerel. Minutes later the computers were up and running logging information as the high flyer and the 100 hooks on 1 mile of 4mm 1000# test monofilament line were placed in the Gulf of Mexico for 60 minutes. My job on this station was to enter the information from each hook into the computer when it was released and also when it was brought onboard. When the hook is brought onboard they would let me know the status: fish on hook, whole bait, damaged bait, or no bait. Our first night was a huge success. We had a total of 28 catches on our one deployed longline.
We caught 1 bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), 2 tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), 14 sharp nose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), 2 black tip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus), 7 black nose sharks (Carcharhinus acronotus), and 2 red snappers (Lutjanus campechanus). There were also 3 shark suckers (remoras) that came along for the ride.
I was lucky to be asked by the Chief Scientist Kristin to tag the large tiger shark that was in the cradle. It took me about 3 tries but it eventually went in right at the bottom of his dorsal fin. He was on hook #79 and was 2300mm total length. What a great way to start our first day of fishing. After a nice warm, but “rolling” shower I made it to bed around 1:00 am. The boat was really rocking and I could hear things rolling around in cabinets. I think I finally fell asleep around 3:00.
9/22- The night shift works from midnight to noon doing exactly what we do during the day. They were able to complete two stations last night. They caught some tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) and a couple sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus). My shift consists of Kristin, Christian, Taniya, and Ryan: we begin our daily shifts at noon and end around midnight. The ship arrived at our next location right at noon so the night shift had already prepared our baits for us. We didn’t have a lot on this station but we did get a Gulf smooth hound shark (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), 2 king snake eels (Ophichthus rex), and a red snapper that weighed 7.2 kg (15.87 lbs). We completed a second station around 4:00 pm where our best catch was a sandbar shark. Due to the swells, we couldn’t use the crane for the shark basket so Kristin tried to tag her from the starboard side of the ship.
We were able to complete a third station tonight at 8:45 pm. My job this time was in charge of data recording. When a “fish is on,” the following is written down: hook number, mortality status, genus and species, precaudal measurement, fork measurement, and total length measurement, weight, sex, stage, samples taken, and tag number/comments. We had total of 13 Mustelus sinusmexicanus; common name Gulf smooth-hound shark. The females are ovoviviparous, meaning the embryos feed solely on the yolk but still develop inside the mother, before being born. The sharks caught tonight ranged in length from 765mm to 1291mm. There were 10 females and 3 male, and all of the males were of mature status. We took a small tissue sample from all but two of the sharks, which are used for genetic testing. Three of the larger sharks were tagged with rototags. (Those are the orange tags you see in the picture of the dorsal fin below).
I spend most of my downtime between stations in the science dry lab. I have my laptop to work on my blog and there are 5 computers and a TV with Direct TV. We were watching Top Gun as we were waiting for our first station. I tried to watch the finale of Big Brother Sunday night but it was on just as we had to leave to pull in our longline. So I still don’t know who won. 🙂 I slept good last night until something started beeping in my room around 4:00 am. It finally stopped around 6:30. They went and checked out my desk/safe where the sound was coming from and there was nothing. Guess I’m hearing things 🙂
Shout out! – Today’s shout out goes to the Sturgeon Family – Ben and Dillon I hope you are enjoying all the pictures – love Aunt Kathy
While we are waiting to get started with our research survey that collects fisheries-independent data about sharks, I’ll tell you a little about how other NOAA scientists collect information directly from the commercial shark fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Shark Bottom Longline
Observer Program works to gather reliable data on catch, bycatch, and discards
in the Shark Bottom Longline Fishery, as well as document interactions with
protected species. Administered by the Southeast Fishery Science Center’s Panama
City Laboratory, the data collected by observers helps inform management
decisions. NOAA hires one to six observer personnel under
contractual agreements to be placed on commercial fishing vessels targeting
shark species. Program coordinators maintain data storage and retrieval,
quality control, observer support services (training, observer gear,
documents, debriefing, data entry), and administrative support.
This shark bottom longline fishery targets large coastal sharks (e.g., blacktip shark) and small coastal sharks (e.g., Atlantic sharpnose). Groupers, snappers, and tilefish are also taken. The shark bottom longline fishery is active on the southeast coast of the United States and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Vessels in this fishery average 50 feet long, with longline gear consisting of 5 to 15 miles of mainline and 500 to 1500 hooks being set. Each trip has a catch limit ranging from 3 to 45 large coastal sharks, depending on the time of year and the region (Gulf of Mexico or south Atlantic). Shark directed trips can range from 3-5 days at sea.
In 2007, NOAA Fisheries created a shark research fishery to continue collection of life history data and catch data from sandbar sharks for future stock assessment. This was created as sandbar sharks are protected due to lower population numbers that allowed for some very limited commercial take of the animals and allows for collection of scientific data on life history etc. A limited number of commercial shark vessels are selected annually and may land sandbar sharks, which are otherwise prohibited. Observer coverage is mandatory within this research fishery (compared to coverage level of 4 percent to 6 percent for the regular shark bottom longline fishery).
Well, I guess you were hoping to hear from me sooner than this. I arrived in Galveston, TX on September 15th. I boarded NOAA Ship Oregon II and got settled in my room. The 170 foot ship was tugged into port early due to a broken part. Today is Wednesday September 18th , and we are still waiting to leave. Fingers crossed it will be tomorrow morning. During this time I was able to meet with the crew members and scientists and familiarize myself with the ship. I was able to walk around Galveston and learn about its history. We were able to go out to dinner where I have had amazing oysters and a new dish “Snapper Wings” at Katie’s Seafood Restaurant. It was delicious and so tender. I would definitely recommend it!
During our time in port we were also hit with Tropical Storm Imelda. We have had lots of rain and flooding in the area.
Shout Out: Today’s shout out goes to my nephews Eastwood and Austin and my sister Karen and her husband Casey in Dallas, TX. I also want to say Hi to all of my marine students at PRHS. Hope I didn’t leave you all too much work to do 🙂 Keep up with your blog ws!
Latitude: 26° 17’ 45” Longitude: 81° 34’ 40” Temperature: 91° F Wind Speeds: NNE 7 mph
I leave on my “Twice in a Lifetime Experience” I thought I’d let you know a little
more about me.
In May of 2010, I participated in the NOAA TAS program. The hardest part was leaving my 1 ½ year old son Jonah while I was gone for three weeks. At the time I was teaching science at Key Biscayne K-8 School, which was located on an island off of Miami, Florida. I wanted to have my students experience something new so I chose to go to Alaska aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. The ship left out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska where the Deadliest Catch is filmed. We spent the days and night doing neuston and bongo tows to study the walleye pollock (imitation crab meat). I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and crew! For more information you can look up my blog in the past season 2010. I applied for the NOAA TAS Alumni position and now I’m happy to say I will be having a “Twice in a Lifetime Experience” with NOAA! This time I will be on NOAA Ship Oregon II where we will be tagging and monitoring sharks and red snappers in the Gulf of Mexico.
grew up in Louisville, KY where I spent most of my summers boating and skiing on
the Ohio River. When I was 10 years old
my parents, sister and I got scuba certified.
I guess you could say this is when my love for the ocean began! Our first trip was to Grand Cayman and we experienced
things underwater that were even more beautiful than books and videos could
ever show. I have been back numerous
times, but when I went back this past June you can obviously see the changes
that are occurring in the ocean and the beaches. I currently volunteer with Rookery Bay
Estuarine Reserve and help with turtle patrol, shark tagging, and trawls. The amount of garbage we collect is getting
out of control. Teaching the importance
of this to my students is one of my top priorities.
I currently teach AICE Marine and Marine Regular at Palmetto Ridge High School in Naples, Florida. For the past 5 years I have grown the program into a class that is not just “inside” the classroom. What better way to learn about marine species and water quality than taking care of your own aquarium? Throughout the school there are 24 aquariums. The tanks include saltwater, fresh water, and brackish water. My students are taught how to properly maintain a tank, checking the water quality and salinity, as well as feeding and caring for their organisms. In addition to the aquariums they have a quarterly enrichment grade that has them getting outside in our environment and learning about the canals, lakes, and ocean that are just miles from us. We work with Keeping Collier Beautiful to do canal cleanups twice a year and they also visit Rookery Bay and the Conservancy for educational lessons. Thanks to the science department at Collier County Public Schools we are also given the opportunity to go out into the estuaries. Rookery Bay and FGCU Vester lab work with us to get the students out on the water to experience the ecology around them. Even though we are only miles from the Gulf of Mexico some students have never been out on a boat. This day trip gives them a hands on learning experience where we complete a trawl and water sampling.
I leave this weekend I know my students will be in good hands and will be following
my blog throughout my journey. The value
of what I am going to be sharing with them far outweighs my short time
away. My goal is to show them you are
never too old to try something new and hopefully my experience will get more
students into a career in marine sciences.
Shout outs: First one goes to my son Jonah (11), my parents Bud and Diane for taking care of him while I’m off having the time of my life, my boyfriend Michael who is currently deployed with the Air Force SFS, and his two kids Andrew (17) and Mackenna (10). Thanks for your support. Love and miss you all! <(((><
Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: July 18, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge Latitude: 29.43° N Longitude: 86.24° W Wave Height: 1 foot Wind Speed: 7 knots Wind Direction: 220 Visibility: 10 nm Air Temperature: 31°C Barometric Pressure: 1017.5 mb Sky: Few clouds
Over the course of this research experience, I have realized that I was not entirely prepared to assist on this voyage. While I think I have pulled my weight in terms of manpower and eagerness, I quickly realized that not having a background in the biological sciences limits my capacity to identify species of fish. Not growing up in the Gulf region, I am already limited in my understanding and recognition of fish variety through their common names like shrimp, grouper, and snapper. Countless other varieties exist most of which have no commercial fishing value such as boxfish, sea robin, spadefish, and scorpionfish. Fortunately, the microbiology grad student paired with me during wet lab processing has been patient and the fishery biologists assigned to this research party have been informative showing me the basics to fish identification (or taxonomy).
The wet lab aboard Oregon II is the nexus of the research team’s work. While the aft deck and the computer lab adjacent to the wet lab are important for conducting research and collecting data, the wet lab is where species are sorted, identified, and entered into the computer. The lab has a faint smell of dead fish and briny water. While the lab is kept clean, it is hard to wash the salt off the surfaces of the lab entirely after every research station.
Alongside the buckets and processing equipment are textbooks, quick reference guides, and huge laminated charts of fish species. Most of the reference material has distinctive color photographs of each fish species with its scientific name listed as the caption. The books in this lab are focused on Gulf and Atlantic varieties as these are what are likely to be found during the surveys. Fishery biologists have a wealth of knowledge, and they pride themselves on knowing all the species that come through the lab. However, occasionally a variety comes through the lab they cannot identify. Some species are less common than others. Even the experts get stumped from time to time and have to rely on the books and charts for identification. To get experience in this process, the biologists have given me crustaceans to look up. I struggle to make matches against pictures, but I have gotten better at the process over the weeks.
As I have learned more about the scientific names of each species we have caught, I have also learned that scientists use a two-name system called a Binomial Nomenclature. Scientists name animals and plants using the system that describes the genus and species of the organism (often based on Latin words and meaning. The first word is the genus and the second is the species. Some species have names that align close to the common name such as scorpionfish (Scorpaena brasiliensis). Others seem almost unrelated to their common name such as scrawled cowfish (Acanthostracion quadricornis).
Fortunately for those of us who do not identify fish for a living, technology has provided resources to aid in learning about and identifying species of fish we encounter. The FishVerify app, for example, can identify a species, bring up information on its habitat and edibility, and tell you its size and bag limits in area based on your phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS). The app is trained on over a thousand different species with the beta version of the app focused on 150 species caught in the waters of Florida. On our research cruise, we have encountered over 150 species so far.
Did You Know?
The naming system for plant and animal species was invented by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in the 1700s. It is based on the science of taxonomy, and uses a hierarchical system called binomial nomenclature. It started out as a naming system for plants but was adapted to animals over time. The Linnaean system has progressed to a system of modern biological classification based on the evolutionary relationships between organisms, both living and extinct.
Nearly two weeks into this experience and the end of my time with NOAA aboard Oregon II, I find that I have settled into a routine. Being assigned to the “dayshift,” I have seen several sunsets over my shoulder as I have helped deploy research equipment or managed the bounty of a recent trawls. I have missed nearly all the sunrises as the sun comes up five hours after I have gone to bed.
However, these two features along the horizon cannot match the view I have in the morning or late at night. After breakfast and a shower midmorning, I like to spend about 30 minutes gazing at the water from one of the upper decks. The clean light low along the water accentuates its blueish-green hue. In my mind, I roll through an old pack of crayons trying to figure out what color the water most closely represents. Then I realize it’s the Green-Blue one. It is not Blue-Green, which is a lighter, brighter color. The first part of the crayon color name is an adjective describing the second color name on the crayon. Green-blue is really blue with a touch of green, while blue-green is really green with some blue pigment in the crayon. Green-Blue in the crayon world is remarkably blue with a hint of green. The water I have admired on this cruise is that color.
The Gulf in the east feels like an exotic place when cruising so far away from shore. While I have been to every Gulf state in the U.S. and visited their beaches, the blue waters off Florida seem like something more foreign than I am accustomed. When I think of beaches and seawater in the U.S., I think of algae and silt mixed with the sand creating water with a brown or greenish hue: sometimes opaque if the tide is rough such as the coast of Texas and sometimes clear like the tidal pools in Southern California. Neither place has blue water, which is okay. Each place in this world is distinct, but to experience an endless sea of blue is exotic to me.
In contrast to vibrant colors of the morning, the late evening is its own special experience. Each night I have been surprised at how few stars I can see. Unfortunately, the tropic storm earlier in the week has produced sparse, lingering clouds and a slight haze. At night the horizon shows little distinction between the water and the sky. The moon has glided in and out of cover. However, the lights atop the ship’s cranes provide a halo around the ship as it cruises across the open water. What nature fails to illuminate, the ship provides. The water under this harsh, unnatural light is dark. It churns with the movement of the boat like thick goo. Yet that goo teems with life. Every so often a crab floats by along the ships current. Flying fish leap from the water and skip along the surface. Glimpses of larger inhabitants dancing on the edge of the ship’s ring: creatures that are much larger than we work up in the wet lab but illusive enough that it can be hard to determine if they are fish or mammal. (I am hopeful they are pods of dolphins and not a frenzy of sharks).
Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: July 16, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge Latitude: 28.51° N Longitude: 84.40° W Wave Height: 1 foot Wind Speed: 6 knots Wind Direction: 115 Visibility: 10 nm Air Temperature: 30.8°C Barometric Pressure: 1021 mb Sky: Clear
In my previous blog, I mentioned the challenges of doing survey work on the eastern side of the Gulf near Florida. I also mentioned the use of a probe to scan the sea floor in advance of trawling for fish samples. That probe is called the EdgeTech 4125 Side Scan Sonar. Since it plays a major role in the scientific research we have completed, I wanted to focus on it a bit more in this blog. Using a scanner such as this for a groundfish survey in the Gulf by NOAA is not typical. This system was added as a precaution in advance of trawling due to the uneven nature of the Gulf floor off the Florida Coast, which is not as much of a problem the further west one goes in the Gulf. Scanners such as these have been useful on other NOAA and marine conservation research cruises especially working to map and assess reefs in the Gulf.
Having seen the side scanner used at a dozen different research stations on this cruise, I wanted to learn more about capabilities of this scientific instrument. From the manufacturer’s information, I have learned that it was designed for search and recovery and shallow water surveys. The side scanner provides higher resolution imagery. While the imagining sent to our computer monitors have been mostly sand and rock, one researcher in our crew said he has seen tanks, washing machines, and other junk clearly on the monitors during other research cruises.
This means that the side scanner provides fast survey results, but the accuracy of the results becomes the challenge. While EdgeTech praises the accuracy of its own technology, we have learned that accurate readings of data on the monitor can be more taxing. Certainly, the side scanner is great for defining large items or structures on the sea floor, but in areas where the contour of the floor is more subtle, picking out distinctions on the monitor can be harder to discern. On some scans, we have found the surface of the sea floor to be generally sandy and suitable for trawling, but then on another scan with similar data results, chunks of coral and rock have impeded our trawls and damaged the net.
Did You Know?
In 1906, American naval architect Lewis Nixon invented the first sonar-like listening device to detect icebergs. During World War I, a need to detect submarines increased interest in sonar. French physicist Paul Langévin constructed the first sonar set to detect submarines in 1915. Today, sonar has evolved into more sophisticated forms of digital imaging multibeam technology and side scan sonar (see https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/lewis_clark01/background/seafloormapping/seafloormapping.html for more information).
When I first arrived aboard Oregon II, the new environment was striking. I have never spent a significant amount of time on a trawling vessel or a research ship. Looking around, I took many pictures of the various features with an eye on the architectural elements of the ship. One of the most common fixtures throughout the vessel are posted signs. Lamented signs and stickers can be found all over the ship. At first, I was amused at the volume and redundancy, but then I realized that this ship is a communal space. Throughout the year, various individuals work and dwell on this vessel. The signs serve to direct and try to create consistency in the overall operation of the ship and the experience people have aboard it. Some call the ship “home” for extended periods of time such as most of the operational crew. Others, mostly those who are part of the science party, use the vessel for weeks at a time intermittently. Before I was allowed join the science party, I was required to complete an orientation. That orientation aligns with policies of NOAA and the expectation aboard Oregon II of its crew. From the training, I primarily learned that the most important policy is safety, which interestingly is emblazoned on the front of the ship just below the bridge.
The signs seem to be reflective of past experiences on the ship. Signs are not only reminders of important policies and protocols, but also remembrances of challenges confronted during past cruises. Like the additional equipment that has been added to Oregon II since its commission in 1967, the added signs illustrate the history the vessel has endured through hundreds of excursions.
Examples of that history is latent in the location and wording of signs. Posted across from me in the computer lab are three instructional signs: “Do not mark or alter hard hats,” “Keep clear of sightglass do not secure gear to sightglass” (a sightglass is an oil gauge), and “(Notice) scientist are to clear freezers out after every survey.”
Author and journalist Daniel Pink talks about the importance of signs in our daily lives. His most recent work has focused on the emotional intelligence associated with signs. Emotional intelligence refers to the way we handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. He is all about the way signs are crafted and displayed, but signs should also be thought of in relation to how informative and symbolic they can be within the environment we exist. While the information is usually direct, the symbolism comes from the way we interpret the overall context of the signs in relation to or role they play in that environment.
Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 14, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 29.19° N Longitude: 83.45° W Wave Height: 1-2 feet Wind Speed: 10 knots Wind Direction: 180 Visibility: 10 nm Air Temperature: 30.5°C Barometric Pressure: 1019 mb Sky: Few clouds
NOAA Ship Oregon II includes many departments and sections of the ship. As part of the TAS program (Teacher at Sea), I spend most of my time assisting the research team in the wet lab, which occurs in 12-hour shifts. The wet lab is where each catch is brought after it is hauled aboard. The process involves bringing what we find in the trawling net on deck so that we can weigh, sort, count, and measure a subsample of what is found. Fortunately, we do not have to weigh and determine the sex of everything that comes aboard in the net; otherwise, it would take hours when the catch is large. By taking a subsample, fishery biologists can split the catch into percentages depending on the weight of the entire catch and sample size. This subsample’s diversity can then be used as a basis for the entire catch. This conserves our efforts and while still providing an accurate representation of what was caught.
In order to ensure that our leg of the groundfish survey covers the maximum area possible, NOAA uses a method called independent random sampling. A computer program randomly selects stations or research sites based on depth data and spatial area. By choosing random samples independently, fishery biologists can ensure that they have not inadvertently singled out or favored one area over another and that the data collected represents an accurate picture of the fish population in the Gulf. Previous legs of the groundfish survey this summer have focused on research stations along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf coast. Our sampling takes place along the Florida side of the Gulf. The goal is to hit 45-50 research sites during our trip.
So far, I have learned that the eastern side of Gulf can be more challenging to survey than the west. NOAA and its SEAMAP partners have covered less area in the eastern part of the Gulf. While the eastern Gulf is not exactly uncharted waters, NOAA is still perfecting its research techniques in this part of the Gulf. As early as the 1970s, NOAA has surveyed the muddy bottom of the western Gulf off the coast of Texas. In that part of the Gulf, silt from rivers (mostly the Mississippi) makes for a more uniform surface to trawl for fish samples. East of Mobile, Alabama, tends to be rocky and sandy with outcrops of coral and sponge. The craggy surface, while ideal for a host of aquatic species, can create challenges for collecting samples. With each research station we visit on our cruise, we have to be careful not to cause too much damage to the sea floor. Therefore, we have been using a torpedo-shaped probe to scan our trawling paths before we drop the net. While this doubles the time it takes to complete each research station, it does improve our odds of collecting good samples as well as protecting our trawling net from jagged objects that might tear the net.
Did You Know?
A fishery biologist is a scientist who studies fish and their habitats. As biologists, they mostly focus on the behavior of fish in their natural surroundings. Some biologists work mostly in a lab or sorting data in a research facility like NOAA’s office in Pascagoula, but many spend quite a bit of time collecting field samples in various ecological settings. To become a fishery biologist, scientists have to study botany, zoology, fishery management, and wildlife management as a prerequisite to a career in the fish and game biology field. A bachelor’s degree may be acceptable for managerial positions, but many fishery biologists have advanced degrees such as a Master’s or Doctorate.
At the beginning of the cruise, we conducted safety drills aboard Oregon II. Safety drills include fire, man overboard, and abandon ship. Each drill requires the crew to go to various parts of the ship. For fire, the research crew (including myself) heads to the stern (or back of the ship) to wait instructions and to be out of the way of the deck crew working the fire. For man overboard, we are instructed to keep eyes on the individual in the water, yelling for help, and throw life preservers in the water to help mark the person’s location. For abandon ship, the crew meets on the fore deck with their life jackets and “gumby” survival suits (see picture). If life rafts can be deployed, we put on our life jackets and all of us file into groups. If we have to jump into the water, we are asked to put on our red survival suits, which are a cross between a wetsuit and a personal inflatable raft.
I asked Acting Commanding Officer Andrew Ostapenko (normally the Executive Officer but is the acting “captain” of our cruise) about what we would do in the event of a storm. With a length of 170 feet and a width of 34 feet, Oregon II is large enough to handle normal summer squalls and moderate weather like the ones we have sailed through the first few days our trip, but it is important to avoid tropical storms or hurricanes (like Barry, which is gathering near the coast of Louisiana), which are just too big to contend. On the ship, the officers keep a constant watch on the weather forecast with real-time data feeds from the National Weather Service (NWS).
As part of my orientation to the ship, I took a tour of the safety features of Oregon II with the officer in charge of safety for our cruise, OPS Officer LT Ryan Belcher. He showed us what would happen in case of an emergency. There are 6 life rafts on board, and each can hold 16 people. Three rafts position on each side of the ship, and they automatically float free and inflate if that side of the ship goes underwater. An orange rescue boat can be deployed if someone falls overboard, but that craft is more It is more regularly used for man overboard drills and to support periodic dives for underwater hull inspections and maintenance.
If an emergency on the ship did occur, it would be essential to send out a call for help. First, they would try the radio, but if radio communication no longer worked, we also have a satellite phone, EPIRBS (satellite beacons), and a radar reflector (that lets ships nearby know there is an emergency). On the lower tech end, old fashion emergency flares and parachute signals can be launched into the air so other ships could locate us.
Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 11, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 28.29° N Longitude: 83.18° W Wave Height: 1-2 feet Wind Speed: 11 knots Wind Direction: 190 Visibility: 10 nm Air Temperature: 29.8°C Barometric Pressure: 1013.6 mb Sky: Few clouds
As I mentioned in my introductory post, the purpose of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey is to collect data for managing commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the science involved is much more complex than counting and measuring fish varieties.
The research crew gathers data in three ways. The first way involves trawling for fish. The bulk of the work on-board focuses on trawling or dragging a 42-foot net along the bottom of the Gulf floor for 30 minutes. Then cranes haul the net and its catch, and the research team and other personnel weigh the catch. The shift team sorts the haul which involves pulling out all of the shrimp and red snapper, which are the most commercially important species, and taking random samples of the rest. Then the team counts each species in the sample and record weights and measurements in a database called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System).
SEAMAP can be used by various government, educational, and private entities. For example, in the Gulf data is used to protect the shrimp and red snapper populations. For several years, Gulf states have been closing the shrimp fishery and putting limits on the snapper catches seasonally to allow the population to reproduce and grow. The SEAMAP data helps determine the length of the season and size limits for each species.
Another method of data collection is conductivity, temperature, and depth measurements (CTD). The process involves taking readings on the surface, the bottom of Gulf floor, and at least two other points between in order to create a CTD profile of the water sampled at each trawling locations. The data becomes important in order to assess the extent of hypoxia or “dead zones” in the Gulf (see how compounded data is used to build maps of hypoxic areas of the Gulf: https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/noaa-forecasts-very-large-dead-zone-for-gulf-of-mexico). Plotting and measuring characteristics of hypoxia have become a major part of fishery research especially in the Gulf, which has the second largest area of seasonal hypoxia in the world around the Mississippi Delta area. SEAMAP data collected since the early 1980s show that the zone of hypoxia in the Gulf has been spreading, unfortunately. One recent research sample taken near Corpus Christi, TX indicated that hypoxia was occurring further south than in the past. This summer, during surveys two CTD devices are being used. The first is a large cylinder-shaped machine that travels the depth of the water for its readings. It provides a single snapshot. The second CTD is called a “Manta,” which is a multi-parameter water quality sonde (or probe). While it can be used for many kinds of water quality tests, NOAA is using it to test for hypoxia across a swath of sea while pulling the trawling net. This help determine the rate of oxygenation at a different depth in the water and across a wider field than the other CTD can provide.
Did You Know?
Algae is a major problem in the Gulf of Mexico. Hypoxia is often associated with the overgrowth of certain species of algae, which can lead to oxygen depletion when they die, sink to the bottom, and decompose. Two major outbreaks of algae contamination have occurred in the past three years. From 2017-2018, red algae, which is common in the Gulf, began washing ashore in Florida. “Red Tide” is the common name for these algae blooms, which are large concentrations of aquatic microorganisms, such as protozoans and unicellular algae. The upwelling of nutrients from the sea floor, often following massive storms, provides for the algae and triggers bloom events. The wave of hurricanes (including Irma and during this period caused the bloom. The second is more recent. Currently, beaches nearest the Mississippi Delta have been closed due to an abundance of green algae. This toxic algae bloom resulted from large amounts of nutrients, pesticides, fertilizers being released into the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Louisiana because of the record-high Mississippi River levels near Lake Pontchartrain. The spillway opening is being blamed for high mortality rates of dolphins, oysters and other aquatic life, as well as the algae blooms plaguing Louisiana and Mississippi waters.
Pulling away from Pascagoula yesterday, I knew we were headed into open waters for the next day and half as we traveled east down the coast to the Tampa Bay, FL area. I stood on the fore deck and watched Oregon II cruise past the shipyard, the old naval station, the refinery, navigation buoys, barrier islands, and returning vessels. The Gulf is a busy place. While the two major oceans that flank either side of the U.S. seem so dominant, the Gulf as the ninth largest body of water in the world and has just as much importance. As a basin linked to the Atlantic Ocean, the tidal ranges in the Gulf are extremely small due to the narrow connection with the ocean. This means that outside of major weather, the Gulf is relatively calm, which is not the case with our trip.
As we cruise into open waters, along the horizon we can see drilling platforms jutting out of the Gulf like skyscrapers or resorts lining the distant shore. Oil and gas extraction are huge in this region. Steaming alongside us are oil tankers coming up from the south and cargo ships with towering containers moving back and forth between Latin America and the US Coast. What’s in the Gulf (marine wildlife and natural resources) has geographic importance, but what comes across the Gulf has strategic value too.
The further we cruised away from Mississippi, the water became choppy. The storm clouds that delayed our departure the day before were now overhead. In the distances, rain connected the sky to sea. While the storm is predicted to move northwest, the hope is that we can avoid its intensification over the Gulf Stream as we move southeasterly.
I learned that water in the Gulf this July is much warmer than normal. As a result, locally produced tropical storms have formed over the Gulf. Typically, tropical storms (the prelude to a hurricane) form over the Atlantic closer to the Equator and move North. Sometimes they can form in isolated areas like the Gulf. Near us, an isolated tropical storm (named Barry) is pushing us toward research stations closer to the coast in order to avoid more turbulent and windy working conditions. While the research we are conducting is important, safety and security aboard the ship comes first.
Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 8, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 30.35° N Longitude: 88.6° W Wave Height: 1-2 feet Wind Speed: 10 knots Wind Direction: Northwest Visibility: 10 nm Air Temperature: 33°C Barometric Pressure: 1012 mb Sky: Few clouds
Day one of my trip and we are delayed leaving. Growing up in Oklahoma, you think you know weather until one of the NOAA fishery biologists assigned to the ship provides you a lengthy explanation about the challenges of weather on setting sail. As he put it, the jet stream is throwing off the weather. This is true. Studies have suggested that for a few years the polar jet stream has been fluctuating more than normal as it passes over parts of the Northern Hemisphere. The jet stream is like a river of wind that circles the Northern Hemisphere continuously. That river meanders north and south along the way. When those meanders occur over the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, it can alter pressure systems and wind patterns at lower latitudes and that affects how warm or raining it is across North America and Europe.
This spring in Oklahoma, it has led to record-breaking rains that have flooded low lying areas across the Great Plains and parts of the southeastern United States. Thunderstorms have generally been concentrated in the southern and middle section of the US as the jet stream dips down. The NOAA biologist also indicated that the delay in our departure could be blamed on the El Niño effect.
El Niño is a natural climate pattern where sea water in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean is warmer than average. This leads to greater precipitation originating from the ocean. According to NOAA scientists, El Niño is calculated by averaging the sea-surface temperature each month, then averaging it with the previous and following months. That number is compared to average temperatures for the same three-month period between 1986 and 2015, called the Oceanic Niño index. When the index hits 0.5 degrees Celsius warmer or more, such as right now, it’s classified as an El Niño. When it’s 0.5 degrees Celsius cooler or more, it’s a La Niña. During an El Niño, the southern part of the U.S. typically experiences wetter than average conditions, while the northern part is less stormy and milder than usual. During a La Niña, it flips, with colder and stormier conditions to the north and warmer, less stormy conditions across the south. However, the El Niño this year has been classified as weak, which means typically the wetter conditions do not push into the Gulf of Mexico region, but exceptions can occur. With the fluctuating jet stream, the El Nino has vacillated between the Plains region and the upper South and regions closer to the Gulf. Thus, the storm causing our delayed departure comes from a weather condition that has been pushed further south by the jet stream.
While these may be causes for the delayed departure, the actual sailing conditions at the time of our voyage are the main concerns. Looking at the NOAA Marine Forecast webpage (https://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/marine/zone/off/offnt4mz.htm), the decision for our delay is based on a storm producing significant wave heights, which are the average height of the highest 1/3 of the waves. Individual waves may be more than twice the average wave heights. In addition, weak high pressure appears to dominate the western Gulf and will likely last mid-week. Fortunately, we are set sail into the eastern Gulf off the coast of Florida. We should be able to sail behind the storm as it moves west. We do have to watch the surface low forming along a trough over the northeast Gulf later in the week. The National Hurricane Center in Miami (which provided weather data in the Atlantic and the Gulf for NOAA) predicts that all of this will intensify through Friday (July 12) as it drifts westward. This will produce strong to near gale force winds and building seas for the north central Gulf. Hopefully by then we will be sailing south of it.
Did You Know?
The weather terms El Niño and La Niña can be translated from Spanish to English as boy and girl, respectively. El Niño originally applied to an annual weak warm ocean current that ran southwards along the coast of Peru and Ecuador around Christmas time before it was linked to a global phenomenon now referred to as El Niño–Southern Oscillation. La Niña is sometimes called El Viejo, anti-El Niño, or simply “a cold event.” El Niño events have been occurring for thousands of years with at least 26 occurring since 1900.
I boarded NOAA’s Oregon II yesterday when the ship was virtually empty. It was Sunday, and we were not set to leave until mid-afternoon the following day (and now Tuesday, July 9). Spending the night on the ship was more comfortable than I had expected. While the stateroom was cramped (I share it with one other crew member), the space is surprisingly efficient. I had plenty of space to store my gear. The bunkbed was more cozy than restricted.
My first day in Pascagoula, MS was spent learning about the town. Pascagoula is a port city with a historic shipyard. Pascagoula is home to the state’s largest employer, Ingalls Shipbuilding, the largest Chevron refinery in the world, and Signal International, an oil platform builder. Prior to World War II, the town was a small fishing community, but the population jumped with war-driven shipbuilding. The city’s population peak in the late 1970s, but today, there are less than 25,000 in the area. Pascagoula continues to be an industrial center surrounded by the growing tourism industry across the Gulf region to the east and west of the port. The population also declined when Naval Station Pascagoula was decommissioned in 2006. The old naval base is located on manmade strip of land called Singing River Island and is in the middle of the port. The port still maintains a large Coast Guard contingent as well as serving as the home portfor the NOAA Ships Gordon Gunter, Oregon II, and Pisces. The NOAA port is actually called the Gulf Marine Support Facility and is located a block from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Mississippi Laboratory.
Mission: Leg III of SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 2, 2019
“There are many good
fishermen and some great ones. But there is only one you.”
–Ernest Hemingway (Old Man and the Sea)
As I sit at my home computer, my mind is racing with thoughts of what I need to do before leaving for Mississippi. My family doesn’t quite know what I am doing aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, not that I am sure either! They vacillate between images of cramped, hot quarters portrayed in old World War II movies like Das Boot (1981), which is about a German submarine crew. In contrast to the sailors traversing icy, choppy waters as in the reality TV show Deadliest Catch, which is about King Crab fishermen in Alaska’s Bering Sea. I am not sure my time aboard Oregon II will be either, but perhaps they will think me braver if I leave that picture in their minds ahead of my trip [wink, wink].
However, before I talk about my trip, I should take a step back and talk about where I came. I am from Oklahoma, one of the most landlocked areas of North America. I grew up in Oklahoma (both Tulsa and Oklahoma City), but have had many other experiences since then. I have been teaching at the collegiate level for 15 years. I mostly instruct high school students taking concurrent enrollment classes and community college students working on undergraduate general education requirements. I teach regional geography, folklife and traditional culture, and introduction to the humanities at Oklahoma State University—Oklahoma City (OSU-OKC) and Oklahoma City Community College. I am lead faculty in geography at OSU-OKC.
I earned my BA
from Sarah Lawrence College in New York (1994). I studied visual arts,
primarily painting and filmmaking, and cultural studies. I earned my MA in Folk
Studies from Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green (1998), and I earned my
PhD in Geography from the University of Oklahoma, Norman (2015). Through my
education and early adult life, I lived coast to coast in seven different
states. This education prepared me to work in the field of public history,
historic interpretation, community development, and arts administration in
addition to teaching at the collegiate level. Before teaching, I worked in
Washington, DC for Ralph Nader (yes, the clean water, clean air, clean
everything guy…oh, and he ran for president). I worked for several historic sites
and cultural agencies, including Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky Museum,
Historic Carnton, and the Tennessee Arts Commission. I have also worked in
education administration. I served as the director the Oklahoma Center for Arts
Education for the University of Central Oklahoma, as executive director of the
Oklahoma Folklife Council for the Oklahoma Historical Society, and recently, as
Director of Community Resources for Western Heights Public Schools. At Western
Heights, I have been fortunate to work close to a younger group of students. I
have been a part of the expanding arts and science curriculum at the high
school. The school district is in the process of renovating the high school
science wing and building a new arts and science high school building for an
emerging STEAM program. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering,
arts, and math instruction. Working with community partners, I am also involved
in promoting college and career readiness at the secondary level.
interests include the cultural geography of Oklahoma, family stories and
cultural expressions, and community building. However, through
my research in folk studies (similar to anthropology) and cultural geography, I
have studied human interconnectivity associated with occupations, which is what
initially drew my interest to the NOAA Teacher at Sea (TAS) program. In the
past, I have studied occupations associated with rural culture and how
environment and increased urbanization have effected work settings and their
relationship to identity. My research
interest aside, I am excited to learn more about the science of fishery surveys.
I think learning about the maritime career opportunities associated with NOAA
programs will be important to convey to the students I teach. Especially
because so many of my students come from economically challenged, urban
settings, and the thought of pursuing a career based on scientific research is
foreign. As a geographer, I am also excited to share with students ways they
can connect to geography as an influence on their career plans.
will be part of the third leg of the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment
Program (SEAMAP) sailing out of the NOAA Pascagoula, MS facility. SEAMAP is a
State/Federal/university program for collecting, managing, and disseminating
fishery-independent data in the southeastern US. The Gulf of Mexico survey work
began in 1981. I have read blogs and videos from NOAA TAS alum that have been
part of the similar research cruises, and I have reviewed the NOAA website
under the SEAMAP pages and NOAA Oregon II
pages. TAS alumni Angela Hung from the 2018 SEAMAP survey crew posted a great
blog on roughly what Oregon II crew
will be doing while I am sailing (see https://noaateacheratsea.blog/2018/07/03/angela-hung-dont-give-it-a-knife-june-30-2018/). However, I am still
working to understand exactly what I will be doing. Coastal culture and
scientific research of this nature is new to me. The closest experience I have
goes back to my childhood when in the 1980s my mom built a catfish hatchery and
commercial pond operation on 10 acres of farmland in southeastern Oklahoma. The
“catfish farm” as we called was only in our family for a few years. The next
closest experience I have to coastal fisheries is chartering boats for near
shore and deep sea fishing adventures on vacation. Clearly, I am in for a
lesson on the broader science of understanding and maintaining the ecology of
our domestic waterways in the US. This will be an interesting trip, for sure!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: November 11, 2018
Weather Data from home
Conditions at 1615
Latitude: 43° 09’ N
Longitude: 77° 36’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1027 mbar
Air Temperature: 3° C
Wind Speed: SW 10 km/h
Science and Technology Log
View of the ship’s wet lab.
View of the water through the galley sink porthole.
View of the water through a porthole in the galley.
Participating in the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey provided a porthole into several different career paths. Each role on board facilitated and contributed to the scientific research being conducted. Daily longline fishing activities involved working closely with the fishermen on deck. I was in awe of their quick-thinking adaptability, as changing weather conditions or lively sharks sometimes required a minor change in plan or approach. Whether tying intricate knots in the monofilament or displaying their familiarity with the various species we caught, the adept fishermen drew upon their seafaring skill sets, allowing the set and haulback processes to go smoothly and safely.
Even if we were on opposite work shifts, overlapping meal times provided the opportunity to gain insight into some of the careers on board. As we shared meals, many people spoke of their shipboard roles with sentiments that were echoed repeatedly: wanted a career that I could be proud of…a sense of adventure…opportunity to see new places and give back…combining adventure and science…wanted to protect the resources we have…
I had the opportunity to speak with some of the engineers and fishermen about their onboard roles and career paths. It was interesting to learn that many career paths were not direct roads, but winding, multilayered journeys. Some joined NOAA shortly after finishing their education, while others joined after serving in other roles. Some had experience with commercial fishing, and some had served on other NOAA vessels. Many are military veterans. With a name fit for a swashbuckling novel set on the high seas, Junior Unlicensed Engineer Jack Standfast, a United States Navy veteran, explained how the various departments on board worked together. These treasured conversations with the Engineering Department and Deck Department were enlightening, a reminder that everyone has a story to tell. I very much appreciate their patience, kindness, and willingness to share their expertise and experiences.
Lead Fisherman and Divemaster Chris Nichols:
In an unfamiliar setting, familiar topics surfaced in conversations, revealing similarities and common interests. Despite working in very different types of jobs, literacy was a popular subject in many of the conversations I had on the ship. I spoke to some of the crew members about how literacy factored into their daily lives and career paths. Some people described their family literacy routines at home and shared their children’s favorite bedtime stories, while others fondly remembered formative stories from their own childhood. Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols recalled the influence that Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling had on him as a young reader. He described how exciting stories such as Captains Courageous and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer inspired a sense of adventure and contributed to pursuing a unique career path. Coming from a family of sailors, soldiers, and adventurers, Chris conveyed the sense of pride that stems from being part of “something bigger.” In this case, a career that combines adventure, conservation, and preservation. His experiences with the United States Navy, commercial fishing, NOAA, and scuba diving have taken him around the world.
Echoing the themes of classic literature, Chris recommended some inspiring nonfiction titles and podcasts that feature true stories about human courage, overcoming challenges, and the search for belonging. As a United States Navy veteran, Chris understood the unique reintegration needs that many veterans face once they’ve completed their military service. He explained the need for a “tribe” found within the structure of the military or a ship. Chris described the teamwork on the ship as “pieces of a puzzle” in a “well-oiled machine.”
Chris also shared some advice for students. He felt it was easier for students to become good at math and to get better at reading while younger and still in school. Later in life, the need for math may resurface outside of school: “The things you want to do later…you’ll need that math.” As students grow up to pursue interests, activities, and careers, they will most likely need math and literacy to help them reach their goals. Chris stressed that attention to detail—and paying attention to all of the details—is extremely important. Chris explained the importance of remembering the steps in a process and paying attention to the details. He illustrated the importance of knowing what to do and how to do it, whether it is in class, during training, or while learning to dive.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
Team Never Quit Podcast with Marcus Luttrell & David Rutherford
Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin:
Before joining NOAA, Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin served in the United States Coast Guard for fifteen years (active duty and reserves). After serving in the military, Chuck found himself working in education. While teaching as a substitute teacher, he saw an ad in the newspaper for NOAA careers and applied. Chuck joined NOAA in 2000, and he has served on NOAA Ships Bell M. Shimada, Pisces, Gordon Gunter, and Oregon II.
Echoing Chris Nichols’ description of puzzle pieces in a team, Chuck further explained the hierarchy and structure of the Deck Department on the Oregon II. The Deck Department facilitates the scientific research by deploying and retrieving the longline fishing gear while ensuring a safe working environment. From operating the winches and cranes, to hauling in some of the larger sharks on the shark cradle, the fishermen perform a variety of tasks that require both physical and mental dexterity. Chuck explained that in the event of an unusual situation, the Deck Department leader may work with the Bridge Officer and the Science watch leader and step in as safety dictates.
In addition to his ability to make a fantastic pot of coffee, Chuck has an impish sense of humor that made our twelve-hour work shifts even more interesting and entertaining. Over a late-night cup of coffee, I found out that we shared some similar interests. Chuck attended the University of Florida, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management and Ecology. He has an interest in writing and history, particularly military history. He co-authored a published paper on white-tailed deer. An avid reader, Chuck usually completes two or three books during a research cruise leg. He reads a wide range of genres, including sci-fi, westerns, biographies, military history, scientific texts, and gothic horror. Some of his favorite authors include R.A. Salvatore, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Darwin. In his free time, he enjoys roleplaying games that encourage storytelling and creativity. For Chuck, these adventures are not about the end result, but the plotlines and how the players get there. Like me, Chuck has done volunteer work with veterans. He also values giving back and educating others about the importance of science and the environment, particularly water and the atmosphere. Chuck’s work with NOAA supports the goal of education and conservation to “preserve what we have.”
Longline fishing buoy
Red snapper scales
Far from home, these brief conversations with strangers seemed almost familiar as we discussed shared interests, goals, and experiences. As I continue to search for my own tribe and sense of belonging, I will remember these puzzle pieces in my journey.
My path to Teacher at Sea was arduous; the result of nearly ten years of sustained effort. The adventure was not solely about the end result, but very much about plotlines, supporting (and supportive) characters, and how I got there: hard work, persistence, grit, and a willingness to fight for the opportunity. Every obstacle and roadblock that I overcame. As a teacher, the longline fishing experience allowed me to be a student once again, learning new skills and complex processes for the first time. Applying that lens to the classroom setting, I am even more aware of the importance of clear instructions, explanations, patience, and encouragement. Now that the school year is underway, I find myself spending more time explaining, modeling, demonstrating, and correcting; much of the same guidance I needed on the ship. If grading myself on my longline fishing prowess, I measured my learning this way:
If I improved a little bit each day by remembering one more thing or forgetting one less thing…
If I had a meaningful exchange with someone on board…
If I learned something new by witnessing natural phenomena or acquired new terminology…
If I encountered an animal I’d never seen in person, then the day was a victory.
And I encountered many creatures I’d never seen before. Several species of sharks: silky, smooth-hound, sandbar, Atlantic sharpnose, blacknose, blacktip, great hammerhead, lemon, tiger, and bull sharks. A variety of other marine life: groupers, red snapper, hake, and blueline tilefish. Pelicans and other seabirds. Sharksuckers, eels, and barracudas.
The diminutive creatures were just as interesting as the larger species we saw. Occasionally, the circle hooks and monofilament would bring up small hitchhikers from the depths. Delicate crinoids and brittle stars. Fragments of coral, scraps of seaweed and sponges, and elegant, intricate shells. One particularly fascinating find: a carrier shell from a marine snail (genus: Xenophora) that cements fragments of shells, rocks, and coral to its own shell. The evenly spaced arrangement of shells seems like a deliberately curated, artistic effort: a tiny calcium carbonate collage or shell sculpture. These tiny hints of what’s down there were just as thrilling as seeing the largest shark because they assured me that there’s so much more to learn about the ocean.
Like the carrier snail’s shell collection, the small moments and details are what will stay with me:
Daily activities on the ship, and learning more about a field that has captivated my interest for years…
Seeing glimpses of the water column and the seafloor through the GoPro camera attached to the CTD…
Hearing from my aquatic co-author while I was at sea was a surreal role reversal…
Fishing into the middle of the night and watching the ink-black water come alive with squid, jellies, flying fish, dolphins, sailfish, and sharks…
Watching the ever-shifting moon, constellations, clouds, sunsets, and sunrise…
Listening to the unique and almost musical hum of the ship’s machinery and being lulled to sleep by the waves…
And the sharks. The breathtaking, perfectly designed sharks. Seeing and handling creatures that I feel strongly about protecting reinforced my mission to educate, protect, and conserve. The experience reinvigorated my connection to the ocean and reiterated why I choose to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Capturing the experience through the Teacher at Sea blog reinforced my enjoyment of writing, photography, and creative pursuits.
Dawn on the Gulf of Mexico
Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico
My first glimpse of Florida on the way to the ship.
In my introductory post, I wrote about formative visits to New England as a young child. Like so many aspects of my first glimpses of the ocean and maritime life, the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial statue intrigued me and sparked my young imagination. At that age, I didn’t fully grasp the solemn nature of the tribute, so the somber sculpture and memorial piqued my interest in fishing and seafaring instead. As wild as my imagination was, my preschool self could never imagine that I would someday partake in longline fishing as part of a Shark/Red Snapper Survey. My affinity for marine life and all things maritime remains just as strong today. Other than being on and around the water, docks and shipyards are some of my favorite places to explore. Living, working, and learning alongside fishermen was an honor.
Water and its fascinating inhabitants have a great deal to teach us. The Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico reminded me of the notion that: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Whether misattributed to Plutarch or Yeats or the wisdom of the Internet, the quote conveys the interest, curiosity, and appreciation I hope to spark in others as I continue to share my experience with my students, colleagues, and the wider community.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in Teacher at Sea, and I am also grateful to those who ignited a fire in me along the way. Thank you to those who supported my journey and adventure. I greatly appreciate your encouragement, support, interest, and positive feedback. Thank you for following my adventure!
Did You Know?
Xenophora shells grow in a spiral, and different species tend to collect different items. The purpose of self-decoration is to provide camouflage and protection from predators. The additional items can also strengthen the snail’s shell and provide more surface area to prevent the snail from sinking into the soft substrate.
Essentially two books in one, I recommend the fact-filled Under Water, Under Earth written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski. The text was translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.
One half of the book burrows into the Earth, exploring terrestrial topics such as caves, paleontology, tectonic plates, and mining. Municipal matters such as underground utilities, water, natural gas, sewage, and subways are included. Under Earth is a modern, nonfiction, and vividly illustrated Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Diving deeper, Under Water explores buoyancy, pressure, marine life, ocean exploration, and several other subjects. My favorite pages discuss diving feats while highlighting a history of diving innovations, including early diving suit designs and recent atmospheric diving systems (ADS). While Under Earth covers more practical topics, Under Water elicits pure wonder, much like the depths themselves.
Better suited for older, more independent readers (or enjoyed as a shared text), the engaging illustrations and interesting facts are easily devoured by curious children (and adults!). Fun-fact finders and trivia collectors will enjoy learning more about earth science and oceanography. Information is communicated through labels, cross sections, cutaway diagrams, and sequenced explanations.
My entire teaching career has been spent seeking ways to inspire my students to be happy, caring, thoughtful, and courageous stewards of the earth. It is so easy for someone to go through their day to day life without thinking about the impact that their actions have on the ocean, and the organisms that inhabit its waters. For as long as I can remember my inspiration has come from Robert Wyland, a renowned marine artist that focuses on teaching awareness about environmental conservation. Until I completed my Teacher at Sea experience, I had no idea that Robert Wyland has partnered with NOAA in outreach programs to actively engage in teaching students about the importance of marine life conservation. I am completely humbled knowing that as a Teacher at Sea Alumni, I have also now partnered with NOAA in creating opportunities for kids to become informed and aware of life beyond the classroom.
The ocean stirs the heart,
inspires the imagination and
brings eternal joy to the soul.
I love the ocean! I love the feeling of ‘not knowing’ when I look out over the water. There are so many unanswered questions about the systems, processes, and organisms that lie beneath the surface. I cannot express enough the gratitude that I have towards NOAA for choosing me to embark on an adventure that I will remember and share with others for the rest of my life. The Teacher at Sea experience has changed me. I am more patient with my students, and I have this unexplained excitement every day in the classroom. I have always been an upbeat teacher, but my passion for educating my students about the importance of scientific research has taken over. When I was aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, I could feel the desire from the NOAA scientists towards their work. It is amazing to be able to be a part of a team that gets to explore a territory on earth where most humans will never go. The ocean will always remain to be a mystery, and scientists will forever be challenged to explore, collect data, and draw conclusions about the existence of life offshore. Wyland once said, “the world’s finest wilderness lies beneath the waves….”. Knowing that I have been a part of exploring the ocean’s wilderness with NOAA scientists is something that I will cherish forever.
Each summer my co-teacher, Ashley Henderson, and I host a science camp called Ocean Adventure. This coming summer (2019) we will be adding a new camp called Shark Camp. Both camps will provide a unique way to educate the young ‘explorers’ in our community on the biological, chemical, and physical forces of the ocean, as well as human impact. Teacher at Sea has provided me with the opportunity to strengthen my knowledge of the ocean, including SHARKS, and will help us create a more impactful experience for the youngsters that attend the camps. It is important to me to reach out to the children in my community to develop an early interest in science, and nurture that awareness as the students flow through the different grade levels.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 30, 2018
Weather Data from Home
Conditions at 1515
Latitude: 43° 09’ N
Longitude: 77° 36’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1026.3 mbar
Air Temperature: 14° C
Wind Speed: S 10 km/h
Science and Technology Log
My students sent me off with many shark questions before I left for the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey. Much of their curiosity revolved around one of the most fear-inducing features of a shark: their teeth! Students wanted to know:
Why do sharks eat fish? How and why do sharks have so many teeth? Why do sharks have different kinds of teeth? Do sharks eat each other? What hunts sharks, besides other sharks?
And one of my favorite student questions: Why do sharks eat regular people, but not scientists?
Most people think of sharks as stalking, stealthy, steel-grey hunters. With a variety of colors, patterns, fin shapes, and body designs, sharks do not look the same. They do not eat the same things, or even get their food the same way. Instead, they employ a variety of feeding strategies. Some gentle giants, like the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), are filter feeders. They strain tiny plants and animals, as well as small fish, from the water. Others, such as the angel shark (Squatina spp.), rely on their flattened bodies, camouflage, and the lightning-fast element of surprise. Instead of actively pursuing their prey, they wait for food to come to them and ambush their meal. These suction-feeding sharks have tiny, pointed, rearward-facing teeth to trap the prey that has been sucked into the shark’s mouth. This video demonstrates how the angel shark uses clever camouflaging and special adaptations to get a meal:
The sharks we caught through longline fishing methods were attracted to the Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) that we used as bait. Depending on the species of shark and its diet, shark teeth can come in dozens of different shapes and sizes. Instead of just two sets of teeth like we have, a shark has many rows of teeth. Each series is known as a tooth file. As its teeth fall out, the shark will continually grow and replace teeth throughout its lifetime—a “conveyor belt” of new teeth. Some sharks have 5 rows of teeth, while the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) may have as many as 50 rows of teeth!
The sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) usually has about 14 rows of teeth. They may lose teeth every ten days or so, and most sharks typically lose at least one tooth a week. Why? Their teeth may get stuck in their prey, which can be tough and bony. When you don’t have hands, and need to explore the world with your mouth, it’s easy to lose or break a tooth now and then. Throughout its lifetime, a shark may go through over 30,000 teeth. The shark tooth fairy must be very busy!
Similar to our dining utensils, sharks’ teeth are designed for cutting, spearing, and/or crushing. The tooth shape depends upon the shark’s diet. Sharks’ teeth are not uniform (exactly the same), so the size and shape of the teeth vary, depending on their location in the upper and lower jaws. Some sharks have long, angled, and pointed teeth for piercing and spearing their food. Similar to a fork, this ensures that their slippery meals don’t escape. Other sharks and rays have strong, flattened teeth for crushing the hard shells of their prey. These teeth work like a nutcracker or shellfish-cracking tool. Still others, like the famously fierce-looking teeth of the great white, are triangular and serrated. Like a steak knife, these teeth are used for tearing, sawing, and cutting into their prey.
Beyond their teeth, other body features contribute to a shark’s ability to bite, crush, pursue, or ambush their prey. The powerful muscles that control their jaws and swimming ability, the position of their mouth, and the shape of their caudal (tail) fin all influence how a shark gets its food. Unlike humans, sharks do not chew their food. They swallow their food whole, or use their teeth to rip, shred, crush, and tear their food into smaller chunks that the shark can swallow. No need to floss or brush after a meal: sharks’ teeth contain fluoride, which helps to prevent cavities and decay.
Some people may find it hard to swallow the idea that sharks aren’t mindless menaces, but shark encounters are quite rare. Sharks have many extraordinary adaptations that make them efficient swimmers and hunters of other marine life, not humans. Whenever sharks come up in conversation, I am careful to dispel myths about these captivating creatures, trying to replace fear with facts (and hopefully, curiosity and respect). Since sharks can’t talk, I’m happy to advocate for them. Despite the way sharks are negatively portrayed in the media, I assure my students that sharks far prefer to eat bony fish, smaller sharks, skates, rays, octopus, squid, bivalves, crustaceans, marine mammals, plankton, and other marine life over humans. Instead of fear, I try to instill awareness of the vital role sharks fulfill in the ecosystem. We are a far greater threat to them, and they require our respect and protection.
As storms and hurricanes tear across the Gulf of Mexico, causing destruction and devastation, my thoughts are with the impacted areas. Before my Teacher at Sea placement, I never thought I’d spend time in the region, so it’s interesting to see now-familiar locations on the news and weather maps. One of my favorite aspects of being at sea was watching the sky: recognizing constellations while fishing at night, gazing at glorious, melting sunsets, and observing storm clouds gathering in the distance. The colors and clouds were ever-changing, a reminder of the dynamic power of nature.
Watching the recent storm coverage on TV reinforced the importance of strong and accurate communication skills. Similar to a sidebar on the page, much of the supplementary storm information was printed on the screen. For someone who needed to evacuate quickly or was worried about loved ones in the area, this printed information could be crucial. As I listened to the reporters’ updates on the storm damage, aware that they were most likely reading from scripted notes, I was reminded of the challenge of conveying complex science through everyday language.
One might assume that a typical day at sea only focused on science, technology, and math. In fact, all school subjects surfaced at some point in my experience at sea. For example, an understanding of geography helped me to understand where we were sailing and how our location influenced the type of wildlife we were seeing. People who were more familiar with the Gulf of Mexico shared some facts about the cultural, economic, and historical significance of certain locations, shedding light on our relationship with water.
Fishing is an old practice steeped in tradition, but throughout the ship, modern navigation equipment made it possible to fish more efficiently by plotting our locations while avoiding hazards such as natural formations and other vessels. Feats of engineering provided speed, power, drinkable water, and technological conveniences such as GPS, air conditioning, and Wi-Fi. In contrast to the natural evolution of sharks, these artificial adaptations provided many advantages at sea. To utilize the modern technology, however, literacy was required to input data and interpret the information on the dozens of monitors on board. Literacy and strong communication skills were required to understand and convey data to others. Reading and critical thinking allowed us to interpret maps and data, understand charts and graphs, and access news articles about the red tide we encountered.
I witnessed almost every person on board applying literacy skills throughout their day. Whether they were reading and understanding crucial written communication, reading instructions, selecting a dinner option from the menu, or referencing a field guide, they were applying reading strategies. In the offices and work spaces on board, there was no shortage of instructional manuals, safe operating procedures, informational binders, or wildlife field guides.
Writing helped to organize important tasks and schedules. To manage and organize daily tasks and responsibilities, many people utilized sticky notes and checklists. Computer and typing skills were also important. Some people were inputting data, writing research papers and projects, sharing their work through social media, or simply responding to work-related emails. The dive operation that I observed started as a thoroughly written dive plan. All of these tasks required clear and accurate written communication.
Each day, I saw real-life examples of the strong ties between science and language arts. Recording accurate scientific data required measurement, weight, and observational skills, but literacy was required to read and interpret the data recording sheets. Neat handwriting and careful letter spacing were important for recording accurate data, reinforcing why we practice these skills in school. To ensure that a species was correctly identified and recorded, spelling could be an important factor. Throughout the experience, writing was essential for taking interview notes and brainstorming blog ideas, as well as following the writing process for my blog posts. If I had any energy left at the end of my day (usually around 2:00 AM), I consulted one of my shark field guides to read more about the intriguing species we saw.
Did You Know?
No need for a teething ring: Sharks begin shedding their teeth before they are even born. Shark pups (baby sharks) are born with complete sets of teeth. Sharks aren’t mammals, so they don’t rely upon their mothers for food after they’re born. They swim away and must fend for themselves, so those born-to-bite teeth come in handy.
Smart About Sharks written and illustrated by Owen Davey
Appropriate for older readers, the clever, comprehensive text offers interesting facts, tidbits, and trivia. The book dives a bit deeper to go beyond basic shark facts and knowledge. I’ve read hundreds of shark books, and I appreciated learning something new. The text doesn’t shy away from scientific terminology and concepts, such as phylogeny (eight orders of sharks and representative species). The facts reflect recent research findings on shark behavior. Lesser-known species are included, highlighting the diversity in body shapes, sizes, and specialized features. From a design standpoint, the aesthetically appealing illustrations are stylized, colorful, and engaging. Simple infographics provide explanations of complex ideas. Fact meets fiction in a section about shark mythology from around the world. The book concludes with a discussion of threats to sharks, as well as ocean conservation tips.
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 029 23.89 N
Longitude 094 14.260 W
Barometric Pressure 1022.22mbar
Air Temperature: 69 degrees F
The isness of things is well worth studying; but it is their whyness that makes life worth living.
– William Beebe
Science and Technology Log
Today is our last day at sea and we have currently completed 53 stations!At each station we send out the CTD. CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature and Depth. However, this device measures much more than that.During this mission we are looking at 4 parameters: temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen and fluorescence which can be used to measure the productivity of an area based on photosynthetic organisms.
Once the CTD is deployed, it is held at the surface for three minutes.During this time, 4,320 scans are completed!However, this data, which is used to acclimate the system, is discarded from the information that is collected for this station.
Next, the CTD is slowly lowered through the water until it is about 1 meter from the bottom.In about 30 meters of water this round trip takes about 5 minutes during which the CTD conducts 241 scans every 10 seconds for a grand total of approximately 7,230 scans collected at each station.
Our CTD scans have gathered the expected data but during the summer months the CTD has found areas of hypoxia off the coast of Louisiana and Texas.
The gloomy weather has made the last few days of the voyage tricky. Wind and rough seas have made sleeping and working difficult. Plus, I have missed my morning visits with dolphins at the bow of the ship due to the poor weather.But seeing the dark blue water and big waves has added to the adventure of the trip.
We have had some interesting catches including one that weighed over 800 pounds and was mostly jellyfish.Some of the catches are filled with heavy mud while others a very clean. Some have lots of shells or debris.I am pleasantly surprised to see that even though I notice the occasional plastic bottle floating by, there has not been much human litter included in our catches.I am constantly amazed by the diversity in each haul.There are species that we see at just about every station and there are others that we have only seen once or twice during the whole trip.
I am thrilled to have had the experience of being a NOAA Teacher at Sea and I am excited to bring what I have learned back to the classroom to share with my students.
Bonus points for the first student in each class to send me the correct answer!
These are Calico Crabs, but this little one has something growing on it?What is it?
Did you know…
That you can tell the gender of a flat fish by holding it up to the light?
Today’s Shout Out!
Kudos to all of my students who followed along, answered the challenge questions, played species BINGO, and plotted my course!You made this adventure even more enjoyable!See you soon 🙂
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 027 39.81 N
Longitude 096 57.670 W
Barometric Pressure 1022.08mbar
Air Temperature: 61 degrees F
Those of us who love the sea wish everyone would be aware of the need to protect it. – Eugenie Clark
Science and Technology Log
After our delayed departure, we are finally off and running! The science team on Oregon II has currently completed 28 out of the 56 stations that are scheduled for the first leg of this mission. Seventy-five stations were originally planned but due to inclement weather some stations had to be postponed until the 2nd leg. The stations are pre-arranged and randomly selected by a computer system to include a distributions of stations within each shrimp statistical zone and by depth from 5-20 and 21-60 fathoms.
At each station there is an established routine that requires precise teamwork from the NOAA Corps officers, the professional mariners and the scientists. The first step when we arrive at a station, is to launch the CTD. The officers position the ship at the appropriate location. The mariners use the crane and the winch to move the CTD into the water and control the decent and return. The scientists set up the CTD and run the computer that collects and analyzes the data. Once the CTD is safely returned to the well deck, the team proceeds to the next step.
Step two is to launch the trawling net to take a sample of the biodiversity of the station. Again, this is a team effort with everyone working together to ensure success. The trawl net is launched on either the port or starboard side from the aft deck. The net is pulled behind the boat for exactly thirty minutes. When the net returns, the contents are emptied into the wooden pen or into baskets depending on the size of the haul.
The baskets are weighed and brought into the wet lab. The scientists use smaller baskets to sort the catch by species. A sample of 20 individuals of each species is examined more closely and data about length, weight, and sex is collected.
The information gathered becomes part of a database and is used to monitor the health of the populations of fish in the Gulf. It is used to help make annual decisions for fishing regulations like catch and bag limits. In addition, the data collected from the groundfish survey can drive policy changes if significant issues are identified.
I have been keeping in touch with my students via the Remind App, Twitter, and this Blog. Each class has submitted a question for me to answer. I would like to use the personal log of this blog to do that.
The thing I am most excited to bring back to Marine 2 is the story of recovery for the Red Snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. I learned that due to improved fishing methods and growth in commercial fishing of this species, their decline was severe. The groundfish survey that I am working with is one way that data about the population of Red Snapper has been collected. This data has led to the creation of an action plan to help stop the decline and improve the future for this species.
Our biggest challenge has been the weather! We left late due to Hurricane Michael and the weather over the past few days has meant that we had to miss a few stations. We are also expecting some bad weather in a couple of days that might mean we are not able to trawl.
The number one way that the NOAA Teacher at Sea program supports our environment is EDUCATION! What I learn here, I will share with my students and hopefully they will pass it on as well. If more people know about the dangers facing our ocean then I think more people will want to see changes to protect the ocean and all marine species.
We have not seen anything that is rare for the Gulf of Mexico but I have seen two fish that I have never seen before, the singlespot frogfish and the Conger Eel. So for me these were really cool sightings.
I have to admit that the most intriguing organism was not anything that came in via the trawl net. Instead it was the Atlantic Spotted Dolphin that greeted me one morning at the bow of the boat. There were a total of 7 and one was a baby about half the size of the others. As the boat moved through the water they jumped and played in the splashing water. I watched them for over a half hour and only stopped because it was time for my shift. I could watch them all day!
Do you know …
What the Oregon II looks like on the inside?
Here is a tour video that I created before we set sail.
Transcript: A Tour of NOAA Ship Oregon II.
(0:00) Hi, I’m Andria Keene from Plant High School in Tampa, Florida. And I’d like to take you for a tour aboard Oregon II, my NOAA Teacher at Sea home for the next two weeks.
Oregon II is a 170-foot research vessel that recently celebrated 50 years of service with NOAA. The gold lettering you see here commemorates this honor.
As we cross the gangway, our first stop is the well deck, where we can find equipment including the forecrane and winch used for the CTD and bongo nets. The starboard breezeway leads us along the exterior of the main deck, towards the aft deck.
Much of our scientific trawling operations will begin here. The nets will be unloaded and the organisms will be sorted on the fantail.
(1:00) From there, the baskets will be brought into the wet lab, for deeper investigation. They will be categorized and numerous sets of data will be collected, including size, sex, and stomach contents.
Next up is the dry lab. Additional data will be collected and analyzed here. Take notice of the CTD PC.
There is also a chemistry lab where further tests will be conducted, and it’s located right next to the wet lab.
Across from the ship’s office, you will find the mess hall and galley. The galley is where the stewards prepare meals for a hungry group of 19 crew and 12 scientists. But there are only 12 seats, so eating quickly is serious business.
(2:20) Moving further inside on the main deck, we pass lots of safety equipment and several staterooms. I’m currently thrilled to be staying here, in the Field Party Chief’s stateroom, a single room with a private shower and water closet.
Leaving my room, with can travel down the stairs to the lower level. This area has lots of storage and a large freezer for scientific samples.
There are community showers and additional staterooms, as well as laundry facilities, more bathrooms, and even a small exercise room.
(3:15) If we travel up both sets of stairs, we will arrive on the upper deck. On the starboard side, we can find the scientific data room.
And here, on the port side, is the radio and chart room. Heading to the stern of the upper deck will lead us to the conference room. I’m told that this is a great place for the staff to gather and watch movies.
Traveling back down the hall toward the bow of the ship, we will pass the senior officers’ staterooms, and arrive at the pilot house, also called the bridge.
(4:04) This is the command and control center for the entire ship. Look at all the amazing technology you will find here to help keep the ship safe and ensure the goals of each mission.
Just one last stop on our tour: the house top. From here, we have excellent views of the forecastle, the aft winch, and the crane control room. Also visible are lots of safety features, as well as an amazing array of technology.
Well, that’s it for now! Hope you enjoyed this tour of NOAA Ship Oregon II.
Challenge Question of the Day
Bonus Points for the first student in each class period to come up with the correct answer!
We have found a handful of these smooth bodied organisms which like to burrow into the sediment. What type of animal are they?
Today’s Shout Out: To my family, I miss you guys terribly and am excited to get back home and show you all my pictures! Love ya, lots!
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 27 37.15 N
Longitude 091 23.21 W
Barometric Pressure 1015.69mbar
Relative Humidity 60 %
Air Temperature: 27.1 0C
Everyone is an explorer. How could you possibly live your life looking at a door and not open it? – Robert Ballard
Science/Technology and Personal Log
Hurricane Michael brought a three day delay to our departure. At first, I was a little disappointed that we were not setting sail right away but now I am glad because I had some extra time to explore Pascagoula, familiarize myself with the ship, and slowly meet the crew as they arrived spread out over several days. Plus, the additional time allowed me to start working on my career lesson plan and to prepare a video tour of the ship. I will upload the video to this blog page as soon as it is complete.
On Thursday, Oct 11th at 9:00am, we departed from Pascagoula and headed out into the Gulf of Mexico. I was amazed at how quickly we lost sight of land and at the vastness of this body of water with which I thought I was so familiar. My favorite part was watching the color of the water change from a dark teal to a deep blue.
On the “Plan of the Day” board under schedule it reads “Steam and Dream til Saturday Afternoon” and that is just what we are doing. Our path will lead us north of the Mexican border and south of Corpus Christi, Texas, where we will find our first station. Until then, in between steaming and dreaming, we are getting to know each other and learning about our roles and responsibilities.
For example, today we practiced our Fire and Abandon Ship Drills. While it is a little nerve-racking to think that something like that could actually happen, it was reassuring to see that everyone was well-trained and the operations ran smoothly.
My first lesson plan will focus on careers available through NOAA. It is amazing to see the variation in the positions and the backgrounds of the workers on this ship. Basically, on the Oregon II there are three types of employees who make up the ship’s complement.
I feel like NOAA has something to offer everyone from entry level positions that require no experience to positions requiring years of experience or advanced college degrees. The best part is that no matter where you start there is always room to advance through hard work and certification. I can’t wait to share all the opportunities with my students!
Did You Know?
Oregon II has a reverse osmosis system that uses salt water to create the freshwater needed aboard. The salt that is removed is returned back to the Gulf.
Challenge Question of the Day
(For my students: bonus points for the first person from each class period to answer it correctly):
This picture was taken from the screen of one of the navigation systems on the bridge.
What do you think is represented by each of the black squares with a dot inside?
The past three days were light catch days. One day, we only caught a snake fish, which, as you can see, is a pretty tiny little guy. But, the data from a catch that brings up nothing is just as important as a catch that brings up 50 fish. As the saying goes, “If we always caught something, we would call it catching, not fishing.” We have brought up a few Sandbar sharks and Tiger sharks, some of them large enough to have to cradle. I have gotten to tag a few of the Sandbar sharks, which is still an amazing experience.
While we did not see many sharks, I had fun seeing the other organisms at the surface. There have been a lot of moon jellyfish as we have been pulling the line in, and it was clear enough that I was able to get a picture of a few of them as they floated by. One night, there were flying fish next to the ship, and one of them jumped onto the deck, so I was able to see one up close. One of the days, a pod of dolphins joined us on a run, and followed the boat for quite a while. So, while we did not see many sharks, I was able to see some awesome animals throughout the past few days.
The last night on the ship, I finished cleaning my shark jaws. Overnight, they soaked in hydrogen peroxide to whiten them, and today I set them to dry. I’m looking forward to taking them home and sharing them with all of my students.
It was an amazing two weeks. On Friday night, we set our last line, and it was bittersweet. Over the past two weeks, I have been able to fish with an amazing group of people. They allowed me to be a part of the team, and attempt each job setting and pulling in the line. I was able to put out the high flyer, sling bait, place numbers, clean barrels, and keep data on the computer. I learned how to tie a double-overhand knot, handle small sharks, tag sharks of all sizes, and had lots of fun doing it. I’m excited to head back to T-STEM Academy at East High School, but I will always fondly remember my time on the Oregon II.
One of the things that the night shift has done a few times is midnight hot dogs. Chris, the night shift lead fisherman, brings different types of hot dogs on the boat and will cook them at midnight for the shift change. It gives the night shift members something to eat before breakfast at 7 AM, and gives the day shift something to eat before bed. They go all out, with a condiment bar and gourmet buns.
Did You Know?
Once the Oregon II returns to port from this fourth leg of the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey, they will spend a week cleaning and preparing the ship to return to the Gulf of Mexico on a Groundfish Survey that will run from October 8-November 21. NOAA Groundfish surveys allow for the collection of data on the distribution of flora and fauna within the target region through the use of trawl nets.
Quote of the Day
The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.
~ John Buchan
Question of the Day
Sharks have teeth that are constantly being replaced. How many teeth will the average shark go through in their lifetime?
We have moved from the coast of Texas, past Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, to the coast of Florida. When watching the video from the CTD, we have seen the sea floors go from mostly mud to sand. The water has decreased in turbidity, and the growth on the sea floor has increased. The make-up of our catches has changed too. We moved outside of the productive waters associated with the Mississippi River discharge, so our catch rates have decreased significantly.
Yesterday, we had a fun day of catching sharks I had never seen. Our first catch of the day brought up a juvenile Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). I was excited to be able to see this shark, which is listed as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. On our later catch, we brought up three sharks large enough to require the cradle. First, we brought up a Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus). Then, we were lucky enough to bring up a Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum). The mouth of the nurse shark has barbles, which it uses to feed from the sea floor. Our final shark of the evening was a much more developed Tiger Shark. I was lucky enough to help with the tagging of the animal.
Last night, we set a line at the end of day shift, and night shift brought it in. A few of the day shift science team members decided to stay up and watch some of the haul back, and were rewarded with seeing them bring in, not one, but two Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis), back to back. From the upper deck of the ship, so that I was not in their way, I was able to observe the night shift work together to bring up these two large animals.
The night shift has gotten some pretty amazing catches, and they have enjoyed sharing them with us at shift change. The two shifts spend about half an hour together around noon and midnight sharing stories of the time when the other shift was asleep. The other day, the night shift caught Gulper Sharks (Centrophorus uyato) and Tile Fish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps). These are two species we have not seen on the day shift, so it was fun to look at their pictures and hear the stories of how they caught these fish.
When we have a long run between stations, once I have gotten done sending emails and grading student work, we will spend some time watching movies in the lounge. The ship has a large collection of movies, both classic and recent. Watching movies keeps us awake during the late night runs, when we have to stay up until midnight to set a line.
The day shift has started to ask one another riddles as we are baiting and setting lines. It’s a fun way to bond as we are doing our work. One of my favorites have been: “1=3, 2=3, 3=5, 4=4, 5=4, 6=3, 7=5, 8=5, 9=4, 10=3. What’s the code?”
Did You Know?
Sharks don’t have the same type of skin that we do. Sharks have dermal denticles, which are tiny scales, similar to teeth, which are covered with enamel.
Quote of the Day
Teach all men to fish, but first teach all men to be fair. Take less, give more. Give more of yourself, take less from the world. Nobody owes you anything, you owe the world everything.
Question of the Day
I have a lot of teeth but I’m not a cog
I scare a lot of people but I’m not a spider
I have a fin but I’m not a boat
I’m found in the ocean but I’m not a buoy
I sometimes have a hammerhead but I don’t hit nails
Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1
Geographic Area: Southeastern U.S. coast
Date: September 21, 2018
While aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II, I was able to create some art, which is my absolute passion in life. I was able use my time before and after most shifts to draw and paint the fish and sharks with watercolor paint and water from the ocean. It was tricky to paint with the constant movement of the ship, but I was able to paint over 20 paintings of sharks, fish, and the Oregon II over the 16 days on board the ship.
Now that I’ve been home for a month, I’ve had some time to reflect on my NOAA Teacher at Sea experience. If I told you my NOAA Teacher At Sea experience was incredible, I would be understating it quite a bit. I knew the excitement of working on the mighty NOAA Ship Oregon II and participating in the shark survey would be a highlight of my lifetime for sure. The opportunity to work with NOAA scientists, fishermen, and the rest of the crew was the best learning experience a teacher and artist could ask for. But just a week after returning, it was back to school and I needed to find ways to convey what I learned to my students. I began by creating a digital infographic about Longline Fishing so they would have a visual to go along with my explanation.
I wanted to inform my students to create awareness about the species of shark and other ocean inhabitants that are threatened and endangered. I also wanted them to learn science about the animals and incorporate some of that data into their art to make their images more impactful to those that see them. We want to compile related projects together until later in the year for our annual Night of the Arts- NOAA Edition.
We also created three life size Art Shark paintings and posted them in the hallways of our school to advocate for sharks through art and work to give sharks a more positive community image, and not the sensational, fearful media portrayal of sharks.
As a fine artist painter, the Teacher At Sea experience has helped to make my artwork much more accurate for several reasons. Primarily the reason was proximity. I was able to see the sharks and fish first hand everyday, and take many reference photos of our catch each day. I could now see the beautiful colors of different sharks while out of the water, which I never had seen before. I was also able to speak to the fishermen and scientists each day about the behaviors and biology of the fish and I gained insight from listening to their vast experiences in the oceans all around the globe.
Since being home, I’ve begun to paint a series of scientifically accurate side views of my favorite sharks, and eventually I will digitally compile them into one poster after I get 15 to 18 completed. After that, I’ll begin a series of paintings with sharks swimming in their natural environment to bring more color and visual dynamics onto the canvas. This has been the most inspiring adventure of my life, and I will continue to advocate for my favorite ocean animals by using art to bring the respect and admiration that these beautiful sharks deserve to continue to thrive long into Earth’s distant future.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 26, 2018
Weather Data from the Air
Conditions at 0634
Altitude: 9585 meters
Outside Temperature: -38 ℃
Distance to Destination: 362 km
Tail Wind: 0 km/h
Ground Speed: 837 km/h
(While NOAA Ship Oregon II has many capabilities, flight isn’t one of them. These were the conditions on my flight home.)
Science and Technology Log
The idea of placing an elementary school teacher on a Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey seems like a reality show premise, and I couldn’t believe that it was my surreal reality. Several times a day, I took a moment to appreciate my surroundings and the amazing opportunity to get so close to my favorite creatures: sharks!
Anyone who knows me is aware of my obsession with sharks. Seeing several sharks up close was a hallowed, reverential experience. Reading about sharks, studying them through coursework, and seeing them on TV or in an aquarium is one thing. Being only a few feet away from a large tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) or a great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) is quite another. Seeing the sharks briefly out of the water provided a quick glimpse of their sinewy, efficient design…truly a natural work of art. Regardless of size, shape, or species, the sharks were powerful, feisty, and awe-inspiring. The diversity in design is what makes sharks so fascinating!
I envied the remora, or sharksucker, that was attached to one of the sharks we caught. Imagine being able to observe what the shark had been doing, prior to encountering the bait on our longline fishing gear. What did the shark and its passenger think of their strange encounter with us? Where would the shark swim off to once it was released back into the water? If only sharks could talk. I had many questions about how the tagging process impacts sharks. As we started catching and tagging sharks, I couldn’t help but think of a twist on the opening of MTV’s The Real World: “…To find out what happens…when sharks stop being polite…and start getting reeled.”
Sadly for my curiosity, sharks have yet to acquire the ability to communicate verbally, despite their many advantageous adaptations over millions of years. To catch a glimpse of their actions in their watery world, scientists sometimes attach cameras to their fins or enlist the help of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to learn more. The secret lives of sharks… reality TV at its finest.
Underwater camera footage is beginning to reveal the answers to many of the questions my Kindergarten-5th grade students have about sharks:
How deep can sharks swim?
How big can sharks get? How old can sharks get?
Do sharks sleep? Do sharks stop swimming when they sleep? Can sharks ever stop swimming?
Do sharks have friends? Do sharks hunt cooperatively or alone?
Is the megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon) still swimming around down there? (This is a very common question among kids!)
The answers vary by species, but an individual shark can reveal quite a bit of information about shark biology and behavior. Tagging sharks can provide insight about migratory patterns and population distribution. This information can help us to better understand, manage, and protect shark populations.
Using several low-tech methods, a great deal of information could be gleaned from our very brief encounters with the sharks we caught and released. In a very short amount of time, the following information was collected and recorded:
• hook number (which of the 100 longline circle hooks the shark was caught on)
• genus and species name (we recorded scientific and common names)
• four measurements on various points of the shark’s body (sometimes lasers were used on the larger sharks)
• weight (if it was possible to weigh the shark: this was harder to do with the larger, heavier sharks)
• whether the shark was male or female, noting observations about its maturity (if male)
• fin clip samples (for genetic information)
• photographs of the shark (we also filmed the process with a GoPro camera that was mounted to a scientist’s hardhat)
• applying a tag on or near the shark’s first dorsal fin; the tag number was carefully recorded on the data sheet
• additional comments about the shark
Finally, the hook was removed from the shark’s mouth, and the shark was released back into the water (we watched carefully to make sure it swam off successfully)!
Other fish were retained for scientific samples. Yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus), blueline tilefish (Caulolatilus microps), and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) were some of species we caught and sampled. Specific samples from specific species were requested from various organizations. Generally, we collected five different samples:
• fin clips: provide genetic information
• liver: provides information about the health of the fish, such as the presence of toxins
• muscle tissue: can also provide information about the health of the fish
• gonads: provide information about reproduction
• otoliths: These bony structures are found in the inner ear. Similar to tree rings, counting the annual growth rings on the otoliths can help scientists estimate the age of the fish.
Samples were preserved and stored in vials, jars, and plastic sample bags, including a Whirl-Pak. These bags and containers were carefully numbered and labeled, corresponding with the information on the data sheets. Other information was noted about the fish, including maturity and stomach contents. Sometimes, photos were taken to further document the fish.
Thinking of the Oregon II as my floating classroom, I looked for analogous activities that mirrored my elementary students’ school day. Many key parts of the elementary school day could be found on board.
With my young readers and writers in mind, I applied my literacy lens to many of the ship’s activities. Literacy was the thread that ran through many of our daily tasks, and literacy was the cornerstone of every career on board. Several ship personnel described the written exams they’d taken to advance in their chosen careers. Reading and writing were used in everything from the recipes and daily menu prepared by Second Cook Arlene Beahm and Chief Steward Valerie McCaskill in the galley to the navigation logs maintained by Ensign Chelsea Parrish on the ship’s bridge.
I often start the school year off with some lessons on reading and following directions. In the school setting, this is done to establish routines and expectations, as well as independence. On the ship, reading and following directions was essential for safety! Throughout the Oregon II, I encountered lots of printed information and many safety signs. Some of the signs included pictures, but many of them did not. This made me think of my readers who rely on pictures for comprehension. Some important safety information was shared verbally during our training and safety drills, but some of it could only be accessed through reading.
Did You Know?
Thomas Jefferson collected fossils and owned a megalodon tooth. The Carcharocles megalodon tooth was found in South Carolina. One of the reasons why Jefferson supported expeditions to lands west of the Mississippi? He believed that a herd of mammoths might still be roaming there. Jefferson didn’t believe that animal species could go extinct, so he probably liked the idea that the megalodon was still swimming around somewhere! (There’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that either Thomas Jefferson or the megalodon are still around.)
If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams
This picture book acknowledges the scariness of sharks, but explains that a world without sharks would be even scarier. Shown through the eyes of a curious young girl and her family, the book highlights the important role that sharks play in the ocean food web. As apex predators, sharks help to keep the ocean healthy and balanced.
The book includes some mind-blowing facts, such as the concept that sharks existed on Earth before trees. Through easy-to-follow examples of cause and effect, the author and illustrator explores complex, sophisticated concepts such as overfishing, extinction, and trophic cascade. The glossary includes well-selected words that are important to know and understand about the environment. Additional information is provided about shark finning and ways to help save sharks. An author’s note, bibliography, and additional sources are also included.
Temperature: 33º Partly Cloudy
Winds Speed: S 4.34 knots
20% chance of rain
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
My love for all things related to the ocean started at a very early age and grew into a passion by the time I graduated high school. As a young Floridian, exploring the beaches, boating through the intercoastal waterways, and visiting the Miami SeaQuarium were my way of life. When I was in elementary school, my family moved to Virginia and even though we spent the next ten years trading seahorses for Tennessee Walking horses, I still watched every rerun of Flipper and waited with anticipation for each Jacques Cousteau TV special. Then, when I was in high school, my grandparents moved from New Jersey to the Florida Keys and I was reunited once again with the beautiful underwater world that brought me such fascination. We spent our summers snorkeling, sailing, and fishing. In the evenings, we drove around searching for the elusive Key Deer. When we visited the Dolphin Research Center and the Turtle Hospital, I was shocked to learn that my beloved ocean was facing some serious threats.
As I entered college, my interest transformed from a hobby to a lifestyle. I earned my first SCUBA certification, participated in my first coastal clean-up, and volunteered for restoration projects and turtle walks. I signed up for every life science course I could find. In my senior year at Stetson University, I registered for a class before I even knew what the title meant. Ornithology, with Dr. Stock. I found myself canoeing through alligator-infested waterways to investigate snowy egret rookeries, hiking through the forest at 5am to identify birds by only their calls, and conducting a post-mortem investigation on one of his road-kill specimens to determine its cause of death. Dr. Stock’s class was so different than anything I had experienced. I was in my element. I found myself constantly wanting to learn more. Not just about the organisms around me, but about how to fix the negative impacts we have on their environment. As I learned, I became motivated to teach others about what they could do to make a difference. My passion for teaching was born.
It is hard to believe that I have been teaching science in Hillsborough County for almost twenty years and that approximately 3,000 students have filled the chairs of my classroom. Years ago, I realized that even though we are located in west-central Florida, many of my students have little involvement with the ocean or our local beaches. I decided to change that fact by extending my classroom outside of my four walls. In true Dr. Stock fashion, I attempt to bring the ocean to life for my students through field trips, restoration projects, and guest speakers. With the help of some amazing organizations like the Florida Aquarium, Tampa Bay Watch, and Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, we have participated in many activities to help us learn about the ocean and about how to remedy our impacts.
We also love to get out in nature and explore the splendor that awaits us. In the pictures below, students from Plant High enjoy a day at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center where we participated in fishing and kayaking clinics and learned about protecting our local estuarine species.
As I head out for two weeks on NOAA Ship Oregon II, I am leaving my classroom and students behind but I know that the value of what I will bring back to them far outweighs the short time I will be away. I hope through my experience my students will see that you are never too old to learn something new and that even the teacher can improve her knowledge.
I am eager to develop first-hand experience with the technology and research methods currently being used to study the ocean. I look forward to meeting the scientists and the crew of my ship and learning about all of the career opportunities that are available to my students through NOAA. I am ready to turn my NOAA education into lessons that will benefit my students and infuse my curriculum with new life.
I cannot wait to see the beautiful sunsets over the gulf and maybe I’ll even catch a few sunrises. I am hoping for the occasional visit from a whale, a dolphin, or a sea turtle. Who knows? Maybe I will even get a chance to see a few of my favorite ornithological species!
Counting down … 12 days to go.
Today’s Shout Out: To Mr. Johnny Bush (Plant High School Principal), Mr. Larry Plank (SDHC Director of STEM), and Mr. Dan McFarland (SDHC Science Supervisor) for all of their support in making this trip possible for me.
Over the past few days, we’ve fished a mix of station depths, so I’ve gotten to see a number of new species as we’ve moved out into deeper waters.
At a C station, which is a station at depths between 183 and 366 meters, we caught a Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus). This catch was so unexpected that a number of crew members ventured out to the well deck to snap a picture. She was a beautiful juvenile between 1-2 years old.
I also saw my first kingsnake eel, a long eel with a set of very sharp teeth. On a later station, we caught a juvenile that we were able to bring on deck and examine. We also caught a Warsaw grouper (Hyporthodus nigritus), which had parasites on its gills and in its fins. Gregg Lawrence, a member of the night shift on loan from Texas Parks and Wildlife Coastal Fisheries unit, and I removed the otoliths and took samples of the parasites.
We had one catch that brought in 20 Red Snappers. Red Snappers are brought on deck, and a number of samples are taken from each one of them for ongoing assessment of the Red Snapper population. In addition to the otoliths, which allow the scientists to determine the age of the fish, we also take samples of the gonads, the muscle, the fins, and the stomach. These allow the scientists to perform reproductive and genetic tests and determine what the snappers ate. While 4 members of the science team onboard collected samples, Caroline Collatos, the volunteer on the day shift, and I insured that the samples were properly packaged and tagged. Everyone working together allowed the process to run smoothly.
On the latest B station, which was about 110 meters deep, we caught a number of species, some of which I had not gotten to see yet. In addition to Gulf smoothound sharks (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), we caught a Scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) and a Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) that we had to cradle due to their size. The Sandbar shark was a bit feisty, but I got the chance to tag her before we released her.
We work in the rain. Thankfully, they had some extra rain gear for me to put on, so that I would not get drenched while we were setting the line. For the most part, the rainstorms have been sprinkles, but we did have one downpour while we were going toward a station.
Between setting lines, I have been busy checking up on my studenats’ work back in Memphis. One of the great things about having a one-to-one school is that the students are able to do their work on Microsoft Teams and turn it in for me to grade it thousands of miles away. I have loved seeing their how they are doing, and answering questions while they are working, because I know that they are learning about the cell cycle while I am out at sea learning about sharks.
One of the things that has really surprised me over the past week is how much my hands hurt. It was unexpected, but it makes sense, given how much of the work requires good grip strength. From insuring that the sharks are handled properly to clipping numbers on the gangions to removing circle hooks from fish on the lines, much of the work on the science team requires much more thumb strength than I had thought about. I know my students have commented that their hands hurt after taking notes in my class, so I thought they would get a kick out of the fact that the work on the ship has made my hands hurt.
Did You Know?
Sharks are able to sense electrical fields generated by their prey through a network of sensory organs known as ampullae of Lorenzini. These special pores are filled with a conductive jelly composed primarily of proteins, which send the signals to nerve fibers at the base of the pore.
Quote of the Day
Remove the predators, and the whole ecosystem begins to crash like a house of cards. As the sharks disappear, the predator prey balance dramatically shifts, and the health of our oceans declines.
We’ve been out at sea for three full days now and have traveled along the Gulf coast from Alabama to Texas. The Science Team has run mostly shallow longline sets during this time, meaning that we have fished in depths from 9 to 55 meters. As we move forward, we will fish stations at these depths and stations at depths of 55 to 183 meters, and from 183 to 366 meters. The locations of the stations are randomized based on depth and the area that is being fished. Due to the weather that hit south Texas the week before we joined this leg of the survey, we have been fishing the area that was impassable on the last leg of the survey.
As a member of the science team, there are five jobs that need to be done on each side of the set. When the line is being cast, someone needs to release the highflyer, clip numbers, sling the bait, work the computer, or cleanup. When the line comes in, there is a data collector, 2 fish handlers, a hook collector, and the computer person. The highflyer is the marker that is put on either end of the line, so that the line can be seen from the bridge. The data that is collected on paper and on the computer on each fish includes the number of the hook that they are on, species, length, and gender. Additionally, some sharks are tagged and a fin clip is taken.
After a line is set, we check the water using a CTD (Conductivity Temperature Depth) Probe. It has a GoPro video recorder that takes a video of the water and the sea floor at the site of the line.
A few of the highlights from the catches so far: We had one catch that was coming up with mostly empty hooks, but then we caught a scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini). The shark was large enough that we used a cradle to pull it up to deck level. I got to insert the tag right below the dorsal fin.
We had another survey that caught 49 sharks, including Atlantic Sharpnose Sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), Blacknose Sharks (Carcharhinus acronotus), Spinner Sharks (Carcharhinus brevipinna), and Blacktip Sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus). Between these, we had a number of lines that brought up some sharks and a few Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus). I have been able to dissect some of the Red Snapper, and collect their otoliths, which are their ear bones.
In the time between setting and retrieving lines, one of the ways we kept ourselves busy was by cleaning shark jaws that we had collected. I look forward to using these in my classroom as an example of an apex predator species adaptation.
During much the 12 hours of off time, I spend my time in my bunk. Working for 12 hours in the hot sun is exhausting, and it’s nice to have the room to myself while I try to get some rest. Though I share a bunk with another member of the Science Team, we work opposite shifts. So, while I’m on deck, she’s sleeping, and visa versa. As you can see, my daughter sent me with her shark doll, which I thought was appropriate, given that I was taking part in shark research on this ship.
While we were going slow one day, we had a pod of dolphins who swam along with us for a while. They were right beside the ship, and I was able to get a video of a few of them surfacing next to us.
Did You Know?
Many shark species, including the Atlantic Sharpnose shark, are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young. These sharks form a placenta from the yolk sac while the embryo develops.
Quote of the Day
Without sharks, you take away the apex predator of the ocean, and you destroy the entire food chain
Question of the Day
While it is a common misconception that sharks do not get cancer, sharks have been found to get cancer, including chondromas. What type of cancer is that?
My first day onboard was spent following around 2nd Engineer Will Osborn. Will is an officer in the Merchant Marines, and a NOAA Augmentation Pool Engineer assigned to the Oregon II. He invited me to follow him around and learn how the engineers prepare the ship for sea. One of the duties of the engineers is to check the liquid levels of each of the tanks prior to sailing. They do this by performing soundings, where they use a weighted measuring tape and a conversion chart to determine the number of gallons in each of the tanks.
2nd Engineer Will Osborne performing a sounding on deck
Performing a sounding on the dirty oil tank
The engineering team then prepared the ship to sail by disconnecting shore power and turning on the engines aboard ship. I got to flip the switch that disconnects the ship from shore power. I followed the engineering team as they disconnected the very large cable that the ship uses to draw power from shore. I then got to follow 2nd Engineer Will as he turned on the engines aboard ship.
Once we set sail, the science team met and discussed how longline surveys would work. I am on the day shift, which is from noon to midnight. We got the rest of the day, after onboard training and group meetings, to get used to our new sleep schedule. Because I was on the day shift, I stayed up and got to watch an amazing sunset over the Gulf.
Our second day out, we set our first two longlines. The first one was set before shift change, so the night shift crew bated the hooks and set the line. My shift brought the line in, and mostly got back unbaited hooks. We got a few small Atlantic Sharpnose (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) sharks on the line, and used those to go over internal and external features that differentiated the various species we might find.
After the lines were in, it was time for safety drills. These included the abandon ship drill, which required us to put on a submersion suit, which is affectionately referred to as a Gumby suit. You can see why below. It was as hard to get into as it looks, but it will keep you warm and afloat if you end up in the water after you abandon ship.
I have learned a few rules of the boat on my first days at sea. First, always watch your head. The stairwells sometimes have short spaces, and you have to make sure not to hit them on your way up. Second, always keep a hand free for the boat. It is imperative at sea that you always have a hand free, in case the boat rocks and you need to catch yourself. Third, mealtimes are sacred. There are 31 people aboard the boat, with seating for 12 in the galley. In order for everyone to get a chance to sit down and eat, you can’t socialize in the galley.
Did You Know?
In order for the crew to have freshwater to drink, the Oregon II uses a reverse osmosis machine. They create 1000-1200 gallons of drinkable water per day, running the ocean water through the reverse osmosis generator at a pressure of 950 psi.
Quote of the Day
And when there are enough outsiders together in one place, a mystic osmosis takes place and you’re inside.
Greetings to those following my adventure from afar. My name is Kristin Hennessy-McDonald, but my students and fellow faculty call me Dr. Hen-Mc. I am so excited to have been selected to be a member of the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program aboard the Oregon II. I am the science lead at T-STEM Academy at East High School, where I teach Honors Biology. My path to the classroom was far from straight. I attended the University of Notre Dame, where I earned a B.S. in Biology. I then continued my academic path at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, where I earned my PhD in Cell Physiology. After spending a little less than 3 years at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, I had an epiphany. I found that I enjoyed sharing my passion about science more than doing research at the bench. I made the decision to transition to the classroom and have not looked back. 8 years later, I have found my home at T-STEM, and my family in Team East.
The journey to boarding the Oregon II has been a long one, but well worth it. When my boss brought the opportunity to me, I applied with hope. When I got the acceptance letter, I gasped and started jumping up and down in my classroom. My students were confused, but then excited when they found out that I had gotten this opportunity. I teach many of the same students who were in that class, and they have all been sharing in my excitement over the past months as I have prepared for this adventure.
My first view of the Oregon II
Boarding the NOAA Ship Oregon II
I have always been fascinated by water. From the time I was a small child, my parents would have to watch carefully when we went to the pool or the beach, because I was liable to jump right in. As I grew up, that love of water has remained, and I spend time each summer on the Gulf. I am thrilled to have a chance to study ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico, and see things that I only read about in National Geographic magazine.
I have passed my love of water on to my daughter. Beth is the same way I was when I was young. She wants to run into the water, to play in the waves. She sees the beauty of the sea, watching dolphins alongside the boat when we take trips to Ship Island out of Gulfport, MS. I look forward to sharing my adventures at sea with her. I am sad to leave her and my husband for two weeks, but grateful that they waved me off on my adventures with a smile.
I began my career as a teacher because I wanted to share my love of science with young people. I dreamed of someday being a child’s gateway to the wonders and knowledge of science. While none of my students have stood on a desk reciting Whitman, some of my students have allowed my love of science to guide them along science career paths. When I joined Team East at T-STEM Academy at East High School, I knew that I was in a place that would foster the idea of learning by doing. I wanted to exemplify that going on this trip. I cannot wait to bring all of the knowledge and experiences of this trip back to my classroom. Instead of just sharing case studies of Gulf Coast ecosystems, I will be able to share what I learned as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.
Personal Quote of the day
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
Did You Know?
Red Snappers are considered to be one of the top predators in the Gulf of Mexico?
Question of the day
Given that red snapper hatch at 0.0625 inches long, and can reach sizes of 16 inches within two years, do you think their cells have a long or short G1 phase?
The one thing that pops into most people’s mind when they hear the word ‘shark’ is their sharp teeth. Surprisingly, not all sharks have sharp teeth. The diet of a shark determines the shape of their teeth. The picture below is a set of jaws from two different species of sharks. The jaws on the right are from an Atlantic sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), and the set of jaws on the left is from a gulf smoothhound (Mustelus sinusmexicanus). The Atlantic sharpnose shark possesses small razor blade-like teeth because their diet consists of many different species of fish, as well as worms, crabs, and mollusks. The gulf smoothhound possess teeth that are shorter, less sharp, and more closely packed together. Their diet consists mainly of crustaceans and smaller species of fish.
We completed our last haulback tonight and we caught a whopping 48 fish. Just before the haulback I watched the sun set one last time before I head home tomorrow. These past two weeks have been so rewarding for me professionally and personally. There were times when I felt like a college intern again, and I loved the feeling of not knowing all the answers. So often my students think I have the answer to everything, and it was so refreshing to be back in their shoes for two weeks. The NOAA scientists and fisherman expressed so much patience with me. It reminded me that my students are learning most of the material in my classroom for the first time, and they will be more successful if I show them patience as they work through understanding the many details that I throw at them in one class period.
I most excited to get back to my family. I fly in very late tomorrow night so I will not see my kids until they wake up on Saturday morning. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces when they see that Mommy is finally home! Once everyone is awake I am driving straight to Dunkin’ Donuts for an iced coffee.
When NOAA Corps officers go through training they learn a poem to help them remember how to identify Special Situation Lights on other vessels.
Red over green, sailing machine.
Red over white, fishing boat in sight.
Green over white, trawling at night.
White over red, pilot ahead.
Red over red, captain is dead.
When driving a vessel like the Oregon II it is always important to have the ability to analyze the radar, locate other vessels in the water, and determine their current situation by reading their mast lights. Line 1 of the poem describes a vessel that is currently sailing by use of wind without the use of an engine, line 2 describes a boat engaged in fishing operations, line 3 indicates that the vessel is currently trawling a net behind the boat, line 4 indicates that the vessel is a pilot boat (a boat containing a pilot, who helps guide larger tanker and cargo ships into harbors), and line 5 of the poem is used for a situation when the vessel is not operating properly and other vessels should steer clear.
There are currently three named storms in the Atlantic, including a category 4 hurricane (Florence) that is headed towards the Carolinas. I have never experienced a bad storm while out on the water. The waves the last 24 hours have ranged from 3-5 feet, with an occasional 8 foot wave. We have changed our port call location and will now be going back to Pascagoula, Mississippi instead of Galveston, Texas. There was also no internet for part of the day so my team and I sat in the dry lab and told ghost stories. I was also introduced to the “dinosaur game” in Google Chrome, which is sort of like a low budget Mario. Apparently it is the dinosaur’s birthday so he is wearing a birthday hat.
I am still making the most of every minute that I am out here. Our last haulback was very active with many large blacktip sharks. It is a workout trying to handle the sharks on deck, while collecting all required data, and getting them back in the water as fast as possible. I am loving every second!
Did you know:
Sharks possess dermal denticles (skin teeth) that makes their skin feel rough when running your hand tail to nose. Shark skin used to be used as sandpaper before it was commercially manufactured. It can also give you shark burn, which is sort of like a rug burn, if the shark brushes up against you.
In addition to collecting data on the many species of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, this survey also collects data that will go towards assessing the population of red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus). One piece of evidence that is collected from the red snapper is their two distinct otoliths. Otoliths are structures that are used for balance and orientation in bony fish. One fascinating characteristic of the otolith is that they contain natural growth rings that researchers can count in order to determine the age of the fish. This information is important for stock assessment of the red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.
I would have to say that the hardest part about being out at sea is not being able to see Coral and Kai. I miss them so much and think about them nonstop. Coral is at a very curious stage in her life (I hope the curiosity stays with her forever) and I cannot wait to get home and tell her about all the animals that I have been lucky enough to witness on this adventure. Kai is just the sweetest little boy and I can only imagine the way he will react when I get home.
I am very busy on the boat and when there is down time my team and I are getting shark lessons from the incredibly intelligent Chief NOAA Scientist, Kristin Hannan, or we are in the movie room catching up on all the Annabelle movies. It is almost impossible to get scared while aboard a ship. It may seem that many things could go wrong, but the lights are always on and someone is always awake. It is the perfect environment to watch any horror film because this atmosphere makes it much less scary.
Probably the scariest thing that is happening on this boat is the amount of weight I have gained. All of the meals are delicious and they come with dessert. It is kind of nice to not have to worry about going to the gym or staying on a normal routine. Life is always so hectic day to day when I am at home, but being out here on the water gives me time to relax and reflect on the amazing people I have in my life that made this opportunity possible.
I am sad to report that the Chicago Bears lost tonight to Greenbay, but I did show support for my team! I think the best part of the day was when I was on the bow of the boat and Kristin announced over the radio that the Bears were winning 7 to 0. It is exciting being out here seeing everyone cheer for their fantasy team, as well as their home town team.