Staci DeSchryver: Super Bonus Spiritual History Blog! July 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

 

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Sanctuary  

Date:  July 29, 2017


Location:  
20 deg, 20.0 min N, 156 deg, 08.6 min W

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Scattered Clouds

Visibility: 10 nmi

Wind @ 23 kts from 65 degrees

Pressure: 1015.1 mb

Waves: 4 – 5 feet

Swell:  7-8 feet at 70 deg

Temp: 26.5 deg

Wet bulb:  23.5 deg

Dewpoint: 25 deg

Bonus Spiritual History Blog

On July 23, we briefly suspended our operations to help out fellow scientists camped out on the French Frigate Shoals (Lalo), located along the Northwest Hawaiian Island chain – about halfway between the northernmost main islands and Midway (Kuaihelani).  The trip was brief, and we never set foot on terra firma, but with the help of the Big Eyes we could see something that we had not seen up close in 3 days – land.

Two nights prior, we finally crossed over to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands – a sacred and certainly mysterious (at least to me)  area for the Hawaiian People.  I was waiting with some anticipation for the moment we would cross into these waters.  The entire Northwest Hawaiian Island chain and its surrounding seas are limited-access for the vast majority of seafarers; the waters are protected by a proclamation signed by President George W. Bush in 2006, and expanded by President Barack Obama in 2016. This Marine Sanctuary’s designated area begins near the start of the Northwest Hawaiian Island chain, and stretches all the way to the Kure Atoll (Hōlanikū), just past Midway Island (Kuaihelani).  We were not permitted to cross into these waters until we had a permit, part of which included a component requirement of a briefing on the history of the area before we entered.  ers Native Hawaiian Program Specialist Kalani Quiocho introduced us to this sacred ground during our pre-cruise training with this briefing on this Marine National Monument, Papahānaumokuākea.  His presentation was so moving that I felt it necessary that the story of these waters (through my limited experience) must be told.

Mr. Quiocho’s presentation began with the name song for Papahānaumokuākea.  His voice bellowed out in an ethereal chant – one in a smooth and haunting language with sound combinations like nothing I had ever heard before.  His song was punctuated with ‘okinas and kahakōs, and accented with stunning photographs of ocean life, ritual, and artifact.  The music moved me to a tear, though I couldn’t quite pinpoint the emotion that was supposed to accompany it.

name song for papahanamoukuakea

The Name song for Papahānaumokuākea, reprinted with permission from Kalani Quiocho.

I realize now that I have traveled to this sacred place that it was one of simple reverence for the culture and its people who belong so fully to it.  It was at that moment that I realized that this trip would be a whole other ball game – one that is sacred, cosmic, and mysterious.

Papahānaumokuākea (pronounced Papa-hah-now-mow-coo-ah-kay-a) is the first officially designated Mixed Cultural and Heritage site, and is the largest fully protected conservation area in the United States.   Its name commemorates the union of two Hawaiian ancestors – Papahānaumoku and Wākea, who according to Hawaiian ancestry gave rise to the Hawaiian archipelago, the taro plant and the Hawaiian people.  These two ancestors provide a part of the Genesis story for Hawaiʻi – land to live on, food to eat, and people to cultivate, commune, and thrive as one with the gifts of their ancestors. The namesake alone of this marine sanctuary highlights the importance of its existence and its need for protection.  Many of the islands are ancient ceremonial sites, two of which we passed on the way to the Shoals (Lalo).

Crossing over to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands also marks a celestially significant line in the Hawaiian archipelago – the Tropic of Cancer.  The Tropic of Cancer is the furthest north that the sun will reach a direct overhead path during the solar year – you might know this as the summer solstice.  Right on the Tropic of Cancer lies the island Mokumanamana, a sacred place of cultural distinction for the Hawaiian people.  The Tropic of Cancer divides the entire Hawaiian archipelago into two distinct sections, Pō and Ao – the Ao represents the more southern islands and spiritual daylight, and the Pō representing the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and spiritual twilight.

ao and po

This diagram shows the separation between the NWHI and the main Hawaiian Islands. The horizontal line through the center divides day (Ao) from night (Pō) and lines up with the Tropic of Cancer. The Island Mokumanamana lies directly on the boundary between the living and spiritual realms. Our destination was Lalo, or French Frigate Shoals, though our travels took us much further northwest than that. (Diagram Credit: Kalani Quiocho)

The crossing over as we passed Mokumanamana is significant in that we entered a different spiritual zone of the Hawaiian Islands.   The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument’s website (click here to read much more about it) describes the Northwest Hawaiian Islands as “a region of primordial darkness from which life springs and spirits return after death.”  In this sense, transiting past Mokumanamana represented a “crossing over” into a different realm of ancient history.  Mokumanamana is known for its high density of ancient ceremonial sites and is considered a center of Hawaiian religion and ideology.  Mr. Quiocho expands on the geographical importance of the area to the Hawaiian people in his commentary stating that,

“Papahānaumokuākea encompasses the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands which is ¾ of the Hawaiian archipelago and includes high basalt islands and low-lying atolls, and surrounding marine environments. It stretches nearly 2,000 kilometers and straddles the Tropic of Cancer also known to Hawaiʻi as Ke Ala Polohiwa a Kāne – The sacred black glistening path of Kāne, the patron god of the sun. It is believed that the Hawaiian Archipelago is divided into two regions called Pō and Ao, which essentially means night and day. Most of the NWHI is within Pō, a place of creation and origin where ancestors return to after death. The region known as Ao includes the main Hawaiian Islands where man resides. The entire Hawaiian Archipelago represents the dualisms and cycles of the Hawaiian universe. From the east where the sun rises and the islands are volcanically birthed from the oceanic womb to the west where the sun sets and the islands return to the sea. And all of the extraordinary biology that is found in the Northwestern and main Hawaiian Islands are accounted for in our oral traditions. The Kumulipo, a creation chant with more than 2,000 lines expresses the cosmology of the Hawaiian Islands, beginning with the birthing of the coral polyp and eventually the Hawaiian people. Naturally this is an inspiring place that is the framework of our worldview and the knowledge systems that tell us we are people of place. Which is why many refer to this area as the kūpuna islands, kūpuna meaning elder or grandparent.”

Today, Native Hawaiians will travel by double-hulled canoes from the main islands all the way up to Nihoa and Mokumanamana during times of ritual importance and follow in the footsteps of their ancestors to honor the tradition and the spiritual practice.  I’m sure the journey is both treacherous and fulfilling, one that would rival other more commonly known great expeditions, especially considering its spiritual significance.

rainbow

Papahānaumokuākea is rich with history – both ancient and recent, and full of its own surprises!

Mr. Quiocho continues by expanding on the importance of the navigation of these waters to the Hawaiian people and how it honors their homeland connections:

“Native Hawaiians believe that the vast region that makes up the NWHI is an incredibly sacred place and is regarded as the construct of their cosmological genealogy. This region is rooted in creation and origin as a place where all life began and to which ancestors return after death. Native Hawaiians have historical connections to all parts of their homeland, which encompass all the islands, atolls, shoals, coral reefs, submerged seamounts and ocean waters that connect them. While the islands themselves are focal destinations for traditional voyages, the vast ocean is equally important. It is a cultural seascape that is imbued with immense value. The ocean is more than an unknown empty space that isolates islands, but rather a pathway for movement and potential.

orca

A rare sighting of Tropical Pacific Orca – one of the first Cetaceans to welcome us to the Monument. What a gift!

Long-distance voyaging and wayfinding is one of the most unique and valuable traditional practices that Native Hawaiians have developed and continue to advance. It is an ancient way of interacting with the ocean that continues to inspire and create social change. The ocean region surrounding the NWHI is the only cultural voyaging seascape within the Hawaiian Archipelago. The main Hawaiian Islands are large enough for any novice navigator to find, but the ocean region throughout and surrounding Papahānaumokuākea provides challenging opportunities for apprentice navigators to excel. This expansive ocean environment was the setting for ancient Hawaiian chiefs to voyage back and forth between the main Hawaiian Islands and the NWHI over the course of 400 years.”

On our journey, we slipped passed Mokumanamana in the cover of night – through the invisible gates and into this ancient ancestral realm.  Although we had been in the monument since the previous day, for some reason this crossing marked a distinction for me personally in an indescribable way.  Since arriving on Oahu and in my travels since, I’ve known there was something special and different about this place, and I’ve known that part of the “different” was me.  Walking through Ala Moana Park on the 4th of July revealed threads of a culture that formed a beautiful tapestry of family, community, and heritage as I strolled past hundreds of families camped out in anticipation of the upcoming fireworks over the ocean.

volcanic neck

A volcanic neck stands high above the waters surrounding the shoals.

There was something communal and sacred about it, even though the time and event was modern.  There was an “old” feeling of togetherness that buzzed through the park amongst strangers and friends.  I knew I was an outsider to this energy, but I didn’t feel entirely left out of it.  It’s one thing to feel like a foreigner on the “day” side of the Tropic of Cancer, but the “night” side held a spiritual distinction, as though I was trespassing in a dimension to which I did not belong. Knowing that the only passage of ships through this area would come with permits and regulations left a feeling of emptiness in an already vast ocean.  Knowing the ocean is full beneath with life both current and past – fish and whale and ancient Hawaiian spirit alike gave back some reassurance that we were not entirely alone.  For the first time I didn’t want to just know about Papahānaumokuākea, I wanted the ocean to tell me the story herself.

Nestled in the middle of Papahānaumokuākea was our target destination – French Frigate Shoals (Lalo).  On this tiny island a small team of scientists have been camped out for a little over six weeks studying the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal.  We were tasked with delivering critical supplies to the scientific team – fuel, replacements of scientific gear, and a small care package with a few creature comforts they had not had access to in quite some time.  (I mean, seriously.  Who drops off fuel without dropping off chocolate? Not us!)   We also picked up some specimens from them to take back to the lab in Honolulu. The Shoals are a special place – a World War II military outpost slowly decays on the far side of the island, providing some cover for the scientists as they work. The island hosts thousands upon thousands of terns, flying en masse around the island in huge swarms.

FFS

A closer view of the island. The dots in the air above the island are all birds.

The terns were in preparation of fledging, and in anticipation of that day, tiger sharks stalked the surrounding waters, waiting for their next meal. On the opposite side of the island a few hundred meters away from shore, a lone sandbar (formerly dredged up for use as a military runway) rose to the surface providing a quiet place for a monk seal and her two pups to lounge in the sand.  One seal pup practiced swimming in the shallows as the mother casually glanced in its direction.  The other pup would hobble a few feet away down the beach, only to run back to its mother and lie next to her for a time.  It was a little reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell beach vacation painting, had Rockwell chosen an animal personification route as his medium.  A turtle dotted the far edge of the landscape on the main island, basking in the rising sun as the waves gently rolled on to the beach behind him.

runway

This flat strip of land is a dredged up runway, slowly returning back to the ocean after years of abandonment from use. A mother seal and two pups lounge on the sand, enjoying the sun.

The structures on the land from afar looked like a distant movie set for an apocalyptic storyline. The wind howled as we approached the atoll, and birds fought against the invisible currents in frantic circles around the island.  Two boats lay destitute along the far side of the island while waves crashed merciless against the sea wall built to hold the atoll in place during the time the island was volunteered to serve in a wartime capacity. The island itself is a surreal duplicity – serving both as a protector of life and a vessel of war.  I found myself taking stock of this history;  watching from far away to learn the eternal evolution of this strange place – first a volcano, sunk beneath the surface, then to a primordial breeding ground for coral, fish, and shark – onto a pristine landscape, possibly used by ancestral Hawaiians for ceremony and stopover en route to Kure (Hōlanikū) – a military base as a refueling station and an outpost – and finally a protected home for hundreds of species, some hanging desperately onto the last strings of life but finally thriving under the care of a dedicated research team.

As much as I desperately wanted to go on to the island to have a look at this former military operations base-turned-endangered-animal-sanctuary, none of us could go on shore – even those who shuttled supplies to the scientists.  French Frigate Shoals marked the first time I had ever seen a coral atoll in anything other than a picture, and it seemed a natural part of my inner explorer to want to pop on to shore to have a look about, even for just a few minutes.  Everything in French Frigate Shoals is protected under the Papahānaumokuākea permitting restrictions.

pulley system

Supplies were hauled ashore by the small pulley system jutting up from the shoreline – visible on the left-middle portion of the island.

Had we wanted to explore the land, we would have needed to quarantine our clothing and ourselves for a minimum of 72 hours to protect the landscape from anything foreign taking foot on shore. Our ship couldn’t make it much closer than a mile or two from the island so as not to put it in danger of running aground. So, a team of four people shuttled supplies in the small boat, navigating the shallows and hauling the supplies on shore through a pulley system.  Two quick trips out to the island, and we were soon on our way again in our search for cetaceans.

When Mr. Quiocho parted ways with us after our training, he made a casual but powerful statement in closing.  He told us the whale dives deeply to commune with ancient wisdom commissioned to the deep ocean, bringing this deep knowledge from the ancestral depths to the surface so that it can become part our collective consciousness. Our trip, then, is a not merely a collection of data or a series of samples.  Each time we interact with the whales, they are bringing us the knowledge of the ancients in hope that we will continue to pass that information on to anyone at the surface willing to listen. The responsibility of our work when described in this light brought a new reverence to the study – one that is not just a story for the present in hopes of preserving for the future, but that weaves ancient knowledge from the past into our work, as well.

Did you know?

  •         Each day at noon, the ship’s alarms are tested to ensure they will work in an emergency situation.  Guess who got to test the alarms?

    fire alarm

    Yup! I got to test the alarm. Thanks Lieutenant Commander Rose!

  •         Ship safety is the height of the focus of everyone on board.  Each Friday, we complete drills to make sure we are ready in the event of an emergency.  Of the many dangers at sea, a fire can prove to be most catastrophic.  It’s not like the fire department can come out to the middle of the Pacific at the first sign of burning bacon (which may or may not have happened to me two days before I left for Oahu).  The entire Sette crew acts as the fire department, so it is important for them to practice in the event of an emergency.  This week we simulated a live-fire scenario, complete with a fog machine.  I got to call the drill up to the bridge!  It was a little extra fun built into a very serious situation.
  •         Classes are still continuing each afternoon on the bridge, Monday through Friday. 
    amanda and hexacopters

    Dr. Amanda Bradford gives the Wardroom a lesson on Hexacopter Operations (see blog #5 for more!)

    tim and msds

    ENS Tim Holland gives a lesson on MSDS chemical safety sheets.

  •         Officers are in a friendly competition to see who is on watch when the most sightings occur, among other friendly battles.  It is the topic of lively discussion at most meal times.  

    The tallys

    Officers can make a competition out of ANYTHING!  Here are the tallys for the past 25 days.

Nicole Macias, June 24, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicole Macias
Onboard NOAA Vessel Oscar Elton Sette 
May 31-June 28, 2009 

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 24, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Location: 25° 04.341’N, 169° 34.084’W
Wind Speed: 19 kts.
Air Temp: 26.1° C

This is the invasive Hypnea algae that we collected in the lobster traps.

This is the invasive Hypnea algae that we collected in the lobster traps.

Science and Technology Log 

We finished collecting data on the lobsters of the North Western Hawaiian Islands. As soon as Bob, the Chief Scientist, is finished inputting his data I will give you a brief over view of the findings. During the entire cruise there was a special white bucket in “the pit” that was specifically for holding all the algae that would come up in the traps. Algae is like seaweed. We have lots of it in Florida, but it seems that the algae we collected on this trip are very different and there is a greater variety. Just as we have invasive species in Florida so does Hawaii. An invasive species is an alien species (transported to a location outside its native range) whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm. When we pull up the lobster pods and take out any organisms we also have a bucket for any algae.

The other day we collected algae called Hypnea musciformis. It is very invasive and was actually introduced to Hawaii from Florida! This algae is a huge threat to Hawaii’s near-shore reefs because it smothers the coral and the surrounding reef reducing diversity in the reef community. There are currently four efforts in Hawaii to manage the invasive algae situation. They have a volunteer-based algae removal effort, a mechanical suction system capable of removing large volumes of algae, research on biological control using native grazers and finally they are researching the feasibility of repopulation of native algal species. It is important for humans to understand their impact on the environment and invasive species is a great example to look at. One human bringing a species somewhere it doesn’t belong can destroy whole ecosystems.

Personal Log 

Tomorrow we are going to Turn Island to pick up a few scientists that need a ride back to Honolulu. If the weather cooperates the scientists will get the opportunity to take the small boats and explore the island. I am excited because there are supposed to be quite a few seals that hang out on the beach. If we get to go on this adventure I will be sure to report back to you ASAP.

Nicole Macias, June 20, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicole Macias
Onboard NOAA Vessel Oscar Elton Sette 
May 31-June 28, 2009 

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 20, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Location: 23° 37.7’N, 164° 43.005’W
Wind Speed: 11 kts.
Air Temp: 25.6° C

Here is a picture of an otolith that has been extracted from one of the fish we caught.

Here is a picture of an otolith that has been extracted from one of the fish we caught.

Science and Technology Log 

Even though the mission of this cruise is to conduct research on lobsters, we are helping out another scientist with his study on bottom fish. Three of the jobs on the rotation require bottom fishing at night. Every fish that is caught has to be “processed.” When processing a fish you have to indicate the type of species, its fork length, the gender and you have to collect its otoliths. The fork length is the distance from the fish’s upper lip to the end of the center of its tail.

To determine the fish’s gender and collect its otoliths you must dissect the fish. It is very messy business. First the scientist makes an incision from the fish’s anus all the way to the throat. From there you can open up the fish and locate its gonads, sex organs. By looking at the gonads you can determine whether it is a male or female. The female’s gonads are much larger and much more vascular, meaning they have more blood vessels in them. The scientist will then extract the gonads and place them in a jar with formaldehyde so that they can be taken back to the lab and further studied.

These are the females gonads of a fish. It is very important when cutting open the belly that you are very careful because the knife can easily cut into the gonads as it has in this picture. Notice all the blood vessels running through the gonads. This is characteristic of a female.

These are the females gonads of a fish. It is very important when cutting open the belly that you are very careful because the knife can easily cut into the gonads as it has in this picture. Notice all the blood vessels running through the gonads. This is characteristic of a female.

After removing the gonads, it’s time to extract the otoliths. Otoliths are the inner ear bone of a fish and are responsible for hearing and balance. There are two of them—one on each side of the spine at the base of the skull. They are very small, fragile bones so it takes a little finesse in removing them. The reason the otoliths are so important is because they can tell scientists a lot of important information on the life history of the fish. The otoliths have growth rings, kind of like a tree. The growth rings can tell scientists the age of fish as well as any environmental factors it encountered during that time period.

The purpose of the study is to re-estimate the life history for these important commercial fish species. The main species they are lacking data on is the opakapaka, Pristopomoides filamentosus. We have not caught very many of this species, but we have been catching quite a few ehu, Etelis carbunculus. This species is very similar to the red snappers we have in Florida and just the other day I caught a Butaguchi fish, which is related to the Jack family.

Here is a picture of me holding up the Butaguchi I caught. If you look in the background you can see the hydraulic bottom fishing rig that was used to catch the fish.

Here is a picture of me holding up the Butaguchi I caught. If you look in the background you can see the hydraulic bottom fishing rig that was used to catch the fish.

Personal Log 

We are now at our second and last location, Maro Reef. There is no land to be seen for miles. At least at Necker we had something to look at. We are heading in to the last week of the cruise and it is easy to see that 30 days is a long time for some people to be out to see. I am fortunate that I have made some really good friends or else I would be really ready to get home.

I have had the free time to read some really great books and watch some movies I haven’t seen and probably would never have watched if I weren’t out to sea. Anyway, I am looking forward to my last week on the ship and hope to report back many exciting things for you!

Here is a picture of me in the safety boat, about to be lowered down so that we can deliver fresh fish to the near by NOAA vessel.

Here is a picture of me in the safety boat, about to be lowered down so that we can deliver fresh fish to the near by NOAA vessel.

Nicole Macias, June 14, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicole Macias
Onboard NOAA Vessel Oscar Elton Sette 
May 31-June 28, 2009 

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 14, 2009

Here is a close up picture of fertilized lobster eggs. You will notice two black dots in each egg. Those are the lobster's eyes!

Here is a close up of fertilized lobster eggs. You will notice two black dots in each egg. Those are the lobster’s eyes!

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Location: 23° 37.7’N, 164° 43.005’W
Wind Speed: 10 kts.
Air Temp: 25.6° C

Science and Technology Log 

So let’s talk about the life cycle of a lobster. In the last log I explained how they reproduce and that the female carries the fertilized eggs on the underside of her tail in the center of her pleopds. The fertilized eggs are a clear spherical shape that have a tint of orange to them. As you can see by the photograph each egg has two black dots, these are the lobsters eyes. After a period of time the fertilized eggs hatch as phyllosome larva. In this stage they look like a very small squished spider. While in this stage they are drifters and travel out to sea in the currents. They hover in the water column and are only able to move vertically on their own, every other movement is up to the ocean. The lobsters stay in the phyllosome larva  stage for several molts. A molt is every time a lobster sheds its exoskeleton and then develops a new one. It is similar to the way a snake sheds its skin or a hermit crab moves into a new shell.

This is a picture of a lobster in the puerulus stage.

This is a picture of a lobster in the puerulus stage.

The next stage is when they transform into a puerulus. A puerulus looks like a lobster except it is very tiny and clear, it does not have any coloration. During this period of the lobster’s life it begins to swim into shallow water and settles at about 20 fathoms (1 fathom is equal to 6 feet.). When it settles it no longer is a drifter and is now considered a bottom dweller. Again after several molts it will begin to develop color. Once it has coloration it will take 1- 2 years to become 1 lb. size. The survival rate is very low for the lobster when it is in the phyllosome and puerulus stage. There is a high chance it will be eaten by a predator. Even when they are full grown they have to be very careful because even then we are one of their predators!

Here is a picture of the "pool" that a few of the other scientists decided to make after a long day of playing in mackerel blood!

Here is a picture of the “pool” that a few of the other scientists decided to make after a long day of playing in mackerel blood!

Personal Log 

The days have been very hot and being surrounded by crystal blue water is very frustrating because we cannot go swimming because of the sharks that have learned to follow our boat for leftovers. A couple of the “men” scientists decided that they couldn’t take it any more, so they filled up one of the giant square bins that usually holds rope, with sea water and went “swimming.” It actually looked very fun and I think I might jump in next time they make a “pool” on deck.

We have reached the half -way point of our trip. Only two more weeks to go and I will be able to walk on land again. I am very excited and hope it goes by quickly. Since we are nearing the end of our stay around Necker Island we did a drive by around the entire island. It is much smaller than I thought and does not look very hospitable. Pele’s brother is said to live on the island. Hawaiian culture believes that Pele is the goddess responsible for the formation of the Hawaiian Islands.

Here is a picture of me as we do a drive by of Necker Island, which is part of the North Western hawaiian Islands Monument.

Here is a picture of me as we do a drive by of Necker Island, which is part of the North Western hawaiian Islands Monument.

 

Nicole Macias, June 10, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicole Macias
Onboard NOAA Vessel Oscar Elton Sette 
May 31-June 28, 2009 

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 10, 2009

Here I am holding up a spiny lobster.

Here I am holding up a spiny lobster.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Location: 23° 37.7’N, 164° 43.005’W
Wind Speed: 10 kts.
Air Temp: 25.6° C

Science and Technology Log 

So the job rotation finally put me into the wet lab where I had a few first hand experiences with the lobsters we have diligently been trying to catch. The first day I was a wet lab assistant and the second day I was a measurer. As mentioned before there are two types of lobsters that we are collecting data on–the spiny and the slipper. For each lobster that is caught we record the sex, the carapace length, and if it is a female we record its pleopod length, the status of her eggs and sperm plate.

There are a couple different ways to determine the sex of a spiny lobster. The first is if their back legs have little pinchers on them then they are female, no pinchers than they are male. The female has a sperm plate on the underside of its head (carapace) right before the tail begins. The male gives sperm to the female who carries it on her sperm plate, when she is ready to reproduce she will begin to scratch the sperm onto the underside of her tail where the eggs are. When we record the status of the sperm plate we must indicate either smooth or rough. Smooth means she has yet to start fertilizing her eggs and rough means she has begun scratching off the sperm. The males have a snail like structure at the base of their hind legs, this is their sperm duct that they release sperm from. The female also has much larger pleopods. The pleopods are like little flippers on the underside of the tail. The female uses her pleopods to hold her eggs. When a female is carrying eggs she is considered berried.

This is a picture of a spiny female lobster that is berried (carrying eggs, they are orange). You can also see the pleopods, which are the black with an outline of white flipper like structure. Above that, between the two legs, is the sperm plate. You can tell that she has begun to scratch the sperm off because of the rough texture.

This is a picture of a spiny female lobster that is berried (carrying eggs, they are orange). You can also see the pleopods, which are the black with an outline of white flipper like structure. Above that, between the two legs, is the sperm plate. You can tell that she has begun to scratch the sperm off because of the rough texture.

It is a little different when distinguishing from the male and female slipper lobsters. The easiest way is to locate on which base of the leg they have a pore. If they have a small clear pore on the bottom leg then they are male. If the pore is on the base of the third leg then they are female. The slipper lobsters have pleopods but they are much smaller than the spiny lobster.

This is a male because of the snail like structures (sperm duct) at the base of his legs.

This is a male because of the snail like structures (sperm duct) at the base of his legs.

The job of the pleopods is to hold the eggs before and after fertilization. The reason that their length is recorded is so that it can be compared to its body length to determine maturity. Even though this seems like a lot of information once you get the hang of the process it goes by very quickly. For every lobster that we catch we must determine whether it has a tag form the previous years. If it does then we have to make sure we put it back at the same location we found it. We are not tagging any lobsters on this cruise. I do not know why so that is something that I will have to figure out and report back to you on. On the next log I will talk about the life stages of a lobster! 

This is a picture of the top half of a spiny lobster. The carapace is the section between the eyes all the way to where the head ends and the tail starts.

This is a picture of the top half of a spiny lobster. The carapace is the section between the eyes all the way to where the head ends and the tail starts.

Personal Log 

I am definitely ready for a day off. Being a research technician is a lot more work than I was expecting. It is a lot of quick intensive manual labor followed by a lot of waiting until the next burst of work. I am beginning to despise the smell of rotting mackerel blood. It seems to follow me wherever I go on the boat. I am looking forward to the two-day transit to our next stop, Maro Reef, even though it is not for another four days. At least I am eating well and trying to fit in a work out every day.

I cannot wait to come home and tell everyone about my experiences in person.

Nicole Macias, June 4, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicole Macias
Onboard NOAA Vessel Oscar Elton Sette 
May 31-June 28, 2009 

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 4, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Location: 23° 15.7’N, 164° 26.7’W
Wind Speed: 8kts.
Wave Height: 1 ft.
Swell Wave Height: 3-4 ft.
Water Temp: 26.3 ° C
Air Temp: 28° C

A fish that has its air bladder protruding from its gills.

A fish that has its air bladder protruding from its gills.

Science and Technology Log 

Today was our second full day of hauling and setting the traps. The science team is on a rotating schedule so that everyone gets a chance to work each position. Yesterday, I was a “runner”. My job was to stand in the pit next to the “crackers”. The crackers would take out the specimens and place them in a bucket and then take out the old bait and replace it with new bait. Once the pod was ready to go I would run the bucket to the lab and the pod (trap) down the pit tables to the stackers. It was a labor-intensive job, but at least I was able to see everything that came up in the trap. We did not catch many lobsters, but we did trap quite a few white tip reef sharks. Even though they are not very large they are extremely strong. I would know because I got to throw one over the side of the ship!

This is me in the pit when I was a "runner." So far we are catching more white tip reef sharks than we are lobsters. See the white tip on the shark’s tail fin?

This is me in the pit when I was a “runner.” So far we are catching more white tip reef sharks than we are lobsters. See the white tip on the shark’s tail fin?

Today I was a “stacker.” My job was to take the pods from the runner and stack them on the fantail, the back of the boat where the traps are released later in the day. The pods are stacked 4 high and end up covering the entire back of the boat. There are 160 pods all together. We release 10 strings of 8 pods each and 4 strings with 20 pods each. The main focus of the research being conducted is to collect data on the population of lobsters in the North West Hawaiian Islands. Even though we are targeting lobsters we record the data on everything we catch. Anything beside lobsters are considered by-catch. By-catch is considered anything that is caught accidentally. We are setting these traps for lobsters, but many times other animals will work there way into the pods. This is unfortunate for any fish that gets caught in the traps because they are pulled to the surface so fast that their air bladder expands causing a balloon-like structure to protrude from their mouth.

This is the feeding frenzy that follows the ship until the end of the day when we give them all our old bait. They are Galapagos Reef Sharks.

This is the feeding frenzy that follows the ship until the end of the day when we give them all our old bait. They are Galapagos Reef Sharks.

This “balloon” enables them to swim down and they end up being eaten by a predator or drowning. In a normal situation the swim bladder helps a fish regulate their buoyancy. The by-catch problem is seen in many commercial fishing industries. Usually they are dealing with a larger quantity of equipment and in certain instances, such as long lining, many sharks and turtles end up dying unnecessarily. The two main species of lobsters that are found in Hawaiian waters are the spiny lobster, Panulirus marginatus, and slipper lobsters, Scyllarides squammosus. Both species are also found in the waters off South Florida, but they do look a little different. The lobsters in Hawaii have more of a purple color to them. I have not come into much contact with them since my day in the lab isn’t for a while in the rotation. Once I am in the lab I will be able to report back with more information about them. Tomorrow I am a stacker again, so my biceps will be getting really big. I do know that on the first day we only caught 3 spiny lobsters and on the second day 21.

Oh! The most exciting part of the day is after we have finished hauling all the traps and replacing the old bait with new bait, we dump the old bait overboard and there is a feeding frenzy amongst the resident Galapagos sharks that follow our boat.

Personal Log 

Here I am on the fantail of the deck scrubbing the mackrel blood after setting 180 traps.

Here I am on the fantail of the deck scrubbing the mackrel blood after setting 180 traps.

Well my feet are very sore from being wet and in shoes all day. They are definitely not used to being in closed toed shoes everyday. I am ready to start working in the lab and learning more scientific information than just performing physical labor. With all the energy I am exerting I am definitely replacing all the lost energy with the delicious food that is different and amazing everyday. Today we had Hawaiian cornbread with pineapple. It was out of this world! We have also been eating a lot of fresh fish since one of the rotations included bottom fishing. I have yet to be in this rotation.

I am beginning to make friends with everyone on the ship. I am sure by the end of the month I will have forged some great friendships. It does seem like I have been on the ship for quite some time. I hope the days start going by a little faster. I am beginning to miss Florida!

I will be writing soon. Hopefully with some exciting adventures! 

Nicole Macias, June 1, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicole Macias
Onboard NOAA Vessel Oscar Elton Sette 
May 31-June 28, 2009 

Mission: Lobster Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Date: June 1, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Location: 22° 35.7’ N, 162° 32.4’ W
Wind Speed: 5 kts.
Swell waves: 2-4 ft.
Water Temperature: 26.7°C
Air Temperature: 26°C

This is "the pit" where the lobster traps are pulled into the ship. My job setting up was to bolt the legs together.

This is “the pit” where the lobster traps are pulled into the ship. My job setting up was to bolt the legs together.

Science and Technology Log 

Since the ship is still in transit to our first location the science team did not have much to do today. All we did was set the tables up in the “pit”. This is the section of the boat where the traps, or “pods”, are pulled up out of the water. Once they are pulled out of the water they are cracked open and everything is placed in a corresponding bucket to be taken to the wet lab to be measured and recorded. Everything in pod 1 would be placed in bucket one and so on. The only organism that does not go into the buckets are eels. My job today was to bolt the tables in the pit together. They needed to be bolted together in case we hit rough seas. While half of us were working on the tables the other half was inflating buoys that will be used to mark the beginning and end of a set of traps.

I also was able to release a message in a bottle that another teacher had sent to me before my trip asking if I would release it for him. The man, Jay Little, has had over 225 message bottles released all over the world. His goal is to raise awareness for the global efforts needed to preserve the integrity of oceans and inspire people to take action. The message in the bottle explains his goal and also asks that whoever finds the bottle to send him back artifacts from the location it ended up in. He uses these artifacts to make sculptures that reflect the contributions of people from around the world. Out of the 225 bottles released to date 21 have been found. The 19th bottle found had an incredible journey having circumnavigated the world in 23,000 miles. The latest discovery was in Matrouh City on the Mediterranean coast of Northern Egypt in 2007. Hopefully our bottle number 285 will land somewhere new and deliver an important message.

Here I am throwing the message in the bottle over the stern of the boat.

Here I am throwing the message in the bottle over the stern of the boat.

Personal Log 

One of the perks of being out to see are the incredible sunrises and sunsets that happen every day and the wild life that comes with it. In the morning a huge pod of either Pacific white-sided dolphins or Dusky dolphins, passed by the ship. They are very similar and some scientists believe that they might be the same species. In the evening, while on top of the bridge to watch the sunset, two red-footed booby birds decided to perch on the weather vain to watch too. They are the smallest of all the booby species and nest on land, but feed at sea. They are strong flyers and can travel up to 93 miles at a time and can dive up to 98 ft. to pursue prey.

The food is really good. Last night the cook made chocolate cake with a pecan and coconut frosting. It was very delicious. It is a good thing the boat has an exercise room so I can burn off the calories from three full meals a day. They also have a freezer that is stocked with ice cream and available 24 hours a day.

A beautiful sunset on the Pacific

A beautiful sunset on the Pacific

“Did You Know?” 

Prior to the Revolutionary War, dockworkers in Boston went on strike protesting that they had to eat lobster more than 3 times a week!

“Animals Seen Today” 

The Red Footed Booby (Sula sula) Pacific White-sided Dolphin: (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens)