Nicolle von der Heyde, June 21, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle Vonderheyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Dates: Monday, June 21

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 0800 hours (8 am)
Position: Latitude: 28º 09.6 minutes N
Longitude: 094º 18.2 min. W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: variable
Water Temperature: 30.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 27.5 degrees Celsius
Ship’s Speed: 5 knots

Science Technology Log

Atlantic Spotted dolphins are the graceful ballerinas of the sea. They are just incredible! The Gulf of Mexico is one of the habitats of the dolphin because they live in warm tropical waters. The body of a spotted dolphin is covered with spots and as they get older their spots become greater in number.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Here you can see the spots on an older Atlantic Spotted Dolphin. To read more about dolphins go to http://www.dolphindreamteam.com/dolphins/dolphins.html

Because Dolphins are mammals they breathe air through a single blowhole much like whales. Dolphins live together in pods and can grow to be 8 feet long and weigh 200-255 pounds. Like whales, dolphins swim by moving their tails (flukes) up and down. The dolphin’s beak is long and slim and its lips and the tip of its beak are white. They eat a variety of fish and squid found at the surface of the water. Since dolphins like to swim with yellow fin tuna, some dolphins die by getting tangled in the nets of tuna fishermen.

Newborn calves are grey with white bellies. They do not have spots. Calves mature around the age of 6-8 years or when the dolphin reaches a length of 6.5 feet. Calving takes place every two years. Gestation (or pregnancy) lasts for 11 1/2 months and babies are nursed for 11 months.

While watching the dolphins ride the bow wave, Nicolle and I wondered, “How do dolphins sleep and not drown?” Actually, we found that there are two basic methods of sleeping: they float and rest vertically or horizontally at the surface of the water. The other method is sleeping while swimming slowly next to another dolphin. Dolphins shut down half of their brains and close the opposite eye. That lets the other half of the brain stay “awake.” This way they can rest and also watch for predators. After two hours they reverse this process. This pattern of sleep is called “cat-napping.”

Dolphins maintain a deeper sleep at night and usually only sleep for two hours at a time. This method is called “logging” because in this state dolphins look like a log floating in the ocean.

The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the hunting, capturing, killing or collecting of marine mammals without a proper permit. Permits are granted for the Spotted Dolphins to be taken if it is for scientific research, public display, conservation, or in the case of a dolphin stranding. The maximum ffor violating the MMPA is $20,000 and one year in jail.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

Personal Log

The best part of this trip is all the marine life I see in the Gulf. In the past few days, dolphins have been swimming up to the boat and riding the bow wave of the ship. They are so graceful and playful in the water. In addition to the Tiger Shark seen feasting on the dead Sperm Whale, I have seen quite a few sharks swimming in the water near our ship. One, called a Silky Shark, took the bait as some of the crew was fishing from the stern of the boat (shown to the left). It was hauled up so the hook could be taken out and released back into the water. The second was a baby shark swimming near the bow of the ship as I watched the dolphins in the distance. I also saw a shark swimming near the starboard side of our ship while the deckhands were hauling up one of the camera arrays.

The fourth shark was the most exciting. As the crew was working at the stern of the ship to release a line that was caught in the rudder, I looked over the stern to see a large shark very near the surface swimming toward the starboard (right) side of the ship. I hurried to look and to my surprise it was a giant Hammerhead! I never expected to see one of these in its natural habitat. Unfortunately, by the time I got my camera out, the Hammerhead was too far away and too deep to get a clear shot, but what a sight to see!

Hammerhead shark
Hammerhead shark
The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==
The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==

The photo on the right is from Monterey Bay Aquarium. For more information, go to http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/AnimalDetails.aspx?enc=C53nR+hhcrXgfKW+bt/MWA==

I often mistake the fish shown on the left for sharks. Actually they are Cobia, also known as Lemonfish. Once in a while thefish approach the boat as we are hauling fishup on the bandit reel. I have also seen bojellyfish in the water as we are working on the starboard side of the ship and I spotted a brief glimpse of an Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) from the bridge of the ship as I was talking to our Commanding Officer (CO). I wish I could have seen this fish up close. They are the largest bony fish in the oceans and as someone on the ship described, they resemble a giant Chiclet swimming in the water.

The smallest living things I have seen while at sea are the tiny creatures that live in the Sargassum, a type of seaweed that floats freely within and on the surface of the Gulf waters. The Sargassum provides a habitat for tiny creatures that are the foundation of the food web, even providing food for some of the largest animals in the sea like whales. The picture below on the left shows a giant patch of Sargassum, while the picture on the right shows some of the creatures that live within it including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs.

Sargassum
Sargassum
Creatures that live within the sargassum including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs
Creatures that live within the sargassum including tiny shrimp, krill, and very small crabs

Seeing all this life has been reassuring as the oil continues to gush into Gulf waters off the coast of Louisiana, however I can’t help but think what the overall impact of this spill will be for the future of the Gulf. Will we see the negative environmental impact spread to the Eastern Gulf? Are microscopic droplets of oil and chemical dispersants infecting the food chain beyond the area that we visibly see being impacted? These questions will be answered as NOAA scientists continue to collect and analyze the type of data that I am helping gather on this SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this scientific endeavor.

Animals Seen

Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)

Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran)

Cobia (Rachycentron canadum)

Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)

Krill, Shrimp, Crab (species unidentified)

Peggy Deichstetter: Day 4 September 1

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Peggy Deichstetter
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Me on the deck
Me on the deck

Day 4 Sept . 1

We are about an hour away from out first data collection area. This morning just before dawn I got a tour of the bridge. The CO showed my all the computers that keep track of where we are. I learned a lot, not only about the bridge but also about careers in NOAA.(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) . NOAA is made up of several parts, the CO and I talked about the oceanic parts; the officers and crew who run the ship and the scientists. The officers follow the same rules as the military. If you are in the Navy you can transfer directly into this division.

Navigational Computers
Navigational Computers

The scientists do the actual research designed by NOAA to answer questions about the ocean. In this cruise we are counting, tagging and releasing shark. This will tell us about how many sharks are in this area at this time of year. NOAA has collected data for twenty year so they will be able to tell the health of the shark population.

To help collect information of the effect of the oil spill we are also doing water analysis and plankton tows.

After lunch we were taught how to do a plankton tow. I have done numerous plankton tows in my life but never on this scale. I used all the skills that I learned when I did research in the Arctic except on a much larger scale.

Annmarie Babicki, August 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II
Mission: Sharks and Red Snapper Bottom Longlining Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 13, 2010
Calm seas in the Gulf off the coast of Florida

Weather Data from the Bridge                                

Latitude: 26.18 degrees North
Longitude: -84.07 degrees West
Winds: 5.25 knts.
Air Temperature: 30.5 C or 87 F
Barometric Pressure: 1013.84

Science and Technology:

Today we entered a fishing area that had once been closed to fishing due to the oil spill.  Since the spill, NOAA scientists have the added responsibility of collecting data on the fish they catch and preparing them for return to a lab. Scientists will to keep up to ten fish of each species for each station they fish.  There is a protocol that is followed in the handling of these fish. Basically, they are wrapped in a industrial strength aluminum foil, labeled, bagged, and placed in a freezer.  Upon returning to port, the Chief Scientist with sign over each individual fish to the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) at Pascagoula.  Toxicology testing will be performed on each fish to determine if chemicals from the oil have entered their body. The data will be analyzed and determinations will be made.  Many marine biologists have been out to sea for long periods of time since the spill.  They have been away from their family and friends, but feel that what they are doing is very important for marine life and the people along the Gulf.  Their passion and dedication is much like the passion and dedication I see in teachers.
Ready for Testing

On a lighter note, yesterday I was able to tag my first shark.  The sandbar shark was large enough to be  brought up in the cradle.  The Chief Scientist made the slit just below the dorsal fin, while two other assistants held the shark in place.  I did not get the tag in on the first try, but finally did get it into position.  The shark’s skin was so tough and full of razor-like scales.  If a shark’s tail slaps and hits you, it can leave a burn-like mark that is very painful.  Hopefully I will not have that experience while I’m here. Tagging the shark was amazing and frightening all at the same time.  I was very aware that I needed to get it done quickly before the shark became restless.  A shark’s movements are swift and powerful and you don’t want to be in their way.  Everyone out here has a great respect for these animals and appreciates the beautiful creatures that they are.  I, too, am learning what they already know.

Sandbar Shark in Cradle
Tagging the Sandbar Shark

Personal Log

I almost never know where to begin as I write a blog.  There is always so much going on, so much to see, learn, and write about,  it is sometimes overwhelming.  I always have questions for everyone here and they are willing to take the time to answer them with great detail.  Today the Chief Scientist was explaining to me about the swim bladder on a particular fish that we pulled out at one of the stations.  One of the lessons in the ocean unit is about swim bladders, so I was very curious to hear more about them.  After listening to him, I came away with a better understanding, which I will be able to share with my students.
Well, we all like to eat and if you like really good food and lots of variety, the Oregon II is the place to be.  Our chef served in the Navy as a Culinary Specialist and upon retiring joined NOAA.   You can tell he loves his job and that he’s not just cooking.  He creates meals that tickle all of your taste buds and some you never knew you had.  No one misses mealtime around here.  And if you think you may, he will put a plate aside for you so that you don’t miss his luscious meal. If you’re sitting in the mess hall you hear lots of “thank you’s” and if you look at the chef, you will see a wide, proud smile on his face.
When I can, I try to head up to the bridge to learn about all the complicated and sophisticated electronics that this ship is furnished with.  The equipment provides a staggering amount of information that the officers must analyze prior to making decisions about how to manuever their way from station to station.  I was told that it is very unlikely a NOAA ship can get lost at sea.  There are multiple systems in place, so that if one fails, there is at least one other to take its place.  Even though the ship has navigational and radar systems, the officers continue to use paper nautical charts as a backup.  The Captain and all of the officers who sail this ship love what they do and put safety for everyone above all else.

The Bridge on the Oregon II

“Answer to the Question of the Day”
The wet lab of the ship is where the scientists process marine life and store supplies they will need to work with while they are out to sea.  In the dry lab you will find computers that are used entering data and for general communications.
“Question of the Day”  Is there a fish that really flies?

Bruce Taterka, July 13, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Bruce Taterka
NOAA Ship: Oregon II 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey 
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico 
Date: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 

It’s All Connected

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Time: 0015 (12:15 am)
Position: Latitude = 28.13.24 N; Longitude = 094.15.51 W
Present Weather: Cloud cover 20%
Visibility: 6-8 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.4 C
Air Temperature: Dry bulb = 29.6 C; Wet bulb = 25.7 C
Barometric Pressure: 1011.96 mb

Science and Technology Log“IT’S ALL CONNECTED.” If you took my Environmental Science class I hope you know what I’m talking about. Everything in an ecosystem is connected to everything else. This is a guiding principle of studying and managing ecosystems. I saw this last summer when I helped investigate the relationship between plants, caterpillars, parasitic wasps and climate change in the cloud forest of Ecuador. I see it in the relationship between human development, deer, invasive plants and native plants at the Schiff Nature Preserve in New Jersey.

I’m seeing it now in the Gulf of Mexico. Obviously, the ocean environment is connected to human activities – the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill makes that abundantly clear. But there are also countless natural connections, and much less obvious human impacts, that must be understood and assessed if the Gulf ecosystem is to be protected. Commercial fish and shrimp stocks can only be sustained through a careful understanding of the human impact and natural connections in the Gulf.

Drilling platform off the coast of Texas.

That’s why we identify and count every organism we bring up in a trawl. Sometimes we get 50 or more different species in one catch, and we don’t just count the commercially important ones like red snapper and shrimp. We count the catfish, eel, starfish, sea squirts, hermit crabs and even jellyfish we haul in. Why? Because even though these organisms might seem “unimportant” to us, they might be important to the red snapper and shrimp. They also might be important to the organisms the red snapper and shrimp depend on. And even if they’re not directly important, studying them might tell us important things about the health of the Gulf.

Brittany Paul, Fisheries Biologist
Brittany Palm, Fisheries Biologist

I’m learning a lot about this from the incredibly knowledgeable marine biologists in the science party. Brittany Palm is a Research Fishery Biologist from NOAA’s Southeast Fishery Science Center (SEFSC) in Pascagoula, MS, and leader of the day watch on this leg of the Oregon II’s Summer Groundfish Survey. Brittany is working on her M.S. on a fish called croaker, Micropogonias undulatus, studying its stomach contents to better understand its position in the food web. Croaker is not an economically important species, but it lives in the same shallow sea floor habitat as shrimp so shrimpers end up hauling in a huge amount of croaker as bycatch. So, when the shrimping industry declined in 2003-2004, the croaker population exploded. Since croaker are closely associated with shrimp habitat and the shrimp fishery, we might gain important insights by studying croaker population and understanding what they eat, and what eats them.

Alonzo Hamilton, Fisheries Biologist
Alonzo Hamilton, Fisheries Biologist

Alonzo Hamilton is another NOAA Fishery Biologist from the SEFSC. Alonzo explained to me that there’s a lot to be learned by looking at the whole ecosystem, not just the 23 commercial species that are managed in the Gulf. For example, many of the crabs we commonly catch in our trawls are in the genus Portunas, known as “swimming crabs.” Portunas species normally live on the sea floor, but when severe hypoxia sets in, Portunas crabs can be found at the surface, trying to escape the sever oxygen depletion that typically takes place at the bottom of the water column.

Portunas spinicarpus
Sean Lucey is a Research Fishery

Biologist from NOAA’s Northeast Fishery Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He’s working on the Oregon IIright now to support the SEFSC because of huge manpower effort demanded by the oil spill. Sean explained that the NEFSC has been conducting its groundfish survey annually since 1963, making it the longest-running study of its kind. Originally the survey only looked at groundfish population, but as our understanding of ecosystem dynamics increased over time, more and more factors were analyzed. Now NEFSC looks at sex, age, stomach contents and many other species besides groundfish to obtain a more complete picture of the food web and the abiotic factors that affect groundfish. NEFSC even measures primary production in the marine ecosystem as one tool to estimate the potential biomass of groundfish and other species at higher trophic levels.

Andre DeBose, Fisheries Biologist
Andre DeBose, Fisheries Biologist

Andre DeBose is a NOAA Fishery Biologist from the SEFSC and the Field Party Chief for the Summer Groundfish Survey. In addition to leading the science team on the Oregon II, Andre is conducting research on Rough Scad, Trachurus lathami, an important food species for red snapper and important bait fish for red snapper fisherman. By gaining a better understanding of the relationship between Red Snapper and its prey we can better understand, and better manage, the ecosystem as a whole.

There’s a lot of information to be learned beyond just counting fish. By taking a wide look at the marine environment we can better understand how the whole ecosystem functions. This enables us not only to be more informed in setting sustainable catch levels, but also enables us to identify and respond to things that contribute to hypoxia and other problems that degrade habitat and reduce populations. It’s all connected.

Sunset
Sunset

Melinda Storey, June 28, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 28, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0700 hours (7 am)
Position: latitude = 28° N longitude = 089º W
Present Weather: storm clouds, thunder, lightning, rain
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: E Wind Speed: 29 knots
Wave Height: 3-5 foot
Sea Water Temp: 30.6°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 27°C, wet bulb = 26°C

Science and Technology Log

Stormtrack of Tropical Storm Alex
Stormtrack of Tropical Storm Alex

Tropical Storm Alex, which is a very strong tropical storm, has moved over the Yucatan Peninsula and continues to show signs of strengthening and organization. It was headed straight for us before we started steaming eastward to get out of its path. Our CO has monitored this progression carefully so he can make the decision to go into home port or not. Yesterday evening we started steaming east at 13 knots so we could be closer to Pascagoula if indeed he decided it was unsafe to stay at sea. When we woke this morning we found that Tropical Storm Alex had intensified overnight maintaining wind speed of 50-60 mph. An Air Force Reserve reconnaissance plane found that the atmospheric pressure was decreasing thus creating a very dangerous situation for the Pisces. The CO said that 12 foot waves crashing over the bow would not be fun so he made the decision to head back to Pascagoula today.

We’ve been traveling at 14 knots all night long. Since that is as fast as we can go, we know that the CO is anxious to get us safely in port. He told us that he has to make a decision to return to home port early enough to get a berth at the dock. With all ships in the area heading to shore, he needs to make a decision within 72 hours of the storm hitting so we can get a berth. If you do not get back before the port closes, you have to ride out the storm on water.

The swells have gotten much larger and deeper causing the ship to rock and roll. Walking down the halls is like being a ping pong ball bouncing everywhere. Taking a shower this morning and cleaning up was quite a challenge. When we came down to the lab, they were packing it in. The ship’s crew is busy cleaning the rooms, deck, and ladders (stairs). No more science.

Deepwater Horizon
Deepwater Horizon
Deepwater Horizon
Deepwater Horizon

On our way back to Pascagoula, we passed within 6 miles of the Deepwater Horizon/BP disaster site. We saw 40 ships – pipeline boats, supply boats, a research vessel, tugs and barges that collect the oil, and the Stemstar, which is the ship that injects mud, steam, and concrete into damaged wells. On board the Stemstar are geologists and engineers who are working on solutions to stop the oil leakage of the well. We also saw a fire boat sending water toward a flame that was burning off oil from a rig. The CO thought this might be to keep the heat from damaging the rigs and ships. When oil is burned off the surface of the water, oil crystallizes and hardens much like obsidian rock. It then sinks to the bottom of the ocean and is much easier to collect and dispose of.

Personal Log

Me driving the ship
Me driving the ship

I am saddened that our cruise is over. I enjoyed the crew, scientists, and officers so much. They made our stay so enjoyable, but I am looking forward to bringing back to my students all that I’ve learned. As we watched Deepwater Horizon, I was stuck by the thought that you can’t connect the classroom to the real world better than this! To think that we were within 6 miles of Deepwater Horizon taking pictures to show my students, I thought, “We are watching one of the greatest disasters of our time.” It is incredibly sad to think how this oil is going to damage our pristine coast and affect so many lives. It is remarkable to think that I am one of the few people who get to see this up close and personal!

Me on the binoculars
Me on the binoculars

On a happier note, not every student gets to say his/her teacher has piloted a 208-foot NOAA research vessel! One night our Commanding Officer let me steer the ship – for REAL! I couldn’t believe the CO let me do that! He kept saying how easy it was to turn the ship. He said that the steering is very sensitive so if I made a sharp angled turn I could knock people right out of their berths, or beds! I sure didn’t want the crew mad at me so I wanted to be really careful. When he took the ship off automatic pilot and handed the ship off to me I was nervous as a tick, but I got the hang of it and really had fun. Nicolle, the other teacher, drove straight lines, and I steered in circles. She obviously was the better pilot! They printed off the “track line” so you can see my “donuts” in the sea! Pretty cool watching the bow of the ship swing right and then left. Although I enjoyed steering the ship, I was relieved to turn the helm back over to the CO.

It’s also very important to watch where you’re going. I was very surprised at how many obstacles there are out here – oil rigs, oil tankers, recreational boats, and the ever-present fish. So far, people on the bridge have sighted a dead whale, dolphins, and a sunfish. The CO told me that once he almost ran over a humpback whale. So you do have to watch where you’re going. Last night while we were in our rooms we heard, “Teachers at sea, report to the bridge. Teachers at sea, report to the bridge.” I felt like we were being sent to the Principal’s office! But it was a good thing. The XO had spotted dolphins and wanted us to see them.

One afternoon we saw a beautiful double rainbow, but THIS rainbow was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They both were circular rainbows and they circled the sun. It was really strange seeing an upside-down, round rainbow. Our Chief Scientist researched this phenomenon and found that circular rainbows are formed in very high cirrus clouds. These clouds have ice crystals formed in them that act like a prism. When lighttravels through these ice crystals they bend the light and that is what causes the circular rainbow

Rainbows in cirrus clouds
Rainbows in cirrus clouds

I’ve wanted to see a shark on board the whole trip, and when it happened, I was asleep! Nicolle was watching the deck hands fish off the stern when one of them caught, not one, but TWO sharks! The sharks were both dogfish sharks and had to be brought aboard with a net. I was surprised to learn that dogfish sharks don’t have teeth. I thought all sharks had teeth, but that’s just an example of the types of things I’ve learned on this trip.

Shark on board!
Shark on board!

Chris Gledhill, one of our scientists, told us that last night we would have a rare opportunity to view the Space Station as it passed overhead. So, at 9:00 pm I went to the bow and stared up at the sky. The stars were brilliant against the dark night sky and I had such a peace to come over me (even though at 14 knots the waves were splashing over the bow). Suddenly, I saw a light streaking across the sky! It was amazing! As it sped past, I thought of all the wonderful “firsts” that I’ve experienced while aboard the Pisces. It has been truly a remarkable trip.

New Term/Vocabulary

Muster – to gather

Berth – bed on a ship

“Something to Think About”

While on the bridge last night, I heard on the radio another ship broadcast they were “taking on water.” What would you do if you were on a boat in the Gulf and it suddenly started taking on water?

Melinda Storey, June 25, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, June 25, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1000 hours (10 am)
Position: latitude = 27°53.9 N longitude = 093º 51.1 W
Present Weather: 5/8 cloudy (cumulonimbus/cumulus clouds)
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: E Wind Speed: 4 knots
Wave Height: 1 foot
Sea Water Temp: 30.5°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.2°C, wet bulb = 26.3°C

Science and Technology Log

Video from the Camera Array
Video from the Camera Array
Echosounder
Echosounder

The technology on this ship is amazing! The picture on the left is video of what the camera array filmed yesterday. The fish just swim around and sometimes they even come right up to the camera like they are “kissing” it. Then they back away and swim off. It’s beautiful to watch. The picture on the right is the EK60 Echo Sounder. The red line that you see shows the bottom of the seafloor. The blue above the red line is the water itself and the white specks that you see are fish. The most recent reading is located on the right side of the screen. The echo sounder sends a “ping” to the computer and that “ping” is a fish. Sometimes we can see definite shark outlines in the images below our ship. If you look at the bottom right hand corner of the echo sounder photo, you will see a large white speck along the red line. This indicates a large fish (possibly a shark) trolling the bottom of the ocean. When we came upon the dead sperm whale, the Electronics Technician (ET) came to the lab and told us there were a lot of “large fish,” most likely Mahi Mahi or even sharks, swimming under the ship.
The Pisces would not be able to operate without the engineers who make sure that everything onboard is functioning properly, including the 4 massive diesel generators that power the ship, the freshwater generators that convert seawater into fresh drinking water, and the hydraulics that power the cranes to lift the cameras in and out of the water. Chief Engineer Garet Urban leads the team of engineers, oilers, and electrical experts who take care of all the mechanical issues on board the ship.

First Engineer, Brent Jones, took us on a tour of the very impressive engine room on the lower deck of the Pisces. He showed us the incinerator which burns all the trash, oil filters, and other waste at a temperature of 1200°C (2192°F). Paper, plastic, and aluminum is brought back to shore and recycled. Before entering the engine room, we were told to put in earplugs because the sound can damage your eardrums. In addition to not being able to hear a thing inside the engine room, the heat is incredible! The engineers need to be careful to stay hydrated while working in these conditions.

Engine room
Engine room
Diesel Generators
Diesel Generators

The Pisces is powered by 4 diesel fuel generators which generate electricity that drives two large electric motors. The photo above on the right shows one of the generators in yellow. The engineers are constantly monitoring the mechanics of the ship to make sure everyone on board has a safe and productive voyage while conducting scientific research on board.

Personal Log

All this technology on board makes me drool! The Pisces is certainly a beauty of the NOAA fleet. Each morning Chris Gledhill, our fishery biologist, looks at the video from the camera array and I’m hanging just over his shoulder watching all the coral and fish. It’s really interesting to see the fish swim by the camera and now I can even identify some of them. I never knew there was a type of coral called “wire coral.” It looks like curly-cue wire used in floral arrangements. One of our deck hands caught some on his fishing pole one night and when I held it, the coral moved! Wire coral is a living creature so, of course it moved!

What I thought was really funny was watching a big grouper swim by the camera and then we caught it on the Bandit Reel. Nothing like seeing your fish before you catch it! Here you can see Paul Felts and me holding the 21 pound grouper.

Big Grouper
Big Grouper
Big Grouper caught
Big Grouper caught

Just like school, the Pisces has drills – fire drills, man overboard drills, and abandon ship drills. It’s always good to be prepared. When we have an abandoned ship drill we have to put on our “Gumby Suit.” This survival suit would protect us by keeping us afloat and warm if we really had to go into the water. The Gumby Suit is not exactly the latest fashion but I would certainly want it if I have to abandon ship.

Gumby Suit
Gumby Suit
Teacher at Sea in their Gumby suits
Teacher at Sea in their Gumby suits

The day after this Abandon Ship drill, we had a REAL fire drill. Over the PA system we heard, “This is not a drill. This is not a drill.” The forward bow thruster was smoking. We “mustered,” or gathered, on the second deck, but when we got there we could really smell smoke. So, we were sent down to the main deck for precaution. Fortunately, we have an outstanding crew who fixed the problem immediately.

New Term/Vocabulary

Muster – to gather

“Something to Think About”

While on the bridge last night, I heard on the radio another ship broadcast they were “taking on water.” What would you do if you were on a boat in the Gulf and it suddenly started taking on water?

Melinda Storey, June 23, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 23, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1000 hours (10 am)
Position: latitude = 27°51 N longitude = 093º 51 W
Present Weather: 7/8 cloudy (cumulus/cirrus clouds)
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: SSE Wind Speed: 8 knots
Wave Height: > 1 foot
Sea Water Temp: 31°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 31.4°C, wet bulb = 28°C

Science and Technology Log

Because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, most of the fish we are catching in the Chevron Trap or Bandit Reel is being weighed, measured, and frozen for the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) to be tested for oil or toxin contamination. After the NSIL completes its testing, the fish are sent back to the NOAA Pascagoula Laboratory where the scientists determine the sex of the fish and remove the otolith, or ear bone, which can be analyzed to determine its age. The otoliths are sliced very thin and examined under a microscope. Rings can be seen that help the scientists age the fish, similar to reading tree rings to determine the age of a tree. Age data is analyzed to contribute to the fishery-independent stock assessments which help determine the health of the fish population and how many can be taken out of the water. This also helps establish the size restriction of fish for the commercial and recreational fishing industry.

Otoliths
Red Snapper Otoliths

Occasionally, the fish trap will catch more than 10 fish at a time. If this happens, the first 10 fish are frozen for NSIL. Any remaining fish are dissected on board the ship to determine their sex and their otoliths are removed and placed in a labeled envelope for later analysis. The picture above shows the otoliths taken out of a red snapper.

Video Footage from Sampling Station
Video Footage from Sampling Station

The video footage taken at each station will also be analyzed in depth back at the NOAA Pascagoula Laboratory; however after each station, the footage is spot checked to ensure that the cameras recorded properly. The scientists make sure that the cameras are positioned correctly and not pointing upward in the water column or down on the ocean floor, that the field of view is not obstructed by an object like a rock, and that the water is clear enough to view the fish in sight. When we first began the Reef Fish Survey, most of the fish we saw were red snapper. As we have moved up in latitude toward the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary, the diversity of fish has increased.

There are 14 federally designated marine sanctuaries in the United States and the Flower Garden Banks is the only one located in the Gulf of Mexico. The Banks are essentially three large salt domes that were formed about 190 million years ago when much of the Gulf evaporated into a shallow sea. When the salt deposits were covered in layers of sediment, the pressure and difference in density caused the salt domes to rise and corals began to form on them about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. (This information was obtained from the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary website. For more information, visit this informative and interesting website at http://flowergarden.noaa.gov )

Grouper
Yellowmouth Grouper
Grouper
Grey Triggerfish

Most of the fish we catch in these waters seem to be Red Snapper. We have also seen a variety of groupers including the giant Warsaw grouper, a Marbled Grouper, a Scamp Grouper, and a very rare Yellowmouth grouper shown in the upper left photo. We have also caught a few Grey Triggerfish shown on the right, Longspine and Red Porgies, Tomtate, Vermillion Snapper, and a very small and colorful Reef Butterflyfish.

As stated earlier, we do not view the entire recording from the camera arrays, but as we were spot-checking the footage from one of the cameras, one of the scientists came across an image of the Marbled Grouper that was later caught in the bandit reel. Looking closer at the image shows the variety of species found in these coral reef ecosystems including a Squirrelfish, a Yellowfin Grouper that has spots resembling a cheetah, and to our delight, a Spotted Moray eel!

From the Camera Array
From the Camera Array

Personal Log

I was amazed that fish could be aged by the rings in their ear bones! I watched one of the scientists extract the otiliths from a snapper and it was real work! Chief Scientist, Paul Felts, explained that the age of sharks can be determined by growth rings found in their vertebrae. Sometimes when they catch sharks, scientists inject a dye into the spines of sharks. This makes their growth rings more easily seen. Then they quickly tag the sharks and release them again into the ocean. If these sharks are ever caught again by NOAA, scientists could get new measurements and determine survival data.

Another interesting fact about sharks has to do with blood in the water. Most people know that blood attracts sharks. However, if you cut open a shark and throw it into a group of sharks, the other sharks scatter. Seems like they don’t like the smell of shark blood.

Fishing "kissing the camera"
Fishing “kissing the camera”

I love watching video of the fish at the Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary. I’m fascinated seeing the variety of fish as they swim by and I really like to see them “kiss” the camera. It’s a whole different world down there.

New Term/Vocabulary

Otolith – ear bone,

NSIL – the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory

Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary – only sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico

“Did You Know?”

Did you know that sharks aren’t always able to digest what they eat. I guess it’s hard to digest a can or a boot. Well, if that happens, the shark will either vomit or turn its stomach inside out.
Marbled Grouper
Yellowfin Grouper
Squirrelfish
Spotted Moray eel

Melinda Storey, June 21, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Melinda Storey
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 21, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 0800 hours (8 am)
Position: Latitude: 28º 09.6 minutes N Longitude: 094º 18.2 min. W
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: variable
Water Temperature: 30.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 27.5 degrees Celsius
Ship’s Speed: 5 knots

Science Technology Log

Atlantic Spotted dolphins are the graceful ballerinas of the sea. They are just incredible! The Gulf of Mexico is one of the habitats of the dolphin because they live in warm tropical waters. The body of a spotted dolphin is covered with spots and as they get older their spots become greater in number.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins

Here you can see the spots on an older Atlantic Spotted Dolphin. To read more about dolphins go to
http://www.dolphindreamteam.com/dolphins/dolphins.html

Because Dolphins are mammals they breathe air through a single blowhole much like whales. Dolphins live together in pods and can grow to be 8 feet long and weigh 200-255 pounds. Like whales, dolphins swim by moving their tails (flukes) up and down. The dolphin’s beak is long and slim and its lips and the tip of its beak are white. They eat a variety of fish and squid found at the surface of the water. Since dolphins like to swim with yellow fin tuna, some dolphins die by getting tangled in the nets of tuna fishermen.

Newborn calves are grey with white bellies. They do not have spots. Calves mature around the age of 6-8 years or when the dolphin reaches a length of 6.5 feet. Calving takes place every two years. Gestation (or pregnancy) lasts for 11 1/2 months and babies are nursed for 11 months.

While watching the dolphins ride the bow wave, Nicolle and I wondered, “How do dolphins sleep and not drown?” Actually, we found that there are two basic methods of sleeping: they float and rest vertically or horizontally at the surface of the water. The other method is sleeping while swimming slowly next to another dolphin. Dolphins shut down half of their brains and close the opposite eye. That lets the other half of the brain stay “awake.” This way they can rest and also watch for predators. After two hours they reverse this process. This pattern of sleep is called “cat-napping.”

Dolphins maintain a deeper sleep at night and usually only sleep for two hours at a time. This method is called “logging” because in this state dolphins look like a log floating in the ocean.

The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the hunting, capturing, killing or collecting of marine mammals without a proper permit. Permits are granted for the Spotted Dolphins to be taken if it is for scientific research, public display, conservation, or in the case of a dolphin stranding. The maximum fine for violating the MMPA is $20,000 and one year in jail.

Personal Log

Watching the dolphins playfully swim below us at the bow is like watching water nymphs. I can almost see them smiling. They spring out of the water just ahead of the ship and then peel off at a ninety degree angle. FAST doesn’t even begin to describe their movement. I especially enjoy watching some of them swim upside down, their white bellies gleaming. The CO is really good at spotting them far away. The dolphins swim straight toward the ship lickity-split as if someone just let kids out for recess and they run straight for the playground. We’ve seen some babies with their mothers as well as some older spotted dolphins. It is totally amazing to look straight down into their blowholes! You can even hear them “snort” when they come up for air. Never in my life did I think I would ever have an up-close and personal relationship with a dolphin!

Sunset
Sunset
Sunset
Sunset

The sunsets here are so spectacular. Check out the middle of the cloud on the left. If you look carefully you can see that the cloud has a heart-shaped opening. Last night’s sunset was purple and orange and just looked like a painting by one of the Masters. Our scientists have told us to watch for the “green flash.” If conditions are right and there aren’t many clouds, you can see a flash of neon green just as the sun plops below the horizon. We keep watching but so far no green flash.

The night is also spectacular. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life. One night I went out to the bow about 12:00am and it was pitch black. Then when I looked up, it was if God had thrown diamonds into the night sky. The half moon glistened against the ocean and the lapping of the water against the bow made it just so peaceful. You don’t see that many stars at home because of all the city lights. This is almost indescribable.

One evening the ship’s crew was fishing with fishing poles off the stern (back) of the ship when one guy said his hook had gotten stuck on something. I find that amazing since they were fishing 60 feet deep. He yanked and pulled and yanked again and finally pulled up what you see here.

Crinoids
Crinoids

The orange mass that you see here is a lot of animals called crinoids. They’ve wrapped themselves around a wire coral, which you can see here at the left side and the top right hand corner. The wire coral is green. The cool thing is all of this was alive and moving. Holding it felt surreal. It was somewhat like holding a big batch of worms.

New Term/Vocabulary

Pod – a group of dolphins

Slipstream – the wake created by the dolphins as they swim

Echelon – the dragging of the babies in the slipstream

Logging – a type of dolphin sleep where they are floating and they look like a log

Cat-napping – a light stage of sleeping

Fluke – the tail of the dolphins

“Something to Think About”

Dolphins are “social animals,” which means they travel together. What would be the benefits for traveling in pods?

“Did You Know?”

Did you know that a mama dolphin doesn’t stop swimming for the first several weeks after the birth of its young? This is because a baby needs to sleep and rest and can only do that by sleeping beside its mother. The baby sleeps while its mother swims, towing the baby along in her slipstream, the drag behind the mom. This is called echelon swimming. If the mother stops swimming, the sleeping baby will sink below the surface and drown.

Melinda Storey, June 19, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Melinda Storey
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 19, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge
Time: 1000 hours (10:00am)
Position: latitude = 27°34 N, longitude = 096°28 W
Present Weather: mostly clear
Visibility: > 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: SSE Wind Speed: 13 knots
Wave Height: 2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.5°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.4°C, wet bulb = 27.8°C

Science and Technology Log

One of the goals of the SEAMAP Reef Fish survey is to monitor the health and abundance of reef fish to establish limits on how much fish the fishing industry can take out of Gulf waters. SEAMAP stands for Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program and is a State/Federal/University program for collection, management and dissemination of fishery-independent data and information in the southeastern United States.

Due to the oil spill in the Gulf, the fish we capture will be weighed, measured, frozen, and delivered to the Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) in Mississippi to be tested for hydrocarbons (oil) or other contamination to ensure that the seafood is safe to eat. Since the oil spill is far to the east of where we are doing the survey, our data will serve as a baseline and be compared to future studies to see what the extent and future impact of the oil will be in these waters.

Dropping the bait
Dropping the bait
Bucket of fish
Bucket of fish

The fish are taken out of the Chevron Trap or off the Bandit Reel and brought into the wet lab.

The first measurement we take is the weight (or mass) of the fish in kilograms (kg) using a motion compensating scale. One scientist will take the measurements while another records the data in a data table.

Weighing fish
Weighing fish
Measuring fish, recording data
Measuring fish, recording data
Measuring fish, recording data
Measuring fish, recording data

Next, we take three different measurements of length by placing the fish on a board that has a metric measuring tape attached. All length measurements are measured in millimeters (mm). First, we take the Total Length (TL) measurement which is from the mouth of the fish to the longest point on the tail. Then we measure the Fork Length (FL) from the mouth of the fish to the indention of the tail. The last measurement is the Standard Length (SL) which is from the mouth of the fish to the base of the tail.

Fish Diagram
Fish Diagram

Personal Log

I’m loving the gross and slimy science that we are doing here. The other teacher on board likes logging the data onto the charts and all the numbers. That suits me fine because I like hands-on science! The messier the better.

Holding the squid
Holding the squid
Holding the squid
Holding the squid
Holding the squid
Holding the squid
Baiting a fish trap
Baiting a fish trap

You can see me holding the squid that we use to bait the Chevron fish trap. I even like picking up the fish and weighing them and measuring them too. Our Chief Scientist, Paul Felts, let me calibrate the scale. This scale compensates for the rolling of the ship so we get a very accurate weight. I think the scientists get a kick out this old woman doing some of the gooey, messy work like baiting the fish trap with the slimy squid and the Bandit Reel with pieces of mackerel, but what they don’t know is that I don’t mind at all!

I have been amazed at the number of oil rigs in the Gulf. Wherever we’ve been – 100 miles out or 40 miles out – we’ve seen oil and gas platforms (rigs). Rigs that are out 100 miles start drilling at 5,000 feet deep. At night the rigs are all lit up and are beautiful but the number just overwhelms me.

Oil Rigs
Oil Rigs
Nautical Chart
Nautical Chart

The CO showed me a chart they were using on the bridge and it looked like someone shook pepper on a white sheet of paper, only each pepper flake was an oil rig. He said that most of those rigs have been built since 1997. At first, ships from oil companies were sent out to map the ocean floor and that would help them decide WHERE to drill. On the nautical chart there were two levels of ocean depths – shallow water and deep water. I was looking at the deep water chart. When I commented on the number of oil rigs, the CO said there were even more rigs in the shallow part. He said that when he “steams” through the shallow water rigs it’s “like driving through traffic.”

There is a bird that has been catching a ride with us for the last 24 hours. We Googled ocean birds and found out it was a Brown Booby. They look like the blue footed Boobies that live in the Galapagos Islands. He is black with a white belly and white face with bright yellow beak. He also has yellow webbed feet. He just sits on top of a weather post in the bow and grooms himself. He poops too. Sometimes he flies off to catch a flying fish but always returns.

Brown Booby

New Term/Vocabulary

Bridge – the top level of the ship where the Commanding Officer steers the ship

Steam ahead – to move forward

“Something to Think About”

Nicolle found a moth in her room last night. Now, how did a moth get way out here? I caught him and released him but who knows what will happen to him. It doesn’t look good for the little guy!

“Did You Know?”

Did you know that if you get “pooped on” by an ocean bird, it means you’ll have good luck? Fortunately I’m not lucky!!!
There is a bird that has been catching a ride with us for the last 24 hours. We Googled ocean birds and found out it was a Brown Booby. They look like the blue footed Boobies that live in the Galapagos Islands. He is black with a white belly and white face with bright yellow beak. He also has yellow webbed feet. He just sits on top of a weather post in the bow and grooms himself. He poops too. Sometimes he flies off to catch a flying fish but always returns.

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 19, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle Vonderheyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Dates: Saturday, June 19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1000 hours (10:00am)
Position: latitude = 27°34 N, longitude = 096°28 W
Present Weather: mostly clear
Visibility: > 10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: SSE Wind Speed: 13 knots
Wave Height: 2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.5°C
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.4°C, wet bulb = 27.8°C

Science and Technology Log

One of the goals of the SEAMAP Reef Fish survey is to monitor the health and abundance of reef fish to establish limits on how much fish the fishing industry can take out of Gulf waters. SEAMAP stands for Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program and is a State/Federal/University program for collection, management and dissemination of fishery-independent data and information in the southeastern United States.

Due to the oil spill in the Gulf, the fish we capture will be weighed, measured, frozen, and delivered to the Seafood Inspection Laboratory (NSIL) in Mississippi to be tested for hydrocarbons (oil) or other contamination to ensure that the seafood is safe to eat. Since the oil spill is far to the east of where we are doing the survey, our data will serve as a baseline and be compared to future studies to see what the extent and future impact of the oil will be in these waters.

Fish in Chevron Trap
Fish in Chevron Trap
Fish in wet lab
Fish in wet lab

The fish are taken out of the Chevron Trap or off the Bandit Reel and brought into the wet lab.

The first measurement we take is the weight (or mass) of the fish in kilograms (kg) using a motion compensating scale. One scientist will take the measurements while another records the data in a data table.

Fish being weighed
Fish being weighed
Fish being measured
Fish being measured
Recording the data
Recording the data

Next, we take three different measurements of length by placing the fish on a board that has a metric measuring tape attached. All length measurements are measured in millimeters (mm). First, we take the Total Length (TL) measurement which is from the mouth of the fish to the longest point on the tail. Then we measure the Fork Length (FL) from the mouth of the fish to the indention of the tail. The last measurement is the Standard Length (SL) which is from the mouth of the fish to the base of the tail.

Diagram of fish lengths
Diagram of fish lengths

Personal Log

I love having another Teacher at Sea with me to share this experience and discuss ideas for lessons based on the research we are conducting on board. What’s even better is Melinda’s enthusiasm about jumping right in and getting her hands dirty. She has no problem handling the slippery, stinky squid that is used to bait the Chevron trap (the Snapper in the top left photo didn’t get a chance to finish his last meal) or grabbing a slimy Red Snapper that has dorsal fin spikes and gill rakers as sharp as razor blades. For me, it’s taken a little getting used to. Just look at my facial expressions during my first attempt at measuring the fish.

Red Snapper did not get a chance to finish its last meal
Red Snapper did not get a chance to finish its last meal
First time measuring a fish
First time measuring a fish
First time weighing a fish
First time weighing a fish
First time measuring a fish
First time measuring a fish

What really gets me is the fish could just be lying there motionless one second, and then the next it begins to thrash and jump and flip itself right over…it startles me every time. After this first attempt at measurement, I began using thick gloves with grip to handle the fish – it helped.

Occasionally there is time at the end of the day for the crew on board to do some fishing. Just before sunset is prime time to catch fish, although so far, besides the jackpot reeled in the day we found the dead Sperm Whale, there have only been a few catches. One great phrase I’ve heard uttered by the crew more than once after over an hour of patiently waiting for the line to jerk is, “Well, that’s why they call it ‘fishing’, not ‘catching’.” I must admit it’s a peaceful way to end a long day of work.

The crew fishing
The crew fishing
The crew fishing
The crew fishing

Animals Seen

Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)

Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) – Caught and released by a deckhand while fishing

Wire Coral (Cirrhipathes leutkeni) – Reeled up along with the Crinoid while fishing

Crinoid (species unidentified) – shown below

Melinda Storey, June 17, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 17, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1000 hours (10:00am)
Position: latitude = 26.52.6 N, longitude = 096.46.7 W
Present Weather: 3/8 cloudy
Visibility: 10 nautical miles
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Sea Water Temp: 29.5 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: dry bulb = 29.2 degrees Celsius, wet bulb = 27.5 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log

We reached our first research station 40 miles off the coast of Southern Texas sometime in the early morning. To maximize the use of daylight, the scientists begin collecting data one hour after sunrise (around 0730 hours) and work until one hour before sunset (around 1930 hours). At each station, a camera array is lifted and lowered by a crane into the water column, down to the ocean floor.

Camera Array
Camera Array
Camera Array being "dropped" into the ocean by a crane
Camera Array being lowered into the ocean by a crane

The depth of the ocean varies at each station but today the depth was somewhere around 68 meters (223.04 feet). The camera array has 4 sets of cameras pointing in each direction. Each set of cameras contains one video recorder and two still-shot cameras that take turns snapping pictures, sort of like closing your right eye, then your left eye, then your right eye, and so on. The purpose of the still-shots is to help the scientists, along with the use of lasers, to estimate the length of the fish in the images. The cameras stay submerged for 45 minutes and then they are hauled back up to the surface.

The next thing that happens at each station is the lowering of a CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) into the water column. The CTD measures the changes in salinity (salt level), temperature, and dissolved oxygen as it passes through the water column.

CTD
CTD
CTD being lowered into the water
CTD being lowered into the water

This data is transmitted directly to a computer graph where a technician watches and monitors to make sure the CTD is working properly and stays within 2 meters of the ocean floor.

CTD data on monitors
CTD data on monitors

The camera array and CTD are lowered at every station, but two stations are chosen randomly to drop a Chevron trap and two stations are chosen randomly to lower a Bandit Reel. The Chevron trap is baited with squid and physically picked up and thrown over the deck. The trap is fitted with weights on the bottom to make sure it lands in the right position on the ocean floor and soaks for one hour before being hauled back to the surface. During the first drop of the trap, we hauled in a giant Warsaw Grouper weighing over 16 kilograms (35.2 pounds)!

Chevron trap
Chevron trap
Mackeral bait for chevron trap
Mackerel bait for chevron trap

The Bandit Reel is like a long line sent straight down to the bottom of the ocean. It has 10 hooks that are baited with fresh mackerel and lowered to soak for 10 minutes.

Bandit Reel
Bandit Reel

Luck was on our side again as the first drop of the bandit reel hooked 9 Red Snapper! This was our first look at the fish that is the main subject of our Reef Fish Survey.

Red Snapper
Red Snapper
Red Snapper
Red Snapper

Personal Log

WHOOO HOOOOO! I’ve just done REAL NOAA science!!!!! Today we are dropping the CTD and the camera ray and then dropping the Bandit Reel line that has 10 hooks. The first Bandit Reel drop we caught 9 big red snapper. The largest one was 1.89 kilos (4.15 lbs).

CTD
CTD
Camera Array
Camera Array

This is the camera array – four cameras take footage of the fish down there.

The next time we dropped the line, they let ME take the snapper off the hook, weigh them, and then measure them. I measured the total length, the fork length, and the standard length. Then I bagged them all up and put them in the freezer to take back to the Pascagoula lab.

Measuring a red snapper

Bagging a Red Snapper
Bagging a Red Snapper
Measuring a red snapper
Measuring a red snapper
Me and a Red Snapper
Me and a Red Snapper

I also got to hold a sucker fish that accidently got caught on the line. Its sucker was on the top of the head. It looked like someone had stepped on his head and left tennis shoe marks! The sucker fish attaches itself to the bottom of a shark and rides along with him. We saw 2 sharks hovering around as we brought up the line which is baited with mackerel. The next time we deployed the Bandit Line they let me bait the hooks with mackerel and then put the hooks on the line. It was great! I love getting messy!

Suckerfish
Suckerfish
Suckerfish
Suckerfish

This is a sucker fish that attaches to shark.

This afternoon the crew got out their personal fishing poles and fished off the stern. The XO caught a shark but he didn’t bring it on board. It was impressive to me. Then we threw out the fish trap that was sunk to the bottom of the ocean. We caught a HUGE Warsaw grouper in the trap. One of the scientist said it was the largest grouper he’d ever seen – 16 kilos (35.2lbs). Its eyes were bulging and its mouth was huge! Teeth and all! Nicolle and I were left alone with it in the bay when it started flopping and flipping all over the place. We squealed like little girls!

Warsaw Grouper
Warsaw Grouper
Warsaw Grouper
Warsaw Grouper
Warsaw Grouper
Warsaw Grouper
Warsaw Grouper
Warsaw Grouper

So far we’ve had two “never seen before” experiences! This is GREAT!

New Term/Vocabulary

Camera array

CTD – conductivity, temperature, and depth

Bandit Reel

“Something to Think About”

Why do you think it’s important to take measurements and weights of the fish for NOAA research? What are they doing with all that research?

“Did You Know?”

Boyle’s Law at Sea

Did you know that when the fish are brought up from the deep (60-70 meters) the decrease in pressure causes the swim bladder to expand? That’s because the swim bladder is full of air and if you’ll remember Boyle’s Law, a decrease in pressure creates an increase in volume. Here you see a swim bladder that came out of the mouth.

Melinda Storey, June 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melinda Storey
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 15, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 2000 hours (8 pm)
Position: latitude = 29.46.02 N, longitude = 088.08.4 W
Present Weather: some cumulus clouds
Visibility: 9 nautical miles
Wind Direction: Variable Wind Speed: Light
Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temp: 32.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry Bulb = 31 Celsius, Wet Bulb = 30.8 Celsius

Science and Technology Log

This portion of the log will be written by me and my fellow Teacher at Sea, Nicolle von der Heyde from St. Louis, MO. Since we will be cruising for a couple of days to reach our first destination off the coast of southern Texas, we thought we would briefly describe our mission on board Pisces and our first observations of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. We are participating in the first leg of the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Reef Fish Survey along the continental shelf from Brownsville, TX north to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The Chief Scientist on this mission is Paul Felts. Our task will involve sending video cameras down into the water column and onto the ocean floor to record the abundance and relative size of reef fish associated with various geographical features. The video cameras will be submerged for about 45 minutes at a time, starting one hour after sunrise and continuing until one hour before sunset. If conditions are good, Mr. Felts believes we can submerge the cameras about 7-8 times a day. We will view some of the recorded data on the ship to make sure the equipment is working properly, however the analysis will take place back in the laboratory in Pascagoula, MS.

The Pisces left the port of Pascagoula at around 1130 hours (military time, aka 11:30 am) but did not leave the bay until about 1730 hours (5:30 pm).

The Pisces in port
The Pisces in port
Nicolle von der Heyde and Melinda Storey standing in front of the docked Pisces
Nicolle von der Heyde and Melinda Storey standing in front of the docked Pisces

During this time, the ship was cruising back and forth in the bay as engineers conducted tests of the acoustics on the ship. The Pisces, just commissioned in November of 2009, is the quietest vessel in the NOAA fleet and has some of the latest technology on board. Making a ship quiet may not seem like a big deal, but when you are trying to research marine life in an undisturbed natural environment, silent observation is everything. When the engineers finished their testing, a small boat arrived to take 4 of the engineers back to shore. Three other engineers and one intern remained on board to join us on our voyage.

Small boat
Small boat

The signs of oil extraction in the Gulf were apparent the moment we boarded the Pisces in Pascagoula. Across the channel from our ship were two old oil rigs no longer in service, one damaged from Hurricane Katrina and destined to be returned to the bottom of the sea to be made into an artificial reef. This is often done with old military battleships as well as they are sunk to the ocean floor and fish begin to use the vessels as a habitat and to hide from predators. Oil booms were placed around the Pisces and other ships in the channel for protection in case oil made its way into the port.

Oil Boom
Oil Boom

As we headed out to sea, we were surprised at the great number of ships and oil rigs that dotted the horizon. We saw lots of huge tankers that were just anchored, waiting in line to off load their oil into the Chevron refinery. One of the crew told us there are around 43,000 oil wells in the Gulf. Some wells just have pipes attached and pump oil directly through pipes into the refinery. Some wells have rigs that drill deep into the ocean floor. The Deepwater Horizon that exploded in the Gulf was this type of rig. We also saw one rig that had a flame coming out at the very top of the rig. This was the burning off of natural gas. Our Commanding Officer told us that they “burn off” natural gas for two reasons – safety and economics. All rigs let off a certain amount of excess gas and it’s more economical to burn it off rather than pipe it all the way back to the mainland. Also, burning off the excess gas keeps it from building up pressure, which is very dangerous.

It wasn’t until a few hours after leaving the bay that the officers on the bridge notified us that we were traveling through the oil slick. As we looked over the deck of the bridge, we saw a rainbow of sheen on the surface and even some reddish “emulsified” oil. On the map on the next page, you can see the ship’s route (labeled PC in red) as we passed through the oil slick shown in blue.

emulsified oil
Rainbow sheen from oil
Emulsified oil
Emulsified oil
Route of the Pisces
Route of the Pisces

Personal Log

We are finally on our way! This is a picture of the other Teacher at Sea and myself in front of our ship, the Pisces.

Nicolle von der Heyde, from St. Louis, MO, teaches 8th grade science. I am from Birmingham, AL, and teach Gifted students in grades 3-6. I’m so glad to have another teacher to talk to! We are so excited thinking about all the science experiments and lessons that we can bring back to our students. Our minds are just whirling! I was surprised when ENS Schill said we each had our own staterooms.

My stateroom
My stateroom

I later found out that some of the scientists scheduled to be on this cruise had been reassigned to other missions related to the oil spill in the Gulf. In addition, some of the tasks in our original mission, like longlining (fishing) for sharks and rays, had also been cancelled due to the oil. At first, I was somewhat disappointed that we would not be capturing sharks or hauling in large amounts of fish to sample, then I snapped out of it as soon as I reminded myself that I was about to set sail on the trip of a lifetime on board a research vessel with NOAA!

Yesterday was our first day on ship and right off the bat as we left port, we saw about 20 dolphins riding the bow wave. It was so much fun watching them arc in the water and splash around! Some even swam upside down and sideways! The babies, or calves, stuck real close to their moms! As we peered over the side of the ship we could actually see into their blow holes! What a view!

Dolphins
Dolphins
Dolphins
Dolphins

I was also very pleased to see that there are two women who are Junior Officers – Ensign Kelly Schill and Ensign Laura Gibson. Here you can see Ensign Schill as she prepares our navigation. She is also the Medical Officer. There are three female Commanding Officers in the NOAA fleet. Maybe one of our Ensigns will become a CO one day.

Ensign Schill preparing the navigation of the Pisces
Ensign Schill preparing the navigation of the Pisces

Here you see our CO (Commanding Officer), Jeremy Adams, as he sits in his Captain’s Chair scanning the horizon. He’s the one who spotted the dolphins which sent the crew rushing to the bow of the ship. The officers, who wear blue uniforms, have been so gracious and patient as they explain things to us.

Commanding Officer Jerry Adams
Commanding Officer Jerry Adams

Right now I’m sitting in the bow of the ship as I watch a bird “catching a ride” on the top of a weather pole. It’s interesting to see birds such as terns and pelicans so far from shore. The XO (Executive Officer) says we are 90 miles from shore.

Today we had a Fire drill and a Man Overboard drill – just like in school. The scientists “mustered” (or gathered) in the conference room where our Chief Scientist had to take a head count just like teachers do during our drills. We’ll have an Abandon Ship drill next week. I thought you would like to see the orange Fast Rescue Boat that we would use if we had to abandon ship.

Fast Rescue Boat
Fast Rescue Boat

My husband and I went to Gulf Shores right before this trip and saw the oil that had washed ashore. I was expecting “globs” of oil like we’d seen on TV but what we saw was very liquid – oil pooled in puddles. It looked like someone had splattered buckets of motor oil on the beach. There were lots and lots of volunteers cleaning the beach but not too many people on vacations. We saw lots of homes and condos with few cars in the parking lots.

Volunteer Cleaning up the Beach
Volunteer Cleaning up the Beach
Oil on the coast
Oil on the coast

The economic hit that businesses are taking on the Gulf Coast is terrible. Our XO told us that NOAA is hiring boat owners to drive through the densest part of the oil to get data. The smaller boat owners have “closed” boats which means they do not take in sea water for everyday usage like the big NOAA ships. They take their water with them in containers. If the NOAA ships go through heavy oil, the oil could get sucked up and lodged in their water filters and do damage to the equipment. Maybe this way some of the small charter boat owners can recoup some of the money they are losing since no one is chartering boats to go deep sea fishing.

New Term/Vocabulary

Bow – front part of the ship
Stern – back part of the ship
Port – left
Starboard – right
Bow wave – the waves at the front of the ship as it travels through the water
Muster – to gather in one place

“Something to think about”

What qualities would you look for in a Commanding Officer? Do you think a woman will ever become an Admiral in the NOAA fleet?

“Did You Know?”

You can track the Pisces on the Internet at the following site: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov

Just select the ship you want to follow and it will give you our position. Click the last map option to see a map of the oil slick and our path through it.

Nicolle von der Heyde, June 14, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nicolle Vonderheyde
Onboard NOAA Ship Pisces
June 14 – July 2, 2010

Nicolle von der Heyde
NOAA Ship Pisces
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Monday, June 14 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 2000 hours (8 pm)
Position: latitude = 29.46.02 N, longitude = 088.08.4 W
Present Weather: some cumulus clouds
Visibility: 9 nautical miles
Wind Direction: Variable Wind Speed: Light
Wave Height: 0 feet
Sea Water Temp: 32.6 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: Dry Bulb = 31 Celsius, Wet Bulb = 30.8 Celsius

Science and Technology Log

This portion of the log will be written by me and my fellow Teacher at Sea, Melinda Storey from Birmingham, AL. Since we will be cruising for a couple of days to reach our first destination off the coast of southern Texas, we thought we would briefly describe our mission on board Pisces and our first observations of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. We are participating in the first leg of the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Reef Fish Survey along the continental shelf from Brownsville, TX north to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The Chief Scientist on this mission is Paul Felts. Our task will involve sending video cameras down into the water column and onto the ocean floor to record the abundance and relative size of reef fish associated with various geographical features. The video cameras will be submerged for about 45 minutes at a time, starting one hour after sunrise and continuing until one hour before sunset. If conditions are good, Mr. Felts believes we can submerge the cameras about 7-8 times a day. We will view some of the recorded data on the ship to make sure the equipment is working properly, however the analysis will take place back in the laboratory in Pascagoula, MS.

The Pisces left the port of Pascagoula at around 1130 hours (military time, aka 11:30 am) but did not leave the bay until about 1730 hours (5:30 pm).

The Pisces in port
The Pisces in port
Melinda Storey and I in front of the Pisces
Melinda Storey and I in front of the Pisces

During this time, the ship was cruising back and forth in the bay as engineers conducted tests of the acoustics on the ship. The Pisces, just commissioned in November of 2009, is the quietest vessel in the NOAA fleet and has some of the latest technology on board. Making a ship quiet may not seem like a big deal, but when you are trying to research marine life in an undisturbed natural environment, silent observation is everything. When the engineers finished their testing, a small boat arrived to take 4 of the engineers back to shore. Three other engineers and one intern remained on board to join us on our voyage.

Testing the small boat
Testing the small boat

The signs of oil extraction in the Gulf were apparent the moment we boarded the Pisces in Pascagoula. Across the channel from our ship were two old oil rigs no longer in service, one damaged from Hurricane Katrina and destined to be returned to the bottom of the sea to be made into an artificial reef. This is often done with old military battleships as well as they are sunk to the ocean floor and fish begin to use the vessels as a habitat and to hide from predators. Oil booms were placed around the Pisces and other ships in the channel for protection in case oil made its way into the port.

Out of service oil rigs
Out of service oil rigs
Oil booms
Oil booms

As we headed out to sea, we were surprised at the great number of ships and oil rigs that dotted the horizon. We saw lots of huge tankers that were just anchored, waiting in line to off load their oil into the Chevron refinery. One of the crew told us there are around 43,000 oil wells in the Gulf. Some wells just have pipes attached and pump oil directly through pipes into the refinery. Some wells have rigs that drill deep into the ocean floor. The Deepwater Horizon that exploded in the Gulf was this type of rig. We also saw one rig that had a flame coming out at the very top of the rig. This was the burning off of natural gas. Our Commanding Officer told us that they “burn off” natural gas for two reasons – safety and economics. All rigs let off a certain amount of excess gas and it’s more economical to burn it off rather than pipe it all the way back to the mainland. Also, burning off the excess gas keeps it from building up pressure, which is very dangerous.

It wasn’t until a few hours after leaving the bay that the officers on the bridge notified us that we were traveling through the oil slick. As we looked over the deck of the bridge, we saw a rainbow of sheen on the surface and even some reddish “emulsified” oil. On the map on the next page, you can see the ship’s route (labeled PC in red) as we passed through the oil slick shown in blue.


Personal Log

Sunday, June 13: After months of anticipation and possible cancellation of the Reef Fish Survey altogether, I arrived in Pascagoula, Mississippi and got the first glimpse of my new home for the next 19 days, the NOAA Ship Pisces. I flew into Mobile, AL and was picked up at the airport by my fellow Teacher at Sea, Melinda Storey. Ensign (ENS) Kelly Schill met us at the ship and showed us to our staterooms to get settled in. Knowing that space on the ship is limited; I was expecting to share a small, cramped room with Melinda and had already resigned myself to taking the top bunk.

I was surprised when ENS Schill said we each had our own staterooms. I later found out that some of the scientists scheduled to be on this cruise had been reassigned to other missions related to the oil spill in the Gulf. In addition, some of the tasks in our original mission, like longlining for sharks and rays, had also been cancelled due to the oil. At first, I was somewhat disappointed that we would not be capturing sharks or hauling in large amounts of fish to sample, then I snapped out of it as soon as I reminded myself that I was about to set sail on the trip of a lifetime on board a research vessel with NOAA! We met and had dinner with the Operations Officer (OPS) of the ship, ENS Kurt Karpov, before turning in for the night. Much to my surprise, the ship is equipped with DirectTV satellite, so I was able to watch TV before going to bed! The ship was set to sail at 1000 hours (military time, aka 10:00 am) the next day.

Monday, June 14: Melinda and I woke up early as breakfast began at 0700 hours. We introduced ourselves to Chief Steward Jessie Stiggins and Second Cook Michael Sapien who would be responsible for ensuring we received three hearty and nutritious meals a day on the ship – so far they have not disappointed. After breakfast, the scientists had not yet arrived so I walked around taking pictures, getting familiar with the ship, and introducing myself to the deckhands, engineers, and crew members with whom we would be sailing for the next few weeks. I met the Commanding Officer (CO) of the ship, LCDR (Lieutenant Commander, comparable to the same rank in the Navy or Coast Guard) Jeremy Adams, the Executive Officer (XO), LCDR Jessie Stark, and the ship’s Navigator, ENS Laura Gibson. From the moment we arrived, everyone has been very welcoming and friendly, making me feel very comfortable in my new surroundings. The morning was busy as crew members hauled in equipment and supplies and while I offered to help, there was not much for me to do and I simply tried to stay out of everyone’s way. The officers did allow me to conduct a test of the ship’s rudders to make sure that when a dial was turned to a particular setting, like 30 degrees to the right, that the rudders were actually moving 30 degrees to the right. The picture on the right below shows me conducting this test while the Operations Officer communicates with the engineers who are observing the rudders.

I was really grateful to have another teacher with me so we could discuss and ask questions together about what we were observing around us. After a busy morning, we finally set sail at 1130 hours. Shortly after we left port, we heard the exciting call of “Dolphins!” Looking over the bow (front) of the ship we saw one dolphin after another racing towards us and turning around under water so they could race along with the wake from the bow. At one point I believe there were close to 20 dolphins including a baby dolphin or two!

Later in the afternoon, we had a “Welcome Aboard” meeting run by ENS Gibson and ENS Schill to inform us of the facilities on the ship and the emergency procedures in case of fire, man overboard, or a need to abandon ship. We were also told there would be drills conducted for each of these emergencies – just like school fire and tornado drills! We met the Chief Scientist Paul Felts and three other scientists we would be working with. For now, there was not much for the science party to do because it would take about two days to reach our first destination about 30 miles off the coast of Southern Texas, near South Padre Island and the US/Mexico border.

In the early evening I decided to go up to the bridge to remind the officers on watch to inform us if they observed any oil. Shortly after, the CO entered the bridge and announced that there was oil sheen on the surface of the water. Melinda and I looked over the deck and began taking pictures. The sheen seemed to go on forever and my thoughts turned to what was happening beneath the surface that we could not see. As we watched the sun set on our first day out at sea, the oil sheen created an ironically beautiful and tranquil setting in the midst of an environmental tragedy. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the ship was sailing in cleaner waters.

Much to my surprise, after the ET (Electronics Technician) Bob Carter did a check of my laptop, I was able to log onto the internet and send emails while on board. After dinner, I spent the evening catching up on emails and reading before retiring as the soft rolling of the ship rocked me to sleep.

Animals Seen Today

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins (Stenella frontalis)

Seagull

Stephanie Wally, September 6, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephanie Wally
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 29 – September 10, 2005

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Eastern Prince William Sound, Alaska
Date: September 6, 2005

Ensign Stevenson collects multi-beam bathymetric data from the launch
Ensign Stevenson collects multi-beam bathymetric data from the launch

Weather Data from Bridge 

Time: 0800
Cloud Cover: Low Clouds, Stratocumulus
Visibility: 10 nm (nautical miles)
Wind Direction: 60°
Sea Wave Height: 0’
Swell Wave Height: 0’
Sea Water Temperature: 11.7°C
Sea Level Pressure: 1013.5 mb (millibars)
Temp: 11.1°C

Science and Technology Log 

This morning, I barely had time to scarf down a delicious breakfast sandwich before heading out on one of the skiffs with Ensigns Gonsalves, Hauser, and Pounds. All of the officers have science/math/engineering degrees that provide them with the necessary background to complete NOAA’s hydrographic objectives.  It was a crisp morning, with fresh snow on the Chugach mountaintops.  Speeding out on the uncovered skiff can get very cold if you’re not dressed warmly.  Goggles, hoods, gloves, and a thermos of coffee helped keep us warm.  The two-hour morning mission consisted of monitoring horizontal and vertical control, and monitoring the tide station. Since Ensign Hauser is a tides officer aboard RAINIER, she is in charge of recording observations and making sure gauges are operating properly.  With the data and observations recorded, water depth will be calculated. The horizontal and vertical control teams are responsible for establishing accurate latitude and longitude coordinates for soundings taken by RAINIER and the launches.

In the afternoon we got underway back toward Boulder Bay.  During the transit, another visitor on the ship during this leg, Kyle Ward, and I reflected on the Exxon Valdez oil spill that occurred on March 24, 1989.  Mr. Ward is a physical scientist who annually works aboard the RAINIER with hydro projects.  We agreed that, considering the fact that the oil spill was the largest and most destructive to have happened in the U.S., Bligh Reef and the sound show barely a trace of this spill today.  The spill, estimated to have killed 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, and billions of fish eggs, drastically affected many species and the entire sound ecosystem.  Fortunately, this habitat has been recovering during the past fifteen years.  Today, oil is still present on some shores and remains trapped beneath rocks.

Answer to yesterday’s question of the day: The Alaskan Earthquake of 1964