Andrea Schmuttermair: Engineering Extravaganza! July 21, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 6 – 25, 2015

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 21, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 57 09.0N
Longitude: 151 16.5W

Sky:  broken clouds

Visibility: 10nm
Wind Direction: 245 degrees

Wind Speed: 24 knots
Sea wave height: 3ft

Swell wave: 5-7 ft

Sea water temp: 11.3 C
Dry temperature: 11.1 C

Science and Technology Log

Aside from our survey, there is a lot of other science taking place on the ship. In fact, science is all around us. The officers on the bridge are using science when they use weather patterns and sea swells to calculate the best course of navigation for the ship. The survey technicians are using science when they collect water samples each day and test the salinity of the water. The engineers are using science when they are monitoring the ballast of the ship. Science is happening in places we don’t always take the time to look.

Today we look at a different realm of science, the engineering world. I recently had the opportunity to tour the brains of the ship with two of our engineers on board. I not only learned about the construction of the ship, but I also learned about the various components that help the ship run. The Oscar Dyson was constructed as one of NOAA’s first noise-reduced fisheries vessels. Data have been collected over the years that show fish avoid loud vessels by diving down deeper or moving out of the way of the noise. There was concern that this avoidance behavior would affect the survey results; thus the creation of acoustic quieting technology for research vessels. Another interesting part of the ship’s construction is the retractable centerboard, which allow the transducers to be lowered down below the ship and away from the hull in order to reduce noise and gather higher quality sound data for the surveys.

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It turns out 2 of our engineers are from San Diego, the place I lived for my first 21 years of life. Nick even graduated from Westview High School, the rival of my high school, Mt. Carmel (albeit 10 years after me). The engineers are responsible for making sure everything is working on the ship. They, along with the rest of the engineering team, have to anticipate and troubleshoot problems, and be ready to fix something at a moment’s notice.

In addition to taking me on a tour around the innards of the ship, Nick and Rob also sat down for an interview about marine engineering.

Interview with the Engineers: Rob Ball and Nick Cuellar

Nick, Rob, and....Wilson!

Nick, Rob, and….Wilson!

What is your educational/working background?

Nick: I played soccer throughout high school and was recruited during my senior year by the US Merchant Marine Academy. I went to school there, played soccer, and received a BS degree in marine engineering. I spent 1 of my 4 years at sea doing hands-on training. I was also commissioned into the US Navy as a reservist.

Rob: I’m what they call a hawespiper in the merchant marine world- I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I started at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in 1988 and worked my way up ranks from oiler to engineer. I received my captain’s license, and ran sport fishing boats because I wanted to know boats from top to bottom. I went to professional college for refrigeration, and my main forte is refrigeration and air conditioning, I know I’ll never be out of work. I’m a first engineer now, and am going to go for my chief’s license.

How long have you been working on the Oscar Dyson?

Nick: I came on in August of 2014.

Rob: I just came on board in April of 2015

What are your main responsibilities as an engineer on board?

Nick: As a second engineer, I give fuel reports and transfer fuel to maintain stability of the ship. We have saltwater tanks for ballast, which changes as we burn fuel, and I help monitor this. I check the electricity, lights, fuel, water, and AC and make sure everything’s running. I fix anything that’s breaking.

Rob: As a first engineer, I am the supervisor of engine room and am responsible for how everything is operating. I get updates on the fuel status, and communicate with CO of the ship if changes need to be made. I also look at when the oil/filter needs to be changed. My position is more supervisory, and I oversee responsibilities and delegate tasks. I handle the plant and the people.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Nick: Travel; getting work experience, marine life

Rob: Money and travel; getting to see things in ocean that most people would only see on National Geographic

What is most challenging about your job?

Nick: The different personalities you have to work with

Rob: I agree with Nick. Our life exists in 204ft. I am able to take frustrations and put it into things I enjoy, such as working out, reading, or playing guitar.

What is something unique to being an engineer on a ship as opposed to an engineer on land?

Nick: You have to have knowledge of every square inch of the ship; the two things I think about are: are we sinking and are the lights on.

Rob: You have to keep things going when you have big seas, and you have to have the knowledge and ability to handle problems and stay on your feet (literally). You have everyone’s lives in your hands- you have to be on all the time.

What would tell students who are looking at careers in engineering?

Nick: Don’t give up and keep on fighting. Don’t let hardships get in the way. If it makes you happy, keep doing it. And know your math!

Rob: it’s a limitless field; you can build anything, and fix anything. If someone else made it, you’ll have the ability to figure out what they did. You get to break stuff and fix it.

What is your favorite marine animal?

Nick: Humpback whale

Rob: Orca and Great white shark

Rob, Nick and I

Rob, Nick and I

Thanks gentlemen for the interview!


Personal Log

This baby humpback whale was having a blast breaching over and over again.

This baby humpback whale was having a blast breaching over and over again.

The ringing of the phone woke me up from the gentle rolling of the ship. I had told the officers and scientists to wake me up if there was anything cool happening, and an excited ENS Gilman spoke into the receiver claiming there were hundreds (ok, maybe hundreds was a bit of an exaggeration) of whales breaching and swimming around the ship. Throwing on a sweatshirt and grabbing my camera, I raced up to the bridge to get a view of this. I had low expectations, as it seemed that every time we got the call that there were whales around, they left as soon as we got up there. This time, however, I was not disappointed. It was a whale extravaganza! Humpback whales, fin whales, orcas, there were so many whales it was hard to decide where to point my camera or binoculars. Like one of those fountains that spurt up water intermittently through different holes, the whales were blowing all around us. I was up on the bridge for over an hour, never tiring to see which one would spout next, or show us a fluke before it dove down deep, only to resurface somewhere else 15 minutes later. It was truly a treat to be able to watch them, and the weather couldn’t have been better. My favorite shot was of a baby humpback breeching – we had been tracking him for a while, his blow noticeably smaller than the adults around him. He looked as if he was just playing around in the water, enjoying himself without a worry in the world. I had been hoping to see Alaska wildlife on this trip, and am thrilled my wish was granted.

The bathroom in our staterooms

The bathroom in our staterooms

stateroomI had a question about our living accommodations on the ship, and I must admit they aren’t too shabby. I share a room with another one of the scientists, and she works the opposite shift. This works out nicely as we can each have our own time in the room, and can sleep uninterrupted. We have bunks, or racks as many refer to them, and I am sleeping on the top bunk. We have a bathroom with a shower in our room, and it’s nice not to have to share those amenities. The walls are pretty thin, and the ship can be loud when operations are going, making earplugs or headphones helpful.

Kaitlin Baird: Did You Know? September 25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kaitlin Baird
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
September 4 – 20, 2012

Mission: Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries  Science Center
Geographical Area: Back in port! Newport Rhode Island
Date: September 21st

Location Data:
Latitude: 41’53.04
Longitude: 71’31.77

Weather Data:
Air Temperature: 13.8 (approx.57°F)
Wind Speed: 10.01 kts
Wind Direction:  North
Surface Water Temperature: 19.51 °C (approx. 67°F)
Weather conditions: overcast

Science and Technology Log:
I thought I would end my trip on the Henry B. Bigelow with some fun facts!
Did you know?
The Fisheries Scientific Computer System (FSCS) is able to prompt the data recorders with all actions needing to be performed for a particular species. It is coded with unique barcodes for every sample taken. Back in the laboratory all scientists receiving samples can receive all the information taken about the given organism by scanning this unique barcode!
barcoding for species caught on cruise for further analysis

Barcoding for species caught on cruise for further analysis

Did you know?
Science crew operating on the back deck are required to wear an Overboard Recovery Communications Apparatus (ORCA). This system if it is activated sends a signal by way of radio frequency to a receiver on the ship’s bridge. This system responds immediately to the ship receiver and has a direction finder to help locate the man overboard.

Me getting ready to head to the back deck with my positioning system around my neck

Me getting ready to head to the back deck with my ORCA around my neck

Personal Log:
It would take me hours to go through all of the amazing creatures we caught and surveyed on this trip, so I thought I would write some fast facts about some of my favorites! Enjoy!
Did you know?
The male spoon arm octopus has a modified arm that passes spermatophores into the oviducts of the female. Pretty neat stuff!
spoonarrm octopus

Spoon arm octopus

Did you know?
Stargazers, like this one, have an electric organ and are one of few marine bony fish species that are able to produce electricity.  This is known as Bioelectrogenesis. They also hide beneath the sand with just their eyes sticking out and ambush their prey!



Did you know?
This fish, the Atlantic midshipman, has bioluminescent bacteria that inhabit these jewel–like photophores that emit light! It also interestingly enough uses this function in fairly shallow waters!

midshipman photophores

Midshipman photophores

Did you know?
Sea spiders like this one have no respiratory organs. Since they are so small gasses diffuse in and out of their bodies, how cool is that!

sea spider

Sea spider

Did you know?
The flaming box crab, Calappa flammea, uses its scissor-like claws that act as a can opener. It has a special modified appendage to open hermit crabs like a can opener!

flaming box crab

Flaming box crab

Did you know?
A female Atlantic angel shark like this one can have up to 13 pups!

angel shark

Angel shark

Did you know?
Seahorses suck up their food through their long snout, and like the flounders I talked about at the beginning of the cruise, their eyes also move independently of each other!!



Did you know?
Horseshoe crabs, like this one, have blue blood. Unlike the blood of mammals, they don’t have hemoglobin to carry oxygen, instead they have henocyanin. Because the henocyanin has copper in it, their blood is blue!

horseshoe crab

Horseshoe crab

Last but NOT least, Did you know?
According to the Guiness Book of World Records the American Lobster has been known to reach lengths over 3 ft (0.91 m) and weigh as much as 44 lb (20 kg) or more. This makes it the heaviest marine crustacean in the world! This one was pretty large!!

American Lobster

American Lobster

A big farewell to everyone on the Henry B. Bigelow! Thanks so much, i had a great time and learned a lot! Thanks for reading!

Donna Knutson, September 15, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission:  Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 15, 2010


I am holding a tuna that Mills caught.


Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone, called the “EEZ”,aound Hawaii.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
Also part of the mission is to collect data such as conductivity for measuring salinity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll abundance. Aquatic bird sightings will also be documented.

Science and Technology:

Killer Whales coming up for air.

Latitude: 27○ 40.6’ N
Longitude: 175○ 48.7’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
Wave height:  1-2 ft.
Water Temperature: 27.5○ C
Air Temperature:  27.0○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1021.2 mb
Orca is another name for Killer Whale.  They are some of the best known cetaceans.  Killer whales are the largest members of dolphin family.
Killer Whales are easily recognized by their huge dorsal fin that is located in the middle of their backs.  The male’s dorsal fin is usually between three and six feet high.  Orcas have unique flippers that are large broad and rounded.  Their bodies have a black and white color pattern.
The male Killer Whale can reach thirty feet long and weigh at least twelve thousand pounds.  The females are smaller in size reaching only twenty-six feet long and weigh eight thousand four hundred pounds.  The females may outlive the males by twenty to thirty years, living between eighty to ninety years.
 Killer Whales are not limited to any particular region.  Depending on the prey they prefer, Killer Whales can be found in cold or warm climates.  Orcas have a varied diet which may consist of fish, squid, large baleen whales, sperm whales, sea turtles, seals, sharks, rays, deer and moose.  Pods tend to specialize in a particular food and follow it.  Killer Whales tend to use cooperative hunting groups for large prey.
Orcas form matrilineal groups sometimes containing four generations.  All females help with calf rearing.  The females are more social and may be associated with more than one pod, but males are usually by themselves.  One group near British Columbia contained approximately sixty whales.
Killer Whales are not endangered, but numbers are declining in Washington and British Columbia.  The reasons for the decrease in whale numbers is not known, but possible factors may include chemical or noise pollution or a decrease in the food supply.
Personal Log:

In the middle is a mother with her calf.

I was just leaving the bridge after the XO (executive officer) asked me if I would like to join her and Doctor Tran to Midway tomorrow.  I knew we were stopping to pick up Jason, a Monk Seal Biologist who needed a boat ride from Midway to Kure Island, but I heard no one was going ashore.  So when she asked, I was totally thrilled and extremely excited to get my feet wet and of course said yes!
As I was leaving the bridge I decided to check out what was doing on the flying bridge.  When I got up there, everyone was on goggles or the big eyes, so I asked Aly what was going on.  She said someone saw a “black fish”, meaning something was seen, but not identified, and she offered me the big eyes she was looking through.  I looked maybe for five seconds and said, “I see it”!  This is very rare for me to see something so quickly!  I’m thinking, “I just saw a KILLER WHALE!!” but no one was excited or talking about it.  So now I begin to doubt myself, “That was a Killer Whale right?”

Three adults and a calf.

In the middle of my self -doubt, Adam comes running up the ladder screaming, “KILLER WHALE!!”  Drat why didn’t I say anything!  There wasn’t only one, but five killer whales!  One was a mother with her small calf! Wow what amazing animals! I couldn’t stop staring, and I wasn’t the only one.  There was a “full house” on deck again with everyone oooing and ahing.
Orcas aren’t typically seen in this area, but then again this is a survey ship, and this area hasn’t been surveyed in a very long time.
When the small boat was launched to try and tag one of the adult whales with a tracking device, they dove never to be seen again.  These animals are just too smart.  What an extraordinary experience!
Tomorrow I will have another adventure!  An adventure few people have taken.  I am going to Midway.  Midway Atoll is now a National Wildlife Refuge and also holds the Battle of Midway National Memorial.  I’m off to see a glimpse of our nation’s past and a birding and seal paradise!

Orca by itseft.

Maggie Prevenas, April 20, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Maggie Prevenas
Onboard US Coast Guard Ship Healy
April 20 – May 15, 2007

Mission: Bering Sea Ecosystem Survey
Geographic Region: Alaska
Date: April 20, 2007

Species Profiles

Bearded Seal: Scientific name: Erignathus barbatus

For the past few days, we have been seeing bearded seals. Bearded seals are extremely important to the Alaskan Native population that live along the Bering Sea. They use their skins for watertight boats, and their meat for food. They are solitary, love to hang out by themselves and are bottom feeders. Many times their heads appear reddish brown, stained from the benthic muck.

Alaskan Natives carve beautiful animals from walrus ivory. This carving is located on the  second floor of the Anchorage Airport.

Alaskan Natives carve beautiful animals from walrus ivory. This carving is located on the second floor of the Anchorage Airport.

Where do bearded seals live?
Bearded seals live in areas of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans that freeze and form ice during the winter.

How many bearded seals are there?
There is no accurate population count at this time, but it is estimated that there are probably over 500,000 bearded seals worldwide.

Bearded seals often have reddish heads from grubbing for  their food in the bottom sediment. Photo by Gavin Brady.

Bearded seals often have reddish heads from grubbing for their food in the bottom sediment.

How can I identify bearded seals?
A bearded seals most distinguishing feature is the beard of white whiskers they use to find food on the sea floor. Adult bearded seals are gray to brown, pups silver-gray, and do not have spots or other identifying markings. They do have small heads and flippers for the size of their bodies. The average length of adult bearded seals is 6.5 to 7 feet. They can weigh as much as 700 pounds, but the average weight is 400 to 500 pounds.

What do bearded seals eat?
Bearded seals are mainly bottom feeders that eat shrimps, crabs, clams and whelks. They will prey on fish such as cod and sculpin when they get a chance.

How do bearded seals have their young?
The bearded seal pups are born on the ice from the middle of March to the early May. Pups are weaned in approximately 3 weeks, and during those three weeks they gain a lot of weight. Their mothers then leave them to fend for themselves. The bearded seal pups learn to swim and dive within the first week of life. The pups then live a solitary life-like the rest of the bearded seals.

How long do bearded seals live? How do they die?
The life span of bearded seals is believed to be up to 31 years. The main predator of the bearded seal are the polar bear. Sharks, and walrus have been known to feed on pups, and humans also hunt bearded seals for subsistence.

Bearded seal pups usually stay on the ice. The mother seal will dive into the water but hangs around the pup.

Bearded seal pups usually stay on the ice. The mother seal will dive into the water but hangs around the pup.

Do you know what is really cool about bearded seals?
Bearded seals will ram their heads through thin ice to produce breathing holes!

Bearded seals lay on the edge of the ice looking downward into the water. They can then get away if a predator approaches!

The bearded seal gets its name from the white whiskers on its face! The whiskers are very sensitive and are used to find food on the ocean bottom!

Within a week of birth pups are capable of diving to a depth of 200 feet!

The bearded seals can be easily recognized because the body looks too big for the size of its head and front flippers!

Orca: The Killer Whale

The pilot from the helicopter gave us a heads up. Two killer whales headed our way. The announcement resounded through the ship via the pipes (announcement system). For some people on board ship, this was their first glimpse of the orca. Keep on reading if you are interested in learning more about the whale called Killer.

We saw a pod of killer whales all eating heartily. What was on their menu for dinner? Take a guess.

We saw a pod of killer whales all eating heartily. What was on their menu for dinner? Take a guess.

Killer whales are social animals that live in stable family-related groups.  Killer whales display a high level of care for their offspring.  In addition to the mothers, various pod members (mainly adolescent females) perform most of the care for the calves.  As with most mammals, killer whales are very protective of their young.

Different killer whale pods “sound” different.  Each pod has their own dialect of sounds.  They can easily recognize their own pod from several miles away based on the differences in calls.

Killer whales are often compared to wolves because both species are top predators, maintain complex social relationships, and hunt cooperatively.

To some, killer whales look exactly alike however they can be distinguished from one another by the shape and size of their dorsal fins, the distinctive grayish-white saddle patches behind their dorsal fins, as well as distinctive scars, nicks and marks on their dorsal fins.

What are killer whales like?
Though killer whales, also called orcas, are considered whales by most people, they are actually members of the Delphinidae (dolphin) family. Killer whales are excellent hunters that a wide range of prey, including fish, seals, and big whales such as blue whales. Despite their hunting of other animals, free-ranging killer whales have never been reported killing a human being.

Where do killer whales live?
Killer whales can be found in all oceans but they seem to prefer coastal waters and cooler regions.  Killer whales occur in family groups called pods.  Three types of pods have been described:

* Resident pods: remain stable over time     * Transient pods:  dynamic in structure (are constantly changing)     * Offshore pods:  Are seen only in outer coast waters and not much else is known of them.

Killer whale pods are based on the lineage of the mother (mothers, daughters, and sons form groups); the whales live and travel with their mothers even after they are full-grown, forming strongly matriarchal whale societies.

How many killer whales are there?
There are no official killer whale worldwide population estimates.  There are minimum counts in local areas.  For example, approximately 1000 whales have been individually identified in Alaskan waters through photographs. Killer whales are at the top of the food chain and are not considered endangered.

How can I identify a killer whale?
Killer whales are extremely distinctive with jet-black bodies and white patches usually over the eyes, under the jaw, on the belly, and extending onto their sides.   Female killer whales can grow up to 26 feet (7.9 meters) with a 3 foot dorsal fin while males are larger than the females growing up to 28 feet (8.5 meters) with a 6 foot (1.3 meters) dorsal fin. Killer whales have 48 to 52 teeth that are large and conical shaped as well as slightly curved back and inward.

How well do killer whales see or hear?
Killer whales have well-developed, acute senses.  They can hear a vast range of sounds and possess skin that is sensitive to touch.  Killer whales have excellent vision in and out of water.  It is not known whether or not they may have some sort of sense of taste.

What do killer whales eat?
The killer whale diet consists of fish, squid, seals, sea lions, penguins, dolphins, porpoises and large whales like the blue whale.  Some killer whales have been known to slide on to beaches in order to capture a good meal.   Resident pods (pods that primarily reside in one area) prefer fish whereas transient pods (pods that travel over a relatively wide area) appear to target other marine mammals as prey.

Killer whales are very successful hunters due to their cooperative hunting, where all animals within the pod  participate.  This coordination is apparently developed and learned within pods.

How do killer whales have their young?
Killer whale males reach breeding age when they are around 22 feet (6.7 meters) long while females can breed when they are about 16 feet (4.9 meters) long. Killer whales breed all year around and calves are born about 8 feet (2.4 meters) long after a 17 month gestation period. Female killer whales usually give birth every 3 to 10 years.

How long do killer whales live? How do they die?
Killer whales have no natural predators (they are the top predators of the oceans) and can live to about 50-80 years old. Killer whales have been hunted by humans but not with enthusiasm as it takes 21 killer whales to produce the same amount of oil as 1 sperm whale.

Ribbon Seals: Phoca fasciata

I saw my first ribbon seal today! These beautiful creature are the most highly vulnerable critter that live up in the Arctic. Why? They never touch land. They spend their entire lives on ice flows, even give birth there. What will happen to them if there is less and less ice? Think about it.

Where do ribbon seals live?

Ribbon seals range northward from Bristol Bay in the Bering Sea into the Chukchi, Okhotsk and western Beaufort Seas.

This walrus tusk caving is a perfect minature of the beautiful animals know as ribbon seals.

This walrus tusk caving is a perfect miniature of the beautiful animals know as ribbon seals.

How many ribbon seals are there? In the mid-70s, the estimate of the world’s population of ribbon seals was thought to be 240,000, but there is no accurate estimate at this time.

How can I identify a ribbon seal? Ribbon seals are very distinctive. Males are dark brown to black with four ribbons of white. Females are lighter with less distinctive stripes. The stripes are located around the front shoulders, the neck and the rear section. Young seals are gray and will acquire the distinctive ribbons by the age of four. Ribbon seals have large eyes and small teeth.

Ribbon seals are generally easy to catch because they do not fear humans.

Ribbon seals are generally easy to catch because they do not fear humans.

What do ribbon seals eat? Ribbon seals feed mainly on groundfish and shrimp, along with some crustaceans.

How do ribbon seals have their young? Ribbon seal pups are born on the ice in the spring. They are white at birth and become silver gray in 3 to 6 weeks. They are weaned in about at month and then spend time learning to move on ice and to dive.

How long do ribbon seals live? How do they die? The life span of ribbon seals is believed to be up to 25 years.

The main predators of the ribbon seal are the killer whale, sharks and humans. There seems to be little interaction between commercial fishing and the ribbon seal.

Do you know what is really cool about ribbon seals? Ribbon seals have an internal air sack, over their ribs on the right side of their body. They are the only seals with this air sack! We do not know what it is used for!!

Ribbon seals move on the ice differently than other Arctic seals, they move one fore flipper at a time at a time, while other seals pull with both their front flippers to move forward! For short distances, they can move on the ice as fast as a man can run!!

Ribbon seals hang out where humans are not. They love to spend time out in the Bering Sea. The ice flow is their home.

Ribbon seals hang out where humans are not. They love to spend time out in the Bering Sea. The ice flow is their home.

Why do we know so little about ribbon seals? Ribbon seals are hard to study because of the amount of time they spend floating on pack ice and in open water, away from land. Luckily, this also makes it harder for predators to prey on them. At birth the pups are pure white. We know that ribbon seals stay close to the pack ice, but after most of the pack ice has melted, the ribbon seals are believed to be in the open sea.