Anne Krauss: Farewell and Adieu, November 11, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: November 11, 2018

Weather Data from home

Conditions at 1615

Latitude: 43° 09’ N

Longitude: 77° 36’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1027 mbar

Air Temperature: 3° C

Wind Speed: SW 10 km/h

Humidity: 74%

 

Science and Technology Log

 

Participating in the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey provided a porthole into several different career paths. Each role on board facilitated and contributed to the scientific research being conducted. Daily longline fishing activities involved working closely with the fishermen on deck. I was in awe of their quick-thinking adaptability, as changing weather conditions or lively sharks sometimes required a minor change in plan or approach. Whether tying intricate knots in the monofilament or displaying their familiarity with the various species we caught, the adept fishermen drew upon their seafaring skill sets, allowing the set and haulback processes to go smoothly and safely.

Chief Boatswain Tim Martin deploying the longline gear. The sun is shining in the background.
Chief Boatswain Tim Martin deploying the longline gear.
Chief Boatswain Tim Martin is preparing to retrieve the longline gear. A grapnel and his hand are visible against the water.
Chief Boatswain Tim Martin preparing to retrieve the longline gear with a grapnel

Even if we were on opposite work shifts, overlapping meal times provided the opportunity to gain insight into some of the careers on board. As we shared meals, many people spoke of their shipboard roles with sentiments that were echoed repeatedly: wanted a career that I could be proud ofa sense of adventureopportunity to see new places and give backcombining adventure and sciencewanted to protect the resources we have

I had the opportunity to speak with some of the engineers and fishermen about their onboard roles and career paths. It was interesting to learn that many career paths were not direct roads, but winding, multilayered journeys. Some joined NOAA shortly after finishing their education, while others joined after serving in other roles. Some had experience with commercial fishing, and some had served on other NOAA vessels. Many are military veterans. With a name fit for a swashbuckling novel set on the high seas, Junior Unlicensed Engineer Jack Standfast, a United States Navy veteran, explained how the various departments on board worked together. These treasured conversations with the Engineering Department and Deck Department were enlightening, a reminder that everyone has a story to tell. I very much appreciate their patience, kindness, and willingness to share their expertise and experiences.

Hard hats, PFDs, and gloves belonging to the Deck Department are hanging on hooks.
Hard hats, PFDs, and gloves belonging to the Deck Department
Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway standing on deck.
The ship had a small library of books, and several crew members mentioned reading as a favorite way to pass the time at sea. Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway shared several inspiring and philosophical websites that he enjoyed reading.

 

Lead Fisherman and Divemaster Chris Nichols:

In an unfamiliar setting, familiar topics surfaced in conversations, revealing similarities and common interests. Despite working in very different types of jobs, literacy was a popular subject in many of the conversations I had on the ship. I spoke to some of the crew members about how literacy factored into their daily lives and career paths. Some people described their family literacy routines at home and shared their children’s favorite bedtime stories, while others fondly remembered formative stories from their own childhood. Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols recalled the influence that Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling had on him as a young reader. He described how exciting stories such as Captains Courageous and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer inspired a sense of adventure and contributed to pursuing a unique career path. Coming from a family of sailors, soldiers, and adventurers, Chris conveyed the sense of pride that stems from being part of “something bigger.” In this case, a career that combines adventure, conservation, and preservation. His experiences with the United States Navy, commercial fishing, NOAA, and scuba diving have taken him around the world.

Echoing the themes of classic literature, Chris recommended some inspiring nonfiction titles and podcasts that feature true stories about human courage, overcoming challenges, and the search for belonging. As a United States Navy veteran, Chris understood the unique reintegration needs that many veterans face once they’ve completed their military service. He explained the need for a “tribe” found within the structure of the military or a ship. Chris described the teamwork on the ship as “pieces of a puzzle” in a “well-oiled machine.”

A pre-dive safety briefing takes place on the ship's bridge.
Led by Divemaster Chris Nichols, also the Oregon II’s Lead Fisherman and MedPIC (Medical Person in Charge), the team gathered on the bridge (the ship’s navigation and command center) to conduct a pre-dive operation safety briefing. Nichols appears in a white t-shirt, near center.

Chris also shared some advice for students. He felt it was easier for students to become good at math and to get better at reading while younger and still in school. Later in life, the need for math may resurface outside of school: “The things you want to do later…you’ll need that math.” As students grow up to pursue interests, activities, and careers, they will most likely need math and literacy to help them reach their goals. Chris stressed that attention to detail—and paying attention to all of the details—is extremely important. Chris explained the importance of remembering the steps in a process and paying attention to the details. He illustrated the importance of knowing what to do and how to do it, whether it is in class, during training, or while learning to dive.

Chris’ recommendations:

  • Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
  • Team Never Quit Podcast with Marcus Luttrell & David Rutherford
The sun rises over the Gulf of Mexico.
Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico

Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin:

Before joining NOAA, Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin served in the United States Coast Guard for fifteen years (active duty and reserves). After serving in the military, Chuck found himself working in education. While teaching as a substitute teacher, he saw an ad in the newspaper for NOAA careers and applied. Chuck joined NOAA in 2000, and he has served on NOAA Ships Bell M. Shimada, Pisces, Gordon Gunter, and Oregon II.

Echoing Chris Nichols’ description of puzzle pieces in a team, Chuck further explained the hierarchy and structure of the Deck Department on the Oregon II. The Deck Department facilitates the scientific research by deploying and retrieving the longline fishing gear while ensuring a safe working environment. From operating the winches and cranes, to hauling in some of the larger sharks on the shark cradle, the fishermen perform a variety of tasks that require both physical and mental dexterity. Chuck explained that in the event of an unusual situation, the Deck Department leader may work with the Bridge Officer and the Science watch leader and step in as safety dictates.

Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin
Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin. Photo courtesy of Chuck Godwin.

In addition to his ability to make a fantastic pot of coffee, Chuck has an impish sense of humor that made our twelve-hour work shifts even more interesting and entertaining. Over a late-night cup of coffee, I found out that we shared some similar interests. Chuck attended the University of Florida, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management and Ecology. He has an interest in writing and history, particularly military history. He co-authored a published paper on white-tailed deer. An avid reader, Chuck usually completes two or three books during a research cruise leg. He reads a wide range of genres, including sci-fi, westerns, biographies, military history, scientific texts, and gothic horror. Some of his favorite authors include R.A. Salvatore, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Darwin. In his free time, he enjoys roleplaying games that encourage storytelling and creativity. For Chuck, these adventures are not about the end result, but the plotlines and how the players get there. Like me, Chuck has done volunteer work with veterans. He also values giving back and educating others about the importance of science and the environment, particularly water and the atmosphere. Chuck’s work with NOAA supports the goal of education and conservation to “preserve what we have.”

 

 

Personal Log

Far from home, these brief conversations with strangers seemed almost familiar as we discussed shared interests, goals, and experiences. As I continue to search for my own tribe and sense of belonging, I will remember these puzzle pieces in my journey.

A high flyer and buoy float on the surface of the water.
A high flyer and buoy mark one end of the longline.

My path to Teacher at Sea was arduous; the result of nearly ten years of sustained effort. The adventure was not solely about the end result, but very much about plotlines, supporting (and supportive) characters, and how I got there: hard work, persistence, grit, and a willingness to fight for the opportunity. Every obstacle and roadblock that I overcame. As a teacher, the longline fishing experience allowed me to be a student once again, learning new skills and complex processes for the first time. Applying that lens to the classroom setting, I am even more aware of the importance of clear instructions, explanations, patience, and encouragement. Now that the school year is underway, I find myself spending more time explaining, modeling, demonstrating, and correcting; much of the same guidance I needed on the ship. If grading myself on my longline fishing prowess, I measured my learning this way:

If I improved a little bit each day by remembering one more thing or forgetting one less thing…

If I had a meaningful exchange with someone on board…

If I learned something new by witnessing natural phenomena or acquired new terminology…

If I encountered an animal I’d never seen in person, then the day was a victory.

And I encountered many creatures I’d never seen before. Several species of sharks: silky, smooth-hound, sandbar, Atlantic sharpnose, blacknose, blacktip, great hammerhead, lemon, tiger, and bull sharks. A variety of other marine life: groupers, red snapper, hake, and blueline tilefish. Pelicans and other seabirds. Sharksuckers, eels, and barracudas.

The diminutive creatures were just as interesting as the larger species we saw. Occasionally, the circle hooks and monofilament would bring up small hitchhikers from the depths. Delicate crinoids and brittle stars. Fragments of coral, scraps of seaweed and sponges, and elegant, intricate shells. One particularly fascinating find: a carrier shell from a marine snail (genus: Xenophora) that cements fragments of shells, rocks, and coral to its own shell. The evenly spaced arrangement of shells seems like a deliberately curated, artistic effort: a tiny calcium carbonate collage or shell sculpture. These tiny hints of what’s down there were just as thrilling as seeing the largest shark because they assured me that there’s so much more to learn about the ocean.

A spiral-shaped shell belonging to a marine snail.
At the base of the spiral-shaped shell, the occupant had cemented other shells at regular intervals.
The spiral-shaped shell belonging to a marine snail.
The underside of the shell.

Like the carrier snail’s shell collection, the small moments and details are what will stay with me:

Daily activities on the ship, and learning more about a field that has captivated my interest for years…

Seeing glimpses of the water column and the seafloor through the GoPro camera attached to the CTD…

Hearing from my aquatic co-author while I was at sea was a surreal role reversal…

Fishing into the middle of the night and watching the ink-black water come alive with squid, jellies, flying fish, dolphins, sailfish, and sharks…

Watching the ever-shifting moon, constellations, clouds, sunsets, and sunrise…

Listening to the unique and almost musical hum of the ship’s machinery and being lulled to sleep by the waves…

And the sharks. The breathtaking, perfectly designed sharks. Seeing and handling creatures that I feel strongly about protecting reinforced my mission to educate, protect, and conserve. The experience reinvigorated my connection to the ocean and reiterated why I choose to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Capturing the experience through the Teacher at Sea blog reinforced my enjoyment of writing, photography, and creative pursuits.

 

Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss looks out at the ocean.
Participating in Teacher at Sea provided a closer view of some of my favorite things: sharks, ships, the sea, and marine science.
The Gloucester Fisherman's Memorial Statue
The Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial Statue

In my introductory post, I wrote about formative visits to New England as a young child. Like so many aspects of my first glimpses of the ocean and maritime life, the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial statue intrigued me and sparked my young imagination. At that age, I didn’t fully grasp the solemn nature of the tribute, so the somber sculpture and memorial piqued my interest in fishing and seafaring instead. As wild as my imagination was, my preschool self could never imagine that I would someday partake in longline fishing as part of a Shark/Red Snapper Survey. My affinity for marine life and all things maritime remains just as strong today. Other than being on and around the water, docks and shipyards are some of my favorite places to explore. Living, working, and learning alongside fishermen was an honor.

Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss visiting a New England dock as a young child.
I was drawn to the sea at a young age.
Teacher at Sea Anne Krauss in Gloucester
This statue inspired an interest in fishing and all things maritime. After experiencing longline fishing for myself, I revisited the statue to pay my respects.
A commercial longline fisherman's hand holds on to a chain, framed against the water.
A New England commercial longline fisherman’s hand

Water and its fascinating inhabitants have a great deal to teach us. The Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico reminded me of the notion that: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Whether misattributed to Plutarch or Yeats or the wisdom of the Internet, the quote conveys the interest, curiosity, and appreciation I hope to spark in others as I continue to share my experience with my students, colleagues, and the wider community.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in Teacher at Sea, and I am also grateful to those who ignited a fire in me along the way. Thank you to those who supported my journey and adventure. I greatly appreciate your encouragement, support, interest, and positive feedback. Thank you for following my adventure!

A collage of images from the ship. The shapes of the images spell out "Oregon II."
Thank you to NOAA Ship Oregon II and Teacher at Sea!
The sun shines on the water.
The sun shines on NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Did You Know?

Xenophora shells grow in a spiral, and different species tend to collect different items. The purpose of self-decoration is to provide camouflage and protection from predators. The additional items can also strengthen the snail’s shell and provide more surface area to prevent the snail from sinking into the soft substrate.

Recommended Reading

Essentially two books in one, I recommend the fact-filled Under Water, Under Earth written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski. The text was translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

Cover of Under Earth
Under Earth written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski; published by Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2016

One half of the book burrows into the Earth, exploring terrestrial topics such as caves, paleontology, tectonic plates, and mining. Municipal matters such as underground utilities, water, natural gas, sewage, and subways are included. Under Earth is a modern, nonfiction, and vividly illustrated Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Cover of Under Water
Under Water written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski; published by Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2016

Diving deeper, Under Water explores buoyancy, pressure, marine life, ocean exploration, and several other subjects. My favorite pages discuss diving feats while highlighting a history of diving innovations, including early diving suit designs and recent atmospheric diving systems (ADS). While Under Earth covers more practical topics, Under Water elicits pure wonder, much like the depths themselves.

Better suited for older, more independent readers (or enjoyed as a shared text), the engaging illustrations and interesting facts are easily devoured by curious children (and adults!). Fun-fact finders and trivia collectors will enjoy learning more about earth science and oceanography. Information is communicated through labels, cross sections, cutaway diagrams, and sequenced explanations.

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Krauss: Tooth Truth and Tempests, September 30, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 30, 2018

Weather Data from Home

Conditions at 1515

Latitude: 43° 09’ N

Longitude: 77° 36’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1026.3 mbar

Air Temperature: 14° C

Wind Speed: S 10 km/h

Humidity: 71%

 

Science and Technology Log

My students sent me off with many shark questions before I left for the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey. Much of their curiosity revolved around one of the most fear-inducing features of a shark: their teeth! Students wanted to know:

Why do sharks eat fish?
How and why do sharks have so many teeth?
Why do sharks have different kinds of teeth?
Do sharks eat each other? What hunts sharks, besides other sharks?
And one of my favorite student questions: Why do sharks eat regular people, but not scientists?

Most people think of sharks as stalking, stealthy, steel-grey hunters. With a variety of colors, patterns, fin shapes, and body designs, sharks do not look the same. They do not eat the same things, or even get their food the same way. Instead, they employ a variety of feeding strategies. Some gentle giants, like the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), are filter feeders. They strain tiny plants and animals, as well as small fish, from the water. Others, such as the angel shark (Squatina spp.), rely on their flattened bodies, camouflage, and the lightning-fast element of surprise. Instead of actively pursuing their prey, they wait for food to come to them and ambush their meal. These suction-feeding sharks have tiny, pointed, rearward-facing teeth to trap the prey that has been sucked into the shark’s mouth. This video demonstrates how the angel shark uses clever camouflaging and special adaptations to get a meal:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/videos/shark-kill-zone/angel-shark-stealth-2838.aspx

A circle hook is held up against the sky. The horizon is in the background.
Circle hooks are used in longline fishing. Each hook is baited with mackerel (Scomber scombrus).
A pile of frozen mackerel used as bait.
Frozen mackerel (Scomber scombrus) is used as bait.
Circle hooks are placed along the edges of plastic barrels. The hooks are connected to thick, plastic fishing line called monofilament.
The circle hooks and gangions are stored in barrels. The hooks are attached to thick, plastic fishing line called monofilament.
100 circle hooks baited with mackerel. The baited hooks are placed on the edges of barrels, which are sitting on deck.
All 100 circle hooks were baited with mackerel, but sharks also eat a variety of other fish.

The sharks we caught through longline fishing methods were attracted to the Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) that we used as bait. Depending on the species of shark and its diet, shark teeth can come in dozens of different shapes and sizes. Instead of just two sets of teeth like we have, a shark has many rows of teeth. Each series is known as a tooth file. As its teeth fall out, the shark will continually grow and replace teeth throughout its lifetime—a “conveyor belt” of new teeth. Some sharks have 5 rows of teeth, while the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) may have as many as 50 rows of teeth!

The sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) usually has about 14 rows of teeth. They may lose teeth every ten days or so, and most sharks typically lose at least one tooth a week. Why? Their teeth may get stuck in their prey, which can be tough and bony. When you don’t have hands, and need to explore the world with your mouth, it’s easy to lose or break a tooth now and then. Throughout its lifetime, a shark may go through over 30,000 teeth. The shark tooth fairy must be very busy!

A sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) tooth with serrated edges.
Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) tooth. The sandbar shark is distinguishable by its tall, triangular first dorsal fin. Sharks’ teeth are equally as hard as human teeth, but they are not attached to the gums by a root, like human teeth. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA

Similar to our dining utensils, sharks’ teeth are designed for cutting, spearing, and/or crushing. The tooth shape depends upon the shark’s diet. Sharks’ teeth are not uniform (exactly the same), so the size and shape of the teeth vary, depending on their location in the upper and lower jaws. Some sharks have long, angled, and pointed teeth for piercing and spearing their food. Similar to a fork, this ensures that their slippery meals don’t escape. Other sharks and rays have strong, flattened teeth for crushing the hard shells of their prey. These teeth work like a nutcracker or shellfish-cracking tool. Still others, like the famously fierce-looking teeth of the great white, are triangular and serrated. Like a steak knife, these teeth are used for tearing, sawing, and cutting into their prey.

A shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) tooth is narrow and pointed.
A shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) tooth is narrow and pointed. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA
Smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis) teeth are flattened for crushing prey.
Smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis) teeth are flattened for crushing prey. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA
A silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) tooth has serrated edges.
A silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) tooth has serrated edges. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA
A tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) tooth is jagged and serrated.
A tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) tooth is jagged and serrated. Image credit: Apex Predators Program, NEFSC/NOAA

Link to more shark tooth images: https://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/rcb/photogallery/shark_teeth.html

Beyond their teeth, other body features contribute to a shark’s ability to bite, crush, pursue, or ambush their prey. The powerful muscles that control their jaws and swimming ability, the position of their mouth, and the shape of their caudal (tail) fin all influence how a shark gets its food. Unlike humans, sharks do not chew their food. They swallow their food whole, or use their teeth to rip, shred, crush, and tear their food into smaller chunks that the shark can swallow. No need to floss or brush after a meal: sharks’ teeth contain fluoride, which helps to prevent cavities and decay.

Some people may find it hard to swallow the idea that sharks aren’t mindless menaces, but shark encounters are quite rare. Sharks have many extraordinary adaptations that make them efficient swimmers and hunters of other marine life, not humans. Whenever sharks come up in conversation, I am careful to dispel myths about these captivating creatures, trying to replace fear with facts (and hopefully, curiosity and respect). Since sharks can’t talk, I’m happy to advocate for them. Despite the way sharks are negatively portrayed in the media, I assure my students that sharks far prefer to eat bony fish, smaller sharks, skates, rays, octopus, squid, bivalves, crustaceans, marine mammals, plankton, and other marine life over humans. Instead of fear, I try to instill awareness of the vital role sharks fulfill in the ecosystem. We are a far greater threat to them, and they require our respect and protection.

For more information on sharks: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sharkseat.html

 

Personal Log

As storms and hurricanes tear across the Gulf of Mexico, causing destruction and devastation, my thoughts are with the impacted areas. Before my Teacher at Sea placement, I never thought I’d spend time in the region, so it’s interesting to see now-familiar locations on the news and weather maps. One of my favorite aspects of being at sea was watching the sky: recognizing constellations while fishing at night, gazing at glorious, melting sunsets, and observing storm clouds gathering in the distance. The colors and clouds were ever-changing, a reminder of the dynamic power of nature.

A colorful sunset on the Gulf of Mexico.
The sky was vibrant.
Storm clouds gather over Tampa, Florida.
Storm clouds gathered over Tampa, Florida.
Darkening clouds over the water.
The clouds clustered around Tampa. The city looked very small on the horizon.
Darkening clouds over the water.
As the rain started, the clouds darkened.
Darkening clouds over the water.
The colors changed and darkened as lightning started in the distance.
Darkening clouds over the water.
Dramatic dark clouds and lightning.

Watching the recent storm coverage on TV reinforced the importance of strong and accurate communication skills. Similar to a sidebar on the page, much of the supplementary storm information was printed on the screen. For someone who needed to evacuate quickly or was worried about loved ones in the area, this printed information could be crucial. As I listened to the reporters’ updates on the storm damage, aware that they were most likely reading from scripted notes, I was reminded of the challenge of conveying complex science through everyday language.

Two maps show the Gulf of Mexico.
The top image from Google Maps shows one research station where we were longline fishing in August (marked in red). The bottom satellite image shows Hurricane Michael moving through the same area. Image credits: Map of the Gulf of Mexico. Google Maps, 17 August 2018, maps.google.com; satellite image: NOAA via Associated Press.

One might assume that a typical day at sea only focused on science, technology, and math. In fact, all school subjects surfaced at some point in my experience at sea. For example, an understanding of geography helped me to understand where we were sailing and how our location influenced the type of wildlife we were seeing. People who were more familiar with the Gulf of Mexico shared some facts about the cultural, economic, and historical significance of certain locations, shedding light on our relationship with water.

Fishing is an old practice steeped in tradition, but throughout the ship, modern navigation equipment made it possible to fish more efficiently by plotting our locations while avoiding hazards such as natural formations and other vessels. Feats of engineering provided speed, power, drinkable water, and technological conveniences such as GPS, air conditioning, and Wi-Fi. In contrast to the natural evolution of sharks, these artificial adaptations provided many advantages at sea. To utilize the modern technology, however, literacy was required to input data and interpret the information on the dozens of monitors on board. Literacy and strong communication skills were required to understand and convey data to others. Reading and critical thinking allowed us to interpret maps and data, understand charts and graphs, and access news articles about the red tide we encountered.

I witnessed almost every person on board applying literacy skills throughout their day. Whether they were reading and understanding crucial written communication, reading instructions, selecting a dinner option from the menu, or referencing a field guide, they were applying reading strategies. In the offices and work spaces on board, there was no shortage of instructional manuals, safe operating procedures, informational binders, or wildlife field guides.

Writing helped to organize important tasks and schedules. To manage and organize daily tasks and responsibilities, many people utilized sticky notes and checklists. Computer and typing skills were also important. Some people were inputting data, writing research papers and projects, sharing their work through social media, or simply responding to work-related emails. The dive operation that I observed started as a thoroughly written dive plan. All of these tasks required clear and accurate written communication.

Junior Unlicensed Engineer (JUE) Jack Standfast holds a small notebook used for recording daily tasks and responsibilities.
Junior Unlicensed Engineer (JUE) Jack Standfast carried a small notebook in his pocket, recording the various engineering tasks he’d completed throughout the day.

Each day, I saw real-life examples of the strong ties between science and language arts. Recording accurate scientific data required measurement, weight, and observational skills, but literacy was required to read and interpret the data recording sheets. Neat handwriting and careful letter spacing were important for recording accurate data, reinforcing why we practice these skills in school. To ensure that a species was correctly identified and recorded, spelling could be an important factor. Throughout the experience, writing was essential for taking interview notes and brainstorming blog ideas, as well as following the writing process for my blog posts. If I had any energy left at the end of my day (usually around 2:00 AM), I consulted one of my shark field guides to read more about the intriguing species we saw.

 

Did You Know?

No need for a teething ring: Sharks begin shedding their teeth before they are even born. Shark pups (baby sharks) are born with complete sets of teeth. Sharks aren’t mammals, so they don’t rely upon their mothers for food after they’re born. They swim away and must fend for themselves, so those born-to-bite teeth come in handy.

Recommended Reading

Smart About Sharks written and illustrated by Owen Davey

Appropriate for older readers, the clever, comprehensive text offers interesting facts, tidbits, and trivia. The book dives a bit deeper to go beyond basic shark facts and knowledge. I’ve read hundreds of shark books, and I appreciated learning something new. The text doesn’t shy away from scientific terminology and concepts, such as phylogeny (eight orders of sharks and representative species). The facts reflect recent research findings on shark behavior. Lesser-known species are included, highlighting the diversity in body shapes, sizes, and specialized features. From a design standpoint, the aesthetically appealing illustrations are stylized, colorful, and engaging. Simple infographics provide explanations of complex ideas. Fact meets fiction in a section about shark mythology from around the world. The book concludes with a discussion of threats to sharks, as well as ocean conservation tips.

The cover of Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey.
Smart About Sharks written and illustrated by Owen Davey; published by Flying Eye Books, New York, 2016

 

Anne Krauss: The Reel Whirl’d, September 15, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 26, 2018

Weather Data from the Air

Conditions at 0634

Altitude: 9585 meters

Outside Temperature: -38 ℃

Distance to Destination: 362 km

Tail Wind: 0 km/h

Ground Speed: 837 km/h

(While NOAA Ship Oregon II has many capabilities, flight isn’t one of them. These were the conditions on my flight home.)

Science and Technology Log

The idea of placing an elementary school teacher on a Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey seems like a reality show premise, and I couldn’t believe that it was my surreal reality. Several times a day, I took a moment to appreciate my surroundings and the amazing opportunity to get so close to my favorite creatures: sharks!

Anyone who knows me is aware of my obsession with sharks. Seeing several sharks up close was a hallowed, reverential experience. Reading about sharks, studying them through coursework, and seeing them on TV or in an aquarium is one thing. Being only a few feet away from a large tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) or a great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) is quite another. Seeing the sharks briefly out of the water provided a quick glimpse of their sinewy, efficient design…truly a natural work of art. Regardless of size, shape, or species, the sharks were powerful, feisty, and awe-inspiring. The diversity in design is what makes sharks so fascinating!

A tiger shark at the surface.
Even just a quick peek of this tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) reveals her strong muscles and powerful, flexible design.
A large tiger shark lies on a support framework made from reinforced netting. The shark and the structure are being lifted out of the water.
This female tiger shark was large enough to require the shark cradle. The reinforced netting on the cradle provided support for the 10.5 foot shark.
The snout and eye of a sandbar shark being secured on a netted shark cradle.
The shape of this sandbar shark’s (Carcharhinus plumbeus) head and eye is quite different from the tiger shark’s distinct design.
A great hammerhead's cephalofoil.
Even in the dark, the shape of the great hammerhead’s (Sphyrna mokarran) cephalofoil is unmistakable.

I envied the remora, or sharksucker, that was attached to one of the sharks we caught. Imagine being able to observe what the shark had been doing, prior to encountering the bait on our longline fishing gear. What did the shark and its passenger think of their strange encounter with us? Where would the shark swim off to once it was released back into the water? If only sharks could talk. I had many questions about how the tagging process impacts sharks. As we started catching and tagging sharks, I couldn’t help but think of a twist on the opening of MTV’s The Real World: “…To find out what happens…when sharks stop being polite…and start getting reeled.

Sadly for my curiosity, sharks have yet to acquire the ability to communicate verbally, despite their many advantageous adaptations over millions of years. To catch a glimpse of their actions in their watery world, scientists sometimes attach cameras to their fins or enlist the help of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to learn more. The secret lives of sharks… reality TV at its finest.

Underwater camera footage is beginning to reveal the answers to many of the questions my Kindergarten-5th grade students have about sharks:

How deep can sharks swim?

How big can sharks get? How old can sharks get?

Do sharks sleep? Do sharks stop swimming when they sleep? Can sharks ever stop swimming? 

Do sharks have friends? Do sharks hunt cooperatively or alone?

Is the megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon) still swimming around down there? (This is a very common question among kids!)

The answers vary by species, but an individual shark can reveal quite a bit of information about shark biology and behavior. Tagging sharks can provide insight about migratory patterns and population distribution. This information can help us to better understand, manage, and protect shark populations.

Various tools are spread out and used to weigh (scale), collect samples (scissors and vials), remove hooks (pliers, plus other instruments not pictured), apply tags (leather punch, piercing implement, and tags), and record data (clipboard and data sheet).
These tools are used to weigh (scales on bottom right), collect samples (scissors and vials), remove hooks (pliers, plus other instruments not pictured), apply tags (leather punch, piercing implement, and tags), and record data (clipboard and data sheet).

Using several low-tech methods, a great deal of information could be gleaned from our very brief encounters with the sharks we caught and released. In a very short amount of time, the following information was collected and recorded:

• hook number (which of the 100 longline circle hooks the shark was caught on)
• genus and species name (we recorded scientific and common names)
• four measurements on various points of the shark’s body (sometimes lasers were used on the larger sharks)
• weight (if it was possible to weigh the shark: this was harder to do with the larger, heavier sharks)
• whether the shark was male or female, noting observations about its maturity (if male)
• fin clip samples (for genetic information)
• photographs of the shark (we also filmed the process with a GoPro camera that was mounted to a scientist’s hardhat)
• applying a tag on or near the shark’s first dorsal fin; the tag number was carefully recorded on the data sheet
• additional comments about the shark

Finally, the hook was removed from the shark’s mouth, and the shark was released back into the water (we watched carefully to make sure it swam off successfully)!

A metal tag is marked with the number eight. This is one of 100 used in longline fishing.
Longline fishing uses 100 numbered hooks. When a fish is caught, it’s important to record the hook number it was caught on.
Two kinds of shark tags: plastic swivel tags used for smaller sharks and dart tags used for larger sharks.
Depending on the shark’s size, we either attached a swivel tag (on left and middle, sometimes called a Rototag or fin tag; used for smaller sharks) or a dart tag (on right, sometimes called an “M” tag; used for larger sharks).

For more information on shark tagging: https://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/nefsc/Narragansett/sharks/tagging.html 

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Other fish were retained for scientific samples. Yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus), blueline tilefish (Caulolatilus microps), and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) were some of species we caught and sampled. Specific samples from specific species were requested from various organizations. Generally, we collected five different samples:

• fin clips: provide genetic information
• liver: provides information about the health of the fish, such as the presence of toxins
• muscle tissue: can also provide information about the health of the fish
• gonads: provide information about reproduction
• otoliths: These bony structures are found in the inner ear. Similar to tree rings, counting the annual growth rings on the otoliths can help scientists estimate the age of the fish.

A yellowedge grouper on a table surrounded by sampling equipment.
Samples were taken from this yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus).

Samples were preserved and stored in vials, jars, and plastic sample bags, including a Whirl-Pak. These bags and containers were carefully numbered and labeled, corresponding with the information on the data sheets. Other information was noted about the fish, including maturity and stomach contents. Sometimes, photos were taken to further document the fish.

 

Personal Log

Thinking of the Oregon II as my floating classroom, I looked for analogous activities that mirrored my elementary students’ school day. Many key parts of the elementary school day could be found on board.

A 24-hour analog clock.
Sometimes, my students struggle to tell the time with analog clocks. The ship uses military time, so this 24-hour clock would probably cause some perplexed looks at first! We usually ate dinner between 1700-1800.
Weights, an exercise bike, resistance bands, and yoga mats.
Physical Education: Fitness equipment could be found in three locations on the ship.
A dinner plate filled with cooked vegetables.
Health: To stay energized for the twelve-hour shifts, it was important to get enough sleep, make healthy food choices, and stay hydrated. With lots of exercise, fresh air, and plenty of water, protein, and vegetables, I felt amazing. To sample some local flavors, I tried a different hot sauce or Southern-style seasoning at every meal.
A metal first aid cabinet.
There wasn’t a nurse’s office, but first aid and trained medical personnel were available if needed.

With my young readers and writers in mind, I applied my literacy lens to many of the ship’s activities. Literacy was the thread that ran through many of our daily tasks, and literacy was the cornerstone of every career on board. Several ship personnel described the written exams they’d taken to advance in their chosen careers. Reading and writing were used in everything from the recipes and daily menu prepared by Second Cook Arlene Beahm and Chief Steward Valerie McCaskill in the galley to the navigation logs maintained by Ensign Chelsea Parrish on the ship’s bridge.

A clipboard shows the daily menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The menu changed every day. You could also make your own salad, sandwiches, and snacks. If you had to work through mealtime, you could ‘save-a-meal,’ and write down your food choices to eat later. This was kind of like indicating your lunch choice at school. Instead of a cafeteria, food was prepared and cooked in the ship’s galley.
Shelves of books in the ship's library.
Library: The ship had a small library on board. To pass the time, many people enjoyed reading. (And for my students who live vicariously through YouTube: that sign at the bottom does say, ‘No YouTube’! Computers were available in the lab, but streaming wasn’t allowed.)

I often start the school year off with some lessons on reading and following directions. In the school setting, this is done to establish routines and expectations, as well as independence. On the ship, reading and following directions was essential for safety! Throughout the Oregon II, I encountered lots of printed information and many safety signs. Some of the signs included pictures, but many of them did not. This made me think of my readers who rely on pictures for comprehension. Some important safety information was shared verbally during our training and safety drills, but some of it could only be accessed through reading.

A collage of safety-related signs on the ship. Some have pictures, while others do not.
Without a visual aid, the reader must rely on the printed words. In this environment, skipping words, misreading words, or misunderstanding the meaning of the text could result in unsafe conditions.
A watertight door with a handle pointing to 'open'.
On a watertight door, for example, overlooking the opposite meanings of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ could have very serious consequences.
A watertight door with a handle pointing to 'closed'.
Not being able to read the sign or the words ‘open’ and ‘closed’ could result in a scary situation.

 

Did You Know?

Thomas Jefferson collected fossils and owned a megalodon tooth. The Carcharocles megalodon tooth was found in South Carolina. One of the reasons why Jefferson supported expeditions to lands west of the Mississippi? He believed that a herd of mammoths might still be roaming there. Jefferson didn’t believe that animal species could go extinct, so he probably liked the idea that the megalodon was still swimming around somewhere! (There’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that either Thomas Jefferson or the megalodon are still around.)

Recommended Reading

If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams

This picture book acknowledges the scariness of sharks, but explains that a world without sharks would be even scarier. Shown through the eyes of a curious young girl and her family, the book highlights the important role that sharks play in the ocean food web. As apex predators, sharks help to keep the ocean healthy and balanced.

The book includes some mind-blowing facts, such as the concept that sharks existed on Earth before trees. Through easy-to-follow examples of cause and effect, the author and illustrator explores complex, sophisticated concepts such as overfishing, extinction, and trophic cascade. The glossary includes well-selected words that are important to know and understand about the environment. Additional information is provided about shark finning and ways to help save sharks. An author’s note, bibliography, and additional sources are also included.

The cover of a children's book about the important role that sharks fill in the ocean food web.
If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams; Published by Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2017

 

Anne Krauss: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Marine Debris? August 24, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 24, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 1705

Latitude: 29° 15.17’ N

Longitude: 86° 11.34’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1014.82 mbar

Air Temperature: 31.2° C

Sea Temperature: 32.6° C

Wind Speed: 2.44 knots

Relative Humidity: 57%

 

Science and Technology Log

Life at sea provides fathoms of real-life examples of the nonfiction text structures I teach my students to identify: description, order and sequence, compare and contrast, fact vs. opinion, problem-solution, cause and effect, and several others.

While on the Oregon II, I was very fortunate to observe a dive operation that took place.

Here’s how an account of the dive operation might read for my elementary school students. Embedded in the text, I’ve included opportunities for developing readers to use context clues, to notice words that signal order/sequence (first, next, then…), to notice words that signal compare and contrast (similar, unlike), etc.

A red and white 'diver down' scuba flag painted on a metal storage locker door.
A ‘diver down’ scuba flag on the Oregon II.

Today’s lesson: Problem-Solution.

Problem: Sometimes, the hull (or watertight body) of a vessel can become encrusted with marine life such as algae or barnacles. This is called biofouling. To prevent biofouling, underwater surfaces are inspected and cleaned regularly. To further prevent creatures from making the body of the Oregon II their home, the hull is painted with a special anti-fouling paint.

Occasionally, man-made materials, like rope and fishing gear, can get tangled in the equipment that sits below the surface of the water, such as the rudder or propeller.

Underwater GoPro camera footage suggested that a piece of thick plastic fishing line (called monofilament) was near the Oregon II’s bow thruster. The bow thruster, located in the front of the ship, is a propulsion device that helps to steer the ship to the port (left) or starboard (right) side. This makes navigating and docking the 170-foot ship easier. When the powerful bow thruster is engaged, the entire ship rumbles, sounding like a thunderous jet soaring through the sky.

Something like entangled fishing line is problematic for navigation and safety, so the line must be removed if found. Because the bow thruster is located beneath the water’s surface, this task cannot be completed while on the ship. So how can the crew remove any tangled line and inspect the hull for damage?

Solution: Divers must swim under the ship to inspect the hull. If fishing line is suspected, divers can investigate further. This opportunity to “inspect and correct” allows them to take a closer look at the hull. If fishing line or other damage is found, divers cut away the line and report the damage. Routine hull inspections are part of regular ship maintenance.

A pre-dive briefing on the bridge
Led by Divemaster Chris Nichols, also the Oregon II’s Lead Fisherman and MedPIC (Medical Person in Charge), the team gathered on the bridge (the ship’s navigation and command center) to conduct a pre-dive safety briefing. Nichols appears in a white t-shirt, near center.

The entire process is not as simple as, “Let’s go check it out!” NOAA divers must follow certain rules and safety regulations.

First, the Oregon II’s dive team developed a Dive Operations Plan to investigate the bow thruster and hull. Dive details were discussed in a pre-dive briefing, or meeting. The Diving Emergency Assistance Plan (DEAP) was reviewed and a safety checklist completed.

The team prepared to send two divers, Lead Fisherman (LF) Chris Nichols and Navigation Officer Ensign (ENS) Chelsea Parrish, to inspect the bow thruster and remove any fishing line if needed. For this task, they carried scrapers and line-cutting tools.

To prepare for the dive operation, ship navigation plans were made. Equipment beneath the boat was secured. This ensured that the divers would be kept safe from any moving parts such as the propeller or rudder.

Next, announcements were made before and after the dive to notify the entire ship that divers would be entering and exiting the water. That way, everyone on board knew to stop any fishing activity and avoid putting fishing gear in the water.

Two dive safety flags hoisted over the Oregon II.
To let nearby vessels know that divers are in the water, two flags are hoisted. The scuba flag (red and white) indicates “diver down,” and the International Code of Signals flag ‘Alfa’ (blue and white; sometimes spelled ‘Alpha’) lets other vessels know that the ship is engaged in a dive operation. This tells other vessels to ‘keep well clear at slow speed’.
International Code of Signals flags are stored on the bridge.
Maritime communication flags are stored on the bridge. Learn your A, B, Seas: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_maritime_signal_flags

During the pre-dive briefing, procedures were reviewed and agreed upon. If needed, clarifying questions were asked to make sure that everyone knew and understood exactly what to do. This was similar to the ‘Checking for Understanding’ that I do with my students after giving directions.

Then the team agreed upon a dive time and a maximum diving depth. In this case, the team planned to dive a maximum of 25 fsw (feet of sea water). The surrounding water was about 160 feet deep.

A smaller rigid rescue boat floats nearby, prepared to assist divers if needed.
A smaller, 18-foot rigid rescue boat was launched from the Oregon II, prepared to assist the divers in the water if needed.

On the deck of the Oregon II, a Topside Supervisor and Line Tender kept watchful eyes on the divers. Chief Boatswain (pronounced “boh-suhn”) Tim Martin was the standby diver, prepared to provide immediate assistance to the other divers if needed.

Divers perform a safety check before entering the water.
Before entering the water, the divers checked one another’s gear for safety.
Divers perform a safety check before entering the water.
Potential risks and hazards, such as currents, obstacles, and dangerous marine life, were identified ahead of time. Multiple solutions were in place to minimize or eliminate these risks. Checking equipment before entering the water ensures that divers are prepared.

As the divers prepared to enter the water, the rest of the team was equally well prepared with checks, double-checks, back-up plans, communication, and contingency (emergency) plans. Hopefully, emergency plans are never needed during a dive operation, but just in case, everyone was well-trained and prepared to jump into action.

A diver enters the water with a Giant Stride.
Plans for entry into the water and exit from the water were reviewed in the pre-dive briefing. In this case, Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols entered the water with an entry method called a Giant Stride.
A diver enters the water with a Giant Stride.
Ensign Chelsea Parrish enters the water with a Giant Stride. An exit plan, plus two back-up exit options, were also reviewed beforehand. If needed, the divers had three possible ways to exit the water.

The water was calm and the weather fair. The divers signaled to the ship that they were OK in the water, and slipped beneath the surface. Soon, the only trace of them was a lighter blue trail of bubbles.

Divers at the surface of the water, preparing to dive.
The divers are OK and ready to dive. For breathing under water, the divers used compressed air in tanks. Because this was open circuit scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) equipment, air bubbles could be seen in the water once they disappeared beneath the surface.
Divers leave behind a trail of bubbles as they descend.
As divers descended, air bubbles could be seen beneath the surface. For safety, a Reserve Air Supply System (RASS) was also worn by each diver.

This was a working dive. Unlike recreational diving, this was not the time for the divers to leisurely swim and explore, but to follow the plan precisely. To communicate with each other under water, hand signals were used.

A diver inspects the bow thruster under water.
The dive was an opportunity to inspect the hull. Divers checked fore (front, toward the bow of the ship) and aft (rear, toward the stern of the ship). Photo credit: Ensign Chelsea Parrish, NOAA
A diver inspects the bow thruster under water.
The bow thruster looked fine…no fishing line nearby! Photo credit: Ensign Chelsea Parrish, NOAA
Divers inspect the hull of the ship.
The dive was an opportunity to inspect the hull. Divers checked fore (front, toward the bow of the ship) and aft (rear, toward the stern of the ship). All looked well! Photo credit: Ensign Chelsea Parrish, NOAA
Divers surface after the dive.
While in the water, the divers also practiced a ‘sick diver’ drill to rehearse what to do if a diver needed medical attention. Similar to a fire drill or other safety drill, but performed in the water, this was one of several drills performed on the Oregon II.
The dive team holds a post-dive debriefing on the ship's bridge.
After the dive was completed, a post-dive briefing was held to review and critique the dive operation. The dive team discussed how the dive actually went, in comparison to the dive plan. This was similar to the reflection I do after teaching lesson plans.

The divers reported back on the condition of the bow thruster and hull, as well as the dive conditions. They discussed their equipment, the undercurrent, and how they felt while under the pressure of the water. Dive data was collected from each diver and recorded on a form. The divers reached a depth of 21 feet.

Success! After inspecting the hull, the divers reported that they didn’t see any fishing line on the bow thruster or damage to the hull. Instead, they saw some small fish called jacks and some moon jellies drifting by.

Diving gear is removed, rinsed, and dried.
Finally, the scuba equipment is removed and rinsed with fresh water. Once dry, it will be carefully stowed away until the next dive.

Dive operations don’t happen often on the Oregon II. Normally, the team practices and performs their dives in a swimming pool in Mobile, Alabama. This dive near the Florida Keys was the first at-sea operational dive in two years as a full team—a rare and exciting treat to witness! 

Personal Log

This reflection captures my own dive into the world of longline fishing. Switching roles from educator to student, this is also where I transition from writing for my students to writing for my peers and colleagues.

Two pairs of gloves and a hard hat
Gloves for handling bait (left) and grippy gloves for handling live fish (right)

Every time I attempt something brand new, some optimistic part of me hopes that I’ll be a natural at it. If I just try, perhaps I’ll discover some latent proclivity. Or perhaps I’ll find my raison d’être—the reason why I was placed on this planet.

So I try something new and quickly recognize my naïveté. Many of these new skills and sequences are difficult, and I’m slow to master them. I compare my still-developing ability to that exhibited by seasoned veterans, and I feel bad for not grasping it quickly.

Spoiler alert: Longline fishing may not be my calling in life.

Life on and around the water, however, suits me quite well. As I’ve acclimated to life on a ship, the very act of being at sea comes naturally. Questions and curiosity flow freely. An already-strong appreciation for the water and its inhabitants deepens daily. And while I may not learn new concepts quickly, I eventually learn them thoroughly because I care. This journey has been a culminating opportunity in which I’ve been able to apply the nautical knowledge and marine biology fun facts I’ve been collecting since childhood.

Much of the daily work is rote, best learned through repetition, muscle memory, and experience. Very little of it is intuitive or commonsense, and my existing nautical know-how isn’t transferable to the longline gear because I’ve never handled it before.

The sun shines on two high flyers (used in longline fishing).
The tops of two high flyers
Buoys and metal snap clips used for longline fishing.
Buoys and snap clips
Orange plastic buoy used in longline fishing
Additional buoys are sometimes added to the mainline.
Longline gangions stored in a barrel
At first, making sense of the various steps and equipment used in longline fishing felt like a jumbled, tangled barrel of gangions.

At any point during my twelve hour shift, I’m keeping track of: the time, several other people, several locations on the ship, my deck boots (for working outside), sneakers (for walking inside), personal flotation device (PFD), sun hat, hard hat, bait gloves (for setting bait on hooks), grippy work gloves (for handling equipment and slippery, slimy fish), water bottle, camera, and rain gear…not to mention the marine life and specialized equipment for the particular task we’re performing.

A view of the stern shows a bait cooler, table, longline clips/hook numbers, bait barrels, high flyers, buoys, and other longline fishing equipment.
The longline gear is deployed off the stern.

Somewhere, Mr. Rogers is feeding his fish and chuckling with approval every time I sit down to swap out my deck boots several times a day.

A water bottle, deck boots, and a hard hat
Swapping out my sneakers for deck boots…again.

There’s a great deal of repetition, which is why it’s so frustrating that these work habits haven’t solidified yet. It should be predictable, but I’m not there…yet. Researchers believe it takes, on average, more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic. Maybe I’m being hard on myself for not mastering this in less than two weeks.

Unlatch the door. Relatch the door. Fill water bottle. Sunscreen on. Sneakers off. Boots on. Boots off. Sneakers on. Bait gloves on. Bait gloves off. Work gloves on. Work gloves off. Regular glasses off. Sunglasses on. Sunglasses off. Refill water bottle. Regular glasses on. Unpack the tool bag. Repack the tool bag. Hat on. Hat off. Repeat sunscreen. Refill water bottle. PFD on. PFD off. Hard hat on. Hard hat off…and repeat.

It seems simple enough in writing, but I struggle to remember what I need to be wearing when, not to mention the various sub-steps involved in longline fishing and scientific research.

Clouds over shining water and the horizon
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

During the dive operation, I ventured up to the bow for a better vantage point. Alone on the bow, glorious water teemed with fascinating marine life as far as I could see. Below me—and well below the surface—an actual dive operation was taking place: an opportunity to apply the diving knowledge I’ve absorbed and acquired over the past several years.

If I were in a certain movie musical, I would have burst into song, twirling in circles on the bow, unable to resist the siren song of the sea. (And, as I’ve discovered from handling a few of the slimier species we’ve caught, the depths are alive…with the stench of mucus. And its slimy feel.)

As I struggle to keep track of all of the routines, equipment, and fishing gear, I feel like Maria in the opening scene of The Sound of Music. Lost in reverie and communing with nature, she suddenly remembers she’s supposed to be somewhere and rushes off to chapel, wimple in hand. She’s supposed to be wearing it, of course, but at least she made it there and remembered it at all.

My Teacher at Sea path was filled with an Alpine range of mountains to climb, but I climbed every mountain, and I’m here on the Oregon II. All of the hard work I’ve put in for the past ten years culminated into that harmonized, synchronous moment on the bow…

And then I remembered that my shift was starting soon, so I dashed off, PFD in hand.

I know that I’ll need a PFD at some point. And my gloves. And my boots. And a hard hat. I have them all at the ready, but I’m not always sure which one to wear when. As I fumble through the transitions, routines, and equipment, I sympathize with Maria’s difficult search for belonging. I certainly mean well, and my appreciation for the water around us cannot be contained.

A very happy Teacher at Sea
Being on and around the water fills me with joy…

Eventually, Maria realizes that she’s better suited to life as a governess and later, a sea captain’s wife. I’m discovering that perhaps I was not destined to be a skilled longline fisherman, but perhaps there is some latent proclivity related to the life aquatic. I may not always know which equipment to use when, but I know—with certainty—that I definitely need the ocean.

Privacy curtains on a berth in a stateroom
Taking a curtain cue from Maria, perhaps I could fashion a dress or a wetsuit from the curtains hanging near my berth…?

Did You Know?

Sharks secrete a type of mucus, or slime, from their skin. The mucus provides protection against infection, barnacles, and parasites. It also helps sharks to move faster through the water. Ship builders are inspired by sharks’ natural ability to resist biofouling and move through the water efficiently.

Recommended Reading  

Students may be surprised to learn that barnacles are not only marine animals, but they begin their life as active swimmers and later attach themselves permanently to a variety of surfaces: docks, ships, rocks, and even other animals.

Barnacles by Lola M. Schaefer is part of the Musty-Crusty Animals series, exploring how the animal looks and feels, where it lives, how it moves, what it eats, and how it reproduces. This title is part of Heinemann’s Read and Learn collection of nonfiction books for young readers. Other creatures in the series include: crayfish, hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs, lobsters, and sea horses. These books are a great introduction to nonfiction reading skills and strategies, especially for younger readers who are interested in fascinating, unconventional creatures.

Each chapter begins with a question, tapping into children’s natural curiosity and modeling how to develop and ask questions about topics. Supportive nonfiction text features include a table of contents, bold words, simple labels (as an introduction to diagrams), size comparisons, a picture glossary, and index.

For more information on barnacles: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/barnacles.html

The cover of a children's nonfiction book about barnacles.
Barnacles by Lola M. Schaefer (Reed Educational & Professional Publishing; published by Heinemann Library, an imprint of Reed Educational & Professional Publishing, Chicago, Illinois 2002)

Anne Krauss: The Oregon II Trail, August 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 16, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 1106

Latitude: 25° 17.10’ N

Longitude: 82° 53.58’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1020.17 mbar

Air Temperature: 29.5° C

Sea Temperature: 30.8° C

Wind Speed: 12.98 knots

Relative Humidity: 76%

 

Science and Technology Log

Before getting into the technology that allows the scientific work to be completed, it’s important to mention the science and technology that make daily life on the ship safer, easier, and more convenient. Electricity powers everything from the powerful deck lights used for working at night to the vital navigation equipment on the bridge (main control and navigation center). Whether it makes things safer or more efficient, the work we’re doing would not be possible without power. Just in case, several digital devices have an analog (non-electronic) counterpart as a back-up, particularly those used for navigation, such as the magnetic compass.

 

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To keep things cool, large freezers are used for storing bait, preserving scientific samples, and even storing ice cream (no chumsicles for dessert—they’re not all stored in the same freezer!). After one particularly sweltering shift, I was able to cool off with some frozen coffee milk (I improvised with cold coffee, ice cream, and milk). More importantly, without the freezers, the scientific samples we’re collecting wouldn’t last long enough to be studied further back at the lab on land.

Electricity also makes life at sea more convenient, comfortable, and even entertaining. We have access to many of the same devices, conveniences, and appliances we have at home: laundry machines, warm showers, air conditioning, home cooked meals, a coffee maker, TVs, computers with Wi-Fi, and special phones that allow calls to and from sea. A large collection of current movies is available in the lounge. During my downtime, I’ve been writing, exploring, enjoying the water, and learning more about the various NOAA careers on board.

To use my computer, I first needed to meet with Roy Toliver, Chief Electronics Technician, and connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi. While meeting with him, I asked about some of the devices I’d seen up on the flying bridge, the top deck of the ship. The modern conveniences on board are connected to several antennae, and Roy explained that I was looking at important navigation and communication equipment such as the ship’s GPS (Global Positioning System), radar, satellite, and weather instrumentation.

I was also intrigued by the net-like item (called a Day Shape) that communicates to other ships that we are deploying fishing equipment. This lets nearby ships know that the Oregon II has restricted maneuverability when the gear is in the water. At night, lights are used to communicate to other ships. Communication is crucial for safety at sea.

When I stopped by, Roy had just finished replacing some oxygen sensors for the CTD (that stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth). For more information about CTDs click here: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/ctd.html

Without accurate sensors, it’s very difficult for the scientists to get the data they need. If the sensors are not working or calibrated correctly, the information collected could be inaccurate or not register at all. The combination of salt water and electronics poses many interesting problems and solutions. I noticed that several electronic devices, such as computers and cameras, are built for outdoor use or housed in durable plastic cases.

On this particular day, the ship sailed closer to an algal bloom (a large collection of tiny organisms in the water) responsible for red tide. Red tide can produce harmful toxins, and the most visible effect was the presence of dead fish drifting by. As I moved throughout the ship, the red tide was a red hot topic of conversation among both the scientists and the deck department. Everyone seemed to be discussing it. One scientist explained that dissolved oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico can vary based on temperature and depth, with average readings being higher than about 5 milligrams per milliliter. The algal bloom seemed to impact the readings by depleting the oxygen level, and I was able to see how that algal bloom registered and affected the dissolved oxygen readings on the electronics Roy was working on. It was fascinating to witness a real life example of cause and effect. For more information about red tide in Florida, click here: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/redtide-florida/

Chief Electronics Technician Roy Toliver in his office on the Oregon II.
Chief Electronics Technician Roy Toliver in his office on the Oregon II. The office is like the ship’s computer lab. When he’s not working on the ship’s electronics, Roy enjoys reading out on the stern. It’s a great place for fresh air, beautiful views, and a good book!

Personal Log

Preparing and packing for my time on the Oregon II reminded me of The Oregon Trail video game. How to pack for a lengthy journey to the unfamiliar and unknown?

A video game screenshot
I had a hard time finding bib overalls and deck boots at the general store.

I didn’t want to run out of toiletries or over pack, so before leaving home, I tracked how many uses I could get out of a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, shampoo bottle, and bar of soap, and that helped me to ration out how much to bring for fifteen days (with a few extras, just in case). The scientists and crew of the Oregon II also have to plan, prepare, and pack all of their food, clothing, supplies, tools, and equipment carefully. Unlike The Oregon Trail game, I didn’t need oxen for my journey, but I needed some special gear: deck boots, foul weather gear (rain jacket with a hood and bib overalls), polarized sunglasses (to protect my eyes by reducing the sun’s glare on the water), lots of potent sunscreen, and other items to make my time at sea safe and comfortable.

I was able to anticipate what I might need to make this a more efficient, comfortable experience, and my maritime instincts were accurate. Mesh packing cubes and small plastic baskets help to organize my drawers and shower items, making it easier to find things quickly in an unfamiliar setting.

berths on ship show blue privacy curtains
This is where we sleep in the stateroom. The blue curtains can be closed to darken the room when sleeping during the day. On the left is a sink.
My own shark cradle
Reading and dreaming about sharks!

Dirt, guts, slime, and grime are part of the job. A bar of scrubby lemon soap takes off any leftover sunscreen, grime, or oceanic odors that leaked through my gloves. Little things like that make ship life pleasant. Not worrying about how I look is freeing, and I enjoy moving about the ship, being physically active. It reminds me of the summers I spent as a camp counselor working in the woods. The grubbier and more worn out I was, the more fun we were having.

The NOAA Corps is a uniformed service, so the officers wear their uniforms while on duty. For everyone else, old clothes are the uniform around here because the work is often messy, dirty, and sweaty. With tiny holes, frayed seams, mystery stains, cutoff sleeves, and nautical imagery, I am intrigued by the faded t-shirts from long-ago surveys and previous sailing adventures. Some of the shirts date back several years. The well-worn, faded fabric reveals the owner’s experience at sea and history with the ship. The shirts almost seem to have sea stories to tell of their own.

Sunset over water showing orange, pink, and blue hues.
As we sail, the view is always changing and always interesting!

Being at sea is a very natural feeling for me, and I haven’t experienced any seasickness. One thing I didn’t fully expect: being cold at night. The inside of the ship is air-conditioned, which provides refreshing relief from the scorching sun outside. I expected cooler temperatures at night, so I brought some lightweight sweatshirts and an extra wool blanket from home. On my first night, I didn’t realize that I could control the temperature in my stateroom, so I shivered all night long.

A folded grey hooded sweatshirt
It’s heavy, tough, and grey, but it’s not a shark!

My preparing and packing didn’t end once I embarked (got on) on the ship. Every day, I have to think ahead, plan, and make sure I have everything I need before I start my day. This may seem like the least interesting aspect of my day, but it was the biggest adjustment at first.

To put yourself in my shoes (well, my deck boots), imagine this:

Get a backpack. Transport yourself to completely new and unfamiliar surroundings. Try to adapt to strange new routines and procedures. Prepare to spend the next 12+ hours working, learning, exploring, and conducting daily routines, such as eating meals. Fill your backpack with anything you might possibly need or want for those twelve hours. Plan for the outdoor heat and the indoor chill, as well as rain. If you forgot something, you can’t just go back to your room or run to the store to get it because

  1. Your roommate is sleeping while you’re working (and vice versa), so you need to be quiet and respectful of their sleep schedule. That means you need to gather anything you may need for the day (or night, if you’re assigned to the night watch), and bring it with you. No going back into the room while your roommate is getting some much-needed rest.
  2. Land is not in sight, so everything you need must be on the ship. Going to the store is not an option.

Just some of the items in my backpack: sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, sweatshirt, a water bottle, my camera, my phone, my computer, chargers for my electronics, an extra shirt, extra socks, snacks, etc.

I am assigned to the day watch, so my work shift is from noon-midnight. During those hours, I am a member of the science team. While on the day watch, the five of us rotate roles and responsibilities, and we work closely with the deck crew to complete our tasks. The deck department is responsible for rigging and handling the heavier equipment needed for fishing and sampling the water: the monofilament (thick, strong fishing line made from plastic), cranes and winches for lifting the CTD, and the cradle used for safely bringing up larger, heavier sharks. In addition to keeping the ship running smoothly and safely, they also deploy and retrieve the longline gear.

A pulley in front of water
Pulleys, winches, and cranes are found throughout the boat.

Another adjustment has been learning the routines, procedures, and equipment. For the first week, it’s been a daily game of What-Am-I-Looking-At? as I try to decipher and comprehend the various monitors displayed throughout the ship. I follow this with a regular round of Now-What-Did-I-Forget? as I attempt to finesse my daily hygiene routine. The showers and bathroom (on a ship, it’s called the head) are down the hall from my shared stateroom, and so far, I’ve managed to forget my socks (day one), towel (day two), and an entire change of clothes (day four). With the unfamiliar setting and routine, it’s easy to forget something, and I’m often showering very late at night after a long day of work.

Showers and changing stalls on ship
I’m more than ready to cool off and clean up after my shift.

One thing I never forget? Water. I am surrounded by glittering, glistening water or pitch-black water; water that churns and swells and soothingly rocks the ship. Swirling water that sometimes looks like ink or teal or indigo or navy, depending on the conditions and time of day.

Another thing I’ll never forget? This experience.

A water bottle in the sun
In case I forget, the heat of the sun reminds me to drink water all day long.

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico is home to five species, or types, or sea turtles: Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley.

Recommended Reading

Many of my students have never seen or experienced the ocean. To make the ocean more relevant and relatable to their environment, I recommend the picture book Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene. A young girl’s grandfather moves to the city and notices there’s nowhere to fish. She and her grandfather imagine fishing from their high-rise apartment fire escape. The “fish” they catch are inspired by the vibrant ecosystem around them: the citizens and bustling activity in an urban environment. The catch of the day: “Flying Litterfish,” “Laundry Eels,” a “Constructionfish,” and many others, all inspired by the sights and sounds of the busy city around them.

The book could be used to make abstract, geographically far away concepts, such as coral ecosystems, more relatable for students in urban, suburban, and rural settings, or as a way for students in rural settings to learn more about urban communities. The young girl’s observations and imagination could spark a discussion about how prominent traits influence species’ common names, identification, and scientific naming conventions.

The cover of the book Skyfishing
Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017)

 

Stephen Kade: What is Long Line Fishing? August 19, 2018

Longline Fishing infographic

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Stephen Kade

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 23 – August 10, 2018

 

Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1

Geographic Area: 30 35’ 34’’ N, 80 56’ 48’’ W, 20 miles off the coast of Jessup, Georgia

Date: August 2, 2018

Weather Data from Bridge: Wind speed 14 knots, Air Temp: 27c, Visibility 10 nautical miles, Wave height 2 ft.

Science and Technology Log

Longline fishing is a technique that consists of one main fishing line with many baited hooks that come of that line on shorter lines, (like branches off a tree) attached at various distances. Long lines are used in both coastal areas and the open ocean and are often placed to target specific species. If the long line is suspended in the top or mid depth water, it is called pelagic longline fishing. If it is on or near the ocean floor by weighting it down to the sea floor, it is called bottom longline fishing. A high-flyer buoy is placed at either end to mark the position of the line in the water so boats can see it while submerged, and so it can be found when it needs to be retrieved. Weights are placed on each end and the middle of the line to hold the line down to a specified depth.

Longline_KadeTAS2018
Computer created infographic of long line fishing process by NOAA TAS 2018 Stephen Kade

On board NOAA Ship Oregon II, the mission is a red snapper/shark longline fishing survey in the Gulf of Mexico and the Western North Atlantic coast. I was on the first of four legs of the survey that left Pascagoula, Mississippi, rounded the bottom of Florida and stopped for 44 stations between West Palm Beach FL, up to Cape Hatteras, NC, and back down to Port Canaveral, FL. NOAA’s mission is to research current shark and snapper populations in specific areas as determined by NOAA shark scientists and related state Fishery Departments.

The Oregon II has a large spool of 3mm monofilament fishing line on deck. For our survey, we used a line that was one mile long, and had 100 baited hooks approximately 50 feet apart. The hooks are attached to the line by gangions. Gangions are 12 foot long monofilament lines with a hook on one end and a manual fastener at the other end that can be taken on and off each time the line is deployed. All 100 hooks on the gangions are baited with Atlantic mackerel.

numbering gangions
The team attaches the gangion numbers and hands over for deployment

To deploy the line into the water, it takes a team of 6 people. The first person strings the line from the spool and through various pulleys along the length of the ship moving toward the back of the boat before tying it to the high flyer buoy and returning to the spool control to deploy the mile long line into the water. A team of two works to attach a specific number tag onto each gangion, and then to retrieve the 12 foot long gangion from a barrel. The numbered, baited, gangions are handed one by one to the next team member who attaches the gangion of the main long line every 60 feet as the line descends into the water. This crewman also places three weights on the line to hold it onto the ocean floor, one at each end, and one in the middle. When all hooks are deployed, the line is cut from the spool and the high-flyer buoy is attached to mark the end of the line in the water.

deploying high-flyer
Deploying the high-flyer buoy after all 100 gangions and weights are attached.

The last member of the science team is at a computer station on deck and they are in charge of inputting data into the computer. Each time a buoy, weight, or gangion goes into the water, a specific button is pushed to mark the items place in the water. This is done so when a shark comes up on a numbered hook, NOAA scientists know exactly the latitude, longitude and depth of where that specific shark was caught. Scientists upload this important data immediately to NOAA servers for later use so they can assess average populations in specific areas, among many other data points.

Input
Each time a gangion, weight, or high-flyer buoy is deployed, its location is input in the computer.

The bait stays down on the ocean floor for about an hour before the boat returns to retrieve it. The retrieval process is similar to deploying the line except that it takes longer to bring it in, as there are now some fish and sharks attached to the hooks. If the hooks are empty, the number is taken off the line, and the gangion is placed back in the barrel until the next station. If there is a shark or fish on the line, it is pulled onto the deck and data is collected before the shark is safely placed back into the water. The first step is unhooking the fish, before it is measured. The shark is measured from the tip of the nose to various parts of the body to determine the size in those areas. The gender of the shark is also determined, as well as the maturity. Finally, the shark is weighed on a scale and most are tagged before being photographed and released. The process only takes about two minutes to safely ensure the shark survives. The data is recorded on a data log, and after the retrieval, the data is input into a database.

Removing Gangions
Gangions are taken off the long line, de-baited, de-numbered and put back in barrel.

 

Personal Log

Before coming on the Oregon II, I knew only about the fishing process on a larger scale from what I’d read about, or seen on television. I was slightly intimidated that without experience, I’d likely be slowing down the experienced team of professionals from their difficult job. As we headed out to sea, I found out it would take a few days before we reached our first station and that gave me time to get to know the crew, which was very valuable. There are two crews, each work 12 hours a day, so fishing was happening around the clock. I was able to listen to their advice and explanation of the techniques used in the long line process, and also some fantastic stories about their lives and families. Their patience with me and the other volunteers during those first few stations gave us time to get up to their speed, and from then out it was like clockwork. It was certainly hard to work outside all day, but the passion, skill, and humor of the crew made it quite fun work each day and night. It was impressive and amazing to see how this efficient process is used to help NOAA scientists and fishermen collect data from vast areas of the ocean for two weeks. I am proud to say I helped a great team to get information that can help us understand how to help populations of sharks and fish for long into the future.

Stephen removes shark
TAS 2018 Stephen Kade taking shark off gangion, ready to measure, weigh, and put back in ocean

Stephen Kade: How Sharks Sense their Food & Environment, August 9, 2018

Ampullae of Lorenzini and nostrils

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Stephen Kade

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 23 – August 10, 2018

 

Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1

Geographic Area: 30 19’ 54’’ N, 81 39’ 20’’ W, 10 nautical miles NE of Jacksonville, Florida

Date: August 9, 2018

Weather Data from Bridge: Wind speed 11 knots, Air Temp: 30c, Visibility 10 nautical miles, Wave height 3 ft.

Science and Technology Log

Sharks have senses similar to humans that help them interact with their environment. They use them in a specific order and rely on each one to get them closer for navigational reasons, and to find any food sources in the area around them. The largest part of the shark’s brain is devoted to their strong sense of smell, so we’ll start there.

Smell– Sharks first rely on their strong sense of smell to detect potential food sources and other movement around them from a great distance. Odor travels into the nostrils on either side of the underside of the snout. As the water passes through the olfactory tissue inside the nostrils, the shark can sense or taste what the odor is, and depending which nostril it goes into, which direction it’s coming from. It is said that sharks can smell one drop of blood in a billion parts of water from up to several hundred meters away.

Ampullae of Lorenzini and nostrils
Ampullae of Lorenzini and nostrils of a sharpnose shark

Sharks can also sense electrical currents in animals from long distances in several ways. Sharks have many electro sensitive holes along the snout and jaw called the Ampullae of Lorenzini. These holes detect weak electrical fields generated by the muscles in all living things. They work to help sharks feel the slightest movement in the water and sand and direct them to it from hundreds of meters away. This system can also help them detect the magnetic field of the earth and sharks use it to navigate as well.

Ampullae of Lorenzini and nostrils
Ampullae of Lorenzini and nostrils of a sharpnose shark

Hearing– Sharks also heavily use their sense of smell to initially locate objects in the water. There are small interior holes behind their eyes that can sense vibrations up to 200 yards away. Sound waves travel much further in water than in the air allowing them to hear a great distance away in all directions. They also use their lateral lines, which are a fluid filled canal that runs down both sides of the body. It contains tiny pores with microscopic hairs inside that can detect changes in water pressure and the movement and direction of objects around them.

Sight– Once sharks get close enough to see an object, their eyes take over. Their eyes are placed on either side of their head to provide an excellent range of vision. They are adapted to low light environments, and are roughly ten times more sensitive to light than human eyes. Most sharks see in color and can dilate their pupils to adapt to hunting at different times of day. Some sharks have upper and lower eyelids that do not move. Some sharks have a third eyelid called a nictitating membrane, which is an eyelid that comes up from the bottom of the eye to protect it when the shark is feeding or in other dangerous situations. Other sharks without the membrane can roll their eyes back into their head to protect them from injury.

dilated pupil of sharpnose shark
dilated pupil of sharpnose shark

Touch– After using the previous senses, sometimes a shark will swim up and bump into an object to obtain some tactile information. They will then decide whether it is food to eat and attack, or possibly another shark of the opposite gender, so they can mate.

Taste– Sharks are most famous for their impressive teeth. Most people are not aware that sharks do not have bones, only cartilage (like our nose and ears) that make up their skeletal system, including their jaw that holds the teeth. The jaw is only connected to the skull by muscles and ligaments and it can project forward when opening to create a stronger bite force. Surface feeding sharks have sharp teeth to seize and hold prey, while bottom feeding sharks teeth are flatter to crush shellfish and other crustaceans. The teeth are embedded in the gums, not the jaw, and there are many rows of teeth behind the front teeth. It a tooth is damaged or lost, a new one comes from behind to replace it soon after. Some sharks can produce up to 30,000 teeth in their lifetime.

Personal Log

While I had a general knowledge of shark biology before coming on this trip, I’ve learned a great deal about sharks during my Teacher at Sea experience aboard the Oregon II. Seeing, observing, and holding sharks every day has given me first hand knowledge that has aided my understanding of these great creatures. The pictures you see of the sharks in this post were taken by me during our research at sea. I could now see evidence of all their features up close and I could ask questions to the fishermen and scientists onboard to add to the things I read from books. As an artist, I can now draw and paint these beautiful creatures more accurately based on my reference photos and first hand observations for the deck. It was amazing to see that sharks are many different colors and not just different shades of grey and white you see in most print photographs. I highly encourage everyone that has an interest in animals or specific areas of nature to get out there and observe the animals and places firsthand. I guarantee the experience will inspire you, and everyone you tell of the many great things to be found in the outdoors.

Animals Seen Today: Sandbar shark, Great Hammerhead shark, Sharp nose shark

Angela Hung: Fortitude, July 23, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 27-July 5, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 23, 2018

 

Weather Data from Home

Conditions at 2101

Latitude: 41.54°N

Longitude: 87.53°W

Temperature: 21° C

Wind Speed: N 3 mph

 

Science and Technology Log

Back at home but there’s still so much to share! I’ll wrap up my amazing experience as a Teacher at Sea by introducing three more members of the NOAA Ship Oregon II family: Alonzo Hamilton, Executive Officer Andrew Ostapenko and Commanding Officer Captain Dave Nelson. At the start of my adventure, I wrote about flexibility. The Teacher at Sea Program also stresses that cruises “require high-intensity work that demands physical adeptness, endurance, and fortitude”. These three exemplify how fortitude, the ability to endure through life’s challenges and change, brings rewards throughout life.

 

Fishery Biologist Alonzo Hamilton

Alonzo Hamilton, left, and Taniya Wallace, right, enter species into FSCS.
Alonzo Hamilton, left, and Taniya Wallace, right, enter species into FSCS.

Alonzo Hamilton has been a fishery biologist for 34 years! He likes to say that he stumbled into NOAA. He graduated from community college before enrolling at Jackson State University, a historically black university in Mississippi with a full scholarship. Actually, he was offered two scholarships, one for minority biomedical researchers to become a surgeon and the other for general studies. He arrived on campus to discuss his options in the science department. It turned out that the biomedical research scholarship was given to another recipient. On the bright side, it made the decision to accept the general studies funding much simpler. Now he had to make a choice of which field to pursue. As he explored the halls of the science building, he happened upon the office of the head of the marine science program and popped in to ask some questions. After learning about the program, he decided to apply his scholarship toward coursework in this field.

After college, he began working on a research project for the Navy which paid for a master’s degree. Soon after, President Reagan froze research funding for the Navy. Fortunately, Alonzo was tipped off that NOAA did very similar research with an active, albeit smaller budget. So began a 34 year career as a NOAA fishery biologist.

Being an African American scientist in the deep south came with challenges, but he reminded his supervisors and others around him that, “I won’t limit myself to your box”, which has carried him through a long and storied career. Today, he is happy that he gets “paid to play in the ocean”, which sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

 

Executive Officer (XO) Andrew Ostapenko

Andrew Ostapenko
Andrew Ostapenko

Most of the NOAA Corp officers you meet have a degree in science. I had the fortune of sailing with one of the few who doesn’t— the XO, LCDR Andrew Ostapenko. XO has a degree in political science from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. His goal was to become a lawyer, but after considering the job prospects and the lifestyle—”no one ever calls lawyers when they are happy”, and they never retire —he looked into some other options. In 2005 he applied for the NOAA Corps. Although he didn’t have a science degree, the general education requirements at the University of St. Paul, which included calculus, chemistry and physics, met the NOAA Corps requirements.

Since joining NOAA, LCDR Ostapenko has held a variety of assignments. In Maryland he managed budgets and projects for the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, a part of the National Weather Service that provides forecasts for the nation. He worked in small boat life cycle management as a Port engineer/small boat officer in Norfolk, Virginia, disseminating policies across the NOAA fleet.

His sailing experience began on NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson which performs hydrographic surveys that map the oceans to continuously update and improve nautical charts. He was a member of the first crew on NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker, accompanying her from Wisconsin where she was built to her homeport of San Diego. Last but not least, XO has been an augmenting officer for three months on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, another fisheries survey vessel based in Alaska where high seas and storms are a part of a normal day’s work.

NOAA assignments are three years for shore tours and two years for sea tours. LCDR Ostapenko currently has about a year left with Oregon II. As XO shows, there is no danger of getting stuck in mundane office job as a NOAA Corps officer.

 

The Captain

Captain Dave Nelson of NOAA Ship Oregon II
Captain Dave Nelson of NOAA Ship Oregon II

“Lunch is on me!” invites the captain if you arrive to the galley after him. Captain Dave Nelson is the commanding officer (CO) of NOAA Ship Oregon II, and he’s gone a long way to realize that title. This is his 10th year as the captain of Oregon II, but he’s worked onboard since 1993. He refers to himself as a “hawsepiper”, urging me to look it up on the internet. Informally, it means to have started at the bottom as a deckhand and working up to becoming a captain. Captain Nelson is a Mississippi native and grew up shrimping and fishing with his dad. After high school he went to work on commercial boats that bring supplies to oil rigs. After over a decade, he felt that he needed a plan for the future– a stable pensioned job. He serendipitously stopped into the NOAA office as he was driving by on a day that someone had just quit and there was an opening to fill. The rest is Oregon II history.

The progression as a civilian begins with being a deckhand and progressing to Chief Boatswain. It takes 750 days at sea to qualify for the first license, the 3rd Mate license administered by the U.S. Coast Guard. It then takes 1100 more days to be eligible to test for the Masters license to become a captain. In 2008 the prospective captain lived in Seattle on a NOAA ship for 12 weeks for a prep course for the Masters exam. At this point, it’d be almost 30 years since he had been a student; not only did he have to learn the material for the test, he also had to learn how to study again.  Soon-to-be Captain Nelson committed seven days a week for the entire 12 weeks to study and reviewing material to pass. He knew he wanted it.

CO Nelson’s joking attitude belies the pressure of being the captain of a ship. It’s a tremendous responsibility because he is accountable for everything, particularly the safety of everyone onboard. Every decision is made or approved by the captain and he sends reports to his supervisors every day.

He is one of a few captains in the NOAA fleet who is a civilian; most NOAA Commissioned officers rotate between boats every two years. This means that he is always training the new officers joining Oregon II from ensigns like Andy Fullerton and Chelsea Parrish to XO’s like Andrew Ostapenko. It takes a lot of patience; everyone comes in with different strengths, weaknesses and of course, personalities. The key, he says, is to “treat people like people” no matter who they are.

 

Personal Log

I somehow made it through almost three weeks living on Oregon II without falling down any stairs or tripping and landing on my face over a bulkhead door. Sure enough, it was hard to fall asleep at home without the rocking of the boat, but I’m happy to have my own shower again.

I’m so excited to show my students photos of so many of the things that I cover in class, or that they ask about, such as starfish regenerating lost arms and a video of wiggling tube feet on a severed arm (I accidently broke it off). I imagine they’ll also get to see critters they haven’t imagined-arrow and calico crabs, triggerfish, batfish…

A sea star that is regenerating its lower right arm.
A sea star that is regenerating its lower left arm.

I can’t believe how much I learned in such a short time about life and work at sea, careers, seafood, NOAA and its online resources. What I’ve shared in blogs is such a small fraction of everything I’ve experienced. I’m extremely grateful to everyone on Oregon II for being so welcoming and friendly, and for being so willing to speak with me. Although there were some setbacks, I got the chance to visit the lab and meet the wonderful scientists who showed me around. It’s hard work, but everyone agrees that it’s meaningful, rewarding and exciting.

Since coming home, my colleagues have commented that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity; that thought has crossed my mind as well. But watching everyone work, this is the everyday life of NOAA crew. I can’t help but think how few decisions it might have taken, maybe only 2-3 different choices, that might have made this my regular life too.

 

Did You Know?

NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award for rescuing three people off the coast of Cape Canaveral on Florida’s east coast. (This is where NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is located.) In 1998 when Captain Nelson was still a deckhand, he was woken from sleep between his watches. At about 2:30pm, a small overturned boat was spotted with a man, woman, and young girl on top. Captain Nelson was a small boat driver then; he launched a boat from Oregon II to rescue them and bring them to the Coast Guard.

NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award in 1998 for rescuing three people off of the coast of Florida.
NOAA Ship Oregon II earned the Gold Medal Award in 1998 for rescuing three people off of the coast of Florida.

Captain Dave surmises that they left port in Miami almost 200 miles south and got swept up in the Gulf Stream, a strong current of water that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and flows to Canada, affecting the climate even to Europe. It can create choppy conditions that capsized their boat.

The Gulf Stream is visible in red as it carries warm water from the south into the northern Atlantic. Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream#/media/File:Golfstrom.jpg
The Gulf Stream is visible in red as it carries warm water from the south into the northern Atlantic. Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream#/media/File:Golfstrom.jpg

They were extraordinarily lucky; the ocean is vast so the chances of Oregon II coming by and being spotted were slim. Their boat was too small to be detected by radar; if it had been dark, they might have been run over. Those are three people who are alive today because of NOAA Ship Oregon II.

Angela Hung: “The Solution to Pollution is Dilution”, July 3, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 27-July 5, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 3, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 1610

Latitude: 29° 30’ N

Longitude: 92° 51’ W

Relative Humidity: 83%

Temperature: 26° C

Wind Speed: 13 knots

Cloudy with rain

 

Science and Technology Log

“The solution to pollution is dilution” was a common refrain during the midcentury as large scale factories became more common. This mindset applied to both air and water as both seemed limitless. Looking out over the Gulf of Mexico, a relatively small body of water, it’s easy to see how this logic prevailed. Even the Great Lakes, the largest body of fresh surface water in the world, accepted incalculable amounts of pollution and sewage from coastal factories, steel and wood mills, and of course major cities.

Sky and water as far as the eye can see. (It's hard to take a steady shot on a rocking boat!)
Sky and water in the Gulf of Mexico as far as the eye can see from the deck of NOAA Ship Oregon II. (It’s hard to take a steady shot on a rocking boat!)

The rise of the modern technological age that took humans to the moon gave us the first glimpse of the fallacy of the “solution”. “Earthrise” is the first photo of the entire Earth taken from space, showing us how thin our protective atmosphere really is and how delicately the Blue Planet floats in the vastness of space. This is the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

"Earthrise" Photo courtesy of nasa.gov
“Earthrise” Photo courtesy of nasa.gov

To truly guide the development of national policies including those that protect air and water quality, federal agencies such as NOAA are responsible for collecting data about our atmosphere and oceans, now knowing that these ecological compartments cannot endlessly dilute the pollution we generate. What seemed to be an obvious solution has today ballooned into a number of serious problems, from acid rain and blinding smog in cities to burning rivers, mass fish die offs that wash up on Lake Michigan beaches and dying coral reefs in the oceans.

The Cuyahoga River that runs through Cleveland, OH caught fire over a dozen times. This fire in 1969 finally motivated action towards creating the Clean Water Act.
The Cuyahoga River that runs through Cleveland, OH caught fire over a dozen times. This fire in 1969 finally motivated action towards creating the Clean Water Act. Photo from: https://www.alleghenyfront.org/how-a-burning-river-helped-create-the-clean-water-act/

A major pollutant in the Gulf is sourced from industrial agriculture practices from as far away as Illinois and the rest of the Midwest farm belt. Fertilizer and pesticides enter local rivers that find their way to the Mississippi River which carries contaminants into the Gulf of Mexico.

We have reached the Gulf’s “Dead Zone”, yielding a few tiny catches. Station W1601 may have given the smallest catch ever—a clump of seaweed and a whole shrimp.

The case of the shrinking trawls. On left, a catch from the night of July 2. Center and right, samples from two stations in hypoxic waters. The fish in the right photo may have been stuck in the net from the previous trawl.
The case of the shrinking trawls. On left, a catch from the night of July 2. Center and right, July 3 samples from two stations in hypoxic waters. The fish in the right photo may have been stuck in the net from the previous trawl.

Hypoxia literally means “low oxygen”. When fertilizers used to grow corn and soy enter bodies of water, they likewise feed the growth of algae, which are not technically plants but they are the aquatic equivalent. But plants make oxygen, how can this lead to low oxygen? Algae and land plants only produce oxygen during the day. At night, they consume oxygen gas through respiration. They do this during the day as well, but overall produce more oxygen in the light through photosynthesis. For hundreds of millions of years, that’s been fine, but the recent addition of fertilizers and the warm Gulf waters cause an explosion of the kind of microscopic algae that are suspended in the water column and turn water bright green, or red in the case of “red tides”. These explosions are called algal blooms.

Red tide. Photo credit: https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/plants-algae/red-tide
Red tide. Photo credit: https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/plants-algae/red-tide

Algal blooms can cloud up water, making life hard for other photosynthetic organisms such as coral symbionts and larger seaweeds. At night, animals can suffocate without oxygen. During red tides, some algae release toxins that harm other life. When these organisms die and sink, bacteria go to work and decompose their bodies. The population of bacteria explodes, consuming the remaining oxygen at the sea floor. Animals that wander into the hypoxic zone also suffocate and die, feeding more decomposer bacteria that can survive with little to no oxygen. Thus, hypoxic areas are also called “dead zones”.  The hypoxic zone is just above the sea floor, as little as a half a meter above, and oxygen levels can drop precipitously within a meter of the bottom.

NOAA scientists including those conducting the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish survey on Oregon II track the location, size and movement of the Gulf hypoxic zone using the conductivity-temperature-dissolved oxygen probe, or CTD. The CTD is sent into the water before every trawl to take a variety of measurements. Besides conductivity (a measure of ions), temperature and oxygen, the CTD also checks the salinity, clarity and amount of photosynthetic pigments in the water, which gives an idea of plankton populations. Ours uses two different sensors for conductivity, salinity, temperature and oxygen, double-checking each other. A pump pulls water through the various sensors and the measurements are sent directly to a computer in the dry lab to record these data.

The CTD is lowered to just under the surface of the water to make sure the pump is working and to flush the system. Then it is lowered to within a meter of the bottom. The CTD also has an altimeter to measure the distance from the bottom, while the ship also uses sonar to determine the water depth at each station. Water is measured continuously as the CTD is lowered and raised, creating a graph that profiles the water column. Crewmen are on deck controlling the winches according to the directions from a scientist over the radio who is monitoring the water depth and measurements in the dry lab.

Conductivity, temperature, dissolved oxygen sensor (CTD). The gray cylinders are bottles that can store water samples.
Conductivity, temperature, dissolved oxygen sensor (CTD). The gray cylinders are bottles that can store water samples.
Casting the CTD is a coordinated effort.
Casting the CTD is a coordinated effort.

The CTD also has bottles that can store water samples so oxygen can be tested a third time in the lab onboard. When we only get a few fish where the CTD recorded normal oxygen, the CTD is launched again to verify oxygen levels using all three methods. In the CTD output, oxygen is coded in green as a line on the graph and in the data tables. Most stations read in the 5-6 range, the cutoff for hypoxia is 2. We are reading less than 1 in the Dead Zone.

CTD output. Depth is on the vertical axis and each measurement is scaled on the horizontal axis, showing how each variable changes as the CTD moves to the bottom and back to the surface.
CTD output. Depth is on the vertical axis and each measurement is scaled on the horizontal axis, showing how each variable changes as the CTD moves to the bottom and back to the surface.
Quadruple check on dissolved oxygen in Gulf waters the "old fashioned" way using a Winkler titration.
Triple check on dissolved oxygen in Gulf waters the “old fashioned” way using a Winkler titration.

 With storms in the path and not-so-plenty of fish in the sea, today is a slow day.

 

Personal Log

Looking out over the water, I can’t help but think how intrepid, even audacious, early mariners must have been. I know we are within a couple miles of the coast but there’s no sign of land anywhere in any direction. Even with the reassurance that satellites, radar, radios, AND trained NOAA Corps officers steering in the bridge are all keeping track of us, I still swallow a moment of panic. What kind of person decides to sail out in search of new continents when it only takes a couple hours to lose track of where you came from? And yet, the Polynesians set out thousands years ago in canoes from mainland Asia, the Aborigine ancestors managed to find Australia, and of course, Europeans sailed across the Atlantic to the Americas, whether they knew it or not. It was all possible through careful observations of the winds, waves, ocean currents, stars and other indications of direction, but I still have to think that that’s a pretty bold move when you don’t know if land lies ahead.

No land in sight.
No land in sight.

At least we’re not alone out here. These are some other animals that we’ll leave for the mammal survey and birders to count.

 

Did You Know?

The CTD also shows the layers of ocean water. Looking at the graph again for the red (salinity) and blue (temperature) lines, we can see where they cross at about 15 meters. This shows where colder, saltier water starts compared to the warm surface water that is diluted by fresh water and mixed by wind.

Angela Hung: Flexibility, June 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22-July 5, 2018

June 19-July 5, 2018

June 23-July 5, 2018

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 22, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

(Actually from weather.gov, the program in the bridge is off)

Conditions at 1454

Latitude: 30.46° N

Longitude: 88.53° W

Temperature: 34° C

Wind Speed: SW 12 mph

Science and Technology Log

Taniya Wallace-Chief Scientist, Fisheries Biologist

If you enjoy a good seafood steam pot or boil—overflowing with shrimp, crabs, clams and corn and potatoes mixed in, rounded out with fish filets blackened/broiled/fried to your preference—then you have to thank hardworking scientists like Taniya Wallace. Taniya is a fisheries biologist and is the Chief Scientist aboard Oregon II for this leg of the 2018 SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey. On top of assessing the health of the Gulf fisheries that feeds Americans across the country, she is busy coordinating the group of scientists that form the research party on the boat. The specifics of the research will follow in upcoming posts, but today, I’d like you to meet a scientist.

Taniya Wallace
Taniya entering data into the computer.

Taniya was certain of becoming a nurse. Her high school offered vocational coursework in nursing to give students an early start into college degree programs. She was on track, until it came to clinicals. Nursing clinicals are the part of the program where students begin their training in real work settings to apply what is learned in the classroom. More importantly, clinicals introduces students to the realities of the job.

Nurses are among the ranks of hard working, underappreciated sectors of the health field because much of what they do goes unseen. For many in pre-nursing and nursing programs, clinicals ensures that students are experiencing what they are signing up for. For Taniya Wallace, her experience during this class compelled her to make the difficult decision to pursue a different program of study.

Taniya was accepted in Mississippi Valley State University, a historically black university, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. She began a position as a laboratory scientist until the 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig that caused 11 deaths and the largest oil spill in history. Four million barrels of oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico over three months before the underwater well was finally capped.

Taniya has always loved the water, and had previously shadowed her cousin who is also a marine scientist. Her aunt builds boats for Austal Shipyard in Alabama and her father works at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, MS, the very company that built Oregon II. With an urgent need to study the critical impacts of crude petroleum oil on the Gulf ecosystems, an opportunity on Oregon II was a natural fit. Taniya signed a three month contract–she’s been here ever since.

Plaque aboard Oregon II
Plaque aboard Oregon II

What has kept her going for eight years? As a scientist on a ship, she sees “something new every day” on the boat and on land when they stop at different ports. With a love of water, working in a lab at sea is a win-win.

Personal Log

The Teacher at Sea Program emphasizes to applicants that “flexibility and the ability to cope with the uncertain is crucial to the character of those who go to sea.” Taniya Wallace demonstrates this quality by shifting to a research program in college, joining NOAA Ship Oregon II, and by working at sea.

It is no exaggeration that flexibility is a requirement for working on a boat. In fact, I was scheduled to participate in the second leg of the SEAMAP summer groundfish survey on June 21, departing from Galveston, TX on the 22nd. Unfortunately, the trawl winch broke during the first leg (the first time ever for Oregon II which has been sailing for 50 years!), cutting their trip short. To try to make up the time, it was decided that the second leg would get an early start from Mississippi as soon as repairs were completed in Pascagoula, MS.

What originally was a week to get packed, find a plant sitter and cuddle with my cats became a last minute scramble to find rain boots and mow the lawn in the middle of a heat wave—I boarded a plane to Gulfport, MS on June 18 instead. (It was explained that this was not the typical direction in scheduling shifts.) I got to meet some of the fantastic crew members of Oregon II, as well as from neighboring Gordon Gunter, who invited me to play corn hole for the first time. This is the game where you are trying to throw bean bags through a hole cut in a plywood board that’s set on an incline.  I spent the night on the boat in port.

 

 

 

The boat bustled the next morning as everyone arrived: crew, scientists and a couple of interns. [Find your internship here! https://coastalscience.noaa.gov/about/internship/  ] At 1400, we were off!

There’s the requisite training and safety information for the ship in general. Taniya took over the interns and me for science brief. I learn that I’m assigned to the day shift which begins at 1200 noon the next day. Night shift starts at 2400 midnight that same day. The operations of the ship are 24 hours. It’s a long wait to get started and I’m looking forward to it.

We spend a night out at sea and I’m up and ready to sort some fish and shrimp. When I get to the galley, I find out that we are in fact, returning to Pascagoula because the trawl winch wasn’t fully repaired.

While issues like this are rare on Oregon II, a vessel that is widely regarded as extremely reliable, the process of science frequently hits stumbling blocks. TV shows like CSI and Bones and movies like Jurassic Park feature futuristic laboratories with state-of-the-art, if wildly impractical, equipment with colorful liquids, holograms, and scientists in lab coats and goggles who complete experiments in mere minutes. In reality, science is a lot messier and SLOWER. While wiling away the time today, I learned about a new hashtag for scientists full of internet examples: #badstockphotosofmyjob.

Real labs tend to have old equipment, space is limited so rooms are often crowded with large machines and many computers, and most liquids are colorless, stored in small, like the size of your pinky, tubes in a refrigerator or freezer. Particularly if you work outside, aka “the field”, and even if you don’t, a lot of equipment might be jerry-rigged from things picked up at Wal-Mart or Home Depot. Not to say that science is unreliable or not credible, but that projects are unique and a lot of times, you have to be creative and build what you specifically need. Then modify it until it works.

 

 

 

 

So here we are in a typical day of a scientist. A piece of equipment isn’t working, we’re losing data collection by the minute, but remember, we’re going to be flexible.

Did You Know?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which is tasked with promoting job creation and economic growth by providing tools and programs for the scientific collection and analysis of data. NOAA is one of these scientific research agencies employing scientists to study the atmosphere to provide us with weather and climate data, and the oceans, providing information for the operation of fisheries, for example. Good policies are informed by basic research, making the work of these agencies invaluable to the US economy.

Angela Hung: The First Day of Summer, June 12, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Angela Hung

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 19-July 5, 2018

 

Mission: SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 12, 2018

 

Weather Data from Prairie State College

Conditions at 1510

Latitude: 41.45° N

Longitude: 87.53° W

Temperature: 26° C

Wind Speed: S 6mph

 

Science and Technology Log

How did we decide that June 21 is the first day of summer? Is this the day the pool opens? Is it the hottest day of the year? The critical date when students have de-stressed from the last school year and the next still seems far away?

In fact, the first day of summer says a lot about planet Earth’s annual journey around the sun. June 21 (sometimes June 20) is also called the Summer Solstice—the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Because Earth rotates on a tilted axis, this is the day that the North Pole is most directly pointed at the sun. From our view on the ground in Chicago Heights, the sun appears farthest north in the sky.

The seasons are a result of the Earth's tilted axis as it travels around the sun. Summer Solstice occurs between June 20-22 when the North pole is tilted towards the sun.
The seasons are a result of the Earth’s tilted axis as it travels around the sun. Summer Solstice occurs between June 20-22 when the North pole is tilted towards the sun. Image credit: NOAA National Weather Service, https://www.weather.gov/cle/seasons

Conversely, winter begins on a solstice as well—the shortest day of the year when the planet is leaning away from the sun. In between, Spring and Fall correspond to “equinoxes”, the days when night and day are “equal” or roughly the same lengths.

It follows that in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. On June 21 while the North Pole is soaking in the sun, the South pole is in the shadows for the longest night of the year. A common misconception is that summer is when the entire Earth is close to the sun in an elliptical orbit and winter is when the planet is far away. If this was true, the Northern and Southern hemispheres would experience winter and summer at the same time. Actually, Earth’s orbit is fairly circular and the planet as a whole remains the same distance all year. Only the poles change their relative positions to the sun.

 

Introductory Personal Log

June 21 is a bittersweet day for me. As an avid gardener, the flip side of the Summer Solstice is that the days begin to get shorter and shorter until December 21. I start accounting foot by foot around the yard where “full sun” areas disappear and the infamous Chicago winter looms ahead. But this year, the Solstice brings a new excitement. Next week, Earth’s and my summer officially begins with a trip to Pascagoula, Mississippi to begin the second leg of the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Summer Groundfish Survey aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II. Oregon II is a research ship that surveys various types of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. I can’t think of a better way to spend summer in these bodies of water.

 

How would I know about the Gulf, Atlantic and the Caribbean? I’ve lived in a few places around the U.S. My early childhood was spent in northern Virginia before moving to Florida where I stayed until I left for graduate school. That took me to New Mexico (truly enchanting!) and my current position brought me here to the south suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. My parents still live in Florida by the Indian River on a barrier island in the Atlantic Ocean. My bachelor’s degree is from New College of Florida which sits on a bay in the shimmering Gulf of Mexico. I haven’t had the pleasure of living in the Caribbean, but I have visited a couple of times.

 

[Break to answer the burning questions on everyone’s minds]

Florida its has drawbacks to beaches, such as the crushing summer humidity, hurricanes, mosquitoes, giant spiders–it’s not that hard to leave.

New Mexico is amazingly beautiful, boasting the best sunsets in the country. There are more plants, less oxygen and colder winters than you think. The elevation in Albuquerque is over 5,000 feet rising to 10,000 feet in the Sandias Mountains that border the city. I learned to ski here.

I like Chicago, the native wildflowers are the most impressive I’ve ever seen. The cold, dark winter, which aren’t terribly worse than Albuquerque, is balanced by fall leaves and an invigorating appreciation for spring as everything seems to rise from the dead. Hence the keen interest in solstices and equinoxes. Finally, Northeast Illinois is strongly nostalgic. The climate, plants and animals are very similar to Virginia so I actually often feel like a kid again.

I’m a biology professor at Prairie State College. We are a community college located 30 miles south of Chicago. While my educational background is in animal behavior and ecology, my graduate research spanned genetics, cell biology and immunology. Biologists often say they prefer cells or organismal biology over the other, but it is important to study the parts and the whole of any study organism, both of which respond to the ecological context. I typically teach Organismal Biology, which surveys the diversity of life on Earth with an introduction to ecology and evolution, and Environmental Biology. This fall, Cell and Molecular Biology will be added to my regular course rotation.

Community colleges are dedicated teaching institutions. However, Prairie State College supports faculty who engage with students outside of the classroom through research. I teach full time but I sometimes have the privilege of mentoring a research student. This past spring, my mentee won First Place in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Skyway Poster Competition! Community college students in the region present their original projects which are judged by scientist volunteers from Argonne National Lab.

Tylar tested different types of alternative plant growing systems such as hydroponics and aeroponics to grow lettuce. He is committed to developing and promoting practices that reduce the environmental impact of industrial agriculture while meeting the needs of a growing world population. My experience as a Teacher at Sea in the Gulf of Mexico is timely because agriculture in Illinois generates pollution that ultimately impacts the marine ecosystems of the Gulf. Additionally, his project is now a teaching tool that I can use in each of my classes along with what we learn on Oregon II.

 

Let’s get summer started!

Melissa Barker: Reflections from Land, July 20, 2017

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22 – July 6, 2017

 

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 20, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge: I am now back in Longmont, Colorado

Latitude: 40 08.07 N

Longitude: 105 08.56 W

Air temp: 31.1 C

 

Science and Technology Log

One of the major questions I had before my Teacher at Sea voyage was how the level of oxygen in the water will affect the species we collect. Typically, in the summer, a dead zone forms in the Gulf of Mexico spreading out from the mouth of the Mississippi river. You can see an image of the dead zone from 2011 below.

Hypoxia2011
Bottom Dissolved Oxygen Contours, Gulf of Mexico, 2011

Phytoplankton, or microscopic marine algae, are the base of the marine food web. There are two main classes, diatoms and dinoflagellates, which are both photosynthetic and typically live towards the top of the water column. We did not sample plankton on our leg of the cruise, but if you want to learn more you can check out this site: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/phyto.html. In the summer, phytoplankton and algae can build up due to excess nutrients in the water that are running off from urban areas, agriculture and industry. Much of our sampling was near the mouth of the Mississippi River, which is a significant source of excess nutrients. The extra nitrogen and phosphorus in the runoff cause the excess growth of photosynthetic organisms which leads to a buildup of zooplankton (heterotrophic plankton). Once the phytoplankton and zooplankton die and sink to the bottom they are decomposed by oxygen consuming bacteria which deplete the oxygen in the water column. According to NOAA, hypoxia in aquatic systems refers to an area where the dissolved oxygen concentration is below 2 mg/L. At this point, most organisms become physiologically stressed and cannot survive.

4911433052_f535276bdf_b
How The Dead Zone Forms: Infographic by Dan Swenson, NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune

Tropical Storm Cindy, which kicked up just as I was arriving in Galveston, brought significant freshwater into the gulf and mixed that water around so we did not see as many low oxygen readings as expected. While I was talking with Andre about hypoxia when we were on the ship, he used the analogy of stirring a bowl of soup. There is a cool layer on top, but as you stir the top layer and mix it with the lower layers, the whole bowl cools. Similarly, the oxygen rich freshwater from the storm is mixed around with the existing water, reducing the areas of low oxygen. You can see in the map below that we had fewer hypoxic areas than in 2011.

2017-hypoxia-contours
Bottom Dissolved Oxygen Contours, Gulf of Mexico, 2017

We used the CTD to obtain oxygen readings in the water column at each station. In the visuals below you can see a CTD indicating high oxygen levels and a CTD indicating lower, hypoxic, oxygen levels. The low oxygen CTD was from leg one of the survey. It corresponds with the red area in the hypoxia map above.

Non Hypoxic station copy
CTD for a non-hypoxic station
Hypoxic Station copy
CTD of a hypoxic station

 Personal Log and Reflections

P1030035
Final sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

When I arrived back on land I still felt the rocking of the Oregon II. It took two to three days before I felt stable again. As friends and family ask about my experience, I find it hard to put into words. I am so grateful to the NOAA Teacher at Sea program for giving me this incredible experience and especially thankful to Science Field Party Chief Andre Debose and my day shift science team members, Tyler, David and Sarah, for teaching me so much, being patient and making my experience one that I will never forget.

The ocean is so vast and we have explored so little of it, but now, I have a strong understanding of how a large scale marine survey is conducted. Being an active participant in fisheries research was definitely out of my comfort zone. The experience helped stretch me and my learning and has giving me great insight to bring back to share with my students and school community. The map below shows our journey over the two weeks I was on the ship traveling along the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida coasts.

Summer GroundfishLEG2 Oregon II ALL
The blue line maps our route on the Oregon II

My experience on Oregon II has also re-engaged me with the ocean. As a child, I spent time each summer on an island off the coast of Maine and even got to go fishing with my Dad and his lobsterman buddies. But for the last 20 years or so, my exposure to the ocean has been limited to just a few visits. My curiosity for the marine world has been reignited; I look forward to bringing more fisheries science and insight into my classroom.

P1030010 (1)
Brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus) on the left Pink shrimp (Penaeus duorarum) on the right

I mentioned in a previous blog that our shrimp data was sent daily to SEAMAP and made available to fisheries managers and shrimpers to allow them to make the best decisions about when to re-open the shrimp season. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD), the commercial shrimp season for both the state and federal waters re-opened just after sunset on July 15, 2017. TPWD said, “The opening date is based on an evaluation of the biological, social and economic impact to maximize the benefits to the industry and the public.” It is satisfying to know that I was part of the “biological evaluation” to which they refer.

 

Finally, I took some video while out at sea and now with more bandwidth and time, I’ve been able to process some of that video to shed additional light on how fisheries research is conducted. I’ve added two videos. The first one shows the process of conducting a bottom trawl and the second one show the fish sorting and measuring process. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Know?

You can use the following sites to help you make smart sustainable seafood choices:

FishWatch (http://www.fishwatch.gov)

Monterey Bay Aquarium (http://www.seafoodwatch.org). There is also a free app you can put on your phone so you can do a quick look up when you are at a restaurant, the grocery or a fish market.

 

The largest Gulf of Mexico dead zone recorded was in 2002, encompassing 8,497 square miles. The smallest recorded dead zone measured 15 square miles in 1988. The average size of the dead zone from 2010-2015 was about 5,500 square miles, nearly three times the 1,900 square mile goal set by the Hypoxia Task Force in 2001 and reaffirmed in 2008.

(source: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov)

 

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

Thank you to the Dawson sixth graders (now seventh graders!) for your great questions. I look forward to speaking with you all when school starts in a few weeks.

What is at the bottom of the low oxygen part of the ocean? (Allison)

There is a lot of accumulated dead organic matter that is decomposed by oxygen consuming bacteria.

What do you find in the dead zone? Do less animals live there? (Leeham, Mae, Shane, Alfie, Bennett)

Typically, trawls are smaller and the diversity of organisms decreases in the low oxygen areas. Often you will find resilient organisms like croaker. There is a lot of research looking at which organisms can live in dead zones and how these organisms compensate for the low levels of oxygen.

Is there any way to fix the dead zone? What can we do about the dead zone? (Isaac, Owen, Ava)

It is estimated that seventy percent of the excess nitrogen and phosphorus that runs off into the Gulf of Mexico comes from industrial agriculture. Reducing the amount of fertilizer used to grow our food would help decrease the extent of the dead zone area. Perhaps one of you will come up with a way to feed our communities in a more sustainable way or a technology that can remove these excess nutrients before the water reaches the Gulf.

Thanks for reading my blog!

img_3346.jpg
Safety first on the Oregon II.

 

Anna Levy, Getting Underway! July 11, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 10 – 20, 2017

 

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 11, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

The weather and waves have been pretty calm as we head down the Pascagoula River out to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Latitude: 30.37 degrees North

IMG_0998
Today’s sky!

Longitude: 88.54 degrees West

Air temp: 30.0 degrees Celsius

Wind direction: light and variable

Wind speed: light and variable

Wave height: 1 foot (about 0.3 meters)

Sky: clear

 

Science and Technology Log

NOAA scientists and staff waved from the dock as we got underway this afternoon!

IMG_0992edit
NOAA scientists and staff see us off.

While we motored out of port in Pasgacoula, Mississippi, Andre DeBose, the chief scientist met with the science team to give us more details about our mission. We will be visiting the 48 remaining survey stations, all of which are in the eastern Gulf, off the west coast of Florida. The survey protocol is a little different in this area than it was in the western Gulf. Each station will take longer because, before we can begin trawling, we will use several different pieces of equipment to observe the ocean floor to avoid disrupting the sensitive coral reefs which are more widely spread in this area. So, we will not cover as much distance as other legs of the survey have.

In the meantime, we have 12 hours of “steaming,” or traveling, before we reach our first sampling location. There’s not much for us on the science team to do during this time, so I’ve been trying to get to know others on my team. Besides Andre, there are three other senior scientists aboard from NOAA. The rest of the science team is composed of volunteers, most of who are graduate students (including one from Australia and another from Brazil.) Some of them are collecting samples for their own projects and I’m looking forward to learning more about the research that each of them conducts.

IMG_1001
The ship’s crew

Also on board are 1 Civilian Master and 4 NOAA corps officers who navigate and command the ship, 5 engineers who keep the engines and ship running smoothly, 6 experienced deckhands / fishermen who operate all of the fishing gear and equipment on deck (like the trawl we will be using), 2 stewards who cook all meals and help to make everyone on board comfortable, and 1 electronic technician to make sure scientific equipment and ship electronics are in working order.

I’m struck by the way in which all of these individuals, and their diverse skill sets, come together to make this work happen. There were so many details to consider to bring this group together – we each had travel arrangements, medical and security clearances, berthing (rooming) assignments, shift schedules, emergency roles, safety trainings, and more to consider. Each state we will be passing through had to grant permission to work in their waters and all laws restricting fishing and protecting endangered species had to be followed. When I think about what it’s like to be a scientist, I usually imagine a person spending a lot of time thinking about the science involved in project itself, but a huge part of the work of any scientist is logistics – working to bring together all of the right people and materials are in the right place at the right time!

 

Personal Log

I arrived Monday evening and spent last night on the boat. It was nice to have the time to get settled and look around before most of the rest of the crew and science team arrived today. I was told that one or two crew members were aboard, but I did not bump into them, so it felt a little strange to be there mostly alone. I took my motion sickness medicine and then passed the time reading and calling home to talk to my family. My room and bunk are small, so I was a little worried that things might feel claustrophobic, but the time was surprisingly peaceful. It reminded me of being in a tent while camping.

IMG_0021
The stateroom my roommate and I share.

In fact, I’m amazed at how homey the whole ship feels. There are three levels (decks) of inside living space, most of which is berthing (crew rooms, bathrooms, showers, etc.). There is even a set of full size washing and drying machines. The inside space also includes a galley (kitchen/dining area) that seats 12 and a lounge which seats about 8. The lounge is a nice area – it contains a large TV and a binder of about 800 movies (including movies currently in theatres, courtesy of the US Navy!). There is also 1 main level of outside work space, plus a flying bridge (an outdoor area above the bridge) that is the highest deck on the ship. There is exercise equipment scattered in nooks throughout the ship. It’s amazing how efficiently space is used!

IMG_0019
The ship’s lounge.

Everyone is free to move about the ship. The only restrictions are that non-essential persons cannot be on the bridge during busy times or weather and cannot go down to the engine room. However, even with all the freedom, there is always someone sleeping, and most of the outside areas are jam-packed with scientific and fishing equipment, and it is very easy to unintentionally disturb or get in the way of others.  We all have to be constantly aware to keep ourselves safe and be considerate of the people around us. Fortunately, everybody I’ve met is so friendly and thoughtful – there’s definitely a feeling that we’re all on the same team.

The science team and some crew on the ship work either the day shift (from noon until midnight) or the night shift (from midnight to noon). I lucked out to be on day shift, so I won’t need to alter my sleeping schedule drastically.

The tight space and 24 hour schedule does make it a

IMG_0017edit
The ship operates on military time.

bit difficult to know what to do with oneself during down time, especially since your roommate is typically sleeping while you’re awake. I’m finding that I really enjoy standing outside, along the side of the ship and looking out at the open water, or holing up in a corner of the lounge with my computer or book. Once I start my first shift, I’m sure I’ll be glad to have the time just to rest. There aren’t too many opportunities for socializing as everyone is either working or sleeping most of the time, but everyone seems to laugh and joke around when they are able.

I’m feeling great (no seasickness so far!) and am looking forward to getting into a daily routine. I just ate my first meal – a delicious dinner of fish, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and peach cobbler. There is also a salad bar with each meal and snacks and ice cream available 24/7. (We will definitely not go hungry.)

Tomorrow, I’ll start my first shift and should see some fish!

 

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Did You Know?

It’s amazing how self-sufficient and self-contained Oregon II is. For example:

The freshwater used aboard for drinking, showering, etc. is drawn directly from the ocean. The saltwater is filtered with equipment using a process called reverse osmosis, where high pressure separates particles resulting in freshwater.

Several of the fishing crew and officers are also trained MPIC’s (medical person in charge). They are medically trained to respond and provide emergency care. In the event of a more serious illness or injury, they are able to contact doctors on land and implement their instructions.

All sewage on board is broken down by bacteria. Once processed through a marine sanitation device (MSD), this treated water is safer for the environment. Following the appropriate maritime regulations, it can then be released into the ocean.

 

Questions to Consider:

Reflect: Scientific fieldwork, even work on land, often requires travel and adapting to unusual circumstances. How would you handle living and working in unusual, sometimes extreme, conditions?

 

Anna Levy: Preparing to Embark! July 7, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anna Levy

Soon to be Aboard the Oregon II

July 10-20, 2017

Mission: Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: July 7, 2016

 

Weather Data

I’m currently at home in Broomfield, Colorado (a suburb of Denver and Boulder). It’s a typical, hot and dry summer day at 27 degrees C (81 degrees F) at 10:30am. I’m about 1,400 miles away from Pascagoula, Mississippi, where I will be joining the team on our ship, The Oregon II, in just a few days!

 

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The Oregon II Photo Credit: NOAA
Latitude: 39.9919 N
Longitude: 105.266 W
Elevation: 1624 meters (5,328 feet) above sea level
Air temp: 27 C (81 F)
Water temp: N/A
Wind direction: From Northeast to Southwest
Wind speed: 7 knots (8 mph)
Wave height: N/A
Sky: Clear

 

Science and Technology Log

Once on board, I will be assisting with the third and final leg of the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey.

SEAMAP stands for the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program. Since this program began in 1981, scientists from NOAA and other organizations have been collecting data about the number, types, and health of fish and other marine organisms, as well as the characteristics of the water in of their ocean homes throughout the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and parts of the Atlantic Ocean. This information helps us not only to understand how these ecosystems are changing over time, but also to make informed decisions about how we humans are using valuable ocean resources.

As you can imagine, the ocean is a large and complex environment, so collecting all of that information is a big task! To make it more manageable, SEAMAP is broken down into many smaller projects, each of which focuses on specific regions or aspects of the area. The Groundfish Survey focuses on monitoring fish and other organisms that live near the ocean floor. (This includes some species that we humans catch and eat, like shrimp, halibut, cod, and flounder.)

The Oregon II is equipped with a variety of scientific and fishing equipment.   Because our mission is focused on groundfish, I expect that we will be using a lot of the Oregon II’s fishing gear, especially its trawls. A trawl is a type of weighted net that can be pulled along the floor of the ocean. (Check out this video of how a bottom trawl works.)

After we bring our catch aboard, I imagine that most of my time will be spent helping to identify, describe, count, and catalogue all of the fish and other marine species that we encounter. I can’t wait to get on board, see some new species, and learn more about the methods we will use to collect all of this data in a scientifically rigorous way.

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Teacher at Sea, Melissa Barker, measures a fish on a recent groundfish surveyPhoto Credit: Melissa Barker

I will be the third Teacher at Sea to work on the SEAMAP Summer Goundfish Survey this year, so I have been lucky to learn a lot from the two teachers who have already been to sea. Check out their blogs to see how the project is going so far:

  • Chris Murdock from Iowa City, Iowa was on the first leg (June 7 to 20, 2017).
  • Melissa Barker from Lafayette, Colorado was on the second leg (June 22 to July 6, 2017).

 

 

 

Personal Log

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The school where I teach in Broomfield, Colorado.  Photo Credit: Prospect Ridge Academy

I am honored to have been accepted into the Teacher at Sea program. It was my love of learning that led me to a career in teaching in the first place, so I really appreciate the opportunity immerse myself in a new scientific adventure, and I can’t wait to share the experience with my 9th grade biology students when I get home. I hope that they will be as inspired as I am by the real work that scientists do. There is so much still to learn about the world around us, especially in new frontiers like our oceans – the skills and concepts we learn in class are only the beginning!

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In class with two of my former students.  Photo Credit: Prospect Ridge Academy

Like most of my students, I have always lived in landlocked states. I’ve visited a few beaches, collected some shells, and splashed in the waves, but have very little experience with the ocean beyond that. I’ve definitely never been on a ship like the Oregon II before, so I’m curious to see what challenges await aboard. I think the most difficult part will be adjusting to the sounds, smells and motion of a fisheries ship. I’m expecting tight quarters, loud engines and fishing equipment, stinky fish, and probably some seasickness. We’ll see if that turns out to be true…

Back home in Colorado, I enjoy hiking, biking, gardening, cooking and exploring the amazing outdoors with my wonderful husband, Mike, and our hilarious two-year old daughter, Evie.

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My family out for a hike in the beautiful Colorado mountains
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Me, My husband, Mike, and our daughter, Evie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did You Know?

The SEAMAP program has been going on for over 35 years and makes all of the data it collects freely available to other scientists, government agencies, the fishing industry, and the general public.

The Teacher at Sea program was established in 1990 and has sent over 700 teachers to sea!

 

Questions to Consider:

Research: How has all of the data collected over the years through SEAMAP been used?

Reflect: What might have happened if this data was not available?

Predict: What types of things do you think we will do while on the Oregon II to make sure that our data is collected in a “scientifically rigorous” way?

 

Melissa Barker: Breaking the Land Lock, June 14, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Melissa Barker

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

June 22 – July 6, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Groundfish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: June 14, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Here in Longmont, Colorado where I live, we are settling into warm summer days often topping out in the high 80’s to 90’s F and typically with low humidity. In Galveston, Texas, where I’ll board the ship it is in the 80’s F this week with 90% humidity. I’ll have to get used to that humid air.

Science and Technology Log

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NOAA Ship Oregon II. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

I will spend two weeks aboard the NOAA fisheries research vessel Oregon II, in the Gulf of Mexico, working on the SEAMAP (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) Summer Groundfish Survey. The objective of the survey is to monitor the size and distribution of shrimp and groundfish in the Gulf of Mexico.

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The Gulf of Mexico. Photo from world atlas.com

What are groundfish, you ask? These are the fish that live near or on the bottom of the ocean. This survey is conducted twice per year; the data help scientists monitor trends in shrimp and fish abundance as well as changes over time. We will also be collecting plankton samples and environmental data at each site. The second leg of the groundfish survey works off of the Louisiana coast and the outlet of the Mississippi River where a “dead” or hypoxic zone forms in the summer. I am very interested to see the what we pull up in this area.

Personal Log

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I’m all geared up and ready to go!

When the NOAA Teacher at Sea email arrived in my inbox in February, I held my breath as I opened and read it as fast as possible. I was accepted! I was going to sea! I am honored to be a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Teacher at Sea program.

I teach Biology and direct the Experiential Education program at the Dawson School in Lafayette, Colorado. I love sharing my passion for learning about the biological world with my students and engaging my students’ curiosities. Many of my favorite teaching moments have been times when I can take students outside to observe and explore their surroundings.

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My classroom for a week in the San Juan Mountain Range, CO. March 2017. Photo credit Pete Devlin

I’ve lived in Colorado for about 17 years and love to play in the mountain environment on foot, ski or bike. Having lived land locked for most of my life, I can’t wait for the opportunity to explore the ocean ecosystem this summer. As a child, I spent short amounts of time exploring tide pools in Maine and beaches in Florida and was always intrigued by the vastness and mystery of the ocean.

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Tending my garden to grow delicious food

Now, I’m heading out to sea for two weeks to dive right into (not literally) learning about the ocean. Like my students, I learn best by doing, so I am thrilled to be working with the NOAA Fisheries team.

Did You Know?

Did you know that June is national ocean month? Celebrate the ocean this month.Check out this great video from NOAA and visit NOAA’s Celebrate the Ocean page for more information.

Dawson Sixth Grade Queries

Just before the end of the school year, I visited the Dawson sixth graders to talk about my NOAA Teacher at Sea expedition. We learned about the importance of the ocean, even for us here in Colorado, and the sixth graders wrote questions for me to answer while I’m at sea. Look for this section in my blog where I will answer some of those questions.

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Dawson School sixth grade. Photo by RuthAnne Schedler.

-What do you think the most common organism is that you will find? (from Allison)

One of the main goals of the Groundfish survey is to collect data on the abundance and distribution of shrimp, so I think I’ll be seeing a lot of shrimp in our net. I’ll be sure to post photos of what we find.

 -Are you going to scuba dive? (from Gemma, Emma and Margaret)

I will not be scuba diving on my trip. I am not certified and the Teacher at Sea program does not allow teachers to scuba (even if they are certified). Instead I will be learning from above the water’s surface and pulling up samples to learn about what lives deep below.

Now it’s your turn to ask the questions…

What are you curious about? Maybe you are interested to know more about what we haul up in our nets or how to become a NOAA scientist. You can write questions at the end of any of my blog posts in the “comments” section and I’ll try to answer them.

Denise Harrington: Joining the Longline Crew, September 17, 2016

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Denise Harrington

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 16-30, 2016

Mission: Longline Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Saturday, September 17, 2016

Location: 29 2.113’ N  93o 24.5’ W

Weather from the Bridge: 28.9C (dry bulb), Wind 6 knots @ 250o, overcast, 2-3′ SE swell.

Science Log

The muggy afternoon air did not dampen my excitement as we left Galveston, Texas, aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ship Oregon II.  I am a NOAA Teacher at Sea, participating in a  longline survey in the Gulf of Mexico, surveying sharks and bony fish.

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Fellow volunteers Leah Rucker and Evan Pettis and I bid farewell to Galveston. Evidence of human influence, such as development, oil rigs, barges, and ships, is not hard to spot. Photo: Matt Ellis, NOAA

When I tell people about the Teacher at Sea program, they assume I teach high school or college, not second grade in rural Tillamook, Oregon.  Yet spend a few moments with any seven or eight year old and you will find they demonstrate significant potential as scientists through their questions, observations, and predictions. Listen to them in action, documented by Oregon Public Broadcasting, at their annual Day at the Bay field trip.

Just as with language acquisition, exposing the young mind to the process of scientific inquiry ensures we will have a greater pool of scientists to manage our natural resources as we age.  By inviting elementary teachers to participate in the Teacher at Sea program, NOAA makes it clear that the earlier we get kids out in the field, the better.

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Each year, my students develop a science or engineering project based upon their interests.  Here, South Prairie Elementary students survey invertebrates along a line transect as part of a watershed program with partners at Sam Case Elementary School in Newport, Oregon.

The NOAA Teacher at Sea program will connect my students with scientists Dr. Trey Driggers, Paul Felts, Dr. Eric Hoffmayer, Adam Pollock, Kevin Rademacher, and Chrissy Stepongzi, as they catch sharks, snapper, and other fish that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico. The data they collect is part of the Red Snapper/Shark Bottom Longline Survey that began in 1995. The survey, broken into four legs or parts each year, provides life cycle and population information about many marine species over a greater geographic distance and longer period of time than any other study of its kind.

Leg IV is the last leg of the survey.  After a long season of data collection, scientists, sailors, and fishermen will be able to return to their families.

My twelve hour shift begins tomorrow, September 17, at noon, and will continue each day from noon until midnight until the most eastern station near Panama City, Florida, is surveyed.  Imagine working 12 hour shifts, daily, for two weeks straight!  The crew is working through the day and night, sleeping when they can, so shutting the heavy metal doors gently and refraining from talking in the passageways is essential.  I got lucky on the day shift:  my hours are closer to those of a teacher and the transition back to the classroom will be smoother than if I were on the night shift.

Approximately 200 stations, or geographic points, are surveyed in four legs. Assume we divide the stations equally among the legs, and the first three legs met their goal. Leg IV is twelve days in duration. How many stations do we need to survey each day (on average) to complete the data collection process?  This math problem might be a bit challenging for my second graders, but it is on my mind.

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Mulling over the enormity of our task, Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin and I discuss which 49 year old fisherman will end up with more wrinkles at the end of the survey. Currently, I am in the lead, but I bet he’s hiding some behind those shades. Photo: Mike Conway

I wonder what kind of sharks we will catch.  Looking back at the results of the 2015 cruise report, I learned that there was one big winner.  More than half of the sharks caught were Atlantic sharpnose (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) sharks. Other significant populations of sharks were the blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) shark, the sandbar (Carcharhinus plumbeus) shark, and the blacknose (Carcharhinus acronotus) shark.

My fellow Teacher at Sea, Barney Peterson, participated in Leg II of the 2016 survey, and by reading her blog I learned that the shark they caught the most was the sandbar shark.

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In this sample data sheet from the end of Leg III, all but one of the sharks caught were the blacknose sharks.  Notice the condition of two of the fish caught: “heads only.”  Imagine what happened to them!

 

 

Personal Log

My first memory of a shark was when my brother, an avid lifetime fisherman, took several buses across the San Francisco Bay area to go fishing.  That afternoon, he came home on the bus with a huge shark he’d caught.  I was mesmerized. We were poor at the time and food was hard to come by, but mom or dad insisted sharks were not edible, and Greg was told to bury the shark in the yard.  Our dog, Pumpkin, would not comply, and dug that shark up for days after, the overpowering smell reminding us of our poor choice. I don’t have many regrets, but looking back on that day, I wish we had done something differently with the shark.

Since then, I’ve learned that shark is a popular source of protein in the diets of people around the world, and is growing in popularity in the United States.  In our survey area, Fisheries Biologist Eric Hoffmayer tells me that blacktip and sandbar sharks are the two most commercially important species. Our survey is a multispecies survey, with benefits beyond these two species and far beyond our imagination. As demand increases, so too does the need for careful management to keep fisheries sustainable. I am honored to be part of a crew working to ensure that we understand, value, and respect our one world ocean and the animals that inhabit it.

Barney Peterson: Who Works on NOAA Ship OREGON II? Part 3

NOAA Teacher a Sea

Barney Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 13 – 28, 2016

Mission: Long Line Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Sunday, August 28, 2016

Weather Data is not available for this post because I am writing from the Biloxi/Gulfport Airport.

DECK CREW

Tim Martin, Chief Boatswain, aboard the OREGON II, left his home near the Missouri River in Missouri for a life at sea and has never looked back.  Like many young people from the Central United States, he joined the Navy as a way to travel and see the rest of the world.  He was stationed on Whidbey Island in Washington State and when he left the Navy he became a commercial fisherman working out of Seattle to fish the in Bering Sea from Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

Tim left the west coast and the world of commercial fishing to join NOAA and worked for several years on ships out of NOAA Woods Hole Station in Massachusetts.   Eventually, through connections he made on the job, he was able to transfer to the Southeastern Fisheries group.  He has worked on several ships, but has been on the OREGON II for 12 years.  Tim likes his job for the variety and activity it provides, as well as opportunities to apply his mind to ways to make things work better or more smoothly.  He attributes much of the good working atmosphere on the ship to the stability of many crew members who have worked together for years.   As a long-time civilian mariner with NOAA he appreciates the importance of believing in what you are doing and being committed to being successful.

But, Tim Martin is not so one dimensional that you can know him as just a mariner.  Talking with him I learned that he is a voracious reader with very eclectic tastes in literature.  He devours everything from travel accounts to true adventure, biographies, and historical accounts of exploration and settlement of the world.  He has traveled broadly and uses his reading time to continue to learn about the places he has visited.  He is a licensed diver and enjoys the underwater world as much as sailing on the surface of the sea.   I was fascinated to learn that he has dived to authentic pirate wrecks…quite a change from his underwater beginnings in the dark and brackish Pascagoula River.  Tim is a great example of someone who recognizes that his only limits are the ones he sets for himself.  That is a great legacy to leave for his family.

Chris Nichols, Lead Fisherman, got into marine work for the adventures.  Growing up he read classics like “Captains Courageous” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” His years as a Boy Scout helped empower him with a can-do attitude that kept him from quitting when things got difficult.  After a mediocre high school career and his childhood years in West Palm Beach, Florida, hanging around the docks and fishing, his quest for travel and adventure led him first to commercial fishing and then to join the Navy.

After six years in the service, including training in water rescue, Chris left the Navy and started classes for work in the merchant marine industry.  As he worked toward earning his 100 ton master rating he discovered that using math, which had seemed unimportant and boring in high school, was critical for navigation.  Applying the things he was studying to real world problems made learning important.  The life-style structure of his military years helped him move fairly seamlessly into the shift work that became his routine aboard merchant ships.  The travel fed his sense of exploration and adventure.

Now, after 20 years working either on NOAA ships or for companies that contracted with NOAA, Chris still loves his job and his life style.  His experience in the merchant marine gave him the background to understand working on ships from the viewpoint of the wheel house and the deck.  He patiently explained to me that the job titles of people working on the deck crew are just positions for which eligible Able Bodied Seamen were hired.  They are not classification by skill or experience; they are job descriptions.  Each survey watch requires 3 crew members on deck to work equipment and support the scientists in deployment and retrieval of lines. Cooperation and communication are the most critical skills needed by everyone on the ship for success in carrying out their mission.

“NOAA has recently been experiencing a lack of interested, qualified applicants,” Chris told me.  “I think many young people lack the sense of adventure that makes life at sea attractive.”  He certainly demonstrates that desire for adventure: his eyes light up and an infectious grin spreads across his face as he talks about the places he’s been and the places he still wants to go.

The whole deck crew, including Chris Rawley, Mike Conway, Chuck Godwin, and James Rhue, are a lively, hard-working bunch.  They do their jobs, they have some fun doing them sometimes, and they like what they are doing.  Every time I was around them I could hear John Fogarty’s song “Rambunctious Boy” playing in my head and I ended up smiling and humming along!

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The Deck Crew – Chris Nichols, Mike Conway, Tim Martin, James Rhue, and Chris Rawley

ENGINEERS

Thirty-six years ago Rich Brooks took the advice of his high school math and history teachers and enrolled at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.  The strict structure of the Academy helped him develop his study habits and learn the discipline needed to raise from a low C student a B+ student who took pride in his work.  He graduated with a degree in Marine Engineering, but spent time as a substitute teacher while deciding where he wanted to go with his career.  Currently he holds 3 chief engineer licenses: steam, motor and gasoline and is qualified to operate any watercraft.

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Richard Brooks

Eventually he started working on ships, spending a number of years in the Merchant Marine.   He worked on merchant transport ships contracted to our government to support Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Persian Gulf. For 10 years he worked on independent oil tankers on the West Coast, transporting oil and gasoline to and from various ports. He has been a 1st Engineer for NOAA for 2 years.

Rich enjoys the travel and adventure that are part of his career.  He likes visiting different cities and has been through both the Suez and Panama Canals in his travels.  It has been a long journey around the world from his childhood home in Haverhill, Massachusetts to Mobile, Alabama where he made his home base for the last 25 years.  He is proud that his work as an engineer has influenced his son to pursue a career in engineering, following his father’s example of hard work and sacrifice as the way to get ahead in life. Rich hopes to see more young people turn to careers in engineering, knowing as he does that the average age of marine engineers in this country is 58 years which means there will be openings for young people as they complete their training.  As for him, when he retires several years in the future he looks forward to moving closer to his father in Florida, going fishing and playing golf.

 

THE PEOPLE I MISSED INTERVIEWING:

My roommate, Chrissy Stepongzi, is a marine biologist and the person of whom I saw the least on this cruise.  She knows her job and was always eager to answer questions.  We just did not see each other often to talk because of being on opposite shifts and sharing the room.  She slept while I worked and visa-versa.  I appreciated her quick smile and well-developed sense of humor and wish we had been able to get better acquainted.

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The Night Crew before a shift change – Trey, Chrissy, Lydia, and Toni

Fisherman Mike Conway has been working on ships for a long time.  He loves the ocean and loves the travel.  His willingness to make sure I learned and got opportunity to see things was really helpful and made me feel welcome.  Mike was always willing to grab my iPad and take pictures so I could be in them and he was the one that made sure I got to see the sky at night and appreciate the beauty of being on the ocean in one more way.

Fisherman Chris Rawley, quick to grin, but slow to talk, took some effort to get to know.  Chris was a fisherman on our shift and helped with everything from running the crane to pulling lines to wrestling sharks.  He was “born under a wandering star,” and loves to travel.  He’s a gypsy at heart.

James Rhue is another fisherman working on the deck crew.  He too was with the night shift so we didn’t cross paths often.  When we did talk he could always answer my questions and made me feel welcome.

Mike, Chris, and James are pictured in the Deck Crew photo above.

Mary Stratford was filling in on the deck crew this cruise.  She lives in Puerto Rico where she is a ceramic artist, but much of her life has been spent working in jobs that allow her to see the world.  Mary was helpful and friendly and always interesting to talk to.

2nd Engineer Darnell Doe, the quiet, friendly guy I ate breakfast with most mornings.  We shared a little conversation and watch the news over a quick bite to eat and a cup of coffee.  I never turned out into a formal interview and didn’t take notes on our casual conversations.

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2nd Engineer Darnell Doe

3rd Engineer Sam Bessey was filling in a temporary vacancy.  He is a recent graduate of an academy in Maine and worked the opposite shift of mine so we had a few chances to talk a little, but not enough to call an interview.  I do know he wants to head for Hawaii and try to find work there after this cruise, but will head home to Maine to see family first.  Good luck in your new career Sam.

Roy Tolliver was our tech person.  I most often saw him walking from place to place on the decks, checking on electronic equipment and trying to troubleshoot computer problems when they arose.  Roy has worked on ships for many years and has been many places around the world.

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Roy Tolliver and Sam Bessey on the flying bridge as we moved into the harbor at Gulfport

O C Hill, Listed on the staff roster as a “wiper” was another one of the people who kept the ship running.  Our interactions were limited to friendly smiles and greetings.  When folks work in the engine room it is hard to find a time to talk with them, especially if shifts don’t match.

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Otha (O.C.) Hill

Valerie McCaskill, our cook and one of the most important people on the ship.  I know she has a daughter she was eager to get home to see.  I know she had very little warning that the previous cook would not be on this voyage so she had to step in in a hurry.  I know that she has a beautiful smile and makes legendary macaroni and cheese!  She kept us very happy!

Chuck Godwin would normally be working on this ship as a skilled fisherman on the deck crew, but he worked in the kitchen with Valerie this trip to fill an important empty spot and keep us all well-fed.  His irrepressible sense of fun and lively conversation kept us all hopping.  His career has spanned time in the Coast Guard as well as years with NOAA.  His is a proud new grandpa.

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Valerie McCaskill and Chuck Godwin in the galley of NOAA Ship OREGON II

That I did not get to know everyone on the ship is my loss.  Everyone that I met was friendly and helpful.  It was a true pleasure to meet and work with these great people.

Lynn Kurth: Solstice at Sea!, June 8, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lynn M. Kurth

Assigned to:  NOAA Ship Rainier

June 20th-July 1st, 2016

Personal Log: 

My name is Lynn Kurth and I teach at Prairie River Middle School located in Merrill, WI.  I am honored to have the opportunity to work aboard NOAA Ship Rainier as a Teacher at Sea during the summer solstice.  Over the past twenty years of my teaching career I have had some amazing experiences, such as scuba diving in beautiful coral reefs, working aboard research vessels on Lake Superior and the Atlantic, and whitewater canoeing rivers in the United States and abroad.  The one thing that all of these experiences have in common is water and because of this I have come to appreciate what a truly important natural resource water is.

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Me aboard the Oregon II for a Long Line Shark and Red Snapper Survey in 2014

Because my students are the next generation of caretakers of this important natural resource, I recognize how vital it is to bring water issues into the classroom:  Most recently I worked with my 7th and 8th grade middle school students to improve local water quality by installing a school rain garden.  During the project students learned about the importance of diverting rain water out of the storm sewer when possible and how to do it in an effective and attractive way.  Other projects included the restoration of our riverbank last year and using a Hydrolab to monitor the water quality of the Prairie River, which runs adjacent to our school.  So, sailing aboard NOAA Ship Rainier to learn more about hydrography (the science of surveying and charting bodies of water) seems like a most natural and logical way to move forward.

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Eighth grade science students jumping for joy during the fall testing of the Prairie River with the Hydrolab. Notice the fellow in waders holding the Hydrolab with great care!

I will be sailing aboard NOAA Ship Rainier from Homer, Alaska, on June 20th.  Until then I have a school year to wrap up, a new puppy to train, a project with Wisconsin Sea Grant to work on and packing to get done.  There are days I’m a bit nervous about getting everything done but when NOAA Ship Rainier casts off from the pier in Homer I will be 100 percent focused on gathering the knowledge and skills that will enhance my role as an educator of students who are part of the next generation charged with the stewardship of this planet.

IMG_1564Newest addition to our family: Paavo a Finnish Lapphund Photo Credit: Lynn Drumm, Yutori Finnish Lapphunds

 

Kathleen Gibson, Preparing to Leave for the Mississippi Coast, July 10, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Gibson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 8, 2015

Mission: Fisheries – Conduct longline surveys to monitor interannual variability of shark populations of the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast.
Date: July 10, 2015

Introduction

Town of Trumbull, Fairfield County , CT
Town of Trumbull, CT

My name is Kathleen Gibson and I bring you greetings from Trumbull, CT where live and teach. In two weeks I will travel to Pascagoula, MS, located on the Gulf of Mexico, to join NOAA Corps members, research scientists, and the crew aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, as a  2015 NOAA Teacher at Sea.

I work at Trumbull High School and currently teach Biology to sophomores and two elective courses for seniors–Marine Science and AP Environmental Science.  I’m passionate about environmental education and am always looking for opportunities to engage students in the world outside of the classroom.  Trumbull has a large amount of protected green space, wetlands, streams and a river, and while we aren’t on the coast, we are only a few miles from Long Island Sound.  The woods and the shoreline have become our laboratory.

Pequonnock River, Trumbull, CT
Pequonnock River, Trumbull, CT

I’m open to adventures and new experiences that help me grow both personally and professionally.  I’m fortunate to have an awesome family, terrific colleagues and open-minded students who are willing to go along with my ideas; whether it be be hiking around volcanoes and rift zones, looking for puffins, or wading in nearby streams looking for life below.

About NOAA and Teacher at Sea

NOAA Ship Oregon II Photo Credit: NOAA.gov
NOAA Ship Oregon II
Photo Credit: NOAA.gov

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency within the United States Department of Commerce that seeks to enrich life through science.  While NOAA is somewhat familiar to many of us– thanks to the abundance of weather data that is collected and disseminated to the public–that’s not all that is happening  there. NOAA is working to increase our understanding of climate, weather and marine ecosystems, and to use this knowledge to better manage and protect these crucial ecosystems.  In addition to the abundant educational resources available to all teachers, NOAA provides unique opportunities for teachers and students.  The Teacher at Sea Program  brings classroom teachers into the field to work with world-renowned NOAA scientists.

The Mission

The Mission of the cruise I will be a part of is to monitor Shark and Red Snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast. Data collected will be compared to findings from previous years, as a part of the ongoing research studying inter-annual variability of these populations. We are scheduled to embark on July 25, 2015 and plan to sail from Pascagoula, MS, down the west coast of Florida and up the Atlantic Coast as far as Mayport, FL.

I am honored to have been selected to be a Teacher at Sea for the 2015 Season  and look forward to a number of “firsts”. I’ve never been to Mississippi nor have I been at sea for more than 24 hours. Also, I’ve only experienced sharks as preserved specimens or through aquarium glass.  I’m also looking forward to meeting my shipmates and learning about career opportunities and the paths that led them to be a part of this Oregon II cruise. I’ll share as much as I can through future posts. I’m excited to bring my students and others along with me on this journey.

Trumbull to Pascagoula.  Longline survey area is marked in blue.
Trumbull to Pascagoula. Longline survey area is marked in blue.

Next Up?

My next post to you should be coming later this month from off the Mississippi coast.  However, the first rule of being on board is FLEXIBILITY, so things may change.  Either way, I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, please check out some of the TAS 2015 blogs written by my fellow NOAA Teachers at Sea, and spread the word. There is so much to learn.

Did You Know?

  • While some sharks release eggs into the water where they will later hatch, as many as 75% of shark species give birth to live young.
  • Shark babies are called pups.

David Walker: Florida, Speciation, and Learning All Over Again (Days 13-15), July 8, 2015

Survey Plot

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Walker
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 24 – July 9, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 8, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Weather Log 7/7/15
NOAA Ship Oregon II Weather Log 7/7/15

The seas have remained incredibly calm, again with waves normally no higher than 1 ft.  July 7, 2015 was a beautiful day, with few (FEW, 1-2 oktas) clouds in the sky (see above weather log from the bridge).  Visibility from the bridge was 10 nautical miles (nm) throughout the day.

Science and Technology Log

After a run of around 16 hours, we finally arrived on the west coast of Florida to continue the survey.

Wow!  The organisms caught on the west coast of Florida were entirely different from those caught west of the Mississippi.  In our first trawl catch, I almost didn’t recognize a single species.

Fisheries biologist Kevin Rademacher shared with me an article, “Evidence of multiple vicariance in a marine suture-zone in the Gulf of Mexico” (Portnoy and Gold, 2012), that offers a potential explanation  for the many differences observed.  The paper is based on what are called “suture-zones.”  A suture-zone, as defined previously in the literature, is “a band of geographic overlap between major biotic assemblages, including pairs of species or semispecies which hybridize in the zone” (Remington, 1968).  In other words, it is a barrier zone of some kind, allowing for allopatric speciation, yet also containing overlap for species hybridization.  As noted by Hobbes, et al. (2009), such suture-zones are more difficult to detect in marine environments, and accordingly, have received less attention in the literature.  Such zones, however, have been discovered and described in the northern Gulf of Mexico, between Texas and Florida (Dahlberg, 1970; McClure and McEachran, 1992).

Portnoy and Gold note that “at least 15 pairs of fishes and invertebrates described as ‘sister taxa’ (species, subspecies, or genetically distinct populations) meet in this region, with evidence of hybridization occurring between several of the taxa” (Portnoy and Gold, 2012).  The below table delineates these sister taxa.  On this table, I have highlighted species that we have found on this survey.

Sister Taxa
Sister taxa found in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Highlighted are species we have encountered on this survey (Portnoy and Gold, 2012).

The figure below geographically illustrates distribution patterns of two pairs of sister species within the northern Gulf of Mexico.  We have seen all four of these species on this survey, and our observations have been consistent with these distribution patterns.

Distributions of sister taxa within the northern Gulf of Mexico
Distributions of “sister taxa” within the northern Gulf of Mexico (Portnoy and Gold, 2012)

Prior to Portnoy and Gold, hypothesized reasons for the suture-zone and allopatric speciation in the northern Gulf included “(1) a physical barrier, similar to the Florida peninsula, that arose c. 2.5 million years ago (Ma) during the Pliocene (Ginsburg, 1952), (2) an ecological barrier, perhaps a river that drained the Tennessee River basin directly into the Gulf, that existed approximately 2.4 Ma (Simpson, 1900; Ginsburg, 1952), (3) a strong current that flowed from the Gulf to the Atlantic through the Suwanee Straits approximately 1.75 Ma (Bert, 1986), and (4) extended cooling during early Pleistocene glaciations occurring c. 700–135 thousand years ago (ka) (Dahlberg, 1970)” (Portnoy and Gold, 2012).  Another explanation has been offered by Hewitt (1996), involving marine species being forced into different areas of refuge during the glacial events of the Pleistocene, allowing for allopatric speciation.  Following the retreat of the glaciers, according to this hypothesis, these species would have been allowed to come into contact again, allowing for hybridization.

Portnoy and Gold used mitochondrial and microsatellite DNA sequence data from Karlsson et al. (2009) to “determine if estimated divergence times in lane snapper were consistent with the timing of [the above] hypothesized variance events in the suture-zone area, in order to distinguish whether the Gulf suture-zone is characterized by a single or multiple vicariance event(s)” (Portnoy and Gold, 2012).

Their results suggest that the divergence of lane snapper in the northern Gulf occurred much more recently than the hypothesized events described by Ginsberg (1952), Bert (1970), and Dahlberg (1970).  These results also suggest that the explanation offered by Hewitt (1996) is an unlikely explanation for the divergence of lane snapper, for even though the time of multiple glaciations is consistent with the time of lane snapper divergence, water temperatures across the Gulf are estimated to have been within the thermal tolerance of lane snapper during these glaciations.  Evidence also suggests that a shallow shelf existed during these glaciations, representing a habitat in which lane snapper could have lived.

The explanation that Portnoy and Gold favor, in terms of explaining lane snapper divergence, is one suggested by Kennett and Shackleton (1975), as well as by Aharon (2003).  This explanation involves “large pulses of freshwater from the Mississippi River caused by a recession of the Laurentide Ice Sheet between 16 and 9 ka” (Portnoy and Gold, 2012).  This explanation would have also allowed for potential sympatric or parapatric speciation, because it contains multiple lane snapper habitat types (carbonate sediment, as well as mud and silt bottom).

Notably, the fact that the above explanation is favored by Portnoy and Gold for lane snapper divergence does not discount the explanations of Ginsberg (1952), Bert (1970), Dahlberg (1970), and Hewitt (1996), in terms of explaining the many other examples of species divergence exhibited within the northern Gulf.  It is most probable that many geological and ecological causes worked, sometimes in confluence, to create the divergences and hybridizations in species observed today.  A geographical depiction of many of the hypothesized explanations described by Portnoy and Gold is below.

Geographic Depiction
Geographical depiction of hypothesized triggers of species divergence in the northern Gulf of Mexico (Portnoy and Gold, 2012)

In addition to the species divergence observed in our survey, another interesting difference noted in our catches along the western coast of Florida was the emergence of lionfish.  These invasive species are native to the Indian Ocean and southwest Pacific Ocean, and they were most likely introduced by humans into the waters surrounding Florida.  There are two lionfish species that are invasive in Florida, P. miles and P. volitans (Morris, Jr. et al., 2008), and the earliest records of their introduction into Florida’s waters are from 1992 (Morris, Jr. et al., 2008).  Many characteristics have allowed these species to be successful alien invaders in these waters – (1) they are formidable, with venomous spines and an intimidating appearance, (2) they reproduce incredibly quickly, breed year-round, and mature at a young age, (3) they outcompete native predators for food and habitat, (4) they are indiscriminate feeders with voracious appetites, and (5) they take advantage of a sea that is over-fished, in which many of their predators are regularly being eliminated by humans (Witherington, 2012).

Life cycle of the lionfish
Life cycle of the lionfish

This invasion mechanism hauntingly reminds me of that of the Cane Toad, a very famous alien invader which has decimated the flora and fauna of Australia.  One of the main worrisome effects of lionfish around Florida is on coral reefs.  Lionfish “can reduce populations of juvenile and small fish on coral reefs by up to 90 percent…[and] may indirectly affect corals by overconsuming grazing parrotfishes, which normally prevent algae from growing over corals” (Witherington, 2012).

One of the ways in which Floridians are trying to eliminate this problem is through lionfish hunting tournaments.  CJ Duffie, a volunteer on this survey from Florida, has participated in these tournaments and also participates in lionfish research directed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.  CJ harvested the gonads of the lionfish we caught on Day 13 to take back to the lab for further analysis.  Floridians also actively promote the lionfish as a delicacy, in an attempt to encourage more people to eat the invasive species.  CJ described the fish as the best he has ever tried, so I was very easily intrigued.  A fillet was prepared from the large lionfish caught on Day 13 fish, and Second Cook (2C) Lydell Reed was able to cook it on the spot.  I agree with CJ – white, flakey, slightly sweet, this is the best fish I have ever tasted.

Personal Log

The survey is nearly over, and this will be my last post.  We are in transit back to Pascagoula, Mississippi, the ship’s home port.  I leave by plane from Mobile, Alabama for Austin on Friday, July 10, 2015.  I am eagerly anticipating walking on land, as I’ve heard it’s strange at first after being on a boat for awhile.  Apparently this weird feeling has a semi-formal name — “dock rock”.

This experience has truly been one of the best of my life, especially in terms of the raw amount I have learned every day.  Coming in, the sole knowledge of fish life I had derived from my stints fly fishing with my father, and most of this knowledge concerns freshwater fish.  I now feel as though I have a much more comprehensive knowledge of the biodiversity that exists in the Gulf of Mexico and a much greater appreciation for the diversity of life as a whole.  I have taken over 200 photos to document this biodiversity, accumulated a diverse collection of preserved specimens, and collected a wide variety of resources (textbooks, scientific papers, etc.) on marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.  These resources will surely make the preparation of a project-based activity for my students focused on this research a much easier feat.

Sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates)
Having fun with a sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates) during analysis of the last trawl catch

I have also learned how a large portion of marine field research is conducted.  We have surveyed dissolved oxygen levels in the water, plankton biodiversity, and bottomfish biodiversity throughout the northern Gulf, using established (and quite popular) research methods.  The knowledge I have gained here can be applied to the biodiversity project portion of my geobiology class, in which students conduct biodiversity surveys in local Austin-area parks and preserves.  I anxiously await the comprehensive results of this summer’s NOAA survey – the complete dissolved oxygen contour map, the biodiversity indexes for different regions of the Gulf, and plankton biodiversity data from Poland.  These data will definitely help me come to even more conclusions about the marine life in the Gulf and the factors affecting it.

Through this experience, I have also gained much appreciation for the diversity of careers that exist on board a NOAA research vessel.  I have learned about the great work of the NOAA Corps, a Commissioned Service of the United States.  I have learned from the fisherman, engineers, stewards, and other personnel on the boat, all required for a successful research survey.

First and foremost, I have to thank the science team on the night watch – fisheries biologists Kevin Rademacher and Alonzo Hamilton, FMES Warren Brown, and volunteer CJ Duffie.  These individuals were instrumental in helping me identify organisms, label my photos, and craft my blog posts and photo captions.  Kevin Rademacher provided me with most of the papers which I have referenced in this blog, and with no internet connectivity on the boat for around half of the trip, his library of information was essential.  For the “Notable Species Seen” section of this blog, Kevin also individually went through all of my species photos with me to help me add common and scientific names in the photo captions.  This took a great deal of his time, almost every day, and I am incredibly appreciative.

Night Watch
The rest of the night watch. From left to right — FMES Warren Brown and NOAA Fisheries Biologists Kevin Rademacher and Alonzo Hamilton

I also definitely need to thank Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols and Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin for their mentorship with CTD data collection and plankton sampling.  In addition, many thanks to Field Party Chief Andre Debose and Lieutenant Commander Eric Johnson for proofreading my blog entries and ensuring that my experience on the ship was a good one.  I enjoy learning from people much more than I enjoy learning from books, and these have been some of best (and most patient) teachers I have ever had.

Lastly, thanks so much to the NOAA Teacher at Sea staff for your work on this great program.  It truly makes a difference for many teachers and many students.  I have had an amazing time, and I am positive my students will benefit from what I have learned.

Survey Plot
The ship’s path during the survey, thus far. I have been on the boat for Leg 2, drawn in black.

Did You Know?

Lionfish venom is not contained within the tips of the fish’s spines.  Rather, glandular venom-producing tissue is located in two grooves that run the length of  each spine.  When skin is punctured by a spine, this glandular tissue releases the venom (a neurotoxin), which travels up the spine and into the wound by means of the grooves (Witherington, 2012).

Venomous Spines
Anatomy of the lionfish spine

Notable Species Seen

David Walker: Crossing the Mississippi River Delta (Days 10-12), July 5, 2015

Sunrise

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Walker
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 24 – July 9, 2015

Mission: SEAMAP Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 5, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Weather Log 7/5/15
NOAA Ship Oregon II Weather Log 7/5/15

This has been some of the smoothest water I’ve seen yet on the ocean.  At times, you can’t even see wave motion on the surface of the ocean, and it looks more like a lake.  On July 5, 2015, waves were estimated to be 1 ft. in height, at most (see above weather log from the bridge).  Sky condition on July 5 began as scattered (SCT, 3-4 oktas), moved to broken (BKN, 5-7 oktas) and overcast (OVC, 8 oktas) by the afternoon and evening, and then returned to FEW (1-2 oktas) by 11 PM.  There was rain observed in the vicinity (VC/RA) at 4 PM, and some lightning (LTG) was observed in the late evening.

Science and Technology Log

The survey is still progressing smoothly.  We have just crossed the Mississippi River delta, and I have observed a much greater human presence in the water — many ships, mostly commercial shrimping vessels, and even more oil rigs than usual.

Of particular interest to me, we have caught many new species over the past couple of days.  One notable new catch on Day 11 was a giant hermit crab (Petrochirus diogenes), the largest species in the Gulf of Mexico.  In most cases, hermit crabs need to be removed from their shells in order to be successfully identified.  This process was much more difficult than I had imagined, and I ended up having to use a hammer to crack the shell.  The crab contained within was indeed large – it amazed me that such a large species could occupy such a moderately-sized shell.  After analyzing the crab in the laboratory, we quickly returned it to the ocean, in the hope that it would find another shell in which to occupy and survive.

Another interesting catch on Day 11 was a seabiscuit (Brissopsis alta).  This organism was caught at a station overlying a sandy/muddy bottom, this type of seafloor environment providing a habitat for these unique creatures.  We were able to prep the seabiscuit with bleach in the same manner in which we prepped the sand dollars a couple of days ago.  The product was a purely white – a very delicate, yet quite beautiful specimen for my classroom.  Much thanks to fisheries biologist Kevin Rademacher for his help in preparing these organisms.

On Days 11 and 12, we caught some particularly large individuals, which made for great photo opportunities.  On Day 11, we caught the largest roundel skate (Raja texana) that we’ve seen yet, and on Day 12, we netted a large gulf smoothhound (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), a shark species that interestingly has no teeth.  The rest of the night shift was encouraging me to take a photo with my hand down the shark’s mouth, but I settled for the typical catch photo.  This shark was swiftly returned to the water (head first) after laboratory analysis was conducted, and it survived the catch.

As we have to open up fish in order to sex them, it is a natural investigative temptation to look at the other anatomy inside the fish.  A usual focal point is the stomach, as many times, fish stomachs are very disproportionately bloated.  Many times, enlargement of organisms such as the air bladder, stomach, and eyes of caught fish is due to barotrauma.  When a fish is quickly taken from deep waters to the surface, the pressure rapidly decreases, causing internal gases to expand.  In certain cases, we have discovered very recently eaten fish inside organisms’ stomachs.  One particularly interesting example was the stomach of a threadtail conger (Uroconger syringinus), in which we found a yellow conger (Rhynchoconger flavus) of equal size!

Uroconger Ate Rhyncoconger
We found the yellow conger on the right inside the stomach of the threadtail conger on the left! Photo credit to Kevin Rademacher.

I have started to realize the very subtle differences between some species.  One great example of such subtle variance is found in two similar sole species – the fringed sole (Gymnachirus texae) and the naked sole (Gymnachirus melas).  The naked sole contains a faint secondary stripe in between each of the bold stripes on its back; the fringed sole does not have this stripe.  During our initial sorting of species, I unwittingly threw both of these species into the same basket.  Fortunately, fisheries biologist Kevin Rademacher noticed what I was doing and identified the distinguishing phenotypic difference.  I have adjusted the brightness, contrast, and shadowing of the below photos to make the difference in striping more apparent.

Flatfish, such as the soles above, have a very interesting developmental pattern from juvenile to adult.  Fisheries biologists Kevin Rademacher and Alonzo Hamilton were able to nicely summarize it for me.  As juveniles, they start off with eyes on both sides of their heads and swim in the same manner as normal fish.  However, once they get large enough to swim out of the current, they “settle out” onto the seafloor.  At this time, a very interesting series of morphological changes takes place.  Notably, the eyes of the fish migrate such that they are both on one side of the fish’s body.  This morphological change has clearly been evolutionary favored over generations, as it allows the fish to see with both of its eyes while slithering along the seafloor.  The side of the fish on which the eyes end up depends on the particular species of fish.  Flatfish are accordingly categorically defined as “right-eyed” or “left-eyed,” based on the side of the fish containing the eyes.  The procedure is fairly simple to define a flatfish a right-eyed or left-eyed.

  1. Look down at the side of the fish containing both of the eyes.
  2. Orient the fish such that the eye that migrated from the opposite side is on top.
  3. If the head faces left, the flatfish is defined as left-eyed.
  4. Otherwise, it is defined as right-eyed.

On many occasions, we have been able to keep some of our catch to later eat.  I have had fresh white shrimp, brown shrimp, red snapper, lane snapper, vermillion snapper, hogfish, and even paper scallops.  I have obtained lots of practice heading shrimp and fileting fish, as well as shucking scallops.  It has been very interesting to visualize the entire process, from catch to table.  It is true what they say, incredibly fresh seafood tastes much better.  Most of the credit here goes to Chief Steward (CS) Mike Sapien and Second Cook (2C) Lydell Reed, the chefs on the ship.

Also after my shift, I was able to visit the ship’s bridge for the first time during the day.  The environment at night is quite different on the bridge, as the NOAA Corps Officers driving the ship need to keep their eyes adjusted to the dark.  Accordingly, the only lights used in the bridge at night are red, reminding me of the lights used by the scientists I observed on a recent night trip to the UT McDonald Observatory.  My trip to the bridge during the day allowed me to observe the operation of the ship and many instruments clearly for the first time.  It was honestly quite intimidating — so many instruments, controls, and dials, and I had no clue what any of them did.  I was very scared to touch anything – the only instrument with which I braved to interact was a very nice pair of binoculars.  The ship is always driven by NOAA Corps Commissioned Officers.  During the time of my observation, Ensign (ENS) Laura Dwyer, a Junior Officer, and Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTRG) Larry Thomas, the ship’s Operations Officer, were on the bridge.  The Captain (Commanding Officer) of the ship, Master David Nelson, entered and exited periodically.  ENS Dwyer was very kind to point out to me different instruments on the bridge and discuss the operating of the ship.  Interestingly, the NOAA Ship Oregon II operates on a system similar to that of a car with a manual transmission – while the ship has two engines instead of one, each engine has a clutch.  There is also a controllable pitch system that allows the operator of the ship to change the angle of the propeller.  There are two RADAR devices, as well multiple GPS navigational systems, on which the stations of the survey are plotted.  The are multiples of each of these important ship systems as a safety measure.  Despite the GPS systems, the ship still has a chart table on the bridge, and even a chart room, where routes are plotted out in more detail.  The helm, which controls the rudder, is still a large, prominent wheel, just as it was in the pirate stories I read as a child.  ENS Dwyer told me, however, that helms are much more abbreviated in appearance in more modern ships.  She indicated that many members of the NOAA Corps appreciate the “vintage” feel of the bridge of the NOAA Ship Oregon II — the ship will be 50 years old in 2017!

We have more or less finished the intended stations for Leg 2 of this survey, but as we still have time left before we are due back in port, we have received orders to proceed through to Leg 3 stations.  These stations are entirely across the Gulf of Mexico, along the western coast of Florida.  The traveling time there is over 14 hours by boat, and we will be traveling more or less as the crow flies.  I am really looking forward to these new stations, as I have heard the biodiversity is vastly different.

Survey Locations
Sections of the 2015 SEAMAP Bottomfish Survey

Personal Log

Ever since my shift on Day 11, in which I felt particularly fatigued and engorged, I have been completing cardio workouts daily.  There is quite a bit of workout equipment stored in various places throughout the ship, and I have finally found an enjoyable cardio workout.  I am using a rowing machine that I found on the top deck of the ship, and I set it up to face the direction of the ship’s movement.  In this way, when I row, I feel as though I am actually pushing the boat through the water.  The wave motion and periodic jostling of the ship makes the rowing machine feel even more like the real thing, and I am forced to recall my days rowing at the crack of dawn on Lake Dunmore near Middlebury, Vermont while in college.

Workout Setup
My workout setup on the top deck of the ship

The Fourth of July on the boat was free of any special pomp and circumstance.  It was, more than anything, just another work day.  Fortunately, all of the employees on the boat get paid overtime for working this day, as well as weekend days.  I definitely missed the Zilker fireworks celebration in Austin (TX), but it was meaningful to be on a boat with members of the NOAA Corps, a Commissioned Service of the United States, on this important day for America.

I have made significant progress in Tender is the Night and am almost finished.  I have also spent free time watching the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Wimbledon Championships on the satellite television upstairs.

Regarding my sleep, I have finally stopped taking Dramamine®.  Lo and behold, I have had no more nightmares, this lending further support to my theory that Dramamine® was the cause.

The days are still very exciting, and I have yet to encounter a day without a great deal of fresh learning.  On to Florida!

Did You Know?

The Navy Motion Picture Service provides encrypted DVDs for use on deployed ships.  In the upstairs lounge, there are well over 700 DVDs, from classics to quite new releases, organized for anyone to watch in their free time.

DVD Binder
On of the many DVD binders on the ship, courtesy of the Navy Motion Picture Service

Notable Species Seen