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

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

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.