The ship has completed our deep-water sampling and we are now headed to more shallow areas, where there are likely to be more sharks and hopefully even some that have been tagged in the past. With each shark we catch, we record in a database their measurements and exactly where they were caught. If things are going well with the shark out of water, we also take a fin clip, a blood sample, and attach a tag.
Tag-and-recapture is one way for wildlife biologists to estimate population size. You can compare the number of tagged sharks to newly caught sharks, and then extrapolate using that ratio to the total number of sharks in the area.
Volunteers help enter data into the “Toughbook” computer.
Recapturing a tagged shark also helps scientists determine the age of a shark, as well as its rate of growth. In bony fish, it is possible to examine the otoliths (bony structures in the ear) to determine the age of a fish. However, since sharks do not have bones, scientists must use other ways to determine their ages and track their growth. One of the scientists on board (my roommate) is collecting shark vertebrae so that her lab can use growth rings in the vertebrae to assess their age, sort of like counting the rings on a tree stump.
The past few days have put all my seasickness remedies to the test with waves over 6 feet and plenty of rolling on the ship. The good news is that they have been working pretty well for the most part – I’ve only lost my lunch once so far! One “cure” for seasickness is to stay busy, which has been difficult to do because the high winds and lightning have made it unsafe to do any sampling.
Fortunately, the crew’s lounge is well-stocked with movies, so I have watched quite a few while we wait for the waves to calm down and the thunderstorm to pass. The lounge has some cushioned benches long enough to stretch out on, which is key because being horizontal is the best way for me to minimize my seasickness.
How do you put the tag on?
Data collection sheet and shark tagging tool.
The tag for smaller sharks is a bit like a plastic earring, but on the shark’s dorsal fin. First you have to “pierce” the fin with a tool like a paper hole-punch, and then use another tool to snap in the tag — making sure that the ID numbers are facing out. If the shark is a species that will outgrow a plastic roto tag, they get a skinny floating tag inserted just under their dorsal fin.
How does the tag stay on the shark?
The shark heals the wound made by the tag, and the scar tissue holds the tag in place. Because the tags are made of plastic and stainless steel, they do not rust or deteriorate in the ocean.
Tagged dorsal fin of Mustelus sinusmexicanus.
How do they make the tags?
The NOAA fisheries lab orders tags from manufacturing companies, and are similar to tags used on domestic animals like cows. Each tag includes a phone number and the word “REWARD,” so that if fishermen catch a tagged shark they can report it.
What are they doing with the shark tagging data?
Tagging the sharks in the Gulf of Mexico allows us to figure out how fast they are growing and how far they are traveling. Measuring all the sharks also helps scientists understand how the populations of different species might be changing. Some clues to changing populations include catching smaller or fewer sharks of one species.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cathrine Prenot Aboard Bell M. Shimada July 17-July 30, 2016
Mission: 2016 California Current Ecosystem: Investigations of hake survey methods, life history, and associated ecosystem
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast from Newport, OR to Seattle, WA
Date: Sunday, July 24, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat: 47º32.20 N
Lon: 125º11.21 W
Speed: 10.4 knots
Windspeed: 19.01 deg/knots
Barometer: 1020.26 mBars
Air Temp: 16.3 degrees Celsius
Water Temp: 17.09 degrees Celsius
Science and Technology Log
Typical evening view from the flying bridge of the Bell M. Shimada
We have been cruising along watching fish on our transects and trawling 2-4 times a day. Most of the trawls are predominantly hake, but I have gotten to see a few different species of rockfish too—Widow rockfish, Yellowtail rockfish, and Pacific Ocean Perch (everyone calls them P.O.P.)—and took their lengths, weights, sexes, stomachs, ovaries, and otoliths…
…but you probably don’t know what all that means.
The science team sorts all of the catch down to Genus species, and randomly select smaller sub-samples of each type of organism. We weigh the total mass of each species. Sometimes we save whole physical samples—for example, a researcher back on shore wants samples of fish under 30cm, or all squid, or herring, so we bag and freeze whole fish or the squid.
For the “sub samples” (1-350 fish, ish) we do some pretty intense data collection. We determine the sex of the fish by cutting them open and looking for ovaries or testes. We identify and preserve all prey we find in the stomachs of Yellowtail Rockfish, and preserve the ovaries of this species’ females and others as well. We measure fish individual lengths and masses, take photos of lamprey scars, and then collect their otoliths.
Fish Otolith showing concentric growth rings from here.
Otoliths are hard bones in the skull of fish right behind the brain. Fish use them for balance in the water; scientists can use them to determine a fish’s age by counting the number of rings. Otoliths can also be used to identify the species of fish.
A bigger fish species does not necessarily mean a larger otolith. From here.
If you want to check out an amazing database of otoliths, or if you decide to collect a few and want to see what species or age of fish you caught, or if you are an anthropologist and want to see what fish people ate a long time ago? Check out the Alaska Fisheries Science Center—they will be a good starting spot. You can even run a play a little game to age fish bones!
Pacific Ocean Perch, or P.O.P.
I haven’t had a lot of spare time since we’ve been fishing, but I did manage to finagle my way into the galley (kitchen) to work with Chief Steward Larry and Second Cook Arlene. They graciously let me ask a lot of questions and help make donuts and fish tacos! No, not donut fish tacos. Gross.
How to make friends and influence people
Working in the galley got me thinking of “ship jargon,” and I spent this morning reading all sorts of etymology. I was interested to learn that the term crow’s nest came from the times of the Vikings when they used crows or raven to aid navigation for land. Or that in the days of the tall ships, a boat that lost a captain or officer at sea would fly blue flags and paint a blue band on the hull—hence why we say we are “feeling blue.” There are a lot more, and you can read some interesting ones here.
You can also click on Adventures in a Blue World below (cartoon citations 1 and 2).
And here is a nautical primer from Adventures in a Blue World Volume 1:
A Nautical Primer from 2011 aboard the Oscar Dyson
Did You Know?
Working in the wet lab can be, well, wet and gross. We process hundreds of fish for data, and then have hoses from the ceiling to spray off fish parts, and two huge hoses to blast off the conveyor belt and floors when we are done. But… …I kind of love it.
Interestingly enough, the very words “Sea Speak” have a meaning. When an Officer of the Deck radios other ships in the surrounding water, they typically use a predetermined way of speaking, to avoid confusion. For example, the number 324 would be said three-two-four.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Cristina Veresan Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 28 – August 16, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Sunday, August 9, 2015
Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 59°28.8’ N
Longitude: 145°53.2’ W
Visibility: 7 miles
Wind Direction: SSE
Wind speed: 13 knots
Sea Wave Height: 1-2 feet
Swell Wave: 3 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 16.0°C
Dry Temperature: 14.5°C
Science and Technology Log
Our wet lab is outfitted with novel technology that makes processing the catch much more efficient. All of our touchscreen computers in the wet lab are running a program, designed by MACE personnel, called Catch Logger for Acoustic Midwater Survey (CLAMS). Once we enter the haul number and select the species that were caught, most of the data populates automatically from the lab instruments. For example, the digital scale is synced with the computer, so the weights are automatically recorded in CLAMS when a button is pushed. Also, an electronic fish measuring board called the “Icthystick,” designed by MACE IT specialist Rick Towler, is used to measure fish lengths. The fish’s head is placed at one end of the measuring board; when you place a finger stylus (with a magnet mounted inside it) at the end of the tail, the length is automatically recorded in CLAMS. The CLAMS system creates a histogram (type of graph) of all the lengths measured, and scientists archive and review this important data.
The CLAMS program records our catch
The “Icthystick” AKA “Fish Stick” Photo by Darin Jones
A digital scale connected to the CLAMS system
What can fisheries scientists learn from a pollock’s ear bones? The ear bones, called otoliths, have layers that can be counted and measured to determine the fish’s age and growth over the years of its life. Fish otoliths are glimpses into the past and their layers of proteins and calcium composites can sometimes offer clues about climate and water conditions as well. For our sub-sample of pollock, in addition to length, weight, and sex data, we will remove and archive the otoliths. We have to slice into the head and extract the two bony otoliths with forceps. The otoliths are then placed into a vial of ethanol with a bar code that has been scanned into the CLAMS system and assigned to the individual pollock they came from. Therefore, when all the otoliths are sent back to the lab in Seattle, ages of the fish can be confirmed. We sometimes collect other biological samples as well. In Seattle, there are scientists working on special projects for certain species, so sometimes we take a fin clip or an ovary sample from fish for those colleagues.
After a slice is made across the head, the otoliths can be removed with forceps
The otoliths in glycerol thymol (the bar code is on the opposite side of the vial)
Shipmate Spotlight: An interview with Rick Towler
Rick Towler, IT Specialist Photo by Darin Jones
What is your position on the Oscar Dyson? I am an IT Specialist at MACE. I spend about 4 weeks total at sea and the rest of my time in our Seattle office. I have been in my position for 11 years.
What training or education do you need for your position? My background is in wildlife biology, but I have had a lifelong interest in computers and electronics. I was lucky enough to get an internship with a physical oceanographer and started writing data analysis software for him. That got me on my career path, but for the most part, I have taught myself.
What do you enjoy the most about your work? I love the freedom to creatively solve problems. There’s a lot of room to learn new things in my position. Like when we started on the “Icthystick” I had never done any electronics like that but I was able to innovate and make something that works. The scientists provide the goals and I provide the gear!
Have you had much experience at sea? No, I get seasick! I am usually the first to go down with it. Before I joined MACE I had no real sea time. When I get sick, I just have to rest and take medication. I am so lucky that this leg of the survey has been very calm.
What are your duties of your position in Seattle and at sea? In general, I write software and design and develop instruments to help us do our job better. Along with my colleague, Scott Furnish, I am also responsible for installing and maintaining the equipment used during the survey. When at sea, I make sure all the data is being backed up. I respond to any equipment issues and fix things that are not working properly.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a marine career? I did not necessarily know I wanted a marine career, but I knew I wanted to be involved in science. I love that my job now is a mix of natural science and computer technology. It’s important to me to have a job I think is meaningful.
What are your hobbies? I enjoy family time: playing with my kids and hiking and biking together. I also love playing with my dog and building things with my kids.
What do you miss most while working at sea? Pizza! And my family and my dog.
What is your favorite marine creature? Tufted puffin because they are cute. I’m a bird guy.
Inside the Oscar Dyson: The Bridge
The main console (left) and the navigation station (right)
The bridge of a ship is an enclosed room or platform from which the ship is commanded. Our bridge is commended by officers of the NOAA Corps, one of the uniformed services of the United States. From the bridge, officers can control the ship’s movements, radar, IT (information technology), communications, trawling and everything else to operate the ship. Full control of the ships generators and engines is from the engine room, although there is a repeater display, so officers can monitor these systems. In our bridge, there is a main console from which the ship is steered. There are also consoles on other sides of the room, so the officers can control the ship when we are pulling up to the dock or when equipment is being deployed off the stern, starboard side, or port side. There is a navigation station where charts are stored and courses are plotted. For our cruise, courses are plotted on paper charts as well as two different digital charts. The bridge is surrounded by windows and the view is incredible!
Each fish we catch has a particular scent, some more “fishy” than others. But when Darin told me to smell a capelin (Mallotus villosus) I discovered something quite surprising. The small, slender fish smells exactly like cucumber. Or should I say that cucumbers smell exactly like capelin? It is amazing!
Capelin are in the smelt family: I smelt a smelt!
After all these clear sunny days, we had our first foggy one, a complete white out! It gave me an appreciation for the officers that have to navigate through these conditions using radar alone. I also noticed the fog horn sounded every two minutes; Ensign Ben told me that this is a nautical rule when visibility is less than 2 miles and the ship is underway. In between blasts, I scooted out to the bow to take the photo below.
Thick fog surrounded us
I have seen two different whales on my trip so far. I saw one humpback whale from a distance while it was feeding. It was tough to make out the whale itself, but it was easy to spot the flock of birds that was gathered on the water’s surface. I have also always wanted to see an orca whale, and I finally got my chance. It was a fleeting encounter. I had just stepped out onto the deck and saw an orca surface. I raised my camera as it surfaced again and managed to take a picture of the dorsal fin. Unfortunately, our ship and the whale were cruising pretty fast in opposite directions. But it was still a magical moment to observe this amazing creature in its natural habitat.
A feeding humpback whale
A cruising orca whale
Like I have said before, working on a moving platform has its challenges. Even getting around a ship presents a unique set of peculiarities. First of all, most doorways have 4-inch rails on the floor. When you are stumbling down at 4am to begin your shift or excitedly moving outside to see a whale, you have to keep those in mind! Most interior doors are pretty standard, although some come equipped with hooks at the top in order to secure them open. However, the exterior doors are watertight and must be handled appropriately. To open them from either side, you first have to push the lever up and then open the door by the handle. It is really important to avoid placing your hand in the door frame while the door is open because the thick, heavy door would crush your hand is if it swung shut. For this reason, and to keep the ship secure, you also have to remember to close these doors behind you and pull down the lever on the other side. On account of a nearby storm, we are supposed to get some big seas overnight, so now everything must be secured!
Ah, the joys of shipboard living!
(from left) a raised door frame, a latch on the back of a door, and a watertight exterior door
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 6 – 25, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: July 12, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Latitude: 55 25.5N
Longitude: 155 44.2W
Sea wave height: 2ft
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Wind Direction: 244 degrees
Air Temperature: 11.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1002.4 mbar
Science and Technology Log
I’m sure you’re all wondering what the day-to-day life of a scientist is on this ship. As I said before, there are several projects going on, with the focus being on assessing the walleye pollock population. In my last post I talked about the transducers we have on the ship that help us detect fish and other ocean life beneath the surface of the ocean. So what happens with all these fish we are detecting?
The echogram that shows data from the transducers.
The transducers are running constantly as the ship runs, and the information is received through the software on the computers we see in the acoustics lab. The officers running the ship, who are positioned on the bridge, also have access to this information. The scientists and officers are in constant communication, as the officers are responsible for driving the ship to specific locations along a pre-determined track. The echograms (type of graph) that are displayed on the computers show scientists where the bottom of the ocean floor is, and also show them where there are various concentrations of fish.
This is a picture of pollock entering the net taken from the CamTrawl.
When there is a significant concentration of pollock, or when the data show something unique, scientists might decide to “go fishing”. Here they collect a sample in order to see if what they are seeing on the echogram matches what comes up in the catch. Typically we use the Aleutian wing trawl (AWT) to conduct a mid-water trawl. The AWT is 140 m long and can descend anywhere from 30-1,000 meters into the ocean. A net sounder is mounted at the top of the net opening. It transmits acoustic images of fish inside and outside of the net in real time and is displayed on a bridge computer to aide the fishing operation. At the entrance to the codend (at the end of the net) a CamTrawl takes images of what is entering the net.
Once the AWT is deployed to the pre-determined depth, the scientists carefully monitor acoustic images to catch an appropriate sample. Deploying the net is quite a process, and requires careful communication between the bridge officers and the deck crew. It takes about an hour for the net to go from its home on deck to its desired depth, and sometimes longer if it is heading into deeper waters. They aim to collect roughly 500 fish in order to take a subsample of about 300 fish. Sometimes the trawl net will be down for less than 5 minutes, and other times it will be down longer. Scientists are very meticulous about monitoring the amount of fish that goes into the net because they do not want to take a larger sample than needed. Once they have determined they have the appropriate amount, the net is hauled back onto the back deck and lowered to a table that leads into the wet lab for processing.
Here the scientists, LT Rhodes, and ENS Kaiser assess the catch.
We begin by sorting through the catch and pulling out anything that is not pollock. We don’t typically have too much variety in our catches, as pollock is the main fish that we are after. We have, however, pulled in a few squid, isopods, cod, and several jellies. All of the pollock in the catch gets weighed, and then a sub-sample of the catch is processed further. A subsample of 30 pollock is taken to measure, weigh, collect otoliths from, and occasionally we will also take ovaries from the females. There are some scientists back in the lab in Seattle that are working on special projects related to pollock, and we also help these scientists in the lab collect their data.
The rest of the sub-sample (roughly 300 pollock) is sexed and divided into a male (blokes) and female (sheilas) section of the table. From there, the males and females are measured for their length. The icthystick, the tool we use to measure the length of each fish, is pretty neat because it uses a magnet to send the length of the fish directly to the computer system we use to collect the data, CLAMS. CLAMS stands for Catch Logger for Acoustic Midwater Survey. In the CLAMS system, a histogram is made, and we post the graphs in the acoustics lab for review. The majority of our pollock so far have been year 3. Scientists know this based on the length of pollock in our catch. Once all of the fish have been processed, we have to make sure to clean up the lab too. This is a time I am definitely thankful we have foul weather gear, which consists of rubber boots, pants, jackets and gloves. Fish scales and guts can get everywhere!
Here is one of many jellies that we caught. .
I am finally adjusting to my nighttime shift schedule, which took a few days to get used to. Luckily, we do have a few hours of darkness (from about midnight until 6am), which makes it easier to fall asleep. My shift runs from 4pm-4am, and I usually head to bed not long after my shift is over, and get up around noontime to begin my day. It’s a little strange to be waking up so late in the day, and while it is clearly afternoon time when I emerge from my room, I still greet everyone with a good morning. The eating schedule has taken some getting used to- I find that I still want to have breakfast when I get up. Dinner is served at 5pm, but since I eat breakfast around 1 or 2pm, I typically make myself a plate and set it aside for later in the evening when I’m hungry again. I’ll admit it’s a little strange to be eating dinner at midnight. There is no shortage of food on board, and our stewards make sure there are plenty of snacks available around the clock. Salad and fruit are always options, as well as some less healthy but equally tasty snacks. It’s hard to resist some of the goodies we have!
Luckily, we are equipped with some exercise equipment on board to battle those snacks, which is helpful as you can only walk so far around the ship. I’m a fan of the rowing machine, and you feel like you’re on the water when the boat is rocking heavily. We have some free weights, an exercise bike and even a punching bag. I typically work out during some of my free time, which keeps me from going too crazy when we’re sitting for long periods of time in the lab.
Up on the bridge making the turn for our next transect.
During the rest of my free time, you might find me hanging out in the lounge watching a movie (occasionally), but most of the time you’ll find me up on the bridge watching for whales or other sea life. The bridge is probably one of my favorite places on the ship, as it is equipped with windows all around, and binoculars for checking out the wildlife. When the weather is nice, it is a great place to sit outside and soak in a little vitamin D. I love the fact that even the crew members that have been on this ship for several years love seeing the wildlife, and never tire of looking out for whales. So far, we’ve seen orcas, humpbacks, fin whales, and Dall’s porpoises.
Did you know? Otoliths, which are made of calcium carbonate, are unique to each species of fish.
Where on the ship is Wilson?
Wilson the ring tail camo shark is at it again! He has been exploring the ship even more and made his way here. Can you guess where he is now?
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nikki Durkan Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson June 11 – 30, 2015
Mission: Midwater Assessment Conservation Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Sunday, June 21, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind speed (knots): 13.01
Sea Temp (deg C): 10.45
Air Temp (deg C): 9.46
Meet: Patrick Ressler PhD, Chief Scientist on board the Oscar Dyson
Employed by: Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering Division
Alaska Fisheries Science Center, NMFS, NOAA
Hails from: Seattle, Washington
Fun in the fish lab! Happy Father’s Day, Patrick!
What are your main responsibilities as Chief Scientist? As chief scientist I’m responsible for the scientific mission and for the scientific party. In terms of the science, it’s my job to make sure that everything that needs to happen does happen, before as well as during the cruise, and that the scientists have positive and productive interactions with each other and with the ship’s crew. Some of the decisions that need to be made are scientific or technical, some are logistical, some are managerial. Though I don’t and can’t do all of the different jobs myself, I need to have some understanding of all the elements of our survey work and research projects, and pay attention to the ‘big picture’ of how it all fits together. I am also the main line of communication between the scientific party and the ship (principally the captain), and between our scientific party and the lab back onshore.
What do you enjoy about your profession? Science involves a great deal of creativity and collaboration. The creativity comes into play when designing a study and also when problem solving; complications always arise in research, and it is part of Patrick’s job to address the issue or know who to ask to assist in overcoming the obstacle. He also enjoys doing literature reviews because the process involves more than data collection and meta-analysis; the studies tell stories in a way, scientists leave clues about their interests, bias, and even personalities in their pursuit of research topics.
Do you eat fish? Yes! — Patrick uses the seafood guide when making decisions about purchases and eats salmon often. He smokes his own fish and looks forward to cooking at home with his wife and two children.
Vinny (my co-TAS) and Emily Collins bringing in the catch of the day.
Otolith extraction – the head incision is made just in front of the operculum (gill covering)…not my favorite part of the day, but as close as I’ll ever get to be a surgeon.
Science and Technology Log
Fish heads and more fish heads: Once on board, the fish are sorted by species and we then determine length, weight, sex, and gonad development for the Pollock. The next step is to extract the otoliths, a calcium carbonate structure located in the skull that allows the fish to hear and provides orientation information. These small structures provide scientists with data on ages of the Pollock populations and environmental fluctuations. Understanding how Pollock populations respond to stresses such as the pressures of commercial fishing operations or variations in prey availability, help fisheries managers make informed decisions when setting quotas each year.
These structures are analogous to the human ear bones; the otoliths allow the fishes to determine horizontal and vertical acceleration (think of the feeling you experience while moving up and down in an elevator). The otoliths pull on the hair cells, which stimulate an auditory nerve branch and relay back to the brain the position of the head relative to the body. A disturbance in this function is also why we humans experience motion sickness. Many of you may also be familiar with the growth rings of a tree and how scientists can measure the width of the rings to determine age and growth rate; similarly, each year, a fish will accumulate deposits on the otoliths that can be interpreted by scientists back in the lab. NOAA has a neat program you can try: Age Reading Demonstration. My co-Teacher at Sea (Vinny Colombo) and I will be bringing back samples to use in our classrooms!
My cod-face with a Cod that tried to swallow a Pollock. Photo credit: Patrick Ressler
For some species, the information gathered from these otoliths can also be used to infer characteristics about the environment in which the fish travels. Climate scientists use similar data from trees, ice cores, coral reef cores, and sediment deposits to produce geochemical records used in modeling paleoclimates and projecting future changes in climate. Likewise, the otoliths contain a geochemical record because the calcium carbonate and trace metals correlate with water samples from certain areas. Scientists can then ascertain the otolith’s chemical fingerprint using a mass spectrometer and uncover information on the fishes’ spawning grounds and migration routes. In some cases, these data are even used to establish marine protected areas.
I have great appreciation for the hard work the crew puts in on a daily basis and am thankful for the humor they continue to provide! I’ve seen more than a few impressions of overly stuffed Puffins and fish faces, shared laughs while Rico pulls fish scales out of my hair, danced to Persian pop songs, and continued to laugh at the ridiculously overused puns in the Bridge. Humor is vitally important out here! The ship operates 24 hours a day and shifts are long, with spurts of demanding physical labor. A lot of coffee is consumed on board and the Oscar Dyson even has a fancy espresso machine! Sadly, I figured out early on that coffee makes me quite nauseated on board. I am a firm believer in the health benefits of coffee and thanks to John Morse (a fellow teacher at Steamboat Mountain School), I have accumulated many scientific articles to back up my claims; however, in this case I had no choice, and after a few headaches, I am free from the bean addiction…for now!
Did you know? In the event of a power failure, the Oscar Dyson is equipped with sound powered phones – the sound pressure created when a person speaks into the transmitter creates a voltage over a single wire pair that is then converted into sound at the receiver – no electricity necessary!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Dieuwertje “DJ” Kast Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow May 19 – June 3, 2015
Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical area of cruise: George’s Bank Date: May 29, 2015, Day 11 of Voyage
My buoy and me ready to deploy! Photo by Jerry Prezioso
NOAA has an Adopt a Drifter program! The program is meant to work with K-16 teachers from the United States along with international educators. This program provides teachers with the opportunity to infuse ocean observing system data into their curriculum. This occurs by deploying or having a research vessel deploy a drifter buoy. A drifting buoy (drifter) is a floating ocean buoy equipped with meteorological and/or oceanographic sensing instruments linked to transmitting equipment where the observed data are sent. A drifting buoy floats in the ocean water and is powered by batteries located in the dome. The drifter’s sea surface temperature data are transmitted to a satellite and made available to us in near real-time. The teachers receive the WMO number of their drifting buoy in order to access data online from the school’s adopted drifter. Students have full access to drifting buoy data (e.g., latitude/longitude coordinates, time, date, SST) in real or near real-time for their adopted drifting buoy as well as all drifting buoys deployed as part of the global ocean observing system. They can access, retrieve, and plot as a time series various subsets of data for specified time periods for any drifting buoy (e.g., SST) and track and map their adopted drifting buoy for short and long time periods (e.g., one day, one month, one year).
I am receiving one from the Chief Scientist onboard the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow so the students in all my programs can access it, and this will be helpful to convey modeling of currents, and can help build models of weather, climate, etc .I was so excited when I found out that the chief scientist would be giving me a drifter for me and my students to follow. I decorated the buoy with programs that have inspired me to apply to the Teacher at Sea Programs, the current programs I am working for at USC (JEP & NAI), my family, and my mentors.
Representing the USC Readerplus Program that hosts my Wonderkids Programs. Photo by Jerry Prezioso.
Quick change into my NOAA Teacher at Sea Shirt. Thank you so much for all these opportunities. Photo by Jerry Prezioso.
Special recognition to JEP, USC Dornsife, and my Young Scientist Program & NOAA TAS! Photo by DJ Kast
USC Wonderkids and USC Seagrant Logos. Photo by DJ Kast
Thanks to NMEA (National Marine Educators Association) and the USC Wrigley Institute, USC Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber for continuously supporting my ocean going adventures (Plus my favorite gastropod, Spanish Shawl Nudibranch for color). Photo by DJ Kast
Representing Rossier, USC NAI, USC QuikSCience, and the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow Ship. Photo by DJ Kast
Important family that have always supported me with my science education career. Photo by DJ Kast
My list of ocean educators that inspire me to always strive for more. Plus a shout-out to the Level the Playing Field Institute, and their USC (Summer Math and Science Honors) SMASH program. Photo by DJ Kast
Special thanks to the schools participating in the USC Young Scientist Program and USC Wonderkids Programs. Photo by DJ Kast
JEP HOUSE and Staff!
JEP House and Dornsife Represent! Photo by DJ Kast
Important JEP People’s. I forgot to take a final picture of this but this included Brenda, Adrienne, and Mandy. Photo by DJ Kast
I am teaching a marine biology class this summer for the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative program. I am so excited to be following the drifter buoy # 39708. It was launched at 8:53 EDT on May 28th, 2015 and its first official position is: 41 44.8 N 065 27.0 W. I will definitely be adapting a few of the lesson plans on the following site and creating my own to teach my students about weather, climate, and surface currents.
To deploy the buoy, you literally have to throw it overboard and make sure it hits nothing on its way down. When it is in the water, the cardboard wraps dissolve away, and the cloth drogue springs open, filling with water and causing the buoy to drift in surface water currents instead of wind currents. The tether (cable) and drogue (long tail that is 15 meters long) will unwrap and extend below the sea surface where it will allow the drifter to float and move in the ocean currents
Photo of the drogue deployed in the water. From the NOAA Adopt a Drifter Program website.
Deploy the Buoy! Photo by Jerry Prezioso
My buoy in the Water! The cardboard wraps will dissolve away, and the cloth drogue will spring open and fill with water allowing the buoy to drift in surface water currents instead of wind currents. Photo by DJ Kast
Since I was now an expert drifter buoy deployer, I was also able to deploy a buoy from the St. Joseph’s school in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. This drifter buoy’s tracking number is: 101638 and launched on May 28th, 2015 at 8:55 EDT and its first official position is: 41 44.9 N 065 27.0 W
Photo of me with the St. Joseph buoy that will also be deployed. Photo by Jerry Prezioso.
Guest account: Username: BigeloTAS and Password: BigeloTAS.
Once logged in, select the “Data access” tab on the top left side of the screen.
Select “Mapping”; a pop-up window will appear.
Ensure “by ID numb. (s)” is selected from within the “Platform:” option (top left).
Enter your desired ID number in the search field at the top of the screen.
Enter the number of days for which you’d like data (20 days is the maximum).
Select “Search” to generate a trajectory plot for the given parameters.
**Please note, because you can only view the 20 most recent days of data, you’ll need to save the data if you wish to view the entire track line!**
To save data into Google Earth format, simply click on the Google Earth image (second tool from the right on the map settings bar, found just below the “Search” tab). You’ll need to save data at least every 20 days to ensure no interruptions in your final track line. Of course, to view the track line in its entirety, open Google Earth and ensure all of the data files are selected. If you desire to look at the data, not the track lines, go to “Data access”, then “Messages”, and enter your desired ID numbers. Again, data is only accessible for the most recent 20 days, so if you’d like to download the data for archival purposes, go to “Data access”, then select “Message download”. From here, you’ll want to save the data in .csv, .xls, or .kml format.
My buoy 39708 is transmitting properly and providing quality data! Below are some of the maps of its early trajectory and its current movement so far.
Early Trajectory! Photo sent by Shaun Dolk
Photo sent by Shaun Dolk
PS for Science- Otoliths
While we were deploying the buoys one of the engineers named Rahul Bagchi brought over a strainer that is attached to the water intake pipe. The strainer was covered in Sand Lances.
Sand Lances on the inside of the strainer. Photo by DJ Kast
Sand Lances on the outside of the strainer. Photo by DJ Kast
Fortunately, there are another two scientists on board that need sand lance samples for their research purposes and they were collected. My research scientist friend Jessica needs the otoliths or fish ear bones for part of her research on cod, since sand lances are eaten cod. Otoliths are hard, calcium carbonate structures located behind the brain of a bony fish. Different fish species have differently shaped otoliths. They are used for balance and sound detection-much like our inner ears. They are not attached to the skull, but “float” beneath the brain inside the soft, transparent inner ear canals. The otoliths are the most commonly used structure to both identify the fish eaten by consumers up the food chain, and to age the fish itself.
Otoliths and time scale. Photo by NOAA NEFSC
Otoliths with the winters pointed out. Photo by: Bedford Institute of Oceanography
The otoliths also have daily growth bands. Alaskan Fishery scientists manipulate the daily growth bands in salmon larvae creating an otolith tag that identifies where the fish came from by controlling the growth rate of their fish populations.
Photo of a tagged otolith from the Sawmill Bay fishery in Alaska. Photo from: Alaskan Fisheries
New material (protein and calcium carbonate) is added to the exposed surface of the otolith over time, showing a fish life history (otolith start growing at day 1 even in larval stages). The lighter zones have higher calcium deposit which is indicate summers, while darker zones have higher protein levels which indicate winter. One pattern of a light and dark zone indicate a year and is consequently how the fish is aged.
Tiny white speck is the sand lance otolith. Photo by DJ Kast
The sand lances Jessica and I were dissecting for otoliths. Photo by DJ Kast
She also took a white muscle sample from the dorsal surface of the fish for her research as well. Photo by DJ Kast
Jessica Lueders-Dumont is using the otoliths for three main purposes in relation to her Nitrogen Isotope work.
1. She is hoping to see the changes from year 1 to the adult years of the fish to give an accurate fish life history and how they relate to the rest of the Nitrogen isotopes in the area’s food chain.
2. To see how current nitrogen isotopes compare to the archeological otoliths found in middens or sediment sites, since otoliths can be preserved for hundreds of years.
3. She is trying to create a baseline of nitrogen 15 in the Gulf of Maine so that she can see biogeochemical evidence of the N15 she finds in plankton in higher trophic levels like fish.
I will definitely be dissecting some fish heads with students to check for otoliths and using a microscope to age them.
PSS for Science:
The chief scientist and I decided we should put some Styrofoam Cups under pressure. This polystyrene foam is full of air pockets. This is important because the air pockets (volume) shrink with increasing pressure, essentially miniaturizing the cups.
I have done this before using the help of Karl Huggins at the USC Wrigley Institute’s Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber. We had a TA that wanted to teach about SCUBA diving so we had her students decorate Styrofoam cups and a head and placed it in the chamber. Apparently the Styrofoam was too good of a quality because it re-expanded on the way back up. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6DDBFovht0
Also, I also found out you can do this with a pressure cooker- oh the experiments I will do when I get back. 😀
Front view of my NOAA TAS cup. Photo by DJ Kast
Back side of the NOAA TAS cup. Photo by DJ Kast
Just wanted it to say how amazing it has been on the NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow. Photo by DJ Kast
I made a cup for my programs as well. Photo by DJ Kast
USC Wonderkids Program on a Styrofoam cup before shrinkage. Photo by DJ Kast.
Saying hi to all of my students from inside one of the cups. Photo by DJ Kast
In the mesh bag, and attached to the Rosette for shrinkage. Photo by DJ Kast
After Photos: the Styrofoam cups went down to 184 m or 603 ft on the Rosette/ CTD in South George’s Basin.
Shrunken Cups in the Mesh bag attached to the Rosette. It went down to 184 m or 603 ft Photo by DJ Kast
Look at these tiny cups! Photo by Jerry Prezioso
Cups compared to the original size (front). Photo by DJ Kast.
Cups compared to the original size (back). Photo by DJ Kast.
Geographical Area of Cruise: Bering Sea North of Dutch Harbor
Date: Friday, July 11, 2014
Weather Data fro the Bridge:
Wind Speed: 17.02 kt
Air Temperature: 8.9 degrees Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1004.3
Latitude: 5903.6745 N
Longitude: 17220..4880 W
I’m sorting the jellyfish (Chrysaora Melanaster) from the pollock.
I participated in my first live trawl, catch, sort and data collection survey. In my last blog, I talked about how we located and caught the pollock. This blog will talk about what happens when the fish are unloaded into the wet lab and processed. A wet lab is a science lab that is capable of handling excess water and houses the equipment need to to process the catch.
Fresh catch proceeding down the conveyor belt. Time to sort.
Once the crew off loads the fish, from the net to the short conveyor belt, into the wet lab or sometimes called the slime lab, (it really lives up to its name), I help the scientists sort the pollock from the other species caught in the net. A small sample of marine life, that is not a pollock, gets sorted, weighed and measured for data collection purposes. They are not the main target of our survey, however, they are interesting to see. Large quantities of jellyfish usually make the mix, but I have seen a variety of other animals, such as crabs, starfishes, clams, salmon, flatfishes, Pacific herring, Atka mackerel, and Yellow Irish Lord. The main character, the pollock, are weighed in batches and then placed on a small table to be sexed. In order to sex the fish, I had to cut across the side of the fish with a small scalpel. Next, I inserted my fingers into their guts and pulled out either the gonads (male) or ovaries (female). The gonads look like stringy romaine noodles and the ovaries look like whitish-pinkish oval sacs. Female pollock are placed in a bin labeled sheila’s and the male pollocks are placed in a bin labeled blokes. Sheila’s and blokes are Australian terms for female and male. Cute.
A female pollock full of eggs
Sexing the pollock. This one is a female. You can see it oval shaped ovaries.
Once sexed and sorted, the fish are measured for their length. Two very ingenious scientists (one who is working on my trip, Kresimir Williams, and Rick Towler), invented an electronic measuring device. The device allows us to measure quickly and accurately while at the same time automatically recording the measurement on the computer. It looks like a cutting board with a ruler embedded in the center. Of course, all measurements used are metric, the primary form of measurement for scientists across the world. I to place the fish’s mouth at the beginning of the board and line the back tail of the fish along the ruler. Next, a special tool (a stylus) embedded with a magnet (it’s small, white,and the front looks like a plastic arrowhead) is placed arrow side forward on the end of the tail fin. Once the tool touches the board (it makes a noise which sounds similar to “ta-da” to let you know it captured its measurement), it automatically records the length in the data program, on the computer. I wish I had one for my classroom. Oh, the fun my students could have measuring! The device streamlines the data collecting process allowing scientists more precise data collection and more time for other research.
I’m measuring the pollock on the electronic scale called the Ichthy Stick
That was a lot to absorb, but there is more. If you tend to get squeamish, you might want to scroll past the next paragraph.
Although, I did not work hands on with the next data collection, I closely observed and took pictures. I will try it before my trip ends. The next step is the aging process. Aging a pollock is a vital part of determining the health and welfare of the species. Aging a pollock is similar to the method of aging a tree. The Russian scientist, Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko, who has been surveying pollock for over twenty years and is part of the NOAA science team, has it down to a science. First, he cuts the pollock’s head off exposing the ear bones called Otoliths (Oto–means ear; liths–means stone). He removes the tiny ear bones (about the size and shape of a piece of a navy bean), rinses them, and places them in a small vial labeled with a serial-numbered bar code. The bar code gets scanned and the code is assigned to the specific fish in the computer data base, which also includes their sex, weight and length. Once back at the lab, located in Seattle, Washington, the otoliths can be observed under a microscope and aged based on the number of rings they have: pollock otoliths have one ring for every year of age. Only twenty fish from each trawl have their otoliths extracted.
Looking inside the pollock. The little white bones are the ear bones or otoliths.
Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko placing the otoliths (ear bones) in the vial to be sent to the lab.
Mikhail Stepanenko or we call him Meesha
Once all data are collected, there is still more work to be completed. All of the fish that we sampled, were thrown back into the ocean for the sea birds and other carnivores (meat-eaters) to enjoy. Who wouldn’t enjoy a free meal? Then the equipment and work space must be sprayed down to get rid of all the fish particles (slime). It’s important to clean up after yourself to ensure a safe and healthy environment for everyone. Besides, the smell would be horrible. I also had to spray myself down, it gets very messy. I had fish guts and jellyfish slime all over my lab gear (orange outer wear provided by NOAA). Unfortunately, the guts occasionally get splattered on my face and hair! Yuck, talking about fish face. Thankfully, a bathroom is nearby, where I can get cleaned up.
Starfish that fell from the net when being towed back on board.
Whelks (snails) and anemones
When all is clean, the scientists can upload and analyze the data. They will compare the data to past and current surveys. The data is a vital step to determining the health and abundance of pollock in our ecosystem. I am amazed at all the science, math, engineering, and technology that goes on during a fish survey. It takes many people and numerous skills to make the survey successful.
Brittle Sea Star
This is one of many experiences, I have had trawling and collecting data at sea aboard the Oscar Dyson. The process will repeat several times over my three week trip. As part of the science crew, I am responsible to help with all trawls during my shift. I could have multiple experiences in one day. I cannot wait!
What’s it like to be on a NOAA ship out at sea?
The deck hands, NOAA Corps, and the people I work closest with, the science team, are wonderful and welcoming. I’m super excited and I have to restrain myself from overdoing my questions. They have a job to do!
The weather is not what I expected. It is usually foggy, overcast, and in the high 40’s and low 50’s. Once in a while the sun tries to peek out through the clouds. The Bering Sea has been relatively calm. The heaviest article of clothing I wear is a sweatshirt. It is still early, anything can happen.
On my first day at sea, we had a fire drill and an evacuation drill. Thankfully, I passed. With help from Carwyn, I practiced donning (putting on) my survival suit. I displayed a picture of me wearing it in my last blog. It makes for a hilarious picture! All kidding aside, NOAA takes safety seriously. The survival suit will keep me alive for several days in case of an evacuation in the middle of sea until someone can rescue me. It will protect me from the elements like water temperature, heat from sun, and it has a flashlight attached. Hopefully, I will not have to go through the experience of needing the suit; but I feel safer knowing it is available.
Besides the people, the best amenity aboard the Oscar Dyson is the food. Food is available around the clock. That is important because we work 12 hour shifts from 4:00 to 4:00. That means I work the morning 12-hour shift and my roommate, Emily Collins, works the night 12-hour shift. Hungry workers are grumpy workers. For breakfast, you can get your eggs cooked to order and choose from a variety of traditional breakfast food: French toast, grits, cereal, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, etc…Hot meal options are served for lunch and dinner including a delicious dessert . Of course, ice cream is available always! I hope I can at least maintain my weight while aboard.
If I get the urge, there is workout equipment including cardio machines and weights available to use. Other entertainment includes movies and playing games with the other crew members. The Oscar Dyson also has a store where I can purchase sweatshirts, sweatpants, t-shirts, hats, and other miscellaneous souvenirs advertising the name of the ship. Who would have thought you could shop aboard a NOAA fishing vessel? I am definitely going shopping. One of my favorite things to do aboard the ship is to watch for marine life on the bridge, it is peaceful and relaxing. For anyone that does not know, the bridge is where the Chief Commanding Officer, Chief Executive Officer, and crew navigate the ship. It is the highest point in which to stand and watch safely out at sea and in my opinion, it has the best view on board.
Did you know?
Did you know when a marine animal such as a seal is close by during a trawl, the trawl process stops and is rerouted?
The crew is very respectful of sea life and endeavors to complete their mission with the least negative impact on wildlife. Also, while the ship is on its regular course, the officers on the bridge, sometimes with a deck hand who is available, keep an eye out for seals, sea lions, whales, and sharks, in order to maneuver around them and keep them safe.
NOAA Corps LT Greg Schweitzer, Executive Officer or XO
NOAA Corps Ensign Ben VanDine, Safety Officer
Did you know you can track the Oscar Dyson and its current location?
Make sure you find the Bering Sea and click on the yellow dot; it will tell you our coordinates!
Meet the Scientist: Emily Collins
Emily holding a Yellow Irish Lord
Title: Fisheries Observer (4 years)
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Biology, Marine Science, Boston University
Job Responsibilities: As an observer, Emily works aboard numerous fishing vessels, including the Oscar Dyson. She collects data to find out what is being caught so that we can send the information to NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Services), a division of NOAA. They use the data she collects to complete a stock assessment about what type of fish are caught and how much. She is helping, as part of the science team, survey the pollock for all three legs of the survey. When I get back to port, she has a couple of days to rest up in Dutch Harbor and then she will complete the last leg of the trip.
Living Quarters: As a full-time observer, her home is wherever the next assignment is located, mostly on the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. She is from Dundee, New York, where her family currently resides.
What is cool about her work?
She loves working at sea and working with the marine life. She especially loves it when the nets catch a species of fish she has not seen before. Getting to know new people and traveling is also a plus.
The weirdest and definitely not her favorite experience, while working on a smaller fisheries boats, was having to use a bucket for the toilet.
Emily had a wonderful opportunity her senior year in high school, the chance to go on a National Geographic Expedition with her mom and then later while in college while taking classes abroad. She went to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador to study marine biology. These experiences and the fact that her mother is a veterinarian exposed Emily to the love of animals the ocean, and her career choice.