Callie Harris: Life Above and Below Deck, August 24, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13-26, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 8/24/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 57° 01.84 N
Longitude: 151 ° 35.12 W
Wind Speed: 8.45 knots
Wind Direction: 257.79°
Air Temperature: 15.3°C
Sea Temperature: 14.6°C
Barometric Pressure: 1010 mbar

Science and Technology Log

Chief Scientist Matt Wilson showed me how to collect otolith samples from pollock. Otoliths are the inner ear bones of fish that keep a record of a fish’s entire life. Similar to tree rings, scientists count the annual growth rings on the otolith to estimate the age of the fish. The size of the ring can also help scientists determine how well the fish grew within that year. To remove the otolith, a cut is made slightly behind the pollock’s eyes. Using forceps, you then remove the otoliths carefully.

Pollock Otoliths
Pollock Otoliths
extracting otoliths
To extract the otoliths, Callie first makes a cut into the top of the pollock’s head. Photo by Lauren Rogers.
extracting otoliths
Next, Callie uses tweezers to extract the otoliths. Photo by Lauren Rogers.

NOAA Junior Unlicensed Engineer Blair Cahoon gave me a tour of the engine room yesterday. Before venturing below deck, we had to put on ear protection to protect our ears from the loud roars of engine equipment.

JUE Blair Cahoon
JUE Blair Cahoon
Oscar Dyson control panels
Oscar Dyson control panels
Oscar Dyson control panels
Oscar Dyson control panels

The Oscar Dyson has a total of four engines. The two larger engines are 12 cylinders and the two smaller engines are 8 cylinders. These engines are attached to generators. The motion of the engines gives force motion to the generators, which in turn power the entire ship. On a safety note, NOAA Junior Unlicensed Engineer Blair Cahoon also pointed out that the ship has two of every major part just in case a backup is needed.

Oscar Dyson engine
Oscar Dyson engine
Oscar Dyson generator
Oscar Dyson generator

 The engine room also holds the water purification system, which converts seawater into potable water. Each of the two evaporators can distill between 600-900 gallons of water a day. The Oscar Dyson typically uses between 800-1000 gallons of water a day. The engineers shared with me how this system actually works:

1.       Seawater is pumped onto the boat and is boiled using heat from the engine.

2.       Seawater is evaporated and leaves behind brine, which gets pumped off of the ship.

3.       Water vapor moves through cooling lines and condenses into another tank producing fresh water.

4.       This water is then run through a chemical bromide solution to filter out any leftover unwanted particles.

5.       The finely filtered water is stored in potable water holding tanks.

6.       The last step before consumption is for the water to pass through a UV system that kills any remaining bacteria or harmful chemicals in the water.

evaporator
One of two evaporators on board.
down the hatch
Down the ladder we go to the lower engine room

We then got to explore the lower parts of the engine room where I got to see the large rotating shaft which connects directly to the propeller and moves the ship. I have learned from my years of working on boats to be extremely careful in this area near the rotating shaft. You must make sure you do not have any loose clothing, etc. that could get caught or hung up in it.

Rotating shaft
Rotating shaft that connects to propeller.
Rotating shaft
Another view of the rotating shaft


Personal Log

I was unsure of what life would be like for two weeks on a scientific research vessel. We are now steaming towards station number 72 on day twelve at sea. We have done 65 bongo tows and 65 trawls. So yes, there is a lot of repetition day in and day out. However, each day brings its own set of challenges and/or excitement. Weather (wind direction, wave direction, current, etc.) makes each station uniquely challenging for the NOAA Corps Officers on the bridge and the deck crew below. I stand back in awe watching it all come together on our 209 foot ship. I get excited to see what new creature might appear in our latest trawl haul besides the hundreds of kilograms of jellyfish, haha. 


Did You Know?

One of the coolest things I learned on my engine tour is that when large equipment parts need to be replaced (like an engine or generator), engineers actually cut a giant hole in the side of the ship to get the old equipment out and the new parts in rather than take it apart and lug it up through the decks piece by piece. 

 
Animals Seen Today

The overnight science shift found a juvenile Wolf Eel in one of their trawl samples. It is not actually a wolf or an eel. It is in fact, a fish with the face of a ‘wolf’ and the body of an eel. Its appearance has been described as having the eyes of a snake, jaws of a wolf, and the grace of a goldfish. They can grow up to eight feet in length and weigh upwards of ninety pounds. Juveniles have a burnt orange hue and the adults are brown, grey, or green. Check out this website for more info about the super creepy wolf eel: https://www.alaskasealife.org/aslc_resident_species/44

adult wolf eel
Adult wolf eel. Image credit: Monterey Bay Aquarium.


Something to Think About

In one of our trawls, we processed 850 kilograms of jellyfish…. That’s 1,874 pounds of jellyfish!!!

Jessica Cobley: Recalibrating, August 6, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jessica Cobley

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 19 – August 8, 2019


Mission: Midwater Trawl Acoustic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Yakutat Bay)

Date: 8/6/2019

Weather Data from the Gulf of Alaska:  Lat: 58º 44.3 N  Long: 145º 23.51 W 

Air Temp:  15.9º C

Personal Log

Currently we are sailing back across the Gulf of Alaska to the boat’s home port, Kodiak. I think the last few days have gone by quickly with the change of daily routine as we start to get all the last minute things finished and gear packed away. 

Since my last post, the definite highlight was sailing up to see the Hubbard Glacier in Disenchantment Bay (near Yakutat). WOW. The glacier is so wide (~6miles) that we couldn’t see the entire face. In addition to watching the glacier calve, we also saw multiple seals sunbathing on icebergs as we sailed up to about a mile from the glacier. 

We spent a few hours with everyone enjoying the sunshine and perfect view of the mountains behind the glacier, which form the border between the U.S. and Canada. We also had a BBQ lunch! Here are a few photos from our afternoon.

Hubbard Glacier
Sailing through little icebergs. The glacier went further than we could see from the boat.
Group photo of the science crew
Group photo of the science crew! Photo by Danielle Power

Another surprise was showing up for dinner the other night to find King Crab on the menu. What a treat! Most people are now trying to get back on a normal sleeping schedule and so mealtimes are busier than usual.

king crab legs
Our Chief Steward, Judie, sure does spoil us!

Lastly, the engineering department was working on a welding project and invited me down to see how it works. On the first day of the trip I had asked if I could learn how to weld and this was my chance! They let me try it out on a scrap piece of metal after walking me through the safety precautions and letting me watch them demonstrate. It works by connecting a circuit of energy created by the generator/welding machine. When the end you hold (the melting rod) touches the surface that the other end of the conductor is connected to (the table) it completes the circuit.

Jessica welding
Wearing a protective jacket, gloves and helmet while welding are a must. The helmet automatically goes dark when sparks are made so your eyes aren’t damaged from the bright light. Photo by Evan Brooks.


Scientific Log

Before making it to Yakutat we fished a few more times and took our last otolith samples and fish measurements. Otoliths are the inner ear bones of fish and have rings on them just like a tree. The number and width of the rings help scientists calculate how old the fish is, as well as how well it grew each year based on the thickness of the rings. In the wet lab, we take samples and put them in little individual vials to be taken back to the Seattle lab for processing. Abigail did a great job teaching where to cut in order to find the otoliths, which can be tough since they are so small.

Jessica and pollock otoliths
Our last time taking otolith samples from pollock. Photo by Troy Buckley

Another important piece of the survey is calibrating all of the equipment they use. Calibration occurs at the start and end of each survey to make sure the acoustic equipment is working consistently throughout the survey. The main piece of equipment being calibrated is the echosounder, which sends out sound waves which reflect off of different densities of objects in the water. In order to test the different frequencies, a tungsten carbide and a copper metal ball are individually hung below the boat and centered underneath the transducer (the part that pings out the sound and then listens for the return sound). Scientists know what the readings should be when the sound/energy bounces off of the metal balls. Therefore, the known results are compared with the actual results collected and any deviation is accounted for in the data accumulated on the survey. 

Calibration
Downriggers are set up in three positions on board to center the ball underneath the boat. They can be adjusted remotely from inside the lab.

After calibration, we cleaned the entire wet lab where all of the fish have been processed on the trip. It is important to do a thorough cleaning because a new survey team comes on board once we leave, and any fish bits left behind will quickly begin to rot and smell terrible. Most of the scales, plastic bins, dissection tools, nets, and computers are packed up and sent back to Seattle.

Gear packed
All packed up and ready to go! The rain gear also gets scrubbed inside and out to combat any lingering fish smell.


Did You Know?

Remember when you were a kid counting the time between a lightning strike and thunder? Well, the ship does something similar to estimate the distance of objects from the ship. If it is foggy, the ship can blow its fog horn and count how many seconds it takes for the sound to be heard again (or come back to the boat). Let’s say they counted 10 seconds. Since sound travels at approximately 5 seconds per mile, they could estimate that the ship was 1 mile away from shore. We were using this method to estimate how close Oscar Dyson was from the glacier yesterday. While watching the glacier calve we counted how many seconds between seeing the ice fall and actually hearing it. We ended up being about 1 mile away. 

Cheers, Jess

David Madden: Otolithia and The Tragedy of the Commons, July 27, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15-29, 2019


Mission: South East Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

On board off the coast of North Carolina – about 45 miles east of Wilmington, NC (34°18’ N, 77°4’ W)

Pisces Route
Pisces Route as of July 27, 2019


Date: July 27, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 34°18’ N
Longitude: 77°4’ W
Wave Height: 3-4 feet
Wind Speed: 6.68 knots
Wind Direction: 42°
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature: 28.0°C 
Barometric Pressure: 1022.4 mb
Sky: Partly cloudy


Science and Technology Log

Today, with the help of friends Zeb and Todd, I’d like to take a deep dive into the mission of this cruise.  Starting with the fish work up process aboard Pisces, first explained in blog #3.  Below is a picture flowchart I drew up to help visualize what’s going on. 

NOAA Fish Protocol (color)
NOAA SEFIS Fish Survey Protocol

This sequential process is rather straight forward following steps 1-8, rinse (the gear) and repeat. It’s the before and after; what comes before step 1 and after step 8, that’s important; How and where is the data used.  If you follow along into steps 9, 10, 11… you start with the laboratory analysis of the biological samples – otoliths and gonads – used to age the fish, and determine reproductive activity and spawning seasons, respectively.  This information is vital to proper management of fisheries.  Here’s why. 

This cruise, and SEFIS in general, originally came into existence because of red snapper.  Scientists determined around 2009 that the red snapper population in the SE Atlantic was at historically low levels.  Strict regulations were put in place to help the species rebound.  This on its own was a good measure, but only one step.  In order to assess the effect of the regulations, scientists would have to monitor the abundance of red snapper in the region.  However, charting changes in abundance would not be enough with this species (or with many others) due to the nature of its life cycle and reproduction.  See, all populations have a natural age structure balance.  This includes species specific traits – like its survivorship curve (how likely it is for an individual to die at different points in their life – for red snapper and many other reef-associated species it’s incredibly high at their larval and juvenile stages).  It also includes pertinent developmental characteristics such as when the species is reproductively mature.  Like many similar fish, older, mature red snapper have greatly increased reproductive potential, also known as fecundity.  So while the population has been bouncing back in terms of numbers, the number of older, mature, more fecund fish is still considerably lower than historical levels; thus the population is still recovering.  *this information is gathered from the data collected by scientist here on our SEFIS mission, and others like them. 

SEFIS survey site locations
SEFIS survey site locations.

The next step is to share this data with other scientists who will then, in conjunction with other information on the species, analyze the data and bring the results and conclusions of their analyses to policy makers (FYI, the government is moving towards making governmentally gathered scientific data available to the public).  Discussion ensues, and climbs the political decision-making-ladder until allowable catch regulations are determined.  Florida fishers, check here for your current snapper regulations or maybe this Fish Rules app will help.  Fish safe, my friends!

Morning Crew
Morning crew: Mike, Dave, Brad, Me, Todd, Oscar the Octopus, Mike, Zeb
gear
Macabre medieval cutlery? Or otolith extraction gear?

Ultimately this is a tricky and tangled issue of sustainability.  Commercial fishermen are understandably upset, as this can threaten their livelihood.  Although real, this concern is inherently short sighted, as their long term earnings depend on healthy and robust populations, and ecosystems.  The difficult part is to gather the necessary scientific data (very challenging, especially for marine organisms) and marry that to the many financial, social, and political concerns.  Comment below with thoughts and suggestions.  And while you’re at it, here’s a lovely and quick (fish-related) tutorial overview of this situation in general – the tragedy of the commons – and the challenges of managing our resources. 

A quick note about otoliths.  Within the fish processing protocol (above) – the most satisfying part is otolith extraction.  On board competitions abound: people vie for first chair (the spot in the lab that’s the coolest and best lit) and for the sharpest knives and scissors.  Much like a wild west showdown, most important is fastest extraction times.  Dave H opts for the classic chisel-through-the-gills technique, while the rest of us opt for the saw-through-the-skull-with-a-knife-and-crack-the-head-open-just-behind-the-eyes technique.  While Brad looks to perform the “double-extraction” – both otoliths removed in the tweezers at the same time, I look to perform the please-don’t-slice-my-hand-open extraction.  The quest for otoliths is usually straight forward.  But sometimes an ill-sliced cut can leave you digging for the tiny ear bones forever. 

This leaves us with: Why otoliths?  These tiny little ear bones help function in the fish’s vestibular system.  That’s a fancy way of saying the balance and orientation system of the fish.  They help vertebrates detect movement and acceleration, and they help with hearing.  These little bones help you determine your head and body orientation – turn your head sideways, it’s your otoliths who will send the message.  All vertebrates, including you, gentle reader, have them.  This makes me wonder if folks with exceptional balance and proprioception and court awareness have bigger otoliths?  Fish requiring more balance, those that sit and wait to hunt vs. those that swim predominantly in straight lines, have bigger otoliths. 

Otoliths are made of layered calcium carbonate (side question – does ocean acidification impact otolith formation?  Like it does with other calcium carbonate structures in the ocean?)  The fish secretes new layers as it ages: thicker layers during good times, thinner layers during lean times – correlated with summer and winter seasonality – just like with tree rings.  Once you dig out the otoliths, they can be analyzed by on-shore scientists who slice ‘em in half and take a really thin slice, deli-meat-style.  Voila! You can then count up the rings to tell how old the fish is. 

Fish Otolith
From Andrews et al 2019, published in the Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research: Illustration of a red snapper (top right), a photo of a red snapper otolith (top left), and an image of a cross-section of that otolith (bottom) http://www.publish.csiro.au/MF/fulltext/MF18265
cod otolith
From Hardie and Hutchings 2011, published in the journal Arctic: A cross-section of the sagittal otolith of an Atlantic cod.

Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/255711740_The_Ecology_of_Atlantic_Cod_Gadus_morhua_in_Canadian_Arctic_Lakes

Black sea bass otoliths
Black sea bass otoliths with fingers for size comparison. Photos from Dave Hoke
Fish Count July 25th
Yesterday’s Fish Count.


Personal Log:

I’ve been continuing my work aboard the Pisces.  Lately the focus has been on conversations with scientists and ship personnel.  The source of most of today’s blog came primarily from conversations with Zeb and Todd.  They were both super helpful and patient in communicating the goals and mission of this cruise and SEFIS.  I’m also trying to contribute some things that might be useful to the NOAA scientists after the cruise is completed, and things that will be helpful to my students now and during the school year – like the drawings and diagrams, along with some upcoming videos (topics include: CTD color and pressure, Underwater footage featuring a tiger shark and hammerhead shark, Waves, All Hands on Deck, and a general cruise video). 

The food and mood of the cruise continues to be good.  * note: my salad eating has taken a hit with the expiration of spinach and leafy greens – it’s amazing they lasted as long as they did – the stewards, Rey and Dana, are amazing! 

General Updates:

  1. The other night I had my first bit of troubled sleeping.  The seas were roaring!  Actually, just about 6 feet.  But it was enough to rock the boat and keep me from falling asleep.  It was almost a hypnic jerk every time the ship rolled from one side to the other.  Special sensations for when my head dipped below my feet. 
  2. Two more book recommendations:  a. Newberry Book Award Winner: Call it Courage, by Armstrong Sperry.  I loved this book as a little boy.  I did a book report on it in maybe the 2nd or 3rd grade.  I spent more time drawing the cover of the report than I did writing it.    B.  A few years ago I read The Wave, by Susan Casey.  Great book about the science of waves and also the insane culture of big wave surfers. 
  3. I haven’t seen all that much lately in terms of cool biodiversity.  The traps did catch some cute swimming crabs, a lionfish, and a pufferfish.   * more below.
  4. Zeb won the Golden Sombrero Award the other day.  This is a momentous achievement awarded to a chief scientist after six consecutive empty fish traps!
  5. Lauren crafted us an extra special tie-dye octopus named Oscar.  He’s wearing the Golden Sombrero in the photo above.     
  6. Only 2.5 days till I’m back home.  Can’t wait to see my family. 

 

Neato Facts =

Back to general update #3 and today’s neato fact.  Both lionfish and pufferfish are toxic.  But are they poisonous? Or venomous?  Wait.  What’s the difference?  Both poisons and venoms are characterized as toxins, and often they are used interchangeably.  The distinction lies in the means of entry into your body.  Venoms get into you via something sharp – you’re either bitten with fangs or stung with stingers or spines.  Examples include our friend the lionfish, snakes, and bees.  Poisons, conversely, get into you when you eat it.  Examples include pufferfish, poison dart frogs,

Here’s a simple way to remember: Injection = Venom, Ingestion = Poison.  Click these links for interesting lists of poisonous animals, poisonous plants, and venomous animals

Pufferfish
Pufferfish from today’s fish trap.
Lionfish and Pufferfish
Lionfish (Venomous) and Pufferfish (Poisonous). Injection = Venom, Ingestion = Poison http://www.peakpx.com/487337/lion-fish-and-blue-puffer-fish

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. 

Ashley Cosme: Otoliths, Ice Cream, and Annabelle – September 9, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Ashley Cosme

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 31 – September 14, 2018

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 9, 2018

Weather data from the Bridge:

  • Latitude: 28 08.58N
  • Longitude: 92 24.27W
  • Wind speed:  8.66 Knots
  • Wind direction:  143 (from Southeast)
  • Sky cover: Scattered
  • Visibility:  10 miles
  • Barometric pressure:  1011.96 atm
  • Sea wave height: 0-0.5 feet
  • Sea Water Temp:  30.4°C
  • Dry Bulb: 28.7°C
  • Wet Bulb: 25.4°C

Science and Technology Log: 

In addition to collecting data on the many species of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, this survey also collects data that will go towards assessing the population of red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus).  One piece of evidence that is collected from the red snapper is their two distinct otoliths.  Otoliths are structures that are used for balance and orientation in bony fish.  One fascinating characteristic of the otolith is that they contain natural growth rings that researchers can count in order to determine the age of the fish.  This information is important for stock assessment of the red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.

Otoliths

Otoliths from a red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)

 

Personal Log:

I would have to say that the hardest part about being out at sea is not being able to see Coral and Kai.  I miss them so much and think about them nonstop.  Coral is at a very curious stage in her life (I hope the curiosity stays with her forever) and I cannot wait to get home and tell her about all the animals that I have been lucky enough to witness on this adventure.  Kai is just the sweetest little boy and I can only imagine the way he will react when I get home.

Ashley and shark

Bearing Down on the Oregon II

I am very busy on the boat and when there is down time my team and I are getting shark lessons from the incredibly intelligent Chief NOAA Scientist, Kristin Hannan, or we are in the movie room catching up on all the Annabelle movies.  It is almost impossible to get scared while aboard a ship.  It may seem that many things could go wrong, but the lights are always on and someone is always awake.  It is the perfect environment to watch any horror film because this atmosphere makes it much less scary.

Probably the scariest thing that is happening on this boat is the amount of weight I have gained.  All of the meals are delicious and they come with dessert.  It is kind of nice to not have to worry about going to the gym or staying on a normal routine.  Life is always so hectic day to day when I am at home, but being out here on the water gives me time to relax and reflect on the amazing people I have in my life that made this opportunity possible.

I am sad to report that the Chicago Bears lost tonight to Greenbay, but I did show support for my team!  I think the best part of the day was when I was on the bow of the boat and Kristin announced over the radio that the Bears were winning 7 to 0.  It is exciting being out here seeing everyone cheer for their fantasy team, as well as their home town team.

 

Animals seen:

Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)

King Snake Eel (Ophichthus rex)

Bonnethead Shark (Sphyrna tiburo)

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin (Stenella attenuate)

Atlantic Sharpnose Shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae)

Blacknose Shark (Carcharhinus acronotus)

Blacktip Shark (Carcharhinus limbatus)

Gulf Smooth-hound Shark (Mustelus sinusmexicanus)

David Knight: Work Out and Work Up: Part I, July 17, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Knight

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 10-23, 2018

 

Mission: Southeast Fishery-Independent Survey

Geographic Area: Southeastern U.S. coast

Date: July 17, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 30° 30.2 N
Longitude:
80° 15.6 W
Sea wave height:
1-2 ft
Wind speed:
15 kts
Wind direction:
187°
Visibility:
10 nm
Air temperature:
30.1 °C
Barometric pressure:
1014.7 mB
Sky:
Broken Clouds

Science and Technology Log

Warning!!! Great Science Ahead…


Part I.

Waiting to see

Waiting to see what the traps have brought up this time… (photo by David Knight)

As fish traps begin to be brought up by the deck crew, scientist wait to see what may be in the trap. I’ve actually found that I am looking over the deck in anticipation of new fish that may have been caught, or to see how many fish will need to be “worked up.” Once the fish have been removed from the trap and emptied into a large bin, they are then sorted by species into 17-gallon bins to determine the total weight of all fish.  Moving 17 gallons worth of fish up to the lab bench to the scale can be quite a “work out.” There have been a couple of hauls that have captured so many fish of a particular species that more than one bin has to be used. After the fish have been weighed, the total length of each fish is determined to get a length frequency of the entire catch.  For species like Tomtate (Haemulon aurolineatum), every fish is measured and then returned to the ocean. For some species, a pre-determined percentage are kept for a more detailed work up that may include the extraction of otoliths, removal of gonads, or a collection of stomach contents. The data collected from each fish will then be used by scientists in a number of different agencies and in different states to better understand the growth and reproduction of the particular species. All of this data is then used to create management plans for economically and ecologically important fish as well as to gain a better understanding of its life history.

Work Up

Length.

Measuring fish

Measuring the length of each, individual fish. (photo taken by Nate Bacheler)

One may assume that a very long fish is also very old, but that is not necessarily the case. The length of a fish is not a good way to determine the age of a fish because factors such as temperature and food availability may alter the growth rate. Many fish grow very rapidly early on, but then slow their growth, so it is possible that a fish that is twelve years old is the same size as a fish that is three years old. Because many fish demonstrate logistic growth rates in terms of length, it is important to use additional pieces of data to determine their age.

Otolith.

In the head of ray-finned fish, one can find small, bone-like structures called otoliths. These structures have a variety of sensory functions that include detection of sound vibrations in water, movement, and its orientation in the water. As fish age, calcium carbonate will be added to the otolith, forming ring-like structures that can be used to determine the age of a fish, much like a tree will add new tissue each season forming tree rings.  Otoliths are the best way to determine the actual age of a fish.

IMG_6677

Otoliths. [left to right: Black Sea Bass, Red Snapper, Jackknife fish] (photo by David Knight

For the fish that we were sampling, we remove the sagittal otoliths which are located beside the brain just about level with the eyes. To extract them, a cut is made on the dorsal side of the fish with a sharp knife to gain access to the skull case.  To extract otoliths from some very “hard-headed” fish, a saw is used, while others take little effort. After a few hours of otolith extraction, I feel as though I am getting the hang of it, although I am nowhere near as fast as the biologist on board! I’ve been collecting otoliths from Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata) and Vermillion Snapper (Rhomboplites aurorubens) to bring home with me to create a lab for my class and to post on the NOAA Teacher-at-Sea website.

Extracting otolith

Looking for a perfect extraction of otolith from Vermilion Snapper. (photo taken by Nate Bacheler)

Be sure to check back for Part II. Gonads, Diet and DNA


Personal Log

The motion of the ship has not been a problem so far and I stopped taking any motion sickness pills after the first day. As I have been removing otoliths from fish, I cannot help but think about the similarities in how both fish and humans perceive their spatial environment and maintain balance. In our vestibular system, we too have otoliths that help to sense acceleration in a vertical and horizontal direction. Of course my thoughts then go to a dark place…what if someone were removing my otoliths to determine my age?

 

Did You Know?

The longest known life span in vertebrates is found in the Greenland Shark (Somniosus microcephalus). It is estimated that the Greenland shark grows less than 1 cm per year. Since sharks do not have otoliths, scientist have to analyze proteins found in the lens of their eye.  In 2016, scientist from the University of Copenhagen collected a 5 m shark that was estimated to be about 392 years old, but may be anywhere from 272 to 512 years old.

Reference: Eye lens radiocarbon reveals centuries of longevity in the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus). Science  12 Aug 2016: Vol. 353, Issue 6300, pp. 702-704

Angela Hung: A Day in the Land Life, A Day at Sea, June 26, 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: June 26, 2018

 

Weather Data from Biloxi, MS

Conditions at 1356

Latitude: 30.42° N

Longitude: 88.92° W

Temperature: 34° C

Wind Speed: S 10mph

 

Science and Technology Log

Ship repairs are ongoing so I’m reporting from Biloxi, MS. Last week, I got the chance to visit the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Pascagoula lab onshore to learn about what the scientists do when they are not at sea.

NOAA Lab in Pascagoula, MS

NOAA Lab in Pascagoula, MS. Image credit: https://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/labs/mississippi/

I got to see the variety of projects described on their website (https://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/labs/mississippi/surveys/index.htm) , from video reef fish surveys (https://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/labs/mississippi/surveys/reeffish.htm#video) to seafood inspection, sharks, and the effects the Gulf oil spill from Deepwater Horizon on plankton in addition to groundfish survey. Chrissy Stepongzi, another fisheries biologist, was willing to take me on an impromptu tour of the warehouses at the pier and then brought me over to the labs.

The Labs

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Andre and Taniya with the Southern Stingray

Andre and Taniya holding the stingray.

Because we spent so much time at the pier (below) Andre Debose took over the tour. We got a sneak peek at the seafood inspection lab. You need a pretty high clearance to get in, but we ran into a researcher (I didn’t get his name) who was kind enough to take a few minutes to explain what they do:

The U.S. imports a lot of seafood from overseas as well. All ready-to-eat seafood that comes in is inspected by NOAA. A sample from every batch is tested for contaminants and pollutants to ensure it is safe for consumption. We happened to be at the lab that inspects menhaden, a fish typically ground into “fish meal” which is commonly used in pet foods. The lab also checks fish oil, a dietary supplement. Down the hall are labs that inspect Gulf seafood for petroleum oil.  After speaking with him, I felt much more confident in my seafood dinners and my cats’ food.

We went down to the reef unit which Andre has worked on and was introduced to Kevin Rademacher who studies reef fish and was watching video data from their camera array. He showed me a few videos recorded from their past surveys. Today, they use an array of five video cameras to create a single, 360˚ field of view for accurate fish counts. Fisheries use these data to determine the health of a fishery, as in the population and sizes of commercially important fish. This information guides the quotas of how many fish people are allowed to take while maintaining resources for the future.

Up to a few years ago, they used four separate cameras—four different fields of view that had to be watched individually to count fish. The new setup also features two levels to create stereoscopic or 3-D images so scientists can digitally measure the lengths of the fish, which was not possible before. However, species identification is still done using good old-fashioned human eyeballs in an experienced scientist.

Down the hall is Kristin Hannan’s office, my day shift manager aboard Oregon II. She studies sharks, which are caught using longlines (https://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/labs/mississippi/surveys/longline.htm), and she let me examine her collection!

We stopped by the plankton lab. Plankton is a collective term for very small marine organisms—algae and animals that form the foundation of marine food chains. The very small animals are usually the larvae of larger animals, but I didn’t realize how many were vertebrates, i.e. baby fish. I had imagined that plankton were primarily invertebrates such as sea sponge, coral, crustacean and squid larvae.

A sample of fish larva that make up plankton.

A sample of fish larva that make up plankton. Photo credit: https://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/labs/mississippi/surveys/plankton.htm

Finally, Andre showed me his otolith samples. Otoliths are small bony disks in the ears of fish that allow them to sense gravity and speed, which maintains their balance. (Yes, fish have ears and earbones like humans.) A layer of calcium is added every year of a fish’s life so these give us data about the ages of fish.

Overall at NOAA’s Pascagoula labs, researchers are hard at work studying marine life in the Gulf of Mexico to learn where they are and when to find them, at every stage of life, from larval plankton, to juveniles, adults and to food for others such as sharks and dolphins. While “economic” species are the focus of fisheries industries, “ecological” species are deservedly monitored here as well. In such a vast ecosystem, every organism has hundreds or likely thousands of ecological ties to those around it, as predator, prey, competitors or symbiotic partners. Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy crab legs and fish sticks for dinner. As biologist Alonzo Hamilton puts it, “fish are a product of the environment”, referring to the collective forces that create an ecosystem.

To top off the lab visit, I was presented with a fabulous goody bag! I have some great materials to use in class, and I’m particularly grateful for the coffee mug so I can stop using paper cups in the ship’s galley.

Goody bag from Pascagoula Lab

Goody bag from Pascagoula Lab

The Warehouse

So where does all this equipment for these different projects come from? Sadly, there isn’t a “science store” for weird and wonderful devices that seamlessly combine into “cutting edge technology”. I mentioned in the last post that scientists often have to build what they need.  In fact, part of NOAA’s mission to support sustainable fishery practices is inventing the tools to fish sustainably! They may not have a store to go shopping in, but they have something much better: Captain James Barbour, master welder extraordinaire! (His actual title is something like Engineering Tech/Gear & Equipment Specialist.)

Chrissy took me to visit him in the warehouses and that was a fun place! We walked into his current project—a stainless steel work table for a scientist, but custom built to include clipboard hangers, blood sample holder, holes for hand sanitizer bottles…like a home renovation show but for research vessels.

The camera arrays for reef survey are his handiwork. He’s built traps with camera housing to record what’s going on under water. He has also modified smaller boats to create platforms for scientists to safely wrangle fish, and apparatuses to operate nets and other equipment. He is steeped in the design of TEDs-turtle excluder devices, and bycatch reducers. Bycatch are animal species that are caught with commercial ones, especially by nets. Often, these are not returned alive to the ocean. TEDs are metal, circular grids about three feet across that are attached to the end of fishing nets, forming a cone. When a turtle is caught, it hits the excluder and slides out of an escape chute. Fish pass through the excluder and into the blind end of the net.

If you have ever heard or worried about sea turtles or wasted bycatch getting trapped in nets, rest assured that U.S. fisheries are using these devices to reduce their environmental impact. And chances are Capt. Barbour welded them!

This is just a small sample of what he’s accomplished in his long career at NOAA. He continues his research with other scientists to collect data and improve the design, for example, to screen out smaller turtles without sacrificing the fish catch.

As a scientist observing the decline in science literacy and confidence from the general public, I often come across the Strawman fallacy that “science has no place in politics”. This doesn’t make sense considering the various U.S. agencies that employ scientists to make discoveries about our world and outside of it, because objective knowledge is where sound policies should originate. Science has always has an important role in American politics. Another classic are the cries for “less government regulation and interference” but I’m certain those people have no idea what that means. In U.S. seafood industries, regulations require TEDs and bycatch reducers because ecological species support the health of economic ones. In U.S. markets, regulations require safety testing of seafood imports. In Gulf fisheries, regulations limit how many red snapper one can take and when shrimpers can open season because this ensures consumers can enjoy seafood next year and every year after. They ensure that fisherman have employment next year and every year after. Government, as well as university, scientists are third party to all companies and have no personal financial incentives besides their regular salaries. Scientists are public servants who work for everyone.

Captain Barbour is a modest man, but it’s clear that he takes pride in the devices he builds because he accepts the responsibility of humans to be stewards of this planet and the other creatures we share it with. Thus, he genuinely cares about the well-being of dolphins and turtles. He takes personal action for what he believes by coming to work everyday and engages with optimizing the design of scientific equipment by communicating with collaborators, analyzing data, and building with his own hands. While most of us don’t get to be so directly involved with our contributions to society there are two things to think about:

  1. The NOAA is recruiting (quite a few retirements are coming up). College students can try out through an internship: https://coastalscience.noaa.gov/about/internship/
  2. All of us together through our own strengths can make many small actions great: refuse those single use plastics, recycle always, VOTE (or don’t complain), and practice lifelong learning.

 

Personal Log

At about 1500 on the first day of the survey, I find out that I’m assigned to the day shift that runs from 1200 to 2400. Roommates are assigned with opposite shifts so that each person can have the stateroom while the other works. Typically, you have a backpack to carry anything you might need to avoid entering the room and disturbing a sleeping roommate. The operations of the vessel are 24 hours and other members of the crew work different shifts around the clock: engineers might be scheduled six hours on, six hours off, officers four hours on/off, etc.

“Someone is sleeping all the time on every deck.” –LT Ryan Belcher

So, on day one, my roommate tries to get some sleep and I’m out of the room. For the rest of the day, I experience something called “down time” with nothing really to do. I don’t know when the last time this happened was. Everyone is busy at work or sleeping before their shift and I find myself curiously alone. I find my way back to a higher deck that Chrissy had shown me earlier where a deck chair (no pun intended) has been stashed. The indoor lounge features a large collection of movies on loan from the Navy, including recent releases. After I come in from spending some time relaxing outside, I reenter the lounge to find some of the scientists starting Justice League. When that finishes, we put in Winchester which is inspired by the true story, whatever that means, of the famous haunted house built by Sarah Winchester of the family that developed rifles. Not too bad if you are a fan of ghost stories.

Justice League and Winchester

Justice League. Image from: https://www.warnerbros.com/justice-league; Winchester: The House that Ghosts Built. Image from: http://www.impawards.com/2018/winchester_the_house_that_ghosts_built_ver6.html

 

It’s a long day and I finally get to go to bed.

Did You Know?

From the last blog we learned that NOAA is a Department of Commerce (DOC) agency that collects scientific data for economic purposes. On this cruise, and those of the past 40 years, Texas shrimp fisheries use NOAA data collected by Oregon II to determine when to open shrimping grounds every year to ensure a sustainable supply. NOAA Ship Oregon II also trawls during the summer for red snapper for fisheries around the entire Gulf to determine when fishing can begin.

Amanda Dice: Fish Sticks with a Side of Science, August 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Amanda Dice

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 21 – September 2, 2017

 

IMG_1553

We have made it to the most northern point on the survey.

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Fishery Survey

Geographic area of cruise:
Western Gulf of Alaska

Date: August 29, 2017

Weather Data: 10.2 C, rainy/stormy

Latitude: 59 20.0 N, Longitude: 152 02.5 W

 

 

Science and Technology Log

The main focus of this survey is to gather information about juvenile walleye pollock, Gadus chalcogrammus. Juvenile pollock less than 1 year of age are called young-of-the-year, or age-0 juveniles. Age-0 walleye pollock are ecologically important. Many species of birds, mammals and other fish rely on them as a food source. Adult pollock have a high economic value. Pollock is commercially fished and commonly used in fish sticks and fish and chips. This study is interested in learning more about the size of current juvenile pollock populations, where they occur, and how healthy they are.

IMG_1132

An age 0 juvenile pollock is shown below an adult pollock.

In order to collect a sample, a trawl net is lowered into the water off of the back of the ship. The deck crew and bridge crew work together to release the right amount of wire and to drive the ship at the right speed in order to lower the net to the desired depth. The net is shaped like a sock, with the opening facing into the water current. In order to keep the mouth of the net from closing as it is pulled through the water, each side is connected to a large metal panel called a “door”. As the doors move through the water, they pull on the sides of the trawl net, keeping it open. When the doors are ready to be put in the water, the fishing officer will instruct the winch operator to “shoot the doors”!

IMG_1272

The deck crew bring the trawl net back on deck. One of the metal “doors” can be seen hanging off of the back of the ship.

Sensors help monitor the depth of the upper and lower sides of the net and relay a signal to computers on the bridge, where the data can be monitored.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 7.44.24 PM

Sensors on the trawl net relay data to computers on the bridge which show the position of the net in the water.

Once the net is reeled in with a large winch, the catch is placed on a sorting table, in a room just off of the back deck called the fish lab. Here, the science team works to sort the different species of fish, jellyfish, and other kinds of marine animals that were caught.

IMG_1217

Crew members stand below a winch and empty the catch from the trawl net into a large bin.

IMG_1576

The catch is then sorted on the sorting table in the fish lab.

Juvenile pollock are sorted into their own bin. If it is a small catch, we weigh, count, and measure the length of each one. However, if it is a large catch, we take a smaller sample, called a subsample, from the whole catch. We use the weight, lengths, and count of animals in the subsample to provide an estimate count and average size of the rest of the fish caught at that station, which are only weighed. This information is compiled on a computer system right in the fish lab.

IMG_1097

Here I am measuring some fish.

 

IMG_1117

Data from the catch is collected on computers in the fish lab.

 

The focus of this study is juvenile pollock, but we do catch several other species in the trawl net. The presence of other species can provide information about the habitats where juvenile pollock live. Therefore, data from all species collected are also recorded.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 8.36.24 PM

Here are some other interesting species we caught: 1. jellyfish (with a partially digested pollock inside it!) 2. lumpsucker 3. herring 4. spider crab

A small sample of juvenile pollock are frozen and saved for further study, once back on land. These fish will be analyzed to determine their lipid, or fat, content and calorie content. This data reveals information about how healthy these fish are and if they are getting enough food to survive through the cold Alaskan winters.

Other agencies within NOAA also conduct scientific surveys in this area. These studies might focus on different species or abiotic (non-living) properties of the Gulf of Alaska marine ecosystem. The data collected by each agency is shared across the larger NOAA organization to help scientists get a comprehensive look at how healthy marine ecosystems are in this area.

 

Personal Log

As we move from one station to the next, I have been spending time up on the bridge. This gives me a chance to scan the water for sea birds and marine mammals, or to just take in the scenery. Other members of the crew also like to come up to do this same thing. I have really enjoyed having this time every day to share in this activity (one of my favorite past-times) with other people and to learn from them how to identify different species.

IMG_1192

Here I am outside of the bridge, posing with some glaciers!

 

Did You Know?

You can find the exact age of many fish species by looking at a bone in their ears! Fish have a special ear bone, called an otolith. Every year, a new layer will grow around the outside of this bone. As the fish ages, the otolith gets larger and larger. Scientists can find the exact age of the fish by cutting a cross section of this bone and counting the rings made from new layers being added each year.

IMG_1099

A small otolith of an age 0 juvenile pollock

IMG_1168

Larger otoliths from an adult pollock