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

 

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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.

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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”!

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Here I am measuring some fish.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A small otolith of an age 0 juvenile pollock

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Larger otoliths from an adult pollock

Kip Chambers: Parting Shots I of II… July 22, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kip Chambers

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

July 17-30, 2017

Mission: West Coast Pelagics Survey  

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean; U.S. West Coast

Date: 07/22/2017

 Weather Data from the Bridge: (Pratt, Kansas)

Date: 08/02/2017                                                                    Wind Speed: SE at 5 mph

Time: 18:40                                                                            Latitude: 37.7o N

Temperature: 29o C                                                                Longitude: 98.75o W

Science and Technology Log:

During my last few days aboard the Reuben Lasker before steaming to Bodega Bay for a small boat transfer on July 30th, we were fishing off of the southern Oregon coast. The ship continued to run the longitudinal transect lines using acoustics and collecting data using the continuous underway fish egg sampler (CUFES) during the day and performing targeted trawls for coastal pelagic species (CPS) at night. The weather and the pyrosomes picked up as we moved down the Oregon coast to northern California, but on what would turn out to be the last trawl of my trip in the early morning hours of July 28th, we had our biggest catch of the trip with over 730 kg in the net. Once again we saw 3 of the 4 CPS fish species that are targeted for the survey including the Pacific sardine, Pacific mackerel, and jack mackerel, but no northern anchovies were to be found. The science crew worked efficiently to process the large haul and collect the data that will be used to provide the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) with information that can be used to help understand the dynamics of CPS in the California Current. The data collected from the CPS fish species includes length and weight, otoliths (used to age the fish), gender and reproductive stage, and DNA samples. The information from these different parameters will provide the biologists at SWFSC with information that can be used to understand the nature of the different populations of the CPS fish species that are being studied.

 

 

I am home now in southcentral Kansas, but as I am writing this, I can picture the science team beginning preparations for a night of trawling probably just north of Bodega Bay. By now (22:00) it is likely that a bongo tow and the conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD) probe samples have been collected providing data that will be used to calibrate and maximize the effectiveness of the acoustics for the area. Lanora and the rest of the team will have prepped the lab for a night of sampling, weather data will be recorded, and someone (maybe Nina or Austin) will be on mammal watch on the bridge. It all seems so familiar now; I hope the rest of the survey goes as well as the first half of the second leg. I will be thinking about and wondering how the science team of the Reuben Lasker is doing somewhere off the coast of California as I settle in for the night. One thing I am sure of, after spending two weeks aboard the ship, is that the entire crew on the Reuben Lasker is working together, diligently, as a team, using sound scientific practices to produce the best data possible to guide decisions about the fisheries resources in the California Current.

 

 

 

Video Transcription: (Narration by Kip Chambers)

(0:01) Ok, we’re preparing to remove otoliths from a jack mackerel. It’s for the Coastal Pelagic Species survey on the Reuben Lasker, July 27, 2017.
(0:22) We have Phil, from Washington Fish & Game, who’s going to walk us through the procedure. 
(0:30) The otoliths are essentially the fish’s ear bones. They help with orientation and balance, and also have annual rings that be used to age the fish.
(0:48) And so the initial cut is – looks like it’s just in front of the operculum and about a blade-width deep. 
(1:01) And the secondary cut is from the anterior, just above the eyes and kind of right level with the orbital of the eyes, back to the vertical cut.
(1:22) It’s a fairly large jack mackerel. And, once the skull cap has been removed, you can see the brain case, and you have the front brain and kind of the hind brain where it starts to narrow…
(1:42) … and just posterior to the hind brain, there are two small cavities, and that was the right side of the fish’s otolith, 
(1:55) … and that is the left side. And that is very well done. Thank you Phil.

 

I wanted to use a portion of this section of the blog to share some comments that were expressed to me from the members of the science team as I interviewed them before I left last week. The first “interview” was with Dave Griffith, the chief scientist for the survey. Dave was kind enough to provide me with a written response to my questions; his responses can be found below.

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Chief Scientist Dave Griffith

Q1: Can you tell me a little bit about your background, including education and work history?

Q1: I was born and raised in a small suburb of Los Angeles county called Temple City. Located in the San Gabriel valley at the base of the San Gabriel mountains, it was the perfect place to exercise the love and curiosity of the animals I could find not only in my backyard but also in the local mountains. It wasn’t until I reached high school that I realized I had a knack for sciences especially biology. This interest and appeal was spurred on by my high school teacher, Al Shuey. With little concept of a career, I continued on to a junior college after high school still not sure of my direction. Here I dabbled in welding, art, music and literature but always rising to the surface was my love of sciences. My fate was sealed.

I entered San Diego State’s science program and was able to earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree of science. For my dissertation I studied the re-colonization capabilities of meiofaunal harpacticoid copepods in response to disturbed or de-faunated sediments within Mission Bay. While studying for my masters, I was hired by Hubbs-Sea World Marine Laboratory as the initial group of researchers to begin the OREHAP project which is still operational today. The OREHAP project’s hypothesis was that releasing hatchery reared fish into the wild, in this case white seabass (Atractocion nobilis), would stimulate the natural population to increase recruitment and enhance the population. At the time the white seabass population numbers were at their all time low. During that time of employment at HSWML, I was also teaching zoology at SDSU as a teaching assistant in the graduate program. I was also the laboratory manager and in charge of field studies at Hubbs. My plate was pretty full at the time.

I heard about the opening at the SWFSC through a colleague of mine that I was working with while helping her conduct field work for her Ph.D. at Scripps. I applied and was hired on as the cruise leader in the Ship Operations/CalCOFI group for all field work conducted within CFRD (now FRD) working under Richard Charter. That was 1989. I have now been the supervisor of the Ship Operations/CalCOFI group since 2005.

My main objective on the Coastal Pelagic Fish survey as the cruise leader is to oversee all of the operations conducted by personnel from FRD during the survey. All scientific changes or decisions are made by the cruise leader using science knowledge, logic, common sense and a healthy input from all scientists aboard. I am the liaison between the scientific contingent and the ship’s workforce as well as the contact for the SWFSC laboratory. The expertise I bring out in the field is specific to fish egg identification, fish biology, field sampling techniques, knowledge of the California Current Large Ecosystem and sampling equipment.

Q2: What have you learned from your time on the Reuben Lasker during the 2nd leg of the Pelagic Species Survey?

Q2: First, that you never have preconceived ideas of what you expect to find. You always come out with knowledge of previous studies and a potential of what you might see, but the ocean always will show you and demonstrate just how little you know. When I was beginning in this career I was able to witness the complete dominance of a northern anchovy centric distribution change to a Pacific sardine centric distribution and now possibly back again. It’s mind boggling. I remember one of my colleagues, one of the pre-eminent fish biologists in the field, Paul Smith say to me during these transitions say, “Well, you take everything you’ve learned over the past 40 years, throw it out the window and start over again.” Yeah, the ocean environment will do that to you.

Q3: What advice would you give to a 1st year college student that was interested in pursuing a career in marine science?

Q3: Keep an open mind. Once you enter a four year university you will see areas of study that you never thought or believed existed. Have a concept of where you want to be but don’t ignore the various nuances that you see along the way. Go for the highest degree you feel capable of achieving and do it now because it becomes so much more difficult as you get older or the further away you get from academics if you begin working in a science position.

And last, and I feel most important. Read. Read everything. Journals, magazines, classics, modern novels, anything and everything and never stop. Communication is such an incredibly important part of science and you need to have a command of the language. Not only is reading enjoyable but it will make you a better writer, a better speaker and a better scientist.

 

Personal Log:

I am back home in Kansas now after wrapping up my assignment on the Reuben Lasker and I have started to contemplate my experiences over the last couple of weeks. There are so many facets related to what I have learned during my time on the ship; the technology and mechanics of such a large research vessel are both fascinating and daunting at the same time. There are so many moving parts that all have to come together and work in a very harsh environment in order for the ship to function; it is a testament to the men and women that operate the boat that things operate so smoothly. As impressive as the technology and research is on the Reuben Lasker, it is the people that have made the biggest impact on me.

You can see from Dave’s response above that there are some incredibly talented, dedicated individuals on the ship. I would like to share with you some of my observations about some of those people that I worked with including Dave Griffith. Dave is not only an outstanding scientist that has spent a lifetime making important contributions to fisheries science, he is also an incredibly well rounded person and an encyclopedia of knowledge. I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank Dave for his patience, and willingness to listen and provide insight and advice to me during my time on the ship. In my upcoming blog, I will provide more information about the other members of the science team that I had the pleasure to work with while on board. Until then please enjoy the pictures and video from my last week on the Reuben Lasker.

Brad Rhew: Getting Fishy With It, July 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Brad Rhew

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

July 23 – August 7, 2017

 

Mission: Hake Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest coast

Date: July 28, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude 4359.5N
Longitude 12412.6 W
Temperatue: 54 degrees
Sunny
No precipitation
Winds at 23.5 knots
Waves at 2-4 feet

 

Science and Technology Log

We are officially off! It has already been an amazing experience over the last couple of days.

One of the goals of this project is to collect data that will be used to inform the Pacific hake stock assessment. This falls in line with the Pacific Whiting Treaty that the US-Canadian governments enacted to jointly manage the hake stock. NOAA and Department of Fisheries and Oceans-Canada (DFO) jointly survey and provide the hake biomass to the stock assessment scientists. (Refer to the link in my last blog about additional information on this treaty.) Major goals of the survey are to determine the biomass, distribution, and biological composition of Pacific hake using data from an integrated acoustic and trawl survey. Additionally, we are collecting a suite of ecological and physical oceanographic data in order to better understand the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem (CCLME).

There is a very detailed process the scientists go through to collect samples and data on the hake caught and selected for sampling. They want to learn as much as possible about these fish to help with the ongoing research projects.

Here is a quick guide and understanding of how sampling works and what data is collected:

  1. Determine the length and sex of the fish.
    1. To determine the length, the fish is placed on a magnetic sensor measuring board. The magnet is placed at the fork of the tail fin; the length is recorded into the data table. (See figure A.)
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      Figure A. Determining the length of the fish.

       

    2. To determine the sex, the fish is sliced open on the side. Scientist look to see if ovaries (for females) or testes (for males) are present. They also can determine the maturity of the fish by looking at the development of the reproductive organs. (See figure B.)

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      Figure B. Determining the sex of the fish.

  2. Determine the mass.
    1. The Hake are placed on a digital scale and then massed. The data also gets entered into the database. (See figure C.)

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      Figure C. Massing the fish on a digital scale.

  3. Removing of the otoliths (ear bones).
    1. Hake have two otoliths. How this is done is the scientist first cuts a slight incision on top of the fish’s head. (See figure D.)

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      Figure D. Making an incision on the fish’s head to remove otoliths.

    2. The head is then carefully cracked open to expose the bones. (See figure E.)
    3. The bones are removed with forceps and then placed in a vial. The vial is then barcode scanned into the database. The otoliths will then be sent to the lab for testing. Scientists can run test on the otoliths to determine the age of the selected fish. (See figures F and G.)
  4. Removing a fin clip.
    1. Fin clips are removed from the Hake for DNA sampling to be completed back on shore in the lab. This gives researchers even more information about the selected fish.
    2. The fin clip is removed using scissors and forceps. (see figure H.)

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      Figure H. Removing a fin clip.

    3. The clip is then placed on a numbered sheet. (see figure I.)

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      Figure I. Placing the fin clip on a numbered sheet.

    4. The number is also entered into the database with all the other information collected on that particular fish.
  5. All the information is collected in one database so it can be assessed by scientists for future research. (see figure J.)

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    Figure J. All information is stored in a database.

 

Personal Log

Even though this survey is just beginning this has been such an amazing experience already. I have learned a great deal about oceanography and marine research. I cannot wait to use my experiences back in my classroom to expose my students to careers and opportunities they could be a part of in their future.

Another great aspect of being a Teacher at Sea is the relationships I’m building with other scientists and the crew. It is amazing to hear how everyone became a part of this cruise and how passionate they are about their profession and the world around them.

 

Did You Know?

This is Leg 3 of 5 of this Summer Hake Survey. Two more legs will be completed this year to collect even more data on the fish population.

 

Fascinating Catch of the Day!

When we fish for Hake it is very common to collect some other organisms as well. Today’s fun catch was Pyrosomes or Sea Tongues!

These free-floating colonial tunicates are found in the upper part of the open ocean. Pyrosomes rely on the currents to move them around the ocean. They are typically cone shaped and are actually made up of hundreds of organisms known as zooids. The Zooids form a gelatinous tunic that links them together creating the cone shape. They are also bioluminescent and give off a glow in the ocean.

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Fun with pyrosomes!

Check it Out!

If you want to learn more about what is happening on the Bell M. Shimada, check out The Main Deck blog for the ship:

https://www.nwfsc.noaa.gov/news/blogs/display_blogentry.cfm?blogid=7

Dawn White: Otoliths & a “Wet” Farewell: July 2, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

 Dawn White

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

June 19 – July 1, 2017

 

Mission: West Coast Sardine Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean; U.S. West Coast

Date: July 2, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge (As in back home in North Branch, MN)

Date: July 2, 2017                                                             Wind Speed: 8 kts

Time: 7:30 p.m.                                                                 Latitude: 45.5102° N

Temperature: 26.7 oC                                                     Longitude:  92.9931° W

Science and Technology Log

It wasn’t until the last day or two of my leg of the research project that we finally started to catch the species the scientists were specifically looking to track and even then there were only a few.

Angela removes an otolith from the sample target species

Here’s Angela dissecting one of our first samples.  If the young captured were either sardines or anchovies, they were massed, length taken, sex determined (including whether or not they were sexually mature, if possible), and their otoliths were removed.

So what the heck are otoliths and why would anyone want to remove them?

Otoliths are small, bony parts of a fish’s earbones.  They help the fish with balance and orientation.  These bones are made of calcium carbonate and similar to the formation of rings on a tree, they grow with a ring-like pattern based on seasonal metabolic rates.  While the fish is growing faster during the warmer summer months, the rings are broader and more translucent.  Then, during the cooler winter months when a fish’s metabolic rate begins to slow down, that part of the ring appears to be more dense or opaque.

Look at the first illustration below that was taken from a 2008 NOAA press release.  On the lower right you see an image of an otolith from a haddock.  Each species has otoliths of a particular size and shape. If you know the region of ocean from which a set of otoliths was obtained, you may be able to determine the species by utilizing one of the many otolith references that can be accessed online, such as found in this memorandum published by NOAA researcher Mark S. Lowry.

 

The enlarged image on the right was taken from the NOAA Images Library.  Here you can see the rings very distinctly.

Extension question for my students:  Using the otolith image on the right, determine how old the fish was at the time of capture.  Not sure how to do this just yet?  Want to test your accuracy?  Read up on what is involved in the study of sclerochronology first. Then test yourself with this otolith aging interactive.  Enjoy!

Once the otoliths have been removed they are wiped clean and placed in a small vial to finish drying out.  The otoliths are cataloged and sent to the lab for evaluation as shown in the photos below.

 

The combination of measurements taken allow those studying the population to look at the demographics of the catch (What % of the population is juvenile?  What % is sexually mature? What is the relationship between % male vs. female?).  This data provides a sampling of the population’s health and viability, which can then be extrapolated to the population as a whole.  This information can then be used to help inform policy with regards to how heavily these populations can be fished without causing damage to the ecosystems of which they are a part.

 

Personal Log – It’s time to go home!

It seemed like we had just gotten started and it was time to go!  Although they had mixed work/sleep schedules, the science team was willing to gather to see me off.

Angela, Dereka, Dawn (TAS), Nick, Amy, Bryan, Sue, Emily

What an amazing learning experience!  My only regret was that we didn’t start to find the species requiring the more intense, time-consuming dissection and data collection until the very end.  I wanted to make sure I was doing my part!  In return, what I get to take home to my students is invaluable. I can’t wait to share all I have learned about life aboard a research vessel, the many ways in which this unique habitat is being studied, and the vast opportunities that await those who are interested in marine ecosystems.

The only travel plan that was not prearranged regarding my TAS adventure was the exact location of my departure from the Reuben Lasker.  What I did know was that it was to be a “wet transfer.”  What I didn’t know was exactly what that meant.  It was so much fun finding out!

The Reuben Lasker has a limited number of ports along the west coast where it is possible for it to dock.  The ship’s size, unique keel, and specialized, below-ship sonar equipment require channels to be much deeper than many smaller ports possess.  Because of this, whenever there is to be an exchange of personnel made before a larger port is reached, an onboard transfer craft brings those getting off to a smaller port along the way.  This allows the main vessel to stay in safer waters much further off shore.  Once the exchange of people and gear is made, the transfer boat returns to the ship and the journey continues.

Unique points to consider on this type of trip, however, are that you need to get the transfer boat launched from the main vessel, the ship lets you off several miles from port, and the boat has no seats – you stand up the whole way!  Who knew that even getting back to the mainland was to be an adventure?!

You can see the transfer boat below (right side in the picture – port side of the ship).  Notice how the Reuben Lasker carries it hoisted up off the floor of the back deck.

View of the transfer boat (at right) stored on Reuben Lasker

The transfer boat gets lowered to deck level so we can all step in.  Our gear is stored in the open bow and we all load in the back.  Behind the center console are poles with handles that give us something stable to hold on to as we will be standing for the duration of the trip.  We all wear life jackets and hard hats as the boat is lowered along-side the main ship.

Here’s Skilled Fisherman Victor Pinones ready at the controls as he lowers us to sea level.

Skilled fisherman Victor Pinones ready at the controls

The two outboard motors are started while we are along-side so we are ready to move away from the Reuben Lasker the minute we hit the water.  And we’re off! To give you some perspective of the size of the Reuben Lasker as it looks from the water, you can see Emily, Angela, and Dereka waving to me from the Level-1 deck.

View of NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker from the transfer boat

It didn’t take long before the ship was but a spot on the horizon….

Here’s a better look at the transfer vessel as crew members prepare to for the return trip.

Bon voyage to all!  Safe travels!

Did You Know?

Fun fact: Baby squid are adorable!  Just had to share one last image from under the microscope – thanks, Nick, for pointing this out!  At this larval stage, the squid are mainly transparent except for their developing eyes and chromatophores (sac-like structures filled with pigments that help the squid undergo color changes).  You can observe this process in action at the Smithsonian’s  Ocean Portal web site.

 

Looking at the enlarged photo at right you can just make out the scale – our little friend was a whole 3 mm in diameter!  Too cute!

Marsha Lenz: And The Hauls Begin, June 14, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Marsha Lenz

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 8–28, 2017

 

Mission:Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 14, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 53 24.35 N

Longitude: 166 58.2 W

Time: 0700

Visibility: 8 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: 095

Wind Speed: 25 Knots

Sea Wave Height: 7-9 foot swell

Barometric Pressure: 1003.4 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 7.2°C

Science and Technology Log

I know that I have already talked about how much science and technology there is on board, but I am amazed again and again by not only the quantity of it, but also the quality of it. I am also impressed by the specialized education and training that the scientists and rest of the crew have in their designed roles on this ship. They know how to utilize and make sense of it all. I keep trying to understand some of basics,  but often I just find myself standing in the back of the room, taking it all in.

We brought in our first haul on Monday.  I was given an orientation of each station, put on my fish gear, and got to work. I was shown how to identify the males from the females and shown how to find the fork length of the fish. Finally, I also practiced removing the otoliths from the fish. I finally felt like I was being useful.

 

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I woke up on Tuesday (6/13) to start my 4:00 am shift. After some coffee and a blueberry muffin, I headed down to the “Chem lab.” We had arrived at the Islands of the Four Mountains in the night and were now heading back to start on the transect lines. The scientists had just dropped down the Drop Camera to get an idea of what was happening on the ocean floor. The camera went down to 220 meters to get an idea of what was happening down there. The video images that were being transmitted were mind-blowing. Though it was black and white footage, the resolution had great detail. We were able to see the bottom of the ocean floor and what was hanging out down there. The science crew was able to identity some fish and even some coral. One doesn’t really think of Alaska when one thinks of coral reefs. However, there are more species of coral in the Aleutians than in the Caribbean. That’s a strange thought. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are 50 species of coral in the Caribbean. Scientists believe that there are up to 100 species of coral in the coral gardens of Alaska that are 300 to 5,000 feet below the surface.

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The DropCam took images of life on the ocean floor.

 

 

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Personal Log

Monday, June 12

We have been making progress in getting to the Island of Four Mountains. We should be arriving around noon. At this point the scientists have still been getting everything ready for the first haul. The crew has been working hard to fine-tune the equipment ready for data gathering. I have been sitting in “The Cave” at various times, while they have been working around the clock, brainstorming, trouble-shooting, and sharing their in-depth knowledge with each other (and at times, even with me).

In the afternoon, I was asked to help a member of the Survey Crew sew a shark sling. I was not sure what that entailed, but was willing to help in any way possible. When I found Meredith, she was in the middle of sewing straps onto the shark sling. Ethan and I stepped in to help and spent the rest of the afternoon sewing the sling. The sling is intended to safely return any sharks that we catch (assuming we catch any) back to the water.

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We spent many hours sewing the straps onto the sling.

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The sling is intended to safely remove any shark we catch from the boat.

Tuesday, June 13

I woke up at 3am, grabbed a coffee and then made my way down to the Chem Lab. After downloading the footage from the DropCam and getting a few still pictures, we started identifying what we saw. Using identification key, we were able to identify the fish and some coral. We saw what we thought was an anemone. We spent about and hour to an hour and a half trying to identify the species. We had no luck. Finally, Abigail, with her scientific wisdom, decided to look into the coral species a bit deeper. And then, AHA!, there it was. It turned out to be a coral, rather than an anemone. It was a great moment to reflect on. It was a reminder that, even in science, there is a bit of trial and error involved.   I have also observed that the science, actually everyone else on the ship, is always prepared to “trouble shoot” situations. In the moments where I have been observing in the back of the room, I have been able to take in many of the subtleties that take place on a research vessel like this. Here are some things that I have noticed.
1) Things will go wrong, 2) They always take longer than expected to fix, 3) Sometimes there are things that we don’t know (and that’s ok!) 4) Patience is important, 5) Tolerance is even more important, and 6) Clear communication is probably the most important of all. These have been good observations and reminders for me to apply in my own life.

Animals (And Other Cool Things) Seen Today

I feel very fortunate that I had a chance to participate in the DropCam process.  We were able to identify:

  • Blackspotted rockfish
  • Feathery plumarella
  • Basketstar
  • Pink seafan
  • Grooved hydrocoral
  • Anthomastus mushroom coral

 

Did You Know?

In the NOAA Corps, an Ensign (ENS) is a junior commissioned officer. Ensigns are also part of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and other maritime services. It is equivalent to a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, the lowest commissioned officer, and ranking next below a lieutenant, junior grade.

Interview with ENS Caroline Wilkinson

What is your title aboard this ship?

I serve as a Junior Officer aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.

How long have you been working with the NOAA Corps?

Since July 2015 when I entered Basic Officer Training Class (BOTC) at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. We train there for 5 months before heading out to our respective ship assignments. I arrived on the Dyson in December of 2015 and have been here ever since.

What sparked your interest in working for them?

I first learned of the NOAA Corps during a career fair my senior year of college at the University of Michigan. I was attracted by all of the traveling, the science mission of the organization, and the ability to serve my country.

What are some of the highlights of your job?

We see some incredible things out here! The Alaskan coastline is stunningly beautiful and there are more whales, sea birds, seals, otters, etc. than we can count. The crew and scientists are incredibly hardworking and supremely intelligent. They are a joy to work with and I love being able to contribute to highly meaningful science.

What are some of challenging parts of your job?

We spend over 200 days at sea each year and operate in remote areas. It is difficult to keep in touch with loved ones and most of us only see family and friends once or twice a year, if we are lucky. That is a huge sacrifice for most people and is absolutely challenging.

How much training did you go through?

The NOAA Corps Officers train for 5 months at the US Coast Guard Academy alongside the Coast Guard Officer Candidates. It is a rigorous training program focusing on discipline, officer bearing, and seamanship. Once deployed to the ship, we serve 6-8 months as a junior officer of the deck (JOOD) alongside a qualified Officer of the Deck (OOD). This allows us to become familiar with the ship, get more practice ship handling, and learn the intricacies of trawling.

What are your main job responsibilities?

Each Junior Office wears many hats. Each day I stand eight hours of bridge watch as OOD driving the ship and often instructing a JOOD. I also serve as the Medical Officer ensuring all crew and scientists are medically fit for duty and responding to any illness, injury, or emergency. I am the Environmental Compliance Officer and ensure the ship meets all environmental standards for operations with regards to things like water use and trash disposal. As the Navigation Officer, I work with the Captain and the Chief Scientist to determine where the ship will go and how we will get there. I then create track lines on nautical charts to ensure we are operating in safe waters. In my spare time I manage some small aspects of the ship’s budget and organize games, contests, outings, etc. as the morale officer.

Is there anything else that you would like to add or share about what you do?

I am really enjoying my time working for NOAA and in the NOAA Corps; I could not have asked for a better career. It is a challenging and exciting experience and I encourage anyone interested to reach out to a recruiting officer at https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/noaa-corps/join/applying.

 

Dave Amidon: California – Here I Come! May 25, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea
David Amidon
Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker
June 2 – June 13, 2017

Mission: Pelagic Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean -Off the California Coast

Date: May 25, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Since I am still in Central New York, that is not an easy answer. This week – 60s and rain. Last week it was 85, hot & muggy; the week before saw a Frost Advisory. CNY meteorologists certainly earn their keep.

I will be traveling off the coast of California, which I have heard is nice. I expect 50’s to 60’s during the day, warming as we move south.

Science and Technology Log

Not much to report yet as I am still landlocked, but I am looking forward to seeing how the scientists work!

For some background, I pulled some information about the Rockfish Survey from the NOAA Fisheries website, and the official NOAA website of the Reuben Lasker (as well as the Facebook and Wikipedia entries for the vessel).

From the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations:

Built in Wisconsin by Marinette Marine Corporation and commissioned in 2014, the ship is named after Dr. Reuben Lasker (1929-1988), who served as the director of SWFSC’s Coastal Fisheries Division and as adjunct professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, U.C. San Diego. Dr. Lasker built a renowned research group that focused on the recruitment of young fish to the adult population — a topic with implications for fisheries management throughout the world. Reuben Lasker is homeported in San Diego, California.

https://www.omao.noaa.gov/learn/marine-operations/ships/reuben-lasker/about 

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The Juvenile Rockfish Survey dates back to 1983. Since that time, NOAA has expanded the range of coastline studied and added a great deal in terms of information gathered and instruments utilized.  The Reuben Lasker is a very recent addition to the fleet, being commissioned in 2014, and has state of the art instrumentation. Oceanographic data collected includes conductivity, temperature, depth, chlorophyll and light levels as well as turbidity and dissolved oxygen concentration.

I will have to brush up on my rockfish (Sebastes spp.),  as there 16 species that can be caught off the California coast, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. There are many other species that are documented during the survey, including juvenile and adult Pacific whiting (Merluccius productus), juvenile lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus), northern anchovy (Engraulis mordax), Pacific sardine (Sardinops sagax), market squid (Loligo opalescens), Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas), krill (Euphausiacea). Data gathered includes the number and size of individuals collected. Rockfish will also have genetic tissue samples and otoliths (used for daily aging) taken. Finally, the crew conducts a seabird and marine mammal count as well.

Pelagic Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey

 

Personal Log

I would like to start this section by stating how deeply honored I am to be selected for the Teacher @ Sea program and I want to thank NOAA for giving me this chance to further stretch my horizons. I have always seen science as more than just a class trapped in a four wall classroom, and I have been fortunate enough to take advantage of a few very exciting opportunities. Every time, I add to my repertoire, my knowledge base and my network. I can not tell you how excited I am to be able to take advantage of this opportunity from NOAA. Although I have been teaching science for almost 20 years, I have not done much in terms of field work. It is one thing to promote the exciting work being done in the world of STEM, but I feel it is another to actually talk from experience. I aim to bring as much of the field work from the Reuben Lasker to my classes as I can – and I am already thinking about how I might do that.

I am definitely stepping out of my comfort zone on this trip. Not only do I not blog on a regular basis (or ever), but I can not tell you how many times I have been asked “So do you get seasick?” I don’t really know! I have taken a couple cruises and my dad took me fishing on the Great Lakes as a kid, but this voyage will be very different. I’m going with the meds.  I hope people find my writing to be informative and entertaining, and that I can be an asset for the program moving forward.

 

Did You Know?

Otoliths are bony structures behind the brains in fish. They make annual layers and can be counted to determine the age of a fish, like tree rings.

Video excerpt from “Microworlds: How Old is A Fish?” produced by NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, available for download here.

Want to try it? Here is an interactive from NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center:  https://www.afsc.noaa.gov/refm/age/interactive.htm

 

Emily Sprowls: Tag, you’re it! March 26, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emily Sprowls

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

March 20 – April 3, 2017

 

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: March 26, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

13:00 hours

28°12.1’ N 89°23.8’W

Visibility 6 nm, Haze

Wind 15 kts 170°E

Sea wave height 4-5 ft.

Seawater temp 23.4°C

Science and Technology Log

MeasureShark.jpg

I learn to measure my first (little) shark!

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.

 

P1050255

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.

 

Personal Log

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.

 

Kids’ Questions

  • How do you put the tag on?

    P1050392

    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.

P1050391

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.