Kate Schafer: So Many Snappers… September 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 24, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 28o 25.1’ N
Longitude: 94o 50.3’ W

Broken sky

Visibility 10 nautical miles

Wind speed 13 knots

Sea wave height 2-3 feet

Temperature Seawater 28.8 o Celsius

Science and Technology Log:

This is a shark and red snapper longline survey, and the sharks tend to steal the stage.  They are bigger (for the most part), more diverse and definitely have more of a reputation.  I have been surprised, however, by how much I’ve been drawn to the snappers.  They are a beautiful color, and tend to come up in groups that are pretty similar in size.

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Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) ready to be measured

The Northern Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) is commonly fished in the Gulf of Mexico, both recreationally and commercially.  It turns out that the commercial fishers get 51% of the catch quota and the recreational fishers get 49%.  The methods for dividing up those two basically equal pieces of the pie is different between the commercial and recreational fishers. In addition, the commercial fishing catch is monitored very closely, while the recreational fishing catch numbers are largely unknown.  Plus, the states have their own waters that extend out to different distances, depending on the state, and the federal waters extend from the state water boundary to 200 nautical miles offshore.  So, in other words, managing the fishery is quite complicated.

So, how do all these fishing rules and regulations get established and modified over time?  A law was passed in 1976, called the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and one of the key parts of the act established eight regional management councils for regulating fishing in federal waters (more information on the act here: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/laws_policies/msa/).  It also established the 200 nautical mile extension of federal waters from land.  The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (GMFMC) is responsible for creating Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs) for fisheries within the U.S. federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, from southern Texas, along Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and down the west coast of Florida.  This graphic shows the catch limits for red snapper and other species for 2017 set by the GMFMC.  For red snapper, the catch limit is close to 14 million pounds.

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Annual Catch Limits as set by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (http://gulfcouncil.org/fishing-regulations/federal/)

The data that we are collecting helps scientists and policy makers to determine what the annual catch limit for a particular season should be.  For each fish that we bring on board, we measure the fish length and weight, as well as the weight of the gonads.  In addition, we collect their otoliths (ear bones) and samples of the ovaries of females.  These both help managers to estimate the age and size of the population, and future populations as well.

Otoliths are calcium carbonate hardened structures and are present in the part of the inner ear that is responsible for balance.  Humans and other vertebrates have them too, and they can be used to tell the age of the fish.  The otoliths of Lutjanus campechanus are quite large.  There seems to be an overall relationship between the habitat of the fish species and the size of the otolith.  Species like Lutjanus campechanus that live along reefs and rocky structures have much larger otoliths than species like tuna that swim up in the water column.  Flying fish, which we’ve seen a lot of, also have large otoliths, given their body size, probably aiding them in knowing where they are as they glide through the air.

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Otoliths taken from one of the red snappers we collected

Well, we have been collecting a lot of data over the past couple of days to help inform these policies in the future!  Each line we’ve pulled in lately has had a dozen or more snappers on it,  and they are a lot of extra work as compared with the sharks, due to all the samples we have to collect once we’re done.  A couple times, we’ve barely finished before it was time to start baiting lines again.

Personal Log:

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve really come to love the red snappers.  Their eyes are the same color as their skin and I’m just awed by their size.  I am used to snappers that I’ve watched on coral reefs, and even the largest species I’ve seen on reefs are nothing compared with these guys.

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Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) eyes

I’ve also adjusted to the shift in my day, as evidenced by the fact that I’m finishing this up at 1 a.m.  It has been a long time since I’ve been on this kind of late night schedule.  I’m enjoying it, especially because I know when I return to California, I’ll be getting up at 5:30 a.m. again.

 

Did You Know?

That snappers eat a wide variety of different foods, including fish and various types of crustaceans? Here are a couple of items we’ve found in the ones we’ve caught.  Can anyone identify them?  I studied the second group for my Ph.D. dissertation!

MoleCrab

Mystery snapper food

Stomatopod

More snapper food

 

 

 

 

 

Kimberly Scantlebury: Sharks, Snappers, and Sealegs, May 2, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Scantlebury

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 1-May 12, 2017

Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey

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My beautiful home for two weeks.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: May 2, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 11:25

Latitude: 2808.4978 N, Longitude: 09329.9347 W

Wind Speed: 18.69 knots, Barometric Pressure: 1015.6 hPa

Air Temperature: 27.4 C, Water Temperature: 24.4 C

Salinity: 35.9301 PSU,  Conditions: sunny, no clouds, small waves

Science and Technology Log

There are several ways data is collected for the SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey in order to have a more complete understanding of the reef system. One of them is fishing with vertical long lines with Bandit reels. We are fishing for snapper species (Lutjanus sp.), grouper species (Serranidae sp.), and certain species of amberjack (Seriola sp.). There are three reels mounted on the vessel’s starboard side. The fishing works by dropping a weighted line with ten mackerel-baited hooks per reel, which then ends with an orange float. The boat is kept as still as possible and we wait a designated period of time before reeling up the lines.

I fished with deckhand James and Texas A&M graduate student, Jillian. The other lines were fished by NOAA scientists Joey, Kevin, John, and other deckhands. Our first try we caught two large spinner (Carcharhinus brevipinna) sharks that escaped back to sea. The other lines caught smaller sharks and a couple red snappers. We ended up catching and returning six sharks.

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Even though we were not aiming to catch sharks, they are part of the ecosystem and the data is collected. The data is written down on paper first and then transferred to computer databases. Some of the sharks required wrangling and less data was collected before releasing them live to prevent harm to shark and people.

The red snappers were weighed, measured in different ways, sexed, the sexual development was determined, and then retained, meaning we kept the fish. The otoliths (ear bones) and gonads (reproductive parts) were also weighed, labeled with an unique bar code, and stored for later analysis down at the Panama City Lab.

Determining variability of fish ages is possible due to this important work. Otoliths work similar to aging tree rings. Under a microscope you can clearly read each year. By comparing fish size to gonads, it has been determined a thirty-year-old red snapper can produce more eggs than 30 one year old red snappers. It is easy to see the research conducted on NOAA Ship Pisces is vital to managing and protecting our nation’s seafood supply.

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Personal Log

The movement aboard a ship this size is different than smaller vessels I’ve been on such as a ferry, lobster boat, and other research vessels. Right now we are expecting to not work Thursday due to high seas and wind. The NOAA Ship Pisces’s 208 feet sways in every direction-up, down, all around. The adjustment period for acclimating to this unpredictable movement is referred to as, “getting your sealegs.” This is also an apt metaphor for my time adapting to life on board.

Other than research protocols, Teachers at Sea need to learn what to do in case of emergencies. The science staff, including myself, received a safety briefing before leaving port.  Each person is assigned a muster station where they are to report if there is a Fire or Man Overboard. A separate location is assigned for Abandon Ship. Each emergency has a designated series of short or long horn blasts from the ship so it is clear to all what is happening.

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It’s Gumby suit time!

Later, the whole ship drilled Abandon Ship. As fast as possible, we each carried our personal flotation device (PFD) and survival suit (referred to as a Gumby suit) to our life raft station. I then practiced how to get the suit on in less than a minute.

Did You Know?

As a New Englander, I talk faster than most people on NOAA Ship Pisces, whose home port is Pascagoula, Mississippi.

There are a lot of oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. We have not seen any other vessels out here, but can often see a half dozen rigs at a time. In fact, NOAA Ship Pisces was recognized for, “outstanding and successful emergency mobilization by providing acoustic monitoring survey operations under hazardous and arduous navigation conditions in support of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill recovery efforts.” 

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Oil rigs in sight as equipment is brought back aboard.

David Walker: Equilibrium at Sea (Days 6-9), July 3, 2015

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

Mission: SEAMAP Bottomfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 3, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge

Weather Log 7/2/15

NOAA Ship Oregon II Weather Log 7/2/15

Weather has fortunately continued to be calm.  The only main deviation from clear skies has been haziness (symbolized “HZ” on the above weather log from 7/2/15).  On 7/2/15, sky condition varied from FEW (3-4 octas) in the very early morning, to SCT (3-4 octas) and BKN (5-7 octas) at midday and afternoon, to SCT (3-4 octas) in the evening and night.  Swell waves have varied throughout the past couple of days, from less that 1 meter to around 3 meters in height.

Science and Technology Log

The past few days honestly blend completely together in my mind.  I feel as though I have reached an equilibrium of sorts on the boat.  The night shift has proceeded normally – station to station, trawl to trawl, CTD data collection at each station, plankton collected periodically throughout the shift.  Certain trawl catches have been exceptionally muddy, which poses a further task, as the organisms must first be separated from all of the mud and cleaned, before they can be identified.

In addition, on Day 6, the trawl net was damaged on a couple of occasions.  I’ve realized that a trawl rig is quite the complicated setup.  The trawling we are doing is formally called “otter trawling”.  Two boards are attached at the top of the rig to aid in spreading out the net underwater.  To allow the net to open underwater, one of the two lead lines of the net contains floats to elevate it in the water column.  A “tickler chain” precedes the lead lines to stir fish from the sea floor and into the net.  The fish collected by the net are funneled into the terminating portion of the net, called the “cod end”.  FMES Warren Brown is an expert when it comes to this entire rig, and he is in charge of fixing problems when they arise.  On Day 6, Warren had to fix breaks in the net twice.  With help from Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols and Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin, new brummel hooks were attached to the head rope for one of the door lifting lines, and a new tickler chain was installed.

I also learned a lot more of the specifics involved in the workup of the plankton catch.  The dual bongo contains two collection nets in parallel.  Plankton is removed from the cod ends of these nets, but not combined.  The plankton from the left bongo is transferred to a mixture of formaldehyde (10% v/v) and sea water for preservation.  The plankton from the right bongo is transferred to 95% ethanol.  The reason for this is that different solvent mixtures are needed to best preserve different parts of the plankton in the sample.  The formaldehyde solution is best for fixing tissue, yet it tends to dissolve hard parts (for example, otoliths, discussed below).  The ethanol solution is better for preserving hard parts (bones, cartilage, etc.).  This explains the need for two bongos.  Workup of collected plankton from the Neuston net is similar, except many non-plankton species are often collected, which have to be removed from the sample.  Highlight non-plankton species from the past couple days have been sailfin flyingfish (Parexocoetus brachypterus) and a juvenile billfish (Istiophoridae).  Neuston-collected plankton is transferred to 95% ethanol.  This solvent is the only one needed here, as only DNA analysis and stock assessment are conducted on Neuston-collected plankton.  All plankton is shipped to Poland, where a lab working in collaboration with NOAA will analyze it.  Samples are broken down according to a priority species list sent by NOAA.

The CTD survey is coming along nicely.  Progress through July 1 is shown on the below bottom dissolved oxygen contour.  Similar trends to those commented on in my last blog post continue to be observed, as a further area of hypoxia has been exposed near the coastline.  You can see that our survey is progressing east toward Mississippi (we will finish this leg in Pascagoula, MI, though the survey will continue on to the Florida coast during Leg 3).

A couple of other distinct memories stand out in my mind from the past couple of days:

  • Sexing “ripe” fish. Sometimes, certain species of fish are so fertile over the summer that certain individuals are deemed “ripe”.  Instead of cutting into these fish, they can be more easily sexed by applying pressure toward that anus and looking for the expression of semen or eggs.  One of the species for which this technique is most often applied this time of year is the Atlantic cutlassfish (Trichiurus lepturus).  One must be careful, however, for as I found out, the gametes sometimes emit from the anus with much force, shooting across the room.  It only takes wiping fish semen off of your face once to remember this forever.
  • Flying fish. I saw my first flyingfish (Exocoetidae) during a plankton collection with the neuston net.  The net would scatter the fish, and they would fly for cover, sometimes 10-15 meters in distance.  Amazing.
  • Preparing sand dollars. Interestingly, the sand dollars we caught (Clypeaster ravenelii) looked brown/green when they came out of the ocean.  Sand dollars are naturally brownish, and in the ocean, they are most often covered in algae.  We kept a couple of these organisms to prepare.  To prepare, we first placed the sand dollars in a dilute bleach solution for awhile.  We then removed them and shook out the sand and internal organs.  We then placed them back in the bleach for a little longer, until they looked white, with no blemishes.  The contrast between the sand dollar, as removed from the ocean, and this pure white is quite remarkable.
  • Otoliths.  Fisheries biologist Kevin Rademacher showed me a nifty way to remove the otoliths from fish.  Otoliths, “commonly known as ‘earstones,’ are hard calcium carbonate structures located behind the brain of bony fishes,” which “aid fish in balance and hearing” (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission).  When viewed under microscope and refracted light, otoliths show a pattern of dark translucent zones (representing period of quick growth) and white opaque zone (representing periods of slower growth).  By counting the white opaque zones (called “annuli”), fisheries biologists can estimate the age of the fish.  Granted, this process differs for different fish, as different fish species have different otolith size.  Accordingly, a species standard is always prepared (usually a fish raised from spawn, from which the otoliths are taken at a known age) to estimate the growth time associated with one whole annulus for the particular species.  Sample otoliths are compared to the standard to estimate age.  Otolith analysis also allows scientists to estimate “growth rates,…age at maturity, and trends of future generations” (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission).  On this survey, we only take otoliths from fish that are wanted for further laboratory analysis, but are too large to store in the freezer.  On some surveys, however, otoliths are removed from all fish caught.  I got to remove the otoliths from a large red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus).  The first step is to make an incision to separate the tongue and throat from the lower jaw.  The hand is then inserted into the hole created, and using a fair bit of force, the throat and gills are ripped away from the head to expose the vertebrae.  The gills are then cut from the base of the vertebrae, to expose the bony bulb containing the sagittal otoliths.  Diagonal cutters are then used to crack open the boney bulb containing the sagittal otoliths, and the otoliths are removed using forceps.

Personal Log

I am still feeling great on the boat.  The work is quite tiring, and I usually go straight to the shower and the bed after my shift ends.  Interestingly, I think I’m actually gaining quite a bit of weight.  The work is hard and the food is excellent, so I’ve been eating a bunch. I’ve been getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, which is more than I normally get when I am at home, especially during the school year.  One thing I have been noticing ever since the trip started is that I have been having quite nightmarish dreams every night.  This is rare for me, as I usually either don’t have dreams or can’t remember the ones that occur.  I initially thought that this might be due to the rocking of the boat, or maybe to the slight change in my diet, but I think I’ve finally found the culprit – Dramamine®.  Research has indicated that this anti-motion sickness drug can cause “disturbing dreams” (Wood, et al., 1966), and I have been taking this medication since the trip started.  This hypothesis is consistent with the observation that my nightmares lessened when I reduced my daily Dramamine® dose from 2 pills to one. I finished Everything is Illuminated and have begun a new novel (Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald). I am now well into the second week of my trip!

Did You Know?

Earrings can be made from fish otoliths (ear stones).  These seem to be quite popular in many port cities.  Check out this article from the Juneau (Alaska) Empire Newspaper.

Notable Species Seen

Spencer Cody: Science at Sea, June 1, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Spencer Cody

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

May 27 – June 11, 2014

Geographical Area of Cruise:  Gulf of Mexico
Mission:  SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Date:  June 1, 2014

Observational Data:

Latitude:  27˚ 50.503 N
Longitude:  93˚ 46.791 W
Air Temp: 26.3˚C (79.3˚F)
Water Temp: 23.3˚C (73.9˚F)
Ocean Depth:  126.8 m (416 ft.)
Relative Humidity:  84%
Wind Speed:  7.8 kts (9.0 mph)
Barometer:  1,009.5 hPa (1,009.5 mbar)

Science and Technology Log: 

It was not until the Pisces arrived at its first survey area off the coast of Texas that I was able to appreciate the volume of scientific data collection that this vessel could collect.  It took most of the 27th and all of the 28th to arrive at our initial survey area.  While in transit, the Pisces is constantly collecting data.  Data such as air temperature, wind direction, relative humidity, wind speed, and barometric pressure are recorded and periodically reported back to NOAA and the National Weather Service and from other marine vessels to improve data on meteorological events in the Gulf and weather forecasts.

In addition to collecting meteorological data, the Pisces uses a fishery acoustics system called the ER-60 to track depth and various sea floor features.  This system can also be used to monitor biomass such as fish, coral, and even plankton.  Once we arrived at our initial survey area within the SEAMAP survey grid, the amount of science conducted increased dramatically.  In the survey areas, the camera array is dropped to the sea floor to survey fish populations.  In most cases we are looking at fish habitat from 50 to 120 m deep.  Video and still photos are taken of fish attracted to the bait bag filled with squid.  To ensure that sampling is both consistent and unbiased for the survey, pictures and video are pulled at random from all four cameras on the camera array.  It is important that the same procedures are carried out throughout the SEAMAP survey gird concerning data collection in order to be able to reliably compare different survey areas and track species development and abundance.

In order to assist the camera array in obtaining accurate information about precisely how deep the camera array is when it is recording fish population data, a Temperature Depth Recorder or TDR is attached to the camera array to compare position in the water column to what the ship’s fishery acoustics system is displaying.  This is necessary in case the camera array has fallen off an underwater cliff or is hung up on some other topographic feature.

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The Conductivity Temperature and Depth or CTD submersible probe can measure the salinity of the water, temperature, pressure, plankton concentrations, dissolved gases, and water samples at different depths.

The Conductivity Temperature and Depth submersible aids the ship’s acoustic equipment in determining an accurate depth of the ocean bottom.  Since sound travels at different velocities in water that has different densities and temperatures, information regarding the salinity and temperature of the water must be fed into the ship’s fishery acoustics system to calibrate the system for it to accurately read the bottom depths.  If temperature or salinity are not taken into account, the depth will either be too shallow or too deep compared to the true value.

The Pisces not only has the ER-60 for fishery acoustics, but it also has a state of-the-art multi-beam echo sounder, the ME-70, that has 27 transducers that are aligned in a configuration allowing for scans of wide swaths of the ocean bottom.  In fact, the Pisces has engines that are specifically designed to run quietly enough to accommodate such advanced acoustic equipment.  The ME-70 is used for mapping various sample areas of the SEAMAP survey.

While the camera array can be used to measure the length of some of the fish viewed, it cannot reliably determine characteristics such as age or sex.  Determining age or sex just through appearance can be very tricky in the Gulf and is frequently unreliable.  Many species of fish will grow at different rates depending on available forage and other environmental factors.  This is an issue that is also commonly encountered among freshwater fish in South Dakota.  Complicating fish characteristics even further, many reef fish are one or the other sex at different phases of their lives.  They are not strictly male or female but change roles depending on complex physical or environmental factors.  With so many factors complicating these characteristics, live catches are necessary to determine the full story of what is going on with reef fish in the Gulf.

For live catches we use bandit reels.  Bandit reels are similar in concept to a standard fishing rod and reel except they are built for heavy duty sea fishing.  The reel and rod are attached to the side of the ship.  One hundred pound test line is used with a five pound sinker weight.  Each line for the bandit reels has ten hooks, a small float that keeps the hooks in a vertical column, and a large float that keeps the ten hooks just above the ocean bottom.   Again, in order to guard against bias in the results, we use the bandit reels with a set procedure.  For our survey we are using three bandit reels at a time each with ten hooks.  The bandit reel stations are in radio communication with the dry lab, where the chief scientist is coordinating the sampling, and the bridge, which is keeping the ship in position for the lines preventing lines from running under the ship.  Since we want to be as objective as possible without contributing to any type of bias in the sampling, each line was in the water for exactly five minutes.  Even though it may have went against every natural inclination of most fishermen and fisherwomen, we were not allowed to jig our lines or do anything that might attract more fish to our bait.  In addition to standardizing the number of hooks and the length of time spent fishing, three different sizes of hooks are used and rotated out from each bandit reel station; consequently, one of each of the three hook sizes is always being used for each survey area.

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White, nickel-sized disk-like structures called otoliths can reliably age fish. They are inner ear structures that grow in size as a fish ages allowing calcium carbonate deposits to form over the course of its life. Scientists can read these calcium carbonate deposit rings like rings in a tree to determine the age of the fish.  Credit Harriet Nash for the photo.

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After all the measurements are taken of the fish and their otoliths and gonads have been sampled, the information must be added to the database for use in the SEAMAP Survey. Credit Adam Pollack for the photo.

After five minutes of fishing, the lines are brought up and fish are tagged one through ten to keep fish identified with a specific hook and depth.  The tagged fish are then taken to the wet lab for measurement readings.  In the wet lab, fish length, weight, sex, and phase of reproductive development are recorded.  Since reproductive development, and sometimes even sex, can be difficult to determine, a sample of each fish’s gonads (ovaries or testes) are removed and placed in a labeled specimen vial for confirmation in the lab back on land.  The otoliths (inner ear bones) are removed from the fish, as well, in order to reliably age the fish back in the lab.  Once the measurements are recorded, they need to be added to the database to be compiled with the gonad and otolith specimens.  This is just a small piece of the monitoring that is occurring in the Gulf through NOAA.  The Gulf of Mexico is a remarkably diverse expanse of ocean and requires significant scientific research in order to understand and track fish populations and the habitat and forage that sustain them.  Without these types of intensive scientific studies on the ocean, we could not possibly manage or attempt to conserve a natural resource that we would, otherwise, have little to no understanding of.

Personal Log:

Since we had arrived off the coast of Texas a couple of days ago, we have been slowly back tracking to Pascagoula as we go through our survey areas.  The weather has been beautiful the last couple of days; however, sea swells do cause the boat to jostle around a bit.  Each day we see more species on the surface of the water and through our camera array under the water.  Since the science log is rather long for this post, I will talk more about life at sea and the different types of organisms we are encountering in future posts.

Did You Know?

Fish identification can be a tricky business in the Gulf of Mexico.  Many species of Gulf fish alter their physical appearance depending on their reproductive development, environmental factors, or phase of physical development.  Fish will even appear to have different patterns depending on whether they are viewed under our out of water.

Chris Henricksen: Standing My First Watch, May 8, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Chris Henricksen

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow

April 29–May 10, 2014

Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Maine

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl & Acoustic Survey

Date: May 7, 2014

Air Temp: 9.1°C (48.38°F)

Relative Humidity: 73%

Wind Speed: 10.83mph

Barometer: 1011.7mb

 

 

Science and Technology Log

My section stands watch from midnight to noon–twelve hours on, twelve hours off.  Today I stood my first watch, acting as one of three “recorder” on the fish sorting line.  A recorder’s role is to assist his assigned “cutter” by entering requested measurement data (e.g., length, weight, etc.) of individual fish into a computer database.  The cutter processes fish by identifying the species, then performing any number of actions (i.e., cuts, as in, with a knife) in order to retrieve information about particular fish for later use by scientists.  Such data will consist of measuring, weighing, and sexing the fish, as well as checking the contents of its stomach.  Other particular data may be gathered, such as collecting otoliths (ear bones) from the head of the fish.

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Preparing the net for our first trawl

After getting underway, the captain called a series of drills, one of which was abandon ship.  During this exercise, I reported to the aft deck of the ship, donned a “Gumby” survival suit, which is bright orange/red, keeps you warm while in the water, and helps you to stay afloat.  Following that, we had a collision drill.  In a disaster scenario, everyone has a muster station, so that we can be counted, and then help control the situation, if need be.

photo of abandon ship drill

Abandon Ship Drill

Today was my first of about a dozen watches I will stand.  It went smoothly, but there was considerable down time.  The first stations (the areas in which the nets are lowered and trawling begins) were about 25 nautical miles from one another, so it took a couple of hours to steam from one station to the next.  During this time, I was able to relax, grab a bite, or hang out with other members of my watch. Personal Log The food aboard ship is very good, and there is plenty of it. Between mealtimes, the cook makes sure that plenty of drinks and snacks are available, so there is no reason to go hungry aboard the Henry B. Bigelow. The ship has a huge library of DVDs with many new movies.  We can also watch TV thanks to a satellite connection (DirectTV). The only things I am not allowed to do are 1) re-enter my stateroom after going on watch, as there is always an off-watch shipmate trying to catch some shuteye, and 2) make a surprise appearance on the bridge, which is where the NOAA officers navigate and steer the ship.  That’s for safety, and I am sure they would welcome me, as long as I called ahead first. I am tired, but feeling pretty good.  I boarded the ship wearing an anti-motion sickness patch, fearing that, after twenty years of not being at sea, I might be susceptible to seasickness.  The medicine made me feel awful, so I took it off, and now feel much better!  I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy the rocking of a ship.  It’s an especially good way to fall asleep–gently rocking…

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Deck Selfie!

Liz Harrington: The Temporary Lull in the Action, August 21, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
 Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 21, 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly cloudy
Lat. 29.18 °N  Lon. 84.06 °W
Temp. 75 °F (24 ° C)
Wind speed  10-15  mph
Barometer  30.04 in ( 1017.3 mb)
Visibility  10 mi

Science and Technology Log:

It has been just over a week now since I’ve been aboard the Oregon II.  The catch has not been as abundant as it was the first couple of days of fishing, but that tells the scientist something as well. So far I’ve experienced three water hauls – not one fish on any of the 100 hooks!  Even though we are not catching many fish (for now), the fishing will continue until it is time to return to port.  Don’t get me wrong, we are still catching fish, just not as many as we had been.  Occasionally we pull up something other than fish, like eels, skates, crabs or sea stars. This is called the bycatch. In the previous blog I explained how the line was set. In this one I’ll explain about the catch.

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“Fish On”. A Sandbar Shark is brought alongside the ship to be cradled.

crab as bycatch

This crab, part of the bycatch, wouldn’t let go of the bait.

preparing for haul back

Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols (right) and Fisherman Buddy Gould prepare to retrieve the high flyer.

Hauling in the line is similar to setting it out.  The fisherman handle the line and the science team process the fish. Our team includes a person manning the computer to keep track of the hook numbers and the condition of any remaining bait;  a person “racking” (carefully but quickly returning the gangions into the storage barrels); and a “data” person to write down information about each fish, and the rest of the team will be “wranglers” (those who handle the catch).  We all rotate through the jobs.  I like to be a wrangler, but the racker and computer folks get a nice view of the fish being brought on board.  Everything we catch is brought on board, weighed and measured.

tagging Tiger Shark

The Day Team tagging a Tiger Shark

Many species of sharks are tagged and a fin clip is taken to obtain its DNA.  They are given an injection of a chemical which will help to age the shark if it is caught again.  The entire process only takes a few minutes because they are trying to get the sharks back into the water as soon as possible. The scientists and crew are all very conscientious about doing what is best for the marine life.  What’s really nice is that we all take turns tagging the sharks.  It is just so exciting to be up close to them, especially the big ones. You can feel the strength and power beneath that sandy skin.

weighing a shark

Sometimes sharks are too heavy for the handheld scale, so they are hoisted up to be weighed. Notice the scientist to the right to get sense of its weight.

processing fish

Kristin and Cliff find otoliths at the end of the rainbow.

The boney fish that are caught are also weighed and measured. After the haul back (when the line is in, gangions are stored, high flyers returned and deck hosed down), they are brought to the back of the ship to have otoliths removed and tissue samples taken. The otoliths are boney structures in the fish’s inner ear which are sensitive to gravity and acceleration. As the fish grows, each year a new layer is added to the otoliths – similar to tree rings. By examining the otoliths under a microscope its age can be determined. I was taught how to remove the otoliths, so now (given enough time – I need plenty) I can help process the fish. Learn more about the procedure here.

Personal Log

stateroom

I have the bottom bunk in stateroom #5

It has been easy for me to acclimate to life aboard the ship because all of the people are so friendly and interesting.  The ship is always rocking but I don’t even notice it any more. It actually lulls me to sleep at night, along with the constant sound of the engine and particularly the gurgling sound of the water moving along the hull (frame of ship). I was a little worried that I might get seasick in the beginning of the cruise, but I didn’t. The only problem I had was that reading or working on the computer made me queasy, but that only lasted for a couple of days.  Quarters are tight, but they make good use of all of the space. Most of the bedrooms (called staterooms) sleep two people. We all eat in a room called the galley. It only holds twelve people at a time, so when we are done eating we leave to make room for someone else. The food on board is delicious and abundant. The chief steward, Walter Coghlan, does a great job providing a variety of choices. There is literally something for everyone.  If we have free time, there is a lounge area with a huge selection of movies.

I like to spend my free time out on the decks, if I can find a place in the shade and the breeze. I love to look out over the water. And the sky stretches from horizon to horizon in all directions, something I don’t see in the mountains of Vermont.  The cumulus clouds develop during the day and I can usually see a thunderstorm somewhere by late afternoon. It’s a beautiful view.  Yesterday we were visited briefly by a small group of dolphins. Their acrobatics were very entertaining. They were here and then gone. That seems to be the continuing theme here; you never know what you are going to see.

Dolphin visit

A small group of dolphins swim along side the ship.

thunderstorm

A distant passing thunderstorm.

Did you know?  The ship makes it own fresh water from the sea water.  There is a reverse osmosis desalination system located down in the engine room. The fresh water is stored in large tanks, so it is always available.

volunteers await a haul

Volunteers Micayla, Daniel, David and Cliff waiting to do some wrangling.

New Term

Foul Hook – when a fish is hooked in a place other than its mouth (ie -fin or body)

More examples of bycatch.

clearnose skate

Clearnose Skate

little tunny

Micayla holds a Little Tunny (yes, that’s it’s real name)

yellowedge grouper

Yellowedge Grouper ready for processing

sea star

Sea Star

Amie Ell: Fireworks, Fish, and Flukes, July 6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amie Ell
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson (NOAA Ship Tracker)
June 30 – July 21, 2013

Mission: Alaska Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 6th, 2013

Location Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 55.29.300 N
Longitude: 156.25.200 W
Ship speed:   10.7 kn

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Air temperature: 8.6 degrees Centigrade
Surface water temperature: 8.6 degrees Centigrade
Wind speed:  14 kn
Wind direction: 210 degrees
Barometric pressure: 1008.5 mb

Science and Technology Log:

The Oscar Dyson is equipped with several labs to accommodate the researchers on board.  In this blog post I will describe to you what is happening in the wet/fish lab.  This is where I have experienced quite a bit of hands-on data collection.

Pollock being separated on the conveyor belt.

Pollock being separated on the conveyor belt.

Basket full of pollock.

Basket full of pollock.

After a trawl, the crew dumps the load of  fish into a bin.  Inside the lab we can raise or lower this bin to control the amount of fish coming onto a conveyor belt.  Once the fish are on the belt the scientists decide how they will be separated.   We separate the pollock according to age into baskets.  They are categorized by size; under 20 cm (age 1), under 30 cm (age 2), and any larger than 30 cm

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A lumpsucker

A basket full of small squid

A basket full of small squid

At this time we also pull out any other sea creatures that are not pollock.  So far we have pulled up quite a few jelly fish, la lumpsucker, shrimp, squid, eulachon, and capelin.  These are also weighed, measured, and in some cases frozen per request of scientists not currently on board.

Larger squid.

Larger squid.

After organizing the pollock into appropriate age groups, we then measure and record their weight in bulk.  Scientists are using a scale attached to a touch screen computer with a program called CLAMS to record this information.  The pollock are then dumped into a stainless steel bin where their sex will be determined.  In order to do this the fish must be cut open to look for “boy parts, or girl parts”.   After the pollock are separated into female and male bins we begin to measure their length.

This is the tool used for measuring length of the fish.

This is the tool used for measuring length of the fish.

The tool used to measure length is called the Ichthystick.  This tool is connected to the CLAMS computer system.  The fish is placed on the Ichthystick and a pointer with a magnet in it is placed at the tail end of the fish.  There are three different types of length measurement that can be done: fork length, standard length, and total length.  When the magnetic pointer touches the Ichthystick it senses that length and sends the information to the CLAMS computer system.

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Northern shrimp

One of these bins of fish is placed aside for individual weighing, length measurements, and removal of otoliths.  You may recall that I mentioned otoliths in the last blog post.  These ear bones are sent to a lab and analyzed to determine the age of each of these individually measured fish.  The Alaska Fisheries Science Center has created a demonstration program where you can try to determine the age of different types of fish by looking at their otoliths. Click here to try it yourself! (I will add hyperlink to: http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/refm/age/interactive.htm)

Personal Log:

Ben and Brian in fire gear  with flares.

Ben and Brian in fire gear with flares.

One afternoon while waiting for the fishermen to bring up the trawl net, I watched a group of porpoises swimming behind the ship.  Another day I was able to see whales from up on the bridge.  These were pretty far out and required binoculars to see any detail.  I observed many spouts, saw one breach, and some flukes as well.

There is quite a bit of downtime for me on the ship while I am waiting in between trawls.  I get to read a lot and watch movies in my free time.  I have had the opportunity to talk with different members of the crew and learn about their roles a bit.  The chief engineer gave me a tour of the engine rooms (more about this with pictures in a future post.)

The 4th of July fireworks show on the Oscar Dyson was like no others I have ever experienced.  Two of our crew, Ben & Brian, dressed in official fire gear shot expired flares off the ship into the sea.  America themed music was played over the PA system.  I have attached a video of our fireworks display.  Happy Independence Day everyone!