Johanna Mendillo: Time to Bid Alaska, the Bering Sea, and the Oscar Dyson Adieu… August 9, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Johanna Mendillo
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 23 – August 10

Mission: Pollock research cruise
Geographical area of the cruise: Bering Sea
Date: Thursday, August 9, 2012

Location Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 57 28 ’ N
Longitude: 173 54’W
Ship speed: 11.2 knots ( 12.9 mph)

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air temperature: 8.0 C (46.4 ºF)
Surface water temperature: 8.3 C (46.9ºF)
Wind speed: 7.4 knots ( 8.5 mph)
Wind direction: 130T
Barometric pressure: 1015  millibar (1 atm)

Science and Technology Log:

We have now completed 44 hauls in our survey and are on our way back to Dutch Harbor!  You can see a great map of our sampling area in the Bering Sea– click below.

Map showing sampling transects for Leg 3 of Summer 2012 NOAA Pollock Cruise

From those hauls, let me fill you in on some of the cool statistics:

  • We caught approximately 118,474 pollock and they weighed 24,979.92 kg (= 25 tons)!


  • Last year’s official total allowable catch (called a quota) for all commercial fishermen in Alaska was 1.17 million tons!

So, we only caught 25 tons/ 1,170,000 tons = 0.00002 = 0.002% of the yearly catch in our study.


  • The estimated population of pollock in the Bering Sea  is 10 million tons (10,000,000 T)!
  • This means we caught only 0.00025% of the entire pollock population!

So, as you can see, students, in the big picture, our sampling for scientific analysis is quite TINY!

Continuing with more cool pollock data…

  • We identified 7,276 males and 7,145 females (and 2,219 were left unsexed)
  • We measured 16,640 pollock lengths on the Ichthystick!
  • Pollock lengths ranged from 9cm to 74cm
  • We measured 260 lengths of non-pollock species (mostly jellyfish, pacific herring, and pacific cod)
  • We collected 1,029 otoliths for analysis

You will hear more about our results this fall— as well as the management decisions that will be made with this valuable data…

We have also had some exciting specimens on our bottom trawls.  Remember, students, this simply means we drag the 83-112 net along the ocean floor.  By sampling the bottom, we collect many non-pollock species that we would never see in the mid-water column.

Preparing what looks to be a LARGE catch from the bottom trawl...
Preparing to open what looks to be a LARGE catch from the bottom trawl…

Here are some of my favorites:

This was a large Pacific Cod...
This was a large Pacific Cod…
Our close-up!
Our close-up!

Next up, a very different sort: the Opilio Tanner Crab and the Bairdi Tanner Crab- both are known in the market as Snow Crabs!

Snow crabs, big and small
Snow crabs, big and small

Perhaps my favorite…

The one and only... spiny lumpsucker!
The one and only… Siberian lumpsucker!  Yes, this specimen is full grown and no, we did not eat her, don’t worry!

Followed by a slightly different type of lumpsucker!

Contrast that with the regular lumpsucker!
Contrast that with a full grown adult smooth lumpsucker!  So ugly it is cute…

These types of nets require a lot of hands to help sort the species as they come down the conveyor belt!

Hurry up and sort!
Hurry up and sort!
Oh yes, there is MORE sorting to be done!
Oh yes, there is MORE sorting to be done!

Onto… sea urchins!

Sea Urchins!
Beautiful sea urchins!
Here is fellow TAS (Teacher at Sea) Allan removing a grouper...
Here is fellow TAS (Teacher at Sea) Allan removing a … sculpin!

And lastly, to those specimens you may have been waiting for if you are a fan of the “Deadliest Catch” TV show…

It wouldn't be a proper trip to the Bering Sea without Alaskan king crabs, right?
It wouldn’t be a proper trip to the Bering Sea without Alaskan king crabs, right?

Interested in playing some online games from NOAA, students?  Then visit the AFSC Activities Page here— I recommend “Age a Fish” and “Fish IQ Quiz” to get your started!

Lastly, students, as one final challenge, I would like you to take a look at the picture below and write back to me telling me a) what instrument/tool he is using and b) what it is used for:

Here is Rick... hard at work!
Here is Rick… hard at work!

Personal Log:

Well, my time at sea has just about come to an end.  This has been a wonderful experience, and I am very grateful to the NOAA science team (Taina, Darin, Kresimir, Rick, Anatoli, Kathy, and Dennis) for teaching me so much over these last three weeks.  They have wonderful enthusiasm for their work and great dedication to doing great science!  Not only do they work oh-so-very-hard, they are a really fun and personable group to be around!  Many, many thanks to you all.

Thanks also go to my Teacher at Sea partner, Allan Phipps, for taking photos of me, brainstorming blog topics, helping out processing pollock during my shift, and other general good times.  It was great to have another teacher on board to bounce ideas off of, and I learned a great deal about teaching in Southern Florida when we discussed our respective districts and schools.

I would also like to thank the NOAA officers and crew aboard the Oscar Dyson.  I have really enjoyed learning about your roles on the ship over meals and snacks, as well as many chats on the bridge, deck, fish lab, lounge, and more.  You are a very impressive and efficient group, with many fascinating stories to tell!  I will look forward to monitoring the Dyson’s travels from Boston online, along with my students.

Goodbye Oscar Dyson!
Goodbye Oscar Dyson! (Photo Credit: NOAA)

In the upcoming school year, students, you will learn how you can have a career working for NOAA,  but you can start by reading about it here:

  • NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • NOAA Corps (the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps)
  • Alaskan Fisheries Science Center (the research branch of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service dedicated to studying the North Pacific Ocean and East Bering Sea)
  • MACE (the Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering program- the NOAA group of scientists I worked with- based in Seattle)

Special thanks to our Commanding Officer (CO) Mark Boland and Chief Scientist Taina Honkalehto for supporting the Teacher at Sea program.  I know I speak on behalf of many teachers when I say there are many, many ways I will be bringing your work into the classroom, and I hope, helping recruit some of the next generation of NOAA officers and scientists!

There are many pictures I could leave you with, but I decided to only choose two- one of a lovely afternoon on deck in the Bering Sea, and the other, of course, one more of me with a pollock head!

A lovely afternoon on the Bering Sea...
A lovely afternoon on the Bering Sea…

Last, but not least….

Thank you very much NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program!
Thank you very much NOAA and the Teacher at Sea program!

Richard Chewning, June 21st, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Richard Chewning
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 4 – 24, 2010

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
Mission: Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak) to eastern Bering Sea (Dutch Harbor)
Date: June 21st, 2010

Weather Data from the Bridge

Position: northeast of Dutch Harbor, Bering Sea
Time: 1100 hours
Latitude: N 54 45.610
Longitude: W 167 06.540
Cloud Cover: cloudy
Wind: 35 knots
Temperature: 6.2 C
Barometric Pressure: 1000.8 mbar

Science and Technology Log

Throughout this cruise I have been continually impressed with the engineering of the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson both in terms of modernization and capacity. State of the art technology can be found throughout the ship from the bridge to the engine room. Computer touch screens are used to control such operations as navigation on the bridge, power management in the engine room, and data entry in the wet lab. Junior engineer Walter Daniel summed up the advanced look and feel of the ship well; in comparison to the many vessels he has encountered in his career, he likened the Dyson to the Starship Enterprise of the science fiction franchise Star Trek. Even though the Dyson is one of the most technologically advanced fisheries vessels in the world, the engineers still get their fingers dirty from time to time. Although most of the equipment in the engine room can be adjusted with the simple touch of a button, flip of a switch, or turn of a knob, the Dyson’s veteran engineers still carry a screwdriver and wrench in their back pocket. Fred Ogden, first assistant engineer, told me he always likes to be prepared to bypass the computers and be able to make an adjustment by hand if needed, and you need to have the right tools for the job at hand. Recognizing that sometimes a person needs to get back to basics and that one should always be prepared, Fred says he never goes fishing without packing his sextant. Tracing its origins to the days of Sir Isaac Newton, the sextant is a tool used for navigation that only needs a clear view of the sky and horizon to work!

Diesel fuel centrifuges

At full power, the Dyson can reach 15.0 knots or a little more than 17 miles per hour. A knot is a unit measurement of speed roughly equal to 1.151 miles per hour. Four diesel generators capable of 3,017 horse power turn the Dyson’s shaft and prop. Horse power is a unit of measurement of power. To give you some perspective, modern cars typically only have 125 to 200 horsepower. To ensure these generators operate as efficiently and cleanly as possible, diesel is first cleaned using powerful centrifuges (machines that rotate very quickly to separate oil from the fuel). Fuel is also filtered twice more in each engine using filters. By burning clean fuel, the Dyson reduces pollution output and increases the life of the generators. Most of the oil and dirty water can be filtered on board to remove the impurities and reused.

Two of the Dyson’s powerful diesel generators

The Dyson also has two desalinization machines. What is desalinization and why is it important? ‘Desalinization’ is easy to subdivide and define to reveal its meaning. ‘De-’ is a prefix that means removal or reversal. ‘Salin’ is a French root word that means salt. ‘-zation’ is a noun suffix meaning an action, process, or result of making. If you put the parts together, desalinization means the process of removing salt. Desalinization machines produce fresh water by removing the salt from seawater. The importance of fresh water on a ship at sea cannot be overstated. Fresh water is essential to the crew of the Dyson for drinking, food preparation, waste management, and washing. Fresh water is also used to remove the heat from the generators in the engine room and to cool living spaces throughout the ship. The generators give off so heat much in fact there is never a shortage of hot water for the crew!

The desalinization machine

After touring the engineering spaces of the Dyson, I was surprised to see several work stations comprising of work benches and many hand tools dedicated to servicing equipment and fabricating new parts while at sea. Any one of these machine shops would satisfy any suburban Mr. Fix-it! In addition to these work stations, the Dyson also has numerous storage cabinets and cubby holes located throughout the ship storing everything from screws and zip ties to transistors and electronic circuit boards. The extent to which technology has permeated the Dyson is revealed by the maze of wires found overhead in every room and passageway. The many wires and pipes snaking from one room to another remind me of a giant circulatory system. The Dyson has two rotating Electronic Technicians, Vincent Welton and Stephen Macri, and an Engineering Electronics Technician, Terry Miles, whose job is to keep all these technologically advanced electronics in good working order.

Personal Log

Amber and Sarah keeping a sharp lookout on the bridge
CO Hoshlyk at the helm during 2pt anchoring in Three Saints Bay

One of my favorite places on the Dyson is the bridge. The bridge of the Dyson is the command and control center for the entire ship. The bridge not only allows the NOAA Corps officers to safely navigate the Dyson but allows communication with the entire ship, nearby boat traffic, and the shore. Utilizing radar, electronic charts, magnetic compasses, GPS, sonar, advanced radio and communication equipment, and various weather instruments, the bridge provides a wealth of information at one’s fingertips. The OOD (Officer of the Deck) carefully monitors the numerous screens and readouts on the bridge control panels and keeps a sharp eye on the surrounding seas. While I have become familiar with several of the main systems on the bridge and can deduce a great deal about the Dyson’s current location and movement, I recognize there is much to learn to safely navigate and operate the ship. I am comforted when resting in my rack knowing there are skilled and experienced hands on the bridge 24 hours a day!

Ensign Payne maneuvering from starboard control station

Located five stories above the water, the bridge has a fantastic view. The bridge is wide and open and has windows in every direction. The bridge provides a great view of the operation of the ship and the surrounding seas. I am most impressed with the layout of the bridge. The ship can be controlled from any one of four stations located around the bridge. The bridge is laid out like a capital T: a central control station located in the middle of the bridge, a station positioned on both the port (left) and starboard (right) sides of the bridge, and a station located aft (back) facing the rear of the ship. This allows the OOD to pilot the vessel while keeping a close eye on deployments/operations being conducted anywhere on the Dyson. For example, when conducting an Aleutian wing trawl off the stern (back) of the vessel, the OOD can transfer control to the aft station and pilot the Dyson while facing backwards!

In addition to the view, the bridge is also fun to visit as there is always someone to talk to and usually fun music playing quietly in the background. Recently, I have enjoyed watching the bow crash through 15-20 foot waves as we continue running each transect of our acoustic trawl survey.

Richard holding a sea star, better known as a starfish

While the weather continues to make deployments challenging, we have still managed to fish a few times. Interesting bycatch from these trawls includes seastars and brittle stars from the Tucker trawl and Pacific cod and sturgeon poacher from the Aleutian wing trawl.

A Pacific cod

Did you know?

The summer solstice marks the longest day and the shortest night of the year. The word solstice comes from the Latin word ‘sol’ meaning ‘sun’ and the word ‘stice’ meaning ‘to stand still’. As summer days lengthen (meaning the sun rises earlier and sets later each day), the sun’s path through the sky takes the sun higher and higher above the horizon forming a greater and greater arc. At a certain point, the sun reaches its highest point. At this point the sun seems to stand still before slowly falling back to the horizon with each passing day. This point when the sun reaches its highest arc in the sky is called the summer solstice. The earth’s tilt on its axis causes the sun to travel slightly different paths through the sky each day and causes the sun’s rays to fall with varying intensity on different regions of the earth. Over the period of one year (one orbit of the sun by the earth), this variation in sunlight explains why the earth has four seasons: summer receives the most direct rays, winter receives the least direct rays, and spring and fall are times of transition between these two extremes. The summer solstice always falls around June 21st in the northern hemisphere (above the equator). With the Dyson surveying southeast of Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea, the sun will rise at 6:30 AM and will set at 11:50 PM on June 21st. If you were standing at the North Pole during the summer solstice, you would experience 24 hours of sunlight (the sun would never dip below the horizon!) while 24 hours of darkness would be observed at the South Pole.

A sturgeon poacher