I’m currently sitting on the Oregon II docked in Pascagoula, Mississippi after a long travel day. It’s eerily quiet as the ship disembarks tomorrow at 14:00 and the majority of the crew will arrive tomorrow. I am enjoying the slow introduction to this ship and finding my way around. The OOD (Officer Of the Deck) gave me a tour of the ship that I will be working on for the next two weeks. The majority of crew is on shore for the Labor Day weekend but will return tomorrow as we disembark and head towards Florida. Our plans have changed due to Hurricane Harvey and debris that may be in the waters making the travel in those waters unsafe.
NOAA Ship Oregon II in dock
Science and Technology Log
Due to Hurricane Harvey, the area being surveyed has changed so that we are heading East instead of West to pick up the third leg of this survey that ended off the coast of Florida last week. I have been assigned the day shift from noon to midnight and will be assisting the science crew. The mission of this survey is to monitor interannual variability of shark populations of the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally aboard are two scientist that are on board are studying parasites that these animals carry. Carlos and Brett, the two parasitologists, were on the second leg right before I joined. Their leg started on the tip of Florida and ended where we will start.
Wearing “the patch” to keep from getting seasick
Seasick? Felt a little queasy after my first night in dock! Decided the best course of action was to take some medicine, eat a big meal and hydrate to help get my sea legs. Everyone has been friendly and welcoming as we get started. The night crew starts tonight at midnight till noon and the day crew, where I am been placed, will start at noon. Hoping for a good night’s sleep!
My bed is the bottom one!
Did You Know?
Sharks have been around since the dinosaurs approximately 450 million years ago.
Question of the day
What is NOAA’s mission statement? (Hint: Google NOAA and select “About Our Agency” at the bottom)
NOAA Teacher at Sea Heidi Wigman Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces May 27 – June 10, 2015
Mission: Reef Fish Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico (24°29.956’N 083°320.601’W) Date: June 8, 2015
Weather: 83° @ surface, E-SE winds @ 10-15 knots, seas 2-3 ft, average depth 123m
Science and Technology Log:
NOAA’s mission is three-fold: science, service, and stewardship. By utilizing fisheries, hydrographic, and oceanographic scientists in the field, NOAA’s goal is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, while also putting forth a conservation effort towards coastal and marine ecosystems. This knowledge is shared with businesses, communities, and people, to inform on how to make good choices to protect our fragile earth.
Sunset on the Gulf
Sunrise on the Gulf
The specific mission, for our current voyage, on the Pisces, is to survey fisheries at pre-determined sites throughout the Western portion of the Gulf of Mexico. The data from these surveys will be brought back to the lab in Pascagoula, Miss. and analyzed. Then determinations will be made for future surveys and studies. According to Chief Scientist, Brandi Noble, “These fishery independent surveys increase our knowledge of natural reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. We get a better picture of what’s down there and work with outside agencies to determine how to maintain the health of the fisheries. Data gathered will be used in future stock assessments for the Gulf of Mexico.”
Bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf
The methods used to gather data on this cruise are through the use of the camera array and the bandit reels. The camera arrays are deployed at sites that have been mapped and sit at the bottom for a total soak time of 40 minutes. This footage is analyzed and processed by scientists to determine what the conditions of the reef are and the species of fish present in the area and their abundance. This gives a partial picture, but to get a complete and accurate report, fish need to be studied more closely. The “Bandit Reels” provide a more hands-on approach and allow the scientists to get data on sex, maturity stage, and age of species. Some of the fish are released after some initial measurements, but the commercially important species are dissected and samples are taken for further lab analysis. Initial measurements made with anything brought aboard include total length (TL), fork length (FL), standard length, SL (from nose to caudal fin), and weight.
Removing the otolith to determine the age of the fish
Removing organs to determine sex and maturity
A closer look at the data allows scientists to make predictions on fish populations and growth over time. Some of the data we got on this trip were for the Lutjanus campechanus (red snapper) and for the Pagrus pagrus (red porgy).
Lutjanus campechanus “Red Snapper”
Pagrus pagrus “Red Porgy”
There are several ways to disaggregate the data to determine differences and similarities based on region, time, species, etc. For our purposes, we’ll make some observations involving probability, proportion, and statistics.
Math Problem of the day: You are a scientist and have brought data back from the Gulf of Mexico to analyze in your lab. You have three tasks: a) to get an average fish size based on weight (species specific) b) to determine what the proportion is of the Standard Length to the Total Length of each species (hint: ratio of SL/TL; find average) c) determine the theoretical probabilities that the next Red Snapper will be >1,100g, and that the next red Porgy will be <1,000g (hint: how many times does this happen out of the total catches?)
Coming Soon . . . Meet some of the crew behind the Pisces
Trigonometry of Navigation post: 18 m/s @ 34°SE
Bandit Reels post: about 14.6 nautical miles
The STEM of Mapping post: layback = 218m, layback w/ catenary = 207m
I made it! A smooth flight down to Mississippi (which is a new state for me – I’ve never been here). I arrived to sunshine and warm temperatures – OK, downright hot to me, but I’ll get used to it quickly I’m sure. Pamela Bond, the chief scientist on this cruise, met me at the airport and brought me out to the Gordon Gunter. I quickly learned that it is not only Pam who is super nice and welcoming, but the entire crew. I’ll be introducing them more in future posts.
The ship is not at the usual port near the NOAA lab, but at the former naval station, on an island at the mouth of the Pascagoula River. This yard has multiple uses now, as you can see from the pictures below. So not only is the Gunter here, but it has the company of a Coast Guard vessel, and both are dwarfed by a massive oil rig. On the other side of the pier (not pictured) is a USGS vessel and others. There’s a lot going on here!
The Gordon Gunter at the dock
The Gordon Gunter (right) and Coast Guard vessel dwarfed by the huge Sovereign Explorer (oil rig), an old rig that has been docked here for about a year, waiting for bids to take it apart for scrap .
Across the way is Pascagoula’s largest employer, and Mississippi’s largest manufacturing employer, Ingalls Shipbuilding, with 11,000 employees right here in Pascagoula! I can see ships in various stages of construction.
Ingalls shipyard, 1-4 from left to right
Ingalls #3 from left
That’s a lot of ship building!
I have learned a lot about this area in the one day here at port. Two major events have happened here in recent years – Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the BP oil spill (2010). Both events simply ravaged this area. Everywhere we have been in the last day – the naval station, the NOAA lab, the highway – was under several feet of water during Katrina. You’ve seen the pictures. To hear about it from the folks here is profound. The BP oil spill (also known as Deepwater Horizon oil spill), another devastating event, changed the whole NOAA season (as it did for the fishermen and just about everyone else here). All the NOAA ships on the east coast, and one from the west coast, had to cancel their season’s research and congregate down here to be involved as needed, looking for oil, looking for marine mammals, etc. Today we visited the NOAA lab, where several employees are analyzing plankton samples taken from the affected waters. This is five years later, and still very relevant and ongoing data collection! (sorry, forgot to bring my camera to the lab, but I got to check out lots of plankton under the microscope).
Backing up now, to my arrival: Pam showed me to my room – I’m surprised that I have my own room! It has a refrigerator, closet, desk, comfy chair, my very own sink, and a shared bathroom with the room next door. And it has a TV – I barely know how to use a TV!
And then Tony, the ET (electronics technician) gave me a tour of the boat. Since then, I have been wandering around, sometimes in circles, trying to figure out the layout. I can tell right away that the food is going to be amazing.
My head is already spinning with some of the details about the equipment and technology. Pam was not sure if we would be launching on time – everything has to be just perfect for a research cruise to start, and if there are any issues, we don’t go. There were two repairs that needed to be made since the ship came to port just two days ago: one had to do with the unit that makes our water, by distilling seawater (very important!), and the other had to do with a malfunctioning gyro, or gyrocompass, needed for navigation (also important!). I wanted to know more about how a gyrocompass works, so I first looked it up on Wikipedia, and then talked to Dave Wang, the NAV (navigations officer). It’s so fascinating – a compass that points true north partly by using the rotation of the Earth. The good news is that both of the repairs are done and we will be launching on time!
This large fresh water tank was added after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
I just want to share one bit info about a simple piece of equipment on the aft deck. It’s a water tank. I asked Tony what it’s for, when we have the technology to make fresh water. Well, after the oil spill, getting fresh water was a problem, so the tank was added. It was decided that it was convenient to have after it was no longer needed, and is now used for things that need a freshwater wash.
I am wrapping up this blog post now, a day after I started it. I’ve had my safety and ship protocol briefing, and we are underway. We’ve passed the barrier islands, and the ship is starting to rock a bit. Here we go! We have another 5 hours or so to go to get to our first sampling station, so the science work will start tonight. One final photo – to get out of the tight spot we were docked in, a tugboat was necessary:
The tug getting ready to help us leave the dock. At first it held the stern of the ship in place while our bow thrusters pivoted the front, and then it pulled us out.
Word of the Day (time to start learning the terminology):
Neuston – the organisms that are found on the very top of the water, in the surface film. Contrast that with plankton, which can be said to be found within the water, not always right at the surface.
Arriving in Mobile, Alabama was exciting as I was picked up from the airport and driven to Pascagoula, Mississippi. Kim Johnson, the Research Fishery Biologist and Field Party Chief, was ready to greet me and quickly showed me all around the Oregon II. I must say it’s quite impressive! Her excitement was contagious as we began this adventure. We participated in safety drills because safety certainly must come first!
Safety First on the Oregon II
This is the orange “Gumby” suit that will keep you warm in the event of an abandon ship emergency.
While sorting plankton from algae and preparing the plankton to be placed in labeled jars, we found these two little guys!
Some unexpected little guys while sorting plankton
My bunk on the Oregon II
After a long day of meeting everyone and getting settled in my stateroom on the Oregon II, it was time to get some sleep in my bottom bunk.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Julie Karre Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II July 26 – August 8, 2013
Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey Geographical Range of Cruise: Atlantic Date: Monday August 5 – Tuesday August 6, 2013
Weather Data from the Bridge Monday – NE WINDS 10 TO 15 KNOTS
SEAS 2 TO 3 FEET
DOMINANT PERIOD 6 SECONDS
Tuesday – E WINDS 10 TO 15 KNOTS
SEAS 3 TO 4 FEET
Science and Technology Log
Meet the Scientists
Meet some of my favorite people in the world. Without these people my experience would have lacked the learning and laughter that made it such a joy.
Field Party Chief Kristin Hannan has the pleasure of working with her favorite shark species, the Tiger Shark. And those little babies are cute!
Kristin was the Field Party Chief for the first and second legs of the Longline survey. She was also my watch leader, which meant she was by my side in support every step of the way. And as I progressed as a shark handler, she was there with a high five every time. I hit the jackpot landing on a ship with Kristin. She is now off to visit Harry Potter World (I’m so jealous I can hardly stand it) before rejoining the the survey when it leaves Mayport. This is Kristin’s fifth year doing the Longline Survey. The first time she did it, she was a volunteer just like us. I wish Kristin the best of luck in all she does and hope to call her a friend for years to come.
Research Biologist for NOAA Amy Schmitt gives a big smooch to a baby Tiger Shark.
Amy is a research biologist out of the Pascagoula-based fisheries lab. She has been with NOAA for two years, but has been working in research biology for most of her career. She is a native of Colorado and shares my blond hair and fair complexion. We could usually be found together cooling off in the dry lab as often as possible. It was also Amy who coined one of my nicknames on the cruise – Data Girl. According to the science team, the Teachers at Sea make excellent data recorders. I can’t imagine why 🙂
Amy and I work together to process an adolescent Tiger Shark. Amy and I often worked together and truly enjoyed our time together.
NOAA scientist and Field Party Chief for the third and fourth legs of Longline, Lisa Jones handles an Atlantic Sharpnose on the first haul of the night shift.
Lisa has been doing the Longline survey for 16 years now. She is a wealth of information about sharks, living aboard a ship, and marine life. She is also a passionate dog lover, which many of the volunteers shared with her. Lisa will be taking over the duties of Field Party Chief for the third and fourth legs of the survey. She will be aboard the Oregon II for all four legs of the survey this year. That’s a lot of boat rocking!
NOAA Research Biologist Mike Hendon works to quickly process a Sandbar Shark.
Mike is a research biologist out of the Pascagoula-based fisheries lab. He’s a seasoned veteran of the Longline survey and was a great mentor for those of us new to the shark-handling community. Mike also has two adorable kids and two cute dogs waiting for him at home. He was part of the science team for the first leg of the survey. He can sometimes be found wearing mismatched socks.
Mike and Volunteer Claudia Friess work on Atlantic Sharpnose.
My final days are winding down and I am caught (no pun intended) off guard by how much I am going to miss this. There is such a peacefulness that comes from the rocking of a boat, especially if you don’t get seasick. And working alongside people who share a passionate nature – we may not all be passionate about the same things, but we are all passionate – is such a reinvigorating experience. These two weeks gave me an opportunity to talk about my environmental science integration in my classroom with people who care very much about environmental science. It was so inspiring to have them care about what I was doing in my classroom. It gives me another reason to trust the importance of what I’m doing as well as more people I want to make proud.
Fun list time! Things you get used to living on a ship:
Noise. There is so much happening on a ship, from the engine to the cradle pulling up a shark. It’s all loud. But you get used to it.
Sneaking into your stateroom as silently as possible so you don’t wake up your AWESOME roommate Rachel.
NOAA Corps Officer ENS Rachel Pryor steering the Oregon II during a morning haul back.
Waiting. There’s a lot of waiting time on a survey like this. You find ways to make that time meaningful.
The night shift waiting in anticipation as Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols begins to bring in the line.
Taking high steps through doorways. The doors that separate the interior and exterior of the ship are water tight, so they don’t go all the way to the floor. You can only bash your shins in so many times before it becomes second nature.
Sharks. I said in a previous post that this survey has been eye opening and it’s worth sharing again. I don’t have a marine science background and I had fallen victim to the media portrayals of sharks. I had no idea that there were sharks as small as the Sharpnose that can be handled by such an amateur like myself.
This is what it feels like when you successfully (and quickly) unhook a shark! VICTORY! Volunteer Kevin Travis is victorious.
Sunsets. Words cannot describe the colors that make their way to you when there’s uninterrupted skyline. Oh I will definitely miss those sunsets.
One of the last sunsets for the first leg of the Oregon II.
The stars. I live a life of being asleep by 10pm and up at 6 am and often times forget to look up at the stars even on the nights when I might have been able to see them. These two weeks gave me some of the darkest nights I’ve had and some of the best company in the world.
Dolphins escort the Oregon II back towards land on its final day at sea for the first leg of Longline. Photo Credit: Mike Hendon
NOAA Teacher at Sea Julie Karre Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II July 26 – August 8, 2013
Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Date: July 27
Weather Data from the Bridge W TO NW WINDS 5 TO 10 KNOTS
SEAS 1 TO 2 FT.
We departed Pascagoula yesterday with calm winds and steamy temperatures. Our team decided that with storms developing in and around the Gulf, it was best for us to head out to the Atlantic. So we’re all loaded in to hang out for a few days before the fishing begins.
Science and Technology Log
It would be easy to think of these traveling days as days of rest. But they are far from it. The ship’s crew and fishermen are hard at work each day keeping the ship running as it should. One of the tasks the fishing crew is responsible for is dealing with the rust that builds up on the ship. (Ok, seventh and eighth graders – why is rust such a problem for a ship?)
Because of the constant moisture, rust is a persistent problem on the ship, exacerbated by the salt. Whenever docked, the crew works tirelessly to get the ship into prime condition. Any of the deck equipment that can be removed gets taken to a workshop where it is sanded down to raw metal again and then galvanized. This increases the life of the equipment because galvanized steel doesn’t rust. That leaves all the parts that cannot be removed to be touched up piecemeal, as Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols said. On a day like today – calm sea, light wind, and no fishing – the guys set to work on designated areas of the ship. Once an area of rust is identified, the rust must be removed. After removing the rust and vacuuming up all the dust and particles, the area gets primer painted twice and then its topcoat. The end result is a nice clean look to the boat.
Opening on the starboard side of the ship getting its rust removal makeover.
Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway removing rust from the railing on the starboard side.
In addition to keeping the ship in tip-top shape, it is essential to make sure all of the equipment used during the survey works appropriately. Around 9:40am, the Oregon II stopped moving and deployed a CTD unit (conductivity, temperature, depth). These cylinder shaped units carry tanks that bring water samples back to the ship from designated depths while the sensors read the water for its temperature, depth, and salinity.
Alongside the crew hard at work, the science team is busy doing work on sharks that came with us from Pascagoula. According to scientist Lisa Jones, some of these sharks are from surveys done to collect sharks following the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf in 2010. Others are sharks that needed further identification and information from surveys like the one I am on. Each shark is weighed and measured, sexed, and then internal organs are removed for further analysis, tissue samples are taken, and the remains of the shark are thrown overboard to reenter the food chain.
Scientist Mike Hendon recording data as Lead Scientist Kristin Hannan dissects a Gulper Shark from a previous survey.
During this down time I was treated to a visit to the bridge, where officers steer the ship, among other things. NOAA Corps Officer LTjg Brian Adornato was on duty and offered me a glimpse of the technology that keeps us headed in the right direction. The Oregon II has one propeller controlled by two engines, which are both running while we steam across the Gulf. The boat was on its version of autopilot while I was visiting, which means the navigational heading is programmed and the boat is steered on that heading automatically. Whether steered by hand or computers, the ship is rarely perfectly on its heading. (Come on seventh and eighth graders – what factors are also influencing the ship’s movement?)
All of the navigation equipment driving the Oregon II.
The wind and water are factors in how close the ship’s course over ground is to its heading. The waves, currents, and wind are all pushing the ship.
While the ship is buzzing with work, there is also lots of time to sit and share stories. I feel very lucky to be aboard the Oregon II at all, but to be aboard with such welcoming and friendly people feels like I hit the jackpot.
I share a room with NOAA Corps Officer ENS Rachel Pryor. She is on duty from 8 am – noon and from 8 pm to midnight. During those hours it is her job to drive the ship. I am on duty from noon to midnight, but during these days prior to fishing, I have a lot of free time. I have been reading, taking pictures, and hanging out with the others. The sleeping on the ship is easy and comfortable. And the food is delicious. Chief Steward Walter Coghlan is an excellent cook.
Some of the things that have caught me off guard should make perfect sense to my lovely seventh and eighth graders, like why I had a blurry camera. (Ok, kiddos – the ship is an air-conditioned vessel kept at cool temperatures to relieve the crew and scientists from the heat of the Gulf. What happens if you keep your camera in your room and bring it out onto the hot deck to take pictures?)
CONDENSATION! The cool glass of the lens becomes immediately foggy with condensation from the high temperatures outside.
It only took me one time of making that mistake and missing some great pictures because of it to learn my lesson. I now keep my camera in a room closer to the outside temperature so it’s always ready to take pictures – like this one of me in my survival suit! I’m also thrilled I didn’t miss the sunset.
The Abandon Ship drill requires everyone on board to get into a survival suit. It’s not easy. – Photo Credit: Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin.
A beautiful sunset on my first night out at sea.
The sunset glistening on the calm water the second night.
Did You Know?
Fathoms are a unit of measurement commonly used to measure the depth of a body of water. One fathom is exactly six feet.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Steven Frantz Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II July 27 – August 8, 2012
Mission: Longline Shark Tagging Survey Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the east coat of Florida. Date: July 26, 2012
A DAY’S DELAY
The Oregon II was supposed to leave Pascagoula, Mississippi on Thursday, July 26, 2012. However, a momentous event occurred which delayed our departure by one day. This upcoming mission just so happened to be the Oregon II’s 300th mission. Thursday was set aside as a day to celebrate this milestone. NOAA employees, media, and public alike joined to reminisce the past and look toward the future. The very first Teacher at Sea sailed upon the Oregon II. Now it is my turn. I am humbled to think of all the great teachers who have gone before me and am honored to now be following in their footsteps.
The Oregon II all decked out and ready to sail
The cake decorated with the 300th cruise artwork
The day’s delay afforded me the opportunity to see some of the land operations NOAA conducts and a little bit that the Pascagoula area has to offer.
First stop was the NOAA lab. This building was just opened in 2009 as the former lab was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. After checking in we saw office upon office of researchers working on their projects.
Alex Fogg was working in the lab. He was busy studying the stomach contents of lionfish. Lionfish were released around the Florida Keys several years ago. Having no predators, this invasive species has been reproducing at an alarming rate. Listen to Alex tell about his research.
NOAA also has an educational outreach program. Earlier in the morning a group of four year olds visited and learned how a Turtle Excluder Device (TED) works. TED’s are required to be installed on shrimp nets. Before the advent of TED’s, when a sea turtle was caught in a shrimp net, it usually drowned before the net was hauled up. Now, when a sea turtle gets caught in a net, it travels through the net until it gets to the TED. The TED looks like bars on a jail cell. The smaller shrimp can pass through, but the sea turtle gets pushed up and out through an opening in the net.
Mr. Frantz demonstrating how a TED works
The Pascagoula area is known for food: barbecue and seafood. The Shed is a famous outdoor barbecue restaurant, which has been featured on TV. I couldn’t decide what to order, so the sampler, with a little bit of everything fit the bill. A “little bit” has an entirely different meaning here than it does in Ohio. This was a huge meal of ribs, wings, and brisket. It also came with sides of collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and baked beans. There were plenty of leftovers for the next day!
It was also interesting that even though it was very hot and humid and the The Shed was outdoors, it did not feel hot at all. Swamp coolers were installed around the perimeter of the restaurant. What is a swamp cooler? I’ll leave it to you to find out!
Pascagoula, Mississippi is a port town with a rich history. Because of its close affiliations with everything nautical, they use nautical flags in their town logo. See if you can spell out P-A-S-C-A-G-O-U-L-A in the arch of flags. Then, see if you can spell out your own name!
Nautical Alphabet Flags
There you have it! One long hot day of good food, celebration, and the wonderful people of Pascagoula, Mississippi. Tomorrow we set sail to find sharks! We have to travel three days at sea to get out of the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida, then to the Atlantic Ocean.