Mission: Acoustic Trawl Survey (Leg 3 of 3) Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean/ Gulf of Alaska Date: Saturday, August 19, 2023
Weather Data Lat 58.1 N, Lon 150.1 W Sky condition: Partly Sunny Wind Speed: 5.81 knots Wind Direction: 346.98° Air Temp: 12.91 °C
The last trawl sample that the OscarDyson’s crew and scientist’s took was in deep water with a Methot net, named after Dr. Rick Methot, the NOAA scientist who developed it. This type of trawl net slows down the water as marine organisms tumble into it, so their delicate bodies are not crushed. The codend looks a lot like what you would see in a plankton tow, only it will catch a lot more organisms.
Sub-samples are taken from what the Methot catches. Some krill is preserved and sent back to NOAA in Seattle for identification and analysis. On board, the krill are weighed and counted. The krill and other organisms are small, so the tools used to sort them are designed for capturing and moving small organisms.
After the last krill was counted and weighed, the science team quickly jumped into action cleaning up the Fish Lab. Yes, I am including this in the science log, because cleanup is an important part of science that many high school students seem to forget.
The crew had unreeled the trawl nets and were getting ready to ship them to Washington state.
Being a Teacher at Sea on the Oscar Dyson was a fantastic way to end the summer for me. Shortly I will be heading back to Anchorage where high school has already started and students have already been to my class with a substitute teacher. I look forward to teaching school, but am so thankful for the opportunity to have this adventure.
It has been so wonderful working with the science team on this cruise. After so many unforeseen delays the objectives were met through team work and the organizational skills of the lead scientist Taina Honkalehto.
The people on this ship really enjoy working on the ocean. Whether it is captaining the boat, engineering, the mess, to programming echo sounders, identifying species of fish, weighing and sampling them, they all love what they do. They also really care about the work that they are doing, the health of the ocean, and they want to support the people working and living with it. Also, there is a unique brand of humor that comes with working together for extended periods of time at sea. You just have to laugh at strange fish that come aboard and wonder at the beautiful sunsets or northern lights.
On the bridge I found the ship’s communication flags. These flags are a way to communicate with other ships if the radios are not working or to hang on holidays with a message. When I was a kid back in Ketchikan, Alaska, I admired the flags so much I would draw cartoons with flag messages. So, to NOAA, the science team and the crew of the OscarDyson…
May the seas lie smooth before you. May a gentle breeze forever fill your sails. May sunshine warm your face, and Kindness warm your soul. – An Irish Sailor’s Blessing
Mission: Acoustic Trawl Survey (Leg 3 of 3) Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean/ Gulf of Alaska Date: Friday, August 18, 2023
Weather Data Lat 58.18 N, Lon 148.82 W Sky condition: Partially Cloudy Wind Speed: 10.55 knots Wind Direction: 32.58° Air Temp: 14 °C
Science and Technology Blog
Meet Sandi Neidetcher, she is a fish biologist investigating fish reproductive status. Why care about fish reproduction? Well, the seafood industry is extremely important to Alaska and other coastal states. And they would not have an industry if those “little fishes” could not reproduce. But the ocean is changing due to climate and different types of pollution.
Climate change is making our oceans a warmer place—just a couple of degrees, but that may be enough to really change how fish reproduce and spawn. A few degrees in temperature could change when and where fish reproduce, and then cascade to the fishing industry, the food market, and the people who depend on them as food.
NOAA wants to have background information on fish reproduction so they can recognize whether the fish have changed their reproductive strategies over time and how that could impact fisheries.
Sandi received her Masters degree studying the ovaries of Pacific cod to determine the phenology and geography, or the timing and location, of spawning. She specialized in histology, which is the study of microscopic tissue structures, for her it was specifically the ovaries. To understand the reproductive process and ovary maturation, she studies slides with ovary tissue mounted and stained to show oocyte (unfertilized egg) structures that develop as the spawning season progresses.
Now she is involved in a study looking at the reproductive states of Walleye Pollock. Pollock are multi-batch spawners. They have the ability to spawn (lay eggs) more than once in a season. So the female ovaries can be in different stages of reproduction throughout the season.
The first step in this analysis is to collect the ovaries from the pollock.
In the photo above, the fish will be measured for length and weight, then the ovary and the liver will be removed, weighed, and saved for analysis. The fish’s ear bones (otoliths) will also be removed and used to determine its age. Samples are sent back to Sandi at NOAA AFSC (Alaska Fisheries Science Center) in Seattle, Washington. Half of the ovary will be sent to a histology lab where technicians will prep the tissues and return the sides ready to be analyzed. The other half of the ovary is scanned on the ship.
Sandi is comparing the histological samples to Raman Spectroscopy Analysis that she does aboard the OscarDyson. A long time ago when I was an undergraduate student in chemistry, Raman spectrometers were very large. The one I worked with in my physical chemistry class was in the basement of a building on a special concrete slab that stopped any vibrations from disturbing the path of the laser. Did I mention that the whole setup took up almost half of the basement?
Raman spectrometers have come a long way since my undergrad. Today, Sandi has a small wand that contains a laser connected to a spectrometer the size of a donut box. A small desktop computer connected to the spectrometer will give an immediate readout of the analysis.
The wand with the laser is held over the ovary to collect data on large macromolecules like lipids, proteins, and DNA.
The analysis that Sandi does is to compare the molecular composition identified through the spectral patterns with the structures seen in the histology samples, and to determine if the maturation status can be identified through the spectral patterns. The ultimate goal would be to have a small hand-held spectrometer that a scientist could use right as the ovaries are extracted. This would greatly increase the amount of ovaries analyzed quickly and efficiently and reduce the cost and time required for histological analysis
Pollock have variability in their reproductive strategies and may be impacted by environmental conditions. One strategy is down regulation, where a fish will reabsorb a number of eggs during maturation and, as a result, reduce the resources spent on reproduction. This reduces the fecundity, or number of eggs released by that fish in a season. Knowing how fecund a fish population is helps managers determine how many fish can be removed by a fishery. Atresia is the resorption of an oocyte and can be seen histologically. Mass atresia is where a whole ovary of oocytes is be reabsorbed. If the fish is not finding enough food or the temperature is not correct then, then a female fish can save energy by reducing, or stopping the whole process of reproduction.
Recent warming sea temperatures have been seen in the Gulf of Alaska, and this may be impacting fish reproduction. In 2020, the number of Pacific cod predicted had dropped so low that the federal waters fishery was closed. That same year, crew fishing for Pacific cod reported seeing a number of Pacific cod with mass atresia. Scientists do not know if the observation of atresia, during a warming period, is related to the population crash but studies like this will give more information for the future. Predicting population crashes that may be related to climate change, fish health or temperature differences are an important part of fisheries management and impact us all because the ocean is an important resource.
Crew Members in the Spotlight
The Commanding Officer runs the ship, but there are many important jobs that the OscarDyson would not function without. Engineering is one of them. There is a small team of Engineers aboard that are constantly monitoring the ship when on shift.
Juliette is a member of the OscarDyson’s Engineering department and may have been on the staff the longest. Her personality is direct, friendly and capable. Before becoming an Engineer, she attained her bachelor of science degree at the University of Washington. After receiving her degree she did not really have a clear plan for a job. So she went to a community college and received the equivalent associates degree of a Junior Unlicensed Engineer. Eventually, through NOAA, she can be a fully qualified Engineer with time aboard ships.
Juliette has a wildly creative side and interest in science. The scarf she is wearing in the picture has different layers present in sedimentary rock. She is also a big fan of dinosaurs, placing several all over the ship for people to find when work is slow. Honestly, it is the kind of humor that keeps everyone moving around with a smile. Some dinosaurs even have sweaters that she knitted, in her down time. Her knitting is extremely impressive.
Ben is the Survey Technician for the ship. Survey Technician is the kind of job you would never know exists as a high school student. There are jobs out there in this world that people would never specifically train for in high school or college , but are highly needed where you have different groups collaborating in complex situations. Ben’s job description is a pretty long list; calibrate scientific instruments, collect data, assist scientists, help the deck crew, and act as a liaison between science and the deck crew.
How did he arrive at this position? He attained a bachelor of science in Wildlife Biology and worked in the field for a while. Unfortunately, he found the job hard to make a living with the low pay. Fishing’s siren song came in the form of factory trawling and other crew positions in smaller boats. Because of his academic training and work experience the “perfect storm” of a Survey Technician was born.
Soon we will be taking our last trawl sample and heading to port in Kodiak. There have been moments on the cruise where time crawled in the dead of night while I was struggling to stay awake. Mostly, it has been a trip of a lifetime, with an incredibly capable and adaptive team of scientists and crew members willing to share stories that keep you awake and lull you to sleep, dreaming about tomorrow.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)
Date: September 7, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 56 15.09 N Longitude: 157 55.74 W Sea wave height: 8 ft Wind Speed: 1.9 knots Wind Direction: 179 degrees Visibility: 10 nautical miles Air Temperature: 12.8 C Barometric Pressure: 1010.45 mBar Sky: Clear
Science and Technology Log:
One of the more technologically interesting pieces of equipment we are using is the Bongo net. One of the main aspects of this cruise is the zooplankton survey. As I have stated before, this survey is important to studying the prey for the juvenile pollock and is done at the same stations where we trawl for juvenile pollock so that scientists looking at the data can compare the ecology of the pollock with the ecology of their prey. The Bongo net is used to collect the zooplankton. This contraption is a series of two large and two smaller nets attached to metal rings. It gets its name because the frame resembles bongo drums.
The diagram on the left shows a 20 cm bongo net set-up. (Photo credit: NOAA – Alaska Fisheries Science Center). The picture on the right shows the Bongo we are currently using on the Oscar Dyson with two 60 cm nets and two 20 cm nets.
The bongo net design we are using includes two large nets on 60 cm frames with 500 micrometer nets and two small nets on a 20 cm frames with 153 micrometer nets. The 500 micrometer nets catch larger zooplankton and the 153 micrometer nets catch smaller zooplankton. The diagram above has just two nets, but our Bongo has 4 total nets. At the top of the bongo net setup is a device called the Fastcat. This records information from the tow including the depth that bongo reaches and the temperature, salinity, and conductivity of the water.
This whole process involves a lot of working together and communication among the scientists and crew. It usually involves three scientists, one survey tech, a winch operator, and the officer on the bridge. All members involved remain in radio contact to ensure that the operations run smoothly. Two scientists and the survey tech work on the “hero deck”. They oversee getting the nets overboard safely and back on the deck at the end of the evolution. The unit is picked up and lowered over the side of the ship by a large hydraulic wench attached to the side A-frame. Another scientist works in the data room at a computer monitoring the depth and angle of the Bongo as it is lowered into the water. As the Bongo net is lowered, the ship moves forward at approximately 2 knots (2.3 mph). This is done to keep the cable holding the Bongo at a 45-degree angle. A 45-degree angle of the wire that tows the Bongo is important to make sure that water flows directly into the mouth opening of the net. One of the scientists on the hero deck will constantly monitor the wire angle using a device called an inclinometer or clinometer and report it to the officer on the bridge. The bridge officer will then adjust the speed if necessary, to maintain the proper wire angle.
The depth the Bongo is sent down depends on how deep the water is in that area (you wouldn’t want an expensive piece of equipment dragging on the ocean floor). The Bongo is deployed to a depth of up to 200 meters or to a depth of no less than 10 meters from the bottom. When the Bongo is at the designated depth, the survey tech will radio the winch operator to bring the Bongo back up slowly. It is brought back up slowly at 20 meters per minute and the 45-degree angle needs to continue to be maintained all the way back up. When the Bongo reaches the surface and is lifted back into the air, the survey tech and two scientists grab it and guide it back onto the deck. This operation can be difficult when the conditions are windy, and the seas are rough.
Once the Bongo has been returned to the deck, the scientist that was in the data room will record the time of the net deployment, how long it took to go down and back up, how much wire was let out, and the total depth of the station. They will also come back out to read the flowmeters in order to see how much water has flowed through the net during the deployment. If anything goes wrong, this is also noted on the data sheet.
Next the nets are washed down with sea water, rinsing all material inside the net towards the codend. The codend is the little container at the end of the net where all the plankton and sometimes other organisms are collected. The codends can then be removed and taken into the Wet Lab to be processed with all the collected material placed in glass jars and preserved with formalin for future study.
These samples are then shipped to Seattle and then on to Poland where they are sorted, the zooplankton identified to species, and the catch is expressed at number per unit area. This gives a quantitative estimate of the density of the plankton in the water column and can provide good information on the overall health of the ocean as they indicate health of the bottom of the food chain. After all, a high density of pollock prey means there is a good feeding spot for juvenile walleye pollock, which in turn means more Filet-O-Fish sandwiches down the line.
Species caught during the last Shift:
Common NameScientific Name
Capelin M. villosus
Northern Smoothtongue L. schmidti
Walleye Pollock G. chalcogrammus
Eulachon or Candlefish T. pacificus
Arrowtooth Flounder A. stomas
Rockfish S. aurora
Smooth lumpsucker A. ventricosus
Prowfish Z. silenus
Sunrise Jellyfish C. melanaster
Lion’s Main Jellyfish C. capillata
Moon Jellyfish A. labiata
Bubble Jellyfish Aequorea sp.
Fried Egg Jellyfish P. camtschatica
As I have said, I am working with some interesting people with some very interesting stories. I am going to start sharing a little of their stories here.
How long have you been working with NOAA? What did you do before joining NOAA?
Laura has been a commissioned officer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Corps for almost seven years. Before joining NOAA, Laura attended James Madison University, earning her degree in International Business. She went to Bali, working as a dive instructor before moving on to Australia to do the same. While in Australia, she decided she wanted to study Marine Biology and came back to the states to study at George Mason University.
Where do you do most of your work?
Most of the time, she can be found on the bridge navigating the ship.
What do you enjoy about your work?
Laura said the most fun thing about the job is driving a 209-foot ship.
Why is your work important?
She gets to safely navigate the ship safely while working with scientists to help them get their work done.
How do you help wider audiences understand and appreciate NOAA science?
Laura had the opportunity to be the second NOAA officer who completed a cross-agency assignment with the Navy. While there, she said she was able to show the Navy personnel that they were using NOAA products such as navigational charts and weather data. Most of them did not realize that these products were made by NOAA.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science an ocean career?
Laura said that while she was in Australia, she was working with another diver who was going out counting fish species for his PhD. She said that experience made her realize her father was right all along and she should have studied science.
What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?
What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?
Driving ships. She also stated that she never expected to be part of a Navy Command and shooting small arms weapons.
What classes would you recommend for a student interested in a career in Marine Science?
A lot of your regular classes, but definitely any conservation classes.
What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a student exploring ocean or science as a career option?
“Unnatural History of the Sea” – about overfishing throughout history
“The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemmingway
What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?
Laura said she would probably be going back to school to work on her Masters in Marine Biology, particularly coral conservation, or going to Fiji to be a dive instructor.
Do you have any outside hobbies?
Diving, reading, working on puzzles, and just being outside exploring (I also understand that she is a pretty good water polo player.)
Did You Know?
For each minute of the day, 1 billion tons of rain falls on the Earth.
Every second around 100 lightning bolts strike the Earth.
Question of the Day:
The fastest speed of a falling raindrop is __________.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)
Date: September 2, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 57 35.35 N Longitude: 153 57.71 W Sea wave height: 1 ft Wind Speed: 14 knots Wind Direction: 208 degrees Visibility: 8 nautical miles Air Temperature: 15.4 C Barometric Pressure: 1002.58 mBar Sky: Overcast
After a series of unfortunate events, we finally got underway! It turns out arriving several days before the ship departure ended up being very helpful. My checked bag did not arrive with me and the morning of departure it still had not arrived. I had given up on seeing it before we pulled out and gone shopping for replacement “essentials”. Then, an hour before our scheduled departure I got a call from my airline hero saying that my bag had finally made it to Kodiak. A quick trip to the airport and back to the ship and I was ready to go. That’s when the waiting game really started. Repairs to the Bongo apparatus caused a several hour delay as we waited on repairs, then after moving out into open water to test it, we found that it still wasn’t working properly. The ship crew worked to make adjustments and finally, we were off!
Science and Technology Log
We departed for the stations where the previous group had left off. The first couple of stations were methodical as everyone was becoming accustomed to what to expect. I have been asked by multiple people what kinds of things are going on during these expeditions and what the day-to-day life of a scientist is on this ship. There are several projects going on. The primary focus is on assessing the walleye pollock population, but there is also data being collected simultaneously for scientists working on other projects.
Each station starts with a bongo tow in which the bongo nets are lowered over the side and pulled along collecting plankton. Once the bongo is pulled back onto the ship, the flowmeters are read to record the amount of water that went through the net, and the nets are then carefully washed down to concentrate the plankton sample into the cod end. This end piece can then be removed and taken into the lab area to prepare the sample for shipping back to the NOAA labs. As this process is being completed, our ship’s crew is already working to bring the ship back around to complete a trawling operation in the same area.
It is preferable to complete both operations from the same location since the plankton are the primary food source and a comparison can then be made between the amount of producers and consumers. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. During one of the trials yesterday, a pod of humpback whales decided they wanted to hang out just where we wanted to trawl. Because of this, it was decided to attempt to move away from the whales before starting the trawl. When all goes well, the trawling nets should bring in a nice variety of species and in our case, a large number of pollock! For the first two trials, we found mostly jellyfish with only a few other fish samples. Later trials, though, have been much more successful in finding a better mix of species. Below is a list of species caught during the last Station.
As the catch is spread onto the table, all other sea life is separated from the jellyfish and sorted for measurement and recorded. The jellyfish are weighed as a mixed sample, then re-sorted by species and weighed again. The fish are all measured, recorded, and bagged and frozen for future use by scientists back in the lab in Seattle that are working on special projects.
Species caught during the last Station:
unidentified juvenile Gunnels
Eulachon, or Candlefish
Lion’s Mane Jellyfish
Drills were the word of the day the first day as we went through fire drills and abandon ship drills. It is always nice to know where to go if something goes wrong while out at sea. I now know where the lifeboats are, how to get into my immersion suit, and what to do in case of a fire on the ship.
*** Of course, just when we really start to get into the swing of things, a weather front comes through that forces us to find a place to “hide” until the waves calm down.
On another note, I have seriously been geeking out enjoying talking to the NOAA scientists about their research and experiences. There is a wealth of information in the minds of the scientists and crew on this ship. I have initially focused on getting to know the scientists I am working with and slowly branching out to get to know the crew. Hopefully I will be able to translate some of my admiration here in the coming posts.
Did You Know?
Did you know, there are approximately 1800 thunderstorm events going on in Earth’s atmosphere at any one time?
Question of the Day:
What type of fish can be found in McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich, Arby’s Classic Fish Sandwich, Long John Silver’s Baja Fish Taco, Captain D’s Seafood Kitchen, and Birds Eye’s Fish Fingers in Crispy Batter?
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Yakutat Bay)
Weather Data from Juneau, Alaska:
Lat: 58.3019° N, Long: 134.4197° W Air Temp: 12º C
Phew…finally a day to sit back and take a breath! A few days after getting back from sea, I attended our school district’s inservice and am now 2 weeks into the new school year. It is hard to believe how quickly the summer break goes by!
Back in Juneau, the sunny, warm weather has continued, which has also meant no shortage of adventures. Since getting home, friends and I have hiked the Juneau Ridge, fished in Lynn Canal, and hunted on Admiralty Island. It has been a warm welcome home! A group of us are also training for the upcoming Klondike Running Relay from Skagway, AK to Whitehorse, YT. Needless to day, I was VERY happy to have a treadmill and workout equipment on the boat to keep active while at sea.
On the school side of things, I felt lucky to have some time to spend curriculum planning while at sea. It has helped me have a smooth start to the year and give the new 7th graders a great start. I am definitely looking forward to sharing my Teacher at Sea experience with all my new kiddos.
With the return to school, my relaxing days at sea have been replaced with nonstop action in and out of the classroom. Not only does the school year bring teaching science classes, but also an Artful Teaching continuing education course, coaching our middle school cross country team, and planning events for SouthEast Exchange (SEE). SEE is an organization I am a part of that works to connect local professionals, like those I met at sea, with local teachers. Our goal is to bring more real-world and place-based experiences into our classrooms. Through my involvement with SEE, I met and worked with NOAA scientist Ebett Siddon. Along with collaborating together on a unit about Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management for my 7th graders, she also told me about Teachers at Sea!
With that, I would like to say a HUGE thank you to all of the staff at NOAA who help make this program possible. It was a once in a lifetime experience that has helped me better understand the field I am teaching about. I look forward to using what I have learned about studying fish populations and the unique career opportunities at sea with my students. I know they will appreciate my new expertise and see that there always opportunities to keep learning!
Thank you again and please consider applying for this program if you are a teacher reading this. 🙂
Latitude: 57° 01.84 N Longitude: 151 ° 35.12 W Wind Speed: 8.45 knots Wind Direction: 257.79° Air Temperature: 15.3°C Sea Temperature: 14.6°C Barometric Pressure: 1010 mbar
Science and Technology Log
Chief Scientist Matt Wilson showed me how to collect otolith samples from pollock. Otoliths are the inner ear bones of fish that keep a record of a fish’s entire life. Similar to tree rings, scientists count the annual growth rings on the otolith to estimate the age of the fish. The size of the ring can also help scientists determine how well the fish grew within that year. To remove the otolith, a cut is made slightly behind the pollock’s eyes. Using forceps, you then remove the otoliths carefully.
NOAA Junior Unlicensed Engineer Blair Cahoon gave me a tour of the engine room yesterday. Before venturing below deck, we had to put on ear protection to protect our ears from the loud roars of engine equipment.
The Oscar Dyson has a total of four engines. The two larger engines are 12 cylinders and the two smaller engines are 8 cylinders. These engines are attached to generators. The motion of the engines gives force motion to the generators, which in turn power the entire ship. On a safety note, NOAA Junior Unlicensed Engineer Blair Cahoon also pointed out that the ship has two of every major part just in case a backup is needed.
The engine room also holds the water purification system, which converts seawater into potable water. Each of the two evaporators can distill between 600-900 gallons of water a day. The Oscar Dyson typically uses between 800-1000 gallons of water a day. The engineers shared with me how this system actually works:
1. Seawater is pumped onto the boat and is boiled using heat from the engine.
2. Seawater is evaporated and leaves behind brine, which gets pumped off of the ship.
3. Water vapor moves through cooling lines and condenses into another tank producing fresh water.
4. This water is then run through a chemical bromide solution to filter out any leftover unwanted particles.
5. The finely filtered water is stored in potable water holding tanks.
6. The last step before consumption is for the water to pass through a UV system that kills any remaining bacteria or harmful chemicals in the water.
We then got to explore the lower parts of the engine room where I got to see the large rotating shaft which connects directly to the propeller and moves the ship. I have learned from my years of working on boats to be extremely careful in this area near the rotating shaft. You must make sure you do not have any loose clothing, etc. that could get caught or hung up in it.
I was unsure of what life would be like for two weeks on a scientific research vessel. We are now steaming towards station number 72 on day twelve at sea. We have done 65 bongo tows and 65 trawls. So yes, there is a lot of repetition day in and day out. However, each day brings its own set of challenges and/or excitement. Weather (wind direction, wave direction, current, etc.) makes each station uniquely challenging for the NOAA Corps Officers on the bridge and the deck crew below. I stand back in awe watching it all come together on our 209 foot ship. I get excited to see what new creature might appear in our latest trawl haul besides the hundreds of kilograms of jellyfish, haha.
Did You Know?
One of the coolest things I learned on my engine tour is that when large equipment parts need to be replaced (like an engine or generator), engineers actually cut a giant hole in the side of the ship to get the old equipment out and the new parts in rather than take it apart and lug it up through the decks piece by piece.
Animals Seen Today
The overnight science shift found a juvenile Wolf Eel in one of their trawl samples. It is not actually a wolf or an eel. It is in fact, a fish with the face of a ‘wolf’ and the body of an eel. Its appearance has been described as having the eyes of a snake, jaws of a wolf, and the grace of a goldfish. They can grow up to eight feet in length and weigh upwards of ninety pounds. Juveniles have a burnt orange hue and the adults are brown, grey, or green. Check out this website for more info about the super creepy wolf eel: https://www.alaskasealife.org/aslc_resident_species/44
Something to Think About
In one of our trawls, we processed 850 kilograms of jellyfish…. That’s 1,874 pounds of jellyfish!!!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Yakutat Bay)
Weather Data from the Gulf of Alaska: Lat: 58º 44.3 N Long: 145º 23.51 W
Air Temp: 15.9º C
Currently we are sailing back across the Gulf of Alaska to the boat’s home port, Kodiak. I think the last few days have gone by quickly with the change of daily routine as we start to get all the last minute things finished and gear packed away.
Since my last post, the definite highlight was sailing up to see the Hubbard Glacier in Disenchantment Bay (near Yakutat). WOW. The glacier is so wide (~6miles) that we couldn’t see the entire face. In addition to watching the glacier calve, we also saw multiple seals sunbathing on icebergs as we sailed up to about a mile from the glacier.
We spent a few hours with everyone enjoying the sunshine and perfect view of the mountains behind the glacier, which form the border between the U.S. and Canada. We also had a BBQ lunch! Here are a few photos from our afternoon.
Another surprise was showing up for dinner the other night to find King Crab on the menu. What a treat! Most people are now trying to get back on a normal sleeping schedule and so mealtimes are busier than usual.
Lastly, the engineering department was working on a welding project and invited me down to see how it works. On the first day of the trip I had asked if I could learn how to weld and this was my chance! They let me try it out on a scrap piece of metal after walking me through the safety precautions and letting me watch them demonstrate. It works by connecting a circuit of energy created by the generator/welding machine. When the end you hold (the melting rod) touches the surface that the other end of the conductor is connected to (the table) it completes the circuit.
Before making it to Yakutat we fished a few more times and took our last otolith samples and fish measurements. Otoliths are the inner ear bones of fish and have rings on them just like a tree. The number and width of the rings help scientists calculate how old the fish is, as well as how well it grew each year based on the thickness of the rings. In the wet lab, we take samples and put them in little individual vials to be taken back to the Seattle lab for processing. Abigail did a great job teaching where to cut in order to find the otoliths, which can be tough since they are so small.
Another important piece of the survey is calibrating all of the equipment they use. Calibration occurs at the start and end of each survey to make sure the acoustic equipment is working consistently throughout the survey. The main piece of equipment being calibrated is the echosounder, which sends out sound waves which reflect off of different densities of objects in the water. In order to test the different frequencies, a tungsten carbide and a copper metal ball are individually hung below the boat and centered underneath the transducer (the part that pings out the sound and then listens for the return sound). Scientists know what the readings should be when the sound/energy bounces off of the metal balls. Therefore, the known results are compared with the actual results collected and any deviation is accounted for in the data accumulated on the survey.
After calibration, we cleaned the entire wet lab where all of the fish have been processed on the trip. It is important to do a thorough cleaning because a new survey team comes on board once we leave, and any fish bits left behind will quickly begin to rot and smell terrible. Most of the scales, plastic bins, dissection tools, nets, and computers are packed up and sent back to Seattle.
Did You Know?
Remember when you were a kid counting the time between a lightning strike and thunder? Well, the ship does something similar to estimate the distance of objects from the ship. If it is foggy, the ship can blow its fog horn and count how many seconds it takes for the sound to be heard again (or come back to the boat). Let’s say they counted 10 seconds. Since sound travels at approximately 5 seconds per mile, they could estimate that the ship was 1 mile away from shore. We were using this method to estimate how close Oscar Dyson was from the glacier yesterday. While watching the glacier calve we counted how many seconds between seeing the ice fall and actually hearing it. We ended up being about 1 mile away.
Latitude: 34º 16.54 N Longitude: 118º 60.90 W Wind Speed: 5 km/hr Air Temperature: 33º Celsius Pool Temperature 29º Celsius
It is hard to believe that my 26 days as a Teacher at Sea on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are already over, and that I am back in California. I am still rocking slightly, and still VERY AWAKE at 4 a.m. as a result of having the night shift. I met so many wonderful people, from the NOAA officers to the crew to the science team, and learned so much about marine species, the ocean, science, technology, Alaska, and myself.
When I tell people how much I loved being up to my elbows in pollock, jellyfish, and sparkly herring scales; processing a catch several times a day; filleting rockfish; and the utter satisfaction that comes from opening a pollock’s head in just the right spot in order to extract its otoliths, they think I am insane. I guess it’s just something they’ll have to experience for themselves.
I have cooked both Alaskan cod and salmon since returning home, but nothing tastes like Chief Steward Judy’s cooking. I miss being rocked to sleep by the movement of the water; the anemones, sea stars, and fish we saw each night using the drop camera; the sunsets; the endless waves; and all the laughs. This has been the experience of a lifetime, and I look forward to sharing all that I learned with my students and my school. I will always treasure my time in Alaska and on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson and hope to return to both soon.
When Sarah Stienessen was a little girl, she got a book about dolphins, and fell in love. She read the book over and over, dreaming about meeting a real-live dolphin one day. The problem was she grew up in Wisconsin, not a place with a lot of dolphins. However, as Sarah says “If you have an interest, don’t let location deter you from your dreams.”
When she grew up, Sarah studied zoology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, but her burning fascination with the ocean led her to graduate school at Texas A&M where she finally got to study DOLPHINS (more specifically, the vocal behavior of dolphins). Her research there included using a hydrophone to listen to dolphins. She later moved to Seattle and began working for NOAA conducting acoustic surveys on walleye pollock in Alaska. On this leg of the Oscar Dyson, Sarah acted as the Field Party Chief (or Chief Scientist). Sarah pointed out that while her use of acoustics with dolphins was passive (placing a hydrophone in the water and listening to the dolphins) she is now using acoustics actively by sending an audible PING into the water and reading the echos that the fish send back.
Sarah was part of the amazing NOAA
science team onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, which included, Denise
McKelvey, Kresimir Williams, and Taina Honkalehto.
Denise was on the day shift, so I mostly saw her during shift changes and on those rare mornings when I was still awake at 7 a.m. and came down for breakfast (okay, bacon). However, early in the trip, she took the time to explain the fish lab procedure to me, even drawing pictures and a flow chart. (Thanks!)
While the duties of the science team often overlap, Kresimir is definitely the “techie” who enjoys inventing and creating new underwater cameras and other devices. Do you remember the TV show MacGyver? MacGyver was a secret agent who was beyond resourceful and had an encyclopedic knowledge of science. Every episode, he would solve the problem at hand in a matter of minutes using a combination of ordinary objects such as duct tape, household cleanser, a Q-tip, and some matches. Kresimir reminded me of MacGyver. If something broke, he would enter the room, grab tools and items that just might work in place of the broken piece, and sure enough, within minutes, the device would be up and running again!
Taina was always in the chem lab during drop camera time, her eyes riveted on the screen. I was excited whenever the camera spotted something, but I loved that Taina seemed equally excited to see what marine species the camera would uncover each night. One of the most exciting, and clearly the biggest, was the Giant Pacific Octopus!
Science and Technology Log
The Giant Pacific Octopus (or Octopus dofleini) is often rumored to weigh more than 600 pounds, but most adult octopuses are much smaller. An adult female might weigh up to 55 pounds while an adult male can weight up to 88 pounds. According to NOAA, the plural of octopus is octopuses, NOT octopi as some people say. Because it doesn’t have bones, a giant octopus can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter! The body of an octopus is shaped like a bag and it has 8 long arms (or tentacles) covered in suction cups.
octopus can have as many as 280 suction cups on each arm. That’s 2,240
suction cups! The Giant Pacific Octopus loves to eat crabs, but it will also
eat snails, oysters, abalone, clams, mussels, and small fish. The octopus’
mouth or jaw is shaped like a parrot’s beak. It is the only hard part of an octopus,
and it’s more-or-less
indigestible. That means that if a sperm whale eats an octopus, and the
contents of the whale’s stomach are later studied, you will see the octopus
beak even if you find no other sign that he ate an octopus.
to avoid whales and other predators, an octopus will camouflage, or change its
color and skin texture to match its surroundings! When he feels threatened, he releases
a cloud of purple-black ink to confuse his enemy.
Octopus Elementary Math Time
(Remember, an octopus has 8 arms.)
If an octopus has 2 suction cups on each
arm, how many does he have all together? _______
If an octopus has 5 suction cups on each
arm, how many does he have all together? _______
If an octopus has 10 suction cups on each
arm, how many does he have all together? ______
If an octopus has 2 suction cups on 4 of
his arms, and 3 suction cups on his other 4 arms, how many does he have all
If an octopus has 4 suction cups on 7 of
his arms, but half as many on his 8th arm, how much does he all
If an octopus has 259 suction cups and
his octopus friend has 751 suction cups, how many do they have all together?
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Yakutat Bay)
Weather Data from the Gulf of Alaska: Lat: 58º 50.39’ N Long: 150º 14.72’ W
Air Temp: 14.2º C
Today we had the chance to sail up into Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula and it was beautiful! In general, transects, or lines the boat collects acoustic information along, run perpendicular to the Gulf of Alaska shelf because that is where pollock are most likely found. Luckily for us, a few of them travel up into bays along the coast and give us a welcomed change of scenery from the open ocean.
Why do we survey in bays when pollock are usually open water fish? Well, during the winter, pollock sometimes aggregate to spawn (reproduce) in bays and those areas are documented by the scientists. In the summer, scientists want to see if there are still any pollock present in those areas. Unfortunately, we do not have time to survey all of the bays and so just a few are selected. For this leg, after the next couple of days back on the shelf, we will head up into Prince William Sound, which I am really looking forward to seeing.
While following the transects up into Resurrection Bay, it was fun to see sailboats, fishing boats, helicopters and float planes rushing around us. To my surprise, I also saw masses of RV campers through the binoculars when looking at town. I learned that Seward is a popular place for people to visit from Anchorage and other areas for summer vacations and fishing opportunities. As for those of us on the boat, we also enjoyed the summer weather while sailing through. The sun was shining and it seemed that everyone took a moment to step outside, make a few phone calls home (we had service for a bit!) and soak up the warm weather. All in all, I think everyone feels re-energized going into our final 10 days at sea.
Science and Technology Log
We stopped to fish near the mouth of Resurrection Bay and found mostly age 1 and 2 pollock, along with a few adults. This shows us that pollock do utilize both the bay and the shelf areas during their lifecycle. Afterwards, we headed back out into the gulf and fished with a net called a Methot net.
A Methot net is a different kind of net that is specialized to catch Euphausiids (krill). In addition to collecting data on pollock, scientists also collect data on Euphausiids (krill). The net used to collect krill is a bit different than the one used for pollock. There are no pocket nets along the side and instead of the end of the net being mesh, there is a small canister that the net filters krill into. Once we haul in the net, it is time to sort and collect data on the catch, just like the pollock trawls.
It has been back to regular fishing trawls since then, along with comparison trawls. A comparison trawl is when we fish twice over the same area using two different nets. This year, the scientists decided to replace the old survey net with a newly designed one that is a little bit smaller and easier for the deck crew to deploy. Now they need to compare the two nets to make sure the newer net is catching the same species and size of fish. Darin was explaining to me that they have to do approximately 25 comparison trawls on this survey and will continue comparisons during the winter survey as well. If all goes according to plan, they will permanently replace the old net next summer.
On one of our trawls the other day, we caught a lot of rockfish. Lucky for us, rockfish is a species we can keep and eat on the boat. We are not allowed to keep salmon, crab, halibut or herring since they are prohibited species. You are only allowed to keep those species if you have a special permit. While I wish we could eat the others, rockfish is also really tasty!
Did You Know?
There is an incinerator on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson that burns all of our trash from the boat so that we don’t have to keep it aboard for the whole trip. Also, nothing is thrown overboard, not even food scraps. When I was taking a look yesterday, the temperature was over 800 degrees Celsius. Diesel fuel is used as fuel initially, followed by burning sludge from the boat once it gets hot enough. All leftover ash gets put into bins and discarded when back in port.
Thanks for following along!
P.S. We go up and watch the sunrise everyday…it is beautiful out here!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Prince William Sound)
Date: Saturday, July 20th, 2019
Weather Data from Kodiak, AK: 4:00am Lat: 57.79° N Lon: 152.4072° W Temp: 56 degrees F.
Good morning! It is currently 4:30am on Saturday, July 20th and I have just woken up for my first shift on the boat. So far, I have met scientists Abigail McCarthy and Troy Buckley, who will be working the day shift with me. I also met Ruth, an intern from the University of Washington and my bunkmate. It will be nice to have someone else on board who is also new to the experience!
Before talking about work, I’d like to share what we got up to in Kodiak before departing on the cruise. One thing to note – Chief Scientist Darin Jones explained that because this is the 3rd leg of the survey and the scientists are taking over from the previous group, we do not have any set up or calibration of equipment to do. If this had been leg 1 of the survey, the free days in port would have been spent doing those jobs. Lucky us!
After unpacking everything in our state rooms (bunks), we quickly set out to explore Kodiak. In two and a half days, were able to see a lot! Wednesday night, some friends of mine in town took us for a stroll on Near Island, followed by a yummy dinner at Noodle Bar.
Thursday morning, team building began with a run to Safeway and Walmart for all last minute necessities. The teacher in me couldn’t resist a fresh pack of sharpie markers and colored pencils. 🙂 In the afternoon, we walked along Spruce Cape where we picked a TON of blueberries and found the largest barnacle I have ever seen.
After a short recoup back on the boat, Darin and Abigail were ready for an evening surf session at Fossil Beach. This beach is the farthest south you can access by road in Kodiak and the drive was BEAUTIFUL. Prior to the trip, I hadn’t looked up any pictures of Kodiak and so the treeless green mountains, cliffy coastlines and herds of cows were exciting to see. Once at the beach, we jumped in the ocean, watched a successful surf session and finished our team building with a fire and dinner on the beach.
Science and Technology Log:
In just a few days of being here, I have already learned a lot about the workings of the ship and what we will be busy doing for the next three weeks. Here is a preview.
To begin, science shifts run from 4am – 4pm and 4pm – 4am. Throughout this entire time, acoustic data is being collected and read. Acoustic data is gathered by sending out sound waves from a transducer box attached to the bottom of a centerboard underneath the boat. The sound waves reverberate out and bounce off of anything with a different density than water. In the picture below, you can see a bold line on the screen with smaller dots above. Take a look and see if you can identify what the line and dots might represent.
If you thought the big bold lines on each screen were the seafloor, you were correct! Most of the little dots that appear above the sea floor are fish. Fish are identified from the sound waves bouncing off of their swim bladders. Swim bladders are the “bags” of air inside fish that inflate and deflate to allow the fish to raise and lower itself in the water column. Air has a different density compared to water and therefore shows up in the acoustics data.
What is this acoustic data used for? There are 2 primary parts. The first is to identify where schools of fish are located and therefore areas well suited for collecting fish samples. The second is to calculate the total biomass of pollock in the water column by combining acoustics data with the actual measurements of fish caught in that same area. More specifics to come as I take part in the process throughout the survey.
Did You Know?
On this survey, scientists do not catch/survey fish at night (when it is dark). The reason? At night, bottom dwelling species come up off the seafloor at night to feed. During the day they settle back down on the seafloor. The scientists are primarily interested in catching pollock, a mid water species, so they fish during daylight hours.
Updates to come later in the week. It is time for me to join the scientists and get ready process our first catch!
Latitude: 57º 09.61 N Longitude: 152º 20.99W Wind Speed: 15 knots Wind Direction: 210 º Air Temperature: 12º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 1013 mb Depth of water column 84m Surface Sea Temperature: 12º Celsius
Science and Technology Log
Onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson with me are two volunteer biologists: Evan Reeve and Nathan Battey. Evan is on the opposite shift, so we often pass each other, but on occasion, we have been in the fish or chem lab at the same time.
I arrived here knowing very little about fish (other than how to care for a beta fish and how to cook salmon and trout). Evan, on the other hand, is a recent graduate of the University of Washington (or as he likes to say, “U-DUB”) with a degree in Biology (and an emphasis in fish biology). When I say recent, I mean recent. Evan graduated five days before we boarded the ship.
Evan has a remarkable “ready for anything”
attitude whether it is the start of his 12-hour shift, or the end. His background
may be one reason why. Originally from San Diego, he spent his freshman year at
the University of Missouri, Kansas City. A planned-year studying abroad at the
Universidad Veritas in San Jose, Costa Rica got cut short after one semester
due to an illness that forced him to return to San Diego. There, Evan made the decision to serve our
country and joined the Navy. For a few years, he served as a Navy corpsman
stationed with Marine infantry units until he was injured during training. That’s
when Ready-for-Anything Evan resumed his studies, eventually arriving at his
Evan currently lives in Washington, where he volunteers with the NOAA Hatchery Reform Program in Port Orchard, Washington, tracking hatchery released juvenile salmon in Puget Sound using both acoustics and traditional fishing techniques. When a biology professor mentioned the opportunity to spend time on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson in the Gulf of Alaska, Evan of course volunteered, eager to participate in a larger scale study involving different fish species. In Puget Sound, the haul is often 10 salmon. In contrast, the haul being studied onboard the Oscar Dyson is often 1000 pounds of Walleye pollock several times a day (along with prowfish, Pacific herring, rockfish, and a lot of jellyfish). Speaking of prowfish, herring, rockfish, and jellyfish…
FUN FISH FACTS AND PHOTOS:
PROWFISH: In my earlier blog, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, I wrote about the lumpsucker being the cutest fish I had ever seen. A close runner up is the baby prowfish.
Every time we get a prowfish in a catch, everyone wants to look at it! We usually get juvenile prowfish which are about the length of my finger. (Adults can get up to 3 feet long.) The juveniles are very soft and smooth looking, and their lower jaw juts out slightly, making them look like they are pouting. Unlike adults prowfish, who spend most of their time near the bottom of the sea floor, juvenile prowfish spend their time in the middle levels of the water column, which is the area we are trawling on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. I was surprised to learn that juvenile prowfish will try to avoid predators by hiding within the bells of large jellyfish.
PACIFIC HERRING, OR AS I LIKE TO CALL THEM, THE RAINBOW FISH:
As a special education preschool teacher, I often read and discuss The Rainbow Fish (by Marcus Pfister) with my students.
It is a popular children’s book
about a little fish with very sparkly scales who learns to share. Rainbow Fish
was considered the most beautiful fish in the ocean because of his many sparkly
scales. When a plain, little fish asks for
one of the sparkly scales, Rainbow Fish refuses to share. This makes all the
other fish mad, and they no longer want to play with the Rainbow Fish. In the end,
Rainbow Fish decides to share his sparkly scales with all the other fish,
keeping only one for himself. He is less
beautiful than he was before, but he has new friends and is now the happiest
fish in the sea.
The Pacific herring is similarly covered in sparkly scales, but boy, is he a super sharer (as we say in preschool)! Since herring are a small fish, they compensate for their size by forming schools (or groups of fish that swim together). Swimming in schools protects them as it reduces the likelihood that any one of them will be eaten by a predator. Sometimes we get only one herring with our huge haul of pollock. They are somewhat similar in shape and color. Evan (the volunteer biologist) has a theory: that it’s a herring who got separated from his school and sought protection by joining and blending in with a school of pollock. As a preschool teacher, I love the idea that a group of pollock would allow or even invite a lost little herring to “play” with them.
Other times, we get a lot of herring, and as I mentioned they love to share their sparkly scales. Everything (and everyone) ends up sparkly: the pollock, the fish belt, the measuring boards, the tables, and ME! You can always tell when there is herring in a catch by the sparkly fish scales in my hair.
ROCKFISH: Occasionally a few rockfish are in the trawl net. Rockfish have large eyes, and are not particularly sparkly or cute, but they are delicious! I even learned to fillet them!
It was exciting to later see the rockfish cooked and served for dinner.
AND FINALLY THE JELLYFISH: Not yet… keep reading…
FIRST,Nathan Battey: Nathan, the other volunteer biologist onboard, is on my shift, and works in the fish lab with me 12 hours a day processing the fish hauls. He is my “go-to fisheries biologist” whenever I need help identifying a fish or jellyfish.”
Since he is originally from Goffstown, New Hampshire, it should not come as a surprise that Nathan ended up on a ship since Goffstown is home to the famous Giant Pumpkin Regatta! Every October, Goffstown residents transform enormous pumpkins into boats. They scoop out the sometimes 1000-pound pumpkins, climb in, and race them down the Piscatoquag River.
Nathan studied biology and earth science at the University of New Hampshire and took a lot of oceanography courses along the way. Since graduating in 2015, he has done a myriad of fascinating things. He quantified nitrogen cycling in the wetlands of coastal New England, worked in a microbiology lab, counted larval fish under a microscope, regulated the upstream passage of salmon on the Seattle fish ladder, worked as a scallop fisheries observer, was a State Park Ranger on the eastern shore of Virginia, and worked with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe (alongside NOAA scientists, tribal scientists, fish and wildlife scientists, and National Park scientists) on the recolonization of the Elwha River for salmon and other fish after the dams there were removed. (The tribe had successfully sued the U.S. for the removal of the dams based upon their right to fish there.)
The last two positions were through AmeriCorps, which he highly recommends! AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs. It is sometimes thought of as the domestic Peace Corps since members serve on projects within the United States. According to their website: “AmeriCorps is your moment to take the path less traveled, to break the status quo, to stop talking about the problem and be the solution.” Whatever your passion, it is likely there is an AmeriCorps opportunity perfect for you. There are projects in the fields of education, public safety, health care, and environmental protection. If you are interested in learning more about AmeriCorps, visit https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps
Nathan is also a talented artist and drew detailed sketches of both marine and bird species which amazed everyone and now hang on the walls of the chem lab.
He will also be remembered for the nickname he gave to the Chrysaora melanaster jellyfish: Chrysaora melanasty.
AT LAST, THE JELLYFISH:
Chrysaora melanaster are magnificent creatures. The photo below, captured one night using the drop camera, shows how elegantly they glide through the water with their ribbon-like tentacles flowing gracefully behind them.
It is often my job to grab the jellyfish as they come down the belt, separating them from the pollock. I have held some that are an inch wide, and some that are almost 3 feet wide (and quite heavy). Jellyfish are measured by their bell diameter, or how wide the top part is (not the tentacles).
The photo above might give you an idea of how the nickname “melanasty” came to be. In the net, all the glorious, long, sticky, ribbon-like tentacles of the Chrysaora melanaster get tangled and attached to all the glorious, long, sticky, ribbon-like tentacles of the other Chrysaora melanaster. As you try to pull one jellyfish off the belt, several more are attached in a slimy mess, and you often get splashed in the face, mouth, or eyes with jellyfish “goo.” One day, dealing with the tangle, Nathan dubbed them “melanasty” and the nickname stuck.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Aleutian Islands)
Date: Monday, July 15th, 2019
Weather Data from Juneau, AK: 8:50am Lat: 58.35° N Lon: 134.58° W
Hello everyone. In just a few days I will be swapping out halibut fishing in Juneau, AK for surveying walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA)…and I can’t wait! Our cruise on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson will depart from Kodiak Island and sail out along the Aleutian Islands, a place I have yet to see or experience since moving to Alaska.
Three years ago, I left a curriculum consulting job in Portland, OR to begin teaching in Juneau. Prior to Oregon, I was living overseas in Australia, where I completed my Masters in Education and spent time with the Australian side of my family. I am incredibly excited to now call Juneau my home and be in the classroom as both an educator and a learner. Alaska is such a unique and special place – sometimes I still can’t believe I live here!
Currently, I work as a 7th grade Life Science teacher at Floyd Dryden Middle School. Not only is middle school my favorite age of kids to teach (yes, you heard that right), but I also love the curriculum we get to share with them. One main focus during the school year is to teach about ecosystems. Two years ago I developed a unit, along with NOAA Scientist Elizabeth Siddon, that focuses on how commercial fisheries quotas are set in Alaska. The lessons range from data collection and stakeholder input to presenting recommendations to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. Alaska takes several different aspects of the ecosystem into consideration when setting quotas and I think it is a great way for students to see how the science they learn in school can be applied to real life careers.
I myself have never had the chance to work as a scientist. That is why I am so excited for the opportunity to participate in data collection and analysis alongside a research team right here in Alaska. It will be fantastic to bring what I learn back to my students and be able to give them an even better understanding what being a scientist can entail.
Lastly, outside of teaching, I try to enjoy all of the outdoor activities Juneau has to offer. With the recent streak of unusually warm and sunny weather, my friends and I have been boating, swimming, and hiking as much as possible. While it will be hard to leave those things behind, I am looking forward to this next adventure!
Science and Technology Log:
The research team on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is conducting an acoustic-trawl (AT) survey to collect data, primarily on walleye pollock, to be used in stock assessment models for determining commercial fisheries quotas. When collecting data, scientists will work in 12 hour shifts and be looking to determine things such as species composition, age, length distribution etc.
Trawl fishing, for those of you unfamiliar, is a method of fishing when a net of particular size is pulled through the water behind a boat. Oscar Dyson is a 64 meter stern trawler that contains acoustic and oceanographic instruments to collect the necessary data. After researching online, I learned that the main instrument used is a Simrad EK60 split-beam echosounder system. Look for more information about what this instrument is (and others) in future blog posts!
Did You Know?
Alaska pollock is one of the largest commercial fisheries in the world!
Thank you for reading and I am looking forward to sharing more about life out at sea!
Fishing nets like the ones used on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson or on commercial fishing boats can be very expensive. If one plans on doing a bottom trawl (fishing with a net that goes down to the sea floor) one wants to make sure that there are not rocks or other things that can snag or tear the net. If there are too many rocks or boulders or uneven topography, the area is considered “untrawlable”. While computer imagery can provide some guidance with regard to what lies deep beneath the surface, scientists onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are hoping that video images taken with an underwater camera can provide a more complete picture and be the basis for a more precise computer model of what areas are in fact untrawlable.
Why is this important? Scientists onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are surveying the fish that live in the middle of the water column. However, groundfish surveys need to account for all the fish living on the ocean floor. If the groundfish program can’t trawl in certain areas, then they don’t know what is there. For example, rockfish often live in untrawlable areas. If a groundfish survey can’t put a net in areas where rockfish live, then they won’t really “count” the correct numbers of rockfish in their survey. Data obtained using an underwater camera can help determine what species of rockfish are being underrepresented by the groundfish program.
One of the many perks of being on the 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift is that I get to watch the drop camera in action! The camera (with its attached light) is slowly lowered to the sea floor.
I have seen the camera take 4 minutes to reach the bottom or as long as 8 minutes depending upon the depth of the water being surveyed. The camera is then “driven” along the bottom (or right above it) for 15 minutes via a control box on the boat (similar to a tiny joystick). I even got to drive it a few times!
The images are recorded and also seen in real time on several computer screens on the boat. We have seen rocks, of course, but also jellyfish, sea whips, crabs, anemones, octopuses, sea stars, and a wide variety of fish. One night, there were thousands of sand dollars. It looked like we had come across a buried treasure! It is fascinating to see what is happening deep beneath the boat. It’s kind of like virtual scuba diving!
Drop Camera Elementary School Math Fun
If the stereo drop camera takes 8 minutes to reach the bottom when the water is 200 meters deep, how long might it take to reach the bottom if it was:
It’s time to come clean and admit that I suffer from Pareidola. Don’t worry, it’s not contagious, or even dangerous. In fact, I think it’s a lot of fun. You see, Pareidola is a psychological phenomenon where you see patterns. Quite often, people with Pareidola will see faces in objects where there really isn’t one, like on an electrical outlet.
has reached a new level on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as I am seeing not
just faces but ROBOTS like these:
know if you see any robots at your house, and I am on the lookout for more
At present, there are 31 people onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, and each plays a vital role in making sure that everything runs as it should. One person whose job touches each and every one of us is Judy Capper, the Chief Steward. One might think that being onboard a ship for three weeks would mean limited food choices, or lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but so far every meal onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson has been abundant and delicious. From shrimp kabobs to stuffed pork loin to homemade soups to delicious baked goods, Judy keeps everyone onboard fed and happy.
I got a chance to talk to Judy about her job and her journey to becoming a NOAA Chief Steward. Judy’s first career was in the corporate world (including Hewlitt-Packard) but being the oldest of 5 siblings, she has been cooking since the age of 12. An interest in cooking led her to study culinary arts at UCLA and other locations. She then took seamanship training at Orange Coast College. At the time, she owned a sailboat, and enjoyed cooking and entertaining on the boat. The captain loved her cooking and asked if she would be interested in cooking on some sailboat charters. That led to working on yachts and supply ships, and lucky for us, in 2015, Judy was hired by NOAA. Judy loves her job as a NOAA Steward. She says it is never boring and allows her to be creative. Her advice for anyone interested in following in her footsteps is to eat in good restaurants so that you develop your taste buds, get good training, and watch cooking shows.
Science and Technology Log
Last night we used a different kind of net, known as a Methot net, in order to collect macroscopic zooplankton. Named after its designer, Richard D. Methot, it is a single net with a large square opening or mouth attached to a rigid steel frame. The net is deployed from the stern and towed behind the vessel.
The Methot uses fine mesh (e.g. 2×3 mm) but has openings that are slightly larger. This design allows the net to be towed at high speeds. A flowmeter suspended in the mouth of the Methot net measures the flow of water moving through the net. Scientists use the flowmeter data to calculate the volume of water sampled.
Watching the crew preparing to launch the Methot net was a lesson in teamwork. Everyone knew their job, and they reviewed what each would do when. They even discussed what hand signals they would use (“If I make this movement, that means XYZ”).
The Methot net did catch a lot more krill than I had seen before, as well as many jellyfish.
Fun Jellyfish Facts:
invertebrates, and have no brain, heart, eyes, or bones. Instead they have a bag-like body that feels
like slippery jello and tentacles covered with small, stinging cells. They sting and paralyze their prey before
eating it. A jellyfish sting can be
painful, but it is not usually harmful for humans. However, some people may be allergic to the
venom, and will have a reaction.
Latitude: 58º 28.54 N Longitude: 154º 46.05 W Wind Speed: 16.8 knots Wind Direction: 190º Air Temperature: 11º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 102
Science and Technology Log
Scientists aboard NOAA
Ship Oscar Dyson are estimating the numbers and biomass
of walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska.
They use acoustics (sound data) to help them do this.
Acoustic representation of fish in an area
Echo sounders send an acoustic signal (ping) into the water. The sound bounces off objects that have a different density than the surrounding water (such as the swim bladder in a fish) and returns back to the echo sounder. Using the speed of sound, this technology can determine how deep the fish are in the water column.
How much sound each object reflects is known as the target strength. The target strength is dependent upon the type of fish and the size of the fish. A bigger fish will give off more of an echo than a small fish will. A fish’s swim bladder is primarily what reflects the sound. Smelt and krill do not have swim bladders. As a result, they do not reflect as much sound as a pollack would. Even though a big fish gives off more sound energy than a small fish of the same species, it is possible that a return echo could indicate either one big fish or several smaller fish clumped together. A big fish of one species could also give off similar sound energy to a big fish of a different species. For that reason, actual fish are collected several times a day in the nets described in a previous blog.
From a net sample, scientists determine the number of each species in the catch as well as the length and weight of individuals of each species.
Additionally, scientists also determine the sex and age of the pollock. The catch data is used to scale the acoustic data, which in turn allows scientists to estimate how many pollock there are of various size and age groups in a given area. These numbers help scientists determine the sustainability of the pollock population, which in turn allows the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to set catch quotas.
Krill Fun Facts:
euphausiids) are small crustaceans (a couple of millimeters long) of the order Euphausiacea. The word “krill” is a Norwegian word meaning “a
small fry of fish.” Krill are found in every ocean and are a major food source.
They are eaten by fish, whales, seals, penguins, and squid, to name a few. In Japan, the Phillipines, and Russia, krill are
also eaten by humans. In Japan, they are
called okiami. In the Phillipines and
Russia, they are known as camarones. In the Phillipines, krill are also used to
make a salty paste called bagoong. Krill are a major source of protein and
omega-3 fatty acids.
People often refer to New York as the city that never sleeps. The same can be said for the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Life onboard the Oscar Dyson carries on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is never a time that the ship is not bustling with activity. Everyone on the boat works 12-hour shifts, so someone is always working while others are sleeping (or doing laundry, exercising, or watching a movie in the lounge before they go to sleep.) Most people on the boat work either the noon to midnight shift or the midnight to noon shift. However, the science team works 4 a.m. to 4 p.m., or 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. I am in the latter group. It was easier to get accustomed to than I had imagined, although it is sometimes confusing when you look at your clock and wonder whether it is 5 a.m. or 5 p.m. since the sun is shining for most of the day. Kodiak has only 4-5 hours of darkness now, and the sun sets at approximately midnight. Therefore, it does not really feel like nighttime for much of my shift.
Latitude: 58º 33.15 N Longitude: 152º 58.87 W Wind Speed: 17.5 knots Wind Direction: 229º Air Temperature: 13º Celsius Barometric Pressure: 1020.2 mb
Today we did our first two trawls of the trip. According to Webster’s dictionary, trawl is defined as the act of fishing with a trawl net, which is a large conical net dragged along the sea bottom in order to gather fish or other marine life. It can also mean the act of sifting through something as part of a search. Both definitions are accurate for what is done on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
The Oscar Dyson uses a variety of nets to catch the fish being studied. One net that has been used for many years is called an Aleutian Wing Trawl (or an AWT). The mesh size of the AWT is ½ inch. Attached to the AWT net are smaller nets (called pocket nets) which also have a ½ inch mesh size. The new net being used this year is an LFS 1421, which has a 1/8 inch mesh size. It has 9 pocket nets, also with 1/8 inch mesh size. It is thought that fewer fish will escape the LFS net because the mesh size is smaller, in turn allowing the scientists to get a more accurate picture of the fish and other creatures living in the areas they are trawling. Trawls are being conducted using both nets (back-to-back) to determine the extent to which the new net is more efficient and provides a more accurate measure.
Once the nets are pulled in, the processing begins. The main net (i.e., codend) is emptied onto the large processing table in the fish lab.
Each pocket net is emptied into a separate plastic bin. The fish are then identified, weighed, measured, and sometimes dissected in order for us to accurately determine the age and sex of each fish.
Otoliths (ear bones) and ovaries are collected from a sample of the walleye pollock caught in the codend of the net. Otoliths allow scientists to determine the age of the fish. Over time, ridges form on the otoliths, and are indicative of age in much the same way a tree’s age can be determined by counting the rings of its trunk.
Ovaries are collected to be sent back to the lab as part of a long-term histology study which hopes to determine whether walleye pollock experience multi-batch spawning events (i.e., do pollock spawn more than one time) within or between seasons. Histology, also known as microscopic anatomy or microanatomy, uses a microscope to study the anatomy of biological tissues. In contrast, gross anatomy looks at structures without a microscope.
After a trawl, scientists onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson examine the ovaries with the naked eye to determine the reproductive stage of the walleye pollock that has been caught. There are 5 stages: Immature (not yet capable of spawning, typically age 0-2); Developing (beginning to develop the ability to spawn) Pre-spawning, Spawning, and Spent (completed spawning). Once a pollock spawns, it begins the cycle again beginning at step 3 (pre-spawning). Additionally, the histology study also hopes to determine whether the spawning stages being designated by scientists during the cruise are in fact accurate.
Elementary Math Fun
Let’s say 200 total fish were
caught in the new LFS 1421 net, including the nine pocket nets attached.
Pocket nets 1, 2 and 3 each had 20 age-0 pollock in them.
Pocket nets 4, 5 and 6 each had 13 lantern fish
Pocket net 7 had 3 small herrings in it.
Pocket nets 8 and 9 each had 2 age-1 pollock in them.
How many fish were in the codend or main part of the net?
As a Southern Californian, I imagined Alaska to be cold even in the summer, and packed sweaters and a big puffy winter coat. Apparently shorts and t-shirts would have been more appropriate! The weather in Kodiak has been warm and beautiful, with the sun shining until midnight.
My first day in Kodiak was a free day, so I joined the science team on a hike up Barometer Mountain, which many say is the most difficult hike in Kodiak. It is 2100 feet straight up a very steep, rocky, brush-filled path, and then 2100 feet down that same, steep path. It was quite the challenge, but the view from the top was magnificent.
At present, there are 31 people onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, including NOAA corps officers, engineers, deck personnel, cooks, scientists, interns, and me, the NOAA Teacher at Sea. The ship, which was originally launched in 2003, and commissioned into service as a NOAA ship in 2005, is named for Alaskan fisherman and fishing industry leader Oscar E. Dyson. It is one of the most advanced fisheries research vessels in the world, due in part to its acoustic quieting technology. This allows scientists to monitor fish populations without concern that the ship’s noise will affect the behavior of the fish.
Weather Data for Claremont, CA from National Weather Service:
Latitude: 34.1368º N
Longitude: 117.7076º W
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind Direction: SSW
Air Temperature: 29.4º Celsius
Well, NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson docked in Dutch Harbor on August 11th from the 19-day journey in the Eastern Bering Sea. During our time at sea, I learned so much and got to know both the NOAA scientists and the crew and officers on the ship. When I applied for the Teacher at Sea program, I knew that it would be an invaluable experience, but it far exceeded my expectations. I learned about the work of the NOAA scientists pretty much non-stop and any question I had was answered in detail, which allowed me to have a robust picture of the work the NOAA scientists do, the different types of scientific instruments they use and the underlying principles behind them as well as the day-to-day operations of a scientific vessel such as NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Additionally, I also ate the best food of my life made by the stewards; there was always amazing entrees and dessert at every meal!
After we came into port, I was able to explore the town of Dutch Harbor as well. Along with other NOAA Scientists and the ship’s medic, I explored the Museum of the Aleutians in town and learned about the native people of the island and their traditions as well as the military encampments that were built on Unalaska (the island where Dutch Harbor is) during WWII. The next day we went up Ballyhoo mountain and saw the ruins of one of the WWII bases. The view from there was amazing and we saw all around Unalaska. I was surprised in Dutch Harbor to see so many bald eagles everywhere! The next day I said goodbye to the many people I got to know aboard the Oscar Dyson, many of whom were staying aboard for the next leg or for a long time thereafter. I was surprised how easily I transitioned to life aboard the boat and it still feels a bit weird to not be moving all the time!
I had a chance to interview the chief scientist aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, Taina Honkalehto, and ask her about her career path to working at NOAA as well as recommendations she has for anyone interested in an ocean career.
Taina knew that she wanted to pursue a career in science ever since she was a child as she has always been interested in the outdoors and collecting and observing things. During college, she took an oceanography course as a junior and knew she wanted to work with the ocean. Her college advisor recommended that if she wanted to pursue science she needed to do a field program. As a junior, she was able to secure participation at a marine lab in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which inspired her choice to go to graduate school and study invertebrate zoology.
At NOAA, Taina really enjoys her colleagues and the field work, which includes the pollock counting work she is currently doing on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. She feels that her work at NOAA is an opportunity to contribute to the preservation of our planet. Additionally, she enjoys doing outreach at NOAA and talking to people about her work and answering questions about the ocean. Often, discussions with the public involve balancing what they have heard about fisheries and overfishing in the news versus the reality and experiences Taina has had in the field counting pollock in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska.
The advice that Taina has for those wanting to work for NOAA is to get an internship. Students can find internship opportunities through the NOAA website and there are avenues into NOAA experience for students at the middle and high school level as well as college students. These internships are a great way to get hands-on experience (as I can attest!) and some of them are even paid if students apply for the Hollings scholarship. Taina also recommends reading some of the following books to get an idea about what it is like on a field placement: “The Log from the Sea of Cortez” by John Steinbeck, “Moby Duck” by Donovan Hohn, and “Cod” by Mark Kurlansky.
The wet lab aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson is where most of the action happens during my shift. When a haul comes in, we are responsible for processing the catch and obtaining the needed measurements so that the MACE team can put together their report on the health of the pollock population. The catch is released from the trawling net onto a hydraulic table that can be dumped onto a conveyor belt. The first job to be done is to sort the catch, where all species that are not adult pollock are separated out.
The next task is to measure the length of a subsample of about 300 of the adult pollock in the catch. This helps the NOAA scientists to create histograms of pollock lengths to compare between hauls. Finally, about 30 pollock are separated to measure length, weight and to determine gender and maturity and another 30 have length and weight measured, otoliths taken, and ovaries weighed and collected if the pollock is a spawning female. During my shift, there are six of us in the fish lab and we are working like a well-oiled machine!
Length distributions from several hauls
Determining if a pollock is male or female
TAS Emily Cilli-Turner collecting otoliths from a pollock
Today we are starting the long transit back to Dutch Harbor. It is bittersweet since I feel like we have a nice routine down in the fish lab and I finally feel used to the motions of the ship. However, I am grateful for this opportunity and for all the great people that I have gotten to know during my time on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Also, we finally saw some blue sky again and a rainbow even came out for a moment!
Did You Know?
The NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson was launched on October 17, 2003. It is named after Alaskan fisherman Oscar Dyson and there is a smaller boat on board named after his wife, Peggy Dyson.
While the techniques written about in the previous blog post ensure that when we use the trawling nets we mostly catch pollock, there is usually a small amount of by-catch in each haul. By-catch means ocean life other than pollock (the desired catch) that we bring up in a haul using the trawling net. This post will focus on some of the creatures that I have seen in the catches during my time on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
Principal species of interest:
Pollock: The scientific name for these pollock (known as Alaska pollock or walleye pollock) is Gadus chalcogrammus. We often catch many different ages of pollock, from age 0 pollock up to large adult pollock and these range in length from a few centimeters up to about 62 centimeters. Pollock is most of what we catch, and they are easy to identify by their three dorsal fins and speckling. Pollock mainly eat euphausiids and copepods, but also sometimes eat the age 0 pollock.
Chum Salmon: Chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) is one of the five types of salmon and lives for about 6 years on average. Like all salmon, they are spawned in freshwater and then migrate out to the ocean. Once they return to the freshwater and spawn, they die about two weeks later. They mostly eat zooplankton and insects, but have been known to eat comb jellyfish as well.
Jellyfish: We see several types of jellyfish in each catch, but we mainly see the Northern Sea Nettle (Chrysaora melanaster). We have also seen Northern Sea Nettle swimming near the surface before sunrise when we are pole fishing for pollock. The word melanaster translates to “black star,” which you can identify in the pattern on the bell of this jellyfish. The bell diameter can reach up to 12 inches and the tentacles can grow as long as 10 feet. As climate change has warmed the surface temperatures of the Bering Sea, the population of Northern Sea Nettle is increasing. Northern Sea Nettles mostly eat zooplankton, but sometimes also eat pollock!
Smooth Lumpsucker: Smooth lumpsuckers (Cyclopterus lumpus) are named so because of an adhesive disc on their underside that helps them suction onto the ocean floor. These fish spend most of their time on the bottom of the ocean and are not particularly good swimmers. The roe (eggs) of the lumpsucker is a delicacy in Scandinavia.
TAS Emily Cilli-Turner holding a lumpsucker.
Flatfish: Alaska Plaice & Yellowfin Sole: We have also caught two types of flatfish during my time aboard the ship: yellowfin sole (Pleuronectes aspera) and Alaska Plaice (Pleuronectes quadrituberculatus). These peculiar looking fish can be identified by having both eyes on top of their head. When they are spawned, these fish have eyes on either side of their head, but as they get older the eyes migrate to be on the same side. These fish mainly reside on the ocean floor, where they eat polychaetes and amphipods, such as worms and mollusks.
Capelin: The capelin (Mallotus villosus) is a small fish in the smelt family reaching a length of about 10 inches. It feeds mainly on plankton and krill. The most interesting thing about capelin is their smell; if you put their scales close to your nose you will smell cucumbers!
While the weather since boarding the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson has largely consisted of some high winds and big swells, there have been one or two nice days in the Bering Sea. On these days, we have taken the opportunity to go outside. On one particularly nice day where the sun was shining, there was a mini corn-hole tournament on the deck. After thinking that my time on the ship was the least amount of time spent outside during the summer, this was a nice way to spend the after-dinner time.
I am also grateful for NOAA scientists Mike Levine and Darin Jones, who have made me feel like an expert in the fish lab. At this point, I know more about pollock than I ever thought I would. In the fish lab, I primarily am responsible for measuring the length of the pollock sample. However, Mike and Darin have also taught me about pollock anatomy and how to tell if a pollock is male or female. I have also become good at extracting the otoliths, which involves a precise cut of the pollock. For a person with almost no experience working with biological specimens, much less fish, I finally feel like a useful part of the team.
Did You Know?
The Bering Sea is an extremely important fishing location and the United States catches over $1 billion of seafood here each year.
Air Temperature: 10.1° C (Manual Reading from the Bridge)
Barometric Pressure: 992.7 mb
Visibility: 6 nautical miles
Sea Wave Height: 3 feet
How do the scientists aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson estimate the number and biomass of pollock in the Eastern Bering Sea? By using the science of statistics, of course! When political strategists want to determine what percentage of voters support a specific candidate or issue, they take a sample from the population of all registered voters. Voters in this sample are then asked about their preferences and statistical techniques are employed to extrapolate the results from the sample to the entire population and measure the margin of error. Similar statistical techniques are employed by the scientists on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, but as you can imagine it is more difficult to sample pollock than voters that can be called on the phone!
Before each pollock survey begins, a set of transects is created for the Eastern Bering Sea. These transects are paths for the ship to follow along which the scientists sample the pollock. As you can see below, the transects for this survey are a fixed distance apart and cover the entire area of interest. Generally, the transects are straight lines created to be perpendicular to the ocean depth grade. This allows for the scientists to encounter a variety of species as well as different ages of pollock to gain a robust picture of the ocean life in the area.
The NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson follows the transects during daylight hours, continuously recording water column acoustic backscatter data using EK60 instruments mounted on the bottom of the centerboard. Scientists monitor the backscatter images, and when they observe sufficient pollock or other fish aggregations they use the trawling nets to take a random sample of the fish and other ocean life they observed. The trawling net is 140 m long with a vertical mouth opening of 25 m and horizontal mouth opening of 35 m. The net is deployed from the back of the ship and dragged at a fixed depth for an amount of time determine by the lead scientist to ensure a large enough sample. Once the trawling net is hauled in, the sample of marine fish and invertebrates is processed in the wet lab and entered into a database. Later the pollock numbers and weights by length are combined with recorded acoustic data to create a robust estimate of the pollock population in the Eastern Bering Sea.
View of trawling nets being hauled in from the bridge.
View of trawling nets being hauled in from the deck.
After the catch comes in, the first job in processing the sample is to sort the specimens from the trawling net. The first part of the net to come in is called the pocket net. This small net, also called a recapture net, has a fine mesh and is designed to capture small species such as krill, age 0 pollock and jellyfish which slip through the meshes of the large trawl. After the pocket net is processed, we process the codend, the closed end of the net and the main section where larger fish enter and are captured. The fish in the codend are sorted by species. The scientists can choose to measure the length of all the pollock in the haul or, if it is a particularly large catch, split the haul and measure length of a subsample of pollock. Other species are also identified and their length is measured for later estimates of the total biomass that pollock make up as compared to other species. Smaller species such as krill are weighed in aggregate instead of individually.
Sample analysis consists of measuring the lengths of approximately 200-400 adult pollock in the catch using the magnetic length board. This is just one of the numerous software and instruments created by the MACE (Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering) group at NOAA in Seattle to make analysis easier and more automated. The length distribution of the adult pollock helps scientists determine the approximate age distribution of pollock in the sample and it also helps them compare this distribution to other samples taken in the Eastern Bering Sea. A subsample of about 50 pollock from the haul is taken to get more in-depth measurements. From these pollock, we measure both the length and weight and a subsample from the 50 is taken to determine the gender, measure maturity (i.e. what stage in the life cycle the pollock is at), and collect the otolith (ear bone), which gives a more accurate measurement of the pollock’s age.
TAS Emily Cilli-Turner
measuring the length of pollock from a haul.
At this point, I am getting used to life at sea and have a nice routine. The beginning of my shift, from 4am to a little past 7am, starts at sunrise and during which we resume our path along the transect. No trawling operations are conducted at night, but there is still excitement. If the underwater acoustics show that the pollock are at an appropriate depth, we can go pole fishing off the boat. NOAA scientist Mike Levine is interested in post-capture mortality of pollock and the feasibility of tagging pollock. Thus, he would like to catch pollock using a fishing pole, which puts much less stress on the pollock and increases the chance of their survival after the catch, instead of the trawling nets.
As an instructor of mathematics, I have little knowledge of fish biology, but the scientists are great teachers! I have been given a crash course on fish anatomy using specimens from the catch and I have learned how to sex the fish as well as how to collect the ovaries and the otoliths (ear bones). If you asked me a week ago if I ever thought I would know so much about pollock after just a couple days on board, I would have laughed. It has been great being the student and being able to learn so much in such a short time with real hands-on experience!
Did You Know?
Most of the personnel that are responsible for piloting and maintaining the ship are part of NOAA Corps, which is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.
“If you’re awake at 6:00 a.m., you’ll get to see the Oculus as I prepare it to glide around in the Bering Sea!” With this promise from Dr. Chris Bassett, I made sure I was ready at the appointed time on our last day on the ship.
The launching of the Oculus was not on Chris’ schedule for that day beforehand; our expedition was ending earlier than expected. That setback, however, did not diminish the drive to pursue science. The resilience and perseverance of the science team to readjust was apparent. Through the mist of disappointment, the scientists continued to do as much as possible to continue our mission of the pollock survey.
Science and Technology Log
Developed at Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in partnership with the University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean and the University of Washington Seaglider Fabrication Lab, the Oculus is an ocean glider which samples abiotic factors in the ocean such as temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen at different depths.
After setting the Oculus upright, Chris connected it via the Internet to a computer operated by a scientist at the University of Washington. This scientist is going to be sending coordinates to the Oculus and guiding it at various depths in the Bering Sea. Chris explained that the Oculus has the ability to adjust its buoyancy quickly and is able to carry out a more reliable survey than other gliders. Through the data remotely sent by the Oculus, scientists can gather a more accurate picture of ocean dynamics such as water column layers and ocean mixing.
Unfortunately, I was not able to observe the launch of the Oculus as I had to leave for the airport.
The week I spent on the ship was a whirlwind of experiences. I was just hitting my stride being completely awake for my 4:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. work shift and efficiently measuring the length of the pollock in each trawl.
At the end of the last trawl, I held a pollock, out of its element of water. Its dense, streamlined body shimmered with iridescence. One eye stared, unfocused on the strange surroundings. I too would be out of my element were it not for the 208.6 ft. boat on which I was standing. Being on the boat was a constant reminder that my species is alien to this ocean habitat and that to explore it, we have to use technology such as the Oculus, underwater cameras, and acoustic technology as well as physical trawls. Together, these different means of exploring combine information so that we can evaluate our interactions with the ocean and its inhabitants.
At times, the ocean had a disorienting effect. When on the deck, I looked out from all directions and saw nothing but ocean capped by a dome of stratus clouds. Under this lid of heavy clouds, the sun gave no clue to discern our direction or time of day.
With her philosophy of focusing on the positive, Karla Martinez enjoys her time on and off duty on the Oscar Dyson. As a Junior Engineer, Karla is responsible for ship upkeep and repairs. On our last day of the trip, I spoke to her as she changed air filters in all of the staterooms. Karla began working as a NOAA Junior Engineer three years ago after seven years in the U.S. Navy. Since working for NOAA, she has traveled extensively and makes sure she visits each place the Oscar Dyson docks. Karla is on the ship for at least 7-8 months of the year, and she makes the ship feel like home by getting to know people.
For young people who are interested in a career like Karla’s, she advises asking many questions and studying technology as much as possible. In high school, students should take the ASVAP test before entering the military. Once admitted to the military, students should get trained. Karla states that students should talk to their counselors and find out all they can.
Trawl hauls are how fishing is conducted. A large net is dropped into the water for a specific amount of time. By catching exactly what is in the ocean, the acoustic backscatter can be identified (what the various colored pixels on the echograms represent). Below is an echogram on the screen, the black line is the path of the trawl through the backscatter, the little red circle indicated where the camera was, and the picture at left is pollock passing by the camera and into the back of the net at that point.
Samples of pollock and other organisms can be studied and other biological data collected. By counting, measuring, and weighing the pollock and other animals caught in each haul, calculations can estimate the amount of fish in a given area. Acoustic data can be used to determine the number of fish by dividing the measured backscatter by the backscattered energy from one fish (target strength, discussed in the last blog). That gives the number of fish:
To get the backscatter from one fish for the above calculation, we need to know the size and species of the fishes. The trawl provides that information. In the fish lab, species including pollock are identified, lengths are taken, and the number of fish at each length is entered in the computer. Also, the animals including pollock are weighed and a mean weight is determined. The number of fish computed from the acoustic and trawl data multiplied by the mean weight of a fish equals the biomass of the fish (total weight of the population in a given area).
The fisheries biologists developed the software used for all these calculations. This information coupled with the echograms can answer those earlier questions…Where are the pollock in the Bering Sea? How many are there? How big are they? How many adult pollock are there (fish that can be caught) and how many young pollock are present (providing information about future availability and how healthy the population is)?
When I first boarded the ship, I asked the fisheries biologists how they would describe what they do. They responded that they count fish, it’s not rocket science. But you know what? It kind of is!
What is this information used for?
This information is used to manage the Pollock fishery. Numerical data is given to the entities that set the fishing quotas for the Bering Sea area. Quotas are then divided up between the commercial and individual fishing companies/boats. Once fishermen reach these quotas they must stop fishing. This protects the fishery to ensure that this food source will be healthy and strong for years to come. A similar example from my home state is that of the Illinois is the Department of Conservation. One of their responsibilities is to manage the deer population. Then they can determine how many deer can be harvested each season that still allows for the deer population to thrive.
In my last blog post, I talked about preparing for and “weathering the storm”. As with most things at sea and on land, things don’t always turn out as we plan. The stormy weather began with wave heights between 8-10 feet. The ship continually rocked back and forth making walking and everything else difficult. You can tell the experienced sailors because they were much more graceful than I was. I held on to every railing and bolted down piece of furniture that I could. And even then, I would forget and place a pen on the table, which immediately rolled off. While eating I held onto my glass and silverware because as I ate and placed my knife on my plate it rolled off. Dressing was a balancing act, which I was not good at. I finally figured out it was better if I sat in a chair. Luckily for me, my patch for seasickness worked.
While I was sitting in the mess hall (dining room) an alarm rang. The engineers got up read the screen and left. The decision was made by the acting CO (Commanding Officer) that we would have to go back to Dutch Harbor. And now, as I write this, we are docked in Dutch Harbor waiting for word about the status of our voyage. Out here in Dutch Harbor, everything must be shipped in. We wait until parts and people are flown in. The fisheries biologists also have to determine the validity of the data collected on such a short voyage. They also must decide in a timely matter, can this data collection continue after returning to port?
For me, I am holding out hope that all these factors are resolved so that we can go back out to sea. Since November when I turned in my application, this voyage has been such a focal point of my life. If it doesn’t work out (I’ll try not to cry), I will still have had the adventure and learning experience of a lifetime. So here’s hoping……
What kinds of fish live in the Bering Sea? How many pollock are in the Bering Sea? Where are the pollock in the Bering Sea? How big are the pollock in the Bering Sea?
Those are just a few of the questions that the fisheries biologists on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson work to answer during each voyage. In my last blog, I talked about the need to manage the pollock fishery in order to protect this important ocean resource because it provides food for people all over the world. It is important, then, to be able to answer the above questions, in order to make sure that this food source is available each year.
How do they do it? There are two main sources of information used in the Acoustics-Trawl (or Echo Integration Trawl) survey to determine the abundance and distribution of pollock in a targeted area of the Bering Sea. One is acoustics data, and the other is biological-trawl data.
Acoustic data is continuously collected along a series of parallel transects with a Simrad EK60 scientific echo integration system incorporating five centerboard-mounted transducers (18-, 38-, 70-, 120-, and 200- kHz). In other words: There are 5 sound wave producers (transducers) attached to the bottom of the ship, each one emitting sound waves at different frequencies. This allows scientists to look at different organisms in the water column. Different types of organisms reflect different amounts of energy at different frequencies. The amount of acoustic energy reflected by an individual animal is called the target strength, and is related to the size and anatomy of the species. For example, a fish with a swimbladder (like pollock) reflects more energy than a fish without a swimbladder because its properties are very different from the surrounding water. Some ocean dwelling organisms don’t have swim bladders. Flatfish stay on the bottom so they don’t need the buoyancy. Floating organisms like jellyfish don’t have them. These organisms will look differently than pollock on an echogram because they have a smaller target strength.
Transducers convert mechanical waves (sound waves) into an electrical signal and vice versa (like both a loudspeaker and a microphone combined). They contain piezoelectric materials sensitive to electricity and pressure: if a voltage is applied to them, they make a pressure or sound wave (transmit), and when a sound wave passes over them, it produces a voltage (receive). When a sound wave (echo from a fish) is received, electoral signal is sent to a computer, which displays the signals as pixels of varying colors as the ship moves along (depth changes up and down on the left of the image, and time and location changes along the bottom of the image). This datum is used to estimate the number and type of fish in the water column, and to determine where the ship should fish next.
The size and colors on the images (called echograms) represent the backscatter at different depths and is related to the density of fish and their target strength. But, since they are dots on a screen, specific identification is not possible. The scientists assume certain strong signals are pollock based on the information they have but, those dots could be other fish. To determine what kind of fish are in the water column at this location, how many are there, and how big they are, other data must be obtained. Biological Trawl Data provides that additional information. More about that in my next blog post……I bet you can’t wait!
The Calm Before the Storm:
So far my trip has been smooth sailing, literally. As NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson sails across the Bering Sea there is a bit of rocking the ship experiences at all times. This is easy enough for one to get used to and sometimes it even becomes comforting, like being rocked to sleep as a child. You adjust to the motion. Over the past couple of days I have been hearing talk of a storm coming our way. On a ship, there are many preparations that occur in order to get ready for a storm. Many items are always secured, such as shelves that have a wall in front so that things don’t fall off. There are “handle bars” in showers and next to toilets (think about that). Along hallways and stairways there are handrails on each side. Mini refrigerators in staterooms are bolted to walls. In fact most things are bolted to walls or stored in containers that are bolted to the wall. In the mess hall (dining room) condiments on tables are in a box so they can’t slide off.
Why do you think this coffee mug is shaped like this (wider at the bottom than the top)?
Ans. The wider bottom of the mug above prevents it from sliding as the ship rocks.
Our bulletin board reminds us to secure for bad weather. This morning, I put small items in drawers, stowed books on shelves and packed my equipment (phone, laptop, camera, chargers and small items in a backpack that can be safely secured in my locker (the “closet” in my stateroom).
In talking to my shipmates with at sea experience, I am getting lots of helpful hints about storm preparations and strategies to use during the storm. Here are some of those suggestions:
*always hold on to railings with both hands when walking or going up steps. At all other times, remember to keep one hand for you (to do whatever you are doing) and one hand for the ship (to hold on).
*keep something in your stomach at all times, even if you are not feeling well
*drink lots of water
*when sleeping in your bunk, place pillows between you and the edge so as not to roll off (I will definitely follow this one, as I am on the top bunk) It also depends upon which direction the ship is rolling. Pillows may need to be put between your head and the wall to prevent head bumps
*go to the lower parts of the ship because the top part will sway more with the waves
I also have been wearing patches to prevent seasickness. Hopefully they will continue to help. Only time will tell how we weather the storm (pun intended). Let’s hope it moves through quickly.
Although July has just begun, teachers are already anticipating the first day of school. Like every science teacher, we launch our classes with the “Nature of Science” or the “Scientific Investigation.” Unlike past years, I plan on contextualizing these topics by showing my students the “scientific investigation in action” by describing how scientists aboard the Oscar Dyson studying eastern Bering Sea pollock populations apply the scientific method in their research.
To better understand how scientists “do science,” I had a conversation with Dr. Patrick Ressler, our Chief Scientist, about this topic. Dr. Ressler has been involved with the Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey for many years and stresses that this ongoing research is a way to monitor change over time with pollock populations and to set quotas for commercial fisheries. He shared his ideas about science and how it is a way to understand natural phenomena through testing. In biological research, however, it is harder to assess the outcomes because of the potential effects of outside factors. That is why scientists refine their experiments to get “closer to the truth.” Even being “wrong” about some ideas is beneficial because it facilitates opportunities to learn more. Scientists give testable ideas, or hypotheses, the chance to be wrong through repeated trials.
It was a circuitous path that Dr. Ressler took to become a scientist. He studied environmental science and creative writing as an undergraduate, but after a semester abroad learning nautical science, he decided to study oceanography as a graduate student. For his graduate studies, Dr. Ressler focused on acoustics and has worked on Pacific hake populations along the west coast of the U.S. For the past 16 years, he has worked with NOAA as a Chief Scientist whose responsibilities include being a point of contact between the ship’s commanding officer and the management supervisor on land. He has supported NOAA’s Teacher at Sea program because he feels that a good science teacher can better cultivate and inspire future scientists.
The scientists on the Oscar Dyson have varied academic specialties, yet they are collaborating on the Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey by contributing their expertise. Dr. Ressler and Dr. Chris Bassett have been monitoring the acoustics on this expedition. The acoustic system was most patiently explained to Joan and me by Dr. Bassett.
On the Oscar Dyson, there are 5 transducers producing vibrations on the drop keel of the boat. Cables are attached that can lower this drop keel to 9.2 meters below so that storms will not interfere with the acoustics. These cables connect the drop keel to the five boxes in the survey room. Voltage signals are sent to the transceiver, which in turn creates a pressure wave. When the signal is sent into the water, some sound bounces back. The pressure waves reflected back to the transducer are converted to an electrical signal and recorded by the computer. For the sound wave to scatter off something, it must have a density or sound speed different from that of the surrounding water. The larger the differences in the properties of the animals from the surrounding water, the more sound will generally be reflected by an animal. As a result, animals with ‘swim bladders’ (an organ inside their body containing air) will generally scatter more sound than animals without them.
When one of the transducers sends out a wave, the wave spreads out as it moves from the ship and it may encounter fish. To assess the number of fish present, the total amount of acoustic energy, the volume of water, the range, and the echo expected from a single fish must be measured or estimated.
The acoustics translate into an ongoing screen display which is observed by both Dr. Ressler and Dr. Bassett in the acoustics lab. The data displayed allows the scientists to decide whether a net sample is needed.
These scientists adhere to the scientific method so that they can make strong conclusions about their data. The acoustics portion is but one part of this ongoing research. The trawls, after which we measure the length and mass of each fish, is a means of supporting the data from the acoustics portion. There are also cameras attached to the net so that the scientists can verify the type and abundances of fish species at each sampling transect. By corroborating findings in acoustics with the data from the trawls, these scientists can use their combined data to give greater insight on pollock populations and abundances.
I am in awe of people who do what they love for a career. The scientists with whom I spoke convey their passion for their areas of expertise and are willing to share their knowledge. These scientists have made me aware of outside resources so that I can learn more about the topic. Collaboration is evident among these scientists as each works to illuminate an aspect of the pollock population. Together, their work sheds light on pollock dynamics.
Scientists aboard the Oscar Dyson participate in the Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey research as well as projects of their own. Sandi Neidetcher, a research fishery biologist at the NOAA’s Alaska Fishery Wildlife Center, is investigating the reproductive biology of pollock and cod. According to Sandi, the reproductive biology of pollock is important for assessing the stock. By carrying out data collection of pollock length and otolith analysis, scientists can determine whether 50% of the stock is mature. For pollock, using the otolith analysis is a good indicator of age. Otoliths are made of calcium carbonate and are found in the fish’s inner ear and otoliths have annual growth rings, which allows for scientists to accurately assign their ages. Since pollock is a commercial fish, it’s important to know how many of the fish are capable of reproducing and using this data, set quotas commercial fishing. Another facet in researching pollock populations is determining where and when pollock spawn as well as the frequency of spawning. Sandi has been studying pollock, in addition to other commercially caught species, for many years as a commercial fishery observer. Currently, she is sampling pollock ovary tissue to determine fecundity, or fertility, of the population for stock assessment.
Sandi advises high school students who think they’d enjoy this type of career to get a college degree in biology. She also encourages them to network and apply for internships. Effusive when recounting her career in research, Sandi is equally enthusiastic discussing her horse and misunderstood dog.
Did you know?
Otoliths aid fish like pollock in balance and acceleration.
Something to think about….
What are some factors that might affect the growth of otoliths?
Weather Data from the Bridge of the California-based whale watching boat Islander on 7/2/18 at 08:29
Latitude: 34° 13.557 N
Longitude: 119° 20.775 W
Sea Wave Height: 2 ft
Wind Speed: 5-10 knots
Wind Direction: NW
Visibility: 15 miles (seems a little off to me, but that is what I was told)
Air Temperature: 65° F (ish)
Water Temperature: not recorded
Barometric Pressure: not recorded
Sky: Grey and cloudy
Wow! What an incredible experience! When I was first accepted into this program I knew that it would be great and I knew that I was going to be working on research, but I feel like I ended up getting way more than I had expected. While filling out my application for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program we were given the opportunity indicate a preference for locations and types of research. I indicated that I would have been happy with any of them, but I was honestly hoping to be on a fisheries cruise, and my first choice of location was Alaska. That’s exactly what I got! I could not have picked a more perfect match for myself.
When I first received my specific cruise offer to join NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson it was pointed out to me that 23 days at sea was a LONG cruise, and I was a little bit worried about being at sea for that long when I had never even slept on a ship like that before. What I didn’t realize, was that the hardest part of this research cruise, would be leaving at the end of it. Saying goodbye to the scientists and friends that I had worked closely with for the past 3+ weeks was pretty tough.
The natural beauty of Alaska, and Unalaska specifically, is breathtaking. I kept saying that I can’t believe that places like that existed in the world and people weren’t tripping over themselves to live there. This is a part of Alaska that very few ever see. I loved getting to explore Dutch Harbor and see some of the beaches and do a little hiking while in port, and seeing the different islands and volcanoes while at sea. I also was incredibly excited to see all of the wildlife, especially the foxes, eagles, and of course, whales.
Video of a whale swimming and then diving in the distance.
From the moment that Sarah and Matthew picked me up from the airport, I knew that I was in great company. They immediately took me in and invited me to join the rest of the science team for dinner. Bonding happened quickly and I am so happy that I got to work with and learn each day from Denise, Sarah, Mike, Nate, Darin, Scott, and Matthew every single day. I looked forward to (and now miss) morning coffee chats, and dancing in the fish lab together. I have so many positive memories with each of them, but here are a few: sitting and reviewing and discussing my blogs with Denise, taking photos of a stuffed giraffe with Sarah, go pro fishing (scaring the fish) with Mike, watching Scott identify and solve problems, listening to Darin play the guitar, fishing with Nate on the Bridge, and exploring on land with Matthew. These are just a few of the things that I will remember and cherish about these wonderful people.
I know that it happens in all workplaces eventually, but it’s weird to think that the exact same group of people on the ship will never again be in the same place at the same time because of rotations and leave, and whatnot. I feel very grateful that I was on the ship when I was because I really enjoyed getting to know as many people on the ship as possible, and to have them teach me about what they do, and why they do it.
Not only did I learn about the Scientific work of the MACE (Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering) team, I learned so much about the ship and how it functions from everyone else on the ship. Every single time that I asked someone a question or to explain how something works, I was always given the time for it to be answered in a way that was understandable, and meaningful. I learned about: charting and navigation (thanks Aras), ship controls (thanks Vanessa), The NOAA Corps (thanks CO and Sony), ship engines and winches (thanks Becca), fancy ship knots (thanks Jay), water data collected by the ship (thanks Phil)… I could go on and on.
After landing back in port in Dutch Harbor, I got off of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson and turned and looked at it, and my perception of it had changed completely from the beginning of the cruise. It sounds totally cliché, but it wasn’t just a ship anymore, it was somewhere I had called home for a short time. As I looked at the outside of the ship I could identify the rooms behind each window and memories that I had in that space. It was surreal, and honestly pretty emotional for me. On the last day, once we got into port, my name tag was taken off of my stateroom door and it was replaced with the names of the new teachers heading to sea. It was sad to realize that I really was leaving and heading home. It’s weird to think that the ship will continue on without me being a part of it any longer.
A valuable part of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program was me stepping back from being a teacher, and actually being reminded of what it feel like to be a learner again. I was reminded of the frustrations of not understanding things immediately, and also the exciting feeling of finally understanding something and then being able to show and explain it. I loved learning through inquiry and asking questions to lead to newer and better questions. These are the things that I am trying to implement more in my classroom.
While on the ship I was able to come up with 3 new hands on activities that I will be trying out in my classes this year. This is in addition to the one that is directly related to my research. The new labs that I have created will help me to focus my efforts and give my students the skills that they will benefit from in the future. I am also even more excited to go and pursue my Master’s Degree in the near future than I was before, even though I am more confused on what to go back to school for.
I love being able to participate in research in addition to teaching. I really feel like it makes me a better teacher in so many ways. It really reminds me what is important to try and teach my students. In the world of Google searches and immediate information, learning a bunch of facts is not as practical as learning skills like how to test out a question, collect data, and share knowledge learned. I am so grateful for this opportunity and I really hope that I am able to continue to find other research experiences for myself in the future. I would love to be able to further my research experiences with MACE by visiting them in Seattle, and I would be happy to hop back on the Oscar Dyson, or another NOAA ship, at any time (hint, hint, wink,wink). Thanks for the memories.
Video of TAS Lacee Sherman on the deck of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.
[Transcript: Ok so right now it is 9 o’clock at night and the sun is still way up in the sky. It will not go down until like almost midnight. And that’s why they call it the midnight sun!]
With this blog, I will be focusing on the biodiversity in the Eastern Bering Sea. Biodiversity includes all of the different types of plant and animal species in a given environment. All of the species that I will be discussing I’ve seen come up in the trawl net, or have seen from the ship.
Common Name: Walleye Pollock
Scientific Name: Gadus chalcogrammus
Identifying Features: 3 Dorsal Fins, large eyes
Ecological Importance: Polllock influence the euphausiid populations and are food to many larger marine species, and humans.
Interesting Facts: Walleye pollock produces the largest catch by volume of any single species inhabiting the 200-mile U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.
Common Name: Krill
Scientific Name: Euphausiidae (Family)
Identifying Features: 1-2 centimeters in length on average. They look similar to very small shrimp, and often swim in schools.
Ecological Importance: Krill are a very important food source for many fish and also larger marine mammals such as whales.
Interesting Facts: They are filter feeders and eat zooplankton and phytoplankton, which makes them omnivores.
Common Name: Northern Sea Nettle, Brown Jellyfish
Scientific Name: Chrysaora melanaster
Identifying Features: 16 lines from the center of the bell to the outer edges of the bell. Large range in sizes, from very small to very large.
Interesting Facts: Jellyfish may become a problem for the Bering Sea in the future because they reproduce in large numbers and they can dominate an entire environment easily.
Common Name: Pacific Ocean Perch
Scientific Name: Sebastes alutus
Identifying Features: Bright to light red with brown blotches dorsally near fins, large spines on dorsal and anal fins, knob on lower jaw
Ecological Importance: delicious
Interesting Facts: Pacific Ocean Perch are a type of Rockfish. Pacific Ocean Perch have a swim bladder similar to that of pollock, so they reflect similar acoustic signals and can sometimes be acoustically confused for pollock if no sample is taken in a specific area.
Common Name: Yellowfin Sole
Scientific Name: Limanda aspera
Identifying Features: Black line between body and dorsal and ventral fins, fins may appear yellow in color
Ecological Importance: Yellowfin sole are benthic (live and feed on the ocean floor).
Interesting Facts: Yellowfin sole grow slowly and may be 10.5 years old by the time they reach 30 cm in length.
Common Name: Magister Armhook Squid
Scientific Name: Berryteuthis magister
Identifying Features: 8 tentacles and two larger feeding arms, dark red in color, but white when damaged
Ecological Importance: Prey on fishes and other squid
Interesting Facts: These are the most abundant squid found in the waters of Alaska.
Common Name: Chum Salmon
Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus keta
Identifying Features: Metallic dark blue on the top and silvery on the sides
Ecological Importance: Chum Salmon have adapted to live in saltwater and freshwater. They mainly eat copepods, fishes, squid, mollusks and tunicates.
Interesting Facts: Chum salmon eggs are hatched in freshwater rivers and streams. They then travel downstream to live most of their life in the ocean. When it is time, Chum Salmon spawn (reproduce) in the same freshwater stream they hatched in. Once a salmon spawns, they die.
Common Name: Pacific Herring
Scientific Name: Clupea pallasii
Identifying Features: Large scales that are shiny silver along the sides and shiny blue along the top of the fish. Tail has a fork and there is only one dorsal fin.
Ecological Importance: Eat phytoplankton and zooplankton. Herring and their eggs are eaten by fish, birds, marine mammals, and humans.
Interesting Facts: Herring eggs (roe) are considered a traditional delicacy in Japan called kazunoko.
Common Name: Yellow Irish Lord
Scientific Name: Hemilepidotus jordani
Identifying Features: Yellowish tan to dark brown, white to yellow bottom, and yellow gill membranes
Ecological Importance: Since they are usually found close the ocean floor, they regularly eat things like fish eggs, isopods and amphipods, worms, and small fishes.
Interesting Facts: There is another species of Sculpin that is similar called a Red Irish Lord.
During our hauls, a member of the science team is needed on the bridge to watch for the presence of marine mammals and endangered bird species. I am one of the people that gets to do this, and I must admit, there is a slight conflict of interest. I, of course, want to see all of the marine mammals possible, but if they are nearby during a haul, we are required to give them space until they pass so that they are not injured in any way by the ship. This can definitely slow down the process of hauling if we see them, but of course I don’t mind it if I get to see more whales. Most of the time I don’t see any marine mammals and just end up enjoying a beautiful view of the open ocean.
I am definitely feeling more comfortable and at home on the ship now. Constant motion from the swells is the new normal, and the creaks and sounds of the ship are a new soundtrack to listen to (on repeat). Sometimes I like to push the limits and see how far forward or backward I can lean during larger swells to maintain balance and have a few superhero moments as I pretend to defy the laws of physics.
I’m getting to know more about the other people on the ship every day and it’s nice to get into a rhythm and start to really work well together and have a good flow, especially in the fish lab. If we are motivated to finish before meal times, we can process a good haul of Pollock in around 45 minutes. That is much quicker than we started at, and it’s because we have really learned how to capitalize on each other’s strengths and just being willing to do whatever job is needed in the lab, even if it is not our favorite task.
I have claimed a workspace in “the cave” (acoustics lab) that is perfectly in the way of the phone when it rings, but it’s usually quiet in there and I can focus on these blogs, reading, or planning for next school year. I’ve also been reading the transcripts to a ton of TED talks when we don’t have access to the internet.
Did You Know?
In Alaska, during the summer, they experience what is called “the midnight sun”. It is rarely ever dark enough to see the stars during the summer. This happens because of how far north it is!
TenBrink, Todd & W Buckley, Troy. (2013). Life-History Aspects of the Yellow Irish Lord ( Hemilepidotus jordani ) in the Eastern Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. Northwestern Naturalist. 94. 126-136. 10.1898/12-33.1.
In the fish lab, after the haul is sorted out, a sample of each species are randomly selected to undergo additional measurements and data collection. One of the primary pieces of information needed is the lengths for about 300 pollock per haul. The length of the pollock is important because larger fish have larger internal organs. The internal organ that matters most to this survey is the size of the swim bladder since this is what give us the echo that can be picked up by our acoustic transducers.
According to the NOAA Ocean Service,“If fish relied solely on constant swimming to maintain their current water depth, they would waste a lot of energy. Many fish instead rely on their swim bladder, a dorsally located gas-filled organ, to control their stability and buoyancy in the water column. The swim bladder also functions as a resonating chamber that can produce and receive sound, a quality that comes in handy for scientists locating fish with sonar technology.”
To process a trawl sample, the pollock are put into baskets and weighed. One basket is selected at random to obtain the lengths and weights of individual fish. 30-35 Fish are selected for otolith samples (ear bones) that can be used to age the fish. These fish are also inspected to look for the sex of the fish and their maturity stages. There are 5 different maturity stages for pollock: immature, developing, pre-spawning, spawning, and spent. Since the fish already needs to be cut open for this process, we will sometimes look at the stomach contents of the fish as well to see what they are eating. Based off of stomach contents, one of the main food sources for pollock in the Bering Sea this summer are euphausiids, or krill.
In addition to trawl samples, we also are taking samples of Euphausiids with a special tool called a Methot net. Four Methot samples will be taken on each leg of this research survey. A Methot net includes a sturdy metal frame of a set circumference with a net attached to the back. The net is a very fine mesh (small holes), so that the small euphausiids don’t escape. A flow meter is attached that measures the volume of water that is going through the net.
The euphausiids are a very important component of the marine food web in the Bering Sea. Euphausiids eat very small phytoplankton and zooplankton, so they are omnivores. Pollock eat the euphausiids, and then the pollock are eaten by marine animals such as seals, orcas, large cod, and even larger pollock. Humans also eat pollock, often in the form of imitation crab meat and the fish filet sandwiches from fast food chains.
Once the Methot net has come back on the ship at the end of the haul, a scoop (sub-sample) of them is taken and counted. Fish larvae and anything else that is not euphausiids is taken out and counted separately and then we go to work counting to get a total number of euphausiids from our sample. In our small sub-sample of .052 kg, our count was 1,110 euphausiids. Based off of the total haul weight of 2.12 kg, we are able to estimate the total number of euphausiids for this haul to be 45,251. This number is calculated based off the total number and weight of our sub-sample, compared to the total weight of the Methot haul.
I finally saw Orcas!! All of the running around on the ship was worth it! We always seem to be heading in opposite directions so I have seen mostly just dorsal fins, but I’ll take it! One morning I finally saw them from a closer distance and was able to see the white patch near the eye. I feel like I will be remembered by everyone on the ship as the “crazy whale-obsessed teacher,” but I can live with that.
One of the side experiments happening on the ship looks at the survival rate of fish caught on traditional fishing lines versus fish caught in trawl nets. One pollock had been caught and all of us on the ship decided the name should be Jackson Pollock. Jackson survived for a few days, but didn’t last past 6/15/18. The next day six new fish were put into the tank after a trawl catch, and after 24 hours, only two were still alive.
Adult Walleye Pollock
An Obituary written for the ship’s pet fish Jackie Pollock.
NOAA Careers and Unexpected Learning Opportunities
I have been trying to talk to everyone on the ship about how they first got interested in this type of work and exactly what their role is for day to day operations. There are so many different career options that can allow you to live on ships and be involved with scientific research.
The past few days I have spent time trying to learn as much as I can about everything related to the ship. I spent time speaking with Commanding Officer (CO) Michael Levine and Ensign (ENS) Sony Vang about their ship and land assignments and the requirements of the NOAA Corps. ENS Vanessa Oquendo showed me how some of the ship’s controls work. They are regularly focused on navigation (on a paper chart and electronically), and communication with other ships about positioning, weather, and the speed and direction of the ship. There is a lot to consider and to maintain 24/7.
Getting the nets in and out of the water is a very complicated process and involves many different ropes, chains and weights. I noticed this really cool type of knot that seemed to undo itself, so I asked one of the Deck Crew members, Jay Michelsen to teach me some cool ship knots. I learned how to make: bowline knots, flying bowline knots, cow hitch knots, daisy chains, double daisy chains, and a way to finally wrap up headphones so that they won’t tangle themselves.
Matthew Phillips and Scientist Mike Levine taught me how to fillet a fish which will be useful since I enjoy cooking so much! I will no longer be intimidated to buy fish whole. We got some practice on a spare cod that we caught and a few rockfish.
One of the licensed engineers, Becca Joubert, gave me a tour of the engine room and I was able to see the engines, winches, rudder, water filtration systems, and the repair shop. I didn’t realize that fuel was held in different tanks, but it works best that way because of safety and because it helps to distribute the weight all around the ship better.
Winch wire on the port side of the ship used for the net.
Valves for the ship’s fuel tanks.
Did You Know?
The NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson was named after a commercial fisherman named Oscar Dyson. There is a smaller boat on board named the Peggy Dyson after his wife, who would broadcast the weather forecast twice a day every day to local ships as well as personal announcements and important sports scores.
Things to Think About:
Dolphins and Orcas eat a variety of fish, squid, and sometimes other marine mammals, while large whales such as blue whales and humpbacks mostly rely on krill as their main food source. Why would such large marine mammals feed primarily on tiny krill?
Since there is a relationship between pollock and euphausiids, as the number of pollock grows, what is a reasonable prediction about the number of euphausiids?
The high tide is beginning its re-entry into the Chesapeake Bay at this moment, signaling a cascade of events among the organisms that call it home. The periwinkle snails have started their perilous climbs to the tips of the cordgrass while the fiddler crabs scurry along the tideline. Even the humans at the boathouse take note and launch their boat of 8 rowers and a coxswain to row in an inlet lined with trees sheltering night herons, crown herons and the conspicuous egrets.
This is but a snapshot of the incomparable Chesapeake Bay, which has played an instrumental role in my circuitous path to becoming a science teacher.
When I first moved to Norfolk, VA in 1995, I was an English as a Second Language teacher at the local university. In and around the Chesapeake Bay, I became aware of the unfamiliar and fascinating: the live oaks that tolerate brackish spray and are bent like arthritic elders and the “come-back-to-life” fossils called “horseshoe crabs”. Although my job at that time was teaching language, I become aware of another language, the language of this unique ecosystem, that I wanted to speak. I then began taking graduate courses in biology and soon got my teaching license. Since 2006, I have been teaching Earth Science and Biology for Norfolk Public Schools. Being a teacher has allowed me opportunities to be a student of my environment. I was fortunate to attend a NOAA Phytoplankton Monitoring Network workshop in 2008 and my students and I logged in the species and abundances of Chesapeake Bay phytoplankton from 2008 to 2017.
Last year, as a PolarTREC teacher, I was able to be part of the “Jellyfish in the Bering Sea” expedition during which imaging devices were used to estimate ages, abundances and locations of jellyfish. I’ll return to this location in a few weeks to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea on the Oscar Dyson to be part of the Pollock Acoustic Survey.
Science and Technology Log
I will be on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson along with another TAS, Joan Shea-Rogers. Our mission is to assess walleye pollock locations and abundances using trawls and acoustic surveys. Stay tuned to this blog to see photos of this in action!
Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments for me.
Did You Know?
Alaska Pollock is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and protein.
There are many different types of samples that are taken on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Some of the samples collected on the ship are for the projects of the scientists that are here currently, and other samples are brought back for scientists working on related NOAA projects. The scientists that I am working with are based out of NOAA in Seattle, Washington.
One of the projects that I have been helping with most frequently is processing the trawl samples once they have been collected. When a trawl sample is collected, a large net is lowered off the stern of the ship that will collect the sample of fish (hopefully mostly pollock) and other living things. The net also functions as a vessel to hold scientific instruments that collect other types of information. There is a camera (cam trawl) that is attached to the net and this records video that can be watched through a computer to actually see what is being caught in the net.
Another useful instrument is the FS70, a sonar device that rides above the opening of the trawl net to ping on the fish going into it. Viewed from a screen on the Bridge in real time, this gives the scientists an idea of exactly how many fish are going into the net, so that they can adjust the depth of the net, or change the length of time for the trawl survey. The goal for each trawl sample is to collect at least 300 pollock.
Once the net has been brought in after haulback, the opening at the codend (bottom) of the net is released to allow the sample to be put in a metal tub called the table. The table is capable of holding approximately 1 ton, or 2,000 pounds worth of fish. Sometimes if there is more than can fit on the table, the crew will split the catch in half so that we are only measuring a portion of what was collected. The rest of the fish are stored in another tank on the deck. If we don’t end up with enough pollock on the table, we may need to pick through the other half that was saved on deck until we get enough. Measuring too few of them may not represent the accurate length compositions of the pollock.
On June 11th we collected trawl sample #7. This haul was filled with mainly jellyfish, with pollock and a few herring. The weight of this haul was very close to the amount that the table can hold so it was decided to split the catch. Once we looked at what was put on the table and we realized that it wasn’t going to be enough pollock, Mike and Sarah jumped into the spare tank and pulled out all of the fish (whole haul) so that we would have enough to get as close to that 300 number as possible.
When the fish come into the fish lab, we sort out the different species and put them into separate baskets. Each basket is weighed by species and input into a system called CLAMS (Catch Logging for Acoustic Midwater Surveys). After all of the species have been sorted, a percentage of each species will be measured by length. Another percentage of each species will be measured by length and weight.
Photo showing Pollock of different ages.
Pollock being weighed (in kg)
From the pollock sample collected, 30 will be randomly picked to have their otoliths removed. The otolith is the ear bone of the fish and it can be used to determine the age of that specific pollock. They have rings, similar to tree rings that can be counted. For information click here.
I have not been shy with anyone onboard about the fact that I would love to see whales if they are around the ship. I feel like this has almost turned into a game at my expense, but I don’t mind. There have been multiple times when there have been “whales” and as soon as I run up the 3 flights of stairs and get to the Bridge, the whales are suddenly gone. I think they are secretly timing me to see how quickly I can run up the stairs! The exercise is good for me anyways.
I’ve finished two books already, which has been really nice. I know that I love to read, but never really take the time anymore because it always seems like there is something else that I should be doing instead. There’s a bookshelf here in the lounge, so I’ll find another to read after I finish the last one that I brought.
I try to spend some time outside every day, and it is so peaceful. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of waking up and looking at the ocean. I don’t want to take any bit of this experience for granted. I am so grateful that I have this opportunity and I want to take in as much of it as I can. As I get to know more people on the ship I am starting to get to learn more from everyone about exactly what they do and why they chose to make this their profession.
Everyone thinks of scientists, NOAA Corps officers, and engineers as being very serious all of the time, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Professionalism is incredibly important and is always the focus, but there is also space for fun. Every other day there is a photo competition where a picture is taken somewhere on the ship and you need to find out where it was taken and submit your answer. There are also plastic Easter eggs that keep popping up everywhere filled with positive messages, or candy. The “Oscar Dyson Plan of the Day” sometimes has puzzles to figure out on it as well as important information such as location, meal times, sunrise/sunset times and any other important information.
Did You Know?
There are 6 different species of flatfish found in the Bering Sea. There are 2 species of Flounder, 3 of Sole, and 1 Plaice.
TAS Lacee Sherman with a Yellowfin Sole
TAS Lacee Sherman showing the underside of a Yellowfin Sole
Hello! My name is Lacee Sherman and I am pleased to have you join me on my Alaskan Research Adventure by following along on my blog. I am currently the 7th Grade Science teacher at Firebaugh Middle School in Firebaugh, CA. As I write this, I am just completing my fourth year of teaching middle school science. I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Science with a Biology Emphasis from California State University, Fresno. I also got my single subject teaching credential in Science from Fresno State.
Ever since I can remember, science has always captivated me in a way that no other subject was able to. I love the scientific process and finding creative solutions to problems and even still, always wanting to learn more. There is something so special about being able to investigate something new in order to learn more about it. There is so much in this world to be curious about.
My first taste of an authentic research experience came to me during my last year of Undergraduate education at Fresno State when a professor whom I admire, Dr. David Andrews, encouraged me to participate in the STAR (STEM Teachers as Researchers) program. The STAR program allows individuals that are going to pursue STEM teaching the opportunity to participate in summer research at different Universities or National Labs for up to three summers. Through this program I met people in the STEM field that have encouraged me and become lifelong Mentors.
My first summer, I spent working in the research lab of Dr. Brian Tsukimura at Fresno State helping to establish a protocol for quantifying vitellin concentrations in the California Ridgeback Shrimp.
My second and third summers in STAR were spent working with Ben R. Miller at NOAA in Boulder, Colorado as a part of the Global Monitoring Division (GMD). I would look at data collected at different sites in the United States and help to create visuals to represent the quantities of different types of ozone depleting substances.
As a member of the STAR Program I was introduced to the 100Kin10 initiative which is working towards adding and retaining 100,000 excellent STEM teachers into the profession within a 10 year time span. I am proud to be one of the 100Kin10 educators and I am also a member of the Teacher Forum that helps to provide valuable input from a teacher perspective to the partners working to improve the future of STEM Education.
In less than a week’s time I will be boarding NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson to participate in research on the Eastern Bering Sea off of the coast of Alaska. I am so excited to meet all of the scientists and crew aboard the research ship and experience what it is life to live on board and work on research at the same time. I love getting to jump back into the scientific community and remind my students that I am not just a teacher; I’m a scientist, too. This research experience will help me to plan more hands on, research-based, and innovative lessons for my students.
I have never been to Alaska and I cannot wait to see the natural beauty and I want to see all of the wildlife that I can. I am looking forward to being able to share my knowledge and experiences with family, friends, and my students through this blog.
Did You Know?
Imitation Crab meat isn’t made from shellfish at all. It’s actually made from Alaskan Pollock!
Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: September 21, 2017
Weather Data from Virginia Beach, Virginia
Latitude: 36⁰ 49’13.7 N
Longitude: 75⁰ 59’01.2 W
Temperature: 19⁰ Celsius (67⁰ Fahrenheit)
Winds: 1 mph SSW
In just a matter of days, my world has gone from this
(we often had a crazy amount of jellyfish to sort through to find the year 0 Pollock)
(my super worms are warming up their races at the scout overnight tomorrow)
It’s also given me a few days to reflect on the incredible experience I had at sea.
Science and Technology Log
Science is a collaborative. Many people do not realize the amount of teamwork that goes into the scientific process. For instance, several of the scientists on board my cruise don’t actually study Pollock. One of the guys studies Salmon, but he was still on the cruise helping out. I think that’s what really struck me. The folks from the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center pull together as a team to make sure that everyone gets the data they need. They all jump on board ships to participate in research cruises even if it’s not their specific study area, and it’s quite likely someone else is in another location doing the same thing for them. At the end of the day, it’s the data that matters and not whose project it is.
Since returning home, the most frequent question I have received is “what was your favorite part?” At first, I didn’t know how to answer this question. To have such an incredible experience crammed into two weeks, makes it difficult to narrow it down. After a few days of reflection, I finally have an answer.
The onboard relationships were my favorite part of my Teacher at Sea cruise. I appreciated that the entire crew took me under their wing, showed me the ropes, and made 12 hour shifts sorting through jellyfish for Pollock fun! This is the only place where I could have the opportunity to work and live with scientists in such close proximity. I was fascinated by each scientist’s story: how they got into their specialty, what their background is, why they feel what they’re doing is important, etc. I learned that 10 pm became the silly hour when the second cup of coffee kicked in along with the dance music. I learned that beyond Pollock research these folks were also rescuers taking in tired birds that fell onto the ship, warming them up, and then releasing them.
When the next person asks “what was your favorite part?” I will be ready with an answer along with a big smile as I remember all the goofy night shifts, the incredible inside look at sea based research, and the wonderful people I met. Oh, and the views.
Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: September 13, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 55 06.6N
Winds: 20 S
Temperature: 11 degrees Celsius (51.8 degrees Fahrenheit)
Up. Down. Up. Down. Left. Right….no I’m not in an aerobics class. High winds and seas cause my chair to slide across the floor as I type.
Thus far we’ve been working 12 hour shifts, 24 hours a day. Today we’re sitting about twirling our thumbs as 12 feet seas toss us about. It’s not too bad actually, but it is bad enough to make operations unsafe for both crew and equipment. I’ve been impressed with the safety first culture on-board the Oscar Dyson. Hopefully, it’ll calm down soon, and we can start operations again.
Science and Technology Log
Ship support systems for power, water, sewage treatment, and heating/cooling are all several levels below the main deck, which makes ship engineers a bit like vessel moles. These hard working guys ensure important life support systems work smoothly. Highlights from my time with them include a lesson on the evaporator and engines.
The evaporator, which for some reason I keep calling the vaporizer, produces the fresh water drinking supply. The evaporator works by drawing in cold seawater and then uses excess engine heat to evaporate, or separate, the freshwater from the seawater. The remaining salt is discarded as waste. On average, the evaporator produces approximately 1,400 gallons of water per day.
*Side note: the chief engineer decided vaporizer sounds a lot more interesting than evaporator. Personally, I feel like vaporizer is what Star Trek-y people would have called the system on their ships.
The Oscar Dyson has 4 generators on board, two large, and two small. The generators are coupled with the engines. Combined they produce the electricity for the ship’s motors and onboard electrical needs, such as lights, computers, scientific equipment, etc.
This week I also spent time in the Galley with Ava and Adam. (For those of you who know me, it’s no surprise that I befriended those in charge of food.) Read on for a summary of Ava’s life at sea story.
Me: How did you get your start as a galley cook?
Ava: When I was about 30 years old, a friend talked me into applying to be a deck hand.
Me: Wait. A deck hand?
Ava: That’s right. I was hired on to a ship and was about to set out for the first time when both the chief steward and 2nd cook on a different ship quit. My CO asked if I cook to which I replied “for my kids,” which was good enough for him. They immediately flew me out to the other ship where I became the 2nd cook. 12 years later I’m now a Chief Steward.
Me: Wow! Going from cooking for your kids to cooking for about forty crew members must have been a huge change. How did that go?
Ava: To be honest, I made a lot phone calls to my mom that first year. She helped me out a lot by giving me recipes and helping me figure out how to increase the serving sizes. Over the years I’ve paid attention to other galley cooks so I now have a lot of recipes that are my own and also borrowed.
Me: What exactly does a Chief Steward do?
Ava: The Chief Steward oversees the running of the galley, orders food and supplies, plans menus, and supervises the 2nd Cook. I’m a little different in that I also get in there to cook, clean, and wash dishes alongside my 2nd Cook. I feel like I can’t ask him to do something that I’m not willing to do too.
Me: So you didn’t actually go to school to be a chef. Did you have to get any certifications along the way?
Ava: When I first started out, certifications weren’t required. Now they are, and I have certifications in food safety and handling.
There are schools for vessel cooking though. My daughter just recently graduated from seafarers school. The school is totally free, except for the cost of your certification at the very end. For people interested in cooking as a career, it’s a great alternative to other, more expensive college/culinary school options. Now she’s traveling the world, doing a job she loves, and putting a lot of money into her savings.
Me: Talking with crew members on this ship, the one thing they all say is how hard it is to be away from family for long stretches of time. A lot of them are on the ship for ten months out of the year, and they do that for years and years. It’s interesting that your daughter decided to follow in your footsteps after experiencing that separation firsthand.
Ava: I was surprised too. Being away from friends and family is very hard on ship crew. Luckily for me, my husband is also part of the NOAA crew system so we get to work and travel together. Nowadays I’m part of the augment program so I get to set my own schedule. It gives me more flexibility to stay home and be a grandma!
Did You Know?
Nautical miles are based on the circumference of the earth and is 1 minute of latitude. 1 nautical mile equals 1.1508 statue miles.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Jenny Smallwood Aboard Oscar Dyson September 4 – 17, 2017
Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: September 8, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 55 20.5 N
Longitude: 156 57.7 W
Winds: 12 knots NNW
Temperature: 11.0 degrees Celsius (51.8 degrees Fahrenheit)
Can I borrow a cup of sugar? Just what does a ship do if it starts running low on critical supplies? In our case, the Oscar Dyson met up with the Fairweather on a super foggy morning to swap some medical supplies and other goods that will be needed on the next leg.
The Fairweather’s fast rescue boat heads out towards us. Photo courtesy: Jim McKinney
Photo courtesy: Jim McKinney
Coming in on approach..
Fairweather’s fast rescue boat pulled alongside and was tied up to us.
Science and Technology Log
You might remember from my first blog post that Alaskan Walleye Pollock is one of the largest fisheries in the world and the largest by volume in the U.S. Because of this, Walleye Pollock is heavily researched and managed. The research cruise I’m on right now is collecting just a small portion of the data that feeds into its management. Being a plankton nerd, I’m interested in the relationship between year 0 Pollock and its zooplankton prey. Year 0 Pollock are the young of the year; fish hatched in Spring 2017.
Year 0 Pollock feed on a variety of zooplankton some of which have greater nutritional value than others. Certain zooplankton, such as Calanus spp and euphausiids, are preferred prey items due to high lipid content, which yield fatter year 0 Pollock.
Other less lipid rich zooplankton prey, such as small copepod species, yield skinny fish. The fat, happy Pollock are more likely to survive the winter, and the scrawny, skinny fish aren’t likely to survive the winter. So why is this important to know? Well, surviving its first winter is one of the biggest hurdles in the Pollock’s life. If it can survive that first winter, it’s likely to grow large enough to be incorporated in the Pollock fishery. So you just want to make sure there are lots of Calanus spp in the water right? Wrong….
Knowing Calanus spp and euphausiids possess higher lipid content is just the tip of the iceberg. It turns out that in colder years they have higher lipid content, and in warmer years they have lower lipid content. So it’s not enough to just know how many Calanus spp and euphausiids are out there. You also need to know what their lipid levels are, which is related to water temperatures. Clearly a lot goes into Pollock management, and this is only a small portion of it.
I have a theory that like minded people tend to seek out similar life experiences. For example, yesterday I was in the bridge getting the scoop on Fairweather meet-up when I met one of the fishermen, Derek. Turns out Derek and I both attended UNC-Wilmington, both graduated in 2003, and both majored in environmental studies. For a while growing up, we lived just a couple of towns over from each other too. What. In. The. World. What are the odds that I run into someone like that? It’s such a small world….or is it?
This is where I get back to the theory that like minded people tend to seek out similar life experiences. There are those people in your life that seem to orbit in the same sphere as you. Maybe it’s shared interests, backgrounds, or experiences, but these are the people that totally “get you.” I feel lucky to have so many of them, from my co-workers at the Virginia Aquarium to the Teacher at Sea folks, in my life right now.
Did You Know?
Did you know Alaska has beautiful sunsets?
NOAA Teacher at Sea Jenny Smallwood Aboard Oscar Dyson September 2 – 17, 2017
Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: September 5, 2017
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 56 38.8 N
Longitude: 155 34.8
Wind speed 10 mph NNE
Air temp 11.5 degrees Celsius (52.7 degrees Fahrenheit)
Science and Technology Log
Today I got smacked in the face by a jellyfish. It practically flew into my mouth. Don’t worry I’m perfectly fine. I’ll admit to a lot of silent shrieking when it happened. Perhaps even some gagging….How did this happen you might be asking yourself? Read on my friend, read on..
After a couple of days at the dock in Kodiak, Alaska, we are finally underway! My first shift was spent hanging out and watching the scenery as we cruised to the first station.
We went through the aptly named Whale Passage where we saw orcas, whales, sea otters, and puffins! It was also the first time we’d seen the sun in two days. To be honest, that was more exciting than seeing whales.
It took about twelve hours for us to reach the first station site. The established routine is bongo net and Stauffer trawl, cruise to next site, bongo net and Stauffer trawl, cruise to next site, bongo net and…well you get the point.
When the Stauffer trawl net is hauled in, the science team and survey tech sort through everything in the net. Juvenile pollock (less than a year old) go into one bin, capelin into another bin, so on and so forth.
Now what makes this really interesting is that we’re basically digging these fish out of one massive, gelatinous pile of jellyfish goop. Once all the fish are sorted, the jellies get sorted too, which is where the jellyfish face smack comes in. Picture a smallish conveyor belt with 5 people standing around throwing fish, squid, isopods, and jellyfish into appropriate bins. It turns out that when you throw jellyfish into a bin, it sometimes explodes on impact causing jellyfish goop to go flying, and sometimes it flies onto my face. *smh*
When the crew and science team aren’t working jellyfish laden Stauffer trawls, they’re busy with the bongo nets. These are my favorite because they pull up lots of plankton.
Most people would totally freak out if they knew how much stuff was swimming around in the water with them, including pteropods, which look a bit like slugs with wings. Pteropods are a type of zooplankton also know as sea butterflies for the small “wings” attached to their bodies. The ones we got today were big enough to be slugs. My goal over the next couple of weeks is to get a decent video of them swimming.
Peer pressure is a powerful thing. Even though I’ve never gotten seasick, I succumbed to peer pressure and took some meclizine before leaving the dock. I really didn’t want my memories of the Oscar Dyson to include yakking over the side of the ship. In this case, positive peer pressure was a good thing. I’ve been feeling just fine even when confined in small, fishy smelling rooms. Eau de poisson anybody?
The biggest adjustment has been the time change and 12 hour work shift from noon to midnight. I like to describe myself as the oldest, young person alive. We’re talking early bird specials, going to bed early, and waking up at the crack of dawn. So while the day shift I’m on is clearly a perk, it’s still taken me a few days to get used to it, especially since it’s 4 pm to 4 am east coast time. Judging by the 9.5 hours of sleep I got last night, it’ll be smooth sailing from here.
I can also report that the food on board is delicious. Ava and Adam crank out tasty options at every meal, and somehow meet the needs of about 35 people some of whom are vegetarian, vegan, low acid, etc. Since Kodiak was a washout, I tagged along on the shopping trip prior to our departure. Five shopping carts later we were ready to eat our way across the Gulf of Alaska!
Did You Know?
NOAA scientists on board the ship rotate through different at sea research cruises throughout the year. They even participate on cruises that have nothing to do with their actual research. It’s like a big group effort to get the data NOAA needs for its various research projects.
We have been surveying transect lines (sometimes we fish, sometimes we don’t). During the times that we aren’t fishing, I find myself looking out at the ocean A LOT! During these quiet times on the ship, I am reminded of how large the oceans are. I found a quiet window to sit by in the Chem Lab and enjoy watching as the waves dance off of the side of the ship.
During some of these times when we are not collecting data from fish, identifying species from the DropCam, or preparing for the next haul, I find myself reading, which is a luxury all in itself. A friend of mine lent me to book to read and as I was reading the other day, the author quoted Jules Verne, author of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Verne said, “Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.” I found this to be fitting for what I am doing on this survey, for the three weeks that I am a Teacher At Sea. Though I am surrounded by trained and educated professionals, I have realized that mistakes still happen and are something to be expected. They happen regularly. Often, actually. And, it’s a good thing that they do. They are important for learning. When humans make mistakes, hopefully, we can adjust our actions/behaviors to reduce the chances of that same “mistake” from happening again. When applied to science, the same idea is also true. When we can collect data from something that we are studying, we learn about the ways that it interacts with its surroundings. Through these findings, we not only learn more about what we are studying, but then take measures to protect its survival.
We had a real experience like this happen just the other day. For days, the “backscatter” was picking up images of fish that the scientists didn’t think were pollock on the bottom of the ocean. Backscatter is what the scientists use to “see” different groups of fish and quantify how many are in the water. The ship uses various echosounders. Several times, the science team decided to collect fish samples from these areas. Every time that they decided to “go fishing”, we pulled up pollock. The team was baffled. They had a hypothesis as to why they were not catching what they thought they saw on the backscatter. They thought that it was rockfish that were hanging around rocks, but the pollock were being caught as the net went down and came back up. Finally, after several attempts of not catching anything but pollock, they decided to put down the DropCam and actually try to see what was going on down there.
At that point, the Chem lab was filled with scientists. Everyone wanted to see what was going to show up on the monitor. The NOAA Corps Commanding Officer even came to see what was going to show up on the monitor. The room will filled with excitement.
Abigail steers the DropCam and watches the monitor simultaneously.
We see rockfish!
It was just as they predicted! The rockfish were hanging out in the rocks. It was a moment of great satisfaction for the scientists. They were able to identify some of the fish on the backscatter that was causing them so much confusion! Yay, science!
Later in the day, we went fishing and collected the usual data (sex, length, weight, etc.) from the pollock. There are usually 4 of us at a time in the Fish lab. We are getting into a routine in the lab and I am getting more familiar with my responsibilities and duties. I start by controlling the door release, which controls the amount of fish released onto the conveyor belt. After all of the fish have been weighed, I separate the females and males. Once that has been done, I take the lengths of a sample of the fish that we caught. When I finish, I assist Ethan and Abigail in removing and collecting the otoliths from a selected fish sample. Then, its clean-up time. Though we all have appropriate gear on, I somehow still end up having fish scales all over me. Imagine that!
Every time that we “go fishing”, a “pocket net” is also deployed. This is a net that has finer mesh and is designed to catch much smaller marine life. On this haul, we caught squid, age “zero” pollock, and isopods.
We also found some young Magister Armhook squid.
Age “Zero” pollock under under the age of 1.
Parasitic isopods attach themselves to the pollock and suck their blood.
We record the mass and length of everything caught.
We also caught a larval flatfish and an Age “Zero” pollock.
In the evening, we headed towards Morzhovoi Bay. There, we were greeted by a pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins. They spent some time swimming next to us. When they discovered that we were not that interesting, they swam off. They did leave us though with a great sense of awe and appreciation (and a few great pictures!).
Happy Summer Solstice! Today is the longest day of the year! We have had some spectacular days. We were all excited as we got up this morning to welcome the rising of the sun. We woke up and were holding position in front of Mt. Pavlof. We saw the sunrise and went up to the Flying Bridge to do some morning yoga. After a wonderful breakfast of a bagel with cream cheese, salmon, Larrupin sauce, and Slug Slime, I went back up to the Bridge to get a full 360 degree view of the bay. There I saw a humpback whale swimming around. This will definitely be a summer solstice to remember!
Did You Know?
A humpback whale is about the size of a school bus and weighs about 40 tons! They also communicate with each other with songs under the water.
sidenote: I know I wrote in my last blog that I was going to discuss the fishing process today, but there were so many other amazing things that happened that it is going to have to wait until next time. Sorry!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Virginia Warren
Mission: Acoustic and Trawl Survey of Walleye Pollock
Geographical Area of Cruise: Shelikof Strait
on NOAA ship Oscar Dyson
Date: 3/20/16 – 3/22/16
Data from the Bridge (3/21/16):
Visibility: 8 to 10 nautical miles (at one point it was more like 2 to 3 nautical miles)
Wind Speed: 23 knots
Sea Wave Height: 4 – 6 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 5° C (41°)
Air Temperature: 0° C (32° F)
Barometric (Air) Pressure: 994.3 Millibars
Science and Technology Log:
The purpose of this research survey is to collect data on walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus) that scientists will use when the survey is complete to help determine the population of the pollock. This data also helps scientists decide where and when to open the pollock fishery to fishermen. Data collection such as this survey are critical to the survival and health of the pollock fishery.
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, we use an AWT (Aleutian Wing Trawl) to complete the pollock survey. The AWT has two doors that glide through the water and hold the net open. The cod end of the net is where all of the fish end up when the trawl is complete.
Codend of the Net – This is where all the fish are when the trawl is brought up.
After the trawl is brought back onto the boat, the cod end of net is dumped onto a hydraulic table. The hydraulic table is then lifted up so that it angles the fish down a shoot into the Wet Lab on a conveyor belt.
The door to the shoot is opened allowing fish from the table outside to be dumped down the shoot and on to the conveyor belt inside.
Kim and Virginia sorting fish on the conveyor belt.
Once the pollock come through the shoot and onto the conveyor belt, the first thing that we do is pick out every type of animal that is not a pollock. So far we have found lots of eulachons (Thaleichthys pacificus), jellyfish (Cnidaria), isopods, and squid. We have even found the occasional chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), rock fish (Sebastes spp.), and a lumpsucker (Cyclopteridea). The pollock continue to roll down the conveyor belt into a plastic bin until the bin is full. Then the bin of pollock are weighed.
Contents of the Trawl
The data from every fish we sample goes into a computer system called CLAMS. CLAMS stands for Catch Logger for Acoustic Midwater Survey. While we are taking samples of the fish our gloves get covered in fish scales and become slimy, so to be able to enter the data into the CLAMS system without causing damage there is a touch screen on all of the computers in the Wet Lab.
Once the pollock are weighed, a sample of the fish are taken to be sexed. To sex the fish, we use a scalpel to slice into the side of the fish. The picture of the chart below shows what we are looking for to determine if a pollock is male or female. Once we know what sex the fish is, we put it into a bin that says “Sheilas” for the female fish and “Blokes” for the male fish.
This chart of the Maturity Scale for Walleye Pollock is hanging in the Wet Lab.
Up-close of the Maturity Scale for male pollock.
Kim showing Virginia what to look for when sexing the fish.
Once the fish are in their correct male/female bin, they are then measured for their length using an Ichthystick.
The Ichthystick has a magnet under the board. When the fish is placed on top of the board, a hand held magnet is placed at the fork of the fish tale. Where the hand held magnet is attracted to the magnet under the board tells the computer the length of the fish and the data is automatically stored in the CLAMS program.
The next station is where the stomach, ovaries, and otoliths are removed from the fish and preserved for scientists to research when the survey is over. The ovaries of a female fish are weighed as well. Depending on the size of the ovaries, they may be collected for further research. Once all of the data has been collected from the fish, a label is printed with the data on it. This label is placed in the bag with the stomach or ovaries sample. Kim completes a special project for this survey. She is a stomach content analysist, so she collects stomachs from a sample of fish that will be taken back to her lab to analyze the stomach content of what she collected. She puts the stomach and the label with the fish’s information, into a bag that is placed in a solution of formalin that preserves the samples.
The next step is to get the otoliths out of the fish. A knife is used to cut across the head of the pollock. Otoliths are used to learn the age of the fish. The otoliths are placed in a glass vile that has a barcode number that can be scanned and put with all of the fish’s information in CLAMS. This number is used to keep track of the fish data for when the otoliths get analyzed later on.
Getting the Otoliths
We also collect length, weight, sex, and stomach samples from other fish that come up in the trawl as well.
Interview with a NOAA Corps Officer: Ensign Caroline Wilkinson Caroline is a Junior NOAA Corps Officer on board the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson. She is always very helpful with any information asked of her and always has a smile on her face when she does so. Thank you Caroline for making me feel so welcomed on board the Dyson!
How did you come to be in NOAA Corps? (or what made you decide to join NOAA Corps and not another military branch?
I graduated from college in May of 2015. I was looking for a job at a career fair at my school and discovered the NOAA Corps. I had heard of NOAA, but didn’t know a lot about NOAA Corps. I wanted to travel and NOAA Corps allowed me that opportunity. I was unsure what type of work I wanted to do, so I decided to join and explore career options or make a career out of NOAA Corps.
What is your educational/working background?
I went to the University of Michigan where I received an undergraduate degree in ecology and evolutionary biology and a minor in physical oceanography.
How long have you been in NOAA Corps?
July of 2015 I started basic training. Training was at the Coast Guard academy in a strict military environment. We had navigation and ship handling classes seven hours a day.
How long have you been on the Dyson?
I have been here since December of 2015.
How long do you usually stay onboard the ship before going home?
We stay at sea for two years and then in a land assignment for 3 years before heading back to sea.
Have you worked on any other NOAA ships? If so, which one and how long did you work on it?
Nope, no other ships. I had no underway experience except a five-day dive trip in Australia.
Where have you traveled to with your job?
We were in Newport, Oregon and then we went to Seattle, Washington for a couple of weeks. Then we went to Kodiak and then to Dutch Harbor.
What is your job description on the Dyson?
I’m a Junior Officer, the Medical Officer, and the Environmental Compliance Officer. As a junior officer I am responsible for standing bridge watch while underway. As a Junior Officer I am responsible for standing 8 hours of watch, driving the ship, every day. As medical officer, we have over 150 drugs onboard that I am responsible for inventorying, administering, and ordering. I also perform weekly health and sanitary inspections and Weekly environmental walkthroughs where I’m looking for any safety hazards, unsecured items, leaks or spills that could go into the water.
What is the best part of your job?
Getting to drive the ship.
What is the most difficult part of your job?
Being so far away from my family and friends.
Do you have any career highlights or something that stands out in your mind that is exceptionally interesting?
During training we got to sail in the US Coast Guard Cutter Eagle. It’s a tall ship (like a pirate ship). We were out for eight days. We went from Baltimore to Port Smith, Virginia and had the opportunity to do a swim call 200 miles out in the Atlantic.
What kind of sea creature do you most like to see while you are at sea?
We have seen some killer whales and humpback whale in the bay we are in this morning. We’ve also seen some albatross.
Do you have any advice for students who want to join NOAA Corps?
You need an undergraduate degree in math or science. There are 2 classes of ten students a year. Recruiters look for students with research experience, a willingness to learn, and a sense of adventure.
I have really been enjoying my time aboard the Oscar Dyson and getting to know the people who are on the ship with me. I love spending time on the Bridge because you can look out and see all around the ship. I also like being on the bridge because I get to witness, and sometimes be a part of, the interactions and camaraderie between the NOAA Corps Officers that drive/control the ship and the other ship workers.
Arnold and Kimrie are responsible for making breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all 34 people on the Oscar Dyson. They also clean the galley and all of the dishes that go along with feeding all of those people. They probably have the most important job on the ship, because in my previous experiences, hungry people tend to be grouchy people.
We’ve had a variety of yummy dishes made for us while we’ve been at sea. Breakfast starts at 7 a.m. and could include a combination of scrambled eggs, breakfast casserole, French toast, waffles, chocolate pancakes, bacon, sausage, or my personal favorite, eggs benedict.
Lunch is served at 11 a.m. and seems like a dinner with all of the variety of choices. Lunch usually has some type of soup, fish, and another meat choice available, along with vegetables, bread, and desert. Dinner is served at 5 p.m. and usually soup, fish, and another meat choice available, along with vegetables, bread and desert. I loved getting to try all of the different types of fish that they fix for us and I also really liked getting to try Alaskan King Crab for the first time!!
If you are still hungry after all of that, then there is always a 24-hour salad bar, a variety of cereal, snacks, and ice cream available in the galley. The left-overs from previous meals are also saved and put in the refrigerator for anyone to consume when they feel the need. If we are working and unable to get to the galley before a meal is over, Arnold or Kimrie will save a plate for us to eat when we get finished.
I also tried Ube ice cream, which is purple and made from yams. At first I was very skeptical of any kind of sweet treat being made out of yams, but I was pleasantly surprised that it tasted really good!
There is even a place to do laundry on this ship, which I was very happy about because fishy clothes can get pretty stinky!
I can’t end a blog without showing off some of the beautiful scenery that I have been privileged to see on this journey. The pictures below are of the Semidi Islands.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson July 6 – 25, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: July 25, 2015
Science and Technology Log
It is hard to believe we are wrapping up this leg of the journey. While our focus has been on the walleye pollock for this survey, we have encountered some other critters in our midwater and bottom trawls, and on our nightly DropCam excursions. We’ve even had some neat finds in our Methot net. There is quite a diverse ecosystem both in and out of water around Kodiak, and I’d like to take a moment to highlight some of the critters we’ve caught in our trawls and on camera.
One other neat thing happened on one of our final trawls of the leg. We caught several Dusky rockfish in our bottom trawl, and they were easy to spot as we sorted the trawl because of the large size and dark color. Several of these rockfish had bloated bellies as well. Being the curious scientists we were, we decided to dissect a couple of the rockfish to find out why. Some of them had very inflated swim bladders, while others turned out to be very pregnant females. We pulled out the ovaries, and they were about the size of a water balloon! Millions of tiny eggs poured out of one that we accidentally nicked with the scalpel. We took some of those and looked at them under the microscope. Rockfish are actually viviparous, which means they give birth to live young.
A big Dusky rockfish!
A very pregnant Dusky rockfish
Just one of the rockfish ovaries
Robert and the ovary
Did you know? The Arctic lamprey’s life cycle is similar to salmon. They are born in freshwater, leave for the ocean, and return to the same freshwater they were born in to spawn.
Once again, my experience as a Teacher at Sea has amazed me, and I have taken away so many great experiences I can’t wait to share with my students. While the science was quite different on the Oscar Dyson in comparison with the Groundfish Survey on the Oregon II, there are many similarities in the experiences themselves which make this a valuable program for educators. I formed relationships and made connections with people I may never have encountered, and these relationships have been (and will continue to be) invaluable to my teaching.
Here are just a few of the things I learned while out at sea:
Science is everywhere! From the lab, to the bridge, to the engineering rooms, there is science in everything we do!
Push-ups are a little more difficult in 4ft swells.
Even in the field, scientists are making (and verbalizing) hypotheses, and they are always asking questions about the work they are doing, even in the middle of an experiment or project.
Alaska has an abundance of jellyfish in all colors and sizes.
The shape of an otolith is unique for every species of fish.
Everyone looks funny when they are trying to walk during rough seas, even the experienced sea folk.
Different types of scientists work together toward a common goal, each bringing their unique backgrounds to the work they are doing.
Trust is crucial when you live and work on a ship, as each person on board is a member of a team; that team is like your family.
Everyone has a story. Take a moment, and find it out.
I want to thank everyone that works on the Oscar Dyson for making this experience a memorable one. I enjoyed working with everyone on board, and will cherish the relationships I formed.
This final post wouldn’t be complete without Wilson, our infamous shark who had fun on his trip too. Here he is highlighting his adventures with all the people and places on board the Oscar Dyson!
NOAA Teacher at Sea
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson Date Range at Sea: July 28 — August 16, 2015
Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic-Trawl survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: July 7, 2015
Here in Hawai’i, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on the world’s most remote island chain, I am very aware we live on an ocean planet. In fact, I have always been drawn to the sea, whether tide-pooling as a child, learning to SCUBA dive as a high school student, or spending a semester at sea aboard a sailing ship as a college student. In my role as a science educator I have always tried to inspire students to investigate local marine ecosystems and understand the ocean’s importance to our Earth. Thus, it is a tremendous professional honor to have been selected as a 2015 Teacher at Sea by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
NOAA’s Teacher at Sea Program, now in its 25th year, provides K-12 or college educators the chance to contribute to current oceanographic research aboard a NOAA vessel. Missions usually fall into three main categories: fishery surveys, hydrographic work, or physical oceanography studies. Participating teachers use this hands-on, real-world learning opportunity not only to develop classroom lessons but also to share the experience in their classrooms, schools, and communities. I am thrilled to report that I have been assigned to a fisheries cruise, a pollock survey aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. The port of call is Kodiak, Alaska, and I am especially excited about the location because it will be the 50th state I have ever visited! I have always been fascinated by the science, economics, and history of fisheries. The pollock fishery is one of the world’s largest, and these fish are also vital to the Bering Sea ecosystem. I cannot wait to learn more about pollock ecology and see how scientists assess the size and health of pollock populations and, therefore, the sustainability of the fishery.
This blog will record my time at sea aboard the Oscar Dyson, but my intent with this first entry is to introduce myself and share a little about my background in teaching. My nearly ten-year career in education has included teaching secondary science in St. Lucie County, Florida, as well as coordinating that school district’s science curriculum, instruction, and assessment as the K-12 Science Curriculum Supervisor. Since moving to Hawai’i, I have taught middle school science (grades 6-8) at Star of the Sea School and served as the school’s Assistant Principal. Working with middle school students is my passion, for I love their energy and curiosity!
I have always valued experiential learning, whether in the lab or in the field. Here on O’ahu, I enrich my curricula with the unique natural and cultural resources our island provides. One of the projects I am most proud of was a collaboration with the Hawai’i Nature Center; together, we facilitated a yearlong STEM program investigating the effects of climate change on Hawaii’s ecosystems called From Mauka to Makai: Understanding Climate Change in the Ahupua’a. This program included a mountain (mauka) stream study, a coastal (makai) study, and a final conservation project. This place-based program encouraged environmental stewardship. To read more about my teaching, please visit my website.
The ability to transition between the roles of student and teacher, often and with great enthusiasm, has facilitated my success as an educator. I consistently seek out opportunities for professional growth in order to best serve my students. My Teacher at Sea voyage will no doubt be one of those powerful learning opportunities. Doing science at sea is a unique challenge, and I am eager to join the ship’s community and contribute to our shared mission. Indeed, my next blog entry will be from aboard the Oscar Dyson, when I am immersed in the current methods and technologies of fisheries science. For now, I will concentrate on researching previous NOAA pollock surveys, packing plenty of layers to keep me warm, and preparing for this adventure.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Nikki Durkan Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson June 11 – 30, 2015
Mission: Midwater Assessment Conservation Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: Sunday, June 21, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind speed (knots): 13.01
Sea Temp (deg C): 10.45
Air Temp (deg C): 9.46
Meet: Patrick Ressler PhD, Chief Scientist on board the Oscar Dyson
Employed by: Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering Division
Alaska Fisheries Science Center, NMFS, NOAA
Hails from: Seattle, Washington
What are your main responsibilities as Chief Scientist? As chief scientist I’m responsible for the scientific mission and for the scientific party. In terms of the science, it’s my job to make sure that everything that needs to happen does happen, before as well as during the cruise, and that the scientists have positive and productive interactions with each other and with the ship’s crew. Some of the decisions that need to be made are scientific or technical, some are logistical, some are managerial. Though I don’t and can’t do all of the different jobs myself, I need to have some understanding of all the elements of our survey work and research projects, and pay attention to the ‘big picture’ of how it all fits together. I am also the main line of communication between the scientific party and the ship (principally the captain), and between our scientific party and the lab back onshore.
What do you enjoy about your profession? Science involves a great deal of creativity and collaboration. The creativity comes into play when designing a study and also when problem solving; complications always arise in research, and it is part of Patrick’s job to address the issue or know who to ask to assist in overcoming the obstacle. He also enjoys doing literature reviews because the process involves more than data collection and meta-analysis; the studies tell stories in a way, scientists leave clues about their interests, bias, and even personalities in their pursuit of research topics.
Do you eat fish? Yes! — Patrick uses the seafood guide when making decisions about purchases and eats salmon often. He smokes his own fish and looks forward to cooking at home with his wife and two children.
Science and Technology Log
Fish heads and more fish heads: Once on board, the fish are sorted by species and we then determine length, weight, sex, and gonad development for the Pollock. The next step is to extract the otoliths, a calcium carbonate structure located in the skull that allows the fish to hear and provides orientation information. These small structures provide scientists with data on ages of the Pollock populations and environmental fluctuations. Understanding how Pollock populations respond to stresses such as the pressures of commercial fishing operations or variations in prey availability, help fisheries managers make informed decisions when setting quotas each year.
These structures are analogous to the human ear bones; the otoliths allow the fishes to determine horizontal and vertical acceleration (think of the feeling you experience while moving up and down in an elevator). The otoliths pull on the hair cells, which stimulate an auditory nerve branch and relay back to the brain the position of the head relative to the body. A disturbance in this function is also why we humans experience motion sickness. Many of you may also be familiar with the growth rings of a tree and how scientists can measure the width of the rings to determine age and growth rate; similarly, each year, a fish will accumulate deposits on the otoliths that can be interpreted by scientists back in the lab. NOAA has a neat program you can try: Age Reading Demonstration. My co-Teacher at Sea (Vinny Colombo) and I will be bringing back samples to use in our classrooms!
For some species, the information gathered from these otoliths can also be used to infer characteristics about the environment in which the fish travels. Climate scientists use similar data from trees, ice cores, coral reef cores, and sediment deposits to produce geochemical records used in modeling paleoclimates and projecting future changes in climate. Likewise, the otoliths contain a geochemical record because the calcium carbonate and trace metals correlate with water samples from certain areas. Scientists can then ascertain the otolith’s chemical fingerprint using a mass spectrometer and uncover information on the fishes’ spawning grounds and migration routes. In some cases, these data are even used to establish marine protected areas.
I have great appreciation for the hard work the crew puts in on a daily basis and am thankful for the humor they continue to provide! I’ve seen more than a few impressions of overly stuffed Puffins and fish faces, shared laughs while Rico pulls fish scales out of my hair, danced to Persian pop songs, and continued to laugh at the ridiculously overused puns in the Bridge. Humor is vitally important out here! The ship operates 24 hours a day and shifts are long, with spurts of demanding physical labor. A lot of coffee is consumed on board and the Oscar Dyson even has a fancy espresso machine! Sadly, I figured out early on that coffee makes me quite nauseated on board. I am a firm believer in the health benefits of coffee and thanks to John Morse (a fellow teacher at Steamboat Mountain School), I have accumulated many scientific articles to back up my claims; however, in this case I had no choice, and after a few headaches, I am free from the bean addiction…for now!
Did you know? In the event of a power failure, the Oscar Dyson is equipped with sound powered phones – the sound pressure created when a person speaks into the transmitter creates a voltage over a single wire pair that is then converted into sound at the receiver – no electricity necessary!
Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind speed (knots): 13.47
Sea Temp (deg C): 8.55
Air Temp (deg C): 9
Science and Technology Log
The sound of fishes.
What are we doing here off the coast of the Aleutian Islands? Listening…sort of. We are collecting data used to estimate biomass (total amount of living matter in a given habitat) and to project population estimates for the Walleye Pollock Gadus chalcogrammus fishery.
How do we do this? In order to understand the instruments we are utilizing, I’ll attempt a simple but not completely accurate analogy: if I bounce a basketball on a cement driveway – it could bounce back with enough energy to hit me in the face (I’m not saying this has happened to me); however, if instead, I bounce the ball down onto a grassy lawn, the ball will barely bounce back up. Different materials reflect energy back with different frequencies and the picture this information translates to on a computer monitor is called an echogram:
The Oscar Dyson has several scientific echosounders (EK60, EK80, and ME70) with transducers attached to our hull that send out energy at various frequencies. As we travel along the transects (mostly perpendicular to the island chain) we are collecting these acoustic data. The fish species produce a different pattern on the echogram and the swimbladder (full of air) makes them show up clearly; scientists have been studying the Walleye Pollock for a while now and have a pretty good idea of what Walleye Pollock “look” like on an echogram. Sometimes the scientists observe an echogram that they are not certain about or want to verify characteristics such as length, weight, and age for an area – this means we get to fish!
The process began with a bit of dancing to Macklemore and Gangnam Style (thanks, Alyssa Pourmonir for providing the playlist!). Music makes every task more enjoyable! I learned how to sex a fish and cut its skull open to pull out the otoliths (calcium carbonate structures located behind the brain that can be used to estimate age and growth rate) – more on this process to come! Given that I spent the majority of my childhood as a vegetarian and maintained aspirations of becoming a veterinarian and saving the lives of animals, today was a gigantic step in another direction. I could not help but feel remorse as I sliced into the bellies of the fish and splayed them open to reveal the ovaries or testis. As a newbie, I was quite a bit slower than my coworkers, but after about 30 fish, I started to hesitate less often and verify the gonads more quickly. If any of you have spent time fishing with me, you’ll know that I enjoy the chase, but avoid handling the fish once they are on board, I’ve even been known to utter an impulsive “uh oh” when I catch a fish. I am pretty sure that after this trip, I’ll be comfortable filleting…no guarantees on my casting skills.
Did you know? Killer whales are the most widely distributed marine mammal and live in matriarchal societies. I’ve been enjoying watching these whales from the bridge!
“Whatever,” you shrug.
“Just a fish,” you scorn.
“He’s slimy and has fish for brains,” you mock.
Well, what if I told you that guy there was worth almost one billion dollars in exports alone?
What if I told you that thousands of fishermen rely on this guy to provide for their families?
What if I told you that they were the heart of the Sub-Arctic food web, and that dozens of species would be threatened if they were to disappear?
What if I told you they were all secretly trained ninja fish? Ninja fish that carry ninja swords strapped to their dorsal fins?
Then I’d only be wrong about one thing.
Taina Honkalehto is the Chief Scientist onboard the Oscar Dyson. She has been studying Pollock for the last 22 years. I asked her what was so important about the fish.
“They’re the largest single species fishery in North America,” Taina says. That makes them top dog…err… fish… in the U.S. fishing industry.
“In the U.S. they are fish sticks and fish-wiches (like Filet-o-Fish from McDonalds). They’ve become, foodwise, what Cod used to be… inexpensive, whitefish protein,” Taina continues. They’re also the center of the sub-arctic food web. Seals, walruses, orca, sea lions, and lots of larger fish species rely on Pollock as an energy source.”
But they aren’t just important for America. Pollock plays an important role in the lives of people from all over the Pacific Rim. (Remember that the Pacific Rim is made up of all the countries that surround the Pacific Ocean… from the U.S. and Canada to Japan to Australia to Chile!)
“Pollock provide a lot of important fish products to many countries, including the U.S., Japan, China, Korea, and Russia,” Honkalehto says.
Making sure we protect Pollock is REALLY important. To know what can go wrong, we only have to look at the Atlantic Cod, the fish that Cape Cod was named after. In the last twenty years, the number of Atlantic Cod has shrunk dramatically. It’s cost a lot of fishermen their jobs and created stress in a number of families throughout New England as well as tensions between the U.S. and Canada. The U.S. and Canada share fish populations.
The primary job of the Oscar Dyson is to sample the Pollock population. Government officials use the results to tell fishermen what their quota should be. A quota is a limit on the number of fish you can catch. The way we gather that data, though, can be a little gross.
The Aleutian Wing Trawl (or AWT)
The fishermen guide the massive Aleutian Wing Trawl (or AWT) onto the deck of the ship. The AWT is a 150 meters long net (over one and a half football fields in length) that is shaped like an ice cream cone. The net gets more and more narrow until you get all the way down to the pointy tip. This is known as the “cod end,” and it’s where most of the fish end up. Here’s a diagram that XO (Executive Officer) Kris Mackie was kind enough to find for me.
The AWT is then hooked onto a crane which empties it on a giant mechanical table. The table has a hydraulic lift that lets us dump fish into the wet lab.
Kids, whenever you hear the term “wet lab,” I don’t want you to think of a water park. Wet lab is going to mean guts. Guts and fish parts.
In the wet lab, the contents of the net spills onto a conveyer belt… sort of like what you see at Shaw’s or Market Basket. First we sift through the Pollock and pull any odd things… jellyfish, skates, etc… and set them aside for measurement. Then it’s time to find out what sex the Pollock are.
Genitals on the Inside!
Pollock go through external fertilization (EF). That means that the female lays eggs, and the males come along and fertilize them with their sperm. Because of that, there’s no need for the outside part of the sex organs to look any different. In science, we often say that form follows function. In EF, there’s very little function needed other than a hole for the sperm or egg cells to leave the body.
Because of that, the only way to tell if a Pollock is male or female is to cut them open and look for ovaries and testes. This is a four step process.
Step 1: Slice open the belly of the fish.
Step 2: Push the pink, flippy floppy liver aside.
Step 3: Look for a pair of lobes (a bag like organ) that is either purple, pink, or orange-ish. These are the ovaries! If you find this, you’ve got a female.
Step 4: If you strike out on step 3, look for a thin black line that runs behind the stomach. These are the testes… As Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan might say, you’ve got male.
Then the gender and length of the fish is then recorded using CLAMS… a software program that NOAA computer scientists developed for just this purpose. With NOAA, like any good science program, it’s all about attention to detail. These folks take their data very seriously, because they know that so many people depend on them to keep the fish population safe.
On the first day aboard the Oscar Dyson, we were trained on all matters of safety. Safety on a ship is often driven by sirens sounded by the bridge. Here’s a list of calls, what they mean, and what you should do when you hear them:
What you hear…
What it means…
What you should do…
Three long blasts of the alarm:
Man Over Board
Report to safety station, be counted, and report in to the bridge (unless you’re the one that saw the person go overboard… then you throw them life rings (floaties) and keep pointing at them).
One long blast of general alarm or ship’s whistle:
Fire or Emergency onboard
Report to safety station, be counted, and report in to the bridge. Bring Immersion Suit just in case.
Six or more short blasts then one long blast of the alarm:
Grab your immersion suit, head to the aft (back) deck of the ship, be counted, and prepare to board a life raft.
The immersion suit (the thing that makes me look like lobster gumby, above) is made of thick red neoprene. It has two flashing lights also known as beacons… one of them automatically turns on when it hits water! This helps rescuers find you in case you’re lost in the dark. It also has an inflatable pillow behind your head to help keep your head above water. Mostly just wanted to wear it to Starbucks some day.
Another thing I can tell you about life aboard the Oscar Dyson is that there is plenty to eat!
kind of awesome. For one thing, there is a never ending supply of food in the galley (the ship’s cafeteria). Eva is the Chief Steward on the Oscar Dyson (though I call her the Head Chef!).
You’ll never go hungry on her ship. Dinner last night? barbeque ribs and mac and cheese. Yesterday’s lunch? Steak and chicken fajitas. And this morning? Breakfast burritos with ham and fruit. I know. You were worried that if I lost any weight at sea that I might just disappear. I can confirm for you that this is absolutely not going to happen.
Tune in next time when I take you on a tech tour of the Oscar Dyson!
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska Date: 8/8/13
Weather Data from the Bridge (as of 17:00 Alaska Time): Wind Speed: 15.72 knots
Temperature: 13.4 C
Barometric Pressure: 1012.1 mb
Science and Technology Log:
We came. We fished. We measured, counted and weighed. Now What? We completed one last trawl on Tuesday night (August 6th). When we finished we had caught over 65,000 walleye pollock and a whole lot of POP (Pacific ocean perch) on this leg of the survey.
The scientists now process and analyze the data.
Darin and Patrick will present at a public meeting when we are back in Kodiak on Friday. They will discuss what was seen and preliminary findings of the walleye pollock survey. Back in Seattle the MACE team will further evaluate the data along with data from the bottom trawl survey and determine the walleye pollock biomass for the Gulf of Alaska. This will then be taken under advisement by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
There is also the lab to clean. Even though we cleaned the lab after each trawl, it needed a good scrub down. There were scales and slime hidden everywhere. Just when you thought you were done, more scales were discovered.
Did You Know?
The note on the white board stated that there will be beam seas tonight. What does that really mean? It means the waves are moving in a direction roughly 90° from our heading. So the water will be hitting us at a right angle to our keel. It will be a rocking boat tonight.
Darin took a sample of the salmon shark’s fin when we caught it. It will be sent to a scientist in Juneau who works at Auke Bay Laboratories (where Jodi works). The sample will be used to examine the population genetics of the salmon shark and other species such as the Pacific sleeper shark.
In my first blog, I wrote about a childhood dream of becoming an oceanographer. After my third year of teaching in the Peace Corps, I decided education was my new direction. I was excited to taste that bygone dream aboard the Oscar Dyson. How do I feel now? I jokingly sent an email to my assistant principal telling her to look for a new science teacher because I love life at sea. I love collecting data in the field. Although I was not responsible for analyzing the data and I do miss my boys, I had an awesome cruise. So where does that leave me?
It leaves me back in the classroom with an amazing sea voyage experience to share with my students. I will always long for that oceanographic career that could have been. But perhaps after my experience, I will inspire future oceanographers and fisheries scientists. And I would do Teacher at Sea again in a heartbeat. I will follow up with the outcomes and biomass estimates from MACE (Mid-Water Assessment & Conservation Engineering) and I will most definitely follow Jodi’s research on the use of multibeam sonar for seafloor mapping.
I want to say thank you to everyone who made my experience one of the best of my life and definitely the best professional development of my career. Thank you to Jennifer Hammond, Elizabeth McMahon, Jennifer Annetta, Emily Susko and Robert Ostheimer for the opportunity to participate in the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program. Thank you to NOAA for developing a practical and realistic opportunity to connect my students to ocean science. Thank you to the science team (Chief Scientist Patrick Ressler, Darin Jones, Paul Walline, Jodi Pirtle, Kirsten Simonsen, and Abigale McCarthy) aboard the Oscar Dyson for their willingness to train me, answer all of my questions, preview my blogs, and to allow me have a glimpse of their lives as scientists. Thank you to Patrick Ressler and XO Chris Skapin for promptly providing feedback on my blogs. And a special thanks to the night shift crew (Jodi, Paul and Darin). I was very nervous about adjusting to my work hours (4 pm to 4 am) especially after falling asleep that first night, but I am very grateful for colleagues who were fascinating and night-time enjoyable. Chats with everyone aboard the Oscar Dyson from fishermen to NOAA Corps to engineers to stewards to scientists were educational and pleasant. I met lots of people from all over the U.S. and some just from Newport (2 hours from Eugene).
WOW. How fortunate was I to be chosen? I am nearly speechless about what I saw and what I did. What a mind blowing three weeks. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!
Now I begin the transition of living during daylight hours.