Marsha Lenz: Celebrating Science and the Solstice, June 21, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Marsha Lenz

Aboard Oscar Dyson

June 8-28, 2017

Mission: MACE Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 21, 2017

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Though modern technology is used daily, one can still find traditional charting tools on the Bridge.

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 55 15.0 N

Longitude: 160 06.7 W

Time: 1300

Visibility: 10 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: VAR

Wind Speed: LT

Sea Wave Height: <1 foot

Barometric Pressure: 1003.4 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 9.8°C

Air Temperature: 7.0°C

Science and Technology Log

            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.

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Abigail enjoys singing to the fish.

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!

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This is a pollock!

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.

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!).

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Personal Log

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!

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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!

 

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

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Marsha Lenz

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 8–28, 2017

 

Mission:Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 14, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 53 24.35 N

Longitude: 166 58.2 W

Time: 0700

Visibility: 8 Nautical Miles

Wind Direction: 095

Wind Speed: 25 Knots

Sea Wave Height: 7-9 foot swell

Barometric Pressure: 1003.4 Millibars

Sea Water Temperature: 7.2°C

Science and Technology Log

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

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

 

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

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The DropCam took images of life on the ocean floor.

 

 

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Personal Log

Monday, June 12

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

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

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We spent many hours sewing the straps onto the sling.

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

Tuesday, June 13

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

Animals (And Other Cool Things) Seen Today

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

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

 

Did You Know?

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

Interview with ENS Caroline Wilkinson

What is your title aboard this ship?

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

How long have you been working with the NOAA Corps?

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

What sparked your interest in working for them?

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

What are some of the highlights of your job?

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

What are some of challenging parts of your job?

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

How much training did you go through?

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

What are your main job responsibilities?

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

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

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

 

Virginia Warren: CLAMS and Trawls March 22, 2016

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):
Sky: Snow
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.

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Scale model of the Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT) net courtesy of NOAA Scientist Kresimir Williams (Source: TAS Melissa George)

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.

 

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

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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.

 

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CLAMS computer system with a touch screen.

 

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.

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This chart of the Maturity Scale for Walleye Pollock is hanging in the Wet Lab.

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Up-close of the Maturity Scale for female pollock.

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Up-close of the Maturity Scale for male pollock.

 

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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 Ichtystick was designed and built by MACE staff Rick Towler and Kresimir Williams who wrote a paper on it: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165783610001517

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.

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Ichtystick

Starry Flounder Length

Getting the length of the starry flounder using the Ichthystick.

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.

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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

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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!

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Ensign Caroline Wilkinson

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.
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Ensign Caroline Wilkinson at the helm.

 

Personal Log:
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.

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Panoramic view of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson‘s Bridge. Look at all of those windows!

 

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.

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Arnold and Kimrie are the stewards of the Oscar Dyson.

 

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.

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Breakfast is served. YUM!!!

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!

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Ube ice cream made from yams! Very YUMMY!!!

 

There is even a place to do laundry on this ship, which I was very happy about because fishy clothes can get pretty stinky!

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Laundry Room

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.

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Andrea Schmuttermair: Farewell, Kodiak, July 25, 2015

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.

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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.

 

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.

Personal Log

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.

The fearless navigators of the Oscar Dyson and I on our final day.

The fearless navigators of the Oscar Dyson and me on our final day.

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!

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Cristina Veresan, Teacher (soon to be) at Sea, July 7, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Cristina Veresan
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

Introduction

Aloha from Hawai'i!

Aloha from Hawai’i!

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.

Walleye Pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus).  photo courtesy of NOAA

Walleye Pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus). Photo courtesy of NOAA

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!

Cristina Veresan loves working with middle school students

I love working with middle school students! Photo by E. Johnson

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.

Conducting a coastal study with students in Hawai'i Kai

Conducting a coastal study with students. Photo by Raphael Ritson-Williams

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.

Mahalo for reading!

The Pacific Ocean as seen from Malaekahana Beach. I will have a different view soon!

The Pacific Ocean as seen from Malaekahana Beach. I will have a different view soon!

Nikki Durkan: Fish Heads and Otoliths, June 21, 2015

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

Career Highlight

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

Fun in the fish lab!  Happy Father's Day, Patrick!

Fun in the fish lab! Happy Father’s Day, Patrick!

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.

Vinny (TAS) and Emily Collins bringing in the catch of the day.

Vinny (my co-TAS) and Emily Collins bringing in the catch of the day.

Otolith extraction - the head incision is made just in front of the operculum (gill covering)…not my favorite part of the day, but as close as I’ll ever get to be a surgeon.

Otolith extraction – the head incision is made just in front of the operculum (gill covering)…not my favorite part of the day, but as close as I’ll ever get to be a surgeon.

 

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.

 

Pollock otolith

Pollock otolith

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!

My cod-face with a Cod that tried to swallow a Pollock. Photo credit:  Patrick Ressler

My cod-face with a Cod that tried to swallow a Pollock. Photo credit: Patrick Ressler

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.

Personal Log

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!

Trying out the engine room sound powered phone

 

 

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!

Nikki Durkan: The sound of…fishes! June 17, 2015

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: Wednesday, June 17, 2015

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.

Transects we fish are the lines somewhat perpendicular to the islands.

Transects we fish are perpendicular to the islands.

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:

Red - seafloor Bluish dots above - fishes!

Red – seafloor
Bluish dots above – fishes!

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!

 

Me learning to measure the length of a Pollock.  Photo Credit:  Patrick Ressler

Me learning to measure the length of a ~3 yr Pollock. Photo Credit: Patrick Ressler

Personal Log

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.

We unintentionally caught a salmon shark but the crew was able to return it safely!

We unintentionally caught a salmon shark but the crew was able to return it to the ocean safely!

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!