Jenny Smallwood: From Jellies to Worms, September 21, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Smallwood

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

September 4 – 17, 2017

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)

to this….

(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.

Personal Log

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.

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The view from Captain’s Bay near Dutch Harbor, Alaska before a big storm blew in.

 

Jenny Smallwood: Rough Seas Asea, September 13, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jenny Smallwood

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

September 4 – 17, 2017

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: September 13, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 55 06.6N
Longitude:158 39.5W
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.

weather

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.

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The evaporator in action.

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.

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I even got to see the prop shaft.

Personal Log

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.

Jenny Smallwood: Can I borrow a cup of sugar? September 8, 2017

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
Clear skies
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.

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.

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Year 0 Walleye Pollock

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.

Personal Log
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?IMG_20170908_210337

 

Jenny Smallwood: WWE at Sea, September 5, 2017

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
Clear skies
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.

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Here’s one of the whales we saw while cruising to our first station site. Photo courtesy of Jim McKinney

 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.

Stauffer Trawl Sorting

The science team and survey tech sort a pile of jellies and fish. *Caution! Watch out for flying jellyfish!*

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*

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We caught a cool looking smooth lumpsucker fish.

 

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Here I am holding the smooth lumpsucker.

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.

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The deck crew and survey tech bring in the bongo nets.

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.

Personal Log
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.

 

 

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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