Phil Moorhouse: Look What the Net Dragged In! September 12, 2019

Pavlof Volcano

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Phil Moorhouse

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 27 – September 15, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations.

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak – Aleutian Islands)

Date: September 12, 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


Science and Technology Log

Well, we only have a few days left on this trip and it looks like mother nature is going to force us to head for Dutch Harbor a little early.  I thought this might be a good time to spend some time sharing some information on some of the species we have been pulling out of the ocean.  This is far from a complete list, but just the ones that made “the cut”.

At the top of the list has to be the Pollock.  After all, this is the primary objective of this study.  On the left is an adult three-year-old pollock and on the right is an age-0 pollock.  The sampling of age-0 pollocks is a good indicator of the abundance of the future population.

There were several species of salmon caught on our trawls.  On the left is a Coho Salmon and on the right is a Pink Salmon.  These fish are very similar, but are classified as separately Coho Salmon are larger and have larger scales.  Coho also has a richer, fuller flavor with darker red meat while the Pink Salmon has a milder flavor and a softer texture.

zooplankton
Another important part of this survey is the collection and measurement of zooplankton as this is a primary food source and the amount and health of the zooplankton will have a lasting impact on the ecology of the fish population in the area.
capelin
Capelin is another common fish caught in our trawls. This fish eats krill and other crustaceans and in turn is preyed upon by whales, seals, cod, squid, and seabirds.
Pacific Saury
The Pacific Saury was a fish that wasn’t expected to be found in our trawls. Also called the knifefish, this species always seemed to be found in substantial quantities when they were collected – as if the trawl net came across a school of them. They are found in the top one meter of the water column.
Prowfish
The Prowfish was another interesting find. This fish is very malleable and slimy. Adults tend to stay close to the ocean floor while young prowfish can be found higher up in the water column where they feed on jellyfish. As with the saury, the prowfish was not kept for future study. It was weighed, recorded, and returned to the water.

Jellyfish were abundant on our hauls.  Here are the five most common species that we found. 

bubble jellyfish
The Bubble Jellyfish, Aequorea sp., is clear with a rim around it. This jellyfish is fragile and most of them are broken into pieces by the time we get them from the trawl net and onto the sorting table.
moon jellyfish
The Moon Jellyfish, Aurelia labiata, is translucent and when the sun or moon shines on them, they look like the moon all lit up.
white cross jellyfish
The White Cross Jellyfish, Staurophora mertensi, was another mostly clear jelly that was very fragile. Very few made it to the sorting table in one piece. You have to look close it is so clear, but they can be identified by their clear bell with a distinctive X across the top of the bell.
Lion's mane jellyfish
The Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, Cyanea capillata, are the largest known species of jellyfish. These guys can become giants. They are typically a crimson red but could appear faded to a light brown.
sunrise jellyfish
The Sunrise Jellyfish, Chrysaora melanaster, was the most common jelly that we found. It is also arguably the least fragile. Almost all made it to the sorting table intact where they were counted, weighed, recorded, and returned to the water. It lives at depths of up to 100 meters, where it feeds on copepods, larvaceans, small fish, zooplankton, and other jellyfish.
arrowtooth flounder
Arrowtooth flounder are a relatively large, brownish colored flatfish with a large mouth. Just one look at its mouth and you can tell how it got its name. Their eyes migrate so that they are both on the right side and lie on the ocean floor on their left side.
Eulachon
Eulachons, sometimes called candlefish, were another common find on the sorting table. Throughout recent history, eulachons have been harvested for their rich oil. Their name, candlefish, was derived from it being so fat during spawning that if caught, dried, and strung on a wick, it can be burned as a candle. They are also an important food source for many ocean and shore predators.
vermilion rockfish
The Vermilion Rockfish – This guy was the only non-larval rockfish that we caught. Most can be found between the Bering Sea and Washington State.

While the Smooth Lumpsucker is significantly larger than the Spiny Lumpsucker, both have unique faces.  The Smooth Lumpsucker is also found in deeper water than the smaller Spiny Lumpsucker.

Most of the squid caught and recorded were larval.  Here are a couple of the larger ones caught in a trawl.

There were a variety of seabirds following us around looking for an easy meal.  The Black-footed Albatross on the right was one of several that joined the group one day.

Pavlof Volcano
And of course, I couldn’t leave out the great view we got of Pavlof Volcano! Standing snow capped above the clouds at 8,251 feet above sea level, it is flanked on the right by Pavlof’s Sister. Pavlof last erupted in March of 2016 and remains with a threat of future eruptions considered high. Pavlof’s Sister last erupted in 1786. This picture was taken from 50 miles away.


Personal Log

In keeping with the admiration I have for the scientists and crew I am working with, I will continue here with my interview with Rob Suryan. 

Robert Suryan is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Scientist. He is currently a Research Ecologist and Auke Bay Laboratories, Science Coordinator, working on the Gulf Watch Alaska Long-term Ecosystem Monitoring Program.

How long have you been working with NOAA?  What did you do before joining NOAA?

One and a half years.  Prior to that, I was a professor at Oregon State University

Where do you do most of your work?

In the Gulf of Alaska

What do you enjoy about your work?

I really enjoy giving presentations to the general public, where we have to describe why we are conducting studies and results to an audience with a non-science background. It teaches you a lot about messaging! I also like working with writers, reporters, and journalists in conducting press releases for our scientific publications. I also use Twitter for science communication.

Why is your work important?

Having detailed knowledge about our surroundings, especially the natural environment and the ocean. Finding patterns in what sometimes seems like chaos in natural systems. Being able to provide answers to questions about the marine environment.

How do you help wider audiences understand and appreciate NOAA science?

I provide information and expertise to make well informed resource management decisions, I inform the general public about how our changing climate if affecting marine life, and I train (and hopefully inspire) future generations of marine scientists

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science an ocean career?

During middle school

What tool do you use in your work that you could not live without?

Computer! So much of our instrumentation and sampling equipment are controlled by software interfaces. Also, much of my research involves data assimilation, analysis, creating graphs, and writing scientific papers. Although, at the very beginning of my career, most of our data collection was hand written, as were our scientific papers before typing the final version with a typewriter. So glad those days are gone!

If you could invent one tool to make your work easier, what would it be?

For in the office: a computer program that would scan all of my emails, extract the important info that I need to know and respond to, and populate my calendar with meetings/events. For the field: a nano-power source that provided unlimited continuous power for instruments AND global cell phone or wireless connectivity.

What part of your job with NOAA did you least expect to be doing?

I joined NOAA later in my career and had collaborated with NOAA scientists for many years, so everything was what I expected for the most part.

What classes would you recommend for a student interested in a career in Marine Science?

Biology, math, chemistry, and physics are good foundation courses. If you have an opportunity to take a class in marine biology at your school or during a summer program, that would be ideal. But keep in mind that almost any field of study can be involved in marine science; including engineering, economics, computer science, business, geology, microbiology, genetics, literature, etc.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for a student exploring ocean or science as a career option?

I originally studied wildlife biology before marine science and one of my favorite books initially was A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold. For marine biology, I would recommend The Log from the Sea of Cortez, by John Steinbeck.

What do you think you would be doing if you were not working for NOAA?

I would probably work at a university again – I was a professor at Oregon State University before working for NOAA.

Do you have any outside hobbies?

Pretty much any type of outdoor adventure, most frequently kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, camping, and beachcombing with my family and our dogs.

Callie Harris: Jellyfish Landslide, August 15, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13 – 26, 2019


Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 8/15/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 57° 16.15 N
Longitude: 152 ° 30.38 W
Wind Speed: 6.53 knots
Wind Direction: 182°
Air Temperature: 17.1°C
Sea Temperature: 15°C
Barometric Pressure: 1026 mbar


Science and Technology Log

Now that we have been out to sea for 3 days, I can better describe what my 12 hour ‘work shift’ is like. We average about three stations (i.e. research locations) per shift. Each ‘station’ site is predetermined along a set transect.

transect map of stations
Transect Map of all of our tentative stations to survey (red dots). Image credit: Matt Wilson

Before we can put any scientific equipment in the water, we have to get the all clear that there are no marine mammals sighted within 100 yards of the boat. I was thrilled yesterday and today that we had to temporarily halt our survey because of Humpback Whales and Harbor Porpoises in the area. I rushed from the scientific deck up to the bridge to get a better look. Today, we saw a total of 6 Humpback Whales, one of which was a newborn calf. Chief Electronics Technician Rodney Terry explained to me that you can identify the calf because the mother often times pushes the calf up to help it breach the surface to breathe. We observed one tall and one short breathe ‘spout’ almost simultaneously from the mother and calf respectively.

humpback whale spout
Humpback Whale breath spout off of bow.

Once we arrive at each station, we must put on all of our safety equipment before venturing out on the deck. We are required to wear steel-toed boots, a life preserver, and hardhat at all times. On scientific vessels, one must constantly be aware that there is machinery (A frames, booms, winches, etc.) moving above you overhead to help raise and lower the equipment in the water. We survey each station using bongo nets, a midwater trawl, and sometimes a CTD device. In future posts, I will go more into detailed description of what bongo nets and a CTD device entail. This post I want to focus on my favorite survey method: the midwater trawl, aka the ‘jellyfish landslide.’

A midwater trawl (aka a pelagic trawl) is a type of net fishing at a depth that is higher in the water column than the bottom of the ocean. We are using a type of midwater trawl known as a Stauffer trawl which has a cone shaped net that is spread by trawl doors.

trawl net
Trawl net aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

One of the survey’s goals over the next two weeks is to assess the number of age-0 Walleye Pollock (aka Alaskan Pollock.) These juvenile fish hatched in April/May of this year. As NOAA Scientist Dr. Lauren Rogers, my fellow shift mate, explains, this population of fish species tends to naturally ebb and flow over the years. Fisheries management groups like NOAA study each ‘year class’ of the species (i.e. how many fish are hatched each year).

Typically, pollock year classes stay consistent for four to five years at a time. However, every so often management notes an ‘explosion year’ with a really large year class. 2012 was one of these such years. Hence in 2013, scientists noted an abundance of age-1 pollock in comparison to previous years. Based on the data collected so far this season (2019), scientists are hypothesizing that 2018 was also one of these ‘explosive’ years based on the number of age-1 pollock we are observing in our trawl net samples. It is extremely important scientists monitor these ebbs and flows in the population closely to help set commercial limits. Just because there is a rapid increase in the population size one year doesn’t mean commercial quotas should automatically increase since the population tends to level itself back out the next year.

If you have ever gone fishing before, you probably quickly realized just because you want to catch a certain species doesn’t mean you are going to get it. That is why I have nicknamed our midwater trawl samples, “The jellyfish landslide.” After the trawl net is brought back onto the deck, the catch is dumped into a large metal bin that empties onto a processing table. I learned the hard way on our late night trawl that you must raise the bin door slowly or else you will have a slimy gooey landslide of jellies that overflows all over everywhere. At least we all got a good laugh at 11:15 at night (3:15AM Florida time).

Jellyfish Landslide
Jellyfish landslide! (I’m desperately trying to stop them from falling over the edge.) Photo credit: Lauren Rogers.
jellyfish landslide thumbs up
Jellyfish landslide, managed. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers

Once on the processing table, we sort each species (fish, jelly, invertebrate, etc.) into separate bins to be counted and weighed. Each fish specimen’s fork length is also measured on the Ichthystick.

Measuring fork length
Measuring fork length of pollock.

We then label, bag, and freeze some of the fish specimens to bring back for further study by NOAA scientists in the future. There is a very short time window that scientists have the ability to survey species in this area due to weather, so each sample collected is imperative.

Callie and salmon
Our first salmon catch in the trawl. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers.


Personal Log

This experience is nothing short of amazing. Upon arriving in Kodiak on Sunday, I got to spend the next two days on land with my fellow NOAA scientists setting up the boat and getting to know these inspiring humans. Everyone on the boat, scientists and the Oscar Dyson crew, are assigned a 12 hour shift. Therefore, you may not ever see half of your other ship mates unless it is at the changing of a shift or a safety drill. I did thoroughly enjoy the abandon ship safety drill yesterday where we had to put on our survival (nicknamed the orange Gumby) suits as quickly as possible.

Survival Suit Practice.
Survival Suit Practice. Photo credit: Lauren Rogers

Everyone has been commenting that I brought Key West here to Alaska. The last three days at sea have been absolutely beautiful — sunny, warm, and calm seas. I am sure I am going to regret saying that out loud, haha. At the end of my work shift, I am beat so I am beyond thrilled to curl up in my bunk for some much needed rest. Yes, it does finally get dark here around 10:30PM. I was told we might be lucky enough to see the Northern Lights toward the final days of our survey. I am also getting very spoiled by having three delicious homemade meals (and dessert J) cooked a day by Chief Steward Judy. That is all for now, we have another trawl net full of fun that is about to be pulled back onto the deck.


Did You Know?

NOAA CORPS Officer LT Laura Dwyer informed me of the ‘marine mammal’ protocol aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Scientists must temporary halt research collection if any marine mammal (i.e. a Humpback Whale, porpoise, orca, seal, etc.) is within 100 yards or less of the vessel; if a North Pacific Right Whale is within 500 yards; or if a polar bear (yes you read that correctly) is within half a mile on land or ice.


Challenge Yourself

Do you know how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit? You take the temperature in Celsius and multiply it by 1.8, then add 32 degrees. So today’s air temperature was 17°C and the sea temperature 15°C. Therefore, what were today’s temperatures in Fahrenheit? Answers will be posted in my next blog.

Jessica Cobley: Not Just Fishing, August 1, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Jessica Cobley

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 19 – August 8, 2019


Mission: Midwater Trawl Acoustic Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (Kodiak to Yakutat Bay)

Date: 8/1/2019

Weather Data from the Gulf of Alaska: Lat: 59º 18.59’ N Long: 146º 06.18W 

Air Temp:  14.8º C

Personal Log

We made it to Prince William Sound the other day, but I was asleep by the time we got all the way up. The part I did see, near the entrance, was pretty, but fog and clouds blocked the majority of the view. One of the beaches we attempted to fish by had what looked like an old red train car washed up on it. We wondered where it came from and how it got there!

Sunrise over Gulf of Alaska
Sunrise the day before we headed into Prince William Sound.

We are sailing the last few transects of the trip now and headed towards a small bay, called Broken Oar Bay, near Yakutat. Once we arrive, we need to calibrate the instruments used for collecting data and compare the results to the start of the trip. This will let the scientists know that their instruments are stable and making consistent measurements.

While calibrating we may have an opportunity to get a glimpse of the Hubbard Glacier at the head Yakutat Bay. The Hubbard Glacier is approximately 6 miles wide and when it calves, makes icebergs 3-4 stories tall. Fingers crossed we get to see it! 

On a side note, I have been drawing while on the boat. Here are some photos!

Jessica's sketch of a squid
One of the squids we caught… it was just a tiny little guy, about 2 cm.
Diagram of commercial fishing methods
Gus Beck, lead night fisherman, sat down with me yesterday and explained the main types of commercial fishing methods. Now I won’t get them mixed up.
Abigail's prowfish sketch
This is my favorite one! Abigail’s drawing of a prowl fish. They have the best facial expressions.


Science and Technology Log

The majority of my time has been spent above deck with the science and deck crews. Yesterday, I took the opportunity to head down below and learn some of the ways Oscar Dyson is kept running smoothly. 

Danielle and deck crew
Some of the deck crew that are responsible for putting the nets out. Danielle, one of our senior survey techs, is up top and controls the movement of the net.

There are several areas/rooms that hold different types of equipment below deck. One of the largest rooms is the engine room, where not 2 or 3, but 4 engines are located. At night, 2 of the engines are needed since the ship sails slowly for camera drops. During the day, when traveling along the transects and fishing, 3 engines are used. Engines 1 and 2 are larger with 12 cylinders and 3 and 4 are smaller with 8 cylinders. These engines are attached to generators. The engines give moving force to the generators, which they then convert into kilowatts/power and as a result, power everything on board. Also, I learned that the boat has at least 2 of every major piece of equipment, just in case!

Engineers Kyle and Evan
Two of the engineers, Kyle Mulkerin and Evan Brooks, who gave me a tour below deck. They are standing in front of engine #1.

The engine room also stores the water purification system, which Darin had mentioned to me the other day. He knew the ship converted seawater into potable water, but wasn’t exactly sure how the process worked. Here is a brief summary. 

  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. The water is then run through a chemical bromide solution to filter out any left over 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.
Evan's notes
Notes from Evan Brooks on how to convert seawater into potable water. I wish all my student’s notes were this neat and organized!

After the engine room, Kyle and Evan took me one level deeper into the lower engine room. There are a few other lower areas but, being a bit claustrophobic, I was happy we didn’t explore those. The lower engine room (or shaft alley) holds the large rotating shaft which connects directly to the propeller and moves the ship. It was neat to see! 

Jessica descends to lower engine room
Heading down into the lower engine area.

We rounded out the tour in a workshop that holds most of the tools on board. The engineers help fix things from engines to air conditioners to plumbing. This week I may even be able to see them do some welding work. 

Did you know? 

If a large piece of equipment needs to be replaced, they do not take it apart and lug it to the upper deck and off the boat. Instead, they cut a giant hole in the side of the ship and get the parts in and out that way. I had no idea!

Cheers, Jess 

Erica Marlaine: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! July 6, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 6, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 55º 4.07N
Longitude: 156º 42 W
Wind Speed: 3.2knots
Wind Direction: 96º
Air Temperature:  10.3º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1025.7. mb
Surface Water temperature: 11.05º Celsius
Depth of water column: 1,057.6 meters


If you love science and exploring, consider a career in the NOAA Corps!

NOAA Corps

The NOAA Corps is one of our nation’s seven uniformed services (along with the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Public Health Service Commissioned Officer Corps). NOAA Corps officers are an integral part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NOAA and the NOAA Corps can trace their lineage to 1807 when President Thomas Jefferson signed a bill for the “Survey of the Coast.” The survey work was done by Army and Naval officers along with civilian men and women. The Coast Survey was actually the first federal agency to hire female professionals! Their duties included charting our nation’s waterways and creating topographic maps of our shorelines, which made our marine highways among the best charted in the world.

Today, the NOAA Corps is an elite group of men and women trained in engineering, earth sciences, oceanography, meteorology, and fisheries science. NOAA is comprised of the National Weather Service, National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (NOAA Research), National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, National Ocean Service, and the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. NOAA Corps officers operate NOAA’s ships, fly aircraft, manage research projects, conduct diving operations, and serve in staff positions throughout NOAA.

NOAA Officer Spotlight

ENS Lexee Andonian
ENS Lexee Andonian

I had the opportunity to speak with Ensign (ENS) Lexee Andonian (although by the time this is published Ms. Andonian will have been selected for LTJG (Lieutenant junior grade)! ENS Andonian has been a member of NOAA Corps for almost 2 years, and loves her job, but it was not something she originally considered as a career (or even knew about). She first learned about NOAA while working at a rock climbing gym. A patron mentioned it to her, and offered to show her around a NOAA ship. She went home and googled NOAA. With her interest piqued, she decided to accept the patron’s offer, and went to Newport, Oregon to tour the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada (which is actually the sister ship of the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. A sister ship means they were based off the same blueprint and can serve similar projects.)

ENS Andonian applied for the NOAA Corps, but was waitlisted. NOAA is highly selective and accepts a very limited number of applicants (approximately 15-25 twice a year.) Undeterred, she applied for the next NOAA class, and was once again waitlisted, but this time she was accepted off the waitlist. After 5 months of training at the Coast Guard Academy, she was ready to begin her assignment onboard a NOAA ship, where additional hands-on training occurs non-stop. Each NOAA Corps member wears a multitude of “hats” while onboard. ENS Andonian is currently the Acting Operations Officer, the Navigation Officer, the Environmental Compliance Officer, and the Dive Officer. ENS Andonian loves that her job allows her to see unique places that many people never get to explore since they are not accessible by plane or car. Asked what she misses the most from home, she said, “Bettee Anne” (her dog).


Science and Technology Log

Today I was introduced to a few new species in the fish lab. Until now, most of the jellyfish have been Chrysaora melanasta, which are beautiful and can be quite large, but today I saw 2 egg yolk jellyfish, aptly named as they look like egg yolks.

Egg yolk jellyfish
Egg yolk jellyfish

I also saw a lumpsucker, which is the cutest fish I have ever seen. Lumpsuckers look like little balls of grey goo. He (or she) seemed to look right at me and kept opening and closing its mouth as if trying to say something. Lumpsuckers have a suction cup on their bottom which allows then to adhere to rocks or other surfaces.

Lumpsucker
Lumpsucker


Personal Log

As a teacher, I create experiences for my students that will take them out of their comfort zone so that they can realize just how much they are truly capable of. On the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, it is my turn to step outside my own comfort zone. If you would have told me a few months ago that I would feel comfortable being elbow-deep in live fish and jellyfish, or dissecting fish to see whether they are male or female, or slicing into a fish’s head to collect otoliths (ear bones), I would not have believed you, but that is how I spend every day onboard the Oscar Dyson, and after 2 weeks, it feels like something I have done all my life.  It is an experience I highly recommend to everyone!

Erica Marlaine: One Fish, Two Fish, June 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019


Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Kodiak Island, Alaska

Date: June 26, 2019


Weather Data from the Bridge:

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


Science Log

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.

AWT and LFS nets
The older AWT net is on the left. The newer LFS 1421 net is on the right.

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.

catch on the processing table
One catch on the processing table.

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.

Evan with plastic bin
Volunteer Biologist Evan Reeve with a pocket net bin.

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 in them.

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?


Personal Log

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.

Barometer Mountain
Barometer Mountain, Kodiak, Alaska

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.

NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
My home for the next three weeks!

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.

Erica Marlaine: Introduction

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 24 -July 15, 2019


Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: South Bering Sea, Alaska

Date: June 14, 2019

Hello! My name is Erica Marlaine, and in one week I will be flying to Alaska for the first time ever to spend three weeks aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.  I am a Special Education Preschool Teacher at Nevada Avenue Elementary School in West Hills, California.

Erica holding a stuffed lamb
Me at the Noah’s Ark Exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles

My students are 3-5 year olds who have a variety of special needs, such as autism, Down syndrome, and speech delays. They are fascinated by science experiments and nature, love to explore their surroundings with binoculars and magnifying glasses, and often notice the details in life that the rest of us walk right by. 

little scientist
One of my little scientists
magnifying glasses
Checking the growth of our tadpoles.

Like most 3-5 years olds, they are obsessed with whales, octopi, and of course, sharks. (If you don’t yet know the baby shark song, ask any preschooler you know to teach it to you.)

When I tell people (with much excitement) that I have been selected to be a NOAA Teacher at Sea, they ask “who will you be teaching?” thinking that there will be students onboard the ship.  I explain that in many ways, I will actually be both a Student at Sea and a Teacher at Sea. I will be learning from the scientists onboard the ship how to use acoustics as well as more traditional, hands-on methods to count Alaskan pollock in the Bering Sea, and exploring the issues oceanographers are most concerned or excited about.  Then, through blogging while onboard, and upon my return to the classroom, I will use this first-hand knowledge to create STEM projects involving oceanography that will help students see their connection to the ocean world, and instill in them a sense of stewardship and responsibility for the world around them. I am hopeful that these experiences will inspire more students at my school to choose a career in science, perhaps even with NOAA.

When I am not teaching, or taking classes for my administrative credential through the University of Southern California, or being involved with education policy through a fellowship with Teach Plus, I enjoy spending time with my husband and daughter, and apparently EATING Alaskan pollock. It turns out that the imitation crabmeat in the California rolls and crab salad that I eat quite often is actually Alaskan pollock.  We will see if catching them, looking them in the eye, and studying them, will make me more or less interested in eating them.


Emily Cilli-Turner: Catching Pollock with Mathematics! August 1, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emily Cilli-Turner

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 24 – August 11, 2018

 

Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date: August 1, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 61 55.41 N

Longitude: 172 48.34 W

Wind Speed: 2.24 knots

Wind Direction: 77.54 (NW)

Air Temperature: 9.7 C

Barometric Pressure: 998.8 mb

Visibility: 9 nautical miles

Sea Wave Height: 3 feet

Sky: Overcast

 

Science Log:

“When am I ever going to use this?”  This is the query of many students who are required to take mathematics courses.  However, scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson use mathematics every day as part of their job.  As discussed in a previous blog post, underwater acoustic data are collected as the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson navigates along the transects.  These backscatter data are relied upon to decide when to take trawling net samples as well as to estimate the number and biomass of pollock in the area.

How do these underwater acoustics work?  The answer can be found in mathematics and physics.  As previously discussed, echosounders affixed to a centerboard below the hull of the ship send an audible ping down into the water and measure how long it takes to bounce off of an object (like a pollock) and return to the surface. The echosounders know the transmitted signal power (denoted Pt) and measure the received signal power (denoted Pr).  Measuring the time between the signal transmission and reception and multiplying by the speed of sound (approximately 1450 m/s, given local water salinity and temperature conditions) will allow the calculation of distance of an object below the surface (or range denoted r). Using acoustics properties combined with known properties of pollock, we can get the equation for backscattering strength at a point as eqn1.png, where β is a constant and C(r) is a constant that is dependent on range.

However, since sound is measured in decibels which are arranged on a log scale, 10 times the log of both sides of the backscattering strength equation is desired.  Using logarithm rules, this becomes

eqn2

The value on the left-hand side of this equation is commonly referred to as target strength (TS) and is an important value to complete the survey.

The target strength is the amount of energy returned from a fish of a certain length.  Since the echosounders are transmitting through the water column below the ship, the TS values are converted to backscatter strength per volume unit of water, referred to in the literature as Sv.  The Sv values are graphed on the EK60 scientific echosounder, giving a picture similar to the one below.  Different colors in the output are matched to various ranges of Sv values.  An experienced fisheries scientist, like the ones aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, can use the echosign data to determine a possible picture of the ocean life below the ship.  While the EK60 scientific echosounder can transmit at five different frequencies (18 kHz, 38 kHz, 70 kHz, 120 kHz, and 200 kHz), the 38-kilohertz transmission frequency is the best frequency to detect pollock.  Other transmission frequencies are shown to help delineate adult pollock from baby pollock and from other types of fish and smaller crustaceans called euphausiids.

EK60
Screenshot of an EK60 reading of the water column below the ship with identifying features notated.

The target strength is related to the length of the fish.  The age of pollock is strongly correlated to their length until they are about 4 years old, so length can help the scientists determine how many of each year class are in the ocean below.  Once again, logarithms come in handy, as the equation that relates the fork length in centimeters, l, of the pollock to the recorded target strength is TS = 20 log l – 66. This allows the scientists to use the echosounder data to get an approximate measure of the fish below without having to catch them.

Personal Log:

Today we will be going on a partial tour of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson so you can see where I spend most of my time while aboard.  The first stop is my stateroom, where I sleep and relax when not on shift.  The top bunk is mine and the bottom bunk belongs to my roommate, NOAA scientist Abigail McCarthy.  Our stateroom has one window where we can check on the weather and sea conditions.  The picture below shows our view most of the time: cloudy!

 

Next stop is the mess hall where three meals a day are served.  The stewards do a great job of cooking creative meals for everyone aboard.  Before I boarded the ship, I bought a lot of snacks because I was worried about not getting enough to eat, but boy was I wrong.  There is always plenty to eat at every meal, snacks that are out if you get hungry in between, and lots of dessert!

mess
The mess hall.

Finally, we come to the fish lab where the trawling net samples referred to in my last blog post are processed.  Before processing, we go to the ready room and put on our gear.  This includes work boots as well as waterproof coveralls and jacket.  Measuring the length of the pollock can get messy so we have to have the right gear.  Once in the fish lab, we grab our gloves and get to measuring!

 

Did You Know?

Scientists aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are part of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which is one of the six major line offices of NOAA.

Emily Cilli-Turner: Out to Sea! July 26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emily Cilli-Turner

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 24 – August 11, 2018

 

Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bearing Sea

Date: July 26, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 56º 11.29 N

Longitude: 171º 12.29 W

Wind Speed: 14.33 knots

Wind Direction: 329.81º

Air Temperature:  9.1º Celsius

Barometric Pressure: 1016.2 mb

 

Science Log:

Scientists aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are aiming to estimate the number and biomass of pollock in the Eastern Bering Sea, which, as you can imagine, is a big undertaking.  In order to complete this job, they use a lot of sophisticated technology to determine where the fish are as well as statistical methods to extrapolate the total number of fish from the samples taken. This job is extremely important as it helps to determine the health and sustainability of the pollock population in the Bering Sea so that the government can model and forecast next year’s population numbers, and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council can set future catch quotas.

The first piece of technology used is the underwater acoustics. Echosounders send an audible ping down into the water and measure how long it takes to bounce off of an object (like a pollock) and return to the surface.  Using the known value of the speed of sound, this technology can create a picture of where the fish are below the boat.  While the acoustics only show that there is an object the length of a fish below, the scientists use their knowledge of the regions pollock normally occupy, the depth they regularly swim at, as well as the shape and size of pollock aggregations to determine when they are seeing pollock versus other types of fish.

EK60 for TAS
The picture of the fish below the water created by the underwater acoustics.

Once it is determined that there is likely a large school of pollock in the area, then the trawling nets are deployed to catch pollock.  Once the nets are hauled in, the total catch is weighed and then a smaller sample is pulled to collect length and weight data to determine the sizes of fish in the area.  Other samples, such as the pollock ear bone (otolith) or ovaries may also be taken at this time. Using statistics, the number and length of pollock in the entire catch and then in the entire area is estimated.

Trawling nets on the ship.
Trawling nets on the ship.

Personal Log:

The flight into Dutch Harbor was very exciting.  Before boarding the plane, they weigh you and your carry-on baggage to make sure the plane will be balanced and that there is not too much weight.  The airport at Dutch Harbor is not much more than a landing strip between two mountains.  We came in for landing right over the water and for a second it looked like we might land on the water before the landing strip appeared. Once we reached the dock where we boarded the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, I saw a sea otter, but it disappeared before I could take a picture of it!

welcome
The sign at the Dutch Harbor airport. Notice the latitude and longitude; this is the farthest north I have ever been!

So far, I am adjusting to life at sea.   The first day the boat was a little rough and I got a bit seasick, however after seeing the ship’s medic for some medication I am feeling much better.  During our first full day at sea we had to practice safety drills, which are required within 24 hours of departing.  Once they announce the drill, you have to grab your life jacket and survival suit from your stateroom and bring them to the assembly point on the deck.  Then, we had to practice putting on the survival suit, which is sort of like a giant wet suit complete with a hood, lights and a manually-inflated flotation device.

plane
The plane I flew on from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor.

The ship itself is like a small city; there are the residences, which are the staterooms where we sleep, the entertainment, which is the lounge where there is always a moving playing, and the restaurant, which is the mess hall where great food is served three times a day.  However, this “city” runs and powers itself; all electricity and water must be made aboard the boat.

The hardest adjustment so far has been a temporal one.  I am responsible for the 4am – 4pm shift in the fish lab, which means I must rise by 3:30am every day! I am normally not an early riser so this has been tough, but the rocking of the ship means that when I do go to bed I normally get a great night’s sleep!

Did You Know?

Scientists collect the ear bone, called the otolith, from pollock to determine their age.  This bone grows in rings for each year, just like a tree!

 

Emily Cilli-Turner: Getting Ready for an Adventure! July 22, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emily Cilli-Turner

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 25 – August 15, 2018

Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Dutch Harbor, Alaska

Date: July 15, 2018

Personal Introduction:

Olympic Mountains
Hiking in the Olympic Mountains near Seattle, WA

Hello!  My name is Emily Cilli-Turner and I will be aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as a participant in the 2018 NOAA Teacher at Sea program.  I am Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of La Verne in La Verne, California where I teach the entire undergraduate curriculum in mathematics.  This will be my sixth year teaching full-time. My bachelor’s degree in mathematics is from Colorado State University and I received my doctorate from University of Illinois at Chicago, where I specialized in undergraduate mathematics education.  I am especially interest in the transition students make when they enter a proof-based course and how to best acclimate them to the abstract and non-formulaic nature of proving.

I am passionate about math and science education and excited to use the data collected from my time on the ship to create real-world applications problems for my students.  I will be teaching Calculus I and II next semester and I plan to use the data gained from my experience to teach my students about concepts such as rates of change and statistical techniques.

I have a strong love for the ocean and so I am excited to be on the water for so long. I am transitioning to California after living in Washington, where I co-owned a 23-foot sailboat with some friends.  We often would sail to different islands and ports on Puget Sound, which was always a blast. When I am not teaching or sailing, I enjoy walking my dog, hiking and reading!

On a boat
TAS Emily Cilli-Turner on her boat in the Puget Sound

Personal Log

In about a week, I will fly to Dutch Harbor, Alaska to board the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson and participate in the Alaska Pollock counting survey.  Before receiving this placement, I have never really heard of Pollock, but after researching it I realized it is an amazing fish! Pollock can easily taste like other fish and is often used for imitation crab amongst other things.

I am also really excited to meet the scientists and the crew.  The reason I know about the Teacher at Sea program is that I have a friend that works at NOAA in Seattle.  I mentioned offhandedly that I would love to go out on a NOAA cruise and she said, “Well…they do have the Teacher at Sea program.”  I was immediately intrigued and I wrote my application as soon as it was available. As a person who is passionate about education and the ocean, the Teacher at Sea program is a great fit for me and I know I will learn a lot that I can take back to my students. Hopefully, I can also inspire them to seek out a career with NOAA.

Did You Know?

Pollock eat crabs, shrimp and small fish.

Joan Shea-Rogers: Ready, Set, Go… Fish, July 6, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Joan Shea-Rogers

Aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson

July 1-22, 2018

Mission: Walleye Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date: July 6, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 56º20.3730N

Longitude: 170.39 7756W

Sea Wave Height: 3-4 feet

Wind Speed: 18.87 Knots

Wind Direction: 126º true

Visibility: 2miles

Air Temperature: 8.7ºC

Barometric Pressure: 1002.0 milibars

Sky: Overcast

Science and Technology Log

Note: This Walleye Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey is a way to estimate the amount of fish that are present in a targeted area of the Bering Sea. NOAA Scientists have been conducting these surveys since the 1970’s. It is important work necessary to manage the pollock population. (Pollock is a billion dollar food industry, thus a very important ocean resource.) These population estimates are part of the information used to determine how much fish can be caught in the Bering Sea (fishing quotas, MSY-Maximum Sustainable Yield) that still allows the population to reproduce and survive in adequate numbers.

Ready:

What does it take to prepare for an Acoustic Trawl Survey?

The fisheries scientists plan their sampling area based upon past surveys so that each part of the Bering Sea is covered over a period of time, in this case June through August;decisions must be made about who will be going on which leg of each trip. They also determine what research projects will be conducted, what specimens should be collected, and what information they need to obtain from this work. Other scientists also make requests, such as specimen collections or oceanography equipment deployments in target areas to obtain information for their own research projects. A document called Project Instructions is developed to include these cruise objectives and a list of all the supplies and equipment needed to conduct the research projects. Once the Project Instructions document is complete, it must be sent for review to NOAA administration, then to MOC-P (Marine Operations Center-Pacific)- which is a home location for NOAA to monitor its’ fleet of NOAA vessels. Now on to the NOAA Corps officers who are also preparing the ship for this cruise. In cases of requesting to sample the western Bering Sea (near, but outside of Russian waters), the State Department must approve it. Once this plan has been approved, many preparation activities begin.

 

 

SET:

A detailed spreadsheet is developed that lists all supplies needed for the fishing and research work. This includes vials for sampling, chemicals for preserving, tools needed to conduct research, and fishing gear. Some supplies are loaded on the ship when in port in Dutch Harbor or Kodiak, but other supplies are shipped in shipping containers or flatbed trailers. A large ship carries these on the ocean from Seattle to Dutch Harbor, and then tractor trailers bring the nets to the ship.

Go:

Then scientists work with the ship’s crew to make final decisions regarding haul locations. While the general area to fish is determined prior to setting sail, specific haul locations (along survey tracklines or transects) are determined as the scientists monitor the location and distribution of fish using sonar readings during sailing.

Personal Log:

I am enjoying life at sea and settling into the maritime routines that ensure the ship runs smoothly. NOAA ship Oscar Dyson is a small city with each person having very specific responsibilities for safety and operations. There are approximately 30 people on board. My work shift is from 4pm – 4 am each day. (There are no days off.) The ship has 5 labs (Wet lab, Dry lab, Acoustics Lab, Chemical Lab, Fish Lab) I spend my work shift after each haul, in the fish lab. There we identify the species that are caught, collect specimens for research and record weights and measurements of targeted species. This allows calculation of the amount of each species caught, which are used to calculate population estimates. (This is called processing the catch.) I also spend time writing blog posts, planning lessons about the work here, and interviewing staff on board to learn about their career paths. I will also use this information to teach students about the science related to this work and the career opportunities in this field. Well, a net is being pulled up now, so off to the fish lab I go.

A Sunny Day Out On the Deck
A sunny day out on the deck of NOAA ship Oscar Dyson

 

Joan Shea-Rogers aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson
Joan Shea-Rogers aboard NOAA ship Oscar Dyson before sailing

Did You Know?

Sonar readings can be used to “see” what is in the water column. This is due to sound waves that bounce off what is in the water (“echoes”). Strong echoes come from pollock because sound waves bounce off the gas in their swim bladders. These echoes can be shown on a computer screen as the ship sails along, making a plot called an “echogram”.

 

Echogram
An example of an echogram

Lacee Sherman: Teacher on Land and Teacher Leaving Port June 7, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Lacee Sherman

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 6, 2018 – June 28, 2018

Mission: Eastern Bering Sea Pollock Acoustic Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Eastern Bering Sea

Date:  June 4, 2018

Unalaska Sign
A sign hanging in the airport when I landed in Dutch Harbor.  If this is where I started and my most recent coordinates are below, which way have I been traveling?

Weather Data from the Bridge on June 7th, 2018

Latitude: N 55° 22.897

Longitude: W 164° 20.546

Sea Wave Height: 2-3 ft

Wind Speed: 13 knots

Wind Direction: 270 degrees

Visibility: 8 knots

Air Temperature:  7.5° C

Sky:  Grey and Cloudy

NOAA Ship, Oscar Dyson
Photo of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson at port in Dutch Harbor, AK.

Science and Technology Log

On this leg of the Research Cruise in the Eastern Bering Sea I will be helping a team of NOAA scientists collect data about a fish species called Pollock.  The datum (plural of data) that are collected will help to set the limits for how much pollock the fishing boats are allowed to catch. The data also allow scientists to track the populations of the pollock to look for patterns.  For additional information on Pollock, visit the NOAA fisheries website here.

During the survey, acoustic (sound) signals will be sent into the water by transducers at different frequencies and these acoustic signals will bounce off of the objects in the ocean and bounce back to the ship where the echoes will be picked up by the transducers. The data collected from each echo is presented visually to the science team.  When we reach a spot where a lot of the acoustic signals returning to the boat indicate the presence of fish, a trawl sample will be taken at that location. A trawl survey includes putting a large net into the water and scooping up a sample of all of the living things in that location. Once the trawl haul is brought onto the boat, it is taken to the fish lab where the fish are identified and measured.  

Fish Lab
Photo of the Fish Lab on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

The area being surveyed is the Eastern Bering Sea and for this study is divided up into 28 different transects have been mapped out and are spread 20 nautical miles apart.  We will start at northern point of the first transect and travel south until we reach the bottom of it. Once we reach the bottom of the first transect we will travel 20 nautical miles west to the southern tip of the second transect.  We will then travel north along this second transect until we reach the top and then travel the 20 nautical miles west until we reach transect 3. This will continue throughout my time on the ship, and on the 2 other legs of this journey.  On this first leg of the research cruise, the aim is to survey and sample from 16.3 of the transects which will total a journey of 2627 nautical miles on the transect lines.

According to the NOAA National Ocean Service Website, “A nautical mile is based on the circumference of the earth, and is equal to one minute of latitude. It is slightly more than a statute (land measured) mile (1 nautical mile = 1.1508 statute miles). Nautical miles are used for charting and navigating.”

Map of Transect Lines
Map of transect lines for NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson over the 3 legs of the Eastern Bering Sea Pollock survey. Current location is shown by the yellow boat. Can you find it?  Hint:  It’s near the vertical lines on the right.  First transect is the farthest on the Eastern (right in this photo) side.

 

Personal Log

TAS Lacee Sherman on Oscar Dyson deck
Photo taken on the stern of NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson.  Photo Credit:  Sarah Stienessen

It was a long trip getting to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, but it has already been worth it!  I am on the Island of Unalaska, which is a part of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. The main port city is called Dutch Harbor, or commonly just “Dutch”.  This is such a beautiful place that I probably never would have seen otherwise. There are mountains filled with grasses, berry bushes, and wild orchids as well as snow-topped peaks and natural waterfalls.  There are bald eagles everywhere and foxes that are so fluffy they almost appear to be dogs from far away. Looking into the water you can see a few scattered otters floating on their backs and the occasional harbor seal.

 

OSI Morning photo
This photo was taken from the bow of NOAA ship Oscar Dyson at port in Dutch Harbor, AK.


As soon as I landed in Dutch, I was greeted by two of the scientists that I will be working with, Matthew and Sarah.  They took me to NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson to drop off my luggage before we all went out to dinner.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I actually had my own stateroom.  Due to the number of female scientists and us being on the same work shift, we were both able to have our own rooms.  The rooms are so much nicer than I had anticipated them to be! The mattresses are comfortable, I have a desk space, there’s a television (that I will probably never watch) and I have my own bathroom as well.  

      

After we had dinner and returned to the ship, I went on a mini hike with one of the members of the science team and we went to view this amazing natural waterfall.  You wouldn’t know it was there if you weren’t looking for it. There is so much more that you can do when the sun is up for most of the day. At 11:30pm (the latest i’ve stayed up so far) it is still light outside.  There are so many clouds that the sky looks pretty grey, and there are a ton of clouds, often hiding the tops of the mountain peaks.

 

Lacee Sherman Dutch Harbor Waterfall
Photo of TAS Lacee Sherman in front of a waterfall in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

 

The next morning I woke up and went for a nice long walk along Captain’s Bay and sat and had coffee on the rocks and just admired the incredible view.  It is so much more beautiful here than I had imagined. Later a few of us went for a drive around the island and a few people surfed in the ocean, but I wasn’t brave enough to get in the cold water this time.

Unalaska beach
Photo taken on Unalaska

Since we will be on the ship for a while (23 days) we stopped at the grocery store to bring a few things onboard that we want to have in addition to our regular meals prepared on the ship by the stewards.  I decided that I wanted to bring some fresh fruit, not realizing that I would be paying way more than I expected for them! Everything is expensive here!

Expensive fruit
$26 dollars worth of fruit in Dutch Harbor, AK.

Did You Know?

Even though we think of Bears and Moose being found all over Alaska, they are not found on the Island of Unalaska at all!  

Animals Seen

6/4/18 – Bald Eagles, Fox, Otters

6/5/18 – Bald Eagles, 4 Foxes, Otters, Harbor seal, Jellyfish (3 different species)

6/6/18- Bald Eagles, Jellyfish (2 species), Humpback Whales!!

 

Fox in Dutch Harbor
A fox spotted on 6/5/18 in Dutch Harbor

 

Bald Eagles on Crab Pots
These are crab fishing “pots” that are used by Alaskan Fisherman to catch crab.  How many bald eagles do you see in this photo?

 

Amanda Dice: Fish Sticks with a Side of Science, August 29, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Amanda Dice

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 21 – September 2, 2017

 

IMG_1553
We have made it to the most northern point on the survey.

Mission: Juvenile Pollock Fishery Survey

Geographic area of cruise:
Western Gulf of Alaska

Date: August 29, 2017

Weather Data: 10.2 C, rainy/stormy

Latitude: 59 20.0 N, Longitude: 152 02.5 W

 

 

Science and Technology Log

The main focus of this survey is to gather information about juvenile walleye pollock, Gadus chalcogrammus. Juvenile pollock less than 1 year of age are called young-of-the-year, or age-0 juveniles. Age-0 walleye pollock are ecologically important. Many species of birds, mammals and other fish rely on them as a food source. Adult pollock have a high economic value. Pollock is commercially fished and commonly used in fish sticks and fish and chips. This study is interested in learning more about the size of current juvenile pollock populations, where they occur, and how healthy they are.

IMG_1132
An age 0 juvenile pollock is shown below an adult pollock.

In order to collect a sample, a trawl net is lowered into the water off of the back of the ship. The deck crew and bridge crew work together to release the right amount of wire and to drive the ship at the right speed in order to lower the net to the desired depth. The net is shaped like a sock, with the opening facing into the water current. In order to keep the mouth of the net from closing as it is pulled through the water, each side is connected to a large metal panel called a “door”. As the doors move through the water, they pull on the sides of the trawl net, keeping it open. When the doors are ready to be put in the water, the fishing officer will instruct the winch operator to “shoot the doors”!

IMG_1272
The deck crew bring the trawl net back on deck. One of the metal “doors” can be seen hanging off of the back of the ship.

Sensors help monitor the depth of the upper and lower sides of the net and relay a signal to computers on the bridge, where the data can be monitored.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 7.44.24 PM
Sensors on the trawl net relay data to computers on the bridge which show the position of the net in the water.

Once the net is reeled in with a large winch, the catch is placed on a sorting table, in a room just off of the back deck called the fish lab. Here, the science team works to sort the different species of fish, jellyfish, and other kinds of marine animals that were caught.

IMG_1217
Crew members stand below a winch and empty the catch from the trawl net into a large bin.

IMG_1576
The catch is then sorted on the sorting table in the fish lab.

Juvenile pollock are sorted into their own bin. If it is a small catch, we weigh, count, and measure the length of each one. However, if it is a large catch, we take a smaller sample, called a subsample, from the whole catch. We use the weight, lengths, and count of animals in the subsample to provide an estimate count and average size of the rest of the fish caught at that station, which are only weighed. This information is compiled on a computer system right in the fish lab.

IMG_1097
Here I am measuring some fish.

 

IMG_1117
Data from the catch is collected on computers in the fish lab.

 

The focus of this study is juvenile pollock, but we do catch several other species in the trawl net. The presence of other species can provide information about the habitats where juvenile pollock live. Therefore, data from all species collected are also recorded.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 8.36.24 PM
Here are some other interesting species we caught: 1. jellyfish (with a partially digested pollock inside it!) 2. lumpsucker 3. herring 4. spider crab

A small sample of juvenile pollock are frozen and saved for further study, once back on land. These fish will be analyzed to determine their lipid, or fat, content and calorie content. This data reveals information about how healthy these fish are and if they are getting enough food to survive through the cold Alaskan winters.

Other agencies within NOAA also conduct scientific surveys in this area. These studies might focus on different species or abiotic (non-living) properties of the Gulf of Alaska marine ecosystem. The data collected by each agency is shared across the larger NOAA organization to help scientists get a comprehensive look at how healthy marine ecosystems are in this area.

 

Personal Log

As we move from one station to the next, I have been spending time up on the bridge. This gives me a chance to scan the water for sea birds and marine mammals, or to just take in the scenery. Other members of the crew also like to come up to do this same thing. I have really enjoyed having this time every day to share in this activity (one of my favorite past-times) with other people and to learn from them how to identify different species.

IMG_1192
Here I am outside of the bridge, posing with some glaciers!

 

Did You Know?

You can find the exact age of many fish species by looking at a bone in their ears! Fish have a special ear bone, called an otolith. Every year, a new layer will grow around the outside of this bone. As the fish ages, the otolith gets larger and larger. Scientists can find the exact age of the fish by cutting a cross section of this bone and counting the rings made from new layers being added each year.

IMG_1099
A small otolith of an age 0 juvenile pollock

IMG_1168
Larger otoliths from an adult pollock

Amanda Dice: From Sea to Shining Sea, August 17, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Amanda Dice

Soon to be aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 21 – September 2, 2017

 

Mission: Juvenile Walleye Pollock and Forage Fish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska (near Kodiak)

Date: August 17, 2017

Weather Data: 30.5°C, cloudy, 78% humidity

Location: Baltimore, MD

Intro
Out on the east coast waters utilizing my favorite form of Baltimore’s transportation options – its fleet of kayaks!

Introduction

It is hot and sticky here in Baltimore and I am looking forward to breathing in the crisp air in Alaska. I am also looking forward to being out on the water. As a Baltimore resident, I am able to spend time in the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. It is a great place to get out on a kayak and take in nature. I can’t wait to take this experience to the next level on the waters of the Gulf of Alaska. I try to go on at least one big adventure each year, and the Teacher at Sea experience definitely will fulfill this goal for 2017! I am also excited about all of the new things I will learn on this trip and I am looking forward to sharing these with my students. I teach STEM courses to students who attend online school. I have seen how connecting scientific experiences and data with students can spark their interest in STEM fields.  I am very excited to have the opportunity to use this experience to engage students in scientific activities and discussions.

 

Science and Technology Log

This mission will take place on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, which has its home port in Kodiak, Alaska. From Kodiak we will move through the waters surrounding Kodiak Island and eastward into the Gulf of Alaska. The scientific team will be studying populations of walleye pollock and zooplankton in these waters. The mission will be conducted in two parts. I will be aboard for Leg 1 of the mission. Leg 2 will begin shortly after we return to port on September 2nd. The map below show all of the sampling locations that will be visited during this mission. Leg 1 sampling locations are indicated by red dots. At each location, a variety of sampling will take place. From what I have learned about the mission, it looks like we will be using several different trawls to collect samples. We will then use a variety of methods to identify species and collect data once the samples are onboard.

leg 1 map
This map shows the sampling locations of Leg 1 (red) and Leg 2 (blue) for the Gulf of Alaska Juvenile Walleye Pollock Survey. Courtesy of NOAA.

The Oscar Dyson is described as “one of the most technologically advanced fisheries survey vessels in the world.” From what I see on the NOAA website, it seems to have an impressive amount of scientific equipment onboard. It has a wet lab, dry lab, computer lab, biology lab and hydrology lab. It also has a wide array of data collection gear and mechanical equipment. I am looking forward to checking out all of this equipment for myself and learning more about how it will be used.

Science and Tech Log
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson on the chilly waters in Alaska. Courtesy of NOAA.

This study will focus on collecting data on walleye pollock populations. This fish is a member of the cod family and lives primarily in the waters of the northern Pacific Ocean. As juveniles, this species feeds on krill and zooplankton. As they mature, they eat other fish, including juvenile pollock!  Many marine species rely on populations of these fish as a food source in the Gulf of Alaska. Humans also like to eat pollock. It is sold as fillets, but is also used in fish fingers and to make imitation crab meat. Pollock fillets are becoming more popular as cod and haddock populations become overfished. Pollock populations have fluctuated over the years, but are not currently overfished. The dotted line in the graph below shows population numbers in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA).

pop graph
The dotted line on this graph shows the population numbers of walleye pollock in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA). Courtesy of NOAA.

A scientist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also be aboard the Oscar Dyson conducting a seabird observation study. She will work mainly from the bridge, keeping track of the different seabird species she sees as we move from one sampling location to the next.

Personal Log

I am excited about my upcoming adventure for many reasons. As an undergrad, I majored in Natural Resource Management. I went on to be a science teacher, but have always been interested in learning about findings from ecological studies. This experience will allow me to get an up close look at the technology and techniques used to conduct this kind of study. I am looking forward to being able to contribute to the team effort and learn new things to bring back to my students. I am also very excited to be aboard a ship off the coast of Alaska. A trip to Alaska has always been on my bucket list and I am looking forward to taking in the scenery and spotting marine mammals and seabirds. I am also hopeful that we will be able to see a partial solar eclipse from the water. I am bringing my sun viewers, just in case!

Did You Know?

It would take 88 hours to drive from Baltimore, MD to Kodiak, AK.

Did You Know
Glad I am flying! Courtesy of Google Maps.

Sian Proctor: It’s Getting Fishy, July 20, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 2 – 22, 2017

Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 20, 2017

 

Me with an adult pollock.
Me with an adult pollock.

Weather Data from the Bridge

  • Latitude:  57° 47.02 N
  • Longitude: 152° 24.56 W
  • Time: 1700
  • Sky: Overcast
  • Visibility:  2 nautical miles
  • Wind Direction: variable
  • Wind Speed:  Knots
  • Sea Wave Height:  0  foot swell
  • Barometric Pressure:  994 millibars
  • Sea Water Temperature:   11.9° C
  • Air Temperature:   12.2° C

Science and Technology Log: It’s Getting Fishy!

Alaska pollock are found in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska and are part of the cod family. The dorsal side of the pollock is speckled brown in color with a slight olive green hue and the ventral side is silver. They eat krill, copepods, and small fish – mainly their own offspring. They quickly grow into adults, reaching reproductive age after 3-4 years, and are very fertile, replacing harvested fish in just a few years. Pollock swim in large schools during the day and disperse overnight. They can be found throughout the water column, but young pollock tend to live in the mid-water region while the older fish tend to live near the sea floor.

Alaska_Pollock_-_source_NOAA_fishwatch.govScience-based monitoring and management play a key role in the sustainability of the Alaska pollock fishery. It is managed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council based on data provided by the NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. The Alaska pollock fishery is the largest, by volume, in the United States and one of the most valuable in the world.  Products made from pollock include fish fillet, roe eggs, and imitation crab. The entire industry is valued at over a billion dollars. It is also considered one of the best-managed fisheries in the world. Scientists from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center conduct acoustic trawl surveys to estimate the abundance of Alaska pollock using acoustics and by catching small samples.

While on NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson I had the opportunity to spend time in  the fish lab learning how pollock data are collected.. This video is an example of what I experienced.

The main way commercial pollock is caught in the United States is by net. Scientifically trained observers are sent out on U.S. pollock fishing boats and, similar to the NOAA scientists, they collect sample data from each catch and send it back to NOAA.  They also observe the fishing practices on the boat and  report any regulatory infractions. All the collected data and interactions between the fishing industry and NOAA have been established to make sure the Alaska pollock fishery remains sustainable.

NOAA Opportunities for students: https://www.afsc.noaa.gov/education/students/careers.htm 

Interview with Michael Martin

Fisheries Biologist

  • Official Title
    • Deputy Director
  • Normal Job Duties
    • Leadership and administration of the Resource Assessment and Conservation Engineering (RACE) Division within Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC)
  • What is your current position on Oscar Dyson?
    • Fish lab biologist
  • How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
    • of and on for ~ 10 years
  • Why the ocean? What made you choose a career at sea?
    • I loved exploring sea creatures a the beach as a kid; Jacques Cousteau.
  • What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?
    • Getting out of the office; Seeing amazing scientists do their work and getting to participate.
  • Why is your work (or research) important?
    • The information we collect plays a very important role in managing fisheries in Alaska, providing economic and food security for many people. We also do tremendous research that benefits the science community and subsequently people world-wide. We are among the leaders in understanding fish and invertebrate abundance and behavior in the world.
  • When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
    • I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do if I grow up! Probably between 10 and 13 years old I developed an interest in the ocean.
  • What part of your job with NOAA (or contracted to NOAA) did you least expect to be doing?
    • Dealing with bureaucracy.
  • What are some of the challenges with your job?
    • Leading a group of scientists is, in some ways, like herding a group of very intelligent cats. They are very focused on their research and have very strong opinions about things that they feel could detract their ability to do the best job possible. This can be a challenge for me at times, but is a great problem to have!
  • What are some of the rewards with your job?
    • Being able to facilitate scientists and help them accomplish their goals is very rewarding.
  • Describe a memorable moment at sea.
    • Rescuing a family in a life raft that had been missing for 3+ days.

P1130809

Interview with Meredith Emery

Fisheries Biologist

  • Official Title
    • Survey Technician
  • Normal Job Duties
    • As Survey Technicians, our primary responsibility is to monitor and maintain fisheries and oceanographic equipment. In addition, we have to run and verify the Scientific Computer System (SCS) is collecting quality data and all the ship’s sensors connected to SCS are working properly. We also are the liaison between scientists and the crew members, and assist the scientists with any part of their research. Survey Technicians have the unique opportunity to participate in all aspects of the fisheries or oceanographic operation start to finish. During the fishing operations: 1. Scientist communicates to the people on the bridge, deck and survey technicians when they are going to fishing. 2. We put the fishing equipment on the net, as the net is casting out. 3. Assist the scientists log net dimension data when the net is in the water. 4. As the net is being recovered, we retrieve all the fishing equipment. 5. We help the deck with emptying the catch on the fish table, when needed. 6. Lastly, which is my favorite part, is when we get to assist the scientists collect biological fish samples in the wet lab. During oceanographic operations we are in charge of deploying and recovering the equipment (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD)). In addition we verify all the sensors on the CTD are presenting quality real time data. From the CTD we can collect water samples that can be used for several studies, like salinity, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, or micro plankton. We are able to see the operations in action, understand the importance of the research through the science perspective and ultimately know the reason the Oscar Dyson is in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska.
  • What is your current position on Oscar Dyson?
    • I am one of two Survey Technicians on the Oscar Dyson.
  • How long have you been working on Oscar Dyson?
    • I have been working on the Oscar Dyson about 10 months.
  • Why the ocean? What made you choose a career at sea?
    • My fascination for the ocean started when I was young playing with the anemones on the rocky intertidal beach. I’ve always enjoyed being at the beach and seeing the organisms there. I became curious of life at sea and really wanted to see the marine wild life in action, especially when the ice first melts and there is a high abundance of phytoplankton and zooplankton that attracts marine mammals, birds and fish to migrate there. Being on the Oscar Dyson, I was able to observe the fluctuation between high abundance of phytoplankton, zooplankton or fish, depending on the area and time of year.
  • What is your favorite thing about going to sea on Oscar Dyson?
    • I enjoy seeing the scenery. Like the untouched lands, glaciers, marine wild life; the fishes, mammals or birds. Also I like seeing the endless blue of the ocean, especially calm weather. Really puts the vastness of the ocean in perspective.
  • When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science or an ocean career?
    • The reason I pursued a career in studying the ocean is because I come to realize that people take the ocean for granted and don’t recognize how much we depend on it. I obtained a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology emphasis marine. One of my favorite college courses was oceanography. It was the first time for me to see the connection between geology, physics, chemistry and biology in one scenario like in the ocean processes. Each component relies on the other. First the geological features of the ocean floor and land masses influences the physics of the current flow, wave motion, and up-welling. Then the ocean movement determines the mixing and distribution of the water chemistry. Finally the biodiversity, location, and populations of marine organisms rely on the water chemistry, like nutrients or dissolved oxygen.

Personal Log

I really enjoyed learning about the variety of sea creatures in the Gulf of Alaska. Here is a video showing a few of the sea creatures I encountered. Totally amazing!

Education Tidbit: FishWatch Website

Another cool resources is the Fishwatch website. Here you can learn more information about sustainable fisheries and the science behind the fish we eat. It is worth checking out!

Did You Know?

Did you know that fresh pollock have a very distinctive smell that isn’t like any other fish? It’s not fishy – more like dirty feet!

Sian Proctor: A Ship & Seashells! July 3, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 2 – 22, 2017

Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 3, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude:   57° 47′ 24″ N
Longitude: 152° 24′ 26″ W
Time: 1000
Sky: Broken Clouds
Visibility:  10 nautical miles
Wind Direction: 068
Wind Speed:  5 knots
Sea Wave Height:   <1 foot swell
Barometric Pressure:  1013.3 millibars
Sea Water Temperature:   9.0° C
Air Temperature:   9.8° C

IMG_2307
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson in Kodiak, Alaska

Science and Technology Log

Oscar Dyson is one of NOAA’s fisheries survey vessels. It was commissioned in 2005 and its home port is Kodiak, Alaska. The ship was named after the Alaskan fisherman Oscar Dyson who was an activist for improving the fishing industry. He passed away in 1995. The purpose of Oscar Dyson is to collect data on marine life and ecosystems primarily in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Most of the research has been focused on the management of Alaska pollock, which is the largest fishery by volume in the United States. The ship houses a crew of up to 24, which includes NOAA Corps officers, engineers, deck hands, survey technicians, stewards, and electronic technicians along with up to 15 scientists. They all work together to make daily operations on the Oscar Dyson a success.

The 208 ft. long Oscar Dyson runs on 4 super charged diesel engines. The engines are designed to produce up to 3 megawatts of electricity a day. The alternating current is converted into direct current in order to power the two propulsion motors. Oscar Dyson’s engine room is fully automated and will add or remove diesel generators based on load demand. Oscar Dyson has a cruising speed of 12 knots and a range of 12,000 nautical miles.

I was pleasantly surprised by how spacious my accommodations are on Oscar Dyson. I am in a 4-person room but have only 1 roommate. Her name is Alex Padilla. She is an ocean engineering graduate student from University of New Hampshire interested in  studying the acoustics of bubbles. Our room has bunk beds on both sides of the room, a desk, multiple storage lockers, a toilet & shower, and a large wall mounted TV with movies and Direct TV.

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Just down the passageway from my stateroom is a crew lounge where we can gather and watch movies. There is a mess deck (cafeteria) that serves three meals a day and is open 24/7 for soup, salad, and snacks. Oscar Dyson has a variety of labs that I will cover in future blogs. I was fortunate to have 3 days on the ship before our departure and have become somewhat familiar with the layout of the ship.

Click here for more specification on the Oscar Dyson: NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson Specification

Personal Log

I got to go on a field trip to Fossil Beach before leaving Kodiak and here is a short video about my experience.

To dive deeper into the fossils and geologic history of that region you can click this link for Allison and Marincovich Jr’s geologic survey paper: A Late Oligocene or Earliest Miocene Molluscan Fauna From Sitkinak Island, Alaska

Click this link for more information on concretions.

Did You Know?

The Weather Bureau was founded in 1870 and Fish and Fisheries in 1971, making up the first conservation agency for the United States. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration was started in 1970 as an agency within the department of Commerce. Today NOAA has many branches that focus on weather, climate, ocean & coasts, fisheries, satellites, marine & aviation, etc. You can learn more about the history of NOAA and the various branches by clicking this link: NOAA.gov

Sian Proctor: Desert to Sea, June 30, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Sian Proctor

Aboard Oscar Dyson

July 2 – 22, 2017

Mission: Gulf of Alaska Pollock Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: June 30, 2017

Video Above: My 360 degree introduction video from the Atacama Desert, Chile.

I am very excited and grateful to be a 2017 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Teacher at Sea (TAS). The TAS program has existed since 1990 and their mission is to provide real world research experience for kindergarten through college-level teachers. The application process opens in the fall and teachers are notified in the spring if they are selected. This year there are 29 teachers who have either already sailed or, like me, are about to embark. Check out the TAS FAQ’s page to learn more about the program: NOAA TAS Frequently Asked Questions.

Where is Kodiak, Alaska?

Video Above: Google Earth view of where I will be starting my Teacher at Sea cruise.

Kodiak, Alaska is a small fishing village on Kodiak Island. There are two ways to get to the island – by air or by sea. I will be flying to Kodiak from Anchorage and will board the NOAA vessel Oscar Dyson. This is my 3rd time visiting Alaska but my first time at sea. I got engaged in 2014 on top of the Harding Icefield in Kanai Fjords National Park.

Weather Data

Video Above: NOAA National Weather Service for June 30 2017: Interactive Digital Map

Having just arrived home from one of the driest deserts in the world (Atacama, Chile) I am reminded that the desert is my home. I have lived in Phoenix, Arizona, far away from the sea, for the past 25 years. I love the warm sunny heat of the desert but not when it gets over 110 degrees. So I am looking forward to a change in weather and scenery. Alaska is beautiful in the summer with really long days of sunlight. I am hoping to see a whole new view of this rugged wild state during my three seeks at sea. I just hope I don’t get sea sick!

Science and Technology Log

I have three objectives for my TAS adventure. They are:

  1. To be able to describe how and why we research pollock.
  2. To be able to describe life at sea on a NOAA ship and the careers associated with the NOAA Corps.
  3. To be able to describe navigation techniques and how they have changed over time.

My ultimate goal is be able to bring this information back to the classroom. I have always been fascinated with navigation. Reading maps is an important part of being a geologist and I wonder how similar or different it will be at sea. As a geology student I leaned how to map the contact between two rocks. So I am really curious to learn how you chase fish in the sea. Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions or want me to investigate something while at sea.

Personal Log

When you apply to the TAS program they ask you which type of research cruise (hydrographic, oceanographic, or fisheries) you would prefer. I checked both hydrographic or oceanographic because of my geology background. I teach about weather, climate change, and have always been curious about how we map the ocean. So I am a little nervous about being on a fisheries cruise for 3 weeks. But I am also excited about the opportunity to learn and explore something completely outside my norm. My family finds this amusing because as a kid all I did was fish.

Proctor Fishing
Me fishing around 9 years old.

Here is a photo of me fishing at age 9. During the summer time, while living in New Hampshire, I use to fish everyday. But around the age of 12 that changed. I became less interested in the biological world and more into the physical world (geology, physics, chemistry, etc.). I stopped fishing and haven’t picked up a pole in over 35 years.  Even when I was into fishing as a kid, I still didn’t like touching them. Now I will be spending 3 weeks studying Alaska pollock (walleye pollock) off the coast of Alaska. As a result of this experience, I wonder if the girl in this photo will rise like a phoenix and fall back in love with fishing. Hmm – at the moment I’m thinking it’s a 50-50 chance! What do you think? Leave me a message in the comments below.

Did You Know?

The word fish (noun) has an old English connection meaning any animal living exclusively in water. (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary)

Virginia Warren: All My Bags are Packed, I’m Ready to Go!!! March 9, 2016

Hi! My name is Virginia Warren. I teach 5th Grade math and science at Breitling Elementary School in Grand Bay, Alabama. I have been a teacher for 6 years. I am currently in the process of going back to graduate school at the University of South Alabama to get my Master’s Degree in Instructional Design and Development.

I am set to fly out of Pensacola, Florida this coming Thursday morning. I will have a short layover at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport in Texas.Then, I will be off again to Seattle, Washington where I will stay the night before finishing my journey the next day. I am excited about getting to spend even a short amount of time in Seattle because I have never been on the West Coast of the United States. I plan to get as much sight seeing in as possible before my flight to Anchorage, Alaska the next morning. Once I get to Anchorage, I will catch another plane to Kodiak, Alaska where I will rendezvous with the rest of the science crew and the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson on Saturday.

Flight Diary
This image is created from http://flightdiary.net/ and it depicts the flights that I will take to get to Kodiak, Alaska.

 

This will be my second NOAA Teacher at Sea opportunity. In the summer of 2013 I participated in a sea scallop survey on the Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp. As a teacher this experience has become invaluable to me because it made scientific research come alive to me in way that I had never been able to express to my students prior to this experience. I am extremely excited about having a second opportunity to travel the world and learn about real data research. I am also excited to be able to share this trip with my 5th grade students back home in Grand Bay, Alabama.

edited2 without man behind me.jpg
This picture is from my first NOAA Teacher at Sea research cruise in 2013 aboard the R/V Hugh R. Sharp

I will spend about 2 weeks aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson participating in an acoustic-trawl survey to estimate pollock abundance in Shelikof Strait.

 

 

 

 

Andrea Schmuttermair: Engineering Extravaganza! July 21, 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 21, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 57 09.0N
Longitude: 151 16.5W

Sky:  broken clouds

Visibility: 10nm
Wind Direction: 245 degrees

Wind Speed: 24 knots
Sea wave height: 3ft

Swell wave: 5-7 ft

Sea water temp: 11.3 C
Dry temperature: 11.1 C

Science and Technology Log

Aside from our survey, there is a lot of other science taking place on the ship. In fact, science is all around us. The officers on the bridge are using science when they use weather patterns and sea swells to calculate the best course of navigation for the ship. The survey technicians are using science when they collect water samples each day and test the salinity of the water. The engineers are using science when they are monitoring the ballast of the ship. Science is happening in places we don’t always take the time to look.

Today we look at a different realm of science, the engineering world. I recently had the opportunity to tour the brains of the ship with two of our engineers on board. I not only learned about the construction of the ship, but I also learned about the various components that help the ship run. The Oscar Dyson was constructed as one of NOAA’s first noise-reduced fisheries vessels. Data have been collected over the years that show fish avoid loud vessels by diving down deeper or moving out of the way of the noise. There was concern that this avoidance behavior would affect the survey results; thus the creation of acoustic quieting technology for research vessels. Another interesting part of the ship’s construction is the retractable centerboard, which allow the transducers to be lowered down below the ship and away from the hull in order to reduce noise and gather higher quality sound data for the surveys.

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It turns out 2 of our engineers are from San Diego, the place I lived for my first 21 years of life. Nick even graduated from Westview High School, the rival of my high school, Mt. Carmel (albeit 10 years after me). The engineers are responsible for making sure everything is working on the ship. They, along with the rest of the engineering team, have to anticipate and troubleshoot problems, and be ready to fix something at a moment’s notice.

In addition to taking me on a tour around the innards of the ship, Nick and Rob also sat down for an interview about marine engineering.

Interview with the Engineers: Rob Ball and Nick Cuellar

Nick, Rob, and....Wilson!
Nick, Rob, and….Wilson!

What is your educational/working background?

Nick: I played soccer throughout high school and was recruited during my senior year by the US Merchant Marine Academy. I went to school there, played soccer, and received a BS degree in marine engineering. I spent 1 of my 4 years at sea doing hands-on training. I was also commissioned into the US Navy as a reservist.

Rob: I’m what they call a hawespiper in the merchant marine world- I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I started at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in 1988 and worked my way up ranks from oiler to engineer. I received my captain’s license, and ran sport fishing boats because I wanted to know boats from top to bottom. I went to professional college for refrigeration, and my main forte is refrigeration and air conditioning, I know I’ll never be out of work. I’m a first engineer now, and am going to go for my chief’s license.

How long have you been working on the Oscar Dyson?

Nick: I came on in August of 2014.

Rob: I just came on board in April of 2015

What are your main responsibilities as an engineer on board?

Nick: As a second engineer, I give fuel reports and transfer fuel to maintain stability of the ship. We have saltwater tanks for ballast, which changes as we burn fuel, and I help monitor this. I check the electricity, lights, fuel, water, and AC and make sure everything’s running. I fix anything that’s breaking.

Rob: As a first engineer, I am the supervisor of engine room and am responsible for how everything is operating. I get updates on the fuel status, and communicate with CO of the ship if changes need to be made. I also look at when the oil/filter needs to be changed. My position is more supervisory, and I oversee responsibilities and delegate tasks. I handle the plant and the people.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Nick: Travel; getting work experience, marine life

Rob: Money and travel; getting to see things in ocean that most people would only see on National Geographic

What is most challenging about your job?

Nick: The different personalities you have to work with

Rob: I agree with Nick. Our life exists in 204ft. I am able to take frustrations and put it into things I enjoy, such as working out, reading, or playing guitar.

What is something unique to being an engineer on a ship as opposed to an engineer on land?

Nick: You have to have knowledge of every square inch of the ship; the two things I think about are: are we sinking and are the lights on.

Rob: You have to keep things going when you have big seas, and you have to have the knowledge and ability to handle problems and stay on your feet (literally). You have everyone’s lives in your hands- you have to be on all the time.

What would tell students who are looking at careers in engineering?

Nick: Don’t give up and keep on fighting. Don’t let hardships get in the way. If it makes you happy, keep doing it. And know your math!

Rob: it’s a limitless field; you can build anything, and fix anything. If someone else made it, you’ll have the ability to figure out what they did. You get to break stuff and fix it.

What is your favorite marine animal?

Nick: Humpback whale

Rob: Orca and Great white shark

Rob, Nick and I
Rob, Nick and I

Thanks gentlemen for the interview!

 

Personal Log

This baby humpback whale was having a blast breaching over and over again.
This baby humpback whale was having a blast breaching over and over again.

The ringing of the phone woke me up from the gentle rolling of the ship. I had told the officers and scientists to wake me up if there was anything cool happening, and an excited ENS Gilman spoke into the receiver claiming there were hundreds (ok, maybe hundreds was a bit of an exaggeration) of whales breaching and swimming around the ship. Throwing on a sweatshirt and grabbing my camera, I raced up to the bridge to get a view of this. I had low expectations, as it seemed that every time we got the call that there were whales around, they left as soon as we got up there. This time, however, I was not disappointed. It was a whale extravaganza! Humpback whales, fin whales, orcas, there were so many whales it was hard to decide where to point my camera or binoculars. Like one of those fountains that spurt up water intermittently through different holes, the whales were blowing all around us. I was up on the bridge for over an hour, never tiring to see which one would spout next, or show us a fluke before it dove down deep, only to resurface somewhere else 15 minutes later. It was truly a treat to be able to watch them, and the weather couldn’t have been better. My favorite shot was of a baby humpback breeching – we had been tracking him for a while, his blow noticeably smaller than the adults around him. He looked as if he was just playing around in the water, enjoying himself without a worry in the world. I had been hoping to see Alaska wildlife on this trip, and am thrilled my wish was granted.

The bathroom in our staterooms
The bathroom in our staterooms

stateroomI had a question about our living accommodations on the ship, and I must admit they aren’t too shabby. I share a room with another one of the scientists, and she works the opposite shift. This works out nicely as we can each have our own time in the room, and can sleep uninterrupted. We have bunks, or racks as many refer to them, and I am sleeping on the top bunk. We have a bathroom with a shower in our room, and it’s nice not to have to share those amenities. The walls are pretty thin, and the ship can be loud when operations are going, making earplugs or headphones helpful.

Nikki Durkan: Parasites Abound, June 29, 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: Monday, June 29, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind speed (knots): 8.25
Sea Temp (deg C): 10.59
Air Temp (deg C):  10

Science and Technology Log:

Parasites – some lurk inside our bodies without us knowing and some could even have an influence on our personalities. One of my favorite Radio Lab episodes describes research conducted on this subject. National Geographic Magazine also published a feature article I found quite interesting – Zombie Parasites that Mind Control Their Hosts.  In addition to capturing our interest because of their sci-fi-like existence, parasites may also be utilized to study ecological interactions.  Parasites a fish picks up throughout its life can indicate information about where the fish has traveled – these co-dependent organisms serve as biological tags that scientists can then interpret.

Nematodes on Pollock Liver - most of the Pollock we caught have had these in their guts.
Nematodes on Pollock Liver – most of the Pollock we caught have had these in their guts.

Parasites often require several hosts to complete their lifecycles and one nematode that can infect Pollock (and humans incidentally) is Anisakiasis.  While I love sushi, raw fish can pose serious risk to our health.  “Sushi-grade” labels, similar to the ubiquitous “natural” labels, do not meet any standardized specifications. However, the FDA does set freezing requirements for the sale of raw fish that commonly possess parasites…so enjoy your sushi 🙂

The pathobiologists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center are currently investigating the impacts certain parasites may have on Pollock. While many species of parasites have been recognized, we still have a lot to learn about their impact on populations and ecosystems. Scientists are attempting to identify those that are likely to influence the booms and busts that can occur within the Pollock populations. More specifically, their current research centers around a microsporidian (pleistophora sp.) that lives within the muscle tissue of Pollock and may impact the fishes ability to swim and breed. (AFSC Pathobiology)

Microsporidian (pleistophora sp.) marked with asterisk Photo Credit: NOAA

These critters are found in most Pollock catches as well - they are sometimes called sea lice.
These critters are found in most Pollock catches as well – they are also called sea lice.

Sometimes ships pick up parasites too! The introduction of invasive species to fragile ecosystems is one of the leading causes of extinction and ballast water is the number one reason for the distribution of aquatic nuisance species. The Great Lakes region serves as a warning about the devastation ballast water can inflict on an ecosystem. Ships can transport ballast water from one region to another and then release the ballast water (along with numerous non-native organisms). No longer encumbered by natural predators or other environmental pressures that help to keep populations in check, the invasive species can flourish, often at the expense of the native species. NOAA has implemented strict guidelines for the release of ballast water to limit the spread of invasive species.  The Oscar Dyson also uses a lot of oil to keep all the working parts of our engine room functioning, but some of this oil drips off and collects in the bilge water. This oily bilge water is then separated and the oil is used in our trash incinerator (all garbage with the exception of food scraps is burned in the incinerator).  Thanks to our Chief Marine Engineer, Alan Bennett, for taking me and Vinny on a tour of the ship.

Thanks, Allan!
Thanks, Allan!

Personal Log:

Fortunately, after three weeks of being splattered with all parts of a Pollock you can think of and eating my fair share of fish, I am currently free of fish parasites…to my knowledge! Our wonderful chefs, Arnold Dones and Adam Staiger, have been cooking healthy, varied meals for 32 people over the course of three weeks – this is no small feat!  The soups are my favorite and have inspired me to make more when I return home. I know from camping experiences with my students and living at a boarding school campus, that food is directly connected to morale.  Last night, the chefs spoiled everyone with steak and crab legs!

Chef Adam Staiger is full of smiles!
Chef Adam Staiger is always full of smiles!

 

Vincent Colombo, What makes the Oscar Dyson tick?, June 29, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Vincent Colombo
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 11 – 30, 2015

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of the cruise: The Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 29, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:

  • Wind Speed: 10.7 knots
  • Sea Temperature: 9.6 degrees Celsius
  • Air Temperature: 10.5 degrees Celsius
  • Air Pressure: 1008.8 mb

Sunrise in Alaska
Sunrise in Alaska

When the fog lifts, hidden beauties and dangers are revealed

Another picture of Shishaldin Volcano – taken by scientist on board the Oscar Dyson, Robert Levine

A view of the Gulf of Alaska
A view of the Gulf of Alaska

In front of Kuiukta Bay
In front of Kuiukta Bay

Mitrofania Bay
Mitrofania Bay

Sandy Point, Alaska
Sandy Point, Alaska


The NOAA Vessel Oscar Dyson is named after the late Oscar E. Dyson. His placard reads the following:

Oscar Dyson

A Friend of Fisheries

Oscar promoted research and effective management

to sustain Alaska’s fisheries for future generations.

Oscar Dyson Plaque
Oscar Dyson Plaque

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2003/s2102.htm
Learn more about the Oscar Dyson here

The small vessel on the Oscar Dyson is named after his wife
The small vessel on the Oscar Dyson is named after his wife


Science and Technology Log:

If you read the link under my page: http://teacheratsea.noaa.gov/#/2015/Vincent*Colombo/ship , it will tell you all about the ship, Oscar Dyson. This ship is nothing less than a modern marvel of technology. Luckily my fellow teacher at sea, Nikki Durkan and I got to experience the science of this ship first hand. Our Chief engineer, Mr. Alan Bennett took us for a tour of the inner workings of this ship.

Chief Engineer Alan Bennett
Chief Engineer Alan Bennett

Our tour started with a look at the Ship’s control panel. From this set of computers and controls, everything, and I mean everything on the ship can be controlled.

The Control Panel below deck
The Control Panel below deck

"We can control the entire ship from right here."
“We can control the entire ship from right here.”

From there, we went into the main engine room. One may recognize the Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which in part of the poem says:

“Water, water, everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.”

Not the case on the Oscar Dyson, because the heat from the engines is used to distill up to 1,000 gallons of freshwater each day!

Where the Oscar Dyson makes fresh water
Where the Oscar Dyson makes fresh water

The ship also uses an Ultra Violet filter to kill all the undesirables in the water just in case.

Ultraviolet Filter
Ultraviolet Filter

Warning for the filter
Warning for the filter

From there, we got to travel through water tight doors into the rear of the ship. These doors are intimidating, and as our Chief Engineer said, in case there is a loss of power, the door can be bypassed so no one is trapped under the ship.

Alan in front of the door showing us the manual bypass
Alan in front of the door showing us the manual bypass

Water tight door. You DO NOT want to be in the way when this closes.
Water tight door. You DO NOT want to be in the way when this closes.

Here you can see one of the massive winches used for the trawl net the ship uses to catch fish. One winch is over 6 foot in diameter and has a thousand meters of steel cable. I wonder if it will fit on the front of a Jeep…

Those winches are no joke. The ship also has a bunch of hydraulic pumps ready and able to bring those trawl nets in fast if need be. Each of these hydraulic pumps has 1,000 gallons of fluid ready to retrieve a net in a hurry if the need exists.

The hydraulic pumps
The hydraulic pumps

One really cool thing I learned was that in case the ship had a major issue and could not be steered from the bridge, there is a way to use the ship’s heading underneath for someone to manually operate the rudder.

Yes you can drive the ship blind
Yes you can drive the ship blind

The manual rudder control
The manual rudder control

From there we got a tour of the remainder of the ship.

One of the ship's massive generators
One of the ship’s massive generators

A water pump for a fire station
A water pump for a fire station

A transformer to convert all that electrical energy
A transformer to convert all that electrical energy

The Oscar Dyson creates ALOT of energy. Here is a read out for one of the many generators on board. Take a look at the Amps produced.

818.6 Amps!
818.6 Amps!

A ship this big also has multiple fuel tanks. Here the engineers can choose which tank they want to draw from. Interesting also is the engineers have ballast tanks to fill with water to compensate for the fuel the ship uses. Alan also showed us the log book for this, as ships taking on ballast water can be an environmental issue. The crew of the Oscar Dyson follows this protocol as set forth by the United States Coast Guard. You can learn more about that protocol by clicking here

Fuel tank selection
Fuel tank selection

Our last stop was seeing the bow thruster. It was a tight space, but the bow thruster can actually power the ship if the main engine loses power.

In the bow thruster room
In the bow thruster room

Here are some other pictures from the tour:

Nikki, Alan, and I in the engine room
Nikki, Alan, and I in the engine room

A serious pipe wrench
A serious pipe wrench

This surface is squishy and covers the entire engine room. It makes the boat super quiet!
This surface is squishy and covers the entire engine room. It makes the boat super quiet!


 

After our tour, it was back to business as usual, the Walleye Pollock Survey. Our Chief Scientist spends countless hours analyzing the acoustics data then sampling the fish.

Our Chief Scientist, Dr. Patrick Ressler analyzing the acoustic data from the survey
Our Chief Scientist, Dr. Patrick Ressler analyzing the acoustic data from the survey

The Walleye Pollock which we are studying is a very integral part of the Alaskan ecosystem, as well as a highly monetary yielding fishery. One thing I noticed almost immediately is the color change between juveniles and adults. It is theorized that as the fish get older, they move lower in the water column towards the bottom, thus needing camouflage. Take a look at this picture that shows a mature Walleye Pollock and it’s juvenile counterparts.

The adult Walleye Pollock gets "brassy" spots on it's body.
The adult Walleye Pollock gets “brassy” spots on it’s body.

You can learn more about the life cycle of Pollock by clicking here.

Here is another site with some useful information on Pollock, click here.


Personal Log: 

Working on the deck of the Oscar Dyson is no laughing matter. What is required to step on deck? A hard hat, float coat, and life jacket. Watching the deck crew, controlled by the lead fisherman, is like watching an episode of Deadliest Catch… just without the crabs. Giant swells that make the boat go up and down while maintaining a solid footing on a soaking wet deck is no joke. My hat is off to our hard working deck crew and fisherman.

 

The deck crew and fisherman deploying an Aleutian Wing Trawl
The deck crew and fisherman deploying an Aleutian Wing Trawl

Fisherman Brad Kutyna retrieving an Aleutian Wing Trawl
Fisherman Brad Kutyna retrieving an Aleutian Wing Trawl

The best part about fishing, is it is just that, fishing. NOAA sets the standard when reducing by-catch (fish you do not want to catch), but sometimes a fish’s appetite gets the best of him/her.

This Pacific Cod ended up in our Aleutian Wing Trawl, it wanted Pollock for lunch
This Pacific Cod ended up in our Aleutian Wing Trawl, it wanted Pollock for lunch

These Pacific Cod were 8 pounds each.
These Pacific Cod were 10 pounds each.

Fishing has always been apart of my life. My Grandfather always said, “If the birds are working, you will find the fish.” A good piece of advice… Look for circling gulls and chances are a group of bigger fish has some bait fish balled up under the surface.

Here the birds are working off the stern of the boat
Here the birds are working off the stern of the boat


Meet the Scientist: 

On board the Oscar Dyson this part of the Walleye Pollock survey is scientist Tom Weber. Tom lives in Durham, New Hampshire and is here to test new custom acoustic equipment. Tom is married to his wife Brinda and has two sons, Kavi and Sachin.

Tom has a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Ocean Engineering from the University of Rhode Island. He attained his PhD in Acoustics from Penn State in State College, PA.  Currently Tom is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of New Hampshire. He also is a faculty member of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping (CCOM for short). Both places of employment are located in his hometown of Durham, New Hampshire.

Tom explaining the brand new acoustic technology
Tom explaining the brand new acoustic technology

Tom has been affiliated with NOAA and their projects since 2006 and is here to test a custom Acoustic Transducer (a piece of technology that sends out a signal to the ocean floor) and sonar transceiver. As he explained to me, this technology sends out a multi-band frequency and the echo which returns could potentially identify a species of fish hundreds of meters below the boat. He is also here to study Methane gas seeps found along the convergent boundary in the Aleutian Islands.  Methane gas seeps are of particular curiosity on this trip because of their unique properties.

Tom busy at work in the Acoustic Lab on board the Oscar Dyson
Tom busy at work in the Acoustic Lab on board the Oscar Dyson

On a side note, Tom saw the first grizzly bear of our trip just hanging out on one of the many coastlines we have passed. He said being on the Oscar Dyson is “Not like being in Beaver Stadium, but the ship moves as much as your seats do during a game.”  When I asked Tom for any words of advice, he said: “Never name your boat after a bottom fish.” Apparently that is bad luck.

A methane gas seep on the ocean floor makes quite a disturbance. Here Chris Bassett is observing what it looks like.
A methane gas seep on the ocean floor makes quite a disturbance. Here Chris Bassett is observing what it looks like.

Tom loves working side by side with the scientists on this study and is ecstatic to see this new technology being used on this survey.


Meet the NOAA Corps Officer: 

Meet Lieutenant Carl Rhodes, the Oscar Dyson’s Operations Officer, and acting Executive Officer for this part of the Walleye Pollock Survey. LT Rhodes is from Bayfield, Colorado and joined the NOAA Corps to use his degree in science. LT Rhodes has a Bachelors degree in Marine Science with an Associates Degree in Small Vessel Operations from Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Maine. LT Rhodes also has a Masters of Science in Facilities Management from Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

His job as Operations Officer on board the Oscar Dyson includes:

  • Ensuring all scientific operations are conducted safely and efficiently.
  • Act as a liaison between all members of the ship’s crew and scientific parties.
  • Record and observe all scientific missions during the day.

His extra duties as acting executive officer include:

  • Managing the ship’s personnel and human resources
  • Taking care of payroll and travel requests
  • Supervising junior officers and crew members

Lieutenant Carl Rhodes on the bridge of the Oscar Dyson
Lieutenant Carl Rhodes on the bridge of the Oscar Dyson

Hands down, the best job of all not mentioned above is driving the boat! All officers stand watch (aka drive the boat) for two, four hour shifts a day. Not to mention all the other work they are required to do. Being a NOAA Corps officer is no easy job. LT Rhodes has the goal to one day be the Captain of a NOAA research vessel.

In his free time, LT Rhodes enjoys scuba diving, climbing mountains, hiking, camping, biking, photography, and flying drones. LT Rhodes shared with me how he has overcome many obstacles in his life. His words of advice to any student are: “Anyone can get anywhere if they try hard and really fight for it.”

LT Rhodes and all the rest of the crew of the Oscar Dyson have not had a day off yet on this research cruise, and work 12 hour shifts around the clock. Seeing this first hand has given me much respect for the type of work NOAA does!


 

Did You Know? 

Seafood is a billion dollar industry in Alaska, with more than half of U.S. commercially captured fish caught in the state nicknamed “The Last Frontier.” According to Alaska’s Department of Labor and Workforce, around 32,200 people fished commercially in Alaska in 2011, averaging 8,064 people per month. Salmon harvesting represents half of all fishing jobs in Alaska, with ground fish and halibut following in second and third place, respectively, according to the state’s labor bureau. Read more here.


 Thanks for reading my blogs! I am hooked on Alaska and would love to come back! I will see you all soon in Delaware!

Emily Whalen: Station 381–Cashes Ledge, May 1, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Emily Whalen
Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow
April 27 – May 10, 2015

Mission: Spring Bottom Trawl Survey, Leg IV
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Maine

Date: May 1, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Winds:  Light and variable
Seas: 1-2ft
Air Temperature:   6.2○ C
Water Temperature:  5.8○ C

Science and Technology Log:

Earlier today I had planned to write about all of the safety features on board the Bigelow and explain how safe they make me feel while I am on board.  However, that was before our first sampling station turned out to be a monster haul!  For most stations I have done so far, it takes about an hour from the time that the net comes back on board to the time that we are cleaning up the wetlab.  At station 381, it took us one minute shy of three hours! So explaining the EEBD and the EPIRB will have to wait so that I can describe the awesome sampling we did at station 381, Cashes Ledge.

This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine.  The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam.  This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!
This is a screen that shows the boats track around the Gulf of Maine. The colored lines represent the sea floor as determined by the Olex multibeam. This information will be stored year after year until we have a complete picture of the sea floor in this area!

Before I get to describing the actual catch, I want to give you an idea of all of the work that has to be done in the acoustics lab and on the bridge long before the net even gets into the water.

The bridge is the highest enclosed deck on the boat, and it is where the officers work to navigate the ship.  To this end, it is full of nautical charts, screens that give information about the ship’s location and speed, the engine, generators, other ships, radios for communication, weather data and other technical equipment.  After arriving at the latitude and longitude of each sampling station, the officer’s attention turns to the screen that displays information from the Olex Realtime Bathymetry Program, which collects data using a ME70 multibeam sonar device attached to bottom of the hull of the ship .

Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges in trawling has been getting the net caught on the bottom of the ocean.  This is often called getting ‘hung’ and it can happen when the net snags on a big rock, sunken debris, or anything else resting on the sea floor.  The consequences can range from losing a few minutes time working the net free, to tearing or even losing the net. The Olex data is extremely useful because it can essentially paint a picture of the sea floor to ensure that the net doesn’t encounter any obstacles.  Upon arrival at a site, the boat will cruise looking for a clear path that is about a mile long and 300 yards wide.  Only after finding a suitable spot will the net go into the water.

Check out this view of the seafloor.  On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges.  That's where we dragged the net and caught all of the fish!
Check out this view of the seafloor. On the upper half of the screen, there is a dark blue channel that goes between two brightly colored ridges. We trawled right between the ridges and caught a lot of really big fish!

The ME70 Multibeam uses sound waves to determine the depth of the ocean at specific points.  It is similar to a simpler, single stream sonar in that it shoots a wave of sound down to the seafloor, waits for it to bounce back up to the ship and then calculates the distance the wave traveled based on the time and the speed of sound through the water, which depends on temperature.  The advantage to using the multibeam is that it shoots out 200 beams of sound at once instead of just one.  This means that with each ‘ping’, or burst of sound energy, we know the depth at many points under the ship instead of just one.  Considering that the multibeam pings at a rate of 2 Hertz to 0.5 Herts, which is once every 0.5 seconds to 2 seconds, that’s a lot of information about the sea floor contour!

This is what the nautical chart for Cashes Ledge looks like. The numbers represent depth in fathoms.  The light blue lines are contour lines.  The places where they are close together represent steep cliffs.  The red line represents the Bigelow’s track. You can see where we trawled as a short jag between the L and the E in the word Ledge

The stations that we sample are randomly selected by a computer program that was written by one of the scientists in the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, who happens to be on board this trip.  Just by chance, station number 381 was on Cashes Ledge, which is an underwater geographical feature that includes jagged cliffs and underwater mountains.  The area has been fished very little because all of the bottom features present many hazards for trawl nets.  In fact, it is currently a protected area, which means the commercial fishing isn’t allowed there.  As a research vessel, we have permission to sample there because we are working to collect data that will provide useful information for stock assessments.

My watch came on duty at noon, at which time the Bigelow was scouting out the bottom and looking for a spot to sample within 1 nautical mile of the latitude and longitude of station 381.  Shortly before 1pm, the CTD dropped and then the net went in the water.  By 1:30, the net was coming back on board the ship, and there was a buzz going around about how big the catch was predicted to be.  As it turns out, the catch was huge!  Once on board, the net empties into the checker, which is usually plenty big enough to hold everything.  This time though, it was overflowing with big, beautiful cod, pollock and haddock.  You can see that one of the deck crew is using a shovel to fill the orange baskets with fish so that they can be taken into the lab and sorted!

You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge.  How many different kinds of fish can you see?
You can see the crew working to handling all of the fish we caught at Cashes Ledge. How many different kinds of fish can you see? Photo by fellow volunteer Joe Warren

 

At this point, I was standing at the conveyor belt, grabbing slippery fish as quickly as I could and sorting them into baskets.  Big haddock, little haddock, big cod, little cod, pollock, pollock, pollock.  As fast as I could sort, the fish kept coming!  Every basket in the lab was full and everyone was working at top speed to process fish so that we could empty the baskets and fill them up with more fish!  One of the things that was interesting to notice was the variation within each species.  When you see pictures of fish, or just a few fish at a time, they don’t look that different.  But looking at so many all at once, I really saw how some have brighter colors, or fatter bodies or bigger spots.  But only for a moment, because the fish just kept coming and coming and coming!

Finally, the fish were sorted and I headed to my station, where TK, the cutter that I have been working with, had already started processing some of the huge pollock that we had caught.  I helped him maneuver them up onto the lengthing board so that he could measure them and take samples, and we fell into a fish-measuring groove that lasted for two hours.  Grab a fish, take the length, print a label and put it on an envelope, slip the otolith into the envelope, examine the stomach contents, repeat.

Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets
Cod, pollock and haddock in baskets waiting to get counted and measured. Photo by Watch Chief Adam Poquette.

Some of you have asked about the fish that we have seen and so here is a list of the species that we saw at just this one site:

  • Pollock
  • Haddock
  • Atlantic wolffish
  • Cod
  • Goosefish
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Alewife
  • Acadian redfish
  • Alligator fish
  • White hake
  • Red hake
  • American plaice
  • Little skate
  • American lobster
  • Sea raven
  • Thorny skate
  • Red deepsea crab

 

 

 

 

I think it’s human nature to try to draw conclusions about what we see and do.  If all we knew about the state of our fish populations was based on the data from this one catch, then we might conclude that there are tons of healthy fish stocks in the sea.  However, I know that this is just one small data point in a literal sea of data points and it cannot be considered independently of the others.  Just because this is data that I was able to see, touch and smell doesn’t give it any more validity than other data that I can only see as a point on a map or numbers on a screen.  Eventually, every measurement and sample will be compiled into reports, and it’s that big picture over a long period of time that will really allow give us a better understanding of the state of affairs in the ocean.

Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow
Sunset from the deck of the Henry B. Bigelow

Personal Log

Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!
Lunges are a bit more challenging on the rocking deck of a ship!

It seems like time is passing faster and faster on board the Bigelow.  I have been getting up each morning and doing a Hero’s Journey workout up on the flying bridge.  One of my shipmates let me borrow a book that is about all of the people who have died trying to climb Mount Washington.  Today I did laundry, and to quote Olaf, putting on my warm and clean sweatshirt fresh out of the dryer was like a warm hug!  I am getting to know the crew and learning how they all ended up here, working on a NOAA ship.  It’s tough to believe but a week from today, I will be wrapping up and getting ready to go back to school!

Kacey Shaffer: All Good Things… August 13, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kacey Shaffer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Location: Bering Sea

Date: August 13, 2014

Weather information from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 12º C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Wind Direction: 306.62 º

Weather Conditions: Clear

Latitude: 53º 51.38 N

Longitude: 166º 34.85 W

Science and Technology Log:

Before we get into detail about data and where all of it ends up, let’s talk acronyms. This trip has been a lot like working in the Special Education world with what we like to call “Alphabet Soup.” We use acronyms a lot and so does the NOAA Science world. Here are a few important acronyms…

AFSC – Alaska Fisheries Science Center (located in Seattle, WA)

MACE – Midwater Assessment and Conservation Engineering Program (also in Seattle)

CLAMS – Catch Logger for Acoustic Midwater Surveys

Drop TS – Dropped Target Strength System

CTD – Conductivity, Temperature and Depth System

SBE – Sea-bird Electronics Temperature-Depth Recorder

We recorded data in a program called CLAMS as we processed each haul. The CLAMS (see above: Catch Logger for Acoustic Midwater Surveys) software was written by two NOAA Scientists. Data can be entered for length, weight, sex and development stage. It also assigns a specimen number to each otolith vial so the otoliths can be traced back to a specific fish. This is the CLAMS screen from my very first haul on the Oscar Dyson.

Kacey's first haul on the Oscar Dyson.
Kacey’s first haul on the Oscar Dyson.

From the Species List in the top left corner you can see I was measuring the length of Walleye Pollock- Adult. In that particular haul we also had Age 2 Pollock, a Chum Salmon and Chrysaora melanaster (a jellyfish or two). There is the graph in the lower left corner that plots the sizes in a bar graph and the summary tells me how many fish I measured – 462! When we finish in the Wet Lab we all exit out of CLAMS and Robert, a zooplankton ecologist working on our cruise, ducks into the Chem Lab to export our data. There were a total of 142 hauls processed during the 2014 Summer Walleye Pollock Survey (June 12 – August 13) so this process has happened 142 times in the last two months!

Next, it is time to export the data we collected onto a server known as MACEBASE. MACEBASE is the server that stores all the data collected on a Pollock survey. Not only will the data I helped collect live in infamy on MACEBASE, all the data collected over the last several years lives there, too. CLAMS data isn’t the only piece of data stored on MACEBASE. Information from the echosounding system, and SBE (Sea-bird Electronics temperature depth recorder) are uploaded as well.

We’ve reached the end of the summer survey. Now what? 142 hauls, two months of echosounder recordings, four Drop TS deployments and 57 CTD’s. There have also been 2660 sets of otoliths collected. Scientists who work for the MACE program will analyze all of this information and a biomass will be determined. What is a biomass? Some may think of it as biological material derived from living or recently living organisms. In this case, biomass refers to the total population of Walleye Pollock in the Bering Sea. In a few weeks our Chief Scientist Taina Honkalehto will present the findings of the survey to the Bering Sea Plan Team.

That team reviews the 2014 NOAA Fisheries survey results and Pollock fishing industry information and makes science-based recommendations to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, who ultimately decide on Walleye Pollock quotas for 2015. Think about Ohio’s deer hunting season for a minute. Each hunter is given a limit on how many deer they can tag each year. In Pickaway & Ross counties we are limited to three deer – two either sex permits and one antlerless permit. If every deer hunter in Ohio was allowed to kill as many deer as they pleased the deer population could be depleted beyond recovery. The same goes for Pollock in the Bering Sea. Commercial fisheries are given quotas and that is the maximum amount of Pollock they are allowed to catch during a given year. The scientific research we are conducting helps ensure the Pollock population remains strong and healthy for years to come.

Personal Log:

Earlier today I took a trip down to the Engine Room. I can’t believe I waited until we were almost back to Dutch Harbor to check out this part of the ship. The Oscar Dyson is pretty much a floating city! Put on some ear protection…it’s about to get loud!

Kacey stands by one of four diesel engines on the Oscar Dyson.
Kacey stands by one of four diesel engines on the Oscar Dyson. (Photo credit: Sweet William)

Why must we wear ear protection? That large machine behind me! It is a 3512 Caterpillar diesel engine.  The diesel engine powers an electric generator. The electric generator gives power to an electric motor which turns the shaft. There are four engine/generator set ups and one shaft on the Dyson. The shaft turns resulting in the propeller turning, thus making us move! When we are cruising along slowly we can get by with using one engine/generator to turn the shaft. Most of the time we are speeding along at 12 knots, which requires us to use multiple engines/generators to get the shaft going. Here is a shot of the shaft.

The shaft of the Oscar Dyson.
The shaft of the Oscar Dyson.

 

Engineering Operation Station
Engineering Operation Station

The EOS, or Engineering Operation Station, is the fifth location where the ship can be controlled. The other four locations are on the Bridge.

Engine Data Screen provides information about the engines, generators and shaft.
Engine Data Screen provides information about the engines, generators and shaft.

This screen provides Engineers with important info about the generators (four on board) and how hard they’re working. At the time of my tour the ship was running on two generators (#1 and #2) as shown on the right side of the screen. #3 and #4 were secured, or taking a break. The Officer of the Deck, who is on the Bridge, can also see this screen. You can see an Ordered Shaft RPM (revolutions per minute) and an Actual Shaft RPM boxes. The Ordered Shaft RPM is changed by the Officer on Deck depending on the situation. During normal underway conditions the shaft is running at 100-110 RPMs. During fishing operations the shaft is between 30 and 65 RPMs.

The port side winch of the Oscar Dyson.
The port side winch of the Oscar Dyson.

When I talked about the trawling process I mentioned that the Chief Boatswain is able to extend the opening of the net really far behind the stern (back) of the ship. This is the port side winch that is reeled out during trawling operations. There are around 4300 meters of cable on that reel! How many feet is that?

When Lt. Ostapenko and ENS Gilman were teaching me how to steer this ship they emphasized how sensitive the steering wheel is. Only a little fingertip push to the left can really make a huge difference in the ship’s course. This is the hydraulic system that controls the rudder, which steers the ship left or right. The actual rudder is hidden down below, under water. I’m told it is a large metal plate that stands twice as tall as me.  This tour really opened my eyes to a whole city that operates below the deck I’ve been working on for the last 18 days. Without all of these pieces of equipment long missions would not be possible. Because the Oscar Dyson is well-equipped it is able to sail up to forty days at a time. What keeps it from sailing longer voyages? Food supply!

And just like that I remembered all good things must come to an end. This is the end of the road for the Summer Walleye Pollock Survey and my time with the Oscar Dyson. We have cleaned and packed the science areas of the ship. Next we’ll be packing our bags and cleaning our staterooms. In a matter of hours we’ll be docking and saying our goodbyes. There have been many times over the last 19 days where I’ve stood, staring out the windows of the Bridge and thinking about how lucky I am. I will never be able to express how thankful I am for this opportunity and how it will impact my life for many, many years. A huge THANK YOU goes to the staff of NOAA Teacher at Sea. My fellow shipmates have been beyond welcoming and patient with me. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to everyone on board the Dyson!! I wish you safe travels and happy fishing!

To Team Bluefin Tuna (night shift Science Crew), thank you for your guidance, ice cream eating habits, card game instruction, movie watching enthusiasm, many laughs and the phrase “It is time.” Thanks for the memories! I owe y’all big time!  

Did you know? The ship also has a sewage treatment facility and water evaporation system onboard. The MSD is a septic tank/water treatment machine and the water evaporation system distills seawater into fresh potable (drinking and cooking) water.

Kacey Shaffer: Fish Scales. Fish Tales. August 8, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kacey Shaffer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

 

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Location: Bering Sea

Date: August 8, 2014
Weather information from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 11° C

Wind Speed: 27 knots

Wind Direction: 30°

Weather Conditions: High winds and high seas

Latitude: 60° 35.97 N

Longitude: 178° 56.08 W
Science and Technology Log:

If you recall from my last post we left off with fish on the table ready to be sorted and processed. Before we go into the Wet Lab/Fish Lab we need to get geared up. Go ahead and put on your boots, bibs, gloves and a jacket if you’re cold. You should look like this when you’re ready for work…

 

This is the gear you'll need in the Wet Lab. It can get pretty slimy in there! (Photo Credit: Emily)
This is the gear you’ll need in the Wet Lab. It can get pretty slimy in there! (Photo Credit: Emily)

The first order of business is sorting the catch. We don’t have a magic net that only catches Pollock. Sometimes we pick up other treats along the way. Some of the cool things we’ve brought in are crabs, squid, many types of jellyfish and the occasional salmon. One person stands on each side of the conveyor belt and picks these other species out so they aren’t weighed in with our Pollock catch. It is very important that we only weigh Pollock as we sort so our data are valid. After all the Pollock have been weighed, we then weigh the other items from the haul. Here are some shots from the conveyor belt.

 

Kacey lifts the door on the table so the fish will slide down onto the conveyor belt. This is when other species are pulled out. (Photo Credit: Sandi)
Kacey lifts the door on the table so the fish will slide down onto the conveyor belt. This is when other species are pulled out. (Photo Credit: Sandi)

At the end of the conveyor belt, Pollock are put into baskets, weighed and put into the sorting bin. (Photo Credit: Sandi)
At the end of the conveyor belt, Pollock are put into baskets, weighed and put into the sorting bin. (Photo Credit: Sandi)

Not every single fish in our net is put into the sorting bin. Only random selection from the catch goes to the sorting bin. The remaining fish from the haul are returned back to the sea. Those fish who find themselves in the sorting bin are cut open to determine their sex. You can’t tell the sex of the fish just by looking at the outside. You have to cut them open, slide the liver to the side and look for the reproductive organs. Males have a rope-like strand as testes. Females have ovaries, which are sacs similar to the stomach but are a distinctly different color.

 

This is the sorting bin. Can you guess what Blokes and Sheilas means?
This is the sorting bin. Can you guess what Blokes and Sheilas means?

The white, rope-like structure is the male reproductive organ.
The white, rope-like structure is the male reproductive organ.

The pinkish colored sac is one of the female's ovaries. It contains thousands of eggs!
The pinkish colored sac is one of the female’s ovaries. It contains thousands of eggs!

Kacey uses a scalpel to cut the fish. She slides the liver out and looks for the reproductive organs. Is it a male or female? (Photo Credit: Darin)
Kacey uses a scalpel to cut the fish. She slides the liver out and looks for the reproductive organs. Is it a male or female? (Photo Credit: Darin)

Okay, no more slicing open fish. For now! The next step is to measure the length of all the fish we just separated by sex. One of the scientists goes to the blokes side and another goes to the sheilas side. We have a handy-dandy tool used to measure and record the lengths called an Ichthystick. I can’t imagine processing fish without it!

The Ichthystick is used to record the length of fish. A special tool held in the hand has a magnet inside that makes a connection with a magnet strip inside the board. It automatically registers a length and records it in a computer program called Clams
The Ichthystick is used to record the length of fish. A special tool held in the hand has a magnet inside that makes a connection with a magnet strip inside the board. It automatically registers a length and records it in a computer program called Clams

Kacey measures the length of a male with the Ichthystick. She holds the tool in her right hand and places it at the fork in the fish’s tail. A special sound alerts her when the data is recorded. (Photo Credit: Darin)
Kacey measures the length of a male with the Ichthystick. She holds the tool in her right hand and places it at the fork in the fish’s tail. A special sound alerts her when the data is recorded. (Photo Credit: Darin)

That is the end of the line for those Pollock but we still have a basket waiting for us. A random sample is pulled off the conveyor belt and set to the side for another type of data collection. The Pollock in this special basket will be individually weighed, lengths will be taken and a scientist will determine if it is a male or female. Then we remove the otoliths. What are otoliths? They are small bones inside a fish’s skull that can tell us the age of the fish. Think of a tree and how we can count the rings of a tree to know how old it is. This is the same concept. For this special sample we remove the otoliths, which are labeled and given to a lab on land where a scientist will carefully examine them under a microscope. The scientist will be able to connect the vial containing the otoliths to the other data collected on that fish (length, weight, sex) because each fish in this sample is given a unique specimen number. This is all part of our mission, which is analyzing the health and population of Pollock in the Bering Sea!

Kacey scans a barcode placed on an otolith vial. Robert is removing the otoliths from each fish and Kacey places them in the vial. It is important to make sure the otoliths are placed in the vial that corresponds to the fish Robert measured. (Photo Credit: Emily)
Kacey scans a barcode placed on an otolith vial. Robert is removing the otoliths from each fish and Kacey places them in the vial. It is important to make sure the otoliths are placed in the vial that corresponds to the fish Robert measured. (Photo Credit: Emily)

 

Kacey removes an otolith from a fish Robert cut open. The otoliths are placed in the vial Kacey is holding. (Photo Credit: Emily)
Kacey removes an otolith from a fish Robert cut open. The otoliths are placed in the vial Kacey is holding. (Photo Credit: Emily)

At this point we have just about collected all the data we need for this haul. Each time we haul in a catch this process is completed. As of today, our survey has completed 28 hauls. Thank goodness we have a day shift and a night shift to share the responsibility. That would be a lot of fish for one crew to process! For our next topic we’ll take a look at how the data is recorded and what happens after we’ve completed our mission. By the way, “blokes” are males and “sheilas” are females. Now please excuse us while we go wash fish scales off of every surface in the Wet Lab, including ourselves!

Personal Log:

Just so you know, we’re not starving out here. In fact, we’re stuffed to the gills – pun completely intended. Our Chief Steward Ava and her assistant Adam whip up some delicious meals. Since I am on night shift I do miss the traditional breakfast served each morning. Sometimes, like today, I am up for lunch. I’m really glad I was or I would have missed out on enchiladas. That would have been a terrible crisis! Most people who know me realize there is never enough Mexican food in my life! Tacos (hard and soft), rice and beans were served along with the enchiladas. Each meal is quite a spread! If I have missed lunch I’ll grab a bowl of cereal to hold me over until supper. I bet you’ll never guess we eat a lot of seafood on board. There is usually a fish dish at supper. We even had crab legs one night and fried shrimp another. Some other supper dishes include pork chops, BBQ ribs, baked steak, turkey, rice, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese plus there are always a couple vegetable dishes to choose from. We can’t forget about dessert, either. Cookies, cakes, brownies or pies are served at nearly every meal. It didn’t take long for me to find the ice cream cooler, either. What else would one eat at midnight?!

Ava and Adam are always open to suggestions as well. Someone told Ava the night shift Science Crew was really missing breakfast foods so a few days ago we had breakfast for supper. Not only did they make a traditional supper meal, they made a complete breakfast meal, too! We had pancakes, waffles, bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns. It was so thoughtful of them to do that for us, especially on top of making a full meal for the rest of the crew. Thanks Ava and Adam!

There are situations where a crew member might not be able to make it to the Mess during our set serving schedule. Deck Crew could be putting a net in or taking it out or Science Crew could be processing a catch. We never have to worry, though. Another great thing about Ava and Adam is they will make you a plate, wrap it up and put it in the fridge so you have a meal for later.

Like I said, we’re not going hungry any time soon! Here are some shots from the Mess Deck (dining room).

Mess Deck on the Oscar Dyson.
Mess Deck on the Oscar Dyson.

Mess Deck on the Oscar Dyson. Can you guess why there are tennis balls on the legs of the chairs?
Mess Deck on the Oscar Dyson. Can you guess why there are tennis balls on the legs of the chairs?

There are always multiple options for every meal. If you’re hungry on this ship you must be the pickiest eater on Earth!
There are always multiple options for every meal. If you’re hungry on this ship you must be the pickiest eater on Earth!

Did you know?

Not only are otoliths useful to scientists during stock assessment, they help the fish with balance, movement and hearing.

Gregory Cook, The Dance, August 7, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gregory Cook

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: August 7, 2014

Science and Technology Log: Abiotic Factors in the Bering Sea

Ecosystems are made up of biotic and abiotic factors. Biotic is just another word for “stuff that is, or was, alive.” In a forest, that would include everything from Owl to Oak Tree, from bear to bacteria, and from fish to fungi. It includes anything alive, or, for that matter, dead. Keep in mind that “dead” is not the same as “non-living.”

Salmon and Black-Legged Kittiwake
The salmon and the black-legged kittiwake are both biotic members of the sub-arctic ecosystem.

“Non-living” describes things that are not, cannot, and never will be “alive.” These things are referred to as “abiotic.” (The prefix a- basically means the same as non-). Rocks, water, wind, sunlight and temperature are all considered abiotic factors. And while the most obvious threat to a salmon swimming up river might be the slash of a bear’s mighty claw, warm water could be even more deadly. Warm water carries less dissolved oxygen for the fish to absorb through their gills. This means that a power plant or factory that releases warm water into a river could actually cause fish to suffocate and, well, drown.

Bering Panorama
A 90 degree panorama of the Bering Sea from atop the Oscar Dyson. I’d show you the other 270°, but it’s pretty much the same. The sea and sky are abiotic parts of the sub-arctic ecosystem.

Fish in the Bering Sea have the same kind of challenges. Like Goldilocks, Pollock are always looking for sea water that is just right. The Oscar Dyson has the tools for testing all sorts of Abiotic factors. This is the Conductivity Temperature Depth sensor (Also known as the CTD).

CTD Deployment
Survey Technicians Allen and Bill teach me how to launch The Conductivity Temperature Depth Probe (or CTD).

The CTD sends signals up to computers in the cave to explain all sorts of abiotic conditions in the water column. It can measure how salty the water is by testing how well the water conducts electricity. It can tell you how cloudy, or turbid, the water is with a turbidity sensor. It can even tell you things like the amount of oxygen dissolved in the ocean.

To see how abiotic factors drive biotic factors, take a look at this.

Thermocline
The graph above is depth-oriented. The further down you go on the graph, the deeper in the water column you are. The blue line represents temperature. Does the temperature stay constant? Where does it change?

I know, you may want to turn the graph above on its side… but don’t. You’ll notice that depth is on the y-axis (left). That means that the further down you are on the graph, the deeper in the sea you are. The blue line represents the water temperature at that depth. Where do you see the temperature drop?


Right… The temperature drops rapidly between about 20 and 35 meters. This part of the water column is called the Thermocline, and you’ll find it in much of the world’s oceans. It’s essentially where the temperature between surface waters (which are heated by the sun) and the deeper waters (typically dark and cold) mix together.

OK, so you’re like “great. So what? Water gets colder. Big deal… let’s throw a parade for science.”

Well, look at the graph to the right. It was made from another kind of data recorded by the CTD.

Fluoresence
Fluoresence: Another depth-oriented graph from the CTD… the green line effectively shows us the amount of phytoplankton in the water column, based on depth.

The green line represents the amount of fluorescence. Fluorescence is a marker of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are plant-like protists… the great producers of the sea! The more fluorescence, the more phytoplankton you have. Phytoplankton love to live right at the bottom of the thermocline. It gives them the best of both worlds: sunlight from above and nutrients from the bottom of the sea, which so many animals call home.

Now, if you’re a fish… especially a vegetarian fish, you just said: “Dinner? I’m listening…” But there’s an added bonus.

Look at this:

CTD Oxygen
Oxygen data from the CTD! This shows where the most dissolved oxygen is in the water column, based on depth. Notice any connections to the other graphs?

That orange line represents the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water. How does that compare to the other graphs?

Yup! The phytoplankton is hanging down there at the bottom of the thermocline cranking out oxygen! What a fine place to be a fish! Dinner and plenty of fresh air to breathe! So here, the abiotic (the temperature) drives the biotic (phytoplankton) which then drives the abiotic again (oxygen). This dance between biotic and abiotic plays out throughout earth’s ecosystems.

Another major abiotic factor is the depth of the ocean floor. Deep areas, also known as abyss, or abyssal plains, have food sources that are so far below the surface that phytoplankton can’t take advantage of the ground nutrients. Bad for phytoplankton is, of course, bad for fish. Look at this:

The Cliff and the Cod
The blue cloud represents a last grouping of fish as the continental shelf drops into the deep. Dr. Mikhail examines a cod.

That sloping red line is the profile (side view of the shape of the land) of the ocean floor. Those blue dots on the slope are fish. As Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko, a visiting Pollock specialist from Vladivostok, Russia, puts it, “after this… no more Pollock. It’s too deep.”

He goes on to show me how Pollock in the Bering Sea are only found on the continental shelf between the Aleutian Islands and Northeastern Russia. Young Pollock start their lives down near the Aleutians to the southeast, then migrate Northwest towards Russia, where lots of food is waiting for them.

Pollock Distribution
Alaskan Pollock avoid the deep! Purple line represents the ocean floor right before it drops off into the Aleutian Basin… a very deep place!

The purple line drawn in represents the drop-off you saw above… right before the deep zone. Pollock tend to stay in the shallow areas above it… where the eating is good!

Once again, the dance between the abiotic and the biotic create an ecosystem. Over the abyss, Phytoplankton can’t take advantage of nutrients from the deep, and fish can’t take advantage of the phytoplankton. Nonliving aspects have a MASSIVE impact on all the organisms in an ecosystem.

Next time we explore the Biotic side of things… the Sub-arctic food web!

Personal Log: The Order of the Monkey’s Fist.

Sweet William, a retired police officer turned ship’s engineer, tells the story of the order of the monkey’s fist.

William and the Monkey's Fist
Sweet William the Engineer shows off a monkey’s fist

The story goes that some island came up with a clever way to catch monkeys. They’d place a piece of fruit in a jar just barely big enough for the fruit to fit through and then leave the jar out for the monkeys. When a monkey saw it, they’d reach their hand in to grab the fruit, but couldn’t pull it out because their hands were too big now that they had the fruit in it. The monkey, so attached to the idea of an “easy” meal wouldn’t let go, making them easy pickings for the islanders. The Monkey’s Fist became a symbol for how clinging to our desires for some things can, in the end, do more harm than good. That sometimes letting go of something we want so badly is, in the end, what can grant us relief.

Another story of the origin of the monkey’s fist goes like this: A sea captain saw a sailor on the beach sharing his meal with a monkey. Without skipping a beat, the monkey went into the jungle and brought the sailor some of HIS meal… a piece of fruit.

No man is an Island. Mt. Ballyhoo, Unalaska, AK
No man is an Island. Mt. Ballyhoo, Unalaska, AK

Whatever the true origin of the Order is, the message is the same. Generosity beats selfishness at sea. It’s often better to let go of your own interests, sometimes, and think of someone else’s. Onboard the Oscar Dyson, when we see someone committing an act of kindness, we put their name in a box. Every now and then they pull a name from the box, and that person wins something at the ship store… a hat or a t-shirt or what have you. Of course, that’s not the point. The point is that NOAA sailors… scientists, corps, and crew… have each other’s backs. They look out for each other in a place where all they really have IS each other.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

Kacey Shaffer: That Is One BIG net! August 4, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kacey Shaffer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Location: Bering Sea

Date: August 4, 2014

Weather information from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 11° C

Wind Speed: 8.95 knots

Wind Direction: 327°

Weather Conditions: Foggy

Latitude: 58° 59’92 N

Longitude: 176° 55’09 W

Science and Technology Log:

Now that we have chosen a location to fish, the real fun begins! With a flurry of action, the Bridge (control center of the ship) announces we are going to trawl (fish). This alerts the Deck Crew who has the responsibility of deploying a net. There are three different types of trawls, AWT (Aleutian Wing Trawl), 83-112 Bottom Trawl, and the Marinovich. The type of trawl chosen depends on the depth in the water column and proximity to the bottom of what we want to catch. The 83-112 Bottom Trawl pretty much does what it is called. It is drug along the bottom of the ocean floor and picks up all sorts of awesome sea creatures. The Marinovich is a smaller net that is trawled near the surface. For this Pollock survey, we have primarily used the AWT. It is a mid-water net and that is the area where Pollock primarily live.

Diagram of the Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT).
Diagram of the Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT).

As you can see in the diagram, the AWT is cone-shaped. When fully deployed it is 491 feet long! The opening of the net, similar to a mouth, is about 115 feet wide. The Chief Boatswain (pronounced bo-sun) controls the winches that let wire out which extends the opening of the net at least another 500 feet from the aft (rear) deck of the ship.

The ITI screen located on the Bridge that allows us to see how far behind the boat and at what depth the net is located.
The ITI screen located on the Bridge that allows us to see how far behind the boat and at what depth the net is located.

The Deck Crew begins to roll out the net and prepares it for deployment. There are several pieces of equipment attached along the way. A Camtrawl is attached first. Can you guess what it does? It is essentially a camera attached to the net that records what is being caught in the net. Near the Camtrawl, a pocket net is attached to the bottom side of the AWT. This pocket net can show scientists what, if any, fish are escaping the AWT. On a piece of net called the kite that is attached to the headrope (top of the mouth/opening), the FS70 and SBE are attached. The FS70 is a transducer that reports data to the Bridge showing the scientist what is coming into the net, similar to a fish finder. The SBE is bathythermograph that records water temperature and depth. Tomweights are added next. These heavy pieces of chain help weigh the footrope (bottom of the mouth/opening) down, pulling it deeper into the water. The net continues to be reeled out and is finally connected to lines on each side of the deck. The horizontal distance between the lines helps the net to fully open its mouth.

The Camtrawl lets us see fish as they enter the net.
The Camtrawl lets us see fish as they enter the net.

Attaching the tomweights as the net is deployed.
Attaching the tomweights as the net is deployed.

While the net is out the Bridge crew, the Chief Boatswain, the Survey Tech and at least one scientist are on the Bridge communicating. Each person has a role to ensure a successful catch. The Bridge crew controls the speed and direction of the boat. The Chief Boatswain controls the net; changing the distance it is deployed. The Survey Tech has information to report on one of the computers. Lastly, the scientist watches multiple screens, making the decision on how far out the net goes and when to haulback (brings the net in). Ultimately, the Bridge crew is the liaison between all of the other departments and has the final decision on each step of the process, keeping everyone’s safety in mind. This piece of the fishing puzzle quickly became my favorite part of the survey. It is so neat to listen to the chatter of all these groups coming together for one purpose.

On the Bridge during a trawl - left to right: Lt. Frydrych, Officer on Duty; Taina, Chief Scientist; Allen, Survey Tech; Chief Boatswain Kirk.
On the Bridge during a trawl – left to right: Lt. Frydrych, Officer of the Deck; Taina Honkalehto, Chief Scientist; Allen Smith, Survey Tech; Chief Boatswain Kirk Perry.

Once we have reached haulback the Chief Boatswain alerts his deck crew and they begin reeling the net back in. They watch to make sure the lines are going back on the reel evenly. When the tomweights come back on deck they are removed. The next items to arrive are the FS70 and SBE. They are removed and the reeling in continues. The Camtrawl comes in and is removed and the pocket net is checked for fish. By that point we are almost to the end of the net where we’ll find our catch. Because the net is very heavy, the deck crew uses a crane to lift it and move it over the table. A member of the Deck Crew pulls a rope and all the fish are released onto the table. The table is a piece of equipment that holds the fish on the deck but feeds them into the Wet Lab by conveyor belt. Once the fish have been removed from the net it is finally rolled up onto the reel and awaits its next deployment. In my next blog we’ll get fishy as we explore the Wet Lab!

Deck Crew members Bill (left) and Mike (right) prepare a full net to be hoisted to the table by the crane.
Deck Crew members Bill (left) and Mike (right) prepare a full net to be hoisted to the table by the crane.

 

Personal Log:

I have delayed writing about this next location on the ship because it is my favorite place and I want to make sure I do it justice. Plus, the Officers who stand watch on the Bridge are really awesome and I don’t want to disappoint them with my lack of understanding. Here are a few pictures showing some of the things I actually do understand…

Display of tanks located on board the Dyson.
Display of tanks located on board the Dyson.

This screen provides Officers with valuable information about the ship’s engine, among other things. This diagram shows multiple tanks located on the ship. Some tanks take in seawater as we use diesel fuel, drinking water, etc. to counter balance that usage and keep the Dyson in a state of equilibrium. Also, if they are expecting high seas they may take in some of the seawater to make our ship heavier, reducing the effects of the waves on the ship. I’ve been told this may be important in a couple of days because we’re expecting some “weather.” That makes me a little nervous!

The General Alarm on the Bridge.
The General Alarm on the Bridge.

The General Alarm is really important to the safety of all those on the ship but it is not my favorite thing every day at noon. The General Alarm is used to signal us in an emergency – Abandon Ship, Man Overboard, Fire, etc. It is tested every day at noon…while I’m sleeping!! “Attention on the Dyson, this is a test of the ship’s General Alarm.” BEEEP. “That concludes the test of the ship’s General Alarm. Please heed all further alarms.”

Officer Gilman updates a chart during his watch.
ENS Gilman updates a chart during his watch.

What would happen if all of our fancy technology failed on us? How would we know where to tell the Coast Guard to find us? NOAA Corps Officers maintain paper charts as a back up method. At the time this photo was taken the Officer was predicting our location in 30 minutes and in 60 minutes. This prediction is updated at regular intervals so that we have a general area to report in the case of an emergency. Officer Gilman completes this task during his shift.

Kacey learns how to steer the Dyson from Officer Ostapeko.
Kacey learns how to steer the Dyson from Lt. Ostapenko. (Photo Credit: ENS Gilman)

Have I mentioned that the NOAA Corps Officers onboard the Dyson are awesome? They’re so great they let me steer the boat for a little while! In the photo Lt. Ostapenko teaches me how to maintain the ship in a constant direction. The wheel is very sensitive and it took some time to adjust to amount of effort it takes to turn left or right. We’re talking fingertip pushes! The rudder is so large that even just a little push left or right can make a huge difference in the ships course.

Kacey records data on the Bridge during an AWT.
Kacey records data on the Bridge during an AWT. (Photo Credit: Darin)

Since beginning our survey I’ve only missed being on the Bridge for one trawl. Because I have paid very close attention during those trawls Scientist Darin is now allowing me to record some data. I am entering information about the net in this photo. Survey Tech Allen is making sure I do it correctly!

There are so many other things on the Bridge that deserve to be showcased. The ship can be controlled from any one of four locations. Besides the main control center at the front of the Bridge, there are control stations on either side of the ship, port and starboard, as well as the aft (rear). There is the radar system, too. It is necessary so the Officers can determine the location of other vessels and the direction they are traveling. As I’ve been told, their #1 job responsibility is to look out the windows and make sure we don’t run into anything. They are self-proclaimed nerds about safety and that makes me feel very safe!

Did you know? The NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. There are currently 321 commissioned officers.

Gregory Cook, Super Fish, August 2, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gregory Cook

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: August 2, 2014

Science and Technology Log 

See this guy here? He’s an Alaskan Pollock.

If fish thought sunglasses were cool, this fish would wear sunglasses.
Alaskan Pollock, aka Walleye Pollock.
Credit: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov

“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.

Chief Scientist Taina Honkalehto decides where to fish based on data.
Chief Scientist Taina Honkalehto decides where to fish based on data.

“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 Need Love, too!
Pollock Need Love, too!

“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)

Fishermen Deploy the AWT
Fishermen Deploy the 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.

AWT
The Aleutian Wing Trawl (or AWT). over one and a half football fields worth of Pollock-Snatching Power.

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.

Allen pulls a cod from the Table
Survey Technician Allen pulls a cod from the Table

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.

Survey Technician Alyssa and Oceanographer Nate pull a giant jellyfish out of a pile of pollock!
Survey Technician Alyssa and Oceanographer Nate pull a giant jellyfish out of a pile of pollock!

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.

Ladies before Gentlemen: The female Pollock (in the front) has ovaries that look like two orange lobes. The Male (in the back) has structures that make him look like he ate Ramen noodles for dinner.
Ladies before Gentlemen:
The female Pollock (bottom) has ovaries that look like two orange lobes. The Male (itop) has testes that make him look like he ate Ramen noodles for dinner.

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.

Personal Blog

Safety!

Lobster Gumby
Your teacher in an Immersion Suit. Sailors can survive for long periods of time in harsh environments in these outfits.

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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: Abandon Ship 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.

Food!

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!).

Chief Steward Eva gets dinner done right!
Chief Steward Eva gets dinner done right!

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!

 

Kacey Shaffer: Let’s Go Fishing! August 1, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kacey Shaffer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Location: Bering Sea

Date: August 1, 2014

Weather information from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 9.7° C

Wind Speed: 11.9 knots

Wind Direction: 153°

Weather Conditions: Foggy

Latitude: 58°19’42 N

Longitude: 175°14’66 W

 

Science and Technology Log:            

If you’ve ever been fishing, be it on a lake, river or stream, you know it is not productive to fish all day in a spot where they aren’t biting. If the fish aren’t biting in one spot, you would most likely pack up and move to a different spot. Now imagine trying to fish in an area that is 885,000 square miles. The equivalent to trying to find a needle in a haystack! Luckily, the Oscar Dyson has sophisticated equipment to help us determine where the fish are hanging out. Allow me to introduce you to a very important location on the ship – The Acoustics Lab.

When you enter The Acoustics Lab, you’ll immediately see a wall of nine computer screens. The data shown on the screens help Chief Scientist Taina and Fishery Biologist Darin make the key decision of where we will deploy the nets and fish. What information is shown on the screens? Some show our location on the transect lines we are following, which is similar to a road map we would use to get from point A to point B on land. The transect lines are predetermined “roads” we are following. Another screen tells us which direction the boat is heading, barometric pressure, air temperature, surface temperature, and wind direction and wind speed. The most technical screens show the data collected from transducers attached to the bottom of the ship on what is referred to as the Center Board. There are five transducers broadcasting varying frequencies. Frequency is the number of sound waves emitted from a transducer each second. The Dyson transducers emit sound waves at 18kHz, 38kHz, 70kHz, 120kHz and 200kHz (kHz= kilohertz). Why would it be necessary to have five transducers? Certain organisms can be detected better with some frequencies compared to others.  For example, tiny organisms like krill can be seen better with higher frequencies like the 120kHz compared to the lower frequencies. Also the lower frequencies penetrate farther into the water than the higher frequencies so they can be used in deeper water. Having this much data enables the scientists to make sound decisions when choosing where to fish.

A map of the Bering Sea showing transect lines in white. During this pollock survey the Oscar Dyson follows transect lines which benefits both the crew and scientists.
A map of the Bering Sea showing transect lines in white. During this pollock survey the Oscar Dyson follows transect lines which benefits both the crew and scientists.

Transducers produce these images displayed on the screens in the Acoustics Lab. The thick red line at the bottom is the sea floor and the  many red, oblong shaped areas indicate large clusters of fish. Let’s go fishing!
Transducers produce these images displayed on the screens in the Acoustics Lab. The thick red line at the bottom is the sea floor and the many red, oblong shaped areas indicate large clusters of fish. Let’s go fishing!

Personal Log:

Each time I share a blog post with you I am going to focus on one area of the ship so you can get acquainted with my new friend, Oscar Dyson. I’ll begin sharing about my stateroom and the lounge. I was very surprised by the size of my room when I arrived last Thursday. My roommate is Alyssa, a Survey Tech. You will learn more about her journey to the Dyson later. She has been on the ship for a while so she was already settled in to the top bunk which put me on the bottom bunk! The beds are very comfortable and the rocking motion of the ship is really relaxing. I’ve had no trouble sleeping, but then again, when have I ever had trouble sleeping?! We have our own private bathroom facilities, which is a definite bonus. Take a look at our room.

The stateroom Kacey shares with Alyssa.
The stateroom Kacey shares with Alyssa.

Our stateroom's private bath. Could that shower curtain be any more fitting?!
Our stateroom’s private bath. Could that shower curtain be any more fitting?!

Alyssa and I are on opposite shifts. She works midnight to noon and I work 4:00pm to 4:00am. There is a little bit of overlap time where she’s off and I haven’t gone to work yet. This is quite common for all of the people on the ship. This is a twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week operation. Someone is always sleeping and someone is always working. Fortunately there is a place where we can hang out without bothering our roommates. The Lounge is a great place to kick back and relax. There are comfy chairs and a very large couch and a television with the ability to play dvd’s or video games. Over the years people have brought books with them and then left them on the ship so we have an enormous library. Sometimes there are people just reading in the Lounge and other times a group of us will watch a movie together. There is one important rule of showing movies…if you start a movie you have to let it play all the way out. Even if you get bored with it or need to leave you must let it play because someone may be watching it in their room. It would be rude of us to continually shut movies off an hour into them!

Career Connections: ST Alyssa Pourmonir

ST Pourmonir checks data on the computer during a CTD deployment.
ST Pourmonir checks data on the computer during a CTD deployment.

Alyssa hails from Pennsylvania. During her senior year of high school she chose to further her education at the Coast Guard Academy. She spent three years studying with the Coast Guard, but ultimately graduated from SUNY Maritime this past January. Alyssa landed a 10 week internship with a NASA facility in Mississippi. During the course of her internship she learned of an opportunity with NOAA. This position would be a Survey Tech, traveling on one of NOAA’s many ships. She arrived at the Dyson only a few weeks before I did.

Alyssa has many responsibilities as a Survey Tech. She assists with the deploying and recovery of the CTD instrument, helps process fish in the wet lab, completes water tests, and serves as a liaison between the ship’s crew and its scientists. When a trawling net is deployed or recovered, Alyssa is on the deck to attach or detach sensors onto the net. She also looks for safety hazards during that time.

When asked what the best part of her job is she quickly responds learning so much science is the best! As a Survey Tech, she gets the chance to see how all the different departments on the ship come together for one mission. She works closely with the scientists and is able to learn about fish and other ocean life. On the other hand, she also works side-by-side with the ship’s crew. This allows her to learn more about the ship’s equipment. Being the positive person she is, Alyssa turned the hardest part of her job into a benefit for her future self. Adjusting to 12 hour shifts has been a challenge but she noted this can also be helpful. When she is super busy she is learning the most and it also makes the time go faster.

Looking ahead to her future, Alyssa sees herself getting a Master’s Degree in a science related field. Some areas of interest are oceanography, remote sensing or even meteorology. Alyssa’s advice for all high school students: STUDY SCIENCE!

Did you know?

Lewis Richardson, an English meteorologist, patented an underwater echo ranging device two months after the Titanic sunk in 1912.

Gregory Cook, The Marinovich Trawl, July 29, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gregory Cook

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: July 29, 2014

Science and Technology Log

It’s 4 in the morning. I make my way into the cave. The cave is the computer lab. On one wall the size of my classroom whiteboard, there are nine computer monitors, each one regularly updating with information about the fish under the boat. We’ll talk more about the tech on another day. Today is my first trawl. A trawl is when we drop a net and haul up whatever we can catch.

Chief Scientist Taina and Contracting Scientist Nate in the Cave
Chief Scientist Taina and Contracting Scientist Nate in the Cave

I’m still getting my head around a cup of coffee when Alyssa comes in wearing a hard hat and life vest.
“In about 20 minutes, I’m going to need another hand on deck wearing this.” She points to her gear.
I nod. “Where do I find that?”

Alyssa politely tells me where the gear is. I remember that I’m not supposed to go out on deck when they’re hauling up the net… at least not yet. “Who do you want me to tell?” I say.

“Nate would be great! Nate or Darin!” she says, referring to a pair of scientists… one of whom is going off duty (and probably going to sleep) and another who is coming on (and likely just waking up). She grabs some large tool that I can’t name and heads off. Alyssa, like a lot of the crew, is friendly and upbeat in the mess hall (the cafeteria), but is completely focused and efficient on the job, with an eye towards safety and getting the job done.

This is goopy!
Your teacher with a Jellyfish bigger than his head.

Our first trawl is the Marinovich Net. It’s a smaller net, but still takes several fishermen and a winch to bring up. It’s a fairly fine net, with holes about the size of a ping pong ball. In our first trawl of the trip, we mostly catch jellyfish. These aren’t your typical, East Coast jellies, though. Some of them are the size of basketballs, and you can see the fish THEY’VE caught through their see-through membrane (their skin!).

We ended up hauling in over 500 pounds of Jellyfish!

Glorp glorp Yummmmm!
Buckets and Buckets of Jellyfish I got to sort with my very own hands!

It’s not a bad first catch, but NOAA scientists aren’t content with that. Hanging on the side of the Marinovich are smaller “pocket” nets. This is where we find out what the Marinovich missed. Nate explains to me that, while we are mainly studying Pollock, there’s other valuable data that can be gleaned (collected) in the process. Other scientists studying Krill populations will be grateful for the data.

The pocket nets are labeled, and each net is placed in a labeled bucket. Then I grab a pair of tweezers and start sorting. It’s mostly krill… skinny shrimp-like organisms with beady black eyes. These tiny invertebrates, altogether, make up millions of metric tons of biomass, according to Misha, our resident Russian scientist on board. Biomass is the amount, by weight, of living things in an ecosystem.

Nate asks me to count out 100 krill with my tweezers, which is kind of like counting out 100 tiny pieces of wet spaghetti. Nate places the 100 on a scale and comes up with a mass of 5 grams. He then measures the rest of the krill, and uses the mass of the original 100 as a way to gauge the total number of krill caught in the pocket net.

Counting Krill
Counting Krill: That tiny pile near my nose? Exactly 100 krill, thank you very much!

What stands out to me about this whole process is the attention to detail. That each pocket is carefully sorted, measured, and entered into a computer base. There’s no “-ish” here. I’m not asked to sort “about a hundred.” Not only are the contents of each pocket net measured, but we make sure to note which pocket had exactly how much.
Some of the catch isn’t Krill, however. Sandi calls me over to see how she measures a tiny rock fish. Sandi is a marine biologist who studies reproduction in Pollock. With a gleam in her eyes she explains what’s so great about getting different size young in the net.

“What it means is that it’s possible that some of these fish might be from further away… and we don’t know how they got here, when they got here, or where they came from. And that’s exciting! We weren’t expecting that and it gives us a whole new set of questions!”

I get asked by a lot of kids “how do scientists know that?” My long answer is exactly this. That good scientists DO sweat the small stuff, they make sure that every little variable is accounted for, and collect massive amounts of data. They look for any possible error that might throw off their results or call their conclusions into question. They do the hard work of truly understanding.

So when I hear folks say they don’t believe something simply because it’s inconvenient for them… maybe it challenges a belief that they’ve clung to for no better reason than not wanting to be wrong… I just want to say “Did you do the work? Because I know some people who did.”
And this holds true for all the scientists I’ve been lucky enough to know. Whether they were counting krill, measuring background radiation, or looking for Dark Matter.

By the way, my short answer on “How do scientists know that?” They did their homework.;)

Personal Log

It’s the morning of our third day at sea. It’s taken some getting used to… the first piece is the motion of the boat. Any 8th graders that went on “Untamed!” with me at Canobie Lake Park know that I’ve got some limits as to how I handle a lot of “movement.” The first 8 hours onboard the Oscar Dyson were rough. I thought I might get sick at any moment! But over time, the body figures it out… It’s like your body just says “Oh, this is just what we’re doing now…” and gets OK with it. Now going to bed is like being rocked to sleep by mother earth. 🙂

Land of the Midnight
Alaska…Land of the Midnight Sunset!

The next, very different thing about life on the Bering Sea is time. My schedule is from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m… which in some ways is good. 4 a.m. in Alaska is 8 a.m. Eastern Time (Boston Time). So coming home won’t be that tough. The weird thing is going to sleep. This is the view out my window at 11:00 at night.

This is, of course, because the earth has that big old tilt of 23.4 degrees. This is why Alaska is known as “The Land of the Midnight Sun.” Well, we’re a little more than a month past the summer solstice, and we’re not currently above the Arctic Circle. So the sun DOES eventually go down… around Midnight! That means that I need to go to sleep during the daylight. Sometimes as early as 8 p.m.! And that means I need a lot of shades… Shades for my window, shades for my bed, even shades for my head!

Time has become an abstraction.
Shades for my window, shades for my bed. Every now and then I wear shades for my head!

We live in an amazing time, where we can travel about the planet, see the extremes that are possible under the physics of this world, and communicate that experience in the same day. Tune in next time when I tell you how to tell the gender of a Pollock. Hint: You can’t just lift their tail!

Gregory Cook, Introduction, July 22, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gregory Cook

(Almost) Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: July 23, 2014

Welcome to the Seablog! This is where I’ll be posting about my adventures aboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson, as we study the fisheries off the coast of Alaska.

Introductions!
First allow me to introduce myself. My name is Gregory Cook, and I am, as far as I can tell, in the running for Luckiest Guy on the Planet! I teach middle school science and math at the East Somerville Community School to some of the coolest kids I know, and work with some of the best teachers in the country. Go Phoenix!

Me and my buzzing buddy
Me and a Humming Bird in Costa Rica

On top of that, I received acceptance this year with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Teacher at Sea program! NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce, and does research on everything from fish and whale populations to climate change to mapping the ocean floor and coastline!

In their Teacher at Sea program, I get to work with world class scientists, be a part of real-world research, learn about amazing careers, and share that knowledge with my students. In a small way, I get to share with you the exploration and study of this great planet. What else do you want out of life? A pony? I think not, good sir!

 

oscar dyson
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson  (Photo from http://www.moc.noaa.gov/od/)

 

The Oscar Dyson is a ship built by the U.S. Government (Your tax dollars doing great work!) to study the Earth’s oceans. It’s over two-thirds of a football field long and almost fifty feet wide. It can deploy (or send out) over five kilometers (more than three miles!) of cable, It has two massive winches for launching scientific study packages. It can use something akin to Doppler Radar to tell you about what’s in the water beneath us and what the sea floor beneath THAT looks like.

Wanna see how they built it? Of course you do!

See Video Credits for Source Material

Alaska

The first thing you need to know about Alaska is its name. It comes from the Aleutian word Alakshak, which means Great Lands or Peninsula… the entire state, in the end, seems to be named after the great Alaskan Peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean.

http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/image/ak_crm_512.jpg
Alaska gets its name from the Alaskan Peninsula, which juts out into the Pacific and then trails off and becomes the Aleutian Islands. (http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/mgg/coastal/s_alaska.html)

If you’re one of my students, you’re probably asking “How…?”

Well, The Alaskan Peninsula forms in a Subduction Zone. That means that the Pacific Plate is diving underneath the North American Plate. This creates some beautiful upthrusts that you and I know as mountains… or, in the case of the Aleutians,… Islands! Geologists think The Aleutians are about 37 Million Years Old, formed by volcanic activity.

As a matter of fact, the Island I’ll be sailing from, Unalaska, was created this very way. You might remember (from 6th grade if you’re a Somerville kid!) Oceanic crustal plates are more dense than crustal plates, so they dive under them, pushing the mountains and islands up.

When I first heard I was sailing out of Unalaska, I wondered what was so “Unalaska” about it… like… were they Yankees fans or something?

It turns out that in the Aleutian language (the language of the Aleuts… the native people of the area) placing “Un-” in front of a word means “near.” So Unalaska means “Near the Peninsula.” You could say that I live “Undunkindonuts.” (Though, yeah, I’m a Starbucks guy).

OK, back to Geology…

So it turns out that a great deal of the Bering Sea is over the continental shelf of North America. What that means is that the sea is more shallow than the Pacific.

Much of the Eastern Bering Sea is shallow. This helps create a thriving ecosystem!

http://www.pbs.org/harriman/explog/lectures/alexander.html

What THAT means is that all the good nutrients that run off of the land… from the rains and rivers… can support a huge amount of sea life. The Bering sea is one of the most productive fisheries in the world… It is teeming with life!

Which brings us to this guy…

http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/Quarterly/amj2012/divrptsREFM7.htm
Walleye Pollock… Fishy-fishy!!!

http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/species/pollock.php

If you’ve ever had Fish Sticks or McDonald’s Fillet o’ Fish, you’ve probably had some form of Pollock. They grow quickly, they die young, and have a lot of offspring. They also represent almost 2/3 of all the groundfish (fish that live near the bottom of the sea) caught in Alaska 2012.

So to say Pollock are important is kind of like saying bread is important… They have a huge impact on our lives here in the United States. So it’s important we look in on them every now and then, and make sure they’re doing ok… So we can eat them. 😀

That’s what I’ll be doing up there in Alaska. Exploring the Bering Sea, and looking in on our good friend, Mr. Pollock. I hope you can come along for the ride. 😀

Kacey Shaffer: Preparing for an Adventure, July 16, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kacey Shaffer

(Almost) Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 26 – August 13, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area: Bering Sea

Date: July 16, 2014

Hello from beautiful Southern Ohio! My name is Kacey Shaffer and it is an honor to be an NOAA Teacher at Sea for the 2014 Field Season. I am thrilled to be sharing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with you. In a few days I’ll be flying across North America to spend nineteen days aboard the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson. Our mission will be to assess the abundance and distribution of Walleye Pollock along the Bering Sea shelf.

Next month I’ll begin my eighth year as an Intervention Specialist at Logan Elm High School in Circleville, Ohio. I teach Biology and Physical Science resource room classes and also co-teach in a Biology 101 class and Physical Science 101 class. Three summers ago I was able to participate in Honeywell’s Educators at Space Academy, held at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. That experience enabled me to bring a wealth of information and activities back to my students and colleagues. Because I had such a wonderful experience at Space Academy, I knew I would soon be seeking out other opportunities to perform hands-on work and gain knowledge not available in my geographic area. I was very excited when I found the NOAA Teacher at Sea program and applied immediately. When the congratulatory email arrived I acted like a little girl on Christmas morning, jumping up and down and squealing!

For our first team mission, I served as CapCom. I was the communication link between Mission Control and the shuttle.
In 2011, I attended Honeywell’s Educators at Space Academy. For our first team mission, I served as CapCom. I was the communication link between Mission Control and the shuttle. (Photo credit: Lynn of Team Unity)

Not only do I love adventure that is related to my teaching career, I love adventure in general! Two summers ago I had the privilege of joining one of Logan Elm’s Spanish teachers and four of her recent Spanish 4 graduates on a nine day tour of Spain. We were immersed in culture and history in several cities from Madrid to Barcelona. It was a wonderful experience and I really hope to travel abroad again. Last month the same Spanish teacher escorted four more recent graduates to Puerto Rico for a five day stay. Thankfully she felt I had behaved well enough in Spain to be invited on this trip! Our trip to Puerto Rico was very different from our travel in Spain. We were able to go ziplining in La Marquesa, hiking in El Yunque (which happens to be the U.S. National Park Service’s only tropical rain forest), and kayaking in Laguna Grande near Fajardo. The most amazing experience was kayaking at night in Laguna Grande. Why would you kayak at night? Because that is the home of a bioluminescent bay! You can learn more about this ocean phenomena here. I am very thankful to be able to travel as much as I do!

Last month I kayaked in a bioluminescent bay near Fajardo, Puerto Rico. I shared a kayak with my friend Megan, right.
Last month I kayaked in a bioluminescent bay near Fajardo, Puerto Rico. I shared a kayak with my friend Megan, right. (Photo credit: Luiz, our tour guide)

If I were driving to the Oscar Dyson, it would be about a 5,000 mile trip one way! I’m really glad the journey will be via airplane. I’ll be meeting the ship in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Does that name sound familiar? Dutch Harbor is the home base of the Discovery Channel’s “The Deadliest Catch.” It is a very small town on one of the many islands that are collectively called the Aleutian Islands. From Dutch Harbor we will sail into the Bering Sea and begin our work. From the information I’ve read, we’ll spend our days gathering information about Walleye Pollock. Through my preparations I’ve gathered this is important because Walleye Pollock is one of the largest fisheries in the world. Why would Walleye Pollock be important to me or my students? This fish is often used in imitation crab or fried fish fillets. We could be eating this species the next time we have fish sticks for supper! For greater detail on Alaskan Walleye Pollock check out the NOAA’s FishWatch page here.

pollock
This is a basket of pollock from a previous survey. (Photo courtesy of NOAA files)

Goodbye Oscar Dyson!
See you in Dutch Harbor, Oscar Dyson! (Photo courtesy of NOAA files)

 

The next time I write to you I’ll be aboard the mighty Oscar Dyson. In the mean time I’ll continue to gather warm clothes and search for a box of seasickness medicine. As I’m packing I may need some advice. If you were leaving home for three weeks, what is the one item you wouldn’t leave without? Remember, I’ll be at sea. My cell phone will be rendered useless and my access to the internet will be limited.

 

Mary Murrian: What an Adventure on the Bering Sea! July 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mary Murrian

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 4 – 22, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Bering Sea South of Russia

Date: July 15, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge

Wind Speed:  10.84 kt

Air Temperature:  10.2 degrees Celsius

Barometric Pressure:  1023.0

Latitude:  5822.3417 N

Longitude:  17253.5563 W

 

I'm standing outside on the deck.
I’m standing outside on the deck.

Science and Technology Log:

 Deploying a CTD

Alyssa is holding an Atka Mackerel
Alyssa is holding an Chum Salmon

Bill working on deck
Bill working on deck

I learn new operations each day I am aboard the Oscar Dyson.  There are numerous people aboard the ship that make the whole operation of working on a research vessel possible.  Survey technicians, Alyssa Pourmonir and Walter (Bill) Potts, help the scientists with the survey process and communicate between the bridge, deck crew, and the science team during a trawl. Each day, sometimes twice daily, the survey techs, will deploy a CTD (conductivity temperature depth) device to the bottom of the ocean floor.  The device measures salinity (how much salt is in the water), temperature, fluorescence (chlorophyll content of plankton), oxygen, and turbidity (how clear or murky the water is) of the ocean water. The CTD sends this information electronically to a computer program which then displays the data and graph for scientists to evaluate.

CTD Graphic Data Display
CTD Graphic Data Display

Prepping the CTD for deployment into the sea
Prepping the CTD for deployment into the sea

As with trawling for fish, this process requires collaboration among crew members.  The NOAA Corps Officers control the position of the ship  from the bridge, and members of the Deck Department control the winch that lifts the CTD device off the deck and into the sea.  It takes two deck hands to help the survey tech navigate the device attached to the winch (the two deck hands are firmly attached to the boat by a rope attached to a belt) off the side of the boat and into the sea, and one deckhand to run the winch from the deck above.

Once the device has been deployed into the sea, the survey tech, using a computer program, will record the data as the CTD is lowered and raised.  When the device surfaces and is returned to the side deck of the ship, the survey tech takes a sample of the water, which is collected in one of the bottles attached to the CTD device.  This water is then sealed and brought back to the lab in Seattle, Washington for further testing.  Although the device reports the salinity of the water while deployed in the ocean, the scientists want to calibrate the salinity of the water sample to check for accuracy.  They can perform more detailed tests on the water in their labs.

The CTD is entering the water
The CTD is entering the water

So why does NOAA want to collect this data?  Analyzing and comparing the data against previous year’s data will assist in checking the health and welfare of the ocean.  It also helps scientists discover more information about the different layers (depths) of the oceans.  It lets us know how the ocean is changing over time and gives us more information about how our climate changing.

Scientists' Journal
Scientists’ Journal

How do scientists organize their data? 

You probably deduce that scientists mainly use a computer to organize their data and you would be correct.  However, they also record data in a journal.  Journals are extremely essential and include appropriate headings, such as what the scientists are working on, the date and the time.  Time and dates are imperative to keeping accurate records and some scientists draw pictures with labels to help describe their findings.  This journal does not leave the Acoustics Lab during time at sea. My experience, working with the scientists, aboard the Oscar Dyson, allows me to easily relate “real world applications” into my daily curriculum and lesson planning.  I have my students journal in both their math and science classes.  And now I can show my students, proof that scientists actually do the same thing.  Thanks NOAA and the crew of Oscar Dyson!

Personal Log: 

Sunrise on the Bering Sea
Sunrise on the Bering Sea

Beautiful View
Beautiful View

I finally experienced a day with little cloud coverage.  The sunrise is breathtaking. It has been rising around 6:40 am each morning.  The crew does not see the sun very much on the Bering Sea as it is mostly cloudy in this area.  The sea has been relatively calm. Thankfully, I have not felt any signs of sea sickness.  The boat has a gentle rocking motion that, if I sit still long enough, can lull me to sleep.  I miss my family, friends, and my dog, however, I know I will be home soon.  I empathize with the crew whom work on the boat full-time and seldom see their loved ones.  Three weeks is plenty of time for me, although this is truly a voyage of a lifetime.  Twelve hour shifts are not bad as long as I keep busy. After my shift is over, I have been playing cards or Farkel with some of the science crew, mostly Nate, Emily, and Alyssa.  I even learned how to play Cribbage.  Dinner is at 5:00 pm and then I will watch a movie, visit the bridge, or work on my next blog.  My self-appointed bed time is 7:30 pm, as the morning comes quickly.

Selfie of the science girls: Emily, Carwyn, and me
Selfie of the science girls: Emily, Carwyn, and me

Each day while at sea, the ship continues to trawl the Bering Sea, as the scientists search for pollock using the sonar screens.  Trawling is like mowing the yard; we cover the ocean in the same manner, moving north and south covering a large expanse of the Bering Sea starting at Dutch Harbor and by the end of the third leg, possibly ending in Russia territory.  When the ship trawls north, I cannot access the internet due to the position of the receiver on top of the ship.  When the ship trawls south, the internet is available.  The crew, myself included, looks forward to southbound trawling across the Bering Sea.  Internet access opens up communication with both family and friends, not to mention the World Cup standings.   Maybe next time, USA!

Each day, “News for the day” is posted in the hallway on the galley level.  It includes weather, happenings aboard the ship, and usually a funny cartoon or riddle.   The following is a riddle I thought you would enjoy:

Each morning I appear to lie at your feet.  All day I follow no matter how fast you run.  Yet I nearly perish in the midday sun.  What am I?

 Scroll to the bottom of my blog for the answer!

Getting to know the Crew:

Over the past week and a half, I had the opportunity to talk to several crew members aboard the Oscar Dyson, including the NOAA Corps Officers.  Recently, I talked with the Commanding Officer and the Chief Bosun .

Chief Operations Officer (CO), CDR Arthur Stark
Commanding Officer (CO), CDR Arthur Stark

The Commanding Officer (CO), CDR Arthur Stark, is in charge of everyone and everything on the boat. He and his family currently live in Port Angeles, Washington.  During college he worked on the Coho Ferry, which ferries from Port Angeles, WA to Victoria, Canada, a 22 mile trip each way.  A year after graduating from college, with a degree in Fish and Wildlife Management, he secured a job as a deck hand aboard the NOAA Rainier.  While working at sea, he learned about the NOAA Corps, and their officer training program.  He applied, was accepted, and completed the 90 day program.  He started out as a junior officer and worked his way up to the Commanding Officer position.  He has been with NOAA for over 17 years.  All NOAA Corps Officers rotate two years at sea and three years on land.  He had the opportunity to help with the aftermath of the Deep Water Horizon incident, which occurred in 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico.  He remembers that day, since it was the same day his daughter was born.  He offered some good advice to students that want to pursue a career with the NOAA Corps or ocean related careers; look for volunteer opportunities and summer camps that deal with marine life.  He said to make sure to spend time outdoors and be involved.

Rockfish
Rockfish

I'm holding the Rockfish
I’m holding the Rockfish

Kirk is filleting the Rockfish
Kirk is filleting the Rockfish

I'm eating the Rockfish, freshly fried from the Galley.
I’m eating the Rockfish, freshly fried from the Galley.

The Chief Bosun or head fisherman is Kirk Perry.  He lives in California and has been with NOAA for over ten years.  Before his work with NOAA, he worked on fishing boats, with the fire department, and worked in construction.  He has a lot of interesting stories about his adventures at sea.  If you need help on deck, he is the man to ask.  Recently, we caught about three dozen Pacific Ocean Perch otherwise known as Rockfish. Kirk entered the wet lab, while we where processing the catch, took out a large cutting board and his personal, very sharp, filet knife, and started filleting the rockfish like a professional.  He told me he has been fishing and filleting fish since he was 10 years-old.  When finished, Kirk delivered the rockfish filets to the head galley chef, Kimrie Zentemeyer, to use for dinner.  She is going to make fish and chips.  Scrumptious, fresh fish, from the sea—to my table!

Head Chef, Kim
Head Chef, Kimrie

Assistant Chef, cooking up some french toast
Assistant Chef, Adam, cooking up some french toast

More to come, in my next blog, about other crew members and NOAA Corps Officers I spoke with during my journey aboard the Oscar Dyson.  Thank you for following me!

Meet the Scientist:  Nate Lauffenburger

Nate working in the Chem Lab
Nate working in the Chem Lab

Title: Scientist III—Contracted by Ocean Associates (working with NOAA)

Job Responsibilities:  Help develop software to automatically process images from Cam-Trawl, a camera that gets hooked to the trawl net and takes pictures of fish as they are being caught.  Completes acoustic analysis of fish near bottom of the sea and participates in fishing surveys.

Education:  Bachelor’s Degree in Math & Physics, State University of New York (SUNY) at Geneseo;  Master’s Degree in Oceanography, University of Washington

Hometown: Buffalo, New York

Current Residence: Seattle, Washington

Why pursue this career?  Math and science always came easy to him; he participated in an internship at the University of Rhode Island in oceanography and thoroughly enjoyed the experience and wanted to continue on that path.

Long term goals:  He is 27 years-old and is just starting his career.  He wants to continue to learn his trade and work in the field of ocean and fisheries.

Did you know?

Did you know the Smooth Lumpsucker is a different family from the Pufferfish but uses a similar defense mechanism?  It fills itself up with water so that it cannot be easily swallowed by a predator.

 

Slimey, but very adorable Lumpsucker
Slimy, but very adorable Lumpsucker

Did you know that the Pacific Ocean Perch is not a perch?  Perch are freshwater fish.  The Pacific Ocean Perch is a type of Rockfish.

 Ship Vocabulary:

 Stern-back of the boat

Bow-front of the boat

Port-left of the boat (red light flashing)

Starboard-right of boat (green light flashing)

Galley-kitchen

Mess Hall- Eating area for crew

Head-bathroom

Bridge-control room where NOAA Corps Officers navigate the ship

Line– rope

 

I am watching the sunrise.
I am watching the sunrise.

Atka Mackerel
Atka Mackerel

Baby Squid
Baby Squid

Shrimp
Shrimp

A type of jellyfish
A type of jellyfish

Chum Salmon
Chum Salmon

Large Hermit Crab
Large Hermit Crab

Sorting krill and baby pollock (age 0)
Sorting krill and baby pollock (age 0)

Age 0, Pollock
Age 0, Pollock

Pacific Herring
Pacific Herring

My fancy cup holder
My fancy cup holder

Krill
Krill

Answer to the Riddle:  A shadow

Mary Murrian: Working at Sea on the Oscar Dyson! July 11, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Mary Murrian

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 4 – 22, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Bering Sea North of Dutch Harbor

Date: Friday, July 11, 2014

Weather Data fro the Bridge:

Wind Speed: 17.02 kt

Air Temperature: 8.9 degrees Celsius

Barometric Pressure: 1004.3

Latitude: 5903.6745 N

Longitude: 17220..4880 W

noaa iphone pictures july 5 and 6 2014 1109
I’m sorting the jellyfish (Chrysaora Melanaster) from the pollock.

Science log:

I participated in my first live trawl, catch, sort and data collection survey. In my last blog, I talked about how we located and caught the pollock.  This blog will talk about what happens when the fish are unloaded into the wet lab and processed.  A wet lab is a science lab that is capable of handling excess water and houses the equipment need to to process the catch.

Fresh catch proceeding down the conveyor belt. Time to sort.
Fresh catch proceeding down the conveyor belt. Time to sort.

Once the crew off loads the fish, from the net to the short conveyor belt, into the wet lab or sometimes called the slime lab, (it really lives up to its name), I help the scientists sort the pollock from the other species caught in the net. A small sample of marine life, that is not a pollock, gets sorted, weighed and measured for data collection purposes. They are not the main target of our survey, however, they are interesting to see. Large quantities of jellyfish usually make the mix, but I have seen a variety of other animals, such as crabs, starfishes, clams, salmon, flatfishes, Pacific herring, Atka mackerel, and Yellow Irish Lord. The main character, the pollock, are weighed in batches and then placed on a small table to be sexed. In order to sex the fish, I had to cut across the side of the fish with a small scalpel. Next, I inserted my fingers into their guts and pulled out either the gonads (male) or ovaries (female). The gonads look like stringy romaine noodles and the ovaries look like whitish-pinkish oval sacs. Female pollock are placed in a bin labeled sheila’s and the male pollocks are placed in a bin labeled blokes. Sheila’s and blokes are Australian terms for female and male. Cute.

A female pollock full of eggs
A female pollock full of eggs

Sexing the pollock.  This one is a female.  You can see it oval shaped ovaries.
Sexing the pollock. This one is a female. You can see it oval shaped ovaries.

Once sexed and sorted, the fish are measured for their length. Two very ingenious scientists (one who is working on my trip, Kresimir Williams, and Rick Towler), invented an electronic measuring device. The device allows us to measure quickly and accurately while at the same time automatically recording the measurement on the computer. It looks like a cutting board with a ruler embedded in the center. Of course, all measurements used are metric, the primary form of measurement for scientists across the world.  I to place the fish’s mouth at the beginning of the board and line the back tail of the fish along the ruler. Next, a special tool (a stylus) embedded with a magnet (it’s small, white,and the front looks like a plastic arrowhead) is placed arrow side forward on the end of the tail fin. Once the tool touches the board (it makes a noise which sounds similar to “ta-da” to let you know it captured its measurement), it automatically records the length in the data program, on the computer. I wish I had one for my classroom. Oh, the fun my students could have measuring!  The device streamlines the data collecting process allowing scientists more precise data collection and more time for other research.

I’m measuring the pollock on the electronic scale called the Ichthy Stick

That was a lot to absorb, but there is more. If you tend to get squeamish, you might want to scroll past the next paragraph.

Although, I did not work hands on with the next data collection, I closely observed and took pictures. I will try it before my trip ends. The next step is the aging process. Aging a pollock is a vital part of determining the health and welfare of the species. Aging a pollock is similar to the method of aging a tree.  The Russian scientist, Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko, who has been surveying pollock for over twenty years and is part of the NOAA science team, has it down to a science. First, he cuts the pollock’s head off exposing the ear bones called Otoliths (Oto–means ear; liths–means stone).  He removes the tiny ear bones (about the size and shape of a piece of a navy bean), rinses them, and places them in a small vial labeled with a serial-numbered bar code. The bar code gets scanned and the code is assigned to the specific fish in the computer data base, which also includes their sex, weight and length. Once back at the lab, located in Seattle, Washington, the otoliths can be observed under a microscope and aged based on the number of rings they have: pollock otoliths have one ring for every year of age.  Only twenty fish from each trawl have their otoliths extracted.

Looking inside the pollock.  The little white bones are the ear bones or otoliths.
Looking inside the pollock. The little white bones are the ear bones or otoliths.

Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko placing the otoliths (ear bones) in the vial to be sent to the lab.
Dr. Mikhail Stepanenko placing the otoliths (ear bones) in the vial to be sent to the lab.

Mikhail Stepanenko or we call him Meesha
Mikhail Stepanenko or we call him Meesha

Once all data are collected, there is still more work to be completed. All of the fish that we sampled, were thrown back into the ocean for the sea birds and other carnivores (meat-eaters) to enjoy. Who wouldn’t enjoy a free meal? Then the equipment and work space must be sprayed down to get rid of all the fish particles (slime). It’s important to clean up after yourself to ensure a safe and healthy environment for everyone. Besides, the smell would be horrible.  I also had to spray myself down, it gets very messy.  I had fish guts and jellyfish slime all over my lab gear (orange outer wear provided by NOAA). Unfortunately, the guts occasionally get splattered on my face and hair!  Yuck, talking about fish face.  Thankfully, a bathroom is nearby, where I can get cleaned up.

Starfish that fell from the net when being towed back on board.
Starfish that fell from the net when being towed back on board.

Part of the snail family
Whelks (snails) and anemones

When all is clean, the scientists can upload and analyze the data. They will compare the data to past and current surveys. The data is a vital step to determining the health and abundance of pollock in our ecosystem. I am amazed at all the science, math, engineering, and technology that goes on during a fish survey. It takes many people and numerous skills to make the survey successful.

Brittle Sea Star

This is one of many experiences, I have had trawling and collecting data at sea aboard the Oscar Dyson.  The process will repeat several times over my three week trip.  As part of the science crew, I am responsible to help with all trawls during my shift.  I could have multiple experiences in one day.  I cannot wait!

Personal Log:

What’s it like to be on a NOAA ship out at sea? 

The deck hands, NOAA Corps, and the people I work closest with, the science team, are wonderful and welcoming. I’m super excited and I have to restrain myself from overdoing my questions. They have a job to do!

The weather is not what I expected.  It is usually foggy, overcast, and in the high 40’s and low 50’s.  Once in a while the sun tries to peek out through the clouds. The Bering Sea has been relatively calm. The heaviest article of clothing I wear is a sweatshirt.  It is still early, anything can happen.

On my first day at sea, we had a fire drill and an evacuation drill. Thankfully, I passed.  With help from Carwyn, I practiced donning (putting on) my survival suit.  I displayed a picture of me wearing it in my last blog.  It makes for a hilarious picture!   All kidding aside, NOAA takes safety seriously. The survival suit will keep me alive for several days in case of an evacuation in the middle of sea until someone can rescue me. It will protect me from the elements like water temperature, heat from sun, and it has a flashlight attached. Hopefully, I will not have to go through the experience of needing the suit; but I feel safer knowing it is available.

Carwyn Hammond

Besides the people, the best amenity aboard the Oscar Dyson is the food. Food is available around the clock. That is important because we work 12 hour shifts from 4:00 to 4:00. That means I work the morning 12-hour shift and my roommate, Emily Collins, works the night 12-hour shift. Hungry workers are grumpy workers. For breakfast, you can get your eggs cooked to order and choose from a variety of traditional breakfast food: French toast, grits, cereal, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, etc…Hot meal options are served for lunch and dinner including a delicious dessert . Of course, ice cream is available always!  I hope I can at least maintain my weight while aboard.

The Galley
The Galley

Food Bar
Food Bar

If I get the urge, there is workout equipment including cardio machines and weights available to use. Other entertainment includes movies and playing games with the other crew members.  The Oscar Dyson also has a store where I can purchase sweatshirts, sweatpants, t-shirts, hats, and other miscellaneous souvenirs advertising the name of the ship. Who would have thought you could shop aboard a NOAA fishing vessel?  I am definitely going shopping.  One of my favorite things to do aboard the ship is to watch for marine life on the bridge, it is peaceful and relaxing.  For anyone that does not know, the bridge is where the Chief Commanding Officer, Chief Executive Officer, and crew navigate the ship.  It is the highest point in which to stand and watch safely out at sea and in my opinion, it has the best view on board.

Did you know?

Did you know when a marine animal such as a seal is close by during a trawl, the trawl process stops and is rerouted?   

The crew is very respectful of sea life and endeavors to complete their mission with the least negative impact on wildlife.  Also, while the ship is on its regular course, the officers on the bridge, sometimes with a deck hand who is available, keep an eye out for seals, sea lions, whales, and sharks, in order to maneuver around them and keep them safe.

NOAA Corps LT Greg Schweitzer, Executive Officer or XO
NOAA Corps LT Greg Schweitzer, Executive Officer or XO

NOAA Corps Ensign Ben VanDine, Safety Officer
NOAA Corps Ensign Ben VanDine, Safety Officer

 

Did you know you can track the Oscar Dyson and its current location?

Check out this link: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov/

Make sure you find the Bering Sea and click on the yellow dot; it will tell you our coordinates!

 

Meet the Scientist:  Emily Collins

Emily holding a Yellow Irish Lord

Title: Fisheries Observer (4 years)

Education:  Bachelor’s Degree in Biology, Marine Science, Boston University

Job Responsibilities: As an observer, Emily works aboard numerous fishing vessels, including the Oscar Dyson.  She collects data to find out what is being caught so that we can send the information to NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Services), a division of NOAA.  They use the data she collects to complete a stock assessment about what type of fish are caught and how much.  She is helping, as part of the science team, survey the pollock for all three legs of the survey.  When I get back to port, she has a couple of days to rest up in Dutch Harbor and then she will complete the last leg of the trip.

Living Quarters:  As a full-time observer, her home is wherever the next assignment is located, mostly on the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska.  She is from Dundee, New York, where her family currently resides.

What is cool about her work?

She loves working at sea  and working with the marine life.  She especially loves it when the nets catch a species of fish she has not seen before.  Getting to know new people and traveling is also a plus.

The weirdest and definitely not her favorite experience, while working on a smaller fisheries boats, was having to use a bucket for the toilet.

Emily had a wonderful opportunity her senior year in high school, the chance to go on a National Geographic Expedition with her mom and then later while in college while taking classes abroad. She went to the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador to study marine biology. These experiences and the fact that her mother is a veterinarian exposed Emily to the love of animals the ocean, and her career choice.

 

Nate is holding a snow crab.

A flat fish
Rock Sole (a type of flatfish)

 

Lots of crabs!
Lots of crabs!

Sorting through the bottom trawl
Sorting through the bottom trawl

Korean Horsehair Crab

Kresimir Williams holding a crab
Kresimir Williams holding a crab

Alex De Robertis working in the wet lab.
Alex De Robertis working in the wet lab.

Mary Murrian: My First Days in Dutch Harbor, July 6, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea 

Mary Murrian

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

July 4 – 22, 2014

Mission: Annual Walleye Pollock Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Bering Sea North of Dutch Harbor

Date: Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Wind Speed: 6 kts

Air Temperature: 8.6 degrees Celsius

Weather conditions: Hazy

Barometric Pressure: 1009.9

Latitude: 5923.6198  N

Longitude: 17030.6395  W

 

Science and Technology Log

Part One of the Survey Trawl: Getting Ready to Fish

This is a picture of a pollock from our first trawl.
This is a picture of a pollock from our first trawl.

Today is my second day aboard the Oscar Dyson.  We are anxiously waiting for the echosounder (more information on echosounder follows) to send us a visual indication that a large abundance of fish is ready to be caught.  The point of the survey is to measure the abundance of Walleye Pollock throughout specific regions in the Bering Sea and manage the fisheries that harvest these fish for commercial use to process and sell across the world.  The Walleye Pollock are one of the largest populations of fish.  It is important to manage their populations due to over-fishing could cause a substantial decrease the species.  This would be detrimental to our ecosystem.  The food web [interconnecting food chains; i.e. Sun, plants or producers (algae), primary consumers, animals that eat plants (zooplankton), secondary consumers, animals that eat other animals (pollock), and decomposers, plants or animals that break down dead matter (bacteria)] could be altered and would cause a negative effect on other producers and consumers that depend on the pollock for food or maintain their population.

The main food source for young pollock is copepods, a very small marine animal (it looks like a grain of rice with handle bars).  They also eat zooplankton (animals in the plankton), crustaceans, and other bottom dwelling sea life.  On the weird side of the species, adult pollock are known to eat smaller pollock.  That’s right, they eat each other, otherwise known as cannibalism.  Pollock is one of the main food sources for young fur seal pups and other marine life in Alaskan waters.  Without the pollock, the food web would be greatly altered and not in a positive way.

How do we track the pollock?

Pollock
Pollock

Tracking begins in the acoustics lab.  Acoustics is the branch of science concerned with the properties of sound.  The acoustics lab on board the Oscar Dyson, is the main work room where scientists can monitor life in the ocean using an echosounder which measures how many fish there are with sound to track the walleye pollock’s location in the ocean.  They also use the ships’s GPS (Global Positioning System), a navigation system, to track the location of the NOAA vessel and trawl path.

Echo Sounder
Sonar Screen

What is sonar and how does it work? 

Sonar (sound ranging & navigation;  it’s a product of World War II) allows scientists to “see” things in the ocean using sound by measuring the amount of sound bouncing off of objects in the water.  On this survey, sonar images are displayed as colors on several computer monitors, which are used to see when fish are present and their abundance.  Strong echoes show up as red, and weak echoes are shown as white.  The greater the amount of sound reported by the sonar as red signals, the greater the amount of fish.

Echo Sonar Screen Showing the patterns of echos from the ocean.
Echo Sonar Screen Showing the patterns of echos from the ocean.

How does it work?  There is a piece of equipment attached to the bottom of the ship called the echosounder.  It sends pings (sound pulses) to the bottom of the ocean and measures how much sound bounces back to track possible fish locations.   The echo from the ocean floor shows up as a very strong red signal.   When echoes appear before the sound hits the ocean floor, this represents the ping colliding with an object in the water such as a fish.

The scientists monitor the echosounder signal so they can convey to the ships’s bridge and commanding officer to release the nets so that they can identify the animals reflecting the sound.  The net catches anything in its path such as jellyfish, star fish, crabs, snails, clams, and a variety of other fish species. Years of experience allows the NOAA scientists the ability to distinguish between the colors represented on the computer monitor and determine which markings represent pollock versus krill or other sea life.  We also measure the echoes at different frequencies and can tell whether we have located fish such as pollock, or smaller aquatic life (zooplankton). The red color shown on the sonar screen is also an indicator of pollock, which form dense schools.  The greater amount of red color shown on the sonar monitor, the better opportunity to we have to catch a larger sample of pollock.

The Science Team Wonderful group of people.

Once we have located the pollock and the net is ready, it is time to fish.  It is not as easy as you think, although the deck hands and surveyors make it look simple.  In order to survey the pollock, we have to trawl the ocean.  Depending on the sonar location of the pollock, the trawl can gather fish from the bottom of floor, middle level and/or surface of the ocean covering preplanned locations or coordinates. Note: Not all the fish caught are pollock.

The preplanned survey path is called transect lines with head due north for a certain distance. When the path turns at a 90 degree angle west (called cross-transect lines) and turns around another 90 degree angle heading back south again.  This is repeated numerous times over the course of each leg in order to cover a greater area of the ocean floor.  In my case we are navigating the Bering Sea.  My voyage, on the Oscar Dyson is actually the second leg of the survey, in which, scientists are trawling for walleye pollock.  There are a total of three legs planned covering a distance of approximately 6,200nmi (nautical miles, that is).

Trawling is where we release a large net into the sea located on the stern (the back of the boat).  Trawling is similar to herding sheep.  The fish swim into the net as the boat continues to move forward, eventually moving to the smaller end of the net.  Once the sonar screen (located on a computer monitor) shows that we have collected a large enough sample of pollock, the deck hands reel the net back on board the boat.

 

The crew are beginning to release the trawl net.
The crew are beginning to release the trawl net.

This is the stern of the boat where the trawl net gets released into the ocean.
This is the stern of the boat where the trawl net gets released into the ocean.

We have caught the fish, now what?  Stay tuned for my exciting experience in the wet lab handling the pollock and other marine wild life.  It is most certainly an opportunity of a lifetime.

Personal Log

What an adventure!

I was lucky enough to spend a day exploring Dutch Harbor, Alaska before departing on the pollock survey across the Bering Sea. It took me three plane rides, several short lay-overs and and a car ride to get here, a total of 16 hours. There is a four hour time difference between Dutch Harbor and Dover, Delaware. It takes some getting used to, but definitely worth it. The sun sets shortly after 12:00 midnight and appears again around 5:00 in the morning. Going to sleep when it’s still daylight can be tricky. Thank goodness I have a curtain surrounding my bed. Speaking of the bed, it is extremely comfortable. It is one of those soft pillow top beds. Getting in and out of the top bunk can be challenging. I haven’t fallen yet.

My bed is the top bunk.
My bed is the top bunk.

During my tour through the small town of Dutch Harbor, I have encountered very friendly residents and fishermen from around the world.  I was fortunate to see the U.S. Coast Guard ship Healy docked at the harbor. What a beautiful vessel.  Dutch Harbor has one full grocery store (Safeway) just like we have in Delaware, with the exception of some of the local Alaska food products like Alaska BBQ potato chips. They have a merchant store that sells a variety of items ranging from food, souvenirs, clothing, and hardware. They have three local restaurants and a mom and pop fast food establishment. One of the restaurants is located in the only local Inn the Aleutian hotel, which also includes a gift shop. Dutch Harbor is home to several major fisheries. Dutch Harbor is rich in history and is home to the native Aleutian tribe. I took a tour of their local museum. It was filled with the history and journey of the Aleutian people. While driving through town, I got a chance to see their elementary and high school. They both looked relatively new. Dutch Harbor is also home to our nation’s first Russian Orthodox Church. Alaska is our 50th state and was purchased from Russia in 1867.

Me and the Oscar Dyson
Mary Murian in front of the Oscar Dyson

A very funny photo of me in my survival suit.
A very funny photo of me in my survival suit.

One of the coolest parts of my tour was walking around the area known as the “spit”. The “spit” is located directly behind the airport. I’m told it is called the “spit” because the land and water are spitting distance in length and width. We walked along the shoreline and discovered hundreds of small snails gathered around the rocks. We also found hermit crabs, starfish, sea anemones, jellyfish, and red algae. We saw red colored water, which is a bloom or a population explosion of tiny algae that get so thick that they change the color of the water.

One of numerous amazing views in Dutch Harbor
One of numerous amazing views in Dutch Harbor

tas 2014 day 1 and perboarding july 2-4th 089
Starfish

Another animal in abundance in Dutch Harbor is the bald eagle. There is practically one on every light post or tall structure. Often the bald eagles are perched in small groups. Watch out: if you walk too close to a nesting mother, she will come after you. They are massive, regal animals. I never get tired of watching them.

We had to watch our step, the snails were everywhere along the shoreline of the Spit.
We had to watch our step, the snails were everywhere along the shoreline of the Spit.

A bald eagle hoping to find some lunch.
A bald eagle hoping to find some lunch.

Russian Orthodox Church in Dutch Harbor, AK
Russian Orthodox Church in Dutch Harbor, AK

Did You Know?

Did you know that Alaska’s United States Coast Guard vessel has the ability to break through sea ice? 

This is especially helpful if you want to study northern areas, which are often ice covered, in the winter, and to assist a smaller boat if it gets trapped in the ice.

U.S. Coast Guard Ship Healy docked at the Spit.
U.S. Coast Guard Ship Healy docked at the Spit.

Did you know that scientists set time to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) which is the time in a place in England?

This reduces confusion (e.g. related to daylight savings, time zones) when the measurements are analyzed.

Key Vocabulary:

Carnivore

Primary Consumer

Secondary Consumer

Nautical Miles

Trawling

Stern

Acoustics

Decomposers

Echosounder

Meet the Scientist:

Alex De Biologist
Alex De Robertis Chief Scientist

Leg II Chief Scientist Dr. Alex De Robertis

Title: NOAA Research Fishery Biologist (10 years)

Education:  UCLA Biology Undergraduate Degree

Scripps Institute Oceanography San Diego, CA PhD.

Newport, Oregon Post Doctorate work

Living Quarters:

Born in Argentina and moved to England when one-year old.

Lived in Switzerland and moved to Los Angeles,CA at the age of 13.

Currently lives in Seattle, Washington, and he has two kids aged one and five.

Job Responsibilities:

Responsible for acoustic trawl surveying at Alaska Fisheries Science Center

Was able to help with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill clean-up using the same echo sonar used on trawl surveys.

What is cool about his work:

He enjoys his work, especially the chance to travel to different geographic locations and meet new people.  “You never know what you are going to encounter; there is always a surprise or curve ball, when that occurs you adjust and just go with it”.

In the near future, he would love to see or be part of the design for an autonomous ocean robot that will simplify the surveying process.

He has been interested in oceans and biology since a small boy.  He remembers seeing two divers emerge from the sea and was amazed it was possible.

Britta Culbertson, Big Fish Little Fish, Sept 15, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Britta Culbertson
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4-19, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Walleye Pollock and Forage Fish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: Saturday, September 15th, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind Speed: 11kts
Air Temperature: 12.2 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 87%
Barometric Pressure: 1010.7 mb
Latitude: 59 degrees 26.51″ N              Longitude: 149 degrees 47.53″ W

Science and Technology Log

Finally, as we near the end of the cruise, I’m ready to write about one of the major parts of the survey we are doing.  Until now, I’ve been trying to take it all in and learn about the science behind our surveys and observe the variety of organisms that we have been catching. In my last few entries, I explained the bongo net tow that we do at each station.  Immediately after we finish pulling in the bongo nets and preparing the samples, the boat repositions on the station and we begin a tow using an anchovy net.  It gets its name from the size of fish it is intended to capture, but it is not limited to catching anchovies and as you will see in the entry below, we catch much more than fish.

 Why are we collecting juvenile pollock?

We are interested in measuring the abundance of juvenile pollock off of East Kodiak Island and in the Semidi Bank vicinity.  We are not only focusing on the walleye pollock, we are also interested in the community structure and biomass of organisms that live with the pollock.  Other species that we are measuring include: capelin, eulachon, Pacific cod, arrowtooth flounder, sablefish, and rockfish.  As I described in the bongo entries, we catch zooplankton because those are prey for the juvenile pollock.

Pollock trio
On the top is an age 2+ pollock, below that an age 1 pollock, and then below that is an age zero pollock. (Photo credit: John Eiler)

The Gulf of Alaska juvenile walleye pollock study used to be conducted every year, using the same survey grid.  Now the Gulf of Alaska survey is conducted every other year with the Bering Sea surveyed in alternating years.  That way, scientists can understand how abundant the fish are and where they are located within the grid or study area.  With the data being collected every year (or every other year), scientists can establish a time series and are able to track changes in the population from year to year. The number of age 0 pollock that survive the winter ( to become age 1) are a good indicator of how many fish will be available for commercial fisheries. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will provide this data to the fisheries industry so that fishermen can predict how many fish will be available in years to come.  The abundance of age one pollock is a good estimate of fish that will survive and be available to be caught by fishermen later, when they reach age 3 and beyond, and can be legally fished.

The other part of our study concerns how the community as a whole responds to changes in the ecosystem (from climate, fishing, etc.).  That is why we also measure and record the zooplankton, jellyfish, shrimp, squids, and other fish that we catch.

How does it work?

The anchovy net (this particular design is also called a Stauffer trawl) is pretty small compared to those that are used by commercial fishermen.  The mesh is 5 millimeters compared to the 500 micrometer mesh that we used for the bongo.  The smallest organisms we get in the anchovy net are typically krill.

Trawl net
A picture of a generic trawling net. It’s very similar to the anchovy net that we are using.

Typically, we don’t catch large fish in the net, but there have been some exceptions.  You might wonder why larger fish do not get caught in the net. It’s because the mesh is smaller and it’s towed through the water very slowly.  Fish have a lateral line system where they can feel a change in pressure in the water.  The bow wave from the boat creates a large pressure differential that the fish can detect.  Larger fish are usually fast enough to avoid the net as it moves through the water, but small fish can’t get out of the way in time.  One night we caught several Pacific Ocean Perch, which are larger fish, but very slow moving.  They are equipped with large spines on their fins and are better adapted to hunkering down and defending themselves as opposed to other fish that are fast swimmers and great at maneuvering.

Pacific Ocean Perch
This is one of the Pacific Ocean Perch (rockfish) that got caught in our net.

When we pull in the trawl net, it is emptied into buckets and then the haul is sorted by species and age class.  The catch is then measured, weighed, and recorded on a data sheet.  After that, we return most of the fish to the sea and save 25 of the juvenile pollock, capelin, and eulachon to take back to Seattle for further investigation.  We also save some of the smaller flatfish and sablefish to send back to Seattle. Check out the gallery below to see the process from beginning to end.

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Where are the pollock in the food web?

Eulachon and capelin are zooplanktivores and compete with the juvenile pollock for food. Larger eulachon and capelin are not competitors (those over 150 mm).  Arrowtooth flounder and Pacific Cod are predators of the juvenile walleye pollock.  Cyanea and Chrysaora jellyfish are also zooplanktivores and could potentially compete with juvenile walleye pollock, so that is why we focus on these particular jellyfish in our study.

 What’s in that net?

When we pull in the trawl, we sort it into piles of different species and different age classes.  If we get a lot of juvenile pollock (age 0), we measure and weigh 100 and freeze 25 to take back to the lab so their stomach contents can be examined.  We do the same procedure for young capelin, eulachon, and flatfish.  Other organisms like jellyfish are counted and weighed and put back in the ocean.

Below is a list of different organisms we have found in the anchovy net during this cruise:

  • Walleye Pollock
  • Eulachon
  • Capelin
  • Shrimp
  • Larger zooplankton
  • Pink and Coho Salmon
  • Pacific Ocean Perch
  • Lanternfish
  • Prowfish
  • Arrowtooth Flounder
  • Cyanea Jellyfish
  • Chrysaora Jellyfish
  • Miscellaneous clear jellyfish (some moon jellyfish)
  • Ctenophores (comb jellyfish)
  • Spiny Lumpsucker
  • Toad Lumpsucker
  • Grenadier
  • Flathead sole
  • Pacific cod
  • Herring
  • Sablefish
  • Sand Fish
  • Octopus
  • Snail fish

Personal Log

As we wind down the cruise, I’m feeling a little sad that it’s ending.  I’m looking forward to going home and seeing my husband and our dog, but I’ll miss the friends I’ve made on the ship and I’ll certainly miss collecting data.  Even though it can be quite repetitive after awhile, I can’t think of a more beautiful place to do this work than the Gulf of Alaska.  The last few days we have had a couple of stations near the coastline around Seward, Alaska and we have ventured into both Harris Bay and Resurrection Bay.  There we caught sight of some amazing glaciers and small islands.  There was even an island that had bunkers from WWII on it.  Yesterday, 3 Dall’s Porpoises played in our bow wake as I stood on the bridge and watched.  It’s moments like this that all of the discomforts of being at sea fall away and I can reflect on what an incredible experience this has been!

Glacier
Beautiful scenery from Resurrection Bay.

Dall's Porpoise
Three Dall’s porpoises that were playing in our bow wake.

 

Did You Know?

Spiny lumpsuckers are tiny, cute, almost spherical fish that have a suction disk on their ventral (bottom) side.  The suction disk is actually a modified pelvic fin.  They use the suction disk to stick to kelp or rocks on the bottom of the ocean.

Their family name is Cyclopteridae (like the word Cyclops!).  It is Greek in origin.  “Kyklos” in Greek mean circle and “pteryx” means wing or fin.  This name is in reference to the circle-shaped pectoral fins that are possessed by fish in this family.

These lumpsuckers are well camouflaged from their predators and their suction disk helps them overcome their lack of an air bladder (this helps fish move up and down in the water).  Because lumpsuckers don’t have an air bladder, they are not great swimmers.

Spiny lumpsuckers are on average about 3 cm in length, but there are larger lumpsuckers that we have found, like the toad lumpsucker that you can see in the photo below.

You can read more about the spiny lumpsucker on the Aquarium of the Pacific’s website.