Data from the Bridge (at beginning of log)
Latitude: 28.07 Longitude: 93.27.45 Temperature: 84°F Wind Speeds: ESE 13 mph large swells
Science and Technology Log
9/21/19-We left Galveston, TX late in the afternoon once the backup parts arrived. After a few changes because of boat traffic near us, were able to get to station 1 around 21:00 (9:00 pm). We baited the 100 hooks with Atlantic Mackerel. Minutes later the computers were up and running logging information as the high flyer and the 100 hooks on 1 mile of 4mm 1000# test monofilament line were placed in the Gulf of Mexico for 60 minutes. My job on this station was to enter the information from each hook into the computer when it was released and also when it was brought onboard. When the hook is brought onboard they would let me know the status: fish on hook, whole bait, damaged bait, or no bait. Our first night was a huge success. We had a total of 28 catches on our one deployed longline.
We caught 1 bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), 2 tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), 14 sharp nose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), 2 black tip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus), 7 black nose sharks (Carcharhinus acronotus), and 2 red snappers (Lutjanus campechanus). There were also 3 shark suckers (remoras) that came along for the ride.
I was lucky to be asked by the Chief Scientist Kristin to tag the large tiger shark that was in the cradle. It took me about 3 tries but it eventually went in right at the bottom of his dorsal fin. He was on hook #79 and was 2300mm total length. What a great way to start our first day of fishing. After a nice warm, but “rolling” shower I made it to bed around 1:00 am. The boat was really rocking and I could hear things rolling around in cabinets. I think I finally fell asleep around 3:00.
9/22- The night shift works from midnight to noon doing exactly what we do during the day. They were able to complete two stations last night. They caught some tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) and a couple sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus). My shift consists of Kristin, Christian, Taniya, and Ryan: we begin our daily shifts at noon and end around midnight. The ship arrived at our next location right at noon so the night shift had already prepared our baits for us. We didn’t have a lot on this station but we did get a Gulf smooth hound shark (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), 2 king snake eels (Ophichthus rex), and a red snapper that weighed 7.2 kg (15.87 lbs). We completed a second station around 4:00 pm where our best catch was a sandbar shark. Due to the swells, we couldn’t use the crane for the shark basket so Kristin tried to tag her from the starboard side of the ship.
We were able to complete a third station tonight at 8:45 pm. My job this time was in charge of data recording. When a “fish is on,” the following is written down: hook number, mortality status, genus and species, precaudal measurement, fork measurement, and total length measurement, weight, sex, stage, samples taken, and tag number/comments. We had total of 13 Mustelus sinusmexicanus; common name Gulf smooth-hound shark. The females are ovoviviparous, meaning the embryos feed solely on the yolk but still develop inside the mother, before being born. The sharks caught tonight ranged in length from 765mm to 1291mm. There were 10 females and 3 male, and all of the males were of mature status. We took a small tissue sample from all but two of the sharks, which are used for genetic testing. Three of the larger sharks were tagged with rototags. (Those are the orange tags you see in the picture of the dorsal fin below).
I spend most of my downtime between stations in the science dry lab. I have my laptop to work on my blog and there are 5 computers and a TV with Direct TV. We were watching Top Gun as we were waiting for our first station. I tried to watch the finale of Big Brother Sunday night but it was on just as we had to leave to pull in our longline. So I still don’t know who won. 🙂 I slept good last night until something started beeping in my room around 4:00 am. It finally stopped around 6:30. They went and checked out my desk/safe where the sound was coming from and there was nothing. Guess I’m hearing things 🙂
Shout out! – Today’s shout out goes to the Sturgeon Family – Ben and Dillon I hope you are enjoying all the pictures – love Aunt Kathy
Mission: South East Fishery-Independent Survey (SEFIS)
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)
On board off the coast of North Carolina – about 45 miles east of Wilmington, NC (34°18’ N, 77°4’ W)
Date: July 27, 2019
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 34°18’ N Longitude: 77°4’ W Wave Height: 3-4 feet Wind Speed: 6.68 knots Wind Direction: 42° Visibility: 10 nm Air Temperature: 28.0°C Barometric Pressure: 1022.4 mb Sky: Partly cloudy
Science and Technology Log
Today, with the help of friends Zeb and Todd, I’d like to take a deep dive into the mission of this cruise. Starting with the fish work up process aboard Pisces, first explained in blog #3. Below is a picture flowchart I drew up to help visualize what’s going on.
This sequential process is rather straight forward following steps 1-8, rinse (the gear) and repeat. It’s the before and after; what comes before step 1 and after step 8, that’s important; How and where is the data used. If you follow along into steps 9, 10, 11… you start with the laboratory analysis of the biological samples – otoliths and gonads – used to age the fish, and determine reproductive activity and spawning seasons, respectively. This information is vital to proper management of fisheries. Here’s why.
This cruise, and SEFIS in general, originally came into existence because of red snapper. Scientists determined around 2009 that the red snapper population in the SE Atlantic was at historically low levels. Strict regulations were put in place to help the species rebound. This on its own was a good measure, but only one step. In order to assess the effect of the regulations, scientists would have to monitor the abundance of red snapper in the region. However, charting changes in abundance would not be enough with this species (or with many others) due to the nature of its life cycle and reproduction. See, all populations have a natural age structure balance. This includes species specific traits – like its survivorship curve (how likely it is for an individual to die at different points in their life – for red snapper and many other reef-associated species it’s incredibly high at their larval and juvenile stages). It also includes pertinent developmental characteristics such as when the species is reproductively mature. Like many similar fish, older, mature red snapper have greatly increased reproductive potential, also known as fecundity. So while the population has been bouncing back in terms of numbers, the number of older, mature, more fecund fish is still considerably lower than historical levels; thus the population is still recovering. *this information is gathered from the data collected by scientist here on our SEFIS mission, and others like them.
The next step is to share this data with other scientists who will then, in conjunction with other information on the species, analyze the data and bring the results and conclusions of their analyses to policy makers (FYI, the government is moving towards making governmentally gathered scientific data available to the public). Discussion ensues, and climbs the political decision-making-ladder until allowable catch regulations are determined. Florida fishers, check here for your current snapper regulations or maybe this Fish Rules app will help. Fish safe, my friends!
Ultimately this is a tricky and tangled issue of sustainability. Commercial fishermen are understandably upset, as this can threaten their livelihood. Although real, this concern is inherently short sighted, as their long term earnings depend on healthy and robust populations, and ecosystems. The difficult part is to gather the necessary scientific data (very challenging, especially for marine organisms) and marry that to the many financial, social, and political concerns. Comment below with thoughts and suggestions. And while you’re at it, here’s a lovely and quick (fish-related) tutorial overview of this situation in general – the tragedy of the commons – and the challenges of managing our resources.
A quick note about otoliths. Within the fish processing protocol (above) – the most satisfying part is otolith extraction. On board competitions abound: people vie for first chair (the spot in the lab that’s the coolest and best lit) and for the sharpest knives and scissors. Much like a wild west showdown, most important is fastest extraction times. Dave H opts for the classic chisel-through-the-gills technique, while the rest of us opt for the saw-through-the-skull-with-a-knife-and-crack-the-head-open-just-behind-the-eyes technique. While Brad looks to perform the “double-extraction” – both otoliths removed in the tweezers at the same time, I look to perform the please-don’t-slice-my-hand-open extraction. The quest for otoliths is usually straight forward. But sometimes an ill-sliced cut can leave you digging for the tiny ear bones forever.
This leaves us with: Why otoliths? These tiny little ear bones help function in the fish’s vestibular system. That’s a fancy way of saying the balance and orientation system of the fish. They help vertebrates detect movement and acceleration, and they help with hearing. These little bones help you determine your head and body orientation – turn your head sideways, it’s your otoliths who will send the message. All vertebrates, including you, gentle reader, have them. This makes me wonder if folks with exceptional balance and proprioception and court awareness have bigger otoliths? Fish requiring more balance, those that sit and wait to hunt vs. those that swim predominantly in straight lines, have bigger otoliths.
Otoliths are made of layered calcium carbonate (side question – does ocean acidification impact otolith formation? Like it does with other calcium carbonate structures in the ocean?) The fish secretes new layers as it ages: thicker layers during good times, thinner layers during lean times – correlated with summer and winter seasonality – just like with tree rings. Once you dig out the otoliths, they can be analyzed by on-shore scientists who slice ‘em in half and take a really thin slice, deli-meat-style. Voila! You can then count up the rings to tell how old the fish is.
I’ve been continuing my work aboard the Pisces. Lately the focus has been on conversations with scientists and ship personnel. The source of most of today’s blog came primarily from conversations with Zeb and Todd. They were both super helpful and patient in communicating the goals and mission of this cruise and SEFIS. I’m also trying to contribute some things that might be useful to the NOAA scientists after the cruise is completed, and things that will be helpful to my students now and during the school year – like the drawings and diagrams, along with some upcoming videos (topics include: CTD color and pressure, Underwater footage featuring a tiger shark and hammerhead shark, Waves, All Hands on Deck, and a general cruise video).
The food and mood of the cruise continues to be good. * note: my salad eating has taken a hit with the expiration of spinach and leafy greens – it’s amazing they lasted as long as they did – the stewards, Rey and Dana, are amazing!
The other night I had my first bit of troubled sleeping. The seas were roaring! Actually, just about 6 feet. But it was enough to rock the boat and keep me from falling asleep. It was almost a hypnic jerk every time the ship rolled from one side to the other. Special sensations for when my head dipped below my feet.
Two more book recommendations: a. Newberry Book Award Winner: Call it Courage, by Armstrong Sperry. I loved this book as a little boy. I did a book report on it in maybe the 2nd or 3rd grade. I spent more time drawing the cover of the report than I did writing it. B. A few years ago I read The Wave, by Susan Casey. Great book about the science of waves and also the insane culture of big wave surfers.
I haven’t seen all that much lately in terms of cool biodiversity. The traps did catch some cute swimming crabs, a lionfish, and a pufferfish. * more below.
Zeb won the Golden Sombrero Award the other day. This is a momentous achievement awarded to a chief scientist after six consecutive empty fish traps!
Lauren crafted us an extra special tie-dye octopus named Oscar. He’s wearing the Golden Sombrero in the photo above.
Only 2.5 days till I’m back home. Can’t wait to see my family.
Neato Facts =
Back to general update #3 and today’s neato fact. Both lionfish and pufferfish are toxic. But are they poisonous? Or venomous? Wait. What’s the difference? Both poisons and venoms are characterized as toxins, and often they are used interchangeably. The distinction lies in the means of entry into your body. Venoms get into you via something sharp – you’re either bitten with fangs or stung with stingers or spines. Examples include our friend the lionfish, snakes, and bees. Poisons, conversely, get into you when you eat it. Examples include pufferfish, poison dart frogs,
On board off the coast of North Carolina – about 35 miles east of Cape Fear, 40 miles south of Jacksonville, NC. (33º50’ N, 77º15’W)
Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)
Here’s our location from the other day, courtesy of windy.com. And here is a good Gulf Stream explanation from our friends at NOAA:
Date: July 19, 2019
Science and Technology Log
Being at sea has got me thinking; about life at sea, the lives and careers of the men and women on board, and about the marine organisms around us. Pause there for a minute. Nature’s beauty and abundance on land is readily seen, so long as you travel to the right location and you’re patient. The ocean, however, hides its multitudes beneath the waves. I’ve found myself drawn to the ocean my whole life, and here on the cruise, I am drawn to staring at and contemplating the ocean and its life – the great hidden beneath. You know the stats: the earth is covered by ~70% water, the deep ocean has been explored less than outer space, the ocean is warming and turning more acidic, etc. I’m not saying that you and I don’t already know these things. I’m only saying that you feel them differently when you are in the ocean, when you are immersed for days in the seascape.
The goal is this cruise is to survey fish. (SEFIS = Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey). The science crew repeats a similar protocol each day of the cruise. It looks something like this:
Chief scientist, Zeb Schobernd, determines the site locations using NOAA sea floor maps.
The science team (broken into day and night shifts) baits six traps with menhaden fish bait, and starts the two GoPros that are attached to the traps.
The Pisces crew then deploys the traps, 1-6, at pre-determined locations (see step 1). They do this by sliding them off the back of the ship. Traps are attached to buoys for later pick up.
Wait for around 75 minutes.
Pisces Senior Survey Technician, Todd Walsh, along with crew members, Mike and Junior, drop the CTD [Conductivity, Temperature, Depth] probe. See picture below.
*Stay tuned for a video chronicling this process.
6. After ~75 min, NOAA Corps officers drive back to retrieve the traps, in the order they were dropped. (1-6)
7. Crew members Mike and Junior, along with scientists, collect the fish in the trap and sort them by species.
8. All fish are measured for weight and length.
9. Depending on the species, some fish contribute further information, most notably, their otoliths (to determine age) and a sample of reproductive organs to determine maturity.
10. Rinse and repeat, four times each day, for the length of the cruise.
I mostly work with the excellent morning crew.
Here’s a view into yesterday’s fish count – more fish and more kinds of fish:
Here is a view off the back of the boat, called the stern, where the traps are dropped.
On Wednesday the GoPros on one of the fish traps collected footage of a friendly wandering tiger shark. Our camera technician, Mike Bollinger, using his stereo video technique, determined the size of the shark to be ~ 8.5 feet. I added the location’s CTD data to the picture. This is part of an upcoming video full of neat footage. See below.
Things continue to be exciting on board. My mission to film flying fish flying continues (local species unknown/not really sure; probably family: Exocoetidae). But not without some mild success! I managed to get some of ‘em flying off the port side near the bow. Man are they quick. And small. And the seas were rough. Yet I remain undeterred! Here’s a picture of me waiting and watching patiently, followed by a picture of an unlucky little flying fish who abandoned sea and was left stranded at ship. Poor little fella.
The seas have picked up quite a bit. Rising up to 5-6 feet. That may not seem terrifically high, but it sure does rock the ship. Good thing seas were flat at the start, allowing me to get used to life at sea.
I just saw some dolphins! Yippie! Pictures and video to come.
Though not legal, I’m dying to take a swim in these beautiful blue waters.
I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching the ocean. *short of being stranded at sea, I suppose. See “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” – a true story and great book that’s may have served as inspiration for Moby Dick. I loved the book, haven’t seen the movie. Or check out the lost at sea portions of the, hard-to-believe-it-actually-happened, “Unbroken” – great book, okay movie.
We’ve caught a number of moray eels in the fish traps. They’re super squirmy and unfriendly. Turns out they also have pharyngeal mouth parts. Essentially a second mouth that shoots after their first one is opened. Check out this fascinating look into the morey eel’s jaw biomechanics.
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 027 39.81 N
Longitude 096 57.670 W
Barometric Pressure 1022.08mbar
Air Temperature: 61 degrees F
Those of us who love the sea wish everyone would be aware of the need to protect it. – Eugenie Clark
Science and Technology Log
After our delayed departure, we are finally off and running! The science team on Oregon II has currently completed 28 out of the 56 stations that are scheduled for the first leg of this mission. Seventy-five stations were originally planned but due to inclement weather some stations had to be postponed until the 2nd leg. The stations are pre-arranged and randomly selected by a computer system to include a distributions of stations within each shrimp statistical zone and by depth from 5-20 and 21-60 fathoms.
At each station there is an established routine that requires precise teamwork from the NOAA Corps officers, the professional mariners and the scientists. The first step when we arrive at a station, is to launch the CTD. The officers position the ship at the appropriate location. The mariners use the crane and the winch to move the CTD into the water and control the decent and return. The scientists set up the CTD and run the computer that collects and analyzes the data. Once the CTD is safely returned to the well deck, the team proceeds to the next step.
Step two is to launch the trawling net to take a sample of the biodiversity of the station. Again, this is a team effort with everyone working together to ensure success. The trawl net is launched on either the port or starboard side from the aft deck. The net is pulled behind the boat for exactly thirty minutes. When the net returns, the contents are emptied into the wooden pen or into baskets depending on the size of the haul.
The baskets are weighed and brought into the wet lab. The scientists use smaller baskets to sort the catch by species. A sample of 20 individuals of each species is examined more closely and data about length, weight, and sex is collected.
The information gathered becomes part of a database and is used to monitor the health of the populations of fish in the Gulf. It is used to help make annual decisions for fishing regulations like catch and bag limits. In addition, the data collected from the groundfish survey can drive policy changes if significant issues are identified.
I have been keeping in touch with my students via the Remind App, Twitter, and this Blog. Each class has submitted a question for me to answer. I would like to use the personal log of this blog to do that.
The thing I am most excited to bring back to Marine 2 is the story of recovery for the Red Snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. I learned that due to improved fishing methods and growth in commercial fishing of this species, their decline was severe. The groundfish survey that I am working with is one way that data about the population of Red Snapper has been collected. This data has led to the creation of an action plan to help stop the decline and improve the future for this species.
Our biggest challenge has been the weather! We left late due to Hurricane Michael and the weather over the past few days has meant that we had to miss a few stations. We are also expecting some bad weather in a couple of days that might mean we are not able to trawl.
The number one way that the NOAA Teacher at Sea program supports our environment is EDUCATION! What I learn here, I will share with my students and hopefully they will pass it on as well. If more people know about the dangers facing our ocean then I think more people will want to see changes to protect the ocean and all marine species.
We have not seen anything that is rare for the Gulf of Mexico but I have seen two fish that I have never seen before, the singlespot frogfish and the Conger Eel. So for me these were really cool sightings.
I have to admit that the most intriguing organism was not anything that came in via the trawl net. Instead it was the Atlantic Spotted Dolphin that greeted me one morning at the bow of the boat. There were a total of 7 and one was a baby about half the size of the others. As the boat moved through the water they jumped and played in the splashing water. I watched them for over a half hour and only stopped because it was time for my shift. I could watch them all day!
Do you know …
What the Oregon II looks like on the inside?
Here is a tour video that I created before we set sail.
Transcript: A Tour of NOAA Ship Oregon II.
(0:00) Hi, I’m Andria Keene from Plant High School in Tampa, Florida. And I’d like to take you for a tour aboard Oregon II, my NOAA Teacher at Sea home for the next two weeks.
Oregon II is a 170-foot research vessel that recently celebrated 50 years of service with NOAA. The gold lettering you see here commemorates this honor.
As we cross the gangway, our first stop is the well deck, where we can find equipment including the forecrane and winch used for the CTD and bongo nets. The starboard breezeway leads us along the exterior of the main deck, towards the aft deck.
Much of our scientific trawling operations will begin here. The nets will be unloaded and the organisms will be sorted on the fantail.
(1:00) From there, the baskets will be brought into the wet lab, for deeper investigation. They will be categorized and numerous sets of data will be collected, including size, sex, and stomach contents.
Next up is the dry lab. Additional data will be collected and analyzed here. Take notice of the CTD PC.
There is also a chemistry lab where further tests will be conducted, and it’s located right next to the wet lab.
Across from the ship’s office, you will find the mess hall and galley. The galley is where the stewards prepare meals for a hungry group of 19 crew and 12 scientists. But there are only 12 seats, so eating quickly is serious business.
(2:20) Moving further inside on the main deck, we pass lots of safety equipment and several staterooms. I’m currently thrilled to be staying here, in the Field Party Chief’s stateroom, a single room with a private shower and water closet.
Leaving my room, with can travel down the stairs to the lower level. This area has lots of storage and a large freezer for scientific samples.
There are community showers and additional staterooms, as well as laundry facilities, more bathrooms, and even a small exercise room.
(3:15) If we travel up both sets of stairs, we will arrive on the upper deck. On the starboard side, we can find the scientific data room.
And here, on the port side, is the radio and chart room. Heading to the stern of the upper deck will lead us to the conference room. I’m told that this is a great place for the staff to gather and watch movies.
Traveling back down the hall toward the bow of the ship, we will pass the senior officers’ staterooms, and arrive at the pilot house, also called the bridge.
(4:04) This is the command and control center for the entire ship. Look at all the amazing technology you will find here to help keep the ship safe and ensure the goals of each mission.
Just one last stop on our tour: the house top. From here, we have excellent views of the forecastle, the aft winch, and the crane control room. Also visible are lots of safety features, as well as an amazing array of technology.
Well, that’s it for now! Hope you enjoyed this tour of NOAA Ship Oregon II.
Challenge Question of the Day
Bonus Points for the first student in each class period to come up with the correct answer!
We have found a handful of these smooth bodied organisms which like to burrow into the sediment. What type of animal are they?
Today’s Shout Out: To my family, I miss you guys terribly and am excited to get back home and show you all my pictures! Love ya, lots!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 26, 2018
Weather Data from the Air
Conditions at 0634
Altitude: 9585 meters
Outside Temperature: -38 ℃
Distance to Destination: 362 km
Tail Wind: 0 km/h
Ground Speed: 837 km/h
(While NOAA Ship Oregon II has many capabilities, flight isn’t one of them. These were the conditions on my flight home.)
Science and Technology Log
The idea of placing an elementary school teacher on a Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey seems like a reality show premise, and I couldn’t believe that it was my surreal reality. Several times a day, I took a moment to appreciate my surroundings and the amazing opportunity to get so close to my favorite creatures: sharks!
Anyone who knows me is aware of my obsession with sharks. Seeing several sharks up close was a hallowed, reverential experience. Reading about sharks, studying them through coursework, and seeing them on TV or in an aquarium is one thing. Being only a few feet away from a large tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) or a great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) is quite another. Seeing the sharks briefly out of the water provided a quick glimpse of their sinewy, efficient design…truly a natural work of art. Regardless of size, shape, or species, the sharks were powerful, feisty, and awe-inspiring. The diversity in design is what makes sharks so fascinating!
I envied the remora, or sharksucker, that was attached to one of the sharks we caught. Imagine being able to observe what the shark had been doing, prior to encountering the bait on our longline fishing gear. What did the shark and its passenger think of their strange encounter with us? Where would the shark swim off to once it was released back into the water? If only sharks could talk. I had many questions about how the tagging process impacts sharks. As we started catching and tagging sharks, I couldn’t help but think of a twist on the opening of MTV’s The Real World: “…To find out what happens…when sharks stop being polite…and start getting reeled.”
Sadly for my curiosity, sharks have yet to acquire the ability to communicate verbally, despite their many advantageous adaptations over millions of years. To catch a glimpse of their actions in their watery world, scientists sometimes attach cameras to their fins or enlist the help of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to learn more. The secret lives of sharks… reality TV at its finest.
Underwater camera footage is beginning to reveal the answers to many of the questions my Kindergarten-5th grade students have about sharks:
How deep can sharks swim?
How big can sharks get? How old can sharks get?
Do sharks sleep? Do sharks stop swimming when they sleep? Can sharks ever stop swimming?
Do sharks have friends? Do sharks hunt cooperatively or alone?
Is the megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon) still swimming around down there? (This is a very common question among kids!)
The answers vary by species, but an individual shark can reveal quite a bit of information about shark biology and behavior. Tagging sharks can provide insight about migratory patterns and population distribution. This information can help us to better understand, manage, and protect shark populations.
Using several low-tech methods, a great deal of information could be gleaned from our very brief encounters with the sharks we caught and released. In a very short amount of time, the following information was collected and recorded:
• hook number (which of the 100 longline circle hooks the shark was caught on)
• genus and species name (we recorded scientific and common names)
• four measurements on various points of the shark’s body (sometimes lasers were used on the larger sharks)
• weight (if it was possible to weigh the shark: this was harder to do with the larger, heavier sharks)
• whether the shark was male or female, noting observations about its maturity (if male)
• fin clip samples (for genetic information)
• photographs of the shark (we also filmed the process with a GoPro camera that was mounted to a scientist’s hardhat)
• applying a tag on or near the shark’s first dorsal fin; the tag number was carefully recorded on the data sheet
• additional comments about the shark
Finally, the hook was removed from the shark’s mouth, and the shark was released back into the water (we watched carefully to make sure it swam off successfully)!
Other fish were retained for scientific samples. Yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus), blueline tilefish (Caulolatilus microps), and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) were some of species we caught and sampled. Specific samples from specific species were requested from various organizations. Generally, we collected five different samples:
• fin clips: provide genetic information
• liver: provides information about the health of the fish, such as the presence of toxins
• muscle tissue: can also provide information about the health of the fish
• gonads: provide information about reproduction
• otoliths: These bony structures are found in the inner ear. Similar to tree rings, counting the annual growth rings on the otoliths can help scientists estimate the age of the fish.
Samples were preserved and stored in vials, jars, and plastic sample bags, including a Whirl-Pak. These bags and containers were carefully numbered and labeled, corresponding with the information on the data sheets. Other information was noted about the fish, including maturity and stomach contents. Sometimes, photos were taken to further document the fish.
Thinking of the Oregon II as my floating classroom, I looked for analogous activities that mirrored my elementary students’ school day. Many key parts of the elementary school day could be found on board.
With my young readers and writers in mind, I applied my literacy lens to many of the ship’s activities. Literacy was the thread that ran through many of our daily tasks, and literacy was the cornerstone of every career on board. Several ship personnel described the written exams they’d taken to advance in their chosen careers. Reading and writing were used in everything from the recipes and daily menu prepared by Second Cook Arlene Beahm and Chief Steward Valerie McCaskill in the galley to the navigation logs maintained by Ensign Chelsea Parrish on the ship’s bridge.
I often start the school year off with some lessons on reading and following directions. In the school setting, this is done to establish routines and expectations, as well as independence. On the ship, reading and following directions was essential for safety! Throughout the Oregon II, I encountered lots of printed information and many safety signs. Some of the signs included pictures, but many of them did not. This made me think of my readers who rely on pictures for comprehension. Some important safety information was shared verbally during our training and safety drills, but some of it could only be accessed through reading.
Did You Know?
Thomas Jefferson collected fossils and owned a megalodon tooth. The Carcharocles megalodon tooth was found in South Carolina. One of the reasons why Jefferson supported expeditions to lands west of the Mississippi? He believed that a herd of mammoths might still be roaming there. Jefferson didn’t believe that animal species could go extinct, so he probably liked the idea that the megalodon was still swimming around somewhere! (There’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that either Thomas Jefferson or the megalodon are still around.)
If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams
This picture book acknowledges the scariness of sharks, but explains that a world without sharks would be even scarier. Shown through the eyes of a curious young girl and her family, the book highlights the important role that sharks play in the ocean food web. As apex predators, sharks help to keep the ocean healthy and balanced.
The book includes some mind-blowing facts, such as the concept that sharks existed on Earth before trees. Through easy-to-follow examples of cause and effect, the author and illustrator explores complex, sophisticated concepts such as overfishing, extinction, and trophic cascade. The glossary includes well-selected words that are important to know and understand about the environment. Additional information is provided about shark finning and ways to help save sharks. An author’s note, bibliography, and additional sources are also included.
In addition to collecting data on the many species of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, this survey also collects data that will go towards assessing the population of red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus). One piece of evidence that is collected from the red snapper is their two distinct otoliths. Otoliths are structures that are used for balance and orientation in bony fish. One fascinating characteristic of the otolith is that they contain natural growth rings that researchers can count in order to determine the age of the fish. This information is important for stock assessment of the red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.
I would have to say that the hardest part about being out at sea is not being able to see Coral and Kai. I miss them so much and think about them nonstop. Coral is at a very curious stage in her life (I hope the curiosity stays with her forever) and I cannot wait to get home and tell her about all the animals that I have been lucky enough to witness on this adventure. Kai is just the sweetest little boy and I can only imagine the way he will react when I get home.
I am very busy on the boat and when there is down time my team and I are getting shark lessons from the incredibly intelligent Chief NOAA Scientist, Kristin Hannan, or we are in the movie room catching up on all the Annabelle movies. It is almost impossible to get scared while aboard a ship. It may seem that many things could go wrong, but the lights are always on and someone is always awake. It is the perfect environment to watch any horror film because this atmosphere makes it much less scary.
Probably the scariest thing that is happening on this boat is the amount of weight I have gained. All of the meals are delicious and they come with dessert. It is kind of nice to not have to worry about going to the gym or staying on a normal routine. Life is always so hectic day to day when I am at home, but being out here on the water gives me time to relax and reflect on the amazing people I have in my life that made this opportunity possible.
I am sad to report that the Chicago Bears lost tonight to Greenbay, but I did show support for my team! I think the best part of the day was when I was on the bow of the boat and Kristin announced over the radio that the Bears were winning 7 to 0. It is exciting being out here seeing everyone cheer for their fantasy team, as well as their home town team.
At the time of writing, we’ve completed the “stations” (i.e., the appointed stops where we trawl to collect specimens) in the western Gulf of Mexico, and are headed to the Florida coast, where we’ll conclude the 3rd leg of the Summer Groundfish Survey. Sometime tonight we’ll arrive and resume work, trawling and identifying fish. What follows is my attempt to furnish a detailed description of where we are and what we’re doing.
Stations: Where We Stop & Why
As I explained in my previous blog post, “Learner at Sea: Day 1,” the survey work being performed on this cruise contributes to a larger collective enterprise called SEAMAP, the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program. The “sample area” of SEAMAP is considerable, ranging from Texas-Mexico border to the Florida Keys.
Fisheries biologist Adam Pollack tells me that the total trawlable area–that is, excluding such features as known reefs, oil rigs, and sanctuaries–consists of 228,943.65 square kilometers or 88,943.65 square miles. That’s a piece of ocean of considerable size: nearly as big as Louisiana and Mississippi combined.
SEAMAP divides the sample area into a series of statistically comparable “zones” (there are two zones within each of the numbered areas in the diagram above), taking into account a key variable (or stratum): depth. It then assigns a proportionate number of randomized locations to every zone, arriving at 360-400 stations for the sample area as a whole. Statisticians call this method a “stratified random design.”
While Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida participate in the SEAMAP, the lion’s share of stations are surveyed by NOAA.
These are the 49 stations we sampled during the first half of the cruise, off the shore of Louisiana:
The data from the Summer Survey is analyzed in the fall and available the following spring. NOAA’s assessments are then passed along to the regional Fisheries Management Councils who take them into account in setting guidelines.
The Trawl: How we Get Fish Aboard
NOAA Ship Oregon II brings fish aboard using an otter trawl. As described in “Mississippi Trawl Gear Characterization,” “The basic otter trawl is the most common type of trawl used in Mississippi waters to harvest shrimp. The otter trawl is constructed of twine webbing that when fully deployed makes a cone shape. Floats on the head-rope (top line) and chains on the foot rope (bottom line) of are used to open the mouth of the trawl vertically. To spread the mouth of the trawl open as large as possible, each side (wing) is attached to trawl doors” (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/strategy/ms_trawl_gear.pdf). Positioned by chains so that their leading edges flare out, those doors are sizable and heavy, 40 inches high and 8 feet long, and help not only to spread the net open (and ‘herd’ fish in) but also to keep it seated on the ocean floor.
To mitigate environmental harm–and, in particular, to help save inadvertently caught sea turtles—trawling time is limited to 30 minutes. The trawl is 40 feet wide and is dragged over 1.5 miles of ocean bottom.
Here are the trawl’s technical specifications:
It should not go without saying that deploying and retrieving gear like this is mission critical, and requires physical might, agility, and vigilance. Those tasks (and others) are performed expertly by the Deck Department, manned on the day watch by Chief Boatswain Tim Martin and Fisherman James Rhue. Fisherman Chris Rawley joins them on the swing shift, coming on deck in the evening.
The process of bringing the trawl aboard looks like this:
The bottom of the trawl is secured with a special knot that permits controlled release of the catch.
Before every trawl, the CTD is deployed from the well deck (port side) to collect data on, as its acronym suggests: Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth. According to NOAA’s Ocean Explorer website, “A CTD device’s primary function is to detect how the conductivity and temperature of the water column changes relative to depth. Conductivity is a measure of how well a solution conducts electricity. Conductivity is directly related to salinity, which is the concentration of salt and other inorganic compounds in seawater. Salinity is one of the most basic measurements used by ocean scientists. When combined with temperature data, salinity measurements can be used to determine seawater density which is a primary driving force for major ocean currents” (https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/ctd.html).
During daylight hours, a scientist assists with the deployment of the CTD, contributing observations on wave height and water color. For the latter, we use a Forel-Ule scale, which furnishes a gradation of chemically simulated water colors.
The Wet Lab: How We Turn Fish into Information
Once in baskets, the catch is weighed and then taken inside the wet lab.
Once inside the wet lab, the catch is emptied onto the conveyor belt
Next the catch is sorting into smaller, species-specific baskets:
At this stage, fish are ready to be represented as data in the Fisheries Scientific Computing System (FSCS). This is a two-step process. First, each basket of fish is entered by genus and species name, and its number recorded in the aggregate.
Then, a selection individual specimens from each basket (up to 20, if there are that many) are measured and weighed and sexed.
Occasionally researchers from particular laboratories have made special requests for species, and so we label them, bag them, and stow them in the bait freezer room.
Once every animal in the trawl has been accounted for and its data duly recorded, it’s time to wash everything down and get ready to do it all over again.
The key to enjoying work in the wet lab is, as I see it, the enduring promise of novelty: the possibility of surprise at finding something you’ve never seen before! For me, that promise offsets the bracing physical rigors of the work and leavens its repetitiveness. (Breathtaking cloudscapes and gorgeous sunsets do, too, just for the record. Out here on the water, there seem to be incidental beauties in every direction.) Think of the movie Groundhog Day or Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus” and cross either of them with the joys of beach-combing on an unbelievably bounteous beach, and you’ll have a sense of the absurd excitement of identifying fish at the sorting stage. Life in the wet lab is a lot like Bubba Gump’s box of chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get.”
At the next stage, data entry, the challenge for the novice is auditory and linguistic. Between the continual growl the engine makes and the prop noise of the wet lab’s constantly whirring fans, you’ve got the soundscape of an industrial workplace. Amid that cascade of sound, you need to discern unfamiliar (scientific) names for unfamiliar creatures, catching genus and species distinctions as they’re called out by your watch-mates. The good news is that the scientists you’re working with are living and breathing field guides, capable of identifying just about any animal you hold up with a quizzical look. It’s a relative rarity that we have to consult printed guides for IDs, but when we do and that task falls to me, the shell-collector kid in me secretly rejoices.
I’m enjoying the camaraderie of my watch, led by Andre DeBose, and, as my posts suggest, I’ve had some good opportunities to pick Adam Pollack’s brain on fisheries issues. My partner in fish data-entry, Emily McMullen–an aspiring marine scientist who’ll be applying to graduate programs this fall–did this cruise last summer and has been an easy-going co-worker, patient and understanding as I learn the ropes. I’ve also had some wonderful conversations with folks like Skilled Fisherman Mike Conway, First Assistant Engineer Will Osborn, and Fisheries Biologist Alonzo Hamilton.
It’s been a busy week, as you’ll have gathered, but I’ve still managed to do some sketching. Here’s a page from my sketchbook on the CTD:
And here’s a page from my journal that pictures three species we saw quite often in the western Gulf:
Had I the time, I’d sketch the rest of my “Top 10” species we’ve seen most commonly in the western Gulf. That list would include (in no particular order): the Paper Scallop, Amusium papyraceum; Lookdown, Selene vomer; Blue Crab, Callinectes sapidus; Squid, Loligo; Lizardfish, Synodus foetens; Croaker, Micropogonias undulatus; and Red Snapper:
Did You Know?
Four of the species visible on the surface of this basket have been identified in the blog post you’ve just read. Can you ID them? And how many of each would you say there are here on the surface?
Certain fish that we collect have samples of their fins collected for DNA testing. For example, if a Spotfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellatus) is brought up in a trap, a small pair of scissors are used to clip a portion of its anal fin in order to obtain a sample that is then place in a micro-test tube containing a buffer. Back in the on-shore lab, technicians will obtain the DNA, which is then used to determine the genetic make-up of the population in a particular area.
One may assume that the genetic make-up of a population is uniform across the east coast, after all, fish can swim, right? However, that is not necessarily the case. Changes in the frequency of particular alleles create spatial differences in some stocks of fish over a broad area. In other words, there may be slight genetic differences in a population of Gray Triggerfish off of the coast of North Carolina compared to those found in the waters of Florida.
Why does this matter? Currently, the management of most fish occurs over a broad area, often including many states. By understanding the slight differences that may be present in a smaller subset of a population, scientists can create better, more accurate management plans instead of a “one size fits all” model.
As written in an earlier blog, many fish in this region are sequential hermaphrodites and change sex during their life-time, starting off as females, then changing to males. By taking the gonads of certain species, scientist can determine if the fish is male or female, and taken together with size and age, it is possible to estimate when these fish are transitioning from one sex to another.
By sampling the ovaries of fish, it is possible to estimate the fecundity of the species. Fecundity is the reproductive potential an organism possesses. The number of eggs in an ovary can be estimated and then, taking the age and size data of the specimen, it is possible to predict the potential a population has for growth. Many factors, such as the number of males in a population and the season, can influence the reproductive behaviors of fish, so sampling the gonads provides an additional pieces of data.
Finally, sampling the gonads of fish can help determine the sex ratio in the population. In fish that display sequential hermaphroditism, such as the Black Sea Bass, the number of males in the populations increase with age.
Question: Fisherman will be able to get more money for larger fish, so naturally they will want to “select for” larger fish, potentially decreasing the number of reproductive males in the population. If the number of large, reproductive males in a population decreases, then more females will transition to become male.
What may happen to the average age of sex transition in sequential hermaphrodites?
A select few species have their stomach contents sampled. If we know what a particular species is eating, then we are able to understand the trophic interactions within the ecosystem much better. An ecosystem-based management plan will look at the interactions taking place between the many prey and predator species, whom are often competing for the same resources. Because the diverse species in an ecosystem are inextricably linked, an increase in one species is likely to affect the other. If one species is over-fished or not reproducing at its potential, this may create a ripple effect throughout the ecosystem.
The food on board the NOAA Ship Pisces has been great. The Stewards, Rey and Dana, have kept us well fed with a variety of great meals. We’ve had everything from hot dogs and hamburgers to bacon wrapped filet mignon and shrimp, and a crew favorite, Taco Tuesday! Meal time is very important because not only is the crew refueling for work, but it affords them a chance to sit down, talk, and to catch up on Chip and Joanna Gaines’ newest “Fixer Upper” on the TV that runs continuously. The first day on board, Operations Officer, Lieutenant Jamie Park, told me that any NOAA ship runs on two very important things: 1) diesel fuel, and 2) COFFEE. The galley is open 24-7 with snacks and drinks always available since crew members are working in shifts, with some getting off at midnight or 4 a.m.. And…., I recently found the freezer that contains Klondike Bars, popsicles, ice cream, and Hot Pockets.
Did You Know?
The Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) gets its name from its enlarged canine teeth. According to the 2016 stock assessment of South Atlantic red snapper, the stock is overfished and subject to overfishing, but is rebuilding. Management plans in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico place annual catch limits on both commercial and recreational fisherman to decrease the pressure on the fish, as well as minimum size restrictions to protect young and juvenile snapper. Red Snapper can live over 50 years and are of reproductive age as early as two.
This is a shark and red snapper longline survey, and the sharks tend to steal the stage. They are bigger (for the most part), more diverse and definitely have more of a reputation. I have been surprised, however, by how much I’ve been drawn to the snappers. They are a beautiful color, and tend to come up in groups that are pretty similar in size.
The Northern Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) is commonly fished in the Gulf of Mexico, both recreationally and commercially. It turns out that the commercial fishers get 51% of the catch quota and the recreational fishers get 49%. The methods for dividing up those two basically equal pieces of the pie is different between the commercial and recreational fishers. In addition, the commercial fishing catch is monitored very closely, while the recreational fishing catch numbers are largely unknown. Plus, the states have their own waters that extend out to different distances, depending on the state, and the federal waters extend from the state water boundary to 200 nautical miles offshore. So, in other words, managing the fishery is quite complicated.
So, how do all these fishing rules and regulations get established and modified over time? A law was passed in 1976, called the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and one of the key parts of the act established eight regional management councils for regulating fishing in federal waters (more information on the act here: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/laws_policies/msa/). It also established the 200 nautical mile extension of federal waters from land. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (GMFMC) is responsible for creating Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs) for fisheries within the U.S. federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, from southern Texas, along Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and down the west coast of Florida. This graphic shows the catch limits for red snapper and other species for 2017 set by the GMFMC. For red snapper, the catch limit is close to 14 million pounds.
The data that we are collecting helps scientists and policy makers to determine what the annual catch limit for a particular season should be. For each fish that we bring on board, we measure the fish length and weight, as well as the weight of the gonads. In addition, we collect their otoliths (ear bones) and samples of the ovaries of females. These both help managers to estimate the age and size of the population, and future populations as well.
Otoliths are calcium carbonate hardened structures and are present in the part of the inner ear that is responsible for balance. Humans and other vertebrates have them too, and they can be used to tell the age of the fish. The otoliths of Lutjanus campechanus are quite large. There seems to be an overall relationship between the habitat of the fish species and the size of the otolith. Species like Lutjanus campechanus that live along reefs and rocky structures have much larger otoliths than species like tuna that swim up in the water column. Flying fish, which we’ve seen a lot of, also have large otoliths, given their body size, probably aiding them in knowing where they are as they glide through the air.
Well, we have been collecting a lot of data over the past couple of days to help inform these policies in the future! Each line we’ve pulled in lately has had a dozen or more snappers on it, and they are a lot of extra work as compared with the sharks, due to all the samples we have to collect once we’re done. A couple times, we’ve barely finished before it was time to start baiting lines again.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve really come to love the red snappers. Their eyes are the same color as their skin and I’m just awed by their size. I am used to snappers that I’ve watched on coral reefs, and even the largest species I’ve seen on reefs are nothing compared with these guys.
I’ve also adjusted to the shift in my day, as evidenced by the fact that I’m finishing this up at 1 a.m. It has been a long time since I’ve been on this kind of late night schedule. I’m enjoying it, especially because I know when I return to California, I’ll be getting up at 5:30 a.m. again.
Did You Know?
That snappers eat a wide variety of different foods, including fish and various types of crustaceans? Here are a couple of items we’ve found in the ones we’ve caught. Can anyone identify them? I studied the second group for my Ph.D. dissertation!
Note: Just a month ago Hurricane Harvey was bringing 20 foot seas to this area, but today we’re enjoying the 3-4 foot swell.
Science and Technology Log:
Well, we’ve gotten to the fishing grounds, and we’ve gone from waiting to very busy! We put out the first lines starting at around 8 pm on Tuesday evening. The process involves first baiting 100 hooks with Atlantic mackerel. When it’s time for the line to be deployed, first there is a tall buoy with a light and radar beacon (called a high flyer) on it that gets set into the water, attached to the monofilament fishing line. Then there’s a weight, so the line sinks to the bottom, a series of 50 baited hooks then get clipped onto the line as the monofilament is being fed out.
Those 50 hooks are referred to as a “skate”. This confused me last night when I was logging our progress on the computer. I kept thinking that there was going to be some kind of flat, triangular shaped object clipped on to help the line move through the water…not really sure what I was imagining. Anyway, Lisa Jones, the field party chief and fisheries biologist extraordinaire, has so kindly humored all my questions and explained that skate is just a term for some set unit of baited hooks. In this case, the unit is 50, and we’ll be deploying two skates each time.
After the first skate comes another weight, the second skate, another weight and then the last high flyer. Then the line is set loose and we wait. It’s easy to locate the line again, even at night, because of the radar beacons on the high flyers.
Why are we collecting this data?
As mentioned in my previous post, one of the tasks of NOAA, especially the National Marine Fisheries Service Line Office, is to collect data that will help with effective fisheries management and assist with setting things like catch quotas and so forth. A catch quota refers to the amount of a particular species that can be harvested in a particular year. Fisheries management is incredibly complicated, but the basic idea is that you don’t want to use up the resource faster than it is replenishing itself. In order to know if you are succeeding in this regard, you must go out and take a look at how things are going. Therefore, the Oregon II goes out each year in the fall and samples roughly 200 sites over about eight weeks. The precise locations of the sampling sites change each year but are spread out along the SE Atlantic Coast and throughout the U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
We’ve put out three long lines so far. Last night, we caught a single fish, but it was a really cool one. It’s called the Golden Tilefish but has an even better species name: Lopholatilus chamealeonticeps. As Lisa was explaining that they dig burrows in the sea floor, I realized that I had seen their cousins while snorkeling around coral reefs but would never have made the connection that they were related. This guy was big!
This afternoon, things got really hectic. Of our 100 hooks, 67 had a fish on it, and 60 of those were sharks. As we were pulling in the last bit of line, we pull on a shark that was missing its back half! Another had a bite taken out of it. And then on hook number 100, was a bull shark. This shark had been snacking along the line and got caught in the process.
And I haven’t even mentioned the red snappers. I will save them for another post, but they are absolutely beautiful creatures.
I definitely continue to feel out of my element at times, especially as we were pulling in all these hooks with sharks on them, and I could barely keep up with my little job of tracking when a fish came on the boat. All the sharks started running together in my mind, and it was definitely a bit stressful. Overall, I feel like I’ve adjusted to the cadence of the boat rocking and have been sleeping a lot more soundly. I continue to marvel at how amazing it is that we’re relatively close to shore but, except for a few songbirds desperate for a rest, there is no evidence of land that my untrained eyes can detect. Lastly, I’ve realized that a 12-hour sampling shift is long. I have a lot of respect for the scientists and crew that do this for months on end each year with just a few days break every now and then. Well, it time to pull in another line. Next time, we’ll talk snapper.
I am back settled into the crazy weather that is spring in Arkansas. Supposed to be 90 degrees today and then storms tomorrow.
Science and Technology Log
The second leg of the Oregon II’s experimental longline survey is now complete. The ship and all the crew are safely back in the harbor. Fourteen days at sea allows for a lot of data to be gathered by the science crew.
Now, an obvious question would be what do they do with all the data and the samples that were collected? The largest thing from this experimental survey is looking at catch data and the different bait types that were used to see if there were differences in the species caught/numbers caught etc. They are also able to look at species compositions during a different time frame than the annual survey and different depth ranges with the much deeper sets. Fin clips were taken from certain species of sharks. Each fin clip can be tied to a specific shark that was also tagged. If anyone ever wanted or needed to they could trace that fin clip back to the specific shark, the latitude and longitude of where it was taken, and the conditions found in the water column on that day. Everything the scientists do is geared towards collecting data and providing as many details as possible for the big picture.
Occasionally sharks are captured and do not survive, but even these instances provide an opportunity to sample things like vertebrae for ageing studies or to look at reproductive stages. Science is always at work. With the ultrasound machine on board we were able to use it on a couple of the sharpnose sharks and determine if they were pregnant .
Parasites… did you know sharks and fish can have parasites on them? Yes, they do and we caught a few on this leg. Sharks or fish caught with parasites were sampled to pass along to other researchers to use for identification purposes. Kristin showed me evidence of a skin parasite on several of the small sharks. It looked like an Etch-A-Sketch drawing.
Red snapper were also sampled at times on the survey to look deeper into their life history and ecology. Muscle tissue was collected to look at ecotoxicity within the fish (what it has been exposed to throughout out its lifetime); along with otoliths to estimate age. We are using muscle tissue to examine carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur. Each element looks into where that fish lives within the food web. For instance, carbon can help provide information about the basal primary producers, nitrogen can help to estimate the trophic level of the fish within the ecosystem, and sulfur can try to determine if the fish feeds on benthic or pelagic organisms. Otoliths are the ear bones of the fish. There are three different types of ear bones; however, sagittal ear bones (the largest of the three) will be sectioned through the core and read like a tree. Each ring is presumed to represent one year of growth.
Now that I am home and settled I still had a few things to share. One it was great to get home to my family, but as I was warned by the science crew it does take a couple of days to adjust to the usual schedule. It did feel good to go for a jog around town instead of having to face the Jacob’s Ladder again!
Everyone asks me if I had a good time, if it was scary, if we caught any sharks. I just don’t think there are words to express what an amazing experience this was for me. Of course, seeing the sharks up close was just beyond words, but it was also being made a part of a working science team that are working year-round to monitor the health of the ocean and the species that live there. For me this was a two-week section of my life where I got to live on the ocean and catch sharks while learning a little about the data the science crew collects and how they use it. The science crew will all be back out on the ocean on different legs over the next few months.
I confess I am not super hi tech, so I am not proficient with a Gopro so I probably missed out on making the best films. However, I did get some excellent photos and some good photos of some impressive sharks. Thanks to technology I will be able to create slide shows to my K-12 students so they can see the experience through my eyes. I am looking forward to showing these slide shows to my students. My elementary students were so excited to have me back that they made me feel like a celebrity. I was gone a little over two weeks and to my younger students it seemed forever. Many of the teachers shared some of my trip with the students so they would know where I was and what I was doing.
I am settled back into my regular schedule at school. One awesome thing about my job is that I deal with students from kindergarten through seniors. I started back with my elementary students yesterday. Let me just say that young people can make you feel like a Rockstar when you have been gone for 15 days. I knocked on a classroom door and could hear the students yelling “ she’s here! Mrs. Grady is here!” and then there were the hugs. Young kids are so genuine and they have an excitement and love of learning. I have to get busy on my power point to share with them. They wanted a list of sharks we caught, how big they were, etc. I am getting exactly what I hoped, the students want to understand what I did on the ship, why we did these things and what did I actually learn.
For my last blog, I have decided to share some of my favorite photos from my time on the Oregon II.
I asked Kevin Rademacher, Research Fisheries Biologist at the Pascagoula, Mississippi Lab, what fish I could eat and still support sustainable fisheries. He answered with a question, “Have you read the book Four Fish?” When I finished reading the book by Paul Greenberg, I spoke to Kevin again. “What do you think now?” He asked.
I said “There is something about wild fish that makes me want to catch and eat them, but I worry about whether we are eating wild fish out of existence.”
“Have you talked with Adam? He’s the numbers guy,” Kevin said. It seems like the good teachers are always sending students away in search of their own answers.
Adam Pollack is a contract Fisheries Biologist with Riverside Technology, Inc., and works on the night crew. We sometimes cross paths at midnight or noon. Catching him wouldn’t be easy.
During one of these transition times, we had a moment to talk. I asked Adam about his earliest fish memory. He smiled. “At about five, I went fishing with my dad. We had a house in the mountains surrounded by a bunch of lakes.” Adam and his dad would sit by the lake with their lines in the water “watching the bobber disappear.” He smiles again. These little largemouth bass changed his life.
At first, he was set on becoming a professional bass fisherman but made a practical switch to marine biology. He took all the science electives and the hardest math classes he could. He went on to Southampton College on Long Island, New York, where he got lots of hands-on experiences beginning in his freshman year. He believes a good education should include lots of opportunities, as early as possible, for interactive learning in a real world environment.
Once he graduated, Adam got his dream job: working in the Gulf of Mexico during the field season and then crunching numbers the rest of the year. He takes the data scientists collect to the SouthEast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR). SEDAR is a cooperative process through which scientists, fishermen, and policy makers look at the life history, abundance trends, and other data to determine how many fish we can catch sustainably.
Adam, and many others, also look at how catastrophic events like Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill affect marine species in the Gulf of Mexico. After Hurricane Katrina, he said, shrimping efforts died down by about 40%. The effects of the oil spill are still a little murky. Many of the biologists on board initially predicted dire and immediate effects. Yet unlike the spill in Alaska, the warm Gulf of Mexico water is host to bacteria, plants, and other living things that might be eating up the oil. Many questions, such as whether these living things will mitigate the effects of a spill, are still being asked. “Deepwater Horizon is always on our minds,” Adam says. There are also naturally occurring events like harmful algal blooms and long term issues like climate change that affect fish populations.
“Can you tell me about snapper?” I asked Adam. Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), assessed every other year, is a hot button topic for commercial and recreational fishermen alike in the Gulf. The species was in decline. Recreational fishermen went from a 180 day season to catch fish to an 8 day season and from 10 to 2 fish a day per person. Commercial fishermen weren’t happy either: they could only take 49% of the year’s quota for red snapper, while the recreational fishermen get to catch 51% of the quota. Fairness is not just a second grade concern, it is a major sticking point in regulating fisheries world wide.
Red snapper is a vulnerable species. Snapper settle to the bottom of the water column from larvae. They are at high risk of mortality from ages 0-5, the same time when they are close to human activity such as oil rigs, shrimping grounds and easy to access fishing areas. Those who manage the fisheries are trying to get the snapper through that vulnerable stage. Like money in the bank accruing interest, a 10 year old snapper can produce more eggs than a five year old. Before we take snapper from the sea, we must make sure a healthy older population remains to reproduce.
Once an assessment is complete, scientists determine a maximum sustainable yield: how many fish can be taken from the population and still keep enough around to make more fish for the future. Take a look at a shark assessment and a snapper assessment. Looking at these long and complicated assessments, I am glad we have people like Adam who is willing to patiently work with the numbers.
Gathering the best data and making it available to people who collaborate to make informed decisions is an important part of Adam’s job. We all want fish and NOAA fisheries biologists are doing their best to make that happen for us, and for generations to come.
My time aboard the Oregon II has come to an end. Bundled up in my winter clothes, I look out over a rainy Oregon landscape filled with fishermen hoping to catch a fall Chinook salmon. Two places with different weather and many different fish species. Yet many of our challenges are the same.
Back at school, students and teachers welcome me enthusiastically. Instead of measuring desks and books as part of our Engage NY curriculum, we measured sharks and their jaws. Many of these students have never been out of Oregon, many have not been to the beach, even though it is only 4 miles away. With NOAA, South Prairie Elementary students were able to learn about faraway places and careers that inspire them.
Soon these seven year old children will be in charge. I am thankful to the NOAA crews and the Teacher at Sea program staff, as they’ve prepared generations of students of all ages to collaborate and creatively face the task that lies ahead.
My first day on the longline cruise seems so long ago with three days of work under my belt. The night before my first shift, just like when school starts, I couldn’t sleep. Trying to prepare was futile. I was lost, lost in the wet lab, lost in my stateroom, lost in the mess. I needed to get some gloves on and get to work, learning the best way I know how: by doing.
At noon, I stepped out the fantail, life vest, gloves, hard hat, and sunscreen on, nervous, but ready to work. The Gulf of Mexico horizon was dotted with oil rigs, like a prairie full of farmhouses. Heat waves rose from the black deck.
Dr. Trey Driggers baits the hooks.
TAS Denise Harrington baits hooks.
Fifteen minutes before arriving at our first station, our science team, Field Party Chief Dr. Trey Driggers, Field Biologist Paul Felts, Research Biologist Kevin Rademacher, NOAA Science Writer Matt Ellis, and I began to prepare for our first station by baiting the hooks with mackerel (Scomber scombrus). I learned quickly that boots and grubby clothes are ideal for this task.
The buoy, connected to the boat by the longline, bobbed off toward the horizon.
Tim attached the first of three weights to anchor the line to the sea floor.
As the longline stretched across the sea, Kevin attached a numbered tag to the baited hook held by Paul.
Paul passed the baited, tagged hook to Tim, who attached 100 hooks, evenly spaced, to the one mile longline.
Setting the longline is rather predictable, so with Rush and Van Halen salting the air, we talked about our kids, dogs, riots in the news, and science, of course. The tags will help us track the fish we catch. After a fish is released or processed, the data is entered in the computer and shared with the scientific community. Maybe one of these tagged fish will end up in one of the many scientific papers Trey publishes on sharks each year.
The line soaked for an hour waiting for snapper, tilefish, eels, sharks, and other fish to bite. While the line soaked, Mike Conway, skilled fisherman, and I lowered the CTD, a piece of equipment that measures conductivity (salinity), temperature, and depth, into the water. Once the biologists know how salty, cold, and deep the water is, they can make better predictions about the species of fish we will find.
Denise and Mike lower the CTD.
Styrofoam cup comparison
We attached a bag holding a few Styrofoam cups to see how the weight of the water above it would affect the cup. Just imagine the adaptations creatures of the deep must have developed to respond to this pressure!
The ship circled back to hook #1 to give each hook equal time in the water. After an hour, we all walked up to the well deck, toward the bow or front of the ship. We pulled in the first highflyer and weight. We pulled in the hooks, some with bait, and some without. After 50 hooks, the middle weight came up. We still didn’t have a fish. I began to wonder if we’d catch anything at all. No data is still data, I thought. “Fish on eighty three!” I heard someone yell. I wake from my reverie, and get my gloves on.
It was a blacknose shark (Carcharhinus acronotus), “pound for pound, the meanest shark in the water,” says Trey. He would know, he’s the shark expert. It came up fighting, but was no match for Kevin who carefully managed to get length, weight, and sex data before releasing it back into sea.
Kevin measures the shark’s length in millimeters, Paul takes records the data, and Matt takes photos.
Then Kevin weighs it in kilograms.
With one shark to process, the three scientists were able to analyze the sexual maturity of the male blacknose together. I learned that an adult male shark’s claspers are hard and rotate 180˚, allowing them to penetrate a female shark. An immature shark’s claspers are soft and do not rotate. For each male shark, we need to collect this data about its sex stage.
Later, Paul talked about moments like these, where the field biologists work side by side with research biologists from all different units in the lab. Some research biologists, he notes, never get into the field. But Kevin, Trey, and others like them have a much more well-rounded understanding of the data collected and how it is done because of the time they spend in the field.
Fortunately, the transition from inexperienced to novice was gradual. The second line was just as easy as the first, we only brought in two fish, one shark and one red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus).
Dissection Photos: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries
For the red snapper, we removed the otoliths, which people often call ear bones, to determine age, and gonads to determine reproductive status. I say “we” but really the scientists accomplished this difficult feat. I just learned how to process the samples they collected and record the data as they dissected the fish.
We set the longline a third time. The highflyer bobbed toward the orange sun, low on the horizon. The ship turned around, and after an hour of soaking, we went to the well deck toward the front of the ship to pull in the longline. The sky was dark, the stars spread out above us.
“One!” “Three!” “Seven!” “Nine!” The numbers of tags with fish on the line were being called out faster than we could manage. It seemed like every other hook had a shark on it. Two hours later we had collected twenty-eight Atlantic sharpnose (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) sharks and had one snapper to process. Too busy working to take pictures, I have nothing to document my transition from inexperienced to novice except this data sheet. Guess who took all this data? Me!
NOAA Ship Oregon II is small, every bunk is filled. I share a stateroom with the second in command, Executive Officer (XO) Lecia Salerno, and am thankful she is such a flexible roommate, making a place for me where space is hard to come by.
Last night, as I lay in my bunk above XO Salerno and her office, I felt like Garth on Wayne’s World, the thought that “I’m not worthy” entering my head. All members of the crew are talented, experienced, and hard-working, from the bridge, to the galley, to the engine room, and out on the deck where we work. I’ve made a few mistakes. I took the nasty thought and threw it overboard, like the slimy king snake eels (Ophichthus rex) we pull from the deep.
In the morning I grabbed a cup of coffee, facing the risk of being the least experienced, slowest crew member to learn, with curiosity and perseverance. First day jitters gone, I’m learning by doing.
Weather Data is not available for this post because I am writing from the Biloxi/Gulfport Airport.
WHAT ARE WE CATCHING?
This is a long-line survey. That means we go to an assigned GPS point, deploy hi-flyer buoys, add weights to hold the line down, add 100 baited hooks, leave it in place for an hour, and retrieve everything.
As the equipment is pulled in we identify, measure and record everything we catch. Sometimes, like in the case of a really large, feisty shark that struggles enough to straighten or break a hook or the lines, we try to identify and record the one that got away. We tag each shark so that it can be identified if it is ever caught again. We tally each hook as it is deployed and retrieved, and the computer records a GPS position for each retrieval so scientists can form a picture of how the catch was distributed along the section we were fishing. The target catch for this particular survey was listed as sharks and red snapper. The reality is that we caught a much wider variety of marine life.
We list our catch in two categories: Bony fish, and Sharks. The major difference is in the skeletons. Bony fish have just that: a skeleton made of hard bone like a salmon or halibut. Sharks, on the other hand, have a cartilaginous skeleton, rigid fins, and 5 to 7 gill openings on each side. Sharks have multiple rows of sharp teeth arranged around both upper and lower jaws. Since they have no bones, those teeth are embedded in the gums and are easily dislodged. This is not a problem because they are easily replaced as well. There are other wonderful differences that separate sharks from bony fish.
Bony Fish we caught:
The most common of the bony fish that we caught were Red Groupers (Epinephelus morio), distinguished by of their brownish to red-orange color, large eyes and very large mouths. Their dorsal fins, especially, have pointed spikes.
We also caught Black Sea Bass (Centropristus striata) which resemble the groupers in that they also have large mouths and prominent eyes.
A third fish that resembles these two is the Speckled Hind (Epinephelus drummondhayi). It has a broad body, large mouth and undershot jaw giving the face a different look. Yes, we did catch several Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), although not as many as I expected. Snappers are a brighter color than the Red Groupers, and have a more triangular shaped head, large mouth and prominent canine teeth.
The most exciting bony fish we caught was barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda). We caught several of these and each time I was impressed with their sleek shape and very sharp teeth!
Most of the bony fish we caught were in fairly deep water.
We were fortunate to catch a variety of sharks ranging from fairly small to impressively big!
The most commonly caught were Sandbar Sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus): large, dark-gray to brown on top and white on the bottom.
Unless you really know your sharks, it is difficult for the amateur to distinguish between some of the various types. Experts look at color, nose shape, fin shape and placement, and distinguishing characteristics like the hammer-shaped head of the Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) and Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) sharks that were caught on this trip.
The beautifully patterned coloring of the Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is fairly easy to recognize and so is the yellowish cast to the sides of the Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris).
Other sharks we caught were Black-nose (Carcharhinus acrontus), Atlantic Sharp-nosed (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), Blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) and Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus leucus).
Several of the sharks we caught were large, very close to 3 meters long, very heavy and very strong! Small sharks and bony fish were brought aboard on the hooks to be measured against a scaled board on the deck then weighed by holding them up on a spring scale before tagging and releasing them. Any shark larger than about 1.5 meters was usually heavy and strong enough that it was guided into a net cradle that was lifted by crane to deck level where it could be measured, weighed and tagged with the least possibility of harm to either the shark or the crew members. Large powerful sharks do not feel the force of gravity when in the water, but once out of it, the power of their weight works against them so getting them back into the water quickly is important. Large powerful sharks are also pretty upset about being caught and use their strength to thrash around trying to escape. The power in a swat from a shark tail or the abrasion from their rough skin can be painful and unpleasant for those handling them.
The Night Sky
I am standing alone on the well deck; my head is buzzing with the melodies of the Eagles and England Dan. A warm breeze brushes over me as I tune out the hum of the ship’s engines and focus on the rhythm of the bow waves rushing past below me. It is dark! Dark enough and clear enough that I can see stars above me from horizon to horizon: the soft cloudy glow of the Milky Way, the distinctive patterns of familiar favorites like the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper with its signature bright point, the North Star. Cassiopeia appears as a huge “W” and even the tiny cluster of the “Seven Sisters” is distinct in the black bowl of the night sky over the Gulf of Mexico. The longer I look the more stars I see.
This is one of the first really cloudless nights of this cruise so far. Mike Conway, a member of the deck crew came looking for me to be sure I didn’t miss out on an opportunity to witness this amazingly beautiful show. As I first exited the dry lab and stumbled toward the bow all I could pick out were three faint stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper. The longer I looked, the more my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, and the more spectacular the show became. Soon there were too many stars for me to pick out any but the most familiar constellations.
As a child I spent many summer nighttime hours on a blanket in our yard as my father patiently guided my eyes toward constellation after constellation, telling me the myths that explained each one. Many years have passed since then. I have gotten busy seeing other sights and hearing other stories. I had not thought about those long ago summer nights for many years. Tonight, looking up in wonder, I felt very close to Pop again and to those great times we shared.
Barney Peterson Aboard NOAA Ship OREGON II August 13 – 28, 2016
Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 20, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 28 10.999 N
Longitude: 084 09.706 W
Air temperature: 90.68 F
Pressure: 1020.05 Mb
Sea Surface Temperature: 32.6 C
Wind Speed: 4.74 Kt
NOAA is a big organization! To say I am working for NOAA this summer is like saying I am visiting the USA…way too non-specific to mean much.
NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is a part of the US Department of Commerce. The NOAA mission: Science, Service and Stewardship, is further stated simply as to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts; to share that knowledge and information with others; to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.
To carry out that mission NOAA is further split into divisions that use a broadly diverse set of skills and abilities including satellite systems, ships, buoys, aircraft, research, high performance computing, and information management and distribution systems.* In later posts I will introduce you to some of the people who use those resources as they perform their jobs.
As a Teacher at Sea I am working under NOAA Fisheries. This program (TAS) “is designed to give teachers a clearer insight into our ocean planet, a greater understanding of maritime work and studies and to increase their level of environmental literacy by fostering an interdisciplinary research experience.”*
This summer I am assigned to NOAA Ship Oregon II, a fisheries research vessel of the National Marine Fisheries Service. We are conducting a long-line survey of fish in the Gulf of Mexico. The information we gather on species diversity and abundance will help the Service make decisions for management of our marine resources. What this boils down to for the average citizen may seem like what you are allowed to catch where, when, and how many; really the results are much, much more important. These decisions will be part of a plan to respond to changes in the health of our planet and the needs of all of us who inhabit it. “There is just one big ocean.”*
To understand what that last statement means, find a globe or an inflatable Earth Ball™. Put your index finger on a point in the Arctic Ocean. Now move your finger around the globe, always moving to your right, maybe a little up or down sometimes, until you get back to where you started. Your finger should never leave the “water” as it moves around the world. See! JUST ONE BIG OCEAN!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Barney Peterson Aboard NOAA Ship OREGON II August 13 – 28, 2016
Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 28 10.999 N
Longitude: 084 09.706 W
Air temperature: 90.68 F
Pressure: 1020.05 Mb
Sea Surface Temperature: 32.6 C
Wind Speed: 4.74 Kt
Rescue At Sea!
About mid-morning today the ship’s electrician found me to tell me that the night shift crew had just reported seeing a Sea Turtle near the line that they were currently deploying. The turtle swam over the line and then dove toward the baited hooks some 30 meters down near the bottom. Nobody is supposed to catch Sea Turtles; the stress of being on the hook can be fatal so immediate recovery and release is required in the case of an accidental catch. The crew went into immediate pro-active rescue mode!
The deployment was stopped. The line was cut and a final weight and a second hi-flyer were deployed to mark the end of the set for retrieval. The Captain altered course to bring the ship back around to a point where we began retrieving the line. Crew moved to the well deck and prepared the sling used to retrieve large sharks; it would be used to bring a turtle gently to the deck in the event that we had to remove a hook.
As retrieval started and gangions were pulled aboard, it became obvious that this set was in a great location for catching fish. 8 or 9 smallish Red Grouper were pulled in, one after another. Many of the other hooks were minus their bait. The crew worked the lines with a sense of urgency much more intense than on a normal retrieval! If a turtle was caught on a hook they wanted it released as quickly as possible to minimize the trauma.
As the final hi-flyer got closer and the last of the gangions was retrieved, a sense of relief was obvious among the crew and observers on the deck. The turtle they spotted had gone on by without sampling the baited hooks.
On this ship there are routines to follow and plans in place for every emergency. The rescue of an endangered animal is attended to with the same urgency and purpose as any other rescue. The science and deck crews know those routines and slip into them seamlessly when necessary to ensure the best possible result. This is all part of how they carry out NOAA’s mission of stewardship in our oceans.
Here is Where I Live
I am assigned a bunk in a stateroom shared with another science crew member. I am assigned to the top bunk and my roomie, Chrissie Stepongzi, is assigned to the bottom. Climbing the ladder to the top bunk when the ship is rolling back and forth is like training to be an Olympic gymnast! But, I seem to have mastered it! Making my bed each morning takes determination and letting go of any desire for perfection: you just can’t get to “no wrinkles!”
Chrissie works the midnight to noon shift and I work noon to midnight so the only time we really see each other is at shift change. Together, we are responsible for keeping our space neat and clean and respecting each other’s privacy and sleep time.
I eat in the galley, an area open to all crew 24/7. Meals are served at 3 regular times each day. The food is excellent! If you are on shift, working and can’t break to eat at meal time, you can request that a plate be saved for you. The other choice for those off-times is to eat a salad, sandwich, fruit or other snack items whenever you need an energy boost. We are all responsible for cleaning up after ourselves in the galley. Our Chief Steward Valerie McCaskill and her assistant, Chuck Godwin, work hard to keep us well-fed and happy.
There is a lounge, open to everyone for reading, watching movies, or hanging out during down time. There is a huge selection of up-to-date videos available to watch on a large screen and a computer for crew use. Another place to hang out and talk or just chill, is the flying deck. Up there you can see for miles across the water while you sit on the deck or in one of two Adirondack chairs. Since the only shade available for relaxing is on this deck it can be pretty popular if there is a breeze blowing.
My work area consists of 4 stations: the dry lab which has computers for working with data, tracking ship movements between sample sites, and storing samples in a freezer for later study;
the wet lab which so far on this cruise, has been used mainly for getting ready to work on deck, but has equipment and storage space for processing and sampling our catch; the stern deck where we bait hooks and deploy the lines and buoys; the well deck at the front of the ship where lines and buoys are retrieved, catch is measured and released or set aside for processing, and the CTD is deployed/stored for water sampling.
We move between these areas in a rhythm dictated by the pace of our work. In between deployments we catch up on research, discuss procedures, and I work on interviews and journal entries. I am enjoying shipboard life. We usually go to bed pretty tired, that just helps us to sleep well. The amazing vistas of this ocean setting always help to restore my energy and recharge my enthusiasm for each new day.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Barney Peterson Aboard NOAA Ship OREGON II August 13 – 28, 2016
Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 25 29.664 N
Longitude: 082 02.181 W
Air temperature: 84.56 F
Pressure: 1018.13 Mb
Sea Surface Temperature: 30.5 C
Wind Speed: 13.54 Kt East 12.72 degrees
The fishing process on the ship repeats itself in a well-defined cycle: cut bait, bait 100 hooks, drop hi-flyer, drop weight, attach 50 tags and baited hooks, drop weight, attach 50 more tags and hooks, drop weight, deploy hi-flyer. Put the CTD over the side and retrieve for water quality data. Wait an hour. Retrieve hi-flyer, retrieve weight, pull in first 50 hooks and detach tags logging any catch as they come in, retrieve weight, pull in next 50 hooks and detach tags logging any catch as they come in, retrieve last weight, retrieve last hi-flyer. Process the catch as it comes in, logging tag number, gender, species, lengths at 3 points, life stage, and tag number if the catch is a shark that gets tagged, return catch to water alive as quickly as possible. Transit to the next sample site. Wash, rinse and repeat.
That boils it down to the routine, but long line fishing is much more interesting and exciting than that! Bait we use is Atlantic Mackerel, caught farther north and frozen, thawed just before use and cut into 3 pieces per fish. A circle hook is inserted through each piece twice to ensure it will not fall off the hook…this is a skill that takes a bit of practice. Sometimes hooks are pulled in with bait still intact. Other times the bait is gone and we don’t know if it was eaten without the hook catching, a poor baiting job, or more likely eaten by smaller fish, too little to be hooked. When we are successful we hear the call “FISH ON!” and the deck comes alive.
The line with a catch is pulled up as quickly and carefully as possible. Some fish are not securely hooked and are lost between the water and the deck…not what we want to happen. If the catch is a large shark (generally 4 feet or longer) it is raised to the deck in a sling attached to the forward crane to minimize the chance of physical injury. For large sharks a camera with twin lasers is used to get a scaled picture for estimating length. There is a dynamometer on the line between the sling and the crane which measures pressure and converts it to weight. Both of these processes help minimize the time the shark needs to be out of water with the goal of keeping them alive to swim away after release. A tag is quickly attached to the shark, inserted under the skin at the base of the second dorsal fin. A small clip is taken from a fin, preferably from the pelvic fin, for DNA studies. The sling is lowered back to the water and the shark is free to swim away. All data collected is recorded to the hook-tag number which will identify the shark as to geographic location of the catch.
Sometimes the catch is a smaller shark or a bony fish: a Grouper, a Red Snapper, or any one of many different types of fish that live in this area. Each of these is brought onto the deck and laid on a measuring board. Species, length, and weight are recorded. Fin clips are taken. Many of them are on the list of species of recreational and commercial importance. These fish are retained for life history studies which will inform future management decisions. In the lab they are dissected to retrieve otoliths (ear stones) by which their age is determined. Depending upon the species, gonads (the reproductive organs) may be saved for study to determine the possibilities of future reproductive success. For certain species a good-sized piece of flesh is cut from the side for fraudulent species voucher library use.
After the smaller sharks are measured, fin clipped, gender identified, life stage is determined and weight is taken, they are tagged and returned to the water as quickly as possible. Tags on these sharks are a small, numbered plastic tag attached by a hole through the first dorsal fin.
This is a lot to get done and recorded and it all happens several times each shift. The routine never varies. The amount of action depends upon the success of the catch from any particular set. This goes on 24 hours per day. The only breaks come as we travel between the sites randomly selected for our sets and that time is generally spent in the lab.
(Thanks go to Kevin Rademacher, Trey Driggers and Lisa Jones, Research Fisheries Biologists, for contributing to this entry. File photo NOAA/NMFS)
I do not need 12 hours of sleep. That means I have several hours at the start or end of each shift to write in my journal, talk to the other members of the crew, take care of personal business such as laundry and communicate with home via email. Even so, every day seems to go by very quickly and I go to bed thinking of all the things I have yet to learn. In my next posts I will tell more about the different kinds of sharks and introduce you to some of the other people on the ship. Stay tuned.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Barney Peterson Aboard NOAA Ship OREGON II August 13 – 28, 2016
Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 14, 2016
Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 25 23.297 N
Longitude: 083 40 .794 W
Air temperature: 87.6 F
Pressure: 1017.04 Mb
Sea Surface Temperature: 30.6 C
Wind Speed: 16.6 Kt East 86.74 degrees
“We will set clocks tonight SHIP WIDE. At 0100 it will become 0000. Please plan accordingly.”
What this translates to is that when we moved into the Gulf of Mexico we went to the Central Time Zone. That means only a 2-hour difference between the ship and my home in the Pacific Northwest. That also means I, who am on the noon-to-midnight shift, got one more hour to sleep (or whatever) Sunday night.
I am busy learning about schedules on the ship. The science group is split into 2 shifts. We work days: noon to midnight; or nights: midnight to noon. These hours rule our lives. Meals are served at 0630, 1100, and 1700. You eat your first meal before you go on shift and your last at shift’s end. During the 12 hours you are off shift your stateroom is yours and your roommate is expected to stay away and let you sleep. The opposite is true for your time on: take everything you may need with you when you leave. Showers, laundry and personal business are fit into your 12 hours off. Shipboard courtesy requires that we keep voices low in the passageways and be careful not to let doors slam. Somebody is always trying to sleep. There is always a quiet spot somewhere to relax for a moment if you get the time: on the flying bridge, at the table on the stern, in the lounge or at a galley table.
Sunday, at 1230 hours, we had safety drills, required for all personnel within 24 hours of departure and once a week thereafter on every cruise. Reporting stations for 3 different types of drills are posted in staterooms and throughout the ship. Nobody is exempt from participation.
The signal sounds: a 10 second ringing of the bell: FIRE! The PA announces a drill: “All hands report to assigned stations.” Members of the science team quickly make their way to the stern. By the galley stands a crew member with a sign reading: Fire ahead – detour. After we arrive at our station, get checked off and, when all crew have been accounted for, return to our staterooms.
Next – 7 short and one long ring on the bell: ABANDON SHIP! Announcement: “Drill. All hands report to the bow with PFD’s and survival suits.” We grab our life jackets and “Gumby suits” and head to the bow where we are checked off as we arrive. We are required to don our “Gumbies” in 2 minutes or less – not impossible, but not simple either. I’ve done it before. The hardest part is getting the hood on and zipping up with your hands jammed into the lobster-claw gloves and your shoes and hat crammed into the suit with you…that’s when you discover just how much too long the arms and legs are. It isn’t pretty, but if we actually end up in the water, those neoprene suits will be our best protection against the deadly, energy-sapping effects of hypothermia!
Just after we have stripped out of the “Gumby” suits, rolled them up and stowed them and our life jackets back in staterooms, we get the next signal.
3 long bells: “MAN OVERBOARD!” This drill is important too, but feels almost like an anti-climax. It could mean the difference between life and death to a fellow crew member who falls into the water when the ship is moving. Science team reports again to the stern and, in a real emergency, would receive instructions for participating in spotting or assisting in a rescue. This time we stay and listen to a safety talk about our work with long lines, hooks, bait, and our possible catch which could include all kinds of fish and sharks. There are very definite rules and procedures to ensure crew are safe and our catch is handled with care and respect. If all goes well…our first lines will be set Monday night!
Sitting on the flying bridge about 1900 Sunday evening, 3 of us spotted a small boat about ½ mile away that seemed to be drifting aimlessly. There were two enormous cruise ships coming up behind us and they went around it on either side after cutting their engines to reduce their wake. A crew member from the bridge watched from our deck as somebody on the boat fired a flare. We were informed that radio contact was established: the boat was adrift, out of fuel, and we would stand by until the Coast Guard arrived. The OREGON II cut speed and circled back to stay closer to the small boat. One of the cruise ships was also standing by while the other went on its way. After about 20 minutes the white and red Coast Guard ship appeared and, when it reached the small boat, we were released to go on our way.
Seeing this response to another vessel in need of help put emphasis upon the importance of participating fully in our drills and understanding the measures in place to keep us safe and aid other ships sharing this big ocean.
Did You Know? What is the largest shark found in the Gulf of Mexico?
NOAA Teacher at Sea
(Almost) aboard NOAA Ship Pisces
May 04, 2016 – May 17, 2016
Greetings from Garibaldi, Oregon. My name is Denise Harrington and I teach Second Grade at South Prairie Elementary School in Tillamook, Oregon, along the north Oregon coast. There are 300 amazing second and third graders at our school who can prove to you that no matter how young you are, you can be a great scientist. Last year they were caught on camera by Oregon Field Guide studying the diversity of life present in our ocean.
I applied to become a NOAA Teacher at Sea because I wanted to work with scientists in the field. I seem to learn best by doing. In 2014, I joined the crew of NOAA ship Rainier, mapping the ocean floor near Kodiak Island, Alaska. I learned how vast, connected, and undiscovered our oceans are. Students watched in disbelief after we discovered a sea floor canyon. I learned about the technology and skills used to map the ocean floor. I learned how NOAA helps us stay safe by making accurate nautical charts. It was, for our students and myself, a life changing experience.
Now, I am fortunate enough to participate in another NOAA survey. On this survey aboard NOAA ship Pisces, scientists will be collecting data about how many fish inhabit the area along banks and ledges of the Continental Shelf of the Gulf of Mexico.
NOAA believes in the value of sharing what they do with the public, and students in particular. The crew of Pisces even let fifth grader students from Southaven, Mississippi name the ship after they won a writing contest. Maybe you can name the next NOAA ship!
On May 3, 2016, Ship Pisces will begin Leg 3 of their survey of reef fish. I have so many questions. I asked Chief Scientist Kevin Rademacher why the many survey partners chose snapper and grouper to survey. He replied “Snapper and grouper are some of the most important commercial fisheries here in the Gulf of Mexico. There are 14 species of snapper in the Gulf of Mexico that are good to eat. Of those the most commercially important is the red snapper. It is also currently over-fished.” When I hear “over-fished” I wonder if our second graders will have many or any red snapper to eat when they they grow up. Yikes!
Another important commercial catch is grouper. My brother, Greg, who fishes along the Kenai River in Alaska understands why grouper is a focus of the survey. “It’s tasty,” he says. I can’t believe he finds grouper tastier than salmon. NOAA is making sure that we know what fish we have and make sure we save some for later, so that everyone can decide which fish is the tastiest when they grow up.
I have so many questions keeping me up at night as I prepare for my adventure. What do I need to know about fish to do my job on the ship? Will I see evidence of the largest oil spill in U.S. history, the Deepwater Horizon spill? How crowded will we all be aboard Ship Pisces? If I dissect fish, will it be gross? Will it stink? Will I get sea sick? With my head spinning with questions, I know I am learning. Yet there is nothing more I can do now to prepare myself for all that I will learn, except to be early to the airport in Portland, Oregon, and to the ship in Pascagoula, Mississippi, on May 3rd.
I will get home in time to watch my daughter, Elizabeth, graduate from high school. Ever since I returned from the NOAA cruise in Alaska, she has been studying marine biology and even competed in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl.
During research in the Gulf of Mexico with the crew of Ship Pisces, I will learn about the many living things in the Gulf of Mexico and about the technology they use to protect and manage commercial fisheries. Soon, you will be able to watch me collect data about our ocean critters. Hope for fair winds and following seas as I join the crew on Ship Pisces, “working to protect, restore, and manage the use of our living ocean resources.”
NOAA Teacher at Sea Leah Johnson Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces July 21 – August 3, 2015
Mission: Southeast Fishery – Independent Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, Southeastern U.S. Coast Date: Friday, July 24, 2015
Weather Data from the Bridge: Time 12:38 PM
Water Temperature 25.88 °C
Salinity -No Data-
Air Temperature 28.3 °C
Relative Humidity 78 %
Wind Speed 5.76 knots
Wind Direction 355.13 degrees
Air Pressure 1011.3 mbar
Science and Technology Log: When the traps are reeled in, the GoPro camera attachments are unclipped and brought into the dry lab. The cameras are encased in waterproof housing that can withstand the higher pressure at the seafloor. One camera is placed on the front of the trap, and one camera is placed on the back. Each video card captures ~45 minutes of footage. The videos will be carefully scrutinized at a later date to identify the fish (since many do not enter the traps), describe the habitat, and also describe the fish behavior. While aboard the ship, the videos are downloaded and watched just to make sure that the cameras worked properly, and to gain a general idea of what was happening around the trap. Occasionally, there are some really exciting moments, like when a tiger shark decided to investigate our trap!
This tiger shark appeared in the video from both trap cameras as it circled.
While the cameras are being prepped in the dry lab for the next deployment, we are busy in the wet lab with the fish caught in the traps. The first step is identification. I could not identify a single fish when the first trap landed on the deck! However, I am slowly learning the names and distinctive features of the local fish. Here are a few examples of the fish that we have hauled in so far:
Once the fish are identified, they are sorted into different bins. We record the mass of each bin and the lengths of each fish. Most of the smaller fish are returned to the ocean once the measurements are recorded. Some fish are kept for further measuring and sampling. For each of these fish, we find the mass, recheck the total length (snout to tail), and also measure the fork length (snout to fork in tail) and standard length (snout to start of tail).
I measured the fish while one of my crew mates recorded the data.
The fish is then ready for sampling. Depending on the species of fish, we may collect a variety of other biological materials:
Otoliths (ear stones) are made of calcium carbonate, and are located near the brain. As the fish grows, the calcium carbonate accumulates in layers. As a result, otoliths can be used – similarly to tree rings – to determine the age of the fish. I retrieved my first set of otoliths today!
Muscle tissue (the part of the fish that we eat) can be used to test for the presence of mercury. Since mercury is toxic, it is important to determine its concentration in fish species that are regularly consumed.
Gonads (ovaries in females or testes in males) can be examined to determine if a fish is of reproductive age, and whether it is just about to spawn (release eggs / sperm into the water).
The stomach contents indicate what the fish has eaten.
This toadfish had snail shells in its stomach!
The soft tissues are kept in bags and preserved in a freezer in the wet lab. Sample analyses will take place in various onshore labs.
Personal Log: It is important to remember that this ship is home to most of the people on board. They live and work together in very close quarters. There are daily routines and specific duties that individuals fill to keep Pisces running smoothly. Cooperation is key. I do my best to be useful when I can, and step aside when I cannot. Despite my inexperience at sea, everyone has been incredibly kind, patient, and helpful. I am lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing people who are willing to show me the ropes!
Did You Know? The lionfish is an invasive species in the Atlantic Ocean. Its numbers are increasing in waters off the Southeastern U.S. coast. These fish have few predators, and they are consuming smaller fish and invertebrates which also sustain local snapper and grouper populations.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Kathleen Gibson Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II July 25 – August 8, 2015
Mission: Fisheries – Conduct longline surveys to monitor interannual variability of shark populations of the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico. Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast. Date: July 10, 2015
My name is Kathleen Gibson and I bring you greetings from Trumbull, CT where live and teach. In two weeks I will travel to Pascagoula, MS, located on the Gulf of Mexico, to join NOAA Corps members, research scientists, and the crew aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, as a 2015 NOAA Teacher at Sea.
I work at Trumbull High School and currently teach Biology to sophomores and two elective courses for seniors–Marine Science and AP Environmental Science. I’m passionate about environmental education and am always looking for opportunities to engage students in the world outside of the classroom. Trumbull has a large amount of protected green space, wetlands, streams and a river, and while we aren’t on the coast, we are only a few miles from Long Island Sound. The woods and the shoreline have become our laboratory.
I’m open to adventures and new experiences that help me grow both personally and professionally. I’m fortunate to have an awesome family, terrific colleagues and open-minded students who are willing to go along with my ideas; whether it be be hiking around volcanoes and rift zones, looking for puffins, or wading in nearby streams looking for life below.
About NOAA and Teacher at Sea
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency within the United States Department of Commerce that seeks to enrich life through science. While NOAA is somewhat familiar to many of us– thanks to the abundance of weather data that is collected and disseminated to the public–that’s not all that is happening there. NOAA is working to increase our understanding of climate, weather and marine ecosystems, and to use this knowledge to better manage and protect these crucial ecosystems. In addition to the abundant educational resources available to all teachers, NOAA provides unique opportunities for teachers and students. The Teacher at Sea Program brings classroom teachers into the field to work with world-renowned NOAA scientists.
The Mission of the cruise I will be a part of is to monitor Shark and Red Snapper populations in the Gulf of Mexico in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast. Data collected will be compared to findings from previous years, as a part of the ongoing research studying inter-annual variability of these populations. We are scheduled to embark on July 25, 2015 and plan to sail from Pascagoula, MS, down the west coast of Florida and up the Atlantic Coast as far as Mayport, FL.
I am honored to have been selected to be a Teacher at Sea for the 2015 Season and look forward to a number of “firsts”. I’ve never been to Mississippi nor have I been at sea for more than 24 hours. Also, I’ve only experienced sharks as preserved specimens or through aquarium glass. I’m also looking forward to meeting my shipmates and learning about career opportunities and the paths that led them to be a part of this Oregon II cruise. I’ll share as much as I can through future posts. I’m excited to bring my students and others along with me on this journey.
My next post to you should be coming later this month from off the Mississippi coast. However, the first rule of being on board is FLEXIBILITY, so things may change. Either way, I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, please check out some of the TAS 2015 blogs written by my fellow NOAA Teachers at Sea, and spread the word. There is so much to learn.
Did You Know?
While some sharks release eggs into the water where they will later hatch, as many as 75% of shark species give birth to live young.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Heidi Wigman Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces May 27 – June 10, 2015
Mission: Reef Fish Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico (24°29.956’N 083°320.601’W) Date: June 8, 2015
Weather: 83° @ surface, E-SE winds @ 10-15 knots, seas 2-3 ft, average depth 123m
Science and Technology Log:
NOAA’s mission is three-fold: science, service, and stewardship. By utilizing fisheries, hydrographic, and oceanographic scientists in the field, NOAA’s goal is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, while also putting forth a conservation effort towards coastal and marine ecosystems. This knowledge is shared with businesses, communities, and people, to inform on how to make good choices to protect our fragile earth.
The specific mission, for our current voyage, on the Pisces, is to survey fisheries at pre-determined sites throughout the Western portion of the Gulf of Mexico. The data from these surveys will be brought back to the lab in Pascagoula, Miss. and analyzed. Then determinations will be made for future surveys and studies. According to Chief Scientist, Brandi Noble, “These fishery independent surveys increase our knowledge of natural reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. We get a better picture of what’s down there and work with outside agencies to determine how to maintain the health of the fisheries. Data gathered will be used in future stock assessments for the Gulf of Mexico.”
The methods used to gather data on this cruise are through the use of the camera array and the bandit reels. The camera arrays are deployed at sites that have been mapped and sit at the bottom for a total soak time of 40 minutes. This footage is analyzed and processed by scientists to determine what the conditions of the reef are and the species of fish present in the area and their abundance. This gives a partial picture, but to get a complete and accurate report, fish need to be studied more closely. The “Bandit Reels” provide a more hands-on approach and allow the scientists to get data on sex, maturity stage, and age of species. Some of the fish are released after some initial measurements, but the commercially important species are dissected and samples are taken for further lab analysis. Initial measurements made with anything brought aboard include total length (TL), fork length (FL), standard length, SL (from nose to caudal fin), and weight.
A closer look at the data allows scientists to make predictions on fish populations and growth over time. Some of the data we got on this trip were for the Lutjanus campechanus (red snapper) and for the Pagrus pagrus (red porgy).
There are several ways to disaggregate the data to determine differences and similarities based on region, time, species, etc. For our purposes, we’ll make some observations involving probability, proportion, and statistics.
Math Problem of the day: You are a scientist and have brought data back from the Gulf of Mexico to analyze in your lab. You have three tasks: a) to get an average fish size based on weight (species specific) b) to determine what the proportion is of the Standard Length to the Total Length of each species (hint: ratio of SL/TL; find average) c) determine the theoretical probabilities that the next Red Snapper will be >1,100g, and that the next red Porgy will be <1,000g (hint: how many times does this happen out of the total catches?)
Coming Soon . . . Meet some of the crew behind the Pisces
Trigonometry of Navigation post: 18 m/s @ 34°SE
Bandit Reels post: about 14.6 nautical miles
The STEM of Mapping post: layback = 218m, layback w/ catenary = 207m
The Oregon II is a participant and contributor to SEAMAP (The Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program) which monitors the biodiversity of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico. The primary way the Oregon II assists SEAMAP is by conducting bottom trawls with a 42 foot semi-balloon shrimp trawl net.The net is slowly lowered into the ocean until it reaches the bottom and is then dragged along the ocean floor for thirty minutes. The net has a tickler chain between the doors which scrapes the bottom of the ocean floor and flicks objects into the net. The net is then brought to the surface and all of the organisms inside are put into baskets (see video above). The total weight of the catch is massed on scales on the deck. If the catch is large (over 20 kilos), it is dumped onto a conveyor belt and a random sub-sample (smaller) is kept, along with any unique species while the rest of the catch is dumped overboard.
Once the sample has been selected, the marine organisms are sorted by species and put into baskets. Each species is then massed and counted while the data is recorded into a system called FSCS (Fisheries Scientific Computer System). To obtain a random sampling, every fifth individual of the species (up to twenty) is measured, massed and sexed (more on this later). Once the data has been verified by the watch manager, the marine organisms are put back into the ocean. The following are pictures of a sample on the conveyor belt and the organisms divided into a few species.
The sorting process for shrimp (white, brown and pink) differs slightly from that of the other marine organisms. Every shrimp (up to 200 of each species), is massed, measured and sexed.This data is then used by various government agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, etc… to determine the length of the shrimping season and to set quotas on the amount that can be caught by each issued license. States will not open the shrimping season until SEAMAP reports back with their findings from NOAA’s shrimp survey.
The shrimp trawl net used on the Oregon II differs from a shrimp net used on a commercial boat in two main ways. Commercial shrimping boats have BRD’s (Bycatch Reduction Devices) and TED’s (Turtle Excluder Devices). BRD’s and TED’s are federally required in the U.S. to reduce the amount of bycatch (unintentionally caught organisms) and sea turtles. Shrimping boats typically trawl for hours and turtles cannot survive that long without air. TED’s provide turtles and other large marine organisms an escape hatch so that they do not drown (see the video below). Unfortunately, larger turtles such as Loggerheads are too big to fit through the bars in a TED. Additionally, TED’s may become ineffective if they are clogged with sea debris, kelp or are purposefully altered.
Boat Personnel of the Week:
Warren is a gear specialist who is working as a member of the scientific party. He is contracted by Riverside for NOAA. While aboard the Oregon II, Warren designs, builds and repairs gear that is needed on the boat. Unfortunately, on this leg of the trip either sharks or dolphins have been chewing holes in the nets to eat the fish inside. This means Warren has spent a large chunk of his time repairing nets.
Warren is not a crew member of the Oregon II and actually works at the Netshed in Pascagoula where he spends his time working with TED’s. He has law enforcement training and will go out with government agencies (such as the Coast Guard or Fish and Wildlife Service) to monitor TED’s on shrimping boats. He also participates in outreach programs educating fishermen in measuring their nets for TED’s, installing them. Warren will bring TED’s and nets to make sure that every everyone at the training has a hands on experience installing them. While he regularly does outreach in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas, his work has also taken him as far as Brazil.
Robin will be a junior at Lewis & Clark College in the Fall. He is currently an intern aboard the Oregon II. Robin received a diversity internship through the Northern Gulf Institute and is one of eight interns for NOAA. For the first two weeks Robin worked at the NOAA lab participating in outreach at elementary school science fairs. He brought sea turtle shells and a shrimp net with a TED installed. The students were very excited to pretend to be sea turtle and run through the TED. They proclaimed, “we love sea turtles.” After leaving the Oregon II, Robin will return to the NOAA lab to study the DNA of sharks.
Overall I have had a hard time processing and accepting the groundfish survey portion of the trip. I am a vegetarian that does not eat meat, including fish, for ethical and environmental reasons. Yet here I find myself on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico surveying groundfish so that others can eat shrimp. A large part of me feels that I should be protesting the survey rather than assisting. Because of this I spent a lot of time talking to the other scientists on my watch and Chief Scientist Andre Debose. After many discussions (some still ongoing) I do realize how important the groundfish survey is. Without it, there would be no limits placed on the fishing industry and it is likely that many populations of marine organisms would be hunted to extinction more rapidly than they are now. This survey actually gives the shrimp species a chance at survival.
Did You Know?
Countries that do not use TED’s are banned from selling their shrimp to the U.S.
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Mission: SEAMAP Reef Fish Survey
Date: June 4, 2014
Latitude: 27˚ 51.464 N
Longitude: 93˚ 17.745 W
Air Temp: 27.1˚C (80.8˚F)
Water Temp: 24.5˚C (76.1˚F)
Ocean Depth: 141.5 m (464 ft.)
Relative Humidity: 81%
Wind Speed: 14.8 kts (17.0 mph)
Barometer: 1,012.3 hPa (1,012.3 mbar)
Science and Technology Log:
The degree to which the Gulf of Mexico is rich in sea life is truly stunning. The Gulf produces more fish, shrimp, and shellfish than the waters of New England, the Chesapeake, mid- and south-Atlantic combined; consequently, the SEAMAP survey area includes a wide variety of sea life with great abundance. A lot is riding on our ability to understand and manage the Gulf of Mexico. According to a 2010 National Marine Fisheries Service report, the five U.S. Gulf states harvested 1.3 billion pounds of commercial shellfish and fish. In that same year, the Gulf produced 82% of the U.S. shrimp harvest, and 59% of the U.S. oyster harvest, and over a billion pounds of fish. Maintaining the Gulf as a productive fishery for years into the future is essential to the U.S. economy and its food production. So, what is going on with reef fish in the Gulf? In general, many commercially valuable species in the Gulf are showing signs of strain due to over harvesting and various environmental factors. However, compared to waters in some parts of the neighboring Caribbean that have had commercially valuable reef fish devastated by lax regulation and enforcement, some parts of the Gulf appear relatively pristine.
One area of concern is our red snapper stocks. It can be a difficult population to maintain since major swings in reproduction occur from year to year. This can give both recreational and commercial fishermen a false sense that a population is doing well; however, with red snappers one thirty-year-old female lays more eggs than 30 one-year-old females. Therefore, it is in our best interests to ensure some older fish survive for reproduction. This same trend can be applied to other commercial fish in the Gulf further complicating management efforts.
The populations of both red snapper and vermillion snapper are showing signs of recovery since setting harvesting restrictions. Red snapper still has a ways to go to get to the targeted sustainable population. Currently, the red snapper population is only 13% of the target population level while the vermillion snapper is now at 92% of its target population. Both populations are well below levels documented early in the 20th century. We see a similar problem with some of the grouper in the Gulf.
Species such as the gag grouper and red grouper have faced similar declines due to overfishing, and both have shown signs of recovery while the gag grouper is still under a population rebuilding plan. While the bandit reels are targeting fish stocks that often have commercial or recreational value, the camera array reveals the context to the rest of the story about the habitat that is up to several hundred feet below our feet.
Just as freshwater fish back home are often attracted to some sort of structure, reef fish exhibit the same tendencies. Survey areas where we catch few, if any, fish using the bandit reels often appear as barren, flat muddy or sandy bottoms. This stands in stark contrast with the rich communities that congregate around structure.
Areas in the Gulf that have structure often have a remarkable array of fish and an even wider ranging variety in invertebrates. So far on this cruise, we have viewed dozens of species of fish representing groups as diverse as snapper, grouper, sharks, eels, triggerfish, pufferfish, anglefish, damselfish, jacks, porgies, and tilefish.
The invertebrate diversity at these sites spans many phyla including sea fans, sea sponges, crabs, brittle stars, sea lilies, shrimp, tunicates, and various types of algae. One may wonder why structure is found in these places. In many cases these communities thrive on ancient coral reefs. These reefs are no longer living themselves since the 150 to 300 feet we often find them in is too deep for the colonial animals that make up coral to have symbiotic algae living with them. There is simply not enough light at that depth for the types of algae normally associated with coral to carry out photosynthesis. Then how did corals get to such depths in the first place? Twelve thousand years ago large ice sheets existed across much of the northern hemisphere. These continental glaciers locked up approximately 100 feet of ocean sea level into ice at the peak of glaciation. Therefore, many of our survey sections are directly over where the Gulf coast once was in very recent geological time. Once the global climate warmed, the glacial ice sheets collapsed and filled the ocean basins to their present day sea levels leaving the existing coral reefs in near darkness.
In addition to all of the sea life that I have seen directly relating to the survey, I have seen numerous species as a result of incidental catches or just from casual observations from the ship. The Gulf is home to more than a dozen shark species. A hammerhead and possibly a bull shark were spotted from the Pisces during the cruise. Several unidentified sharks were attracted to the mackerel that we were using for bait on our bandit reels and the fish that we were reeling in on our lines. Trying to reel in your catch and pull off ten hooks from your line before the sharks get a hold of it really adds a whole new element of excitement to fishing that I had never had to deal with before. Other sea life that I have seen include barracuda, a wahoo, a bottlenose dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphins, large mats of brown algae called Sargassum, and the many living things that live among the Sargassum, which I will talk more about in future posts.
Did You Know?
Fish stocks throughout the ocean are threatened by over-harvesting and environmental issues. You can learn more about the status of key marine species and issues relating to our seafood supply at the NOAA FishWatch.gov site.
Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico Date: Aug. 23, 2013
Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Lat. 29.31 °N Lon. 84.18 °W
Temp. 83 °F (28.8 °C)
Wind speed 10-15 kts
Barometer 30.03 in ( 1017.15mb)
Visibility 10 mi
Science and Technology Log:
The weather hasn’t been cooperating with us too well as we have run in to an occasional squall. It is amazing just how quickly that wind can pick up. Yesterday in the course of hauling in the line the wind increased from 18 to 34 knots (A knot is similar to mph, but it uses a nautical mile as a distance. One knot = 1.15 mph).
But the fish have been cooperating. The lull is over and the catch has increased. For the most part we are catching Red Grouper, an occasional Red Snapper and a variety of sharks. Click here to see the shark species found in the Gulf of Mexico. The majority of the sharks have been large enough to cradle. When we hear “hard hats that means it’s a big one” and our team jumps into action. Some of the sharks come up in the cradle quietly, but others come up thrashing about. They are quickly held down by the fishermen of the deck crew which keeps the sharks quiet and safe. Then the science team steps in to collect the data and insert a tag. As the cradle is lowered back down it is paused to obtain the shark’s weight. There is an electronic scale located at the top of the cradle. It is then lowered into the water and the shark swims away. I’m still amazed at how efficient the process is. The sharks are measured, tagged and weighed in a matter of just a few minutes.
There is a level of excitement when catching any of these fish and sharks, but the exceptional catch raises that level. This occurred a couple of days ago. We had something on the line and it was big – really big. Even the crew was yelling about its size. I knew it was something special. As it got closer to the boat it was identified as a huge Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). The crane operator was bringing the cradle and the science team was getting ready when ……it was gone. It had bitten through the line. I guess there always has to be that big one that got away.
The level of excitement rose again when the next day we caught a Great Hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran). Any of the larger Hammerheads or Tiger Sharks are being fitted with a satellite tag. This is attached to their dorsal fin (the large fin on their back). Whenever the shark comes to the surface, the tag will transmit its location via radio waves to a satellite. The satellite will then send the signal back down to a receiving antennae and on to various labs. This is a type of remote sensing that is commonly used to track animals. It gives scientists information about animal’s behavior and migration patterns. These particular satellite tags are from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. It is a collaborative effort to get the tags on as many sharks as possible so they can study where they go after being caught.
While working with the scientists I noticed that they use a combination of metric units, maritime units and imperial units. The fish are measured in millimeters, the electronic scale measured in pounds (normally it measures in kilograms, but there was a technical issue that required changing to pounds), the handheld scale measure in kilograms, the water current is measured in knots, the depth for the CTD is measured in meters, the distance is measured in nautical miles and the survey areas are divided by fathoms ( 1 fathom = 6 feet), just to name a few. It is helpful to be familiar with all of them and be able to convert from one type of unit to another. It has made me think that we should be practicing our metric conversions even more than we currently do in class. So, my incoming freshmen, get ready.
Personal Log :
The time is passing so quickly here on the ship. I think that is because there is always something happening here. My daily routine consists of rising around 7:30 am, grabbing a light breakfast and then going to see what the night shift is doing. Often times they are preparing to haul in the line and I can’t resist watching that. I have an early lunch since my shift will begin at noon, but we are usually prepared to go before that time. For the next twelve hours we will set the line, run the CTD, haul in the line and move on to the next site. Dinner is at 17:00 ( 5:00 pm) but if we are busy we can request a plate be set aside for us. The distance between sites can be anywhere from less than a nautical mile (nm) to over 60 nm. The ship can travel about 10 knots depending upon the wind and the current. So, there are times when we have a number of hours between sites. On these occasions I check my email, work on my blog, edit my pictures or just stand on the deck and look out over the water. I always have my eyes open for animals, but it isn’t often that I see any. Just water as far as the eye can see. It gives me a sense of the vastness of the ocean. And I am seeing lots of beautiful cloud features and sunsets.
I had the special privilege of getting a tour by the Chief Marine Engineer, Sean Pfarrer, of the engine room. It is very loud down there so we had to wear ear plugs. Sean pointed to different things and I took pictures. Then upstairs, in the relative quiet of the galley, he took the time to explain to me the role of each component. We had a really interesting discussion. Any mechanical questions that arose after that, Sean was the one I’d go to. When I return, anyone interested in mechanics can listen to my presentation of the engine room – it’s more interesting than you may think.
Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico Date: Aug 17, 2013
Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly cloudy, scattered showers and thunder storms
Lat. 27.19 °N Lon. 84.38 °W
Temp. 92 °F ( 33.4° C)
Wind speed 10-15 knots
Barometer 30.1 in (1015 mb)
Visibility 10 mi
Sea temp 83 ° F (28.8 ° C)
Science and Technology Log
We have arrived at the survey sites, the fishing has begun and I’m having the time of my life! The process is a collaborative effort between the science team and the crew of the ship. In upcoming blogs I’ll focus on all the different people on board the ship and their roles, but I’d like to first tell you about the fishing from my perspective as part of the science team. The science team consists of four scientists and seven volunteers. We are divided into day shift (noon to midnight) and night shift (midnight to noon). I am assigned to the day shift.
I was told that about a mile of line with 100 hooks would be let out and weighted to stay close to the bottom. I was interested to see how they could let the line out and haul it back in again without all those hooks getting tangled. Well, I learned that the hooks are removable. The hooks are attached to one end of a 12 foot section of line. The other end holds a snap. This set up is called a gangion. The gangions are snapped onto the longline as it is let out and taken off the line as it is reeled in. They are stored in a very orderly way to avoid tangles, although an occasional tangle does occur. As the ship is approaching a designated site we prepare for setting the line. This is done from the rear of the ship, called the stern.
We bait the hooks and decide on job assignments. The jobs that need to be done while setting the line are “Data” (manning the computer to keep a count of the gangions that are put on the line); “High Flyer” (throwing out the buoys that will mark the beginning and end of the line); “Slinger” (throwing the baited hook over the edge of the ship and holding the other end of the gangion to receive a numbered tag); and “Numbers” (snapping numbered tags on to the gangions). The weather conditions and the speed of the current must be checked before the final approval is given to set the line. When the signal is given our team gets to work.
After the line is set and the work station is cleaned up (that bait can get a little messy!), a CTD is deployed to gather data on the water – Conductivity (a measure of salinity), Temperature and Depth. The CTD also measures the dissolved oxygen in the water – remember that fish breathe by absorbing oxygen from the water as it runs over their gills.
An hour after the last high flyer is set, the line is hauled in. This is done from the bow (the front deck of the ship). During this part of the process I am full of anticipation as we wait to see what each hook holds. It might be a light catch with a couple of fish or it might be a very busy catch. When the crew yells “fish on”, the action begins. Anything that is caught is brought on board and data is collected (more on this later). If it is too big to be pulled in, then it is lifted into a cradle and worked on along the side of the ship. The crew will determine if cradling is needed and will shout out “hard hats”, as we all need to be wearing hard hats when the crane is being used to move the cradle. In our first two days of fishing, the day shift has cradled five sharks. It is so exciting to be next to such a big, beautiful creature.
The final step to the fishing process is clean up. Our gear is put away, the deck is hosed down (using salt water, as fresh water is in precious on a ship), numbers are checked for proper order and damaged gangions are repaired. If there were fish caught that require dissection, this would be done now as well. In the meantime, Oregon II steams on to the next survey site. So, you can see that the ship is a busy place 24 hours a day.
I am having so much fun on the Oregon II. The work is really interesting and the people have been fantastic. Not only has everyone on board been very friendly and helpful, but they have really made me feel like a member of the team. Right from the start we were trained for the various jobs and expected to do them, with lots of help and encouragement always available. I initially thought I’d be more of an observer, but that is not the case at all. All of the volunteers are actively involved in every aspect of the fishing routine.
I find it fascinating that people from all over the country have come together to cross paths here aboard a ship in the Gulf of Mexico. In future blogs I’d like to highlight some of their stories, but for now there is work to be done (although I’m not to the point where I can call this work. It’s way too much fun!)
Shark Burn – the abrasion received when a wiggling shark rubs against your skin.
Water Haul – nothing at all is caught during a set.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
April 14–29, 2013
Mission: Hawaii Bottomfish Survey Geographical Area of Cruise: Hawaiian Islands
Date: Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Science and Technology Log
A few days ago we dropped the CDT, an apparatus that collects data on the conductivity, the depth, and the temperature of the sea water in which the acoustic survey is taking place. All of these three things impact how quickly sound travels underwater. The scientists collect the information and then use it to figure out an accurate rate of speed for the sound waves. Once they have that information, they can determine how far a target is from the ship.I was able to ride along in a small boat to Maui to pick up parts for the AUV. While in the Maui harbor, I had the opportunity to visit the Huki Pono, a small boat working on this survey that is using BotCams to survey the fish population. The palu, or bait, that I help make every day is frozen and then transferred to the fishing boats. It is frozen in a shape that fits into a cage on the BotCam located near the camera. As the bait breaks up, fish are attracted to it and come close enough to the BotCam to be visually recorded. There is a lot of video to go through so Dr. Kobayashi says they won’t have the data from the BotCams for a while. But the other three fishing boats assigned to this project turn their survey information in every evening and I get to add it to a spreadsheet to help keep track of what section the boats were in and what they found while they were there.
Work continues with the ROV and AUV. The scientists are always working on them, trying to make them run as smoothly as possible. We worked on calibrating the acoustics again this morning for the same reason. The better the information you have when you start a project, the better chance you have of having a successful outcome.
As I mentioned before though, not everything we are doing is high tech. We fish off the side of the ship in the evenings, dropping our lines all the way to the bottom so they are on the sea floor. The scientists running the acoustics tell us if they see fish and then we do our best to catch a representative sample. Here are two of the fish I caught off the bottom: an opakapaka and a taape. The observers that ride in the small boats every day spend the night on the Sette. That way, they can turn their logs in and I can record the data. As a bonus, a few of them are expert fishermen and are a huge help to us as we fish from the ship.
Personal Log I’m really enjoying my time on the Sette. In addition to learning new things that I can apply in my classroom, I’m making new friends. Everyone is exceptionally friendly and they go out of their way to explain things to me. Most of them call me “Teach” or “Taz” and almost all of them have sailed with a Teacher at Sea before.
Did You Know? You can tell the age of a fish by their otoliths? The picture has the otoliths from an opakapaka, an ehu, and a hogo. Otoliths are a fish’s “ear bones” and they have growth lines in them much like a tree has growth rings.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012
Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the coast of Florida
Date: August 5, 2012
Weather Data From the Bridge:
Air Temperature (degrees C): 29.0
Wind Speed (knots): 10.28
Wind Direction (degree): 138.68
Relative Humidity (percent): 076
Barometric Pressure (millibars): 1022.33
Water Depth (meters): 28.45
Salinity (PSU): 35.612
On my last blog I introduced you to five species of shark found so far. I think you can tell which one is my favorite, which is yours?
Even though our mission is to collect data on sharks, you never know what might come up on the end of a hook (or tangled in the line!). Data is still collected on just about everything else we catch. For today’s blog I have put together a photo journey on the so many other beautiful creatures we have caught.
There you have it. I hope you enjoy the pictures of just some of the beauty and diversity in the Atlantic Ocean. Be sure to visit my next blog when we tie up loose ends!
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews Aboard R/V Savannah July 7 – 18, 2012
Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Daytona Beach, Florida
Date: July 13, 2012
Latitude: 29 ° 19.10’ N
Longitude: 80 ° 24.31’ W
Air Temperature: 28.3° C (82.94°F)
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Wind Direction: from Southeast
Surface Water Temperature: 27.48 °C (81.46°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and Fair
Science and Technology Log
Catching bottom fish at the reef
As the fish trap lies at the bottom of the ocean at the reef site, fish can enter and exit freely through the opening.
At the end of approximately 90 minutes, the R/V Savannah returns to the drop site and begins the process of raising the trap with whatever fish remain inside. The six traps are pulled up in the order in which they were dropped.
The crew member on watch in the wheelhouse will maneuver the boat toward the paired poly ball buoys at a speed of about 5 knots. The boat draws alongside each pair on the starboard side.
One of the scientists throws a grappling hook toward the line that links the poly balls.
The line is hauled in and passed to a waiting scientists, who pull the poly balls on deck. There is substantial hazard associated with this step. Undersea currents can be very powerful near the bottom where traps are set. As scientists are pulling in the cable by hand, unexpected current force can yank the trap cable, rope and buoys out of their hands and off the deck in an instant. If personnel on deck aren’t mindful and quick to react, the speeding rope can cause serious rope burn injury.
The cable connecting the fish trap and the poly balls is pulled in and threaded through the pulley system of a pot hauler. The pot hauler is an automated lifting tool that is operated by the second crew member on watch. At this time the first crew member on watch has left the wheel house and is piloting the boat from a small cab on deck above the pot hauler, so he can monitor the action below.
The pot hauler makes a distinctive clicking sound as it draws the trap toward the surface at an angle. It can take one to five minutes to raise the trap to the deck, depending on the depth of the water.
As the fish trap becomes visible, shimmering rapidly changing shapes can be seen as fishes’ bodies catch and reflect sunlight.
The trap clears the water and gets pulled aboard.
Very quickly, and with two scientists holding each side, the trap is upended onto its nose and suspended above the deck. A third scientist opens the trap door at the bottom and the fish are shaken into a plastic bin.
Ice pellets are shoveled onto the fish and a cover is snapped on the bin. If the catch is small, fish may be placed in a bucket or tub and cover with ice.
A numbered tag is removed from the trap and tied onto the bin to identify specimens from each catch. The containers holding the day’s catch are set aside for later processing.
Every so often, unexpected sea life is brought up in the traps. The catch has included sea stars, sea urchins, several kinds of tropical fish and many moray eels.
Video cameras are also removed from the top of the trap. Their data cards will be downloaded. Fish behavior and surrounding habitat videos will be analyzed, along with anatomical specimens and size data taken from the fish themselves in the wet lab.
Every day brings more wildlife encounters and sightings. I am dazzled by the many fascinating organisms I’ve been able to see up close. Sometimes I am quick enough to grab my camera and put the animal into my view finder, focusing clearly enough to catch a great image. Here are a few of those images (including some new friends from the cruise):
Other times I have to capture a memory. Last night I tried reef fishing. I have no experience fishing. At all. Adam P. handed me his own rod and reel. The hook was baited and the line was already lowered to the bottom, down at around 40 meters (more than 120 feet).
Shortly after I took it, the tip of the rod began to bend downward and pull. I asked Adam if that meant something had been hooked. He said, “Go ahead. Reel it in.” That’s when I discovered that even recreational fishing is tough work – particularly this unfamiliar technique of holding the rod with the right hand and reeling in with the left. Neophyte to fishing is me.
When the fish got to the surface, Adam took the big, beautiful black sea bass off the hook for me. On the deck it splayed out the spines of its dorsal, caudal and pectoral fins defensively. I was concerned because the fish’s air bladder was hanging out of its mouth from its rapid ascent to the surface. Adam punctured the air bladder to deflate it. He threw the fish back into the sea at my request, and assured me that the fish will go on with its life. I’m optimistic it will.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Carmen Andrews Aboard R/V Savannah July 7 – July 18, 2012
Mission: SEFIS Reef Fish Survey Geographical Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coasts of Georgia and Florida Date: July 9, 2012
Location Data: Latitude: 30 ° 54.55’ N
Longitude: 80 ° 37.36’ W
Weather Data: Air Temperature: 28.5°C (approx. 84°F)
Wind Speed: 6 knots
Wind Direction: from SW
Surface Water Temperature: 28.16 °C (approx. 83°F)
Weather conditions: Sunny and fair
Science and Technology Log
Purpose of the research cruise and background information
The Research Vessel, or R/V Savannah is currently sampling several species of fish that live in the bottom or benthic habitats off the coasts of Georgia and Florida.
These important reef habitats are a series of rocky areas that are referred to as hard bottom or “live” bottom areas by marine scientists. The reef area includes ledges or cliff-like formations that occur near the continental shelf of the southeast coast. They are called ‘reefs’ because of their topography – not because they are formed by large coral colonies, as in warmer waters. These zones can be envisioned as strings of rocky undersea islands that lie between softer areas of silt and sand. They are highly productive areas that are rich in marine organism diversity. Several species of snapper, grouper, sea bass, porgy, as well as moray eels, and other fish inhabit this hard benthic habitat.
It is also home to many invertebrate species of coral, bryozoans, echinoderms, arthropods and mollusks.
The rock material, or substrate of the sea bottom, is thought to be limestone — similar to that found in most of Florida. There are places where ancient rivers once flowed to a more distant ocean shoreline than now. Scientists think that these are remnants of old coastlines that are now submerged beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Researchers still have much to discover about this little known ocean region that lies so close to where so many people live and work.
The biological research of this voyage focuses primarily on two kinds of popular fish – snappers and groupers. These are generic terms for a number of species that are sought by commercial and sports fishing interests. The two varieties of fish are so popular with consumers who purchase them in supermarkets, fish markets and restaurants, that their populations may be in decline.
At this time, all red snapper fishing is banned in the southeast Atlantic fishery because the fish populations, also known as stocks, are so low.
How the fish are collected for study
The fish are caught in wire chevron traps. Six baited traps are dropped, one by one from the stern of the R/V Savannah. The traps are laid in water depths ranging from 40 to 250 feet in designated reef areas. Each trap is equipped with a high definition underwater video camera to monitor and record the comings and goings of fish around and within the traps, as well as a second camera that records the adjacent habitat.
I will provide the details of the fish trapping and data capture methods in a future blog.
Who is doing the research?
When not at sea, the R/V Savannah is docked at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SKIO)on Skidaway Island, south of Savannah, Georgia. The institute is part of the University of Georgia. The SKIO complex is also the headquarters of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary. The facility there has a small aquarium and the regional NOAA office.
The fisheries research being done on this cruise is a cooperative effort between federal and state agencies. The reef fish survey is one of several that are done annually as part of SEFIS, the Southeast Fisheries Independent Survey. The people who work to conduct this survey are located in Beaufort, North Carolina. SEFIS is part of NOAA.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Andrea Schmuttermair Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II June 22 – July 3, 2012
Mission: Groundfish Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: July 1, 2012
Ship Data from the Bridge Latitude: 2957.02N
Speed: 10 knots
Wind Speed: 9.65
Wind Direction: S/SE
Surface Water Salinity:35.31
Air Temperature: 28.2 C
Relative Humidity: 76%
Barometric Pressure: 1017 mb
Water Depth: 57.54 m
Science and Technology Log
Reminiscent of my days in high school chemistry, today I had the opportunity to work with our Chief Scientist, Brittany, on completing the daily titration. If you remember, getting readings on the dissolved oxygen in the water is an important part of this survey as we locate any hypoxic (less than 2 mg of oxygen per liter of water) zones or anoxic (no oxygen) zones. This is done with a computerized device on the CTD, but we want to make sure that our readings are accurate. Because “chemistry never lies”, this is how we ensure our readings are accurate.
With our CTD, we have the ability to collect water samples at various depths. We do not collect water samples at every CTD, but rather one or two a day during the daytime hours. We collect water from the bottom to see if there is any expansion of hypoxia.
When the CTD comes back up, we use an Orion dissolved oxygen meter, which is a handheld device, to get a dissolved oxygen reading from our samples. We put the probe on the end of the meter gently into the containers of water on the CTD to get our reading. We will use this number in conjunction with the information sent from the CTD to our dry lab to check against our titration results.
Once we have the reading with the probe, we are ready to take some samples for our titration. We then take the water samples in the cylinders, rinse out our 300 mL BOD (biological oxygen demand) glass bottles a few times with that water, and then fill the botttles up with the sea water from the bottom. These samples are brought back to our Chem Lab (short for chemistry, as I’m sure you figured out) where we will test the amount of dissolved oxygen.
We are using the Winkler method to find the amount of dissolved oxygen in our water samples. The first step in this process is to put 2mL of manganese sulfate into the bottle. After that, we also add 2 mL of azide- iodide. With those 2 chemicals added, we carefully replace the stopper and give the bottle a good shake. We then can wait about 10-15 minutes for the chemicals to settle at the bottom. Pipettes are used to add the liquids and allow us to be very precise in our measurements.
After the particles have settled at the bottom, we add 2 mL of sulfuric acid (which can be a dangerous chemical if used inappropriately), replace the stopper, and shake the bottle again gently. The sulfuric acid “fixes” the solution. Finally we add 2 mL of starch to the solution, which is a blue indicator when we put it in but turns the solution a burnt orange color. Now we are ready to titrate!
Prepared beforehand was a burette filled with phenylarsine oxide, what we use to drip into the sample. We pour the sample into a beaker and place it on a magnetic plate. We’ve placed a magnetic stirrer in the beaker so it gently stirs the solution while we are titrating. We let the phenylarsine oxide slowly drip into the sample until it turns clear. When it does this, we note the amount of phenylarsine oxide that we put in the sample (which is equivalent to the amount of oxygen in the water), and the number should match (or be very close) to the reading of dissolved oxygen that we received from the CTD and the Orion dissolved oxygen meter.
This process is quite simple yet yields important results and is just one of the ways scientists verify their data.
One other interesting thing happened the other night on one of our shifts. We had brought in a bongo tow and were looking into the codends to see what we got. When Alex began rinsing the sample with some salt water, the whole codend began to illuminate. Why did it illuminate? Bioluminescence. Bioluminescence is essentially a chemical reaction that produces light. Many marine critters can produce bioluminescence, as seen below.
One of the things I’ve probably enjoyed the most about my trip so far are the relationships I’ve formed with the people on board. As a teacher, one of my top priorities is to build and maintain relationships with my students, both past and present. That became a bit more of a challenge to me this past year as I took on a new position and began teaching 600 students rather than the 30 I was used to.
I’ve come to love working with the scientists on the night watch, as each of them brings something to the table. Our watch leader, Alonzo, has a wealth of knowledge that he gladly shares with each of us, pushing us to learn more and find the answer for ourselves. I’ve improved immensely on identifying the different fish, crabs and shrimp we find (thanks to Lindsey, who is my partner in crime for making up silly ways to remember these crazy Latin names for all our species). Where I came in knowing names of very few if any types of Gulf critters, I can now confidently identify 15-20 different species. I’m learning more about how to look for the subtle differences between different species, and Alonzo has been able to sit back and be that “guide on the side” while we work and input all of our data. His patient demeanor has allowed all of us to become more self-sufficient and to become more confident in the knowledge we have gained thus far on this trip.
Alex, another one of the scientists on my watch, shows an endless enthusiasm for marine science. He shares in my excitement when a trawl comes up, and the both of us rush out there to watch the net come up, often guessing how big we think the catch is going to be. Will it fill one basket? Two? Six? It’s even more exciting when we get inside and lay it out on the conveyor belt and can really examine everything carefully. His wish finally came true today as we are now in the eastern part of the Gulf. Alex is studying lionfish (Pterois volitans) for his research, and of course has been hoping to catch some. Today we caught 4, along with a multitude of other unique critters that we have not seen yet. Alex’s enthusiasm and passion for science is something I hope my students can find, whether it be in marine science, biology, or meteorology- whatever it is they love is what I hope they pursue.
Lindsey and Renee are both graduate students. Rene wanted to gain some experience and came on the ship as a volunteer. What a better way to get a hands-on experience! Lindsey has joined us on this cruise because she is doing research on Sargassum communities. She has been able to collect quite a few Sargassum samples to include in her research for her thesis. Lindsey, like Alex, is very passionate and excited about what she does. I’ve never seen someone more excited to pull up a net full of Sargassum (which I’m sure you remember is a type of seaweed) in order to sift through and find critters. She has a great eye, though, because she always manages to find even the tiniest of critters in her samples. Just yesterday she found a baby seahorse that couldn’t have been more than a few millimeters long! Outside I hear her giggle with glee- I know this is because she has found a Sargassum fish, which is her all-time favorite.
Our night watch would not be complete without the deck crew, Tim, Reggie and Chuck, who are responsible for helping us lower the CTD, Neuston and bongo tows, and for the trawl net. Our work could not be done without them.
William, one of our engineers, took me down into the engine room the other day. First impressions- it was hot and noisy! It was neat to see all the different machines. The ship makes its own water using a reverse osmosis system, which takes water from the ocean and converts it into drinking water for us (this water is also used for showers and sinks on board). One interesting note is that the toilets actually use salt water rather than fresh water so that we conserve our fresh water.
I cannot believe how fast this leg has gone and that we only have a few more shifts to go before we return to the Oregon II’s home port of Pascagoula. As we’ve moved into the eastern waters of the Gulf, we have seen a lot of different types of critters. On average, our most recent trawls have been much more brightly colored. We are near some coral reefs too- in our trawls we have pulled up a bit of coral and sponge. The markings on some of the fish are very intriguing, and even fish we’ve seen before seem to be just a little brighter in color out here.
Due to the fact that we are finding very different critters, my list of favorites for today has greatly increased! Here are just a few:
NOAA Teacher at Sea Kristy Weaver Aboard R/V Savannah May 22, 2012-June 1, 2012
Mission: Reef Fish Survey Geographical Location: Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Savannah, GA Date: May 23, 2012
Current Weather: 85 and Sunny
Hello from the Atlantic Ocean! Right now we are about 75 miles off the coast of Savannah, GA. and there is water all around me! The last time we saw land was about an hour after we left the dock yesterday.
Before I left many of you asked that I be careful while I am out here. I wanted to tell you that I am safe and that safety seems to be a very important part of being a scientist, especially when you are on a ship. I took photographs of a lot of the safety equipment and information throughout the ship. We even had a safety meeting before we went out to sea. The first mate (he does a lot of work on the ship) showed us how to put on a survival suit, which is something you wear that covers your whole body and has a hood. This suit will keep you warm and floating if something happens and you need to go into the water.
After the meeting we had a fire drill just like we have at school, except we didn’t leave the boat. The captain (he is the leader of the ship) sounded the alarm and we all put on life vests and met on the deck. The deck is the back of the ship–the part that is outside. A life vest is also called a life jacket or life preserver. A life vest is put on like a jacket, but it doesn’t have any sleeves. It’s bright orange and gets buckled and tied around you so that you can float if you go in the water. You can see a picture of me in my life vest in the safety video that I made.
Many children asked what type of marine life is in the water here. Here is a list and pictures of the animals I have seen so far.
AND…to answer the #1 question that I have received…(drumroll please) YES! Someone did catch a small shark today!
Did you know that you do things in science class that I have seen real scientists do on this ship? What things do you think you do that make you like a real scientist? Check my next blog to find out how you already are a student scientist!
NOAA Teacher at Sea Deborah Campbell Onboard NOAA Ship Nancy Foster May 14 – May 24, 2012
Mission: Retrieve Acoustic Receivers Georgraphical area of cruise: Atlantic Ocean, off coast of South Carolina Date: May 16th, 2012
Weather Data from Bridge: Overcast skies, 75 degrees
Science and Technology Log
Hi Everyone! Tuesday, May 15th was a busy day. Preparations were being made to deploy small boats on board NANCY FOSTER. On deck , the crew works with the crane operator to hoist the small boats in the water. Everyone on deck must wear hard hats. The boats must be loaded with supplies before going in the water. Supplies include scientific equipment, dive gear, dive tanks, food, and water. On my boat, “Nemo” gave me a bucket with a lid. I put my water bottle, camera, sunglasses, and extra long sleeved shirt in bucket.
The crane operator lowered NF3 (NF stands for Nancy Foster) in the water. “Nemo” got on board, the two divers, then me. I was very nervous going down the rope ladder. NF3 was bouncing in the water. When I got in the boat, I stumbled and fell on the rough surface. My knee was scraped up and bleeding. I used my water bottle to clean up. Luckily, there were some clean rags. “Nemo” set the GPS (Global Positioning System) for the first site where the divers would work.
When we got to the site, a weighted buoy was thrown off NF3 to mark the position where the divers would enter the water. Nemo would have to carefully steer the boat away from the diving area, but stay near the marker. My job aboard NF3 would be to try to stay put on my bucket seat while the boat rolled and bounced, and water splashed on board. The divers Keith and Randy prepared to go in the water. I had a data sheet to record information. The paper was water proof, and I could use a pencil. The divers reported to me their beginning air tank pressure. The divers had on wet suits, but had to lift their vests with heavy tanks attached while the boat was bouncing. They prepared their masks by putting dish washing liquid and washing it out. This was to prevent the masks from fogging up under water. The divers got ready to get in the water by sitting on the sides of the boat. When “Nemo” said ready, the divers leaned backward to drop in the water. “Nemo” steered the boat clear of the divers. Meanwhile, a loggerhead turtle was swimming nearby watching.
Keith and Randy’s mission was to retrieve an acoustic receiver and deploy a new one. Altogether, I would go with Keith, Randy, and “Nemo” on Tuesday and Wednesday to do a total of five dives. Each time they located the old receiver, replaced it with another, and then took video footage of each of the dive sites. On one dive site a Barracuda was swimming nearby. On another a Nurse Shark was under a ledge. Some sites had lots of fish such as Red Snappers and Gag Groupers.
I have met many amazing people from all over the United States. We talk at meal times. I am trying to get the chefs to reveal their secret recipes for the wonderful food, but they will not tell anyone. Meanwhile I am washing my clothes. The ship has two washers and dryers which happen to be right by my room. I get pretty wet and alittle dirty aboard NF3. My plans for Wednesday night include a meeting with scientists to debrief on the the activities which included sonar mapping, Zebra Arc shell collection, acoustic receiver deployment, and fish tagging. The kitchen has a nice flat screen T.V. with lots of magazines. There are plenty of snacks. The ship will rock me to sleep. I am looking forward to the upcoming activities aboard NANCY FOSTER….I will keep you posted.
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marian Wagner Aboard R/V Savannah August 16 — 26, 2011
Mission: Reef Fish Survey Geographical Area: Atlantic Ocean (Off the Georgia and Florida Coasts) Date: Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Weather Data from the Bridge (the wheelhouse, where the controls of the ship are)
E-NE Wind at 10 knots (This means wind is travelling 10 nautical miles per hour,
1.15 statute miles = 1 nautical mile)
Sea depth where we traveled today ranged from 33 meters to 74 meters
Seas 2-4 feet (measure of the height of the back of the waves, lower the number = calmer seas and steadier boat)
Science and Technology Log
IRENE: On Tuesday evening, we discussed the impact of Hurricane Irene on our cruise plans, and scientists and crew needed to make a decision about when we should return to dock. Originally, the plan was to return in the morning on Friday, August 26, but due to projections of Irene, they predicted that the seas would be too rough for us to lay traps beyond Wednesday (8/24). When the seas are too rough, the traps bounce around and cameras do not pick up a steady, reliable picture. When seas get to be 6-7 feet+ on a boat the size of the R/VSavannah (92 feet long), it also makes our work (and life) on the boat very difficult. Additionally, with Irene’s landfall projected in North Carolina, where half of the scientists live, they would need to get home in time to secure their homes and potentially evacuate. Not in the case of Irene, but if a hurricane was expected to hit Savannah/Skidaway, where the boat moors, the ship’s crew would need to prepare for a hurricane-mooring. To do this, they would run the ship up the Savannah River and put on a navy anchor that weighs 3,000 pounds. Even with the use of the electric crane, it’s not an easy task to pull a 3,000 pound anchor onboard. This would not be done unless a direct hit to the area was expected. It has been done once before to the Savannahin the 10 years of her existence. The forecast did not project Savannah to be affected by Irene, so we did not need to prepare for a hurricane mooring.
After difficult deliberation on Tuesday night about hurricane Irene’s potential Category (see how hurricanes are ranked here), and considering the success of the research accomplished on the trip already, scientists decided the most practical and reasonable decision was to dock Tuesday night, unpack Wednesday morning, and allow North Carolina scientists to return to their homes by Wednesday night. (From reports I received post-Irene, there was landfall of the hurricane eye over their houses, but the storm weakened between Wednesday night and Saturday and was Category 1 when it came ashore. None of them sustained significant loss. Many downed trees and three days without power, but no floods or structure damage. Phew!)
Here on my final blog entry, I want to finish the story of our research process. Here’s the story I’ve told so far, in outline form:
research begins with baiting fish traps and attaching cameras, and we stand-by on deck
when we arrive at a research location with reef fish habitat (as observed via depth sounder and GPS), we drop the trap to the bottom and it sits for 90 minutes; buoys float above each trap so we can find and retrieve them near where traps were deployed, we run the Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth Profiler (CTD) to get information about abiotic conditions at each sampling site. The CTD takes vertical water column profiles, measuring: Pressure, Temperature, Conductivity/Salinity, Chlorophyll fluorometer, Color dissolved organic matter fluorometer (CDOM), Photosynthetic Active Radiation (PAR), Backscatter, Dissolved oxygen, and Transmissometer -10 and 25 cm path lengths
after 90 minutes have passed, we return to the traps and pick them up, and secure the fish caught
we identify each fish, measure length, weight, and frequency (how many fish were caught), and then keep the fish that our research is targeting
in the wet lab, we dissect target fish, removing parts of fish that are sent back to the lab for further research
AT THIS POINT, WE ARE DONE with our research with the bodies of the fish, but we have 99% OF THE FISH’S BODY LEFT! What should we do?
I was very impressed with the compassionate and humane action the scientists do with the fish after research. Scientific research guidelines don’t dictate what a research study should do with edible fish flesh. We could have just discarded fish back into the ocean. However, scientists see an opportunity to provide food to people in need of nutritional support in our communities, and they coordinated with a regional food bank in Savannah to do just that. Despite the work and time it takes to process the fish for donation, it did not seem to be considered a burden at all by any of the scientists.
To process the fish for donation, we cut fish into fillets, wrap the fillets in butcher paper, and freeze them onboard the ship.
When we reached land, Warren
contacted the regional food bank, who came out to the dock with a refrigerated truck to pick up fish. Within a few days the fish was distributed through charitable organizations in the region to people who were most in need.
These scientists are not just natural scientists but social scientists too! (just as I fancy myself!)
Interview with Raymond Sweatte, captain of R/V Savannah
Marian: What makes a good crew?
Raymond: A crew that sees things that need to be done and does them because they know it all goes smoother when they do.
M: Have you ever run into or had a close call running into another ship?
Raymond: No, but the closest I came was when I was passing under the bridge at the Skidaway when a barge was coming through at the same time. Because it was easier for me to maneuver, I pulled over to side to let the barge use the majority of the channel. But the barge stayed on my side of the channel and was coming right at me. My boat was leaning upon the bank so there was no where for me to go. I got him on the horn and asked, “What’s going on?” He pulled over right away. He was new and very apologetic.
M: Have you ever been in a terrible storm before?
Raymond: A few times we’ve had 15-16 foot seas coming back from the Gulf. When you have a north wind at 35 knots [strong wind coming from the North] and north-going current opposing the wind, the seas get very rough. Waves were coming up over the ship. [picture Marian’s eyes VERY wide at this point in the conversation] When seas are really rough, you get lifted up out of bed and down again. I remember trying to sleep one night in rough seas when my head kept hitting against the wall, so I turned around so my feet were up hitting against the wall.
M: What were things like before radar, satellite, and so many electronic navigation tools
you use today?
Raymond: Things were not as accurate. Communication was on a single sideband, navigation was with Loran-C, though VHF radio was somewhat the same as now. To follow ships and determine their speed we had radar on dash but we had to use an eye cup we looked into to correlate with the radar, and then go over to the chart to plot them. Then, we did it again six minutes later and multiplied by 10 to find their speed. Now we have an automatic identification system [we can click on a ship on the radar] that tells us where they are, who they are, where they came from, where they are going, and what they are doing.
M: What are the right-of-ways when vessels are crossing paths; who moves when two vessels are in course to collide?
Raymond: [On ships, aircraft and piloted spacecraft] a red light is on the left or port side of the craft and a green is on the right or starboard side. When two vessels have crossing paths, each will see a red or green light. If you’re looking at another vessel’s port side you see red, and it’s his right-of-way. If you are on their starboard side, you see the green light, and the right is yours.
Also, right-of-way rules give priority to vessels with the most difficulty maneuvering. The ranks in right-of-way, starting with the highest are:
1)Not under command
2)Restricted in ability to maneuver
3)Constrained by draft (stay away from shallower water to avoid running aground)
Remember this mnemonic: New Reels Catch Fish So Purchase Some.
M: Who’s easier to talk to, a Navy Sub Captain or a Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot?
Raymond: I don’t have a problem talking with any of them. Coast Guard generally would call you first. Navy sub pilots I’ve found to be very cordial. They have changed their course when we had traps out.
M: What message would you say to students interested in being a captain?
Raymond: All kids have to follow their own heart. If they like water and this environment, they should follow their heart and become a captain.
Thank you Captain Raymond! It was a genuine pleasure to talk to you and experience life at sea under your command and with such a stellar crew. It is no wonder you are revered by everyone you work with. Read more about Captain Raymond Sweatte in the Savannah Morning News!
The powerful significance of this trip for me was that I did not just study a science lesson from a book or lab, but I was essentially given a chance to live a different life, that of a fisheries field biologist. I did not dabble in the work; it was a full explosion into the curiosities, reasonings, and daily routines of working with live fish and fish guts while sharing friendship, humor and stories with scientists and crew aboard a boat that was a small bounded island of rich human culture within a vast ocean of life and scientific questions waiting to be answered. I loved it. If only I didn’t love teaching more…I could definitely live that life. Thanks NOAA, thanks NC SEFIS folks, thanks SC DNR folks, and thanks Skidaway Institute of Oceanography folks. You are all in my heart and in my classroom!
At night especially, when looking out at the seascape, I noticed flying, bug-looking specimens scurrying out of and into the ocean’s surface. WHAT WERE THEY?! I wondered. So I asked and learned they were FLYING FISH! A few of them flew right up on the vessel’s work deck. Their wings are modifications of the pectoral fins. They are so fascinating and their coloring was greenish/blue iridescence, a stunningly beautiful color!
RED SNAPPER: PROTECTED STATUS
“The Gulf and South Atlantic red snapper populations are currently at very low levels (overfished), and both red snapper populations are being harvested at too high a rate (overfishing).” See more where this quote came from at Fish Watch: US Seafood Facts.
It was clear to me how significant the concern for the red snapper population was when I learned that funding for this fisheries survey was drastically increased following the recent determination that red snapper were overfished and overfishing was occurring. Fisheries managers, field biologists and members of the general public all want to see the red snapper population improve. This cruise provided scientific data that will be useful when the status of the U.S. South Atlantic red snapper population is assessed again.
History of measuring speed in NAUTICAL MILES:
Wonder how a vessel’s speed was measured hundreds of years ago? Log Lines, knotted ropes with a log tied to one end and knots every nautical mile and one-tenth of a nautical mile, were tossed off the end of the ship while the knotted rope unraveled behind it. When the sand on a minute sand glass ran out, the rope was reeled back in and the knots counted to determine ship’s speed in knots-per-minute.
LIONFISH: INVASIVE SPECIES
In its native waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the lionfish population is not a problem. There it has natural predators and natural parasites to keep it from overpopulating, yet it can survive well enough to maintain a healthy sustainable population. However, in the Caribbean waters and along the Eastern Coast of the United States, the lionfish has recently been introduced, and the effects are alarming. “Lionfish have the potential to become the most disastrous marine invasion in history by drastically reducing the abundance of coral reef fishes and leaving behind a devastated ecosystem.” See more where this quote came from at NOAA’s research on invasive lionfish here. In the U.S. south Atlantic, they consume large quantities of reef fish and have no natural predators or parasites. Their population is thriving in large numbers, and it is devastating other fish species. Mark Hixon, Oregon State University zoology professor, co-authored a study in 2008 with Mark Albins that showed “a lionfish can kill three-quarters of a reef’s fish population in just five weeks.” Read NPR story here. This is a cool way to view an environmental problem: see this animated map of the lionfish invasion! Red Snapper
NOAA Teacher at Sea
Heather Haberman Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II July 5 — 17, 2011
Mission: Groundfish Survey
Geographical Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date: Friday, July 1, 2011
Pre-cruise Personal Log:
Allow me to introduce myself.
My name is Heather Haberman and I have been a science teacher at Scottsbluff High School in Western Nebraska for the past six years. I LOVE being a teacher and sharing my passion for science with others. Everyday brings a new adventure and there is rarely a dull moment.
Zoology and Environmental Science have always been my primary interests which motivated me to obtain a degree in Biology. This degree allowed me to pursue positions such as a Research Assistant with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, an Animal Caretaker with the US Department of Agriculture, a Forest Protection Officer with the US Forest Service, as well as a Zookeeper and Education Curator for Riverside Zoo. As an Education Curator, I realized how much fun it was to teach science so I decided to go back to college and earn my Education degree. These real world experiences have helped me make science more fun and applicable to the lives of my students. This is one of the reasons why I am so excited about being selected to participate in the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is a federal agency focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere. Next week I will begin working alongside NOAA scientists on a groundfish survey in the Gulf of Mexico aboard the Oregon II. Their primary summer objective is to determine the abundance and distribution of shrimp by depth. Other objectives include obtaining samples of commercially important fishes, such as red snapper, and crustaceans. This data enables scientists to predict population trends which allows government officials to regulate the fishing industry in a more sustainable fashion. It is also important to collect weather (meteorological) data and physical ocean (hydrographic) data to look for climatic trends and to assess the health of the ocean. Plankton samples will also be collected since they play a key role in the oceanic food web and are good indicators of ecosystem change.
I am excited to be a part of this scientific research team collecting data about the health of our fisheries and oceans. I hope that bringing back real scientific stories about research at sea will help my students from the Great Plains feel more of a connection to their watershed and the oceans of our planet. Being over a thousand miles away from an ocean makes it easy to dismiss the fact we rely on the sea for so many of our resources, and how our actions impact the marine environment.
I will be posting updates on this blog three to four times a week. I would like to answer as many of your questions as possible while on my mission. What would you like this sea-faring teacher to inform you about? Would you like to know about the ship; the jobs of my co-workers; marine life; ocean chemistry; my duties aboard the ship; science at sea; etc? Leave me a message by scrolling to the bottom of the blog post and select “Leave a Comment”. I can’t wait to hear from you.
NOAA TEACHER AT SEA STEVEN WILKIE ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OREGON II JUNE 23 — JULY 4, 2011
Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographic Location: Northern Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 29, 2011
Surf. Water Temp.
Surf. Water Sal.
Science and Technology Log
So now that we have an understanding of abiotic factors, let’s talk biotic factors, and for the most part, those biotic factors are going to be fish and plankton. The majority of our plankton (plankton are organisms–plants or animals–that are too small to fight against the current and thus drift along with it) samples come from the neuston and bongo nets. After we have our bongo or neuston nets back on board, the science crew goes to work preserving the specimens.
Something common in the neuston net, is Sargassum a type of brown algae belonging to the Kingdom Protista and the Phlyum phaeophyta (kingdoms and phylums are associated with the science of taxonomy or classification). If you are familiar with kelp, then you are familiar with brown algae. Kelp is a long algae that fastens itself to the bottom of the seafloor with a root of sorts called a holdfast. Sargassum, however, does not hold fast, but rather drifts out in the open ocean. It can stay afloat because Sargassum has little tiny gas-filled floats called pneumatocysts. These clumps of algae can provide much needed hiding places for small marine organisms out in the open ocean. Because so many organism might live in, on or around the mats of Sargassum whenever we capture Sargassumin our nets we have to be sure to wash them down thoroughly in order to ensure that we get as many of the creatures off of the blades as possible.
The currents of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic actually concentrate the Sargassum into a giant mass in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean, commonly referred to as the Sargasso Sea. So significant is the Sargassum, that Christopher Columbus feared for the safe passage of his ships because of the thick mass of algae.
The adventures of Captain Nemo as penned by Jules Verne in the late 19th century even commented on the nature of this floating mass of algae: “This second arm–it is rather a collar than an arm–surrounds with its circles of warm water that portion of the cold, quiet, immovable ocean called the Sargasso Sea, a perfect lake in the open Atlantic: it takes no less than three years for the great current to pass round it. Such was the region the Nautilus was now visiting, a perfect meadow, a close carpet of seaweed, fucus, and tropical berries, so thick and so compact that the stem of a vessel could hardly tear its way through it. And Captain Nemo, not wishing to entangle his screw in this herbaceous mass, kept some yards beneath the surface of the waves. The name Sargasso comes from the Spanish word “sargazzo” which signifies kelp.”
As interesting and important as Sargassum is to the ocean environment, it is not our targeted organism, which is, for the most part fish! Although not a fish, crustaceans are still an important fishery, and few are more significant than Panaeus aztecus (brown shrimp), Panaeus setiferus (white shrimp) and Panaeus duorarum (pink shrimp). Chances are if you are dining on shrimp cocktail you are eating one of these three species.
Lutjanus campiechanus (or the red snapper) is another commercially important species that scientists are particularly interested in. Species like the red snapper are of particular concern because, according to NOAA’s Fish Watch website, the population is currently at low levels prompting NOAA to establish temporary restrictions on fishing this species in past years.
It is the work of the crew aboard the Oregon II to collect the data that helps scientists predict population trends in species such as these which allows government regulations to be based on sound science. Although sometimes unpopular with the local fishing industry the temporary ban on fishing for some species is aimed at providing a long-term sustainable population for future generations.
Although not a primary target of this fish survey, cartilaginous fish (Class Chondricthyes…there’s that taxonomy again) like sharks, rays and skates are also organisms of particular concern. Unlike the majority of the fish we bring on board, which are bony fish belonging to the Class Osteicthyes, the majority of cartilaginous fish reproduce internally. This means that a female shark, ray or skate, might have much fewer offspring in a given year, but those offspring might be more mature once they are born. Bony fish on the other hand often lay eggs externally by the thousands, but only a small percentage survive.
If you recall, one of the steps of the “scientific method” is to share your results, and there is no better way than to publish your findings in journals for other scientists to read. Although writing a paper may sound simple, this is not your average high school term paper–there is considerably more effort required. Brittany and her fellow authors labored for close to four years to finally draft and submit the paper for publishing.
Although we may not write anything as extensive at the high school level, good sound scientific investigations will always end up with you sharing your results, and as a result, well-researched background information is always essential. To all my past and future students out there, feel free to take note of the reference section of the paper and remember how important references and good research is in backing up your work!
It has not taken long to get into the rhythm of things aboard ship. Although I thought that the waves might lead to a little sea sickness, I now find them quite soothing, and am curious as to how I might feel once back on shore as I struggle to get my land legs back. Sleeping with the waves is a slightly different story. At times they can lull you off to sleep (or it might simply be the twelve hours of sorting, measuring and weighing the catch that does that); other times they can roll you right into your bunk wall and snap you awake. My bunk is on the top, so the wall is better than the floor I suppose!
Although the waves have been soothing up to this point, we are possibly facing some inclement weather as the first tropical storm of the season, Arlene, is to our southwest heading towards the Mexican coast. If the weather picks up too much we may have to head in shore to work up some of the shallower stations while the Gulf settles back down. Either way we will be kept busy, measuring fish or measuring the waves!
NOAA Teacher at Sea: Margaret Stephens NOAA Ship: Pisces Mission: Fisheries, bathymetric data collection for habitat mapping Geographical Area of Cruise: SE United States continental shelf waters from Cape Hatteras, NC to St. Lucie Inlet, FL Dates of log: Thursday, 19 May through Saturday, 21 May, 2011
Weather Data from the Bridge
Position: Latitude 27.87, Longitude -80.16
Wind Speed 11.06 kts
Wind Direction. 131.46 º
Surface Water Temperature 26.88 ºC
Surface Water Temperature
Air Temperature 27.10 ºC
Relative Humidity 78.00 %
Barometric Pressure 1015.50 mb
Water Depth 28.05 m
Sky conditions: clear
Science and Technology Log
General Description of the Scientific Work Aboard Pisces
While at sea, the ship’s operations and scientific crews work in shifts 24/7 – yes, that’s twenty-four hours, every day, with ship operations, maintenance, data collection and gear deployment continuing day and night.
The scientific team, headed by Chief Scientist, Dr. Nate Bacheler, includes researchers who are mostly marine biologists specializing in fisheries. Each team member has complementary specialized skills such as acoustics (use of sonar for sea floor mapping), physical or chemical oceanography, underwater video camera operations, data management and analysis, and many aspects of fish biology.
The main mission of this research cruise is to study red snapper and related grouper species, fish that are of great importance economically and to the marine ecosystem in near shore areas off the southeastern coast of the United States. In particular, the team is studying where the fish are likely to be found (their spatial distribution patterns) and their numbers, or abundance, and population dynamics (how the populations change over time).
This work expands the knowledge needed to guide decisions about how to protect and manage fisheries in a sustainable manner. Healthy, sustainable fish populations are essential to the economy, to the function of healthy ecosystems, and as high-protein (and tasty) food sources. In the past, many fish species have been overfished, resulting in dangerous declines in their populations.
The scientific work on board Pisces for this project is divided into three main areas. This log entry gives an overview of each of the three main areas of work, with a more detailed account of the acoustics, or mapping portion. Upcoming logs will describe the other phases in more detail.
Acoustics – Using the science of sound with advanced sonar and computer technology, the acoustics team maps the sea floor and identifies areas likely to be good fish habitat.
Fish survey – The survey team sets baited traps to catch fish, then collects them, identifies the species, and records essential data about the species of most interest.
Underwater videography – The video team attaches cameras to the traps to view the kinds and activities of fish in the water and assess the type of sea bottom, such as sandy or hard, flat or “bumpy”, regular or irregular.
After all this information is collected in the field, much of the painstaking, detailed analysis takes place back in the home labs and offices of the researchers.
Since acoustics is the first step used to identify specific sites to set traps for the fish survey, we’ll start here.
Throughout a long night shift, from 6 p.m. until the work is complete, often 7 a.m. or later the following day, the acoustics team uses sonar (SOund NAvigation and Ranging) and computer analysis to map the sea floor and identify promising areas to set traps for the fish survey. See a detailed description of the sonar equipment and procedures below.
At 5 a.m., the acoustics team meets with Chief Scientist Nate to report any sites they identified overnight and select the stations to sample with fish traps and underwater cameras during the day. The team then converts their data into a kind of route map that the helmsman (the ship’s “driver”) uses to steer the ship along the designated survey route.
The acoustics team members possess extensive knowledge about fish habitats, geography and geology of the sea floor, and computer and sonar technology. They also need to be aware of the interactions among wind, weather and currents and understand charts (marine maps) and ship’s navigation. They constantly communicate with the ship’s bridge via the internal radio network.
The acoustics lab houses work space large enough for five to ten people, banks of computer screens, servers, and large-scale display monitors projecting images from the sonar devices, real time navigation, and views from cameras positioned in work areas on deck.
Once the now-very-sleepy acoustics lab team wraps up its nocturnal work, the team members turn in for a day’s (or night’s?) sleep, just as the other teams’ daylight tasks begin in earnest.
Fish Survey Work
By 6 a.m., in the predawn darkness, the rear deck becomes a hub of concentrated activity, with sounds muffled by the early ocean haze and drone of the engines and generators. The four or more members of the fish survey team, still rubbing sleep from their eyes, assemble on the stern deck (rear of ship or fantail) to prepare the traps to catch fish for the day. Before the sun rises, floodlights illuminate the work of cutting and hanging menhaden, whole fish bait, in the traps, securing the underwater cameras in place, tagging each piece of equipment carefully and checking that everything is ready for deployment.
Chief Scientist Nate directs the deployment of the traps from the dry lab, where he faces a bank of computer screens displaying maps of the identified sampling route, the ship’s course in real time, and camera shots showing the personnel and operations on deck. By radio, Nate directs the deck crew to lower the traps at each of the designated sites.
The ship is steered along the sampling route, dropping traps in each of six locations. Each trap is left in place for approximately ninety (90) minutes. Once the last trap is lowered, the ship returns to the first location and raises the traps, usually following the same order. The deck crew members, together with the fish survey team, empty any catch and ready the traps for redeployment.
Chief Scientist Nate Bacheler directs trap deployment from the dry lab
Then the fish survey team, coordinated by Investigator Dave Berrane, sets to work sorting, weighing and measuring any catch and immediately releasing any fish not needed for further study.
As soon as the traps are hauled aboard by the deck crew, the wet lab team detaches and dries the cameras and hands them to the dry lab, where the videography team, headed by Investigator Christina Schobernd, removes the memory cards and transfers and makes duplicates of the video files on computer drives. All the teams take extreme care to label, catalog and back up everything carefully. Data management and redundancy are essential in this business. The scientists view some of the footage immediately to see if the cameras are working properly and to make any adjustments necessary. They also look for anything unusual or unexpected, any fish captured on camera other than those that made it into the trap, and they assess how closely the sea floor type matched what was expected from the acoustic team’s mapping work.
Christina works well into the night to back up and catalog all the day’s video recordings.
Detailed Description of Fisheries Acoustics Surveys
Fisheries Acoustic Surveys: Acoustic surveys help determine the relative abundance of target species and provide information to determine catch rates and guidance for fisheries management.
The equipment aboard Pisces includes two types of sonar devices that use sound waves to measure the water depth, shape or contours of the sea floor, and to a limited extent, fish groupings, or aggregations. Sonar operates using established knowledge about how fast sound travels in water under different conditions to develop a three-dimensional image of the shape of the sea floor. The first type is known as split-beam sonar, which uses sound waves at different frequencies to provide a picture of the underwater environment. Pisces has a Simrad EK60 echosounder.
The second, more sophisticated and expensive system involves Multibeam sonar mapping. Aboard Pisces is a Simrad ME70 device. Multibeam devices emit sound beams that forms an inverted cone, covering a larger area and providing a more complete picture of the sea floor than the series of vertical or horizontal sound signals that the split beam sonar provides. As described above, the bathymetric mapping surveys are conducted primarily during the night, from sundown until dawn, when fish sampling and other ship operations are not taking place. Ideally, this allows the science team to map out a route of sampling sites for the next day’s fish trapping work. At the end of the overnight shift, the acoustics team presents its findings to the Chief Scientist, who then coordinates the day’s activities with the fish team, the ship’s bridge, and the deck crew headed by the chief boatswain.
I cannot say enough about how friendly and helpful everyone on board has been to this neophyte. It takes a while to adjust to any new environment, but being on a ship at sea has its own learning curve. Pisces, at 209 feet long, operates like a small town. Because it is out at sea for weeks at a time, all supplies and systems must be operating 24/7 to keep the ship and crew focused on the appointed mission and keep everyone on board safe, comfortable, and able to do their jobs.
I spent the first two days getting acclimated to the layout of the ship, safety practices, meeting the members of the scientific crew, adjusting to the rigorous schedule, and doing my best not to commit any grave offenses or make big mistakes that would make the work of this very patient group of dedicated professionals any more difficult than it is already.
Sleep Time Because the ship’s work continues round the clock, sleep time varies, depending on the person’s position and duties. It is important for everyone aboard to be mindful that at any hour of the day or night, it’s likely that someone is sleeping. The mapping crew began a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift (or later, until the work is finished) on our second day at sea, and most of them will keep that difficult schedule for the entire cruise. Since I’m the lucky one to experience every aspect of the work, I’ll rotate through the various jobs and schedules. For the first few days, I’ll work with the fish survey team, from 6 a.m. until their work is completed, which may mean a break for supper at 5 p.m. followed by a few more hours of lab work to process all the day’s catch. My first day on the acoustics team, I’m scheduled to start at 4 a.m. assisting their nightly wrap up, as by the last few hours of their shift, they are quite tired.
Dining and Comforts Aboard Ship
Chief Steward Jesse Stiggens and Assistant Steward Michael Sapien create a terrific, appetizing menu for the three main meals and plenty of extras and snacks available at any hour.
The stewards are very accommodating, so anyone who will miss a main meal because of their work or sleep schedule can sign up in advance for the stewards to set aside a full plate of delicious food for them. The mess (dining room on a ship) is open all day and night, with coffee, cold beverages, an array of sandwich fixings, cereals and assorted leftovers kept chilled for anyone to microwave anytime they get a hankering for a nibble or a bigger bite. And…very important for morale … there’s a freezer stocked with ice cream, even Blue Bunny (a favorite in the South that I had not seen before) and Häagen-Dazs. There’s also a big screen television in the mess. The lounge area has computers, a conference or game table, a small library of books, a large screen television and several hundred movie titles, even new releases, for the crew to enjoy in their off time. Also available are wonderful reclining chairs, so comfortable, I wish I had time to use them. The one and only time I tried one out, the fire alarm went off for our first drill, and I haven’t had a free moment since.
Doomsday Came and Went: Saturday, 21 May, 2001….and Pisces work continues
CNN reports: After months of warnings and fear, the Day of Rapture, as predicted by apocalyptic Christian broadcaster Harold Camping, passed without apparent calamity. Judgment Day was to have started at 6 p.m., but as darkness fell on many parts of the world, it appeared that heaven could wait. At this writing, there have been no reports of people soaring upward to the skies, but plenty of folks are talking about it.
That includes those of us on Pisces. The possibility that Doomsday was approaching generated some good-natured kidding and gallows humor. We had some debate about when the end would begin. Since most of the ship’s instruments use Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as a reference, we speculated that our end time might occur four hours later than east coast Daylight Savings Time (DST).
Everyone had their eyes on the clock and the horizon as first, the predicted doomsday hour of 6 p.m. DST came and went, and then, four hours later, 6 p.m. GMT passed without incident. Any apprehensions were put to rest, and now we have new fodder for discussion.
Special Challenges for Research at Sea
Many people have the idea that science is neat, pretty and conducted in sterile lab environments by other-worldly thinkers in clean white lab coats. That is decidedly not the case in fisheries work at sea. This section lists the special challenges (or, as, some optimists would say, “opportunities”) of conducting shipboard research. Each log will focus on or give examples of one or more challenges.
Limits of “shooting in the dark” – Imagine a vast, dark, deep, ever-changing, difficult-to-penetrate area, with living organisms moving about in and out, with all kinds of surface, bottom, and in-between conditions. That’s what underwater research involves. Examples: The mapping team thinks it has found great habitat for red snapper and grouper, so the survey team expects a bountiful trap. But up comes nothing but a trap still full of untouched bait. Or, the habitat conditions look promising, but the current is too strong to set the traps safely.
The Unexpected – It is often said that the only thing predictable in field research of this kind is unpredictability! You just never know….
Curiosity-seekers and just plain business – recreational and commercial boats – Not surprisingly, the areas of interest for NOAA fisheries research are often favorite fishing grounds for recreational fishermen, scuba divers, and active routes for commercial ships. Therefore, Pisces crew and helm (the person steering the ship) must always be on alert for other boat traffic. Example: On Saturday, a small recreational boat occupied by partiers pulled up nearly alongside Pisces. Despite polite cautions and requests from our bridge for the small boat to move away to a safer distance, the visitors just kept waving and cheering for a while.
Challenges to come in next logs:
Changing sea conditions, weather, waves and current
NOAA Teacher at Sea Peggy Deichstetter Aboard Oregon II August 29 – September 10, 2012
Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: September 1, 2010
Day 4 Sept . 1
We are about an hour away from out first data collection area. This morning just before dawn I got a tour of the bridge. The CO showed my all the computers that keep track of where we are. I learned a lot, not only about the bridge but also about careers in NOAA.(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).. NOAA is made up of several parts, the CO and I talked about the oceanic parts; the officers and crew who run the ship and the scientists. The officers follow the same rules as the military. If you are in the Navy you can transfer directly into this division.
The scientists do the actual research designed by NOAA to answer questions about the ocean. In this cruise we are counting, tagging and releasing shark. This will tell us about how many sharks are in this area at this time of year. NOAA has collected data for twenty year so they will be able to tell the health of the shark population.
To help collect information of the effect of the oil spill we are also doing water analysis and plankton tows.
After lunch we were taught how to do a plankton tow. I have done numerous plankton tows in my life but never on this scale. I used all the skills that I learned when I did research in the Arctic except on a much larger scale.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Peggy Deichstetter Aboard Oregon II August 29 – September 10, 2012
Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Day 1 August 30
I woke up at 2:30am. Why didn’t my alarm go off? Now, I have to get dressed with all the stuff I will need for the rest of the day without waking my roommate. I make my way to the galley for some coffee. I pour a cup and take a gulp. This is soooooo bad. This is ever stronger than Mr. D’Agostino’s coffee. I make a new pot and sit down to work on my blog.
We have not had internet access since we departed yesterday and it looks like we won’t have it until noon tomorrow. Oh, life at sea. I also found out that we have another day at sea before we get to our fishing spot.
With a controlled experiment you need to have everything the same. So the spots we will be fishing in will be the same spots that they have done for the last 20 years. Our assignment is the coast of Mexico to Galveston Texas.
In my quest to stay awake for shift I went to bed at noon. At 12:30 the abandon ship drill was sounded, a difficult challenge, wake up, get down from the upper bunk, grab my survival suit and get to muster station. Once checked for roll call I got opportunity to don my survival suit. I have included some great pictures so everyone can have a good laugh.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Peggy Deichstetter Aboard Oregon II August 29 – September 10, 2012
Mission: Longline Shark and Red Snapper Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Day 1 August 30
I met my roommate, Claudia, this morning. She was on this cruise last year. Basically we catch, tag and release sharks and any other fish we may catch. I walked into town to pick up things I forgot. Ashley, Guy and I run into town for our last meal on land, a Subway. During the excitement of casting off, I’m informed that I have the night shift. Me, the goddess of the morning. they must be kidding. As we reach open water the sea is really rough.
At dinner I’m advised to go to bed right after dinner and get up at 2:00am to acclimate my body to the night shift. So right after (6:30pm) dinner I head off to bed. My roommate is already there, she is green. She tells me she doesn’t feel well and needs to lie down. There is no way I can fall asleep. I lie there, waiting to fall asleep. Finally, I’ve been lying there so long, it most be time to get up. I look at my watch… its only 9:00. I finally fall asleep.
NOAA Teacher at Sea: Annmarie Babicki NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II Mission: Bottom Longline Survey 2010 Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date August 20, 2010
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 28.52 degrees North
Longitude: 85.52 degrees West
Clouds: partly cloudy
Winds: 10.37 kts.
Waves: 2-3 Feet
Air Temperature: 31.3 degrees C or 88 degrees F
Water Temperature: 29.7 degrees C or 85 degrees F
Barometric Pressure: 1014.28
Science and Technology:
There have been a couple of times when we have worked through a station and have not caught a fish. That has been very discouraging and rather boring. However, we had several stations that made up on it and we could barely keep up with bringing in the catch. One catch, we caught seven sharks that needed to be put in the cradle because they were so large.
Bull sharks can be dangerous in the Gulf area because they swim in shallow waters where recreational activities take place. They are one of the most abundant species of sharks, so you do have to be watchful of them. It is fairly easy to recognize them because of the width of their midsection is and by their rounded nose. The bull shark was a big male weighing 130 lb. The black lines you can see just behind his head are the gills slits. It’s amazing to think that he was enticed with a three inch piece of mackerel. This was only second bull shark we have caught on our trip thus far. The night shift also caught one and they were as excited as we were.
We also caught three sandbar sharks, which is the most common large shark we are catching out here. They ranged in weight from 82 lb. to 136 lb. Their colors vary from being a light sandy color to a grayish brown. We had one fighter that thrashed around in the cradle. The scientists was able to calm it down, so that it did not hurt itself. I made a video of one of the catches and it took the scientist and his assistants three min. to weigh, measure, tag and get the hook out of that shark. I did tag a sandbar shark, but generally do not handle the really big ones. This expert shark scientist is so skilled at handling sharks and the collecting of data he needs without stressing the sharks. I am in awe of his work and I very much admire the work he is doing to protect the shark populations in the Gulf.
We have caught several little sharks from the dogfish family that are not easily identifiable just by observing them. In order to identify them, the scientist takes a biopsy punch, which takes a small piece (approx. .8 cm.) of skin just below the dorsal fin. It doesn’t hurt the shark and does not go deep into the muscle tissue. When the DNA testing is completed, the scientist will have the correct genus and species of the shark, which they can then enter into their data base. Having accurate data is a must. Without valid data, the shark populations will not be managed properly, which impacts sharks and fisheries.
Another small shark that we caught was the sharpnose shark, which we dissected a few days ago. Once again it was dissected and the data was collected on the female and her embryos. They were measured and were old enough that the sex could be determined. That was amazing to me as they were so small and translucent. I will be bringing two of the embryos home with me. I am sure my students will be excited them because you really can see their shark features.
In addition to the scientists on board, we have two contracted bird watchers, who have come to observe birds in the Gulf. What has brought them here is in part the impact of the oil spill on the birds in open waters. The other reason is that there have been few studies of Gulf birds, so at the very least they have begun to set a baseline for the species and populations. Early on in our trip, we saw a very small bird called a cliff swallow that was migrating south to Argentina, which is its home. It was fun to watch how they glided as they circled the ship. It was aerodynamics at its best. I was told that in February or earlier, it flies to North America where is mates and bears its young. These birds travel this distance every year, which may account for why they live only 2 or 3 years.
I have interviewed many of the officers and members of the science team since I arrived. They come from diverse backgrounds and their journeys coming on the Oregon II are also very different. Everyone has been very helpful and kind, even though I have so many questions that are both personal and professional in nature. I look forward to sharing their stories with my students.
Sleeping has been a little more difficult for the past couple days. I think it is the constant running of the engines. I have not experience any soundless time, which I often have at home. It will be nice to get home where it is quiet. The crew has informed me that the lack of noise may bother me because it does them whenever they return from a trip. They also stated that I will need a couple of days to adjust to land life. I hope not since I start school on Thursday!
I will complete one more blog
“Animals Seen Today” blacktip shark tiger shark, sharpnose. yellow wedge grouper, golden tile fish, king snake eel.
“Did You Know” that if a hook is left in a shark’s mouth, it will rust out and the shark will expel what is left.
NOAA Teacher at Sea: Beth Spear Aboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date of Post: August 17, 2010
I sadly said farewell to the Delaware II after 10 days and six night watch shifts hauling back sharks. It was a wonderful experience, but it was nice to get off the ship. 🙂 I think my favorite moment was watching the sun rise one morning while a small pod of spotted dolphins surfed in the ship’s wake. I even saw two sets of mothers and babies playing together and thought I heard some faint clicks and chirps from them.
Something my fellow shipmates warned me about when we returned to land was dock rock, or sea legs. I did find myself swaying on the dock after disembarking from the ship. I thought that was the extent of it. However my first night on dry land my internal clock woke me up promptly at 11:45 PM for my night watch . I stumbled out of bed to visit the bathroom. I nearly fell flat on my face trying to compensate for the ship’s rocking even though the floor was steady. I think it took about 5 days for the bed to stop rocking like the ship. It was really strange I’d go to bed and it was fine, but when I woke up it felt just like the bed was pitching around as if I was back at sea.
While I was on board the ship I was unable to upload videos. I have attached a couple videos below showing the crew and scientists setting and hauling back the catch.
This video shows the night watch setting of the first 1/10 of the botton longline. The video begins just after Khris, a NOAA deckhand, had released the high flyer and bouy. Arjen, a volunteer, clips a numbered sample tag to the gangion held by Ryan, a grad student volunteer. Ryan feeds the gangion over the side of the ship and passes it off to Richie, a NOAA deck hand. Richie clips the gangions to the longline approximately every 60 feet. Adrian, the chief bos’n, is running the winch feeding out the longline. If you watch carefully Richie almost loses one of the gangions. We teased him about stagefright after I stopped taping.
This video shows the night watch hauling back a catch. The vast majority of sharks were Atlantic Sharpnose, shown in this video. Richie and Khris are hauling in the line while Adrian is overseeing operations from the upper deack. Ian is collecting the numbered tags from the gangions. Lisa is collecting the gangions and reloading them into the barrels used to store them between sample locations. Ryan and Arjen are handling the sharks. Christian is recording data. There are 100 hooks and things can get pretty lively hauling back a catch with a lot of sharks. As you may notice removing the hook can be difficult. Ryan is good at it, but Arjen, much like myself find it more difficult. In fact I usually asked Christian to help me with the hook. I was very proud of the single, solitary hook I removed all by myself. 🙂
NOAA Ship Name: Oregon II Mission: Shark and Red Snapper Bottom Longlining Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico Date: August 15, 2010
Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 26.96 degrees North Longitude: 83.18 degrees West Clouds: scattered clouds Winds: 6.13 kts. Air Temperature: 33.5 C or Barometric Pressure: 1014.93
Science and Technology:
Today was another fantastic day of seeing biology at its best. I had the opportunity to observe the dissection of a sharpnose shark. It is a small shark (about 2′ long) and rather docile, so it has been a good shark for me to practice on learning how to handle sharks. The Chief Scientist works with many other scientists who are researching the reproduction of a variety of sharks in the Gulf. Although this species of shark is not the one that he is researching (he is researching the blacknose shark), shark colleagues throughout the Gulf work together in order to obtain as much data as possible, and therefore collect data for one another. Scientists look at the reproductive stages by observing and performing tests on the reproductive organs. The shark dissected was a female in advanced puberty, but was in the process of collecting developing eggs. The samples taken on this shark were the follicles, where the eggs are stored, a piece of tissue and a blood sample. They will be taken to the NOAA lab in Pascagoula for examination.
One recent finding on the blacknose shark study is that it was thought to reproduce annually. The Shark Scientist has recently found samples of blacknose sharks that show some reproduce biennially and some annually. This came about by looking at the physical features and chemical makeup of the sharks. The Chief Scientist stated that they will need to go back and review all of the data they have collected on these sharks over the many seasons they have been conducting the bottom longline survey. The reason why this is so important is that the federal regulation of the catch is based in part on this data. The outcome could be that the shark population is being depleted at a faster rate than was expected or the population is larger than anticipated, which means the catch regulations could be changed to reflect that. The shark biologist and the shark endocrinologist ( researching the hormonal makeup of sharks) were both sure that their data was accurate and valid, yet their results contradicted one another. As you would hope, these scientists are open-minded enough to review their findings again and will try to solve this unexpected puzzle.
There is a great deal of data that is collected during these types of surveys. Some data is recorded with pencil/paper, other data, such as that collected with a piece of equipment called a CTD (for “conductivity”, “temperature”, and “depth”), is recorded with computers. The actual measurements of sharks are written with pencil/paper, but once each station is done, the information is entered into one of the computers that are in the dry lab. There are six computers in the dry lab, 2 of which are laptop computers called Toughbooks. The Toughbooks are used when the hi-flyers, weights and numbered tags are put out on the fishing line and when they are hauled in. They are recording the position and time each twelve foot line is being dropped into the water.
The CTD is an extremely expensive and sensitive piece of equipment that is placed in the water immediately after the crew and scientists have finished setting the longline. The CTD sits below the surface for 3 minutes and is then lowered nearly to the ocean floor. The crew needs to be careful not to let it touch bottom because it can damage the sensors causing the unit to fail. All of the data from this equipment is analyzed by the Chief Scientist when he returns to the lab. There are also computers in many offices on the ship. As of this writing, I have not had the opportunity to explore what their functions are. That is for another day.
It is incredibly hot here today and I have not adapted very well this week. For a person who is always cold and who rarely sweats, it is quite a surprise to have sweat dripping from everywhere. I even had sweat dripping from my forehead into my eyes! That is not fun. Although I do not generally drink Gatorade, I am drinking a lot of it on this trip! I really am not complaining, just making a statement. I am really having such a great time on board this ship. It truly is a once in a life time experience.
In the past couple of days I have had the opportunity to interview the five scientists (which includes the shark scientist) that I work with, and the captain of the ship. Their backgrounds are very different, but they all agreed that their love for the ocean has always been there. The also all stated that while in high school, there were not marine biology classes. It was not until they were at the college level that there were course offerings in their area of interest. The shark scientist has a PhD., but the other crew members do not. They are planning to work on their master’s degree in the future. All of the crew have set goals for themselves and I am sure they will achieve them. Each one gave advice to my fifth graders and that is do what you love. I really enjoyed spending time with all of them and have a lot to share with my students and teachers when we are back in school.
“Answer to the Question of the Day:
The answer is yes. There is this wonderful little fish that swims very fast under water, but will fly or skip like a rock over the water. It is a great adaptation that helps it to survive because the dolphins just love to feast on them. Often times where there are flying fish, there are dolphins. The other evening a flying fish flew out of the water and bounced off one of the crew members who was walking to the bow. One of the volunteers, who happens to be from UNE, caught it. That was so amazing in itself and getting to see it upfront was even better. Another example of the wonders of the ocean.
“Question of the Day”
How do captains and crew members communicate with ships that are far away?
“Animals Seen Today” a pale spotted eel that has very sharp teeth and bites.
Temperature: 28.6 Celcius or about 84 degrees Fahrenheit
Barometric Pressure; 1010.04
Science and Technology:
I am working here in the Gulf of Mexico with a scientist who is completing shark stock assessments. It is a long term study, which monitors population trends of all shark species in the Gulf. The data collected from this survey is used in conjunction with data from many other studies to determine fisheries policy. One example of this could be the determinations of how large a catch can be and how long the catch season can be. Policies are not only different by species, but also by whether the catch is for recreational or commercial use.
Today we began the shark survey and completed locations off the coast of Florida. The locations are chosen at random, so that the data is objective and the findings are not skewed. During each sampling the following information is recorded: shark species, its length, weight, sex, and the stage of its maturity. The coordinates for each survey are also recorded, which enables scientists to know where particular shark populations exist. The number of stations completed per day varies depending on how far the stations are from one another. Generally, the amount of time it takes to complete it is approximately two hours.
The methodology used to collect data on sharks is called bottom longlining. This is when each hook are baited with mackerel and put on a gangion. We cut our own bait and attach it to the hooks. Each hook is assigned a number, one to one hundred, so that it can be tracked. That line is then systematically hooked onto another line that runs one nautical mile. Both ends of the line have what are called hi-flyers that float vertically in the water. They are bright orange and have a blinking light on the top, so that they can be seen from a distance. There is a weight placed on both ends of the line and one in the middle. The weights help to keep the baited lines well below the surface. After the last gangion is put on, we wait one hour and then begin to pull in all hundred lines. During this entire process the ship is moving, which can be sometimes challenging, especially in bad weather.
Although the focus of this survey is sharks, data is collected on all fishes that are captured. After the fish are pulled up on deck, data is collected and recorded by the hook number. The handling of sharks is different from the handling of fish. Only sharks are fitted with a tag, which does not hurt them. There are two types of tags, but to date we have only used one type. In order to attach the yellow tag, a small slit is made underneath the dorsal fin. The tag has a sharp point on one end, which is inserted into the slit. Also a small sample (5-10 cm) of the shark’s pelvic fin is taken. This is then taken to the lab where DNA testing is done. The DNA can be used to verify known species and unknown or new species. Also, scientists can compare the population of sharks in other oceans around the globe by their DNA. What I have observed on every catch is that the scientist carefully monitors the shark to ensure it is not being stressed or could be hurt in any way.
Today we caught this beautiful and powerful scalloped hammerhead shark. When very large sharks like the hammerhead are caught, they are not pulled up by the line because it can damage them and they are too heavy to handle. Instead they are guided onto a cradle which sits in the water. Once on securely they are hoisted to the side of the ship where scientists can collect the needed data. The hammerhead weighed in at 341lb. and was 8 feet long. What a catch this was, everyone was very excited.
The day started out cloudy but eventually turned over to showers and then to a hard rain. We are feeling the effects of the tropical depression, which explains why it is difficult for me to stay standing for any length of time. I am hitting and seeing more walls than I care to! Also, it is a very bizarre feeling when the chair you are sitting in moves from one side of the room to the other. Luckily I have fended of sea sickness, but I did have a mild case of nausea, however, nothing that stopped me from continuing to work on deck. Thank goodness for Bonine.
Sleeping has not been much of a problem for me except when the ship’s engine changes. The engines make a deep loud growling sound that wakes me for just a few minutes. Being out in the fresh air does make me tired, so I have to set my alarm clock or I will sleep through my next shift. It’s hard to know what day it is because I am working a noon to midnight shift. You keep track of time by when the next sampling is due.
Being at sea and doing this type of research is definitely only for the hearty. The weather changes often as does the pace of the work. There are many jobs to do during sampling and I am trying to learn all of them. Baiting a hook and taking off bait has been frustrating, particularly since it has to be done quickly. The type of hook they use has a barb on it that goes in a different direction from the rest of the hook, so it doesn’t just slide out. We wear special gloves to protect our hands from the hooks and skin of the sharks, which can feel like sand paper or razor blades dep