Kate Schafer: So Many Snappers… September 24, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 24, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 28o 25.1’ N
Longitude: 94o 50.3’ W

Broken sky

Visibility 10 nautical miles

Wind speed 13 knots

Sea wave height 2-3 feet

Temperature Seawater 28.8 o Celsius

Science and Technology Log:

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.

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Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) ready to be measured

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.

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Annual Catch Limits as set by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (http://gulfcouncil.org/fishing-regulations/federal/)

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.

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Otoliths taken from one of the red snappers we collected

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.

Personal Log:

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.

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Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) eyes

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!

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Mystery snapper food

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More snapper food

 

 

 

 

 

And We’re Fishing…

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 21, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 27o 15.5’ N

Longitude: 97o 01.3’ W

Haze

Visibility 6 nautical miles

Wind SE 15 knots

Sea wave height 3-4 feet

Sea Temperature: 29.6o Celsius

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!

 

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Golden tilefish (Lopholatilus chamealeonticeps) caught in first longline of the trip

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.

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Bull shark caught on the last hook of a very productive bout of fishing (Photo courtesy of Lisa Jones, NOAA)

And I haven’t even mentioned the red snappers.  I will save them for another post, but they are absolutely beautiful creatures.

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Red snapper being measured

 

Personal Log:

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.

 

Karen Grady: Observations and Data Collection Today Leads to Knowledge In The Future, April 25, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karen Grady

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

April 5 – April 20, 2017

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 25, 2017

 

Weather Data:

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 .

 

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Ultrasounding female Sharp Nose sharks to see how may pups they were carrying.

 

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.

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This shark had whole mural on the underside from the parasites

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Shark underside marred by parasite infection

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.

 

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Red Snapper caught and used for sample collection

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Paul Felts removing a hook

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Sometimes someone bigger swims by while a fish is on the hook

Personal Log

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.

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Denise Harrington: What Fish Do I Eat? October 3, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Denise Harrington

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 16-30, 2016

Mission: Longline Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Monday, October 3, 2016

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.”

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Yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus itajara). Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

“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.

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Here, Adam measures a shark too large to bring on deck.  Photo: NOAA Fisheries

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.

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Adam takes a selfie with a red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus).

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.

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Oil rigs dot the horizon as Tim Martin, Chief Boatswain, gets ready to retrieve the longline. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

 

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Here, Paul Felts, Fisheries Biologist, weighs a yellowedge grouper (Hyporthodus flavolimbatus). Photo Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

“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.

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Snapper is as tasty as it is beautiful.  Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

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.

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TAS Denise Harrington holds up two red snapper. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries.

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.

Personal Log

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.

 

 

Denise Harrington: First Day Jitters, September 21, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Denise Harrington

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 16-30, 2016

Mission: Longline Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Wednesday, September 21, 2016

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.

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.

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Once all the hooks were baited, Chief Boatswain Tim Martin and Paul release a high flyer, a large pole with a buoy at the bottom and a reflective metal flag on top.

The buoy, connected to the boat by the longline, bobbed off toward the horizon.

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Tim attached the first of three weights to anchor the line to the sea floor.

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As the longline stretched across the sea, Kevin attached a numbered tag to the baited hook held by Paul.

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Paul passed the baited, tagged hook to Tim, who attached 100 hooks, evenly spaced, to the one mile longline.

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On another station, Paul attached numbers to the gangion (clip, short line, and baited hook) held by Trey.  Each station we change roles, which I appreciate.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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Here, you can see Trey rotating the clasper 180 degrees.

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).

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!

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Personal Log

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.

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King Snake Eel (Ophichthus rex)

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.

Barney Peterson: What Are We Catching? August 28, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Barney Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 13 – 28, 2016

Mission: Long Line Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Sunday, August 28, 2016

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.

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Mackerel is used to bait the hooks.

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.

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Chrissy holding an enormous grouper

We also caught Black Sea Bass (Centropristus striata) which resemble the groupers in that they also have large mouths and prominent eyes.

sea-bass

Black Sea Bass

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.

red-snapper

Red Snapper

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!

barracuda

TAS Barney Peterson with a barracuda

Most of the bony fish we caught were in fairly deep water.

 

Sharks:

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.

sandbar-shark

Sandbar Shark

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.

great-hammerhead

Great Hammerhead Shark

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.

PERSONAL LOG

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: What is NOAA? August 20, 2016

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

Science Log:

Teacher at Sea

Teacher at Sea Barney Peterson working on line long deployment aboard the OREGON II.

 

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!

one ocean

There is just one big ocean.

*1) ppi.noaa.gov              *2)teacheratsea.noaa.gov           *3)oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/bigocean.html