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.