Anne Krauss: The Oregon II Trail, August 16, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Anne Krauss

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 12 – August 25, 2018


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 16, 2018

Weather Data from the Bridge

Conditions at 1106

Latitude: 25° 17.10’ N

Longitude: 82° 53.58’ W

Barometric Pressure: 1020.17 mbar

Air Temperature: 29.5° C

Sea Temperature: 30.8° C

Wind Speed: 12.98 knots

Relative Humidity: 76%


Science and Technology Log

Before getting into the technology that allows the scientific work to be completed, it’s important to mention the science and technology that make daily life on the ship safer, easier, and more convenient. Electricity powers everything from the powerful deck lights used for working at night to the vital navigation equipment on the bridge (main control and navigation center). Whether it makes things safer or more efficient, the work we’re doing would not be possible without power. Just in case, several digital devices have an analog (non-electronic) counterpart as a back-up, particularly those used for navigation, such as the magnetic compass.


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To keep things cool, large freezers are used for storing bait, preserving scientific samples, and even storing ice cream (no chumsicles for dessert—they’re not all stored in the same freezer!). After one particularly sweltering shift, I was able to cool off with some frozen coffee milk (I improvised with cold coffee, ice cream, and milk). More importantly, without the freezers, the scientific samples we’re collecting wouldn’t last long enough to be studied further back at the lab on land.

Electricity also makes life at sea more convenient, comfortable, and even entertaining. We have access to many of the same devices, conveniences, and appliances we have at home: laundry machines, warm showers, air conditioning, home cooked meals, a coffee maker, TVs, computers with Wi-Fi, and special phones that allow calls to and from sea. A large collection of current movies is available in the lounge. During my downtime, I’ve been writing, exploring, enjoying the water, and learning more about the various NOAA careers on board.

To use my computer, I first needed to meet with Roy Toliver, Chief Electronics Technician, and connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi. While meeting with him, I asked about some of the devices I’d seen up on the flying bridge, the top deck of the ship. The modern conveniences on board are connected to several antennae, and Roy explained that I was looking at important navigation and communication equipment such as the ship’s GPS (Global Positioning System), radar, satellite, and weather instrumentation.

I was also intrigued by the net-like item (called a Day Shape) that communicates to other ships that we are deploying fishing equipment. This lets nearby ships know that the Oregon II has restricted maneuverability when the gear is in the water. At night, lights are used to communicate to other ships. Communication is crucial for safety at sea.

When I stopped by, Roy had just finished replacing some oxygen sensors for the CTD (that stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth). For more information about CTDs click here:

Without accurate sensors, it’s very difficult for the scientists to get the data they need. If the sensors are not working or calibrated correctly, the information collected could be inaccurate or not register at all. The combination of salt water and electronics poses many interesting problems and solutions. I noticed that several electronic devices, such as computers and cameras, are built for outdoor use or housed in durable plastic cases.

On this particular day, the ship sailed closer to an algal bloom (a large collection of tiny organisms in the water) responsible for red tide. Red tide can produce harmful toxins, and the most visible effect was the presence of dead fish drifting by. As I moved throughout the ship, the red tide was a red hot topic of conversation among both the scientists and the deck department. Everyone seemed to be discussing it. One scientist explained that dissolved oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico can vary based on temperature and depth, with average readings being higher than about 5 milligrams per milliliter. The algal bloom seemed to impact the readings by depleting the oxygen level, and I was able to see how that algal bloom registered and affected the dissolved oxygen readings on the electronics Roy was working on. It was fascinating to witness a real life example of cause and effect. For more information about red tide in Florida, click here:

Chief Electronics Technician Roy Toliver in his office on the Oregon II.
Chief Electronics Technician Roy Toliver in his office on the Oregon II. The office is like the ship’s computer lab. When he’s not working on the ship’s electronics, Roy enjoys reading out on the stern. It’s a great place for fresh air, beautiful views, and a good book!

Personal Log

Preparing and packing for my time on the Oregon II reminded me of The Oregon Trail video game. How to pack for a lengthy journey to the unfamiliar and unknown?

A video game screenshot
I had a hard time finding bib overalls and deck boots at the general store.

I didn’t want to run out of toiletries or over pack, so before leaving home, I tracked how many uses I could get out of a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, shampoo bottle, and bar of soap, and that helped me to ration out how much to bring for fifteen days (with a few extras, just in case). The scientists and crew of the Oregon II also have to plan, prepare, and pack all of their food, clothing, supplies, tools, and equipment carefully. Unlike The Oregon Trail game, I didn’t need oxen for my journey, but I needed some special gear: deck boots, foul weather gear (rain jacket with a hood and bib overalls), polarized sunglasses (to protect my eyes by reducing the sun’s glare on the water), lots of potent sunscreen, and other items to make my time at sea safe and comfortable.

I was able to anticipate what I might need to make this a more efficient, comfortable experience, and my maritime instincts were accurate. Mesh packing cubes and small plastic baskets help to organize my drawers and shower items, making it easier to find things quickly in an unfamiliar setting.

berths on ship show blue privacy curtains
This is where we sleep in the stateroom. The blue curtains can be closed to darken the room when sleeping during the day. On the left is a sink.
My own shark cradle
Reading and dreaming about sharks!

Dirt, guts, slime, and grime are part of the job. A bar of scrubby lemon soap takes off any leftover sunscreen, grime, or oceanic odors that leaked through my gloves. Little things like that make ship life pleasant. Not worrying about how I look is freeing, and I enjoy moving about the ship, being physically active. It reminds me of the summers I spent as a camp counselor working in the woods. The grubbier and more worn out I was, the more fun we were having.

The NOAA Corps is a uniformed service, so the officers wear their uniforms while on duty. For everyone else, old clothes are the uniform around here because the work is often messy, dirty, and sweaty. With tiny holes, frayed seams, mystery stains, cutoff sleeves, and nautical imagery, I am intrigued by the faded t-shirts from long-ago surveys and previous sailing adventures. Some of the shirts date back several years. The well-worn, faded fabric reveals the owner’s experience at sea and history with the ship. The shirts almost seem to have sea stories to tell of their own.

Sunset over water showing orange, pink, and blue hues.
As we sail, the view is always changing and always interesting!

Being at sea is a very natural feeling for me, and I haven’t experienced any seasickness. One thing I didn’t fully expect: being cold at night. The inside of the ship is air-conditioned, which provides refreshing relief from the scorching sun outside. I expected cooler temperatures at night, so I brought some lightweight sweatshirts and an extra wool blanket from home. On my first night, I didn’t realize that I could control the temperature in my stateroom, so I shivered all night long.

A folded grey hooded sweatshirt
It’s heavy, tough, and grey, but it’s not a shark!

My preparing and packing didn’t end once I embarked (got on) on the ship. Every day, I have to think ahead, plan, and make sure I have everything I need before I start my day. This may seem like the least interesting aspect of my day, but it was the biggest adjustment at first.

To put yourself in my shoes (well, my deck boots), imagine this:

Get a backpack. Transport yourself to completely new and unfamiliar surroundings. Try to adapt to strange new routines and procedures. Prepare to spend the next 12+ hours working, learning, exploring, and conducting daily routines, such as eating meals. Fill your backpack with anything you might possibly need or want for those twelve hours. Plan for the outdoor heat and the indoor chill, as well as rain. If you forgot something, you can’t just go back to your room or run to the store to get it because

  1. Your roommate is sleeping while you’re working (and vice versa), so you need to be quiet and respectful of their sleep schedule. That means you need to gather anything you may need for the day (or night, if you’re assigned to the night watch), and bring it with you. No going back into the room while your roommate is getting some much-needed rest.
  2. Land is not in sight, so everything you need must be on the ship. Going to the store is not an option.

Just some of the items in my backpack: sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, sweatshirt, a water bottle, my camera, my phone, my computer, chargers for my electronics, an extra shirt, extra socks, snacks, etc.

I am assigned to the day watch, so my work shift is from noon-midnight. During those hours, I am a member of the science team. While on the day watch, the five of us rotate roles and responsibilities, and we work closely with the deck crew to complete our tasks. The deck department is responsible for rigging and handling the heavier equipment needed for fishing and sampling the water: the monofilament (thick, strong fishing line made from plastic), cranes and winches for lifting the CTD, and the cradle used for safely bringing up larger, heavier sharks. In addition to keeping the ship running smoothly and safely, they also deploy and retrieve the longline gear.

A pulley in front of water
Pulleys, winches, and cranes are found throughout the boat.

Another adjustment has been learning the routines, procedures, and equipment. For the first week, it’s been a daily game of What-Am-I-Looking-At? as I try to decipher and comprehend the various monitors displayed throughout the ship. I follow this with a regular round of Now-What-Did-I-Forget? as I attempt to finesse my daily hygiene routine. The showers and bathroom (on a ship, it’s called the head) are down the hall from my shared stateroom, and so far, I’ve managed to forget my socks (day one), towel (day two), and an entire change of clothes (day four). With the unfamiliar setting and routine, it’s easy to forget something, and I’m often showering very late at night after a long day of work.

Showers and changing stalls on ship
I’m more than ready to cool off and clean up after my shift.

One thing I never forget? Water. I am surrounded by glittering, glistening water or pitch-black water; water that churns and swells and soothingly rocks the ship. Swirling water that sometimes looks like ink or teal or indigo or navy, depending on the conditions and time of day.

Another thing I’ll never forget? This experience.

A water bottle in the sun
In case I forget, the heat of the sun reminds me to drink water all day long.

Did You Know?

The Gulf of Mexico is home to five species, or types, or sea turtles: Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley.

Recommended Reading

Many of my students have never seen or experienced the ocean. To make the ocean more relevant and relatable to their environment, I recommend the picture book Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene. A young girl’s grandfather moves to the city and notices there’s nowhere to fish. She and her grandfather imagine fishing from their high-rise apartment fire escape. The “fish” they catch are inspired by the vibrant ecosystem around them: the citizens and bustling activity in an urban environment. The catch of the day: “Flying Litterfish,” “Laundry Eels,” a “Constructionfish,” and many others, all inspired by the sights and sounds of the busy city around them.

The book could be used to make abstract, geographically far away concepts, such as coral ecosystems, more relatable for students in urban, suburban, and rural settings, or as a way for students in rural settings to learn more about urban communities. The young girl’s observations and imagination could spark a discussion about how prominent traits influence species’ common names, identification, and scientific naming conventions.

The cover of the book Skyfishing
Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017)


Stephen Tomasetti: Red Grouper and Red Tide, August 21, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Tomasetti
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 11 – 25, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
You can view the geographical location of the cruise here at anytime:
Date: Thursday, August 21, 2014

Weather Data from Bridge:
Air Temperature: 30.2 Degrees C
Water Temperature: 29.9 Degrees C
Wind Speed: 7 Knots
Barometric Pressure: 1018.7 Millibars

Science and Technology Log

On the Discovery Channel shark week ended last Sunday night, but on the ship shark week continues. We are approaching a stretch of stations that should be loaded with sharks (if they haven’t moved to other areas due to the red tide…more on that later) over the next few days so I am going to hold off on the shark post until later in the week when I’ll have compiled many more pictures for sharing. Although one of the main goals of the mission is to catch sharks (to monitor trends in population abundance) the ship is constantly, twenty four hours a day, collecting a myriad of oceanographic and weather data that is used by other scientists and organizations.

One fish that we have been catching quite frequently is red grouper, or Epinephelus morio. Typically when we catch one it is brought on board to measure its mass and length. After the measurements are taken we remove the fish’s otoliths for future age examination. Additionally, the gonads are removed to determine its sex and reproductive status.

Red Grouper
Red Grouper

An otolith or “ear bone” is not actually a bone at all, but rather a calcium carbonate structure located near the fish’s brain. Similar to the human inner ear, otoliths help the fish to balance and orient itself. There are three pairs of otoliths in each teleost (bony fish) but we remove the largest pair. The first time I tried I pulverized the otolith, but after some practice I can do it now (although I’d hesitate to say with ease).

The otolith contains bands that correspond to the age, much like rings of a tree trunk. Also, the shape of the otolith varies depending on the species. So if otoliths are found in the stomach of an animal that eats fish, the species it’s eating can often be determined.

The fish’s internal sexual structures, or gonads, also must be removed and saved. These structures are used to determine the sex of the fish, if it’s mature, and its current reproductive condition.

In addition to catching and studying wildlife aboard the Oregon II, a large amount of data is collected on water and weather conditions. To do so, a large, expensive piece of equipment called a “CTD”, for conductivity-temperature-depth, is lowered by a fisherman into the water until it hovers a few meters off the ocean floor. It collects data such as salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, water clarity, and chlorophyl concentration in real time and can be studied separately or alongside the results of the fish/shark survey.

Chuck Godwin with the CTD
Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin with the CTD

Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin and Fisherman Eloy Borges are two of the guys I’ve worked closely with during my time on the Oregon II. Chuck and I are pretty much from the same town in Central Florida! Chuck graduated from UF before serving in the Coast Guard for over ten years. He’s been working for NOAA for a while and after about ten minutes with him you can see why! He is fun and affable and a pleasure to be around. He makes the long days of hard work go by quickly.

Fisherman Eloy Borges worked on commercial freighters for a while before joining NOAA. He’s a laid back, diligent crew member. He’s considerate and encouraging; we work together while slinging bait and attaching the gangions to the mainline or while deploying the hi-flyers. And we bond a lot over our mutual love for Cuban food.

Fisherman Eloy Borges controlling the CTD
Fisherman Eloy Borges controlling the CTD

Personal Log:

Yesterday in between sets, the Bridge watchstanders noticed dead fish in the water everywhere. The dead fish continued for over ten miles. They were the result of red tide in the Gulf. Red tide is caused by an algal bloom, and can devastate marine life, especially near the coast. The ship stopped while a fisherman and two scientists took a smaller boat to investigate and gather samples. They filled a large bag with dead fish and wrote down the GPS coordinates, as well as the date and time, marking it FISH KILL. These samples will be reviewed back in the lab in Pascagoula. Sometimes doing science means changing your plans and adjusting to the circumstances you find yourself in.

Spending twelve hours a day, every day, with the same group of people may seem daunting, but we’ve developed a great team chemistry. The days go by fast! In between sets while we’re cruising to the next location we’ve developed a bunch of activities to keep us busy. I learned how to play Sudoku and a game called Heads Up. Additionally, I’ve begun a daily exercise routine with some of the other scientists and volunteers. The workout is a precautionary measure because I’ll put on ten pounds in two weeks with all of the excellent food we’ve been eating on this cruise (thanks Mark and Steve).

Scientist Andre Debose leading the crew in some exercises
Scientist Andre Debose leading the crew in some exercises

Did You Know: Most grouper species change their sex from female to male as they age!

Amy Pearson, August 24, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Amy Pearson
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
August 13 – 30, 2007

Mission: Ecosystem Monitoring Survey
Geographical Area: North Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 24, 2007

Teacher Amy Pearson and Kim Pratt dressing up as plankton
Teacher Amy Pearson and Kim Pratt dressing up as plankton

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Air temp: 19.9
Water temp: 16.8
Wind direction: 185
Wind speed: 10 kts.
Sea wave height: 1to2 ft.
Visibility: 4

Science and Technology Log 

Early this morning we were at the southeastern edge of George’s Bank. Last night my team (Betsy and I) had collection stations at about 5:10 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m., and 2:20 a.m. (today!). At 2:20 a.m. we were at a very deep location (305 meters depth) and about 200 miles offshore. I was surprised to come on deck and see 3 lights from other boats.  Two were just small single lights. The other ship had bright lights on and was moving away from us, probably fishing.  We first did a vertical drop of the CTD to get the temperature and salinity with depth all the way to the bottom. At 298 meters it was 6.7 degrees Celsius.  One can look at the salinity and temperature here and predict if this continental slope water is coming from the north (Labrador Current) or from the continental shelf.  It will be less salty and cooler if coming from Labrador.  Betsy predicts it is coming from Labrador, based on the data.  go to sleep around 3 a.m. and wake several times, hearing foghorns from our ship.  At 10:30 a.m. there is pretty dense fog, and while we are underway we must sound a foghorn once every 2 minutes.  If we are limited in our movements (plankton tow) we must sound one long and two short sounds. It is quite humid (we are in a cloud!) and the air temperature at 1 p.m. is about 19 degrees Celsius.  Our 75th station samples were loaded with gammarid amphipods that Betsy nicknamed clingons because they cling to the plankton net. This fog does make seeing whales more challenging.  Hope it lifts soon!

Jerry Prezioso, Amy Pearson, Kim Pratt, Joe Kane with 1 weeks worth of plankton samples collected during the southern leg of Ecosystem Cruise
Jerry Prezioso, Amy Pearson, Kim Pratt, Joe Kane with 1 weeks worth of plankton samples collected during the southern leg of Ecosystem Cruise

What Is the Mission of This NOAA Cruise? 

The primary objective of the cruise is to assess changing biological and physical properties which influence the sustainable productivity of the living marine resources of the mid-Atlantic Bight, southern New England, Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank portions of the northeast continental shelf ecosystem.  The following items are being measured: water column temperature, salinity, and chlorophyll-a fluorescence, and ichthyoplankton and zooplankton composition, abundance and distribution. The teachers aboard will deploy a surface current drifter buoy that will allow our students to track water movements and temperatures in near real-time on an Internet website.  We will also collect Pseudonitzchia (a red-tide pinnate diatom) samples from the ship’s flow-through seawater system for mapping the distribution of it in the Gulf of Maine and George’s Bank.  Zooplankton is also being collected for the Census of Marine Zooplankton Project (formerly called the Zooplankton Genome Project).

Small puffer fish and salps mixed w/ other plankton
Puffer fish and salps mixed with plankton

From my perspective, I never thought there would be such big differences in the type and amount of plankton we collect at different locations.  The diversity is very interesting, from large jellies to small zooplankton.  We have seen amphipods (tiny crustaceans), tiny crabs (still maturing), brownish phytoplankton, salps (clear jellies the size of a small walnut), to brownish creatures too small to see, krill, arrow worms…and many more.  The scientists are quite knowledgeable and usually predict what we will be seeing at each spot. I’ve put a few photos here to illustrate the diversity.


Small fish, large jelly fish and other types of plankton
Small fish, large jelly fish and other types of plankton
A plankton sample full of amphipods
A plankton sample full of amphipods

Susan Just, June 20, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Susan Just
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
June 15 – 30, 2006

Mission: Summer Groundfish Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: June 20, 2006

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 8-10 nautical miles (nm)
Wind direction: 023 ◦
Wind speed: 11.6
Sea wave height: 1-2
Swell wave height: 2-3
Seawater temperature: 27.8
Sea level pressure: 1012.5
Cloud cover: 3/8 Cumulus

Science and Technology Log 

Most of this watch will be spent steaming to the first southern station. Our ETA (estimated time of arrival) is 8:00 am.  We are planning to do a full station meaning CTD, Neuston, and a Trawl. It is midnight now and I am hoping to get an interview with our Chief Scientist prior to beginning the station.

The first Bongo is scheduled for noon. Dan Carlson, a graduate student at Florida State University, is aboard researching his master’s thesis. He is utilizing the water samples from the Bongo to learn more about the development and origination of red tides which bloom in the Gulf of Mexico.

I have just been put “in charge” of the Neuston for this station. That means I am responsible for seeing that the net is dragged for ten minutes, that the organisms which are gathered are washed down into the cod end and that the sample is then gathered are delivered to the plankton transfer table.

Personal Log 

The Chief Scientist has been actively engaged with data collection and correction activities. I understand that a server has failed and that all time/date information must be hand entered into all data sheets. This is time consuming but very necessary for the sake of accuracy.

Question of the Day 

What is red tide?

Answer: It is an organism, named Karenia Brevis, which produces a neurotoxin which, in turn, is toxic to virtually all sea life.