Erica Marlaine: SAY CHEESE, July 7, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Erica Marlaine

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

June 22 – July 15, 2019

Mission: Pollock Acoustic-Trawl Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: July 7, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 55º 24.63N
Longitude:155 º 18.86 W
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Wind Direction: 210º
Air Temperature:  11º Celsius
Barometric Pressure: 1097 mb

Science and Technology Log

Fishing nets like the ones used on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson or on commercial fishing boats can be very expensive.  If one plans on doing a bottom trawl (fishing with a net that goes down to the sea floor) one wants to make sure that there are not rocks or other things that can snag or tear the net.  If there are too many rocks or boulders or uneven topography, the area is considered “untrawlable”. While computer imagery can provide some guidance with regard to what lies deep beneath the surface, scientists onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are hoping that video images taken with an underwater camera can provide a more complete picture and be the basis for a more precise computer model of what areas are in fact untrawlable.

Why is this important? Scientists onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson are surveying the fish that live in the middle of the water column. However, groundfish surveys need to account for all the fish living on the ocean floor. If the groundfish program can’t trawl in certain areas, then they don’t know what is there.  For example, rockfish often live in untrawlable areas. If a groundfish survey can’t put a net in areas where rockfish live, then they won’t really “count” the correct numbers of rockfish in their survey. Data obtained using an underwater camera can help determine what species of rockfish are being underrepresented by the groundfish program.

One of the many perks of being on the 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift is that I get to watch the drop camera in action!  The camera (with its attached light) is slowly lowered to the sea floor.  

The drop camera

I have seen the camera take 4 minutes to reach the bottom or as long as 8 minutes depending upon the depth of the water being surveyed.  The camera is then “driven” along the bottom (or right above it) for 15 minutes via a control box on the boat (similar to a tiny joystick).  I even got to drive it a few times!

My turn to drive!

The images are recorded and also seen in real time on several computer screens on the boat.  We have seen rocks, of course, but also jellyfish, sea whips, crabs, anemones, octopuses, sea stars, and a wide variety of fish. One night, there were thousands of sand dollars. It looked like we had come across a buried treasure! It is fascinating to see what is happening deep beneath the boat. It’s kind of like virtual scuba diving!

Sand dollars and brittle stars
Sand dollars and brittle stars
Tiger Rockfish
Tiger Rockfish
Giant Pacific Octopus
Giant Pacific Octopus
ANOTHER Giant Pacific Octopus!
Kelp Greenling
Kelp Greenling

Drop Camera Elementary School Math Fun

If the stereo drop camera takes 8 minutes to reach the bottom when the water is 200 meters deep, how long might it take to reach the bottom if it was:

100 meters deep?  ____________

50 meters deep? ______________

300 meters deep? _____________

Personal Log

It’s time to come clean and admit that I suffer from Pareidola.  Don’t worry, it’s not contagious, or even dangerous. In fact, I think it’s a lot of fun.  You see, Pareidola is a psychological phenomenon where you see patterns.  Quite often, people with Pareidola will see faces in objects where there really isn’t one, like on an electrical outlet. 

Electrical outlets
Electrical outlets… do you think they look like faces?

My Pareidola has reached a new level on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson as I am seeing not just faces but ROBOTS like these:

Let me know if you see any robots at your house, and I am on the lookout for more here!

Karah Nazor: Myctophids, Rockfish, eDNA, and Interview with NOAA Lab Operation Officer Keith Hanson, June 1, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karah Nazor

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 29 – June 7, 2019

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment & Ecosystem Assessment

Geographic Area: Central California Coast

Date: June 1, 2019

Game Plan and Trawling Line: Four trawls on the San Miguel Line in the Channel Islands.

Time Recap: 5:00 PM: Wake up and then Squat Challenge. 5:30 PM: Dinner. 8:30 PM: Report to fish lab.  Learn how to count to ten in French. Kristin sang France’s National Anthem (she learned in 7th grade). 10 PM: First Haul. 3AM: Kaila used her face flip app to turn us into the opposite sex and it was the most hilarious thing ever. 4AM: Latte made by Kaila. A lot of laughing. 6:20 AM: Finish fish lab clean up. 6:21 AM: Still heavily caffeinated so Team Red Hats headed up to the flying dock to watch the sunrise. The sea was very smooth and glassy as we approached Conception Point. We saw several dolphins and a humpback whale. 7:00 AM: To the Galley for a breakfast of blueberry pancakes. 7:45 AM: Lights out.

Part 1: How to distinguish between myctophid species in our catches

In this survey, we are conducting trawls at 30 meters, which is technically the epipelagic zone, so why do we catch deep sea creatures?   Many deep sea creatures, such as myctophids, participate in a daily vertical migration where they swim up into the upper layer of the ocean at night, likely following the migration of zooplankton on which they feed.  Myctophids are also known as lantern fish or lampfish and they feature photophore organs which bioluminesce. Around 250 species of mcytophids have been described. Graduate student Ily Iglesias is saving a lot of the myctophidae we catch on this cruise for her dissertation work.

Tonight most of the catches were small in volume (filling about 10% of a blue bucket), but had good species density. The catches consisted mostly of salps, anchovies and several species of myctophids. It is important to learn how to properly distinguish between the various myctophids in our catches. This is a daunting task for the novice fish sorter, such as myself, since these fish are small (1 to 2 inches long) and appear very similar to each other. It is worth noting that most of the myctophids lose their skin (scales) during the trawling operation. This exposes the underlying pink muscle tissue, however, their photophores remain intact. Fish collected in a bongo net deployment typically have better preserved scales.

Northern lampfish, Stenobrachius leucopsarus, have 3 photophores in a slanted line under the lateral line while the similar looking Mexican lampfish, Triphoturus mexicanus, have more streamlined bodies and have 3 photophores on the lateral line. Many of the Northern lumpfish had a heart parasite which is evident in the photo below. California lanternfish, Symbiophorus californiensis, are typically larger fish and have a distinguished lateral line. California headlight fish, Diaphus theta, have two photophores “headlights” on the front on their face. Blue lanternfish, Tartetonbeania crenularis, are easy to distinguish from the others because they have wider bodies and blue/silver scales.

Northern lampfish photophores
Northern lampfish, Stenobrachius leucopsarus, have three photophores in a row (circled).
Mexican lampfish
Mexican lampfish, Triphoturus mexicanus, are more narrow than Northern lampfish and have three photophores right on the lateral line.
California lanternfish, Symbiophorus californiensis, have a distinguished lateral line.
California headlight fish
California headlight fish, Diaphus theta, are easy to distinguish because of the two large photophores on the face.
Blue lanternfish
Blue lanternfish, Tartetonbeania crenularis, collected in a bongo net with intact scales. Photo courtesy of Lauren Valentino.
Blue lanternfish Photoorgans
Photoorgans lining ventral surface of Blue lanternfish, Tartetonbeania crenularis.

Part 2: Rockfish: why are we catching so few?

Last night there were 4 rockfish in the last haul, and the fish sorting team got excited because we have not seen very many.  The title of this survey is officially “Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey,” however, sampling for pelagic juvenile rockfish is only one of the project’s objectives. Other objectives include sampling for other epi-pelagic micronekton species, studying prevailing ocean conditions and examining prominent hydrographic features, mapping the distribution and abundance of krill (Euphausiacea), and observing seabird and marine mammal distribution and abundance.

Rockfish, perch, or redfish are common names for the Sebastes genus of fish (with more than 100 species) which are abundant off of the California coast, and are a very important genus for the commercial fishing industry. Rockfish are benthic fish that live among rocks, and can be found in kelp forests or in the bathypelagic zone. One of the goals of this survey is to inform the fishing industry on the status of the population of rockfish so that reasonable catch limits can be set.

This year is proving to be a poor year for the rockfish pre-recruitment index, lower than the previous several years, says Chief Scientist, Keith Sakuma. He explains that one year of a weak young of year (YOY) rockfish class is not enough to have an impact on the fishing industry, but if the index was low for say, 10 years in a row, then this could potentially affect the exploitable population. He explains that since rockfish can live to be 100 years old or greater, they have many seasons to reproduce. Rockfish prefer cold water habitats. Keith’s research has demonstrated that most poor pre-recruitment index years are correlated to El Nino events which cause an increase in water temperatures and a reduction in cold water upwelling. This year’s slump in terms of rockfish numbers is not correlated to a strong El Nino event.

 young Cabazon Rockfish
Two young Cabazon Rockfish, Scorpaenichthys marmoratus.

Part 3: Environmental DNA (eDNA) Sampling on the Reuben Lasker

Last night Flora Cordoleani and I helped Dr. Kelly Goodwin collect water from the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) bottles for the purpose of collecting environmental DNA (eDNA).  Kelly’s assistant, Lauren Valentino, is primarily on the day shift (see photo of Lauren with the CTD apparatus below). Isolation of eDNA from seawater is a newer technique used to determine which species swam through a particular location based on the DNA they left behind, through shedding of cells. This technique does not require that the organism be harvested to know that it had been present, and could be of value in detection of the presence of endangered species, for example.

For this CTD deployment, three bottles are filled at depths of 5 and 100 meters, and at the chlorophyll max somewhere between 5 – 20 meters. The water from each depth is run through a filter (pore size of 2 microns) in the eDNA lab on the ship (see photo below). The vacuum filtration procedure is a time-consuming process, as samples must be processed in triplicate, and in which aseptic technique is paramount so that human DNA does not contaminate the water.  Once the DNA is trapped on the filters, they are stored at -20C. The DNA will be purified from the filters back in the San Diego NOAA lab using a Qiagen kit. Species-specific regions of DNA known as bar-code regions will be amplified by Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using 3 primers sets for analysis of DNA from bacteria, plankton, and fish. Illumina techology will be used to obtain DNA sequences, which are compared to DNA libraries for species determination.

The results from the eDNA study will give us a list of species that were present at each trawling station up to 48 hours prior to CTD deployment and fishing using the Cobb Trawl. We will be able to compare this list with the list of species that were physically caught in nets. Nighttime CTDs are deployed at the same station as bongo nets. Daytime CTD trawls occur at the same stations as night fishing.

Lauren with CTD
Lauren Valentino with the Conductivity, Temperature and Depth (CTD) Rosette on the Reuben Lasker.
Kelly Goodwin in the eDNA lab
Kelly Goodwin filtering water in the eDNA lab on the Reuben Lasker.

Part 4: Career Spotlight: NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, Scientist Interview: Keith Hanson, NOAA Lab Operation Officer B.S. Marine Biology, University of Miami (UM) Hometown: Rye, New York

Keith H. and anchovies
NOAA Lab Operation Officer Keith Hanson with a large catch of anchovies.
Keith H sorting the catch
NOAA Lab Operation Officer Keith Hanson sorting the catch.

Keith Hanson joins this survey to assist with research and is a knowledgeable and experienced member of the science team.  Keith has taught me a lot about the fish we are collecting and was the first to show me around the ship.

Keith earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology from the University of Miami (UM) where he was vice president of the scuba club.   His favorite part of being a student at UM was being located so close to ocean and the many trips he took to Biscayne Beach and The Everglades.  While at UM, Keith worked as a Naturalist at the Biscayne Nature Center and with the Marine Operations Department at The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS), where he managed boats and vehicles.  

After graduating from UM, Keith started the NOAA Corps Basic Officer Training Class (BOTC) at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.  His first assignment as a Junior Officer was on the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster in Charleston, SC which has a multi-mission platform with fish habitat and population studies, seafloor mapping surveys, oceanographic studies, and maritime heritage survey.  Keith enjoys the traveling opportunities afforded in this line of work. On the Nancy Foster, he got to travel to Cuba, the Caribbean, and Mexico. After 2.5 years of service, Keith advanced to OP Officer.

Keith is currently on his land assignment in Santa Cruz NOAA working as the Vessel Operations Coordinator and he manages a fleet of small boats from kayaks to a 28 foot barge.  Most vessels are used for river salmon work and groundfish research. His favorite vessel is the Egret offshore fishing boat which is used for rockfish hook and line sampling.

When asked what advice he has for undergraduate students wanting to purse degrees and careers in marine biology, he suggests getting involved in a research lab early on to gain a competitive edge.

Justin Garritt: Paired Trawling, X-raying, and The Galley Master: September 11, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Justin Garritt

NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

September 1-14, 2018

Mission: Hake Research

Geographical area of cruise: Seattle, Washington to Newport, Oregon

Date: September 9-11, 2018: Day 7-9

Location: West of the Columbia River and Astoria, Oregon


Where Are We? After fishing off of the Straits of Juan de Fuca on Friday and Saturday, we headed south.  We ended up west of the Columbia River off the coast of Astoria, Oregon and continued to fish for a few days.


The fishing and sampling continues: A typical day consists of the scientists waking up before sunrise to begin scouting for fish. We use the information from the acoustic transducer to find fish.

Chief Scientist Rebecca Thomas
Chief Scientist Rebecca Thomas spots signs of fish on the sonar

sonar from the acoustic transducer
The sonar from the acoustic transducer showing signs of fish

Paired Trawling: Last week I wrote about our goals of the cruise. One of them was to perform paired trawls to determine net size impact to evaluate the differences between the US 32mm net liners and the Canadian 7mm net liners. A paired trawl is when we fish approximately the same location and depth two times using two different size liners. Data is collected on the size, characteristics, and species of fish being caught to eliminate the possibility that there is bias in the data between the two liners. Below are pictures of the nets being sent in and brought back based on information from the sonars. This typically happened 2-4 times per day (1-2 paired trawls).


Sorting the Fish Aboard:

rockfish photo shoot
A rockfish photo shoot 🙂

How We Collect Data:

When fish come aboard we follow this flow chart to determine what analysis needs to be done on the catch.

Our instructional chart for how we analyze the hake and other species

Hake is the majority of the fish we catch. It is also the main species we are researching this cruise.

A random sample of 250 are set aside and the rest are sent back in to the ocean. Of the approximately 250 random hake, 30 are dissected for enhanced sampling (length, weight, sex, maturity, and other projects).

220 are set aside for sex/length analysis. All other species of fish must be logged into the computer and some are kept for special research projects. See pictures below:

Male vs. female hake distinction:

Determining the length of the hake:

Enhanced sampling (length, weight, sex, maturity, and other projects):

Dissecting the hake to enhance sample

Special Projects: There are also a number of special projects going on aboard:

Fish X-ray: Scientist Dezhang Chu x-rays samples of fish occasionally. The x-ray is used to determine the volume of the swim bladders in certain species of fish (see picture below). The volume of different species’ swim bladders affects the observed acoustics. I spoke to him about the purpose of this study. He said that the present acoustic transducers are great to capture whether fish are present below the ship’s surface but are still not able to classify the type of species being observed. He is working on a team that is trying to use x-ray’s from multiple species to solve that problem. When asked how long he thought it may take for there to be an acoustic system advanced enough to better predict the species onscreen, he said, “People have and will continue to spend their entire careers on improving the system.” If we have more scientists like Dr. Chu on this project, I predict it will be much sooner than he leads on.

"Super Chu"
“Super Chu” and I with his new apron I made him for x-raying

Filming the Catch: Melanie Johnson leads the science team’s visual analysis. During each trawl a camera is placed securely on the net. The purpose of the net is to analyze approximately which depth and time certain fish enter the net.

fish entering the net
Camera footage of fish entering the net


Getting to know the crew: As promised in other blog posts, here is another interview from the incredible crew aboard  NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada who continue to make my journey such a rich experience:

Mr. Arnold Dones, Head Chef

Arnold Dones is our head chef or what I like to call him, “Master Chef.” Since the minute I’ve been aboard I quickly noticed the incredible work ethic and talent of our chef. To be clear, every meal has incredible! When I spoke to my mom a few days into the cruise my exact words were, “The food aboard is better than a buffet on a cruise ship. I expected to come aboard for two weeks and lose a few pounds. Well that’s not going to happen!”

Chef Arnold
Chef Arnold and his incredible food artwork

Arnold was born in the Philippines and his family migrated here when he was twenty. When he first got here he knew very little English and worked hard to learn the language and the American culture. He worked a few odd and end jobs until he joined the United States military as a chef. During his first years in the military, he showed so much promise as a chef that he enrolled in “A School” which allowed him to learn how to be a master chef in the military. He spent more than a decade working on military vessels. His last ship placement was aboard the USS Ronald Reagan where he and his team prepared meals for 6,000 soldiers per meal. Two months ago he joined the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada family as head chef.  Arnold has two children and a wife who live back in San Diego.

After a tour of the galley with Arnold, I learned how much work it takes to pull 42 meals in 14 days for over 40 crew members without a supermarket nearby. A few weeks out, Arnold has to create his menu for the next cruise leg (typically two weeks). He then has to order the food required to make the meals and do so by staying under a strict budget. When the ship ends a leg and pulls in to port, a large truck pulls up and unloads all his ordered food in large boxes. He then organizes it in the order he plans to prepare it in his large freezer, refrigerator, and store rooms. The trick is to be sure his menu is organized so nothing spoils before it is used.  Arnold’s day begins at 05:00  (5am) and goes until 19:00 (7pm) with a short break after lunch. The only days off he has is a day or two once every two weeks when the boat is in port.

Here is a sample menu for the day:

Breakfast (7-8am)- Eggs benedict, blueberry pancakes, french toast, hash browns, scrambled eggs, oat meal, cut fresh fruit, and breakfast danish.

Lunch (11-12pm)- Bacon wrapped rockfish, chicken wings, Chinese noodles, brussel sprouts, bread, a large salad bar, homemade salads, avocado, bean salad, homemade cookies, and ice cream.

Dinner (5-6pm)-  Stuffed pork chops with spinach and cheese, fine braised chicken thigh, baked salmon, Spanish rice, oven potatoes, peas, dinner rolls, a large salad bar, homemade salads, homemade apple pie, and ice cream.

Snack (24/7)- Soup, crackers, ice cream, and salad/fruit bar

We dock in Newport, Oregon on Friday, September 14, 2018. My final post will be on Friday. Thank you for continuing to follow along in this journey. I am grateful for your support and for the amazing people I have met aboard.



Kimberly Godfrey: Creature Feature, June 8, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kimberly Godfrey

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

May 31 – June 11, 2018


Mission: Rockfish recruitment and assessment survey

Geographic Range: California Coast

Date: June 8, 2018


Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 36° 43.508′ N

Longitude: 121° 52.950′ W

Wind: 30.87 knots from the SE

Air Temperature: 12.7°

Waves: 2-3 feet with 6-8 foot swells


Science and Technology Log

We moved up north to continue with our trawls. The first night we trawled just north of Monterey Bay. It was a good thing we did because outside the bay, the wind and swells are rough. We saw lots of jellyfish and lots of krill in our catches. However, I would like to talk a little about a very specific group of fish, rockfish. If you read the mission above, you will recall that rockfish are the primary focus of this survey. Therefore, I think they need a moment in the spotlight to themselves.

While this number may vary, NOAA has over 60 species of rockfish listed on the West Coast. They are an intriguing group of fish for many reasons. First, it is important to note that they are extremely significant to their food web because they are a prey species, but they are also important as a food and income source for humans. Species like the bocaccio rockfish and the yelloweye rockfish are species of concern due to over fishing, and populations are slow to recover. That is enough reason to learn as much possible about these fish.

Yelloweye Rockfish
Yelloweye Rockfish


What we know about rockfish species is they can live for a long time. Many can live over 50 years, some can even live over 100 years of age!  Their growth rate is relatively slow, and very few make it to adulthood because they are prey for other fish. During the first year (sometimes more depending on the species), they spend much of their time in the pelagic realm (open water). If they live long enough, they can grow to a size that allows them to settle in the benthic zone (ocean floor). For many species, 60 mm is a large enough size to settle. This is what the term “recruitment” refers to. Once rockfish settle out of the pelagic zone, they have a higher chance of reaching reproductive maturity.

YOY Rockfish
Various species of YOY (Young Of the Year) rockfish caught in one of our trawls. Photo Credit Keith Sakuma

NOAA Fisheries has been surveying the West Coast for rockfish since 1983. They first started in a smaller region from Monterey Bay to Point Reyes, CA. The survey area expanded in 2004 and by 2013 it covered the entire coast of California. The success of the local ecosystem and the commercial fisheries depend on healthy fish populations. The survey tries to collect at least 100 specimens per species of rockfish and take them back to the lab (on land).  Back at the lab the species identifications are determined as many rockfish are difficult to identify to species at this life history stage without using a microscope.  In addition, their size is recorded and tissue samples taken for genetic studies. Then, on select species, otoliths are removed to age the specimens. The otolith is an ear bone. In fish, the ear bone deposits layers of bone in rings. It happens daily and these daily rings can be counted using a microscope to learn how old the fish is. These ages are used by scientists not only to learned how old the fish are, but they can compare this information to the size data collected and estimate the expected size of a fish at any given age.

I had a chance to talk to everyone from the night shift science team about what they do and how they came to work for NOAA:

Keith Sakuma has been working with the survey since 1989. He is the chief scientist and team leader of the night crew. He works hard to make sure we are all focused and efficient because it is a fast-paced work environment. In between hauls, he enjoys the company of his team and a few Dragon Ball episodes. He was born and raised in Hawaii, and went to University of Hawaii for his Bachelor’s degree in Zoology.  In his younger years, Keith worked for the Division of Aquatic Resources, where he spent his days walking up and down the beach to count fisherman and interview them about their catches for the day. He also did snorkel surveys doing fish counts in fisheries management areas.  In addition, he worked on a team that implemented fish aggregating devices, buoys that attract fish for the local fisherman.

While at the University of Hawaii, he was part of the Marine Option program where they teach you various marine skills and connect you with marine research activities. Through this program he completed his scientific diving training, and then participated in two diving surveys. Both surveys documented the impacts of tourism on the reef systems on the island of Lanai Island and Molokini, which is a tiny islet off Maui. On Molokini, tourist traveling to the islet by boat, dropping anchor in the reef, caused a significant amount of damage to the reef. Mitigation included the addition of moorings so boats could tie up and not have to drop anchor, destroying more of the reef.

For his Master’s, he attended San Francisco State University.  His major advisor just returned from a 2-year sabbatical, working with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) [also known as NOAA Fisheries] on the mid water trawl survey, and suggested that Keith do his Master’s Thesis on the data he collected on the survey. While finishing his Master’s degree, he was offered a full-time position working with NMFS, and has been here ever since. That means he has 29 years put into this work.

Growing up in Hawaii near the ocean definitely influenced his decision to pursue Marine Science. He used to say to others how much he loved the ocean and that the ocean loved him back. He couldn’t wait to spend time at the beach in the water. And while today this remains true, he has mentioned that that cold waters of Pacific Coast are not as affectionate as the warm waters of Hawaii.  The water around the islands is so clear, allowing one to see at a distance the beauty that lies beneath. Here, you must pick the right day at the right time to find tolerable temperatures and some visibility. The murkiness makes it hard to see anything, but that murkiness is what contributes to the productivity of the region.

Even after 29 years, Keith still very much enjoys being at sea. He doesn’t get sea sick, so he can spend time working in the field with real specimens and real-time data rather than just analyzing data collected by other people. He enjoys seeing new people come on and get excited about the work. For anyone interested in pursuing Marine Biology and any research science, it is important to have a strong background in math and statistics, especially in today’s world. He also mentioned how important it is to have computer skills and programming skills. The software used to process and analyze data requires one to read and write programming language. Having these skills make one a stronger candidate when applying for research positions. It also gives one more validity when having to speak about and defend the analysis of the research.

That’s Keith, the Chief Scientist, in a nutshell. I also got to learn more about the rest of the team. Thomas Adams has been working with this survey for 5 years now. He started as a volunteer with NMFS, analyzing marine chlorophyll samples. He always had an interest in Marine Biology, and already had a connection to someone working in a NOAA lab. He was invited to work on the rockfish survey because he was known for being a knowledgeable and efficient worker. He too is very enthusiastic and really enjoys being at sea with Keith and the rest of the team. He is the main provider of Dragon Ball, and the Simpsons, which the team enjoys in between trawls. He recently completed his Bachelor’s degree and plans to go for his Master’s in Marine Biology in the near future.

Melissa Monk is a Research Mathematical Statistician, and is responsible for fisheries stock assessments for West Coast near shore ground fish. She also participates in research related to improving fisheries. Her schedule is on a bi-annual cycle. One year is devoted to stock assessment, and the next year is devoted to research.  During stock assessment years, there is a mad dash that happens around September to learn anything and everything about your assigned species. At the end of the assessment season, there is a week-long panel review of all the data gathered during the assessment. Once the assessment is approved, the information is used for species management and harvest regulations. She received her undergrad in Wildlife Sciences with a minor in Statistics. Her Master’s was in fisheries. She spent half her year monitoring the sea turtle populations in North Carolina, and the other half of the year in classes. She did a lot of quantitative work, research, and recruitment training for her Master’s. She also had a connection to NOAA because her PhD advisor at LSU used to work for NOAA. She learned that NOAA trained people to become stock assessors, and pursued fisheries as a career. Her favorite part about working for NOAA is that her work directly impacts fisheries success.

Rebecca Miller is a GIS Specialist, works on a variety of projects at the Santa Cruz NOAA lab. One project is the spatial mapping of rockfish and other marine species. She maps California fisheries catches in both time and space, and is able to analyze this data as far back as the 1930’s. Her Master’s degree is from Oregon State University in Fisheries Sciences with a minor in Geography. She knew since 6th grade that she wanted to be a Fisheries Biologist. She participated in internships and part-time summer jobs in freshwater salmon fisheries, marine intertidal work, and geodatabase management. She loves the people she works with, and the fact the work is so diverse. There is a lot of field work, lots of data analyses, and different projects to work on. She too enjoys knowing that her work helps to sustain fisheries to be both utilized and conserved.

Stephanie Oakes is from NOAA Fisheries Office of Science and Technology (OST). She got her Ph D. in Marine Sciences, and worked on Antarctic krill in an ecosystem context.  The rockfish survey is similar in the sense the it also surveys species in an ecosystem context.  Being able to participate in surveys like this is important to her because she gets to experience first had what happens during the surveys and how the team operates.  Her personal gratification is that she gets her hands in the catch, in the field like she did for her Ph.D.  NOAA Fisheries OST is there to advocate and ensure sound scientific basis for NOAA Fisheries science programs and resource conservation and management decisions.

Did you know…

Here are some of the species we found during our trawls:

  • Adult and young of year (YOY) anchovy
  • Adult and YOY sardine
  • Jack Mackerel
  • Northern Lamp fish
  • Mexican lamp fish
  • California Lamp fish
  • Blue lantern fish
  • Northern smoothtongue
  • Black smelt
  • Pacific Hake
  • Pacific Sanddab
  • Speckled Sanddab
  • CO Turbot
  • Black-bellied dragon fish
  • High fin dragon fish
  • Barracuddina
  • King-of-the-salmon
  • Market squid
  • Gonatus squid
  • Boreal squid
  • Octopus
  • Electric Ray
  • Wolf Eel
  • Pacific Sea Nettle
  • Purple striped jelly
  • Moon Jelly
  • Krill
  • Pelagic Red Crabs

Pacific Sanddab
Young of Year (YOY) Pacific Sanddab

King of the salmon

Krill. There is mostly one species of krill here, but we’ve seen multiple species in our catches.


Adult Anchovy
Adult Anchovy

Blue lantern fish

Pelagic Red Crab
Pelagic Red Crab

Chryasora colorata
Purple Striped Jelly

Boreal Squid
Boreal squid


Wolf eel
Juvenile wolf eel Photo Credit Wyatt Sebourn

Dawn White: Finally Fishing! June 27, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Dawn White

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

June 19 – July 1, 2017


Mission: West Coast Sardine Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean; U.S. West Coast

Date: June 27, 2017


Weather Data from the Bridge

Date: June 27, 2017                                                         Wind Speed: 28.9 kts with gusts
Time: 9:15 p.m.                                                                 Latitude: 4828.20N
Temperature: 13.4oC                                                      Longitude: 12634.66W

Science and Technology Log

White_Lasker route 6-27
The red line indicates the route of NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker transiting along the coast of Vancouver Island

We finally reached the tip of Vancouver Island on Sunday evening, June 25. It would be our first night of fishing.  The red line indicates the route taken by the Reuben Lasker as we transited along the coast to the northernmost tip of the island.  The blue lines indicate the path to be taken for regular interval acoustic monitoring for schools of fish.  Based on the acoustics results, a decision would be made as to where the fishing would occur at night.




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Crew deploying the fishing net

The photo at left shows the crew completing the deployment of the fishing net.  You can see the large winch that will release and retrieve the main body of the net.  The net will be set out for about 45 minutes.  During this time there are many variables that will be monitored.  Sensors attached to the net will collect data on time spent at each depth.  Other factors being monitored include temperature, wind speed, swell size,  and lat/long of trawl. In addition, there are four water-activated “pingers” attached to the net that emit sounds at frequencies known to disturb larger mammals in an effort to reduce accidental captures.

Once the net has been retrieved, the scientists collect the catch in large baskets and begin the process of weighing and sorting.  The first night’s catch was primarily made up of a very unique colonial type of organism called a pyrosome. The side nets and codend (mesh covered end of the main net where most of the catch is collected) were packed with these the first couple of trawls.

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Many pyrosomes were mixed in with the catch.

You can see many pyrosomes mixed in with the rest of the catch here.  They are the pink colored cylindrical organisms.  They have been increasing in population over the past couple of years as well as appearing further north than ever observed before.  A nice overview of the pyrosome influx and volumes observed was recently reported in an article published by Environment entitled “Jellied sea creatures confound scientists, fishermen on U.S. Pacific Coast”. You can review the article here.

The trawl net being used was part of the research project, as it possessed modifications aimed at capturing and quantifying organisms that made it through an apparatus called the extruder door.  The purpose for this opening is to allow for larger mammals and non-target organisms to pass through the net relatively unharmed should they get caught.  Two additional pocket nets had been added to the main net for the specific purpose of monitoring what made it through the mesh.

This far north, the researchers were expecting to find mostly juvenile herring and salmon.  On our second night of fishing we actually had several species of fish and other marine animalia to i.d. The amount and type of data collected depended on the species of organism.  In some cases, we collected just the mass of the group of organisms as a whole.  For other species, we collected mass, lengths, presence/absence of an adipose fin, DNA samples from a fin clip, and more.  Certain species were tagged, bagged, and frozen for further study in a land-based lab.  It’s so interesting to see the variety we pull out of the net each trawl!

Some of the species collected can be seen below:

Extension question for my students reading this:

What traits could you use to differentiate between the juvenile salmon and Pacific herring?


Personal Log:

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Here are some of the scientists making sure the correct data is collected and recorded from one of our catches.

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Here I am (in yellow) with some of the scientists (L to R: Emily, Amy, and Angela) getting ready to receive the evening’s catch.

First trawl starts as close to sunset as possible, which for this latitude has been somewhere between 9:30-10:00 p.m. There is always this air of anticipation as we wait for the net to be emptied.  It has been enlightening to work with the science staff as they evaluate each sample.  The number of reference sheets and data recording forms is incredible.  It seems like you would need to take a course in data management just to ensure you were familiar enough with the requirements to not overlook some detail of importance.

The photo of the group above was taken about 11:00 p.m.  I was worried initially that I would not be able to flip my sleep schedule to match the work schedule, but it has been much more doable than I thought it would be.  Our staterooms are dark and quiet, so going to bed in the morning really doesn’t feel any different that at night.  Thanks to the extensive movie collection and my ability to keep downloading books to read on Kindle, I have had plenty of filler for downtime and that “reading before bed” I always do.

Time to go to work…..


Did You Know?

There are 36 species of dolphin worldwide, including 4 species of river dolphins.  Quite a few of the Common Bottlenose Dolphin followed the ship out of the harbor in San Diego, riding along on the wake produced by the ship.  On the way up the coast of California I saw a couple of Dall’s Porpoises (not in the dolphin family, but quite similar in appearance).  Then as we traveled south along Victoria Island there were a couple of Pacific White-Sided dolphins enjoying games along-side the ship. It is so exciting to see these animals out in their native habitat!

Every night before the ship drops the fishing net, a member of the science team is sent to the bridge to perform a 30-minute mammal watch.  The surrounding waters are observed closely for any signs of these and other larger species.  The investigators do their best to ensure that only the small fish species intended for capture are what enters the net.  Should there be a sighting, the ship moves on another 5 miles in an effort to avoid any accidental captures.  The scientists and crew work very hard to minimize the impact of their studies on the surrounding ecosystems.

David Amidon: The Night Shift, June 4, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Amidon

Aboard NOAA Ship Reuben Lasker

June 2 – 13, 2017

Mission: Pelagic Juvenile Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean off the California Coast

Date: June 4, 2017


Science and Technology Log

All of the work for the Juvenile Rockfish Survey is completed at night – we probably will not even get going  most nights until after 9 PM. Wonder why so late? Any guesses?

This is a night time operation because we are focused on collecting prey species – we are not catching full grown rockfish, only juveniles which are less than a years old (YOY = Young of the Year). As Keith Sakuma, the Chief Scientist for the Reuben Lasker, explained – this survey gathers information about the juvenile rockfish so that NOAA can pass information onto the states in order to establish a sustainable fishery. This could lead to changes in fishing regulations based on the abundance of the juvenile stocks, which would be adults down the road. They trawl at night for two main reasons- during the day time, the rockfish would simply see the net and swim away. Also, many of the other creatures being catalogued are prey species that hide in the depths during the day to avoid predators, rising to the surface as the night moves on.

The night shift includes the science personnel and the crew of the boat. The boat crew not only operates the ship, but the fisherman also send out the trawl net and bring it back in. While the boat crew rotates on a specified schedule, the night-time science group keeps going until the work is done. However, these two groups are very much in sync and really work well together.  This blog entry will be my introduction into the procedures and initial results of our work from the first couple nights. I will provide much more detail in later posts.

The science personnel for this leg of the voyage includes myself and Chief Scientist Sakuma as well as Cherisa and Ryan, who are members of the NOAA Corps; Thomas, an undergrad student from Humboldt State; Rachel, a PhD student at UC-Santa Cruz; and Maya, a Hollings undergraduate scholar from UNC-Wilmington.

Pink shrimp 7
The Night Crew at work separating species during the shrimp haul. Photo by Keith Sakuma.

The Juvenile Rockfish Survey, boiled to its simplest terms, consists of a midwater trawling net behind the ship, meaning it does not float and it never touches the bottom. Anything caught will be sorted and analyzed by the science crew. In reality, it is a bit more complicated.

First of all, net operations take place at specified stations that the ship revisits periodically and have been used for some time. The stations for a night run on the same latitude line, running west away from the coast.

Before sending the net out, we need to run a Marine Mammal Watch from the bridge for 30 minutes. If a marine mammal, such as a sea lion, dolphin or whale, is spotted, then they make efforts to avoid getting them tangled in their nets, or alter their behavior in any way. Sometimes the trawl for that station has to be abandoned due to wildlife activity, although we have not seen any marine mammals during our investigation so far.

Getting ready for my shift on the Marine Mammal Watch

Once the ship arrives at a station, the boat crew sends out the net. After it reaches the depth of 30m, they trawl for a 15 minute interval. A science crew member is also sent outside on deck to continue the marine mammal watch for the duration of the trawl. Finally, after the time is up, they bring in the net and empty its contents into buckets, which are then transferred to the science crew.

This is when our work began. While we are on the lookout for rockfish, we actually found very few of these. A majority of our catch consisted of pyrosomes and krill. The science crew employed a number of measures to estimate the numbers of these creatures, as counting them one-by-one would have taken a long, long time to do. We did volume approximations and analysis of representative samples for these creatures. When we found fish or other species of note, we would pull the individuals out, classify them and record their lengths. Samples were frozen for use by researchers working at other locations on the West Coast.

Measuring the mantle of a Market Squid. Photo by Rachel Zuercher.

Some examples of the species we collected:

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Juvenile Rockfish collected off the “Lost Coast”

Sample of other species collected and catalogued, including: Medusa Fish, Gonatus Squid, Thetys and California Headlight Fish

We worked solid through four stations on the first night, wrapping up just before 6 AM. We will be at it again, if weather permits, every night of the voyage.

Personal Log

Thursday, June 1st

This was a very long day. I left my house in Syracuse, NY at 6 AM, flying out of the airport around 8 AM. After a quick transfer in Chicago, I flew in a Boeing 737 all the way to San Francisco. I then made it to Eureka, California around 4 PM (West Coast time) for an overnight stay. Fortunately, I met up a few of the science personnel for dinner who were also headed to the Reuben Lasker in the morning. Eureka was beautiful, surrounded by oceans and redwoods.

Sunset in Eureka, CA

Friday, June 2nd

In the morning, we caught a transfer boat at the public marina out to the Reuben Lasker, anchored a few miles away off the coast. Once the passage was done, we settled in and met some of the crew. I even shared a coffee with the CO- or Commanding Officer. Everyone onboard has been so open and welcoming – you can tell they enjoy their work.

Transfer boat that to us to the Reuben Lasker

After dinner, we finally got down to sciencing. (That’s my word – I’m sticking to it.) I was impressed by how different the catch was from each station, even though they are only a few miles apart. You can try to start telling a story right there. That’s kind of the point to this whole survey. To try to tell a story about the overall health of the pelagic ecosystem based on representative samples. Piece by piece, year by year, data points can turn into meaning when connections are made. I think it is science in the purest form -gathering data for the sake of having information. By having a long-term data base of information about all of the other creatures collected, not just the rockfish, we can decipher meaning by analyzing population trends and collating them with other phenomena, such as weather, fishing or pollution. 

Saturday, June 3rd

I am getting adjusted to the day/night pattern of the Night Shift. I got to sleep around 6:30 AM and woke up close to 2 PM. I was able to grab a quick cereal from the Galley and then started in on some work. Dinner was served at 5 PM – filet mignon with crab legs? The cooks, or stewards, Kathy & Patrick do an amazing job. They also save meals for people running the late schedule. For the next week and change, lunch is served around midnight and breakfast will be close to 6 AM, before we head to sleep.

Today, the wind picked up and the waves kicked up with it. We cruised around the “Lost Coast” and ran two stations at night. We were scheduled for more, but the waves got larger the further the ship is off the coast. Today’s word is shrimp – we hauled in more shrimp than you could count. We also found a number of rockfish in one of the stations, although there were very few found in our second trawl.

Did You Know?

… that there are over 85 species of krill?

Nichia Huxtable: These ARE the Fish You’re Looking For, May 4, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Nichia Huxtable

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

April 28 – May 9, 2016

Mission: Mapping CINMS

Geographical area of cruise: Channel Islands, California

Date: May 4, 2016

Weather Data form the Bridge: 0-2ft swells, partly cloudy, slightly hazy

Science and Technology Log:

We’ve been waiting for you, rockfish. We meet again, at last. You might wonder why scientists need to know the location and population densities of rockfish in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Well, rockfish are tasty and commercially important, plus they are an important component of healthy marine ecosystems.  To estimate how many there are and where they’re at, you’ll need lots of equipment and fisheries biologist, Fabio Campanella.

Fabio Campanella and Julia Gorton getting some fresh air. Breaks are important to help them stay on target.

Monitor showing the EK60 in action. Your eyes can deceive you…watch out for the acoustic dead zone!
First, let’s start with the equipment. Shimada has an EK60, which is essentially a fish finder: the computer’s transducer sends out sonic “pings” that become a single acoustic “beam” in the water. It covers about 7° at one time, so think of it as taking a cross section of the water column. The beam bounces off any solid object in the water and returns to the transducer. The size and composition of the object it hits will affect the quality of the returning pings, which allows Fabio to discern between seafloor, small plankton, and larger fish, as well as their location in the water column. One drawback of this system is the existence of an acoustic dead zone, which is an area extending above the seafloor where fish cannot be detected (think of them as sonar blind spots).


Do. Or do not. There is no try. Fabio Campanella hard at work in Shimada‘s Acoustic Lab.


Starry rockfish (Sebastes constellatus)
It’s a trap! Nope, it’s a starry rockfish (Sebastes constellatus) found in the CINMS.

Ideally, acoustic data collection is done simultaneously with ground truthing data. Ground truthing is a way to verify what you’re seeing. If you think the EK60 is showing you a school of herring, you can run nets or trawls to verify. If it’s in an area that is untrawlable, you can use ROVs or stationary cameras to identify fish species and habitat type. Species distribution maps are also useful to have when determining possible fish species.


EK60 data shown on the bottom; ME70 data on top right; 3-D visualization of the school on the top left.
EK60 data shown on the bottom; ME70 data on top right; 3-D visualization of the school on the top left. Witness the power of this fully operational Echoview software.

If Fabio finds something especially interesting on the EK60, such as a large school of fish, he can refer to the data simultaneously collected by the ME70 multibeam sonar to get a more detailed 3-D image. Since the ME70 uses multiple beams and collects 60 degrees of data, he can use it to (usually) get a clear picture of the size and shape of the school, helping him identify fish species and density. So why does he use the EK60 first if there is so much more data provided by the multibeam? Well, the amount of data provided by the ME70 is incredibly overwhelming; it would take weeks of data analysis to cover just a tiny section of the marine sanctuary. By using the EK60 to cover large areas and the ME70 to review small areas of specific interest, he is able to create fish distribution and density maps for the largest areas possible.

After collecting data from the two sonars, it needs to be processed. The method you use to process the data depends on your goal: biomass, population densities, and fish locations are all processed differently. Since rockfish are found close to hard, rocky seafloor, data analysis becomes quite complicated, as it becomes difficult to discriminate the fish from the seafloor. Hard bottoms also introduce a lot of bias to the data; for these, and other, reasons there are very few hard bottom studies for Fabio to refer to.

Cleaned data. I’ve got a good feeling about this.
But back to the data analysis. Once data is collected, it is loaded into Echoview software. Fabio then removes the background noise coming from other equipment, averages the data to reduce variability, and manually modifies the seafloor line (rocky bottoms with lots of pinnacles give incorrect bottom data). This last step is crucial in this mission because the focus is on rockfish who live close to the bottom.



School of fish shown on the right of the screen and the frequency response shown on the left. Fish are not lost today. They are found.
The clean echogram is then filtered for frequencies falling in the suitable range for fish with swimbladders (a gas-filled organ used to control their buoyancy). Object with a flat response at all frequencies (or slightly higher at low frequencies) will most likely be fish with swimbladders, whereas a high response to high frequencies will most likely not be fish (but it could be krill, for example). Once Fabio has made the final fish-only echogram, he exports the backscatter and uses it to create biomass or density estimates. All of these steps are necessary to complete the final product: a map showing where rockfish fish are in relation to the habitat.

Krill shown on the right and frequency response shown on the left. Judge them by their size, we do.








The final product. When making accurate maps of rockfish, there is no such thing as luck.
Personal Log:

It seems I overpacked sunscreen…12 hours of my day are spent in the acoustics lab staring at monitors, with brief breaks every so often to look for whales and other wildlife. This mission is so technical. I am grateful for the hours spent asking the scientists questions and having them explain the details of their work. Lately, the big screen TV in the lab has been turned on with some great movies playing. So far we’ve watched, Zootopia, Deadpool, LoTR, and, of course, The Force Awakens. May the 4th be with you…always.

Word of the Day: Holiday.

A holiday is an area in your bathymetry map that does not include any data (think of it as “holes in your data”). It’s like you’ve painted a picture, but left a blank splotch on your canvas.


Andrea Schmuttermair, Bottom’s Up!, July 15, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Andrea Schmuttermair
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 6 – 25, 2015

Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Alaska
Date: July 15, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Latitude: 56 42.2N
Longitude: 153 46.5W

Sky:  Overcast; foggy

Visibility: 6nm
Wind Direction: 173 degrees

Wind Speed: 14 knots
Sea wave height: 2ft

Swell wave: 4-5ft

Sea water temp: 12.3C
Dry temperature: 11.5C


Science and Technology Log

In my last post we talked about the Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT), the mid-water trawling net we use to take samples of pollock. There are two other types of nets we may use during our cruise, although not as frequently as the AWT.  Sometimes the echogram shows a large concentration of fish closer to the ocean floor. In this instance, we might use a bottom trawl net, known as the Poly Nor’easter (PNE), to “go fishing”. The process for putting out the net is similar to putting out the AWT, except that it is extended to just above the ocean floor in order to catch fish that are congregated towards the bottom. In our recent bottom trawl, we caught a lot of Pacific Ocean perch, or rockfish, and very few pollock.

It has been fascinating to see how scientists “do science” out here. Patterns and observations are important skills for scientists, and analyzing patterns and behaviors of fish help scientists to make informed decisions about whether they are seeing pollock, krill, rockfish, or something else entirely on the echogram. For example, acoustically, pollock and rockfish have the same reflectivity (and therefore are difficult to differentiate based solely on acoustics), but their behaviors are different. When we recently put out a bottom trawl net, we anticipated catching mostly rockfish because of the location we were at, and their schooling behavior close to the ocean floor. Rockfish are also usually found lower in the water column than pollock. Our first bottom trawl yielded quite a few rockfish, some jellies, several flatfish, and a few other types of fish. Just as we did with the pollock, we weighed, sexed and measured a sample of rockfish. These fish were a little more difficult to handle as they have sharp spines in several places.

There is a third type of net we deploy on this survey is called a Methot net. It’s named after Dr. Rick Methot, a famous fisheries modeler. This net has an opening of 5 square meters, and has a finer mesh than the AWT or the PNE at 2x3mm. At the end of the net is a small codend where the sample is taken from. This net is typically used to catch krill and macrozooplankton that would normally escape the larger nets. From the acoustic display, we would anticipate about 100-200 times more than what is actually caught in the net. Back scatter could be one reason for this. Scientists have worked to try and decrease this discrepancy by using strobe lights mounted on the net. The abundance tends to agree better with strobes on the net, with the hypothesis being that the organisms are blinded and don’t realize they’re going into the net.

Meet the Scientists

Kresimir smelling a capelin (smelt)- they smell like cucumbers!
Kresimir smelling a capelin (smelt)- they smell like cucumbers!

Chris, one of the scientists on board
Chris, one of the scientists on board

During one of our shifts, I had the opportunity to interview 2 of the scientists on our night watch team, Kresimir Williams and Chris Bassett. Their enthusiasm and passion for their work is evident in the discussions we have had and the work they are doing. It is great to work with scientists who are so knowledgeable and also patient enough to explain what we are doing here. Let’s meet them!

What is your educational background?

Kresimir:  I received my undergraduate degree in marine science from Samford in Birmingham, Alabama. During this time, I spent summers at Dauphin Island. I received my Master’s Degree in fisheries and aquaculture from Auburn (also in Alabama), and finally received my PhD in fisheries from the University of Washington.

Chris: I went to the University of Minnesota for my undergraduate degrees in mechanical engineering and Spanish. I then went on to receive both my Master’s & PhD in mechanical engineering at the University of Washington.

How long have you been working at the AFSC lab in Seattle?

Kresimir:  I have been working at the lab for 13 years as a research fisheries biologist.

Chris: I am currently working with both AFSC and the Applied Physics Lab at the University of Washington as a post-doctoral research associate.

What do you most enjoy about your work as a scientist?

Kresimir: I enjoy doing the research, discovering new things, and conducting field experiments.

Chris: The work that I do allows me to learn by playing with big kid toys in beautiful places; for example, the EK80, one of the broadband acoustic scattering systems brought on this ship

What has been a career highlight for you?

Kresimir:  The development of the CamTrawl (what we are currently using on our nets here on the Dyson). I have seen this project from development to operationalization.

Chris: Using broadband acoustics systems in a 4 month long lab experiment to detect crude oil spills under sea ice.

What does it mean to you to “do science”?

Kresimir: It means following a set of rules, and discovering things that can be repeated by other people. Remembering that data leads you to the answers rather than using it for something you want to prove.  Research generally generates more questions.  Finally, it means learning how the little piece of the world you are interested in works.

Chris: It means looking around and seeing what knowledge exists and where we can advance knowledge in that field and how we can do so. It’s understanding that often identifies more new questions than it answers.

What message would you give students who want to pursue a career in (marine) science?

Kresimir: Do your math homework! There are very few biologists out there discovering new things, so you need to bring something else to the table such as coding or geosciences. There is a lot of quantitative modeling and interplay between other sciences such as physics and chemistry.

Chris: Do your math homework! Having skills in a little bit of everything – all of the sciences come into play. You also need good writing skills.

What is your favorite ocean creature?

Kresimir:  I love all kinds of fish because I can find something unique about each one of them.

Chris: Bluefin tuna

Thanks for the interview gentlemen!

Personal Log

The Oscar Dyson runs for 10 months out of the year, more than most of the other ships in the NOAA fleet. Many of the people on this ship are here almost year-round, and call the Dyson their home. Having places where they can relax and feel at home is important. Besides up on the bridge or out on the deck, another place to spend some free time is in the lounge. Equipped with beanbag chairs, a large couch, and some comfy chairs, the lounge encourages people to hang out, watch a movie, play video games, or just relax after their shift.  We have a large selection of movies, and have access to some of the most recent movies as well. We recently watched Mockingjay, the third movie in the Hunger Games series. It was a good movie, but not as good as the book.

I am really enjoying my time so far on the Oscar Dyson, mostly because I am being challenged to learn new things. We’ve had a bit of downtime the last couple nights, and it has been a good opportunity for me to learn the game of the ship, cribbage. This is a popular game amongst the scientists, and you can typically find some of them playing a quick round in between shifts or as a break from work. I’m by no means great at it yet, but I expect by the end of this trip I’ll be a lot better.

Filleting some rockfish
Filleting some rockfish

Fileting Rockfish
Fileting Rockfish

When I first got on board the Dyson, I remember talking to one of the scientists about filleting fish. I’m not too sure how we got on that subject, but it occurred to me that I had never actually filleted a fish myself. I used to fish as a kid, but we left the cleaning and filleting to my dad (thanks, dad). What could be a better time to learn this skill than on a boat full of experienced fishermen? We ate a rockfish ceviche that Robert, one of the scientists, had made the first night I was on the ship, and it was delicious. When we pulled in our bottom trawl of rockfish, it was the perfect time to learn how to fillet a fish. Rockfish are a bit tricky, as they have several sharp spines covering them. We had to be careful so as not to get stabbed by one of them- it wouldn’t feel very good! I had a busy evening helping to fillet about 14lbs of rockfish. I was by no means quick (our lead fisherman filleted 3 rockfish to my 1), but I had lots of time to practice.

Did you know? Pacific Ocean Perch (POP), or rockfish, were overfished in the 1970’s. Today, Pacific Ocean perch have recovered to the extent that they support a sustainable fishery in Alaska. Read more about the POP.

This POP bears a striking resemblance to the scorpionfish, one of the species we brought up in the SEAMAP Summer Groundfish Survey in the Gulf of Mexico in my TAS trip in 2012. Guess what? These two fish, while living thousands of miles apart, are actually related! They both belong to the family Scorpaenidae.

Pacific Ocean Perch (rockfish)
Pacific Ocean Perch (rockfish)

Scorpionfish we pulled up in a bottom trawl from the Gulf of Mexico (TAS2012)
Scorpionfish we pulled up in a bottom trawl from the Gulf of Mexico (TAS2012)

Kainoa Higgins: Preparing to Set Sail! June 15, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kainoa Higgins

(Almost) Aboard the R/V Ocean Starr

June 18 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey

Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Coast

Date: June 15, 2014

Personal Log

Aloha from the great Pacific Northwest!  My name is Kainoa Higgins and although I was born and raised on the island of O’ahu, Hawai’i, I have spent the last 10 years calling Tacoma, Washington home.  I am incredibly excited to have been selected as a 2014 NOAA Teacher at Sea and can’t wait to climb aboard the R/V Ocean Starr in a matter of hours!  I will be participating in two legs of research during my two and half weeks on ship.

During the first leg, I will be assisting scientists with conducting a Juvenile Rockfish Survey as they examine groundfish populations off the coast of the Western Seaboard of the North America.  Though I have been attempting to get caught up to speed, I currently only understand the program at a general level.  There are many species of rockfish, all of which are commercially valuable, and keeping track of their populations and distributions is essential for conscious management.  Having spoken with my Chief Scientist for this leg, Ric Brodeur, on several occasions leading up to my departure, I understand that my job will entail any, some or all of the following: mammal/bird observational surveys and plankton analysis by day followed by sorting of trawled collections analysis of the catch in the wet lab by night.  I’ll be able to share more as the adventure unfolds.

In the second leg, I will connect with Laurie Weitkamp who will take over as chief scientist with a fresh research team and research focus.  In a recent e-mail Laurie explained that this leg will be “experimental”.  In short, we will be trying a variety of modifications to a marine mammal excluder device to see how it fishes and influences the catch.  I’m not sure, exactly, how the MMED is used, but I would be willing to take a guess at it’s purpose.  I imagine it has something to do with an attempt to maintain commercial fishing operations without the interruption of marine mammals (dolphins, porpoises, seals, whales, etc.) in close proximity.  Through some sort of “deflection”, its goal would also be reduce unintentional by-catch.  Once again, I’ll know more concretely a bit further down the road.  According to Laurie, in addition to help work up the catch, I will be helping with “marine mammal watch” before and during fishing.  Since we will use a surface trawl during the day, it is possible that we could catch a marine mammal (e.g., seals and dolphins). To minimize this risk, I will help serve as a lookout  before we set and when the trawl is out, and are required to immediately stop fishing if any are spotted nearby.  I look forward to spending some time on the bow scanning the horizon for marine mammals.

One of my favorite pics of marine diatoms (phytoplankton) from the Puget Sound. Taken with iphone camera though microscope eyepiece.

A bit more about myself and the school I represent.  I grew up loving the ocean.  Much of my life as a child was spend in or around it.  Whether snorkeling, surfing or fishing my brother and I were raised to respect and appreciate all that the ocean had to offer.  After all, my name, Kainoa, means “free as the sea”.  There is a saying in the islands, Malama ‘aina, Malama i ke kai, meaning ‘to care for the land and care for the ocean’.  After graduating from Punahou School  in Honolulu, Hawaii I headed for the great Northwest to attend the University of Puget Sound.  I participated in Athletics, Lu’au, Senior Theatre Festival and even Greek Life.  I studied Biology and spent a semester abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Even though I took Marine Biology in one of the most amazing diverse systems in the world, my favorite class had to be “The Diversity of Algae”.  It opened my eyes up to the beauty and importance of micro life for the first time.  This led to my passion for – and borderline obsession with – plankton.

After earning a Master’s in the Arts of Teaching from UPS, I began my career at the Tacoma School of the Arts teaching entry level biology.  After my second year, I was asked to join our recently founded sister school, the Tacoma Science and Math Institute (SAMI) located in Point Defiance Park on the North Tacoma peninsula.  SAMI  is built around a particular vision: we believe that students make the most of their learning when they take ownership of their education—when students intentionally choose to take on the challenge real learning entails. We further believe that this ownership most naturally develops within a learning community, encouraged by others who share that commitment.  We theme our curriculum around the math and science and emphasis the integration of disciplines and staff collaboration all the while perpetuating the pillars on which the schools were founded: community, empathy, thinking and balance.  SAMI has allowed me to pursue my passion for marine science.  We are a two minute walk to the waterfront which makes the learning opportunities for myself as students invaluable.  Between this field resource and collaborations with the University of Washington in the High School program and the University’s School of Oceanography I am in a position to offer my students a world-class learning experience.

I think it is important that teachers are always looking for opportunities to improve their practice and better educate themselves in ways that will better prepare their students for the world ahead of them.  The Teacher at Sea opportunity is an incredible way to engage myself as a life-long learner and will help me to better engage and inspire my students.  I look forward to designing and offering lessons derived from real-time science and experiences.  I am very grateful for this opportunity and can’t wait to share it with you.

See you soon,



SAMI Students
SAMI Students reflecting on a trip to Dungeness Spit, WA.

The men of the house in my absence

A relationship founded on respect


Patty McGinnis: Anchovies, Shrimp, and Krill, May 28, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pescadero, California
Date: Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 37 16.941 ° N
Longitude: 123 07.440° W
Air Temperature: 14 Celsius
Wind Speed: 25 knots
Wind Direction: NE
Surface Water Temperature: 12.8 Celsius
Weather conditions: foggy

Science and Technology Log

I’ve come to realize that each trawl is a whole new adventure; although Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma has the historical data to predict what might be found at each station, he is occasionally surprised at the treasures that are yielded by the ocean’s pelagic zone. The majority of our trawls are conducted at 30 meters below the surface. The area that falls between the surface and 200 meters below the surface is known as the epipelagic zone. The next zone, the mesopelagic, is the area that lies 200 meters to 1,000 meters below the surface. Last night our first trawl of the night was a deep water trawl. Although described in the Project Instructions, this was our first opportunity to conduct a deep water trawl. Keith was taking advantage of the fact that the captain wanted to unwind one of the trawl winch cables so that it could be carefully rewound onto the spool.

putting out the net
The crew of the Ocean Starr cheerfully assisted with the trawls each night

During the deep water trawl, the net was dragged for 15 minutes at a depth of 300 meters, rather than the traditional 15 minutes at 30 meters. In addition to a large number of adult hake, we pulled up a long-finned dragonfish. Like many fish that live in the deep ocean, the dragonfish has an organ on its head that produces a bioluminescent light. This light is used by some species to attract prey and can also serve to help the fish see its surroundings. Tonight we found another type of deep dwelling fish; the stoplight loosejaw fish, so named for its large jaw. Its red spot is capable of producing red light to help it navigate. We also pulled in several King of the salmon specimens. The King of the salmon is not a real salmon, but is a type of ribbon fish. It has a very flat, ribbon-shaped body and a long dorsal fin that runs down the entire body. Deep water fish like the stoplight loosejaw and King of the salmon tend to get pretty banged up in the trawl.

deep water trawl haul
I stand next to the results of our deep water trawl haul

stoplight loosejaw
This stoplight loosejaw is a type of dragonfish that lives in deep ocean waters

king of the salmon
King of the salmon fish

Lindsey good-naturedly dissected out a handful of otoliths (ear bones) from the adult hakes so that I could have a memento of my NOAA Teacher at Sea voyage. I anticipate using the otoliths to create a lab activity for the middle school science classroom. The hake lengths were then measured on a special board and a small piece of tissue was cut from five of them to be frozen and analyzed later.

adult hake
Adult hake

These otoliths, or ear bones, came from adult hakes
These otoliths, or ear bones, came from adult hakes

We conducted five additional trawls at 30 meters. Prior to and during each haul one of us does a mammal watch. This consists of listening and watching for mammals that may appear alongside the ship during the trawl. Should we encounter any marine mammals, the protocol is to stop the trawl immediately to avoid injuring any mammals. As of today, we have yet to be accompanied by any marine mammals during our trawls.

One of the surprises of the night was a catch of northern anchovies. I was surprised at their size; rather than the small fish I had envisioned, these fish were solid, robust, and at least 6 inches in length. Keith was pleased with the number of anchovies we hauled in given that very few or none were obtained the last two years. As he explained, the anchovy population tends to go through boom and bust cycles and have been down for the last several years. We also pulled up a North Pacific spiny dogfish, a shark named for its sharp dorsal spines.

Watch out for the dorsal spines on the North Pacific spiny dogfish

Other hauls yielded large amounts of juvenile rockfish and market squid. I have a great fondness for the squid, which I dissect annually with my students each spring. The small market squid we pull up, some barely an inch in length, pale in comparison to the adult squid which I use in my classroom. There is, however, no mistaking the miniature squid for anything else, so strong is their resemblance to their full-grown relatives that make their way from California’s pelagic waters to my classroom in Eagleville, Pennsylvania.

We pulled up this beautiful squid in one of our trawls

Measuring Squid
I measure market squid as part of my work on the Ocean Starr

juvenile rockfish
juvenile rockfish

Krill, of course, are well-represented in the hauls as well. The abundance of the tiny crustacean makes it easy to envision the humpback whale straining out mouthfuls of krill as they make their annual trek to Alaska each spring.



Since identifying and counting the majority of all the organisms for each trawl would be too labor intensive, we concentrate on a subsample. Keith then extrapolates the data from the subsample to obtain an estimation of what the total haul contained. Depending on what is present in the haul, we generally identify a subsample of 1,000 or 5,000 millilitres. Difficult sorts such as one that consists primarily of krill and small shrimp, may be restricted to 1,000 millilitres, whereas easier sorts may be up to 5,000 millimeters. Regardless, the total volume of the trawl is always recorded, as is the total volume of krill. Keith bags some of the catch for later use, carefully labeling each bag with the haul number, cruise number, and species identification code. Up to 30 specimens of each important species are also measured and recorded. In the morning, it will fall to Don Pearson to transfer the data from the data sheets to the computer. These numbers are then cross-checked the following evening to ensure that the data is accurate. The result: the groundfish stock assessments NOAA produces are as accurate as possible, an important factor for fisheries management.

Chief Scientist Keith Sakuma obtains a subsample

samples in bags
Samples are carefully labeled and stored for later analysis

catch data sheet
The haul from all trawls are recorded on data sheets

As busy as the night shift is, the day shift keeps busy with important work, too. Don conducts CTDs throughout the day, while Jamie filters phytoplankton from water samples that the CTD captures.

ame filters phytoplankton
Graduate student Jamie Lee filters phytoplankton obtained from CTD sampling

Doug watches the computer as part of conducting a CTD
Fisheries biologist Don Pearson watches the computer as part of conducting a CTD

deploying CTD
Deploying the CTD

As I am sleeping the ship periodically conducts transects over the ocean floor. These transects are conducted in areas where upwelling tends to occur. Upwelling is caused when a predominantly northwest wind pushes water offshore. Water rises up from below the surface to replace the water that was pushed away. In doing so, nutrients from the ocean bottom are transported from the sea floor to the water column. These nutrients serve to promote the growth and reproduction of phytoplankton, which is the basis of all ocean food chains. Upwelling areas therefore attract fish, birds, and marine mammals. While the ship is running transects, a computer in the lab is continually monitoring evidence of sea life at different frequencies. The picture below shows four graphs that monitor for krill, invertebrates, and fish. Fisheries biologist Don Pearson explained that it takes a practiced eye to spot patterns in the data. These patterns should correspond with the birds and mammals that Sophie spots on deck as seeing lots of organisms on the computer means lots of food for the birds and mammals. As much as I’ve enjoyed the night shift, part of me wishes that I had been able to have spent more time on the lookout deck with Sophie.

These graphs indicate the presence of marine organisms

transects on computer
The computer tracks the transects conducted by the Ocean Starr by day

All of this takes an enormous amount of preparation. Keith, Don, Amber, and oceanographer Ken Baltz spent the better part of a day setting up the equipment which will be used over a six-week span. This includes the trawling net which has been built to a specific length, opening and mesh size. The use of a standardized net is important because it enables the scientists to compare catches throughout the years. Other equipment includes an array of computers, the CTD, and miscellaneous equipment needed to sort through catches.

trawl net
Trawl net Photo credit: Kaia

Personal Log

It is interesting getting used to life on ship; this small community consists of 17 crew and 8 scientists (including myself). This vessel, in addition to being equipped with the necessary science equipment, houses its inhabitants in “staterooms.” I have been partnered with Kaia, a reflective wildlife biologist whose company I thoroughly enjoy.

This is where I slept while on the Ocean Starr

Kaia was a wonderful roommate!

I have taken note that you can set your clock by the four meals served each day. Our ship’s steward, Crystal, and her assistant Liz, never fail to amaze me with the diverse menus that they faithfully create for us each day. The mess, or the room where we eat, has snacks and sodas available at all times of the day and night. Crystal also keeps a refrigerator stocked with leftovers that are available for anyone to access at any time. If that wasn’t enough, there is an entire freezer which houses nothing but a variety of ice cream bars (which the night shift enjoys on a regular basis). The mess is a popular place to hang out between meals. Two large televisions are constantly on; I’ve noticed that sci-fi movies (especially B-rated ones) and old war movies seem to be the favored among the crew.

Monday dinner
The ship steward consistently prepares wholesome and delicious meals

What’s for dinner?

ice cream
Ice cream was a favorite treat for the night shift

Yesterday I had an opportunity to do my laundry using one of the ship’s two washing machines. When I first came on board I asked Keith about fresh water on the ship. He explained to me that as long as the ship is moving that it is able to make fresh water through a desalination process. Since the Ocean Starr is in constant movement other than when the CTD is being employed, having fresh water has not been an issue. Regardless, taking the type of long showers favored by many of my students is something I did not indulge in.

The Ocean Starr has all the comforts of home

As I write this the ship rocks gently from side to side. I think of how quickly I have adapted to my new surroundings and to the companionship of my new friends. As Keith had promised, after three days of working the night shift my body has adjusted and has acclimated to the routine. My time here is drawing short, however…three days from now I’ll be back in my classroom sharing stories and photos with my students.

Did You Know?

Commercial fisherman use a big spotlight to attract market squid?

Here is a list of some of the fish I have seen this week:  barracudina, northern lampfish, blue lanternfish, Pacific hake, pallid eelpout, yellowtail rockfish, shortbelly rockfish, cowcod, blue rockfish, boccacio, lingcod, cabezon, Irish lord, wolf-eel, medusafish, Pacific sanddab, speckled sanddab, rex sole, Dover sole, and many more


Patty McGinnis: Fishing for Science, May 16, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patty McGinnis
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
May 20 – 29, 2013

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: May 9, 2013

Personal Log

Hi everyone! I’m thrilled to have been selected for this opportunity of a lifetime! As a NOAA Teacher at Sea, I’m looking forward to learning about the oceans and to sharing that knowledge with you. I’ll be aboard R/V Ocean Star assisting scientists with their work in conducting a Juvenile Rockfish Survey. You can learn more about this important scientific work by clicking here. In my reading, I have found out that there are many species of rockfish, all of which are a commercially valuable groundfish. Since fisheries are a renewable resource, keeping track of the rockfish population is important for managing it wisely. This will involve trawling at night and then analyzing the catch–as my adventure unfolds I will be able to provide you with more details.

I currently work as a gifted support specialist at Arcola Intermediate School in Eagleville, Pennsylvania. I have also taught science (mostly biology) for over 20 years. My favorite part of teaching is watching a student’s face light up with excitement over a new idea. I’m passionate about my work–especially when it involves educating students about ecology and the role man plays in protecting natural resources. I also enjoy traveling and learning about how local people utilize the land–last summer I had an opportunity to go to Kenya. In the picture I am listening to a transmitter that is picking up signals from a radio-collared lion.

I know my experience as a Teacher at Sea will help me to better understand the type of work that a fishery biologist conducts and that I’ll also gain insight into the various careers that are necessary for supporting this research. I’ll be posting to this blog as often as I can–I hope you follow along!

Here I am listening for lions
Here I am listening for lions

Caitlin Thompson: Bottom Trawl, August 11, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Thompson
Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
August 1 — 14, 2011

Mission: Pacific Hake Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean off the Oregon and Washington Coasts
Date: August 12, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge

Lat. 48 degrees 07.0 N
Long. 125 degrees 13.7 W
Present weather: partly cloudy 6/8
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind direction: 335
Speed 10 kts
Sea wave height: 2-3 feet
Swell waves – direction: —
Swell waves – height: —
Sea water temperature: 15.0 degrees C
Sea level pressure: 1017.3 mb
Temperature – dry bulb: 15.8 degrees C
Temperature – wet bulb: 13.2 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

Third Wire FS70
The Third Wire FS70 provides an image of the net, shown as half circle, and the fish around it.

The big news is that we’re headed to port a day early. There was a electrical component failure in the engine system that converts the diesel power to electricity which powers the electrical motors that turn the propeller shaft. This reduced the Shimada to running on about half power. I can’t believe the cruise is ending!

Yesterday we did a bottom trawl, the first bottom trawl ever conducted on the Shimada. Using the sonars, the scientists on the sonar team saw an interesting aggregation of fish. They couldn’t use the usual mid-water net, which is relatively easy to damage, because the fish were very close to the bottom. Besides, the bottom appeared hard and rocky. I was excited when they decided to test the new net. Unlike the mid-water trawls, which usually bring up a mostly “clean” haul of hake, a bottom trawl tends to bring up a wide array of species. I wanted to learn some new names.

The ITI shows the distance of the bottom of the ocean from the net. Where the pink lines are highest, the net is lowest.

Deploying the bottom net proved educational. The mid-water net is sent down with the FS70 attached, which provides an image of the objects near and in the net. On the screen shot of the FS70 above and to the right, look for the half-circle, which shows the open net, the silver blue line under the net, which is the bottom of the ocean, and some dots inside the net that are most likely fish already caught in the net. The images are sent through a wire. It would be too easy to damage the wire in a bottom trawl, so the scientists use the ITI instead.

Larry was in charge of fishing today and was disatisfied with the image the ITI System produced of the bottom trawl. The ITI does not produce as good an image of the bottom trawl as the FS 70 did on the midwater trawl. This made it more difficult to decide how much was being caught and how long to fish. The scientists began planning how to get a better system for the ship.

The bottom trawl disappointed the scientists because it brought up fewer hake than they had hoped, but I was happy to see so many new kinds of fish, and to learn to identify many so that I could help sort. This is the list of everything we pulled up:

This spotted ratfish has a venomous spine on its dorsel fin!

Aspot prawn, full of eggs
A spot prawn, full of eggs

Larry, Alicia and I sort rockfish. Initially, the fish on the table looked the same to me, but I soon learned to identify ...

Rex sole
Rex sole

Arrowtooth flounder
Brown cat shark egg case
Cloud sponges
Darkblotched rockfish
Dover sole
Greenstriped rockfish
Hermit crab unident.
Lanternfish unident.
Long honred decorator crab
Longnose skate
Pacific hake
Pacific ocean perch
Pom pom anemonome
Redbanded rockfish
Rex sole
Rosethorn rockfish
Sea cucumber unident.
Sea urchins and sand dollars unident.
Sharpchin rockfish
Shortspine thornyhead
Skate egg case ulnident.
Slender sole
Snail unident.
Spot prawn
Spotted ratfish
Wattled eelpout

Personal Log

Last night, some of us went up to the fly bridge in hopes of seeing the Perseid Meteor Shower. The sky was miraculously clear but the nearly full moon and bright lights on the ship blocked out most of the stars. Still, we saw some truly magnificent shooting stars before the clouds rolled in. I had brought my sleeping bag for warmth and fell fast asleep to the soothing voices of my shipmates. When they woke me up, I dropped by the chemistry lab to see how the nighttime zooplankton sampling was going and discovered that a mallard had arrived on deck. Mallards are not sea birds and are not equipped to be so far out to sea, so we were highly surprised to see her some fifty nautical miles off land. We named her Myrtle. We gave Myrtle food and water and hoped she would stay with the ship until we were close to land, but after a long nap, she took off. I hope she makes it to land.

In cribbage news, I won the semi-finals but lost the championship game. I had such a great time playing.

Caitlin Thompson: Going Fishing! August 4, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Caitlin Thompson
Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
August 1 — 14, 2011

Mission: Pacific Hake Survey
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean off the Oregon and Washington Coasts
Date: August 4, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Lat. 46 degrees 22.4 N
Long. 124 degrees 41.1
Present weather: cloudy
Visibility: 10 n.m.
Wind direction: 330
Speed 11 kts
Sea wave height: 2-3 feet
Swell waves – direction: 310
Swell waves – height: 3-4 feet
Sea level pressure: 197.3 mb
Temperature – dry bulb: 17.0 degrees C
Temperature – wet bulb: 15.0 degrees C

Science and Technology Log

Me in front of the Shimada.

Yesterday, I saw, sexed, and measured my first hake. And my second hake, and hundredth hake, and two hundredth hake. Most of the time, the scientists on the acoustics team watch computer monitors that show acoustic data as colors to represent life under the ship. Twice today, however, they identified large populations of hake and decided to fish for them in order to get more accurate data.

Pressure Housing
The pressure housing, held together by electrical tape and sponges, holds the battery and data storage for the light, lasers, and camera attached to the net.

Both times, the ship went into immediate action. Upstairs in the bridge, or command room, the NOAA officers slowed and repositioned the ship. Two scientists watched for marine mammals. If mammals were too close, we would have to abort the operation entirely. On the fish deck, John Pohl, on the acoustics team, taught me to assemble the pressure housing and attach it to the net. Objects attached to the net include the video camera, which will film anything passing by the mouth of the net, a four-beam laser to judge the length of the images that are filmed, a light to illuminate the water, batteries for power, and another camera for storing the data. The crew began lowering the net.

Josh Gunter, survey technician, operates a hatch to let hake onto the flow cale, which will find the mass of the whole haul.

For me, the real excitement began once the fish began pouring onto a conveyor belt into the fish lab. First, we sorted the fish by species. In the first haul, the fish were mostly hake, as intended, but we also caught three yellow-tail rockfish and three eulachons, a type of smelt. In the second haul, there was largely yellow-tail rockfish and hake, with several Pacific Ocean perch and widow rockfish. The rockfish were difficult to sort: they have dangerous spines and fight hard. Alicia Billings, a fisheries biologist on the acoustics team, taught me how to pick them up with one hand over their eyes and the other firmly grasping their tails. Even so, we both had a few close calls. We threw most of the fish right back into the ocean but kept about three hundred hake to sex and scale. With another fifty hake, we put then stomachs in individual bags so that the lab on shore can determine what the hake were eating. We also stored the otolith, or ear bones, in order to determine the age of the hake. Just like the rings of a tree, otoliths show growth rings every year.

Fish Lab
In the wet lab, the acoustics team prepares for the next batch of hake. From left Alicia Billings, Steven de Blois, and Dr. Rebecca Thomas

Finally, we cleaned up and settled back in the acoustics lab to watch for the next batch of fish.

The monitors use echosounders, which are exactly how they sound: Signals (sound waves) are emitted from beneath the ship and echo back once they hit something. The computer records the distance of an object by how long it takes for the signal to return.  For example, suppose a fish were right at the surface. The signal would hit it and return in very little time.

The monitor shows the depth of the ocean floor, sea surface, and objects in between.

On the other hand, in deep water the signal would take much longer to hit the bottom of the ocean and return. See the thick red line on the graph to the left? That’s the ocean floor. Notice how it curves down on the right at the edge of the continental shelf. The flat line at the top of the graph is the surface of the ocean. The scattered dots in between are most likely fish. The scientists can guess the kind of fish and the number of fish by the pattern and color of dots. All the color below the ocean floor is meaningless noise. Look to the upper left-hand corner of the graph to find the frequency of the signal, measured in kilohertz (KHz). The lower frequencies (20 kHz and 38 kHz) tend to measure larger objects and to go deeper in the water. These frequencies are perfect for finding hake. The higher frequencies (120 kHz and 200 kHz) measure smaller objects. For example, shortly before we started the first haul, we saw a large number of plankton, which showed up bright blue on the 120 kHz and 200 kHz frequencies but barely showed at all on the lower frequencies.

You can follow the progress of the Shimada at shiptracker. We’re headed for Port Angeles on August 14, making East-West transects along the way.

Chief Scientist Larry Hufnagle in the acoustics room

Personal Log

I am so happy to be at sea. The journey was delayed an entire day because of a problem with a valve, and we finally set sail yesterday. The skies are blue and the ocean calm, and I am constantly learning new stuff. I’ve had to learn to lift my feet when stepping through a doorway (I forgot once and went sprawling!) and to memorize the complicated series of halls and ladders to get from the fly deck to the bridge to the mess room to my stateroom. I’ve had to memorize thirty-some names.  The scientists have been incredibly patient, explaining each part of their work while I take copious notes. Working in the fish lab is my favorite part so far. It’s fascinating and satisfying work.

I am impressed by the sense of camaraderie on this ship. The scientists on the acoustics team – also known as the hake people –  keep up a constant, teasing banter, which only turns serious when discussing science. With science, they all have a different opinions. Before fishing today, Chief Scientist Larry Hufnagle worried that there were too few fish shown on the monitor. He said, “I don’t even know how you would fish on this stuff.” Dr. Rebecca Thomas, a research fishery biologist on the acoustics team, seemed to think there were plenty of fish, but suggested leaving the net in for a longer amount of time for a larger sample. After much more discussion, the team decided on a strategy and put in the net. I’m impressed how often they disagree and how carefully they listen to one another’s ideas.

Jason Moeller: June 23-24, 2011

JUNE 11-JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Date: June 23-24, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 54.86 N
Longitude: -161.68 W
Wind: 12.1 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 8.5 degrees C
Air Temperature: 9.1 degrees C
Relative Humidity: 95%
Depth: 52.43 m

Personal Log

As I mentioned in the last post, everything here has settled into a routine from a personal standpoint, and on that end there is not much to write about. However, there were three things that broke up the monotony. First, as always, the scenery was beautiful.

Snow covered hills shield the cove from the winds. Look how smooth the ocean is!

The view off the back of the ship.

Second, I found out that even with all of the modern equipment on board, catching fish is still not guaranteed. We trawled three times last night on the 23rd and caught a total of 14 fish in all three trawls! Remember, a good sample size for one trawl is supposed to be 300 pollock, so this is the equivalent of fishing all day long and catching a minnow that just happened to swim into the fishing hook.

The first trawl caught absolutely nothing, as the fish dove underneath the net to escape the danger. The second trawl caught two pacific ocean perch and one pollock, and the third trawl caught eleven pollock. All in all, not the best fishing day.

The lone pollock from the second trawl.

Despite the poor fishing, we did bring up this neat little critter.

This is an isopod! These animals are very similar to the pillbugs (roly-polys) that we find in the US. Many marine isopods are parasites, and can be a danger to fish!

This is the bottom view of an isopod

The third thing to break up the monotony was the Aleutian Islands earthquake. On the evening of June 23rd, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake shook the Aleutian Islands. According to ABC news, the earthquake was centered about 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage. The quake spawned a brief tsunami warning that caused a large number of Dutch Harbor residents (Dutch Harbor is the home base of the show Deadliest Catch) to head for higher ground. We had been in the Aleutian Islands and Dutch Harbor area on our survey route, but had left two days before, so the Oscar Dysonwas completely unaffected by the earthquake.

Dutch Harbor residents seek higher ground after a tsunami warning was issued. AP photo by Jim Paulin.

Science and Technology Log

In order to obtain photos of all of this neat sealife, we first have to catch it! We catch fish by trawling for them. Some of you may not know exactly what I’m talking about, so let me explain. Trawling is a fishing method that pulls a long mesh net behind a boat in order to collect fish. Trawling is used to collect fish for both scientific purposes (like we’re doing) and also in commercial fishing operations. We have two types of fish trawls onboard the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson — a mid-water trawl net and a bottom trawl net. We’ve used both types throughout our cruise, so let me tell you a little about each.

The mid-water trawl net is just as it sounds — it collects fish from the middle of the water column — not those that live on the seafloor, not those that live at the surface. The technical name for the net we have is an Aleutian Wing Trawl (AWT) — it’s commonly used by the commercial fishing industry.

trawl net
Part of the mid-water trawl net as it's being deployed.

The end of the net where the fish first enter has very large mesh, which is used to corral the fish and push them towards the bag at the end. The mesh gets progressively smaller and smaller the further into it you go, and at the very end (where the collecting bag is), the mesh size is 0.5 inches. The end (where the bag is, or where the fish are actually collected) is called the codend.

One of the codends on the deck of the Oscar Dyson

This is the kind of net we use when we want to collect a pollock sample, because pollock are found in the water column, as opposed to right on the seafloor (in other words, pollock aren’t benthic animals). Our particular net is also modified a little from a “normal” AWT. Our trawl has three codends (collecting bags) on it, each of which can be opened and closed with a switch that is controlled onboard the ship. The mechanism that opens and closes each of the 3 codends is called the Multiple Opening and Closing Codend (MOCC) device. Using the MOCC gives us the ability to obtain 3 discrete samples of fish, which can then be processed in the fish lab.

The MOCC apparatus, with the 3 nets extending off.

The nets are opened and closed using a series of metal bars. (The bar here is the piece of metal running across the middle of the photo). The net has 6 of these bars. When the first bar is released, the first codend is ready to take in fish. When the second bar is dropped, the first codend is closed. The third and fourth bars open and close the second codend, and the fifth and sixth bars open and close the third codend.

This is the trigger mechanism for the codends on the MOCC. When the codend is released, the trigger mechanism is up. When the codend is locked and ready to go, it is in the down position.

One other modification we have on our mid-water trawl net is the attachment of a video camera to the net, so we can actually see the fish that are going into the codends.

This is the camera apparatus hooked up to the trawl.

When we spot a school of fish on the acoustic displays, we then radio the bridge (where the captain is) and the deck (where the fishermen are) to let them know that we’d like to fish in a certain spot. The fishermen that are in charge of deploying the net can mechanically control how deep the net goes using hydraulic gears, and the depth that we fish at varies at each sampling location. Once the gear is deployed, it stays in the water for an amount of time determined by the amount of fish in the area, and then the fishermen begin to reel in the net. See the videos below to get an idea of how long the trawl nets are — they’re being reeled in the videos. Once all of the net (it’s VERY long — over 500 ft) is reeled back in, the fish in the codends are unloaded onto a big table on the deck using a crane. From there, the fish move into the lab and we begin processing them.

Videos of the net being reeled in and additional photos are below!

net end
This is the end of the trawl net. They are lines that basically hold onto the net.

One of the codends before being opened up onto the conveyor belt. We are inside waiting for the fish to arrive.

open codend
Opening the codend to release the fish catch!

reeled in
The mid-water trawl net all reeled in!

The other type of trawl gear that we use is a bottom trawl, and again, it’s just as it sounds. The bottom trawl is outfitted with roller-type wheels that sort of roll and/or bounce over the seafloor. We use this trawl to collect benthic organisms like rockfish, Pacific ocean perch, and invertebrates. There’s usually a random pollock or cod in there, too. The biggest problem with bottom trawls is that the net can sometimes get snagged on rocks on the bottom, resulting in a hole being ripped in the net. Obviously, we try to avoid bottom trawling in rocky areas, but we can never be 100% sure that there aren’t any rogue rocks sitting on the bottom 🙂

bottom trawl
The mesh and wheels of the bottom trawl.

More of the bottom trawl

The bottom trawl, all reeled in!

Species Seen

Northern Fulmar
Pacific Ocean Perch (aka rockfish)

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

The first question for today comes from Rich, Wanda, and Ryan Ellis! Ryan is in the homeschool Tuesday class at the Zoo.

Q. We looked up what an anemone was and we found it was some kind of plant. Is that correct?

A. Great question! The answer is both yes and no. There is a type of flowering plant called the anemone. There are about 120 different species, and they are in the buttercup family. For one example of the plant, look below!

Anemone Nemorosa
Anemone Nemorosa. Taken from

The sea anemone, however, is not actually a plant but an animal! Anemones are classified as cnidarians, which are animals that have specialized cells for capturing prey! In anemones, these are called nematocysts, which have toxin and a harpoon like structure to deliver the toxin. When the nematocysts are touched, the harpoon structure injects the toxin into the animal that touches it.

Cnidarians also have bodies consist of mesoglea, a non living jelly like substance. They generally have a mouth that is surrounded by the tentacles mentioned above.

The Anemone we found.

The second question comes from my wife Olivia.

Q. What has surprised you most about this trip? Any unexpected or odd situations?

A. I think the thing that has surprised me the most is the amount of down time I have had. When I came on, I assumed that it would be physical and intense, like the show Deadliest Catch, where I would spend my whole time fishing and then working on the science. I figured that I would be absolutely toast by the end of my shift.

While I have worked hard and learned a lot, I have quite a bit of down time. Processing a catch takes about one hour, and we fish on average once or twice a night. That means I am processing fish for roughly two hours at most, and my shift is twelve hours. I have gotten a fair amount of extra work done, as well as a lot of pleasure reading and movie watching.

As for unexpected and odd situations, I didn’t really expect to get your camera killed by a wave. Fortunately, I have been allowed to use the scientist camera, and have been able to scavenge photos from other cameras, so I will still have plenty of pictures.

Another technological oddball that I didn’t think about beforehand was that certain headings (mainly if we are going north) will cut off the internet, which is normally fantastic. It is frustrating to have a photo 90% downloaded only to have the ship change vectors, head north, and cut off the download, forcing me to redownload the whole photo.
I also didn’t expect that the fish would be able to dodge the trawl net as effectively as they have. We have had four or five “misses” so far because the fish will not stay in one spot and let us catch them. While the use of sonar and acoustics has greatly improved our ability to catch fish, catching fish is by no means assured.

Perhaps the biggest “Are you kidding me?” moment though, comes from James and David Segrest asking me about sharks (June 17-18 post). An hour after I read the question, we trawled for the first time of the trip, and naturally the first thing we caught was the sleeper shark. Also naturally, I haven’t seen a shark since. Sometimes, you just get lucky.

Jason Moeller: June 21-22, 2011

JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 21-22, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 55.03N
Longitude: -163.08W
Wind: 17.81 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 6.7 degrees celsius
Air Temperature: 10.10 degrees celsius
Humidity: 85%
Depth: 82.03 meters

Personal Log
Welcome back, explorers!

June 21
Today has been the calmest evening since I boarded the Oscar Dyson. The night shift did not fish at all, which meant that I basically had an evening off! Even the evenings we have fished have been relatively calm. It takes us about an hour to an hour and a half to process a haul of fish, and up to this point we average about one haul per night. That gives me quite a bit of down time! When I am on shift, that down time is usually spent in one of two places.

computer lab
The first spot is the computer lab in the acoustics room. This is the room where we wait for the haul to be brought in. I write the logs, lesson plan, check emails, and surf the web during quiet times.

This is the lounge. The cabinet under the TV has over 500 movies, and a movie is usually playing when I walk in. Behind the couch is a large bookshelf with several hundred books, so I have done a fair amount of pleasure reading as well.

When I am not sitting in one of these two places, I am usually running around the ship with my camera taking nature photos. Below are the best nature photos of the past three days.

One of the coolest things about the Aleutian islands has to be the number of volcanoes that can be seen. This is the one on Unimak Island.

A second picture of the same volcano.

This is just a cool rock formation off of the coast. The Oscar Dyson has been hugging the coast the entire trip, which has been great for scenery.

A gull skims the water by the Oscar Dyson.

A gull wings toward the Oscar Dyson

June 22
We resumed fishing today! These trawls brought in quite a few species that I had not seen before, along with the ever plentiful pollock.

The net, filled with fish!

Jason by belt
Jason waits for the net to load the fish onto the conveyor belt.

Jason with flounder
Here, I am separating the arrowtooth flounder from the pollock.

We managed to catch a skate in the net! Skates are very close relatives to sharks. We quickly measured it and then released it into the ocean.

skate 2
A second photograph of the skate.

Do you remember the little lumpsucker from a few posts back? This is what an adult looks like!

The lumpsucker was slimy! I tried to pick it up with my bare hands, and the slime gummed up my hands so that I couldn't pick it up! Even with gloves designed for gripping fish I had trouble holding on.

A closeup of the lumpsucker

This fish is called a sculpin.

I finally saw a crab! None of us know what was attached to it, but the scientists believe that it was an anemone.

This is a starfish the net pulled up.

Science and Technology Log
There is no Science and Technology Log with this post.

Species Seen
Humpback Whales
Northern Fulmar
Walleye Pollock
Arrowtooth Flounder
Atka Makerel

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Today’s question comes from James and David Segrest, who are two of my homeschool students!

Q. What do you eat while you are on your adventures? Do you get to catch and eat fish?

The food is great! Our chef has a degree in culinary arts, and has made some amazing meals!

I wake up at 2:30 pm for my 4 pm to 4 am night shift, and usually start my day with a small bowl of oatmeal and a toasted bagel. At 5 pm, about two hours after breakfast, dinner is served, and I will eat a huge meal then too. Every meal has two main courses, a vegetable, a bread, and dessert. We have had a wide variety of main courses which have included bratwurst, steak, gumbo with king crab, fish, chicken parmesan, spaghetti with meatballs, and others!

We will often eat some of the fish we catch, usually salmon and rockfish since those provide the  best eating. The salmon disappears to the kitchen so quickly that I have not actually been able to get a photo of one! We have not caught a halibut in the trawl net yet, otherwise we would likely have eaten that as well. Yum! We have not yet eaten pollock, as it is viewed as being a much lower quality fish compared with the rockfish and salmon.

I’m out of questions, so please email me at with those questions please!

Jason Moeller: June 19-20, 2011

JUNE 11 – JUNE 30, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Jason Moeller
Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission: Walleye Pollock Survey
Geographic Location: Gulf of Alaska
Dates: June 19-20, 2011

Ship Data
Latitude: 54.29 N
Longitude: -165.13 W
Wind: 12.31 knots
Surface Water Temperature: 5.5 degrees Celsius
Air Temperature: 6.1 degrees Celsius
Humidity: 97%
Depth: 140.99 meters

Personal Log

Welcome aboard, explorers!

To be honest, there is not a great deal to write about for the personal log. My daily schedule has settled in quite nicely! I get off work at 4 in the morning, shower, sleep until 2:30 in the afternoon, and then head down to the acoustics room where we track the fish. When we are processing a catch (see the science and technology section of this blog), I am in the fish lab wearing bright orange waterproof clothes that make me resemble a traffic cone.

fishing gear
Jason in fishing gear.

The rest of the time is down time, which is spent reading, working on the blog, learning about the ship, and dreaming up lesson plans that I can use to torment my students. I hope they are interested in a summer fishing trip, as that is the one I am currently planning.

Most of the blog work involves running around and taking photographs. My wife’s camera was soaked beyond repair during the prank that was pulled (see the previous post) as Sarah was holding the camera when the wave came over the railing. Fortunately, there was another camera on board.

Our survey is keeping us very close to the coast and islands of Alaska. As a result, I’ve gotten some gorgeous photos. This place is just beautiful.

An island shrouded by clouds.
An island shrouded by clouds.

A waterfall falls off into the ocean.

Jason in front of an island. It was a bit windy, but at least it was sunny!

Mountaintops visible just above the island coast. Jake took this photo while I was in the fish lab.

Sunset over Alaskan waters.

Science and Technology Log

Walleye Pollock waiting to be processed

We finally started fishing! As I mentioned in my very first blog, the Oscar Dyson is surveying walleye pollock, which is an important fish species here in Alaska. Walleye pollock make up 56.3% of the groundfish catch in Alaska, and is eaten in fast food restaurants around the world such as Wendy’s, McDonalds, and Burger King. It is also used to make imitation crabmeat.

Our first catch had a little over 300 walleye pollock, and we processed all of them. Three hundred is an ideal sample size for this species. If, for example, we had caught 2,000 pollock, we would only have processed 300 of the fish, and we would have released the rest of them back into the ocean.

The photo captions below will provide a tour of the fish lab as well as introduce blog readers to the data we wish to collect and how scientists aboard the Oscar Dyson collect it.

Conveyer belt
This is the conveyor belt. After the catch is pulled on board, it is loaded onto this conveyor belt and moved down the belt and into the lab. At this point, the scientists separate the pollock from the rest of the sea life that was accidentally in the net. Today, the majority of the "extra" sea life were brittle stars, sponges, and a few squid.

Gender Box
Once the pollock and other sea life are separated, they are moved to this box to be sexed. In order to do this, we would have to cut the fish open and look at the internal organs of the fish. Once this was done, females would go over the yellow sign on the right and into the box that was hidden behind it. The males went into the box on the left.

Length Station
Once we had determined the pollock's gender, we moved to the measuring station, which was on the other side of the last station. We laid each individual fish on the table on top of the ruler, and then measured the fish from the head to the fork of its tail. We recorded the length by tapping the table at the fork of the fish's tail with a sensor that we carried in our hand. A sensor in the table recorded the data and sent it to the computer monitor seen above the table.

measuring pollock
Jason measures a pollock on the board!

From this catch (we will do this for any following catch as well) we also took and preserved twenty stomachs from random fish. This was done in order to later analyze what the pollock had eaten before they died. We also took forty otoliths from random pollock as well. An otolith is the ear bone of the pollock, and it is incredibly important to researchers as they will tell the pollock’s age in a similar manner to the way a tree’s rings will.

This is a pollock otolith!
This is a pollock otolith!

Stored Otoliths
After removing the otolith from the fish, they were put into these vials. Each pair of otoliths received their own vial.

While looking at pollock is the main focus of the survey, we did run into some other neat critters in this haul as well!

Atka Makerel
This is an Atka Mackerel. We also caught a salmon, but I didn't get a good look at it. Our kitchen grabbed it!

Basket Star
This is a basket starfish. We were trawling close to the bottom and pulled it up in the nets.

This is a lumpsucker! They spend their lives on the bottom where they eat slow-moving animals such as worms and mollusks.

Arrowtooth Flounder
This is an arrowtooth flounder. These are not very good eating fish, and are not the flounder found in the supermarket. Check out the nasty teeth in the photo below this one!

Flounder teeth
I wouldn't want to be bitten by this fish!

Finally, this is a rockfish! The red snapper that we see in the marketplace is often this fish instead.

Species Seen

Northern Fulmar
Walleye Pollock
Arrowtooth Flounder
Atka Mackerel
Pacific Grenadier
Basket Starfish

Reader Question(s) of the Day!

Today’s question is actually a request. It comes from Tish Neilson, one of our homeschool parents.

Hey Jason –
I had a super favor to ask of you. There is a little girl from Jackson’s school that is a 5th grader and she was recently diagnosed with leukemia. There have been some bracelets created for her that say “Going Bananas for Anna” to show support and several moms and I have gotten together and are putting together a scrapbook for her and trying to get as many people as possible wearing her bracelets in really cool places. Then we are having them take pictures to send to us to put in her scrapbook so she can she how far her bracelets have traveled and how many people are pulling for her. If it’s possible to do so and you would be willing to do it I would LOVE to try and get you a bracelet to take some pictures and send to me from Alaska. Her nickname is Anna Banana and she is always asking for pictures and such so that is why we came up with this idea.
Tish Neilson

Unfortunately, I had left for Alaska before I received the email, and as a result I do not have a bracelet. Hopefully, a sign will work just as well.

For Anna
Hi Anna! This is Unimak Island! It is one of the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska! Hang in there, we are rooting for you!

Tanya Scott, June 20, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Tanya Scott
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman
June 16 – 21, 2010

Mission:  Ecology of Juvenile Fishes  
Geographical Area: Central Oregon/Washington Coast
Current Location:  35 miles offshore, steaming to Seattle, WA
Date:  Sunday, June 20, 2010

Today is my last full day aboard the Miller Freeman.  It is currently 4:00 pm and I have just woken up!  I find that being on a ship rocks me to sleep.  Or, could it be that I was up until 6:00 am this morning?  Either way, I am fully rested and ready to rinse and store all of the scientific equipment in preparation for our departure tomorrow morning.  We are currently steaming towards Seattle, Washington where we will depart the ship.

Our work on Saturday turned out to be very interesting.  While pulling the midwater trawl, a small pod of Pacific Whitesided dolphin became interested in our tow.  They swam very close to the net for a time and had everyone worried that they may become entangled.  Luckily, they lost interest and swam away.  If they had become entangled in the net there are many protocols that would have been implemented.  The marine mammal stranding unit in Washington would have been called, a representative would have been sent to meet the ship, and many photographs taken as documentation.  It is always a concern that marine mammals may become entangled in nets but fortunately, this time was not one of those cases.

Krill brought in from the midwater trawl.

The catches from our midwater trawl brought up the familiar species of krill, purple lanternfish, rockfish, and hake.  Since the depth of this trawl does not target adult fish, we have been dealing almost exclusively with juvenile and larvae fish.  Our last haul produced more larvae rockfish than usual, which is good for the scientists conducting this survey.  They are, however, trying to determine where the largest concentrations of juvenile rockfish are during the season.  Rockfish are an important species in the Pacific Northwest.  It would be easy for you to think of how important flounder are in our area.  Rockfish are harvested for sale in fish markets and therefore are threatened by over harvesting.  It is important to monitor their movement and habitat in order to determine when and where Pacific Hake regulations should be put in place.  Another commercially important species is the Pacific Hake.  This fish is deboned and sold as fish sticks in the grocery store.  I’m sure that most of you have eaten a Pacific Hake and didn’t even know.  These fish are commonly caught by fisherman and, just as the rockfish, their populations are threatened by over harvesting.  When Pacific Hake are caught in the midwater trawl, their length is measured, recorded, and the fish are returned to the ocean.  All of the data collected by the scientist involved in this study will help to ensure the survival of these commercially viable species.  More importantly, keeping their populations stable will mean that the food web remains intact.  Just as we have discussed in class many times, everything on earth has its place.  Something else always depends on it for food, shelter, survival, and well being.

Pacific Hake

Since today is the last full day on board we will be preparing the equipment for transport back to Newport, Oregon.  It is important that everything is rinsed with freshwater to prevent corrosion.  After being rinsed and dried, we will package everything in boxes.  Our bunks will be stripped, our lockers emptied, and staterooms cleaned.  Although my time on board is coming to an end, I know that I will have many memories and experiences to share with you when I return.

Pacific Hake larvae

Tanya Scott

Elizabeth Eubanks, July 27, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Eubanks
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
July 22 – August 3, 2007

Mission: Relative Shark Abundance Survey and J vs. Circle Hook Comparison
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean, West of San Diego
Date: July 27, 2007

Weather Data from the Bridge  
Visibility: 8-10 miles
Air temperature: 17.0 degrees C
Sea Temperature at 350m: 7 degrees C
Sea Temperature at surface: 19.0 degrees C
Wind Direction: 290 W Wind Speed:  18 kts
Cloud cover: clear –some cumulus, cirrus
Sea Level Pressure: 1013.2 mb
Sea Wave Height: 2-3 ft
Swell Wave Height: 2-3 ft

Science and Technology Log 

“First, do no harm.” –Michael J. Zoghby RPT 

Today was so exciting. We caught a Mola mola, Ocean Sunfish, and 22 sharks.  Many of them were baby Blue sharks and although this team tries very hard to keep all of the sharks alive, some of them are so badly thrashed by the hook and/or line that they don’t make it. Yesterday was the first day that we had our first mortality (dead shark).  It was a baby Blue and the gills were just ripped out by the hook.  Sad, no one likes to see a dead shark. Everyone is out here to preserve them and keep them safe.

We caught many average size sharks and a few really large ones.  Watching the scientist work on the large animals has got to be one of the most thrilling things to see, especially when they have the extra challenge of wave swells coming across the platform, soaking them and giving the shark a chance to do what it does best… swim. As one of the grad students put it, the pictures and videos we have taken during these events are not ones you would want your mom to see, the mix of slippery platform, scalpel in hand, swell water pouring in and of course a HUGE SHARK, could be a deadly mixture. But safety comes first. They probably had the shark on the platform for a good 3-5 minutes. The Blue was using every bit of what it had to get off of the platform. It was so exciting that I had to video and take still shots. This shark would’ve been a great choice for the satellite tag because of its size, but they didn’t get a chance to that. They removed what they could of the hook, identified him as a male and struggled to hold him down. The Blue shark was estimated at 220cm. We never did get an actual measurement, because for one thing it appeared to be longer than the platform measuring tape and for another Dr. Kohin made a decision to “just let it go” and that is a direct quote. Safety comes first for shark and for people.

Dr. Suzy Kohin surrounded by a big Blue Shark – notice the eye, the nictitating membrane covers the eye.
Dr. Suzy Kohin surrounded by a big Blue Shark – notice the eye, the nictitating membrane covers the eye.

More safety notes: Late night we found out that there was a problem with one of the engine fans. So tomorrow morning our set is canceled. We will have to wait to see if they can fix it and if they can’t we go back to San Diego and the trip is over. Why? Because they follow the rule, the only rule you really ever need– First Do No Harm. Extra note: The Ocean Sunfish is an amazing fish. You will see them in the Pacific and at first think that they are sharks, because of their dorsal fin that sticks out of the water. They have been described as one of the most evolved fish and look like a super sized Frisbee.- A great fish to do a little personal research on, if you are into fish. (Sean Maloney – check it out!)

Personal Log 

Bet ya goin’ fishn’ all the time, I’mma goin’ fishin’ too. I bet your life, your lovin’ wife is gonna catch more fish than you, so many fish bite if ya got good bait, here’s a little tip that I would like to relate, I’mma goin’ fish, yes I’m goin’ fishn’ and my babies goin’ fishin too!” 

– Not sure who sang or wrote this little diddy first, so I can’t give credit right now – but I didn’t write this “catchy” tune. 

I am working/ living on a fishing boat. Dah! It’s a goofy realization that just hit me today. Since I got accepted for this project, I have been in a narrow mindset that I am on a shark research vessel, which I am. I broaden my mindset and hit me that I am also on a fishing vessel. Fishing is what we do when we set and haul the long line. Fishing is what we can do in our spare time. We have bait, we have hooks and we have line. We catch fish. Oh and we cook and eat fish too. We are fishing.  Funny, but now it makes my experience even cooler. I have always wanted to work on a fishing vessel.

Right out of high school my girl friend and I had done a heap of research and were planning on moving to Ocean City, MD for the summer. We had spent hours investigating different job possibilities. We had heard that sometimes you spend all your summer working to pay your bills and don’t really get to enjoy the beach, but we didn’t care. She was interested in a job as a waitress and I had sent in a ••• dozen applications to fishing vessels. That is what I really wanted to do. That was my glamour job! I dreamed that I could be the one who baits the hooks and cleans the deck. I figured if I had to spend most of my time working, it should be on the water with fish and people who liked to fish. Anyway, that dream ended with a car crash – no one was killed, just minor injuries but it sure shook up my folks enough to keep me in PA for the summer.  So after all these years – I am working and living on a fishing ship. Super cool, huh!

Scientists Suzy Kohin and Russ Vetter tag the Mola mola, Ocean Sunfish
Scientists Suzy Kohin and Russ Vetter tag the Mola mola, Ocean Sunfish

Question of the Day 

If you had to pick a research science career, what would you study? What would your problem be?

Question of the trip: Which hook, the J or Circle, will catch more sharks? 

Please make a hypothesis. Utilize resources to justify your hypothesis.  ———Yes, you get extra credit for this. 

Elizabeth Eubanks, July 26, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Eubanks
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
July 22 – August 3, 2007

Mission: Relative Shark Abundance Survey and J vs. Circle Hook Comparison
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean, West of San Diego
Date: July 26, 2007

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 8-10 miles
Air temperature: 18.2 degrees C
Sea Temperature at 404m: 6.8 degrees C
Sea Temperature at surface: 21.3 degrees C
Wind Direction: 300 W
Wind Speed:  18 kts
Cloud cover: clear –cumulus
Sea Level Pressure: 1013.2 mb
Sea Wave Height: 2 ft
Swell Wave Height: 3-4 ft

Science and Technology Log 

Being careful, paying attention. Do you know what an assembly line is? It is when a group of people comes together with many individual specific tasks to achieve an overall goal. If you have ever seen the Laverne and Shirley TV show, they work on an assembly line at Shotz Brewery. Here there is an assembly line system too. There is one style when we set the lines with bait and another when we haul. Everyone has a very specific job and if you don’t do your job or pay attention, it can wreck the whole affair. The thing I couldn’t imagine would be to do something like this or have the exact same job everyday and all day. But the way it is done on the ship is easy and pleasant and only lasts for about an hour at a time, which is the perfect time limit. If it were too much longer I would get bored and my mind would wander.

Even though the job is relatively easy, it is so important to be careful and to stay focused.  For instance one of the jobs I had today required that I put the bait on the hook. No big deal really- right? – Except that the bait needed to be put on a specific hook type, which someone handed to me, in my case I was baiting the J hooks. The hook was attached to a 50-foot multi-strand steal cable, which is attached to a gangion clip. Still no biggie right? Well, when you are baiting over 100 hooks and there is someone in front of you waiting to grab the hook, because there is 2 nautical mile line that is being pulled or hauled and they have to put the baited line in a specific place it becomes a big deal. We have to move at a steady pace because the line is being hauled out into the ocean at a certain rate. The person who is attaching the ganglions to line really needs to stay focused and be careful as well. Also for this study since we are testing hook effectiveness we need to alternate the J and Circle hook to eliminate variables. In other words we don’t want to be able to say – well all the sharks were caught on the J hooks because we set all of the J hooks first and they got to a longer soak (time in the water) time. Does that make sense? We have to pay attention to the “hooker” and help make certain that they are alternating hooks.

Setting a long line: Ann Coleman from the Monterey Bay Aquarium at the front of the set line waits to put the ganglion on the line, while someone else attaches a buoy. Beyond Ann, the crew is baiting the lines; beyond them, the crew prepares the hook and beyond them the deck crew extends the long line.
Setting a long line: Ann Coleman from the Monterey Bay Aquarium at the front of the set line waits to put the ganglion on the line, while someone else attaches a buoy. Beyond Ann, the crew is baiting the lines; beyond them, the crew prepares the hook and beyond them the deck crew extends the long line.

Things that could go wrong with baiting the hook: -not putting the bait on well enough -getting your lines tangled with one another -getting your line tangled on yourself or someone else or a part of the ship -not giving the person the correct J or circle hook -not having your hooks baited in a timely manner. Preventatives: Say the word out loud J hook or Circle – helps everyone stay focused -to avoid tangles, don’t bait too many hooks ahead time -have one or two hooks baited ahead of time, incase you get a little behind for some reason -keep an eye on your 50 ft line and straighten it out Is there any job that you are particularly interested in? If so please let me know.

Personal Log 

Today I had the early shift, which meant that I woke up at 0530 and started working at 0600. Last night the ship was rockier than it has been and hasn’t let up much all day. When I went outside it was gray, chilly and slightly windy. After the set I went upstairs to read and fell asleep, it was the perfect morning for a good book and a nap. I hibernated a little more after lunch and watched a movie by myself in the crew lounge. Music and Lyrics with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. – Cute movie!

I still feel a little rocky in my tummy on and off, but soda crackers, ginger gum and doing things help take the edge off. Sometimes I wish the boat would just stop rocking for a few minutes! Several folks were fishing for a few hours and pulled in some beautiful Rockfish – several different varieties (species). They caught a species that is on the protected list, which is called a Cowcod Rockfish. They took DNA samples from it. Check it out above. They also caught a large Pacific Mackerel and two flat fish, which they call Sand Daps.  I had fun because I got to fillet a few of the Rockfish – something I haven’t done for several years and yeah I can still do it – thanks Dad!

Dr. Russ Vetter holding a Cowcod Rockfish which he took DNA samples from.  This fish could be at least 40 years old.
Dr. Russ Vetter holding a Cowcod Rockfish that could be at least 40 years old.

Question of the Day 

While we are setting and hauling lines we like to talk and to sing songs. Using a song you already know change the words so that the song has to do with fishing for sharks. Here are some words you might want to use; shark, ray, seal, sea lion, ship, deck, line, haul, set or some others you may think of. Please include the name of the song you are writing the new lyrics to. If you don’t know any songs, write a poem.

Question of the trip: Which hook, the J or Circle, will catch more sharks?

Please make a hypothesis. Utilize resources to justify your hypothesis.  ———Yes, you get extra credit for this. 


Elizabeth Eubanks, July 23, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Elizabeth Eubanks
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
July 22 – August 3, 2007

Mission: Relative Shark Abundance Survey and J vs. Circle Hook Comparison
Geographical Area: Pacific Ocean, West of San Diego
Date: July 23, 2007

Weather Data from the Bridge
Air temperature: 19.7 degrees C
Sea Temperature at 300m 7.9 degrees C
Sea Temperature at surface: 19.1 degrees C
Wind Direction: 350 (NW)
Wind Speed:  5.2 kts
Cloud cover: Partial – Alto cirrus
Sea Level Pressure: 1011.5 mb
Sea Wave Height 2
Swell Wave Height <1

NOAA Teacher at Sea Elizabeth Eubanks models the abandon ship suit, also known as a “Gumby” suit.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Elizabeth Eubanks models the abandon ship suit, also known as a “Gumby” suit.

Science and Technology Log 

Today has been beautiful. The lines were set at 0600 and then hauled at 1000. We only caught 3 sharks this morning, 2 Blue and 1 Mako.  We set lines again 1330 ( Do you know what time that is? – 1:30pm) While we were having a break we noticed a huge pod of Common Dolphins. They appeared to be having so much fun flying up into the air. There were at least 30+ it was so cool to see so many. Our haul this evening was a skunk – no sharks, but that is okay tomorrow is a new day. We had drills today, fire and abandon ship. The fire drill required us to move to the dry science lab, where I already happened to be. The abandon ship drill required that we put on long pants, long sleeve shirt, a hat and our “gumby” suit, as it is called. It is a dry suit, much like some divers would wear. It is big and bulky and funny looking.

I had mentioned yesterday that although the main focus of this trip is to test the J and Circle hooks, many other studies are being supported. Last night after dark some of us fished for Rockfish. Russ Vetter a NOAA scientist who is Head of Fish Ecology within the South West Fisheries Center and heads 4 teams of scientists. Those teams study small pelagics such as anchovies, egg and larvae- ichthyo-plankton, pelagic sharks which we are studying now and his personal group is molecular ecology which has been studying Rockfish for years. I got an earful last night. The Rockfish that we were fishing for were about 200 feet below the surface. So they live in very deep water, which means that they are benthic fish. There are some that are pelagic, but I will get to them later.

Various species of Benthic Rockfish
Various species of Benthic Rockfish

Dr. Vetter was telling me that there are about 130 different species of Rockfish in the Pacific, 70 of which are in the region he studies. They are one of the most sought after for commercial fishing. These fish bare live young, which is very unusual for a fish. These fish also live very long, well past 60 years and some in the tub shown above could be over 40. Scientists have a theory that the older the mother is, then the better mother she is to her live-born babies. Scientist are still learning a lot about them, but like many other fish they are becoming over fished in certain areas and greatly depleting (making vanish) populations of these fish. There are two ways to fish for Rockfish, one is to create a long line that is geared to benthic fish and the other is to simply fish the way we did last night, with deep sea rigs. We were catching them pretty quickly and probably caught 14 or so within 45 minutes.  We used rigs that had 2 hooks on them and it was common to pull up two at a time.

NOAA Teacher at Sea Elizabeth Eubanks holds a Rosie Rockfish.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Elizabeth Eubanks holds a Rosie Rockfish.

When you pull up most of these fish, their bodies and eyes are all bulged out and sometime their swim bladder is coming out of their mouth and if you notice in the photo above they are all floating although many are not dead yet. Why is this? What happens to them?  — If you can answer this question you are half way to figuring out the answer to my question of the day.  The fisheries management has now set a limit to how many fish the commercial fisherman are allowed to bring per outing and they have set a limit of only 2 hooks per rod, whereas prior to this some commercial fishermen would use up to 10 hooks. There is no size limit because once you catch these fish you can’t or have no reason to toss them back (referring to question of the day). 

The commercial fishermen are pretty easy to monitor when they fish these benthic, fish. Management can go to their boat or meet them at the docks to check on them.  Managing pelagic Rockfish is more difficult, because these fish hang out in the kelp and are easier to catch from a smaller craft, which allows for potential deception of total catch.

We catch the fish, fillet the fish, eat the fish and then Dr. Vetter will take the carcasses (bones) to his lab to study the DNA. The more you learn about a fish, the more you can protect it from being depleted (vanishing) from an area. This is good, because so many fishermen count on this fish for their lively hood. If scientist learn more about the fish and protect the fish, then we will always have that fish around. Also we know that golden rule “we are all connected – we are all affected.” So if we deplete the Rockfish, in some way we too are affected. Right? –Right!

Personal Log 

I was so excited to have the opportunity to fish last night. But I did hate that my catch was so small and I couldn’t just toss it back into the ocean, because it wouldn’t survive. So that made me feel bad, it was still alive when I caught it and it looked at me with it’s big beautiful eyes. I am getting into the groove of things here.  I was so happy to have slept well last night. I got up early even though I could’ve slept in.  It is just so nice to be here. Of course I miss Rob and Hooch. I really miss Rob, because I know he would be so interested in all that we are doing on this ship.

Now, I am in terrible trouble. I just went into the galley to get a Fig Newton and I was told to open the cooler, that there was something better in there… I really thought they could be wrong, because I am not a huge ice cream fan. I am selective about what types really suck me in….. and OH NO! Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia has that capability! The have a huge carton of it. I am still amazed at all the food and well prepared meals on board.  Today, for lunch, I had black eyed pees, rice, mixed veggies and a great salad with hearts of palm and that was only the veggie stuff they offered!

Oh happy day, Elizabeth Eubanks

Question of the Day 

Why would the Rosie Rockfish not survive if I put it back into the ocean, right after I caught it and realized that it was still alive, but very small?

Why is this (the inability of the rockfish to survive after being caught) a major problem for commercial fishing industries and the population of the Rockfish?

One more for fun- What is the difference between an ice cream float and ice cream soda?

Question of the trip: Which hook, the J or Circle, will catch more sharks?

Please make a hypothesis. Utilize resources to justify your hypothesis.  ———Yes, you get extra credit for this. 


Taken from the Sea, State, Wind and Clouds- US Department of Commerce Sea Waves are generated by the wind blowing at the time of observation, or in the recent past, in your local area. Sea waves change after they move under the wind that has created them.

Sea Swell Waves – have traveled into your area of observation, after having been generated by winds in other areas (sometimes thousands of miles away). Swell waves remain symmetrical and uniform.

Barney Peterson, August 25, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier
August 12 – September 1, 2006

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Shumagin Islands, Alaska
Date: August 25, 2006

Blue Mussels at the water line on Nagai Island.
Blue Mussels at the water line on Nagai Island.

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility:  10 nm
Wind direction:  177˚ true
Wind speed:  20 kts
Sea wave height: 0 – 1 ft
Seawater temperature: 8.9˚ C
Sea level pressure: 1007.2 mb
Cloud cover: Partly Cloudy

Science and Technology Log 

Many of the islands off the Alaska Peninsula rise straight up out of the sea, looking barren and lonely. This is not the case, however, if you train your eyes to see. True, there are no human inhabitants, and few land mammals, but the shores and the water around them teem with life.

If you are fortunate enough to spend time in a kayak along the shoreline of the islands you will see some of the near-shore marine creatures.  The bases of the cliffs on Nagai Island were covered by bands of Blue Mussels right at the tide line. On rare occasions, when the waves are small and the wind is calm, you can spot Leather Stars on the rocks with the barnacles, Dunce Cap Limpets, and a variety of winkles.

Gulls on the rocks at Nagai Island.
Gulls on the rocks at Nagai Island.

The cliffs of the islands provide nesting spots for shaggy-looking Tufted Puffins and their sleeker looking relatives, Horned Puffins.  These funny little birds have very dense bones compared to others that spend most of their time in the air.  They spend much of their lives in or on the water (they dive in and “fly” underwater…using their wings to swim after fish.) The heavy, stubby Puffins look awkward as they struggle to fly off the water, and on land they sometimes dive off rocks and cliffs to help launch themselves into the air. They spend much of their lives at sea, returning to land only for nesting and breeding. Other common birds on the cliffs and rocky shores are Double-crested Cormorants (snooty looking as they sit on the rocks with their beaks pointed straight up in the air), gulls of several types, Sooty Shearwaters, and Black Oystercatchers. When you spot a large group of birds diving and swooping at the water it is a pretty good signal that there is a “bait ball” of herring or other small fish near the surface and the birds are feeding on them while the fishing is easy.

Bald Eagles soaring over Olga Island.
Bald Eagles soaring over Olga Island.

If you are lucky enough to get ashore for a hike through the thick brush you will probably discover Water Pipits and Northern Waterthrush flitting from branch to branch, watching you curiously.  There are the seeds of grasses and lots of berries for them to eat along with the many small creatures from the water’s edge. High on the cliffs of some islands we spotted Bald Eagles riding the thermal air currents. The only land mammal that I saw on any of the islands where we worked was an Arctic Ground Squirrel slipping into the grass above the beach. It was about 14 inches long and golden-brown.  There are lots of grasses, roots, and berries for them to eat. They live in burrows in the thick mats of roots and shallow soil that cover large areas of the islands.  At first it seemed strange that there were no larger mammals to see, but we were a long way from the mainland and the only way animals can get to the islands is by swimming.  Bears, moose, foxes, sheep, goats and other larger animals have no reason to swim that far for a place to live.

Two Sea Otters looking at the ship curiously.
Two Sea Otters looking at the ship curiously.

Sea Otters live mostly in the water.  Their bodies are much better designed for life in the sea than on land. With their webbed feet and thick fur they are clever fishers, strong swimmers, and comical to watch.  We often saw otters near the shoreline, floating on their backs among the kelp beds. They are very curious and would sometimes slowly move closer to give us a good looking-over before diving and finding a more private place to do their eating. By watching the water near the shoreline carefully, we sometimes spotted sea lions or seals. There has been a marked decrease in the number of sea lions seen in the last few years, but there are still some in these waters.  Both seals and sea lions eat fish and like to find places to feed on salmon as they head inshore to spawn.  They are curious just like the otters and sometimes get fairly close to the ships, survey boats, or kayaks to see what humans are doing.

Seals peeking at TAS Peterson near Mitrofania Island.
Seals peeking at TAS Peterson near Mitrofania Island.

It was always a treat when someone spotted whales. This area is home to several kinds and, while fairly easy to spot, they are very hard to photograph. On our first night out we saw misty gray plumes above the water and spotted Sei Whales as they surfaced and dove. Two days later we watched Humpbacked Whales feeding among the diving birds near Nagai Island where we were surveying. Seeing those groups of birds is a signal to watch for whales feeding too. Another time we saw the dorsal fins of Orcas off in the distance, but they never got close enough to try for pictures. The crew on our ship took advantage of every opportunity to go fishing.  An announcement would come over the PA system, “Fishing to commence in 5 minutes and continue for 15 minutes” and we would know we were right over a really good spot. Every fisherman who wasn’t on duty at that moment would quickly get a line over the side. Those of us who aren’t fishermen would be on hand to help land the monsters they hoped to catch!  At the end of the prescribed time another announcement would signal lines in and the excitement would be over until the next time.  (There were opportunities to fish on several evenings when we were anchored for a day or two of survey work in the same area.  During the daytime, it is all business and the only fish I spotted were Moon Jellyfish in the water beside the ship.)

A large halibut caught by Lt. Ben Evans.
A large halibut caught by Lt. Ben Evans.

These waters are particularly good for halibut and I saw folks catch all sizes. They prefer fish about 30 to 40 pounds for the best eating, but love to hook a big one, 100 pounds or more, for the thrill of bringing it in.  I helped ENS Evans land an 80 plus pound halibut, and it was a lot of work! I also got to help with filleting and freezing the fish, and that is a job too, but the taste of fresh halibut is worth it! We saw lots of other fish too. On our first night out we anchored in a small bay where the Pink salmon were jumping all around us. Two days later our survey boat was surrounded by Pink salmon and one of the crew caught one that evening. This is right at the start of the fall spawning time for the Pinks and the end of the Coho season, so there were plenty of fish around. When the fishermen had their lines down deep after halibut, they also caught Yelloweye Rockfish, Sea Bass, and Ling Cod. All of these are good eating so, if they are large enough to keep, they get cleaned and used. Most of the fishermen vacuum-pack their fish to take home, but we ate quite a bit of fresh fish too. Two other sea creatures that were caught while I have been aboard were a 4.5 foot Spiny Dogfish shark and a Big Skate. I saw one Kelp Greenling when we took a look at the bottom with a remote underwater camera.  Every once in a while I would see a silver flash dangling from the beaks of gulls or puffins or jumping from the water as a school of herring swam past.

Although living and working aboard the RAINIER doesn’t leave lots of time for bird watching, whale watching, or fishing, everyone finds ways to make those activities parts of their everyday routine as often as possible.  Their ability to spot the wildlife, and their eagerness to share it with me, has helped to make my time on the RAINIER an even better experience.

Tim Van Dyke with a Yelloweye Rockfish he caught on his birthday!
Tim Van Dyke with a Yelloweye Rockfish he caught on his birthday!

Heather Diaz, July 9, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Heather Diaz
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
July 6 – 15, 2006

Mission: Juvenile Shark Abundance Survey
Geographical Area: U.S. West Coast
Date: July 9, 2006

A Scorpion fish waits to have a DNA sample taken in the onboard tank.  Dr. Russ Vetter caught the bottom-dwelling fish today and is doing research on Rockfish.
A Scorpion fish waits to have a DNA sample taken in the onboard tank. Dr. Russ Vetter caught the bottom-dwelling fish today and is doing research on Rockfish.

Science and Technology Log 

There was no swordfish set done last night, so everyone got up at 6am to do the first of the shark sets for the day. We hauled in the first set at around 10am.  We caught one mako.  We set the second line at around 12pm.  We hauled it in around 4pm. We caught 2 pelagic rays.

Personal Log 

We were just off the coast of Santa Cruz and Anacapa.  It was such a beautiful sight to see! Anacapa is very rugged, with lots of canyons and steep drop offs. I don’t think my pictures will do it justice!

A brown pelican decided to hang around today, so I got some good pictures of him. We tried to find him mackerel, but they were too big for him, and he just spit them back out.  Everyone was a bit disappointed into today’s turnout. But, Dr. Suzy Kohin, the Chief Scientist said that this block was not a very good spot for them during the last leg either (they repeat the survey in 2 different legs so that they get a better sampling).  We all hope that tomorrow we are able to catch more fish!  Dr. Russ Vetter fished between sets. He caught several Rockfish, most of which were orange colored. He said that these were bottom fish, and he is doing an independent research study on them.  He also caught a Halibut and a Scorpion fish.   He took DNA samples from them, then they were prepared as part of the barbecue!

Sean Suk caught a Sanddab this afternoon, but he threw it back in.  There were lots of boats….sailboats and motor boats around us while we were near the port…they kept coming by to check us out.  I’ve seen lots of big container ships while we’ve been in this area, as well. We went past an offshore oil rig this afternoon, and it was interesting to see just how close it is to the coastline of California!  I have seen oil rigs in Wyoming, but the offshore ones are very different. It was neat to be able to see one in person.

The exciting thing about today was that we had a barbecue on the aft deck.  We had kabobs and burgers. It was great!  The weather was gorgeous, and everyone laughed and a nice time.  The crew said that they have a barbecue almost every Sunday and that it is kind of like a tradition. We went to Channel Islands Harbor near Port Hueneme, CA.  They had to pick up some gear for the engineers at the port there.  The weather became a bit cool after the sun went down…and I think I will have to close the door to my stateroom because it will probably be too chilly!  We enjoyed watching the sunset, and we are all looking forward to another week together.

After it got dark, we went down to the bow observation chamber, which is way down in the belly of the bow, below sea level. You have to climb down through 2 locks and down about 30 stairs, straight down. It’s kind of scary down there.  There are 4 portholes which look out from the bow of the ship, and we could see the phosphorescent critters in the water. They glow green. It was very surreal.  Jason Larese, Stephanie Snyder, Daniele Adrizzone, and I went down, then Ryan Harris joined us about half way through.  Climbing up was not as scary as going down was!  I made it out safely, but unfortunately, I couldn’t get anything to show up in pictures.

Leyf Peirce, July 15, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Leyf Peirce
Onboard NOAA Ship Rainier

July 6 – 15, 2004

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area:
Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska
July 15, 2004

Time: 18:00
Latitude: N 56°22.60
Longitude: W 152°56.70 Visibility: 10 nm

Wind direction: 115
Wind speed: 8 knots
Sea wave height: 0 – 1 ft
Swell wave height: 2 – 3 feet
Sea water temperature: 12.2 °C
Sea level pressure: 1013.5 mb
Air temperature: 13.3 °C
Cloud cover: 5/8

Science and Technology Log

We are still in transit today to Kodiak, with a planned stop for some “biological testing”, a.k.a. fishing. About two hours before we were going to stop to fish, we heard the bridge announce, “Whales breaching off the port bow!” This is the call for everyone to rush to the portside to see the whales. And what an incredible sight! I was atop the fly deck with TAS Norton and ENS Slover, and none of us could believe the symphony of spray that lay 150 meters ahead of us. It seemed choreographed, almost, with one humpback whale to the right blowing spray into the air at the same time as a whale on the left side. The finale consisted of at least 3 whales breaching so far out of the water you could see their entire underside! Just when we thought the show was over, two whales came within 20 meters of the portside of the boat and breached, waving hello as they went under. Luckily, we had slowed the boat down, so the chances of hitting these whales were small. For such massive and mysterious creatures, these animals completed their whale ballet show gracefully!

We later started fishing, and this sight was yet another of awe at the creatures that inhabit this part of the world. After only 10 minutes, there were about 12 fish on the fantail, 3 of which were halibut that were over 125 pounds, one which was at least 5 feet! After another 10 minutes, the fantail was covered with fish and blood and guts, promising a feast for weeks to come. The birds circled above waiting in anticipation, arguing when a piece of fresh fish was thrown overboard. Again a new image to me, the albatross intimidated the other gulls with its large wing span and threatening call. This day was certainly full of wildlife!

Personal Log

I have never seen whales breach in the wild before, and it truly was an amazing spectacle! Parallel to that, I have never caught a fish any bigger than a 20 inch rainbow trout. Catching a 25 pound black rockfish was extremely exciting, as well as seeing all of the halibut caught! I will say that while fly fishing takes a lot more patience and technique, the fishing that occurred today required more strength and team work. There were at least 4 people helping lug the largest of the fish onto the ship!

We are almost to Kodiak, should be there by morning, and I find myself sad to leave this boat. It has truly been an amazing experience, one in which I learned a lot about the wildlife, research, crew, and myself. I realize now that two weeks at sea really does allow for a lot of self-contemplation and growth. I am very thankful to have had this experience.

Question of the Day:

How big is the biggest humpback whale recorded? How big is the biggest whale recorded? How does this compare to the average sized person?