CATHRINE PRENOT FOX
ONBOARD NOAA SHIP OSCAR DYSON
JULY 24 – AUGUST 14, 2011
Science and Technology Log:
I have read a lot about travel during the “age of sail,” and the Gloucester, Massachusetts fishing boom years. Believe you me, it wasn’t all swashbuckling pirates, romantic whale captures and sea shanties. Now though? Life at sea, on the surface, has all of the amenities and trappings of life at home: shower, a place to sleep, delicious food, work and friends. Easy, especially if you are, I should add, a Teacher at Sea. Beneath the surface though… it gets complicated. How is it possible to turn on a faucet and get fresh water when you are surrounded by brine? Where is the food stored before it arrives on your plate? Where does the electricity come from when you flip a switch? (I assure you, our boat is not Pollock powered, nor do we drag an extra long extension cord…)
Before I go into the picture journey of the ship and her inner workings, let me tell you about routine matters. In fact, I want to share with you my daily routine on the Oscar Dyson, and then, afterward, take you into the Belly of the Beast. Go ahead. Click on Issue 11.
I want to especially thank the Chief Marine Engineer, Jeff Hokkanen, for a stellar hour and a half tour of the inner workings of the ship. He probably didn’t realize that his job was red carpet material, but after about 100 photo opportunities from Staci, Megan Stachura (a graduate student from the University of Washington) and me, I think we have convinced him…
I was most curious about how the Oscar Dyson dealt with issues that I don’t think much about at home: power, water and waste. How is it possible to produce enough electricity for me to turn on lights, be charging my computer and driving along at 11 knots? Where does the water come from, when we are surrounded by the sea? Where does it all go, when, you know, we ‘go?’
Power: We have four diesel engines on board. They are enormous Caterpillars that were built into the ship. The engines power generators that then run electric motors… all controlled by a computerized generator control panel. On average, we use 2,500-3,000 gallons of marine diesel fuel every day we are out to sea. Additionally, every 1,000 miles the 150 gallons of oil in the engines needs to be changed. I know you are adding up the prices in your head. It is pretty amazing how much good science costs, isn’t it? Here is how I see it: manage the single largest Alaskan fishery (some argue in the world) to ensure that it is healthy and here for generations in the future, or let Walleye Pollock go the way of the Atlantic Cod on the Grand Banks? Once I do the math, it all seems worth it.
Each human being on this boat uses about 50 gallons of water a day. The water is produced by drawing on seawater, running it through a vacuum and boiling it. Water in the vacuum boils at a lower temperature, saving energy. After distillation, the water is treated with a UV light (similar to how a backpacking steri pen works) and bromine. Seawater used to be in many ships’ toilets; if it contained phosphorescent bacteria, when you flushed, your effluent would fluoresce. (Oddly poetic for what I just described, no?)
Finally, what happens to ‘it’ all? The ship has two kinds of waste, grey water (from drains) and black water (sewage). According to international regulations, you cannot dispose of waste within three miles of shore. Most ships, once they have crossed that boundary? Heave ho. The Oscar Dyson treats it’s grey and black water in a septic system, chlorinates it, and then disposes of it, once we have crossed that 3 mile zone. When tested, it would classify as being safe to drink… …any takers? Food scraps are ground up and thrown overboard (outside the 3 miles), paper trash is incinerated, and aluminum recycled.
All in all, I think it is pretty fascinating how this ship supplies thirty people with their basic needs for weeks on end. I’ll leave you with a few bonus photos from our tour, and some fish cameos from our trawls. A heads up if you are about to scroll through my photos: I will describe the trawl operation in more detail in the future, but the general purpose of our trawls is to take the ages, weights, lengths, sexes and stomachs of individual fish we catch. Three of these operations (sexing, aging and taking the stomachs) are fatal to the fish…a hard reality to swallow when I have made the Walleye Pollock a beloved mascot. I choose to deal with this reality by taking inane photos with the fish. To sum up: photos of fish ahead. I make lots of faces.