Callie Harris: Back to Land Life, September 3, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Callie Harris

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson

August 13 – 26, 2019

Mission: Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Alaska

Date: 9/3/19

Weather Data from Key West, FL

Latitude: 24.551°N
Longitude: 81.7800 °W
Wind Speed: 15 MPH
Air Temperature: 32°C
Sea Temperature: 31°C
Barometric Pressure: 1009 mbar

Personal Log

I can’t believe I’ve been back on land for one week already. My 14 days on the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson flew by. Everyone has asked me how my trip was and I simply state, “epic.” It was by far one of the coolest experiences of my life. I am proud of myself for taking on such an adventure. I hope I inspire my daughters, students, and colleagues to never stop daring, dreaming, and discovering. The trip itself exceeded my highest expectations. I realized how lucky I was to have such warm weather and calm seas. The scientists agreed it was one of calmest expeditions they have ever had in terms of sea conditions. One of the coolest experiences of being a Teacher at Sea was the ability to see every aspect of the vessel. The NOAA Corps officers, the deck crew, and the scientists were so welcoming and friendly. I truly felt at home on board wherever I ventured. By the end of our cruise, our science watch was seamless while conducting the fish surveys. I got the biggest compliment on the last day of our trip when two of the deck crew said they thought I was one of the NOAA scientists the whole time. They both had no idea I was actually a teacher at sea until I mentioned that I was headed back home to teach in Key West.

Callie in front of plane
Callie prepares to head home. Photo Credit: Ali Deary

Just when I thought my adventure was over, I had one of my most memorable moments of the trip. The science team and I had some down time while waiting to board our flight out of Kodiak to Anchorage. We were so thrilled to be back on land that we decided to go on a walk-about around the airport area. We stumbled upon a freshwater river where Pink Salmon were spawning (aka a salmon run). The salmon run is the time when salmon, which have migrated from the ocean, swim to the upper reaches of rivers where they spawn on gravel beds. We stood on the river bank in awe watching hundreds of them wiggle upstream. We also came across fresh bear scat (poop) that was still steaming. It was pretty crazy! Our walk-about was such a random fun ending to an epic adventure.

Pink salmon run
Pink salmon run
at the river
Callie and friends from NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. Photo Credit: Matt Wilson
Fresh bear scat!
Fresh bear scat!

I am so thankful for this opportunity. It was the trip of a lifetime. It was an honor and a privilege that I will never forget. I will be sharing it with my students for years to come. I am looking forward to attending future NOAA Teacher at Sea Alumni gatherings to meet fellow TAS participants and continuing this amazing experience.

Karah Nazor: Interview with NOAA Scientist Flora Cordoleani, Ph.D., June 2, 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 2, 2019

Scientist Spotlight: Flora Cordoleani, Ph.D., NOAA NMFS, SWFSC, Fisheries Ecology Division (FED). Dr. Cordoleani is a member of the fish sorting team on this survey.

Interests: Rock climbing, surfing, reading, studying Japanese

Education: Dr. Cordoleani’s doctoral degree is in Marine Biology and Ecology from Aix-Marseille University in France. There she researched interactions between phytoplankton and zooplankton. During her postdoc at the University of California, Davis, in the lab of Louis Botsford, she studied the impact of marine protected areas on rockfish along the CA coast.  

Flora measuring anchovies
Flora Cordoleani, Ph.D., measuring Northern Anchovies after a sort on the Reuben Lasker.
Flora and Karah
Dr. Flora Cordoleani and Dr. Karah Nazor, Teacher at Sea.

Current Research: Dr. Cordoleani leads a research program at UC Davis on preservation of Chinook Salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, of the Central California Valley Spring Run, which is a threatened species. She explains that these Chinook Salmon are genetically different from salmon of other runs such as the Late Fall, Fall, and Winter runs that take place in the Sacramento River, San Joaquin River, the Delta, the San Francisco Bay, and all of its tributaries.

The primary objective of Dr. Cordoleani’s research is to develop a life cycle model of the entire Spring Run from the spot where the young salmon are reared in the river to their journey through the Golden Gate to the sea where they spend a couple of years before returning back to their home river to spawn, thus completing the life cycle.  She aims to uncover environmental factors that are impacting the survival at each stage of the life cycle.

Project 1: Dr. Cordoleani’s team placed acoustic tags in the stomachs of young fish to trace their journey from the river to the ocean.  She has found that water temperature, water velocity, and flow are the major factors impacting whether or not juvenile fish are able to make it from their place of birth to the Golden Gate. She has observed that drought negatively impacts survival and that the fish fare better in wetter years.  Her data helps federal agencies, such as NOAA, with fish stock assessments and informs them for making science policy decisions on fishing and setting fishing quotas.

Project 2: Since water flow and velocity affect the survival of young salmon called fry, Dr. Cordoleani is very interested in water usage in the Central California Valley and gaining a better understanding how freshwater habitats are managed and how this affects wild salmon.  A major obstacle these fish encounter are dams, which blocks the natural flow of rivers. Spring run salmon have an additional challenge of low water levels and low stream flow in the Spring. During the Spring months, there is less water available in floodplain habitats due to the heavy consumption of water by the agriculture industry during this time.   

To study the effects of water flow and velocity on salmon fry, Dr. Cordoleani made mesh fish cages and placed the cages in either shallow floodplain habitats or the main river.  She placed ten fry (measuring 40 mm in length) in each cage and allowed them to grow for 6 weeks. At the end of the 6 weeks, she again measured the fish and found that the floodplain shallow water habitat promoted fish growth.

Rice farmers use floodplain habitats for their crop and Dr. Cordoleani is working on partnering with this industry to explore how they can work together to manage land to benefit native salmon runs.  She is excited that the rice farmers, as well as duck clubs, are interested to learn how their land can be used to help wild salmon populations thrive and how they can be a part of the solution to some of the obstacles wild salmon face.

Project 3:  Fish otoliths provide a treasure trove of information to reconstruct the life history of fish.  The CA Department of Fish and Game has for many years been collecting otoliths from salmon carcasses after spawning events throughout various locations in the Central CA Valley.  They gave Dr. Cordoleani access to their 450 stored otoliths for her research on the salmon life cycle. She will analyze the otoliths using laser ablation mass spectrometry and stable isotope analysis (using the Strontium 64 or 65 ratio) to determine in which river the adult fish were reared, where they were present at each stage of their life cycle, and how long they spent there. She will also be able to determine if the fish were wild or farmed-raised because hatchery feeding produces a different strontium signal, she explains.

With data from the otolith project, Dr. Cordoleani will compare different cohorts of fish and assess how fast the fish grew in each type of habitat in order to understand which habitats are most ideal for salmon survival. Importantly, she will be able to determine whether and how their growth was affected by different environmental factors and seasons over the years.  Dr. Cordoleani uses USGS databases and other agency websites to obtain water data records for her research.

Roy Moffitt, 40 Scientists Embark from Nome, August 7, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018

Mission: Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 6 – 7, 2018


All Gather in Nome for the Expedition Launch

August 6th:

All of the science party arrived in Nome and gathered for a science briefing before departure. In the evening there was a public presentation by Jackie Grebmeier the missions Co-Chief Scientist and Primary Investigator of the Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory – Northern Chukchi Integrated Study (DBO-NCIS). Jackie presented on what researchers have found. In brief, there is a shift northwards of the bottom dwelling Arctic ecosystems in the Bering Sea. This is due to the lack of winter ice in the southern Bering Sea causing a lack of a deep-sea cold pool of water during the rest of the year. This colder water is needed for some bottom dwelling organisms such as clams. Those clams are the favorite food choice of the Spectacled Eider Duck. When the bottom of the food chain moves north the higher in the food chain organisms such as the Spectacled Eider Duck need to adapt to a different food source or in this case move with north with it. The reason for the lacking cold pool of seawater is the lack ice being created at the surface during the winter, this process creates cold saltier water. Colder water that is also higher in salinity sinks and settles to the bottom of the ocean. So essentially the effects of less southern sea ice are from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the ocean. Grebmeier will be leading the DBO-NCS science team during this expedition so look for a future blogs focused on this research.

August 7th Evening:

We are currently anchored off the Nome Alaska Harbor and have only been on the ship for a few hours. Scientists are preparing their instruments for deployment. These instruments will measure a wide range of non-living and living members of the ecosystem. These scientific measurements will be taken from the sea floor into the atmosphere, the measurements will use a wide range of equipment. Stay tuned to future blogs with focus on different research groups, their data, specialized equipment, and their findings. We are off!

There is no place like Nome, Where the Land Meets the Sea

We are departing from Nome, Alaska. Here are some pictures around the city of Nome. Roadways to the rest of Alaska and beyond do not connect Nome. You must get here by boat or plane.

Nome from Anvil Mountain
Nome from Anvil Mountain


Healy anchored off Nome
The USCG Healy is anchored off the coast of Nome.

Healy at anchor
Another view of USCGC Healy anchored off of Nome


The Chum salmon were running in the Nome River, they leave the ocean and go up the river to spawn.

salmon jumping
Chum Salmon jumping up the Nome River

I found someone who traveled farther to get here than me: Arctic Terns who travel from the Antarctic to Arctic every year. In this picture, an Arctic Tern is seen with this year’s offspring. The juvenile here can now fly and will stay with its parent for the first 2 to 3 months.

Arctic Tern and offspring
Arctic Tern and its new offspring


This is the same variety of seagull that you see in New England, but in Alaska, this one was not so nice. As I was walking on busy road way, this gull caught me off guard and dive-bombed me, almost knocking me into incoming traffic. After several more passes, the gull decided I was not a threat to its offspring. This nest was over 200ft away. Many seabirds use the coast of Alaska to breed and raise the next generation. The common seagull, or Glaucous Gull, and Arctic Tern are only just two.​

Seagull on the roof with nest
Seagull on the roof with nest

Helen Haskell: Getting to know Ketchikan, June 7, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Helen Haskell

Aboard NOAA Ship Fairweather


Mission: Hydro Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Southeast Alaska – West Prince of Wales Island Hydro Survey

Date: 6/4/17

Weather: Cloud cover 100%, mixed drizzle and rain, 12C feels like 8C

Location: Ketchikan, AK, 55.3422° N, 131.6461° W

Personal Log

Flying has its benefits and drawbacks. While it is not possible to see in nearly as much detail compared to as when you are in a car, looking out of the window, able to stop at will, on a plane the bigger stories, the bigger picture becomes more apparent more quickly. Leaving Albuquerque at 9am, the sun had been up for a while, the ground warm and the air temperature already in the 70’s. No patches of snow anymore in the Sandia Mountains that skirt the city. Looking down from my window seat moments after take off, I had to smile as we flew right over my school. I could see my classroom roof, the track, and the school garden. In the three-hour flight heading to Seattle the landscape began to change, and geologic features we had been talking about in my 9th grade class this year came in to view. Passing over the red rock of Utah, we began to see more snow at lower elevations, the Great Salt Lake, and finally Mt Rainier. The next flight from Seattle to Ketchikan promised even more change for this desert rat. We flew up the Inside Passage, seeing island, bays and inlets, and increasing amount of snow and cloud.

Due to flight distance and potential delays, I was flown in to Ketchikan one day ahead of schedule, and the Fairweather was in port for another day. So, myself along with most of the rest of the crew had time to explore Ketchikan and the surrounding area. A short van ride in to town from the Coast Guard Station where the Fairweather is docked, it’s immediately obvious how the town has undergone change over time.

My knowledge of the area began on the flight from Seattle when I was seated next to a logger. Looking out the window as we moved north across Vancouver Island and up the Inside Passage, he pointed out floating rafts of recently cut timber, explaining to me how it is towed and then loaded on to ships while on the ocean. We talked of the different species of wood and what he liked about his job, and of being outside in Alaska. As I stood in downtown Ketchikan I could see the hills rising up immediately east of town and marveled at the engineering used to build roads and communities in these conditions. However, times have changed in Ketchikan and the pulp plant has since closed down, and while there is still evidence of logging, industries have changed.

Flying in to Ketchikan

Ketchikan is known as the salmon capital and all over town there is evidence of this business. All menus contain Alaskan caught salmon and other fish such as halibut and cod. Near the water is an anchor that was used to hold down Fish Traps, a device designed by a local Ketchikan resident to catch thousands of fish, and ultimately was banned when populations of salmon became decimated.

South-east Alaska is complex, geologically speaking, and as a result, Ketchikan, on Revillagigedo Island, built on a metamorphic rocks, is also a former mining town, with copper, iron, uranium and molybdenum deposits found nearby. In the late 19th and early 20th century, gold deposits were being explored. Walking around town, while I found no evidence of gold, walking up Creek Street, I learned about the women who, up until the 1950’s, had ‘houses of friendship’ as businesses, which today are tourist stores selling everything from t-shirts to locally produced art.

Today, Ketchikan is the host of many cruise ships that spend a day or so moored in one of the four piers. From these boats visitors disembark to explore the town. This is evidence again of Ketchikan’s evolution as a town. While salmon is still important, the thousands of tourists that come here in the summer have also changed the nature of the town, at least for several hours a day in the summer season. Crossing guards, today dressed in complete rain gear, stop traffic to let the throngs of people cross the main street. Stores, many locally owned, are filled with a range of goods, from cheap key chains to fine jewelry. Local Alaskan and north -west artists are getting more exposure as a result of these tourists. The town is evolving.

In one of the stores that sold art made by Alaskan tribal members, I learned about rain jackets that were made with seal intestines and necklaces carved out of a dark sedimentary shale like rock, heavy in carbon, known locally as Argillite. Found 80 miles south of Ketchikan, this rock is harvested from a mountain by the Haisa tribe, and carved in to fetishes of the wildlife in the area. Perhaps what I found the most fascinating were the baleen baskets and pots that were made. The baleen is carefully cut in to very thing strips and these strips are woven in to baskets, each with a small, carved handle made from walrus tusk.

I also visited the Totem Heritage Center, seeing examples of 150-200 year old Totems that had been carved by the local tribes, and under preservation. There are three tribes in the region, the Tlingit (pronounced ‘Klink-it), the Haisa and the Tsimshian. Totems were originally carved to honor individuals, commemorating events, or as house posts, sometimes supporting the main beam of the house, at other time, displaying the clan, based on matrilineal lineage.

I also went to the Southeast Alaskan Discovery Center. Here, I watched a film on the history of Ketchikan and some of it’s influential historical residents as well as a short clip about Tongass National Forest, making me anxious for the ship to set sail so I could see more of what was to offer in this vast ecosystem.  Specimens of plants and animals found in the temperate rainforest and the surrounding waters gave me a little more insight in to what I might potentially see on our journey to Kodiak. While Bald Eagles are almost as common as the pigeons hanging out by the Coast Guard station where we are moored, I am hoping to see more wildlife as the research begins.

Word of the day: Muskeg

A Muskeg is a:

  1. A larger relative of the muskrat found here in Alaska OR
  2. A term used to describe a female muskox OR
  3. A habitat found in Southeast Alaska

A Muskeg is a habitat, an open bog that acts like a giant sponge here in Southeast Alaska. The soils in muskegs are saturated, receiving 50-300 inches of rain annually. The soils contain a significant amount of sphagnum mosses and sedges that hold water and release excess water in to the streams and rivers. The sedges and mosses partially decompose and build up, so several feet of material may contain thousands of years of organic matter. The peat mosses actually release chemicals that subdue decomposition and over time, layers of peat build up. As organic matter does not decay, the nutrient availability in these areas is low, making it hard for many plant species to survive there. By studying these bogs and taking core samples of the material, scientists are learning about vegetation change in Alaska over the past 14,000 years. Organic material is radiocarbon-dated and pollen and leaf fragments are identified to determine what species were presented at different times.

Fact of the day:

Alaska is five times the size of New Mexico, and consists of 586,412 square miles of land, with 60% managed by the Federal Government, 25% by the State of Alaska, and 10% by Native corporations and villages.

What is this?

What do you think this is a picture of? (The answer will be in the next blog installment).IMG_0115 (1)


Acronym of the Day

One immediate observation I have had being here is that there are many acronyms used and part of my job is to learn what they mean -and it is a bit like learning a new language. So each blog, I’ll share with you and acronym or two:

NOAA: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

CO: Commanding Officer

XO: Executive Officer

Lindsay Knippenberg: Oceanography Day! September 11, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lindsay Knippenberg
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4 – 16, 2011

Mission: Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: September 11, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 58.00 N
Longitude: -166.91 W
Wind Speed: 23.91 kts with gusts over 30 kts
Wave Height: 10 – 13ft with some bigger swells rolling through
Surface Water Temperature: 6.3 C
Air Temperature: 8.0 C

Science and Technology Log

On a calm day letting out the CTD is easy.
On a calm day letting out the CTD is easy.

Today Jeanette and Florence took me under their wing to teach me about the oceanographic research they are conducting onboard the Dyson. At every station there is a specific order to how we sample. First the transducer, then the CTD, then numerous types of plankton nets, and then we end with the fishing trawl. The majority of the oceanographic data that they collect comes from the CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, Depth). The CTD is lowered over the side of the ship and as it slowly descends to about 100 meters it takes conductivity, temperature, and depth readings. Those readings go to a computer inside the dry lab where Jeanette is watching to record where the pycnocline is located.

The results from the CTD. Can you spot where the pycnocline is?
The results from the CTD. Can you spot where the pycnocline is?

The pycnocline is a sharp boundary layer where the density of the water rapidly changes. The density changes because cold water is more dense than warm water and water with a higher salinity is more dense than water that is lower in salinity. So as the CTD travels down towards the bottom it  measures warmer, less salty water near the surface, a dramatic change of temperature and salinity at the pycnocline, and then colder, saltier water below the pycnocline. Once Jeanette knows where the pycnocline is, she tells the CTD to collect water at depths below, above, and at the pycnocline boundary. The water is collected in niskin bottles and when the CTD is back on deck Florence and Jeanette take samples of the water to examine in the wet lab.

Filtering out the chlorophyll from the CTD water samples.
Filtering out the chlorophyll from the CTD water samples.

Back in the lab, Jeanette and Florence run several tests on the water that they collected. The first test that I watched them do was for chlorophyll. They used a vacuum to draw the water through two filters that filtered out the chlorophyll from the water. As the water from the CTD passed through the filters, the different sizes of chlorophyll would get stuck on the filter paper. Jeanette and Florence then collected the filter paper, placed them in labeled tubes, and stored them in a cold, dark freezer where the chlorophyll would not degrade. In the next couple of days the chlorophyll samples that they collected will be ran through a fluorometer which will quantify how much chlorophyll is actually in their samples.

Jeanette collecting water from the CTD.
Jeanette collecting water from the CTD.

Besides chlorophyll, Jeanette and Florence also tested the water for dissolved oxygen and nutrients like nitrates and phosphates. All of these tests will give the scientists a snapshot of the physical and biological characteristics of the Eastern Bering Sea at this time of year. This is very important to the fisheries research because it can help to determine the health of the ecosystem and return of the fish in the following year.

Personal Log

One of the high points for me so far on the cruise has been seeing and learning about all the new fish that we catch in the net. We have caught lots of salmon, pollock, and capelin. The capelin are funny because they smell exactly like cucumbers. When we get a big catch of capelin the entire fish lab smells like cucumbers…it’s so weird. We have also caught wolffish, yellow fin sole, herring, and a lot of different types of jellyfish. The jellies are fun because they come in all different shapes and sizes. We had a catch today that had some hug ones and everyone was taking their pictures with them.

Now that is a big jelly fish.
Now that is a big jelly fish.

Today we also caught three large Chinook or king salmon. Ellen taught me how to fillet a fish and I practiced on a smaller fish and then filleted the salmon for the cook. What is even cooler was that at dinner we had salmon and it was the fish that we had caught and I had filleted. Fresh salmon is so good and I think the crew was happy to get to enjoy our catch.

The catch of the day was a 8.5 kg Chinook salmon.
The catch of the day was a 8.5 kg Chinook salmon.

Salmon for dinner, filleted by Lindsay.
Salmon for dinner, filleted by Lindsay.

What else did we catch?

Walleye Pollock
Walleye Pollock

A juvenile Wolffish
A juvenile Wolffish

Yellow Fin Sole
Yellowfin Sole

 A squid
A squid


Lots of little Capelin
Lots of little Capelin

Lindsay Knippenberg: Going Fishing! September 4, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lindsay Knippenberg
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4 – 16, 2011


Mission: Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: September 4, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
Latitude: 54.13
Longitude: -166.41
Wind Speed: 24.10kts
Wave Height: 4-6 ft
Surface Water Temperature: 9.0°C
Air Temperature: 8.8°C

Science and Technology Log

The station grid for all of the proposed sampling sites.
The station grid for all of the proposed sampling sites.

Yeah! Today we left Dutch Harbor and began the second leg of the Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS). The purpose of the BASIS Study is to assess the status of marine species in the Eastern Bering Sea and support the decision making process for commercially important fisheries. The scientists on my team are accomplishing this goal by combining their knowledge of fisheries, oceanography, and acoustics. While I am onboard I will be helping out the scientists in all these different areas to get a broad view of all the science going on during our cruise.

There are specific sampling locations called stations that we will be going to throughout the Eastern Bering Sea. The map on the left shows the locations of these stations. The green dots are the stations that we are sampling during leg 1 and leg 2 of the BASIS survey. Leg 1 is already complete and they sampled at all the stations east of Unalaska. We will be picking up where they left off and sampling at all of the remaining green stations. The black dots are stations that will be sampled by another vessel named the Bristol Explorer.

The trawl net being let out behind the ship.
The trawl net being let out behind the ship.

For the first station I got to help out the fisheries team in the fish lab. We did a surface trawl by letting out a large net out the back of the boat with floats on it to keep it at the surface. By adjusting the floats and weights on the trawl, the fishermen can choose what depth they fish at. While the net is out, the OOD (Officer of the Deck) slowly motors the ship for about 30 minutes and the net catches the fish that are swimming in that area and depth. For this station we want to see the fish that are swimming within the top 30 meters of our sampling area. At later stations we might also do a mid level or deep trawl to see the fish that live at those depths.

We found some Salmon!
We found some Salmon!

After the 30 minutes were up, the fishermen slowly brought in the net and we immediately saw salmon caught in the net. Yeah! We caught something! As more and more net was brought in the fish began to pile up on our sorting table. There were a lot more fish than I had expected and the majority of them were salmon. It was now our job to sort the fish by species and I will admit that I am pretty slow at identifying the species. They may all look like fish, but they each have identifiable features like the color of their gums (black for Chinook Salmon), type of gill rakers, or color patterns on their body or tails. At this station we were lucky enough to pull in four out of the five salmon species in Alaska. We caught Chinook, Sockeye, Chum, and Pink Salmon. We also caught several different species of jellyfish and some squid.

That is a lot of salmon to sort.
That is a lot of salmon to sort.

After we caught the fish, we had to process them. In order to learn about the fish and the health of their population, we took samples and collected data from the fish we caught. Here is a description of the data we collected and what the scientists can learn from that data.

Weight and Length – Weight and length are an index of fitness for the fish. The scientists multiply how fat the fish is by how long it is to determine its lipid (fat) content. In cold waters the fish tend to have a higher lipid content than in warmer waters where the fish have to use more energy to metabolize. Additionally, if a fish has a higher lipid content, it might also mean that it is healthy and finding prey easily.

Gill rakers (white hairs on top of the red gills) from two different salmon. Can you see the difference?
Gill rakers (white hairs on top of the red gills) from two different salmon. Can you see the difference?

Axillary Process – We cut the axillary process off the fish we caught for genetic studies. The scientists know the baseline genetic sequence for the salmon that come from different regions of the world. By looking at the genetics of the fish we caught, we can tell where the fish came from and reconstruct their migration and distribution. For instance, the scientists have used the genetics from the axillary processes to determine that a large percentage of chum salmon caught in the Eastern Bering Sea are from Japan.

Sexual Maturity – By looking at the testes and ovaries of the fish, the scientists can determine if the fish were immature or mature and when they were going to spawn. Using this information along with the results from the axillary process genetics, the scientists can determine migration patterns and growth rates.

Determining the sex, stomach contents, and sexual maturity of the fish we caught.
Determining the sex, stomach contents, and sexual maturity of the fish we caught.

Male vs. Female – The scientists also use the testes and ovaries to determine if the fish was a female or male. This is helpful in looking at the ratio of males to females in their population.

Stomach Contents – By removing the stomach of the fish and analyzing its stomach contents, the scientists can determine what the fish was eating. This is can be very helpful when comparing warm years to cold years and the effect that climate change can have on prey sources and the nutrition of the fish.

All of this information can then be extremely useful to fisheries managers who are assessing the stock of the fish that are important to commercial fishermen. One of the species that we hope to collect as we sample at other stations is Pollock. Pollock is the largest US fishery by volume. Each year around 2.9 Billion pounds of Pollock are harvested. To learn more about the Pollock fishery check out this link to NOAA FishWatch. The scientists  on my team are assessing the health of the Pollock fishery by looking at the total lipid content of Age 0 Pollock in late summer. Their lipid content is important at this time of year because winter in coming and they will need lipids to survive the cold winter. By looking at the lipid content of the Age 0 Pollock that we collect, the scientists can predict how many Age 0 Pollock will survive to become Age 1 Pollock and eventually mature to become Age 3 or 4 Pollock that can be harvested.

Personal Log

The fluke of a whale as it dives.
The fluke of a whale as it dives.

Whales! I was hanging out on the bridge getting my last look at land for a couple of weeks when I thought I saw a whale out of the corner of my eye. I couple of minutes later a huge Humpback Whale breached right next to the ship. I have seen whales before, but it was just their dorsal fin of flukes. This was crazy. An entire whale was out of the water and it kept on breaching over and over again like it was playing. I wanted to take a picture, but I was too mesmerized to even take my eyes away from it for a moment. Then as I started to look farther out to sea, I saw even more whales. There were about a dozen whales flapping their tails and rolling on to their sides. It looked like they were having a good time playing on a beautiful day.

The weather forecast for September 4 - 6. It doesn't look good...
The weather forecast for September 4 - 6. It doesn't look good...

That beautiful day, however, did not last very long. We managed to sample at two different stations when the wind started to pick up and the waves began to get a little larger. The forecast was calling for a Gale Warning with gusts of up to 50kts and 20-24 ft seas. Those conditions are far too dangerous to fish in, so we turned around and headed back to Dutch Harbor. Hopefully the storm will pass quickly and we will only have to hide out a couple of days until it is safe to fish again.

Lindsay Knippenberg: I Made It! September 3, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lindsay Knippenberg
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4 – 16, 2011

Mission: Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: September 3, 2011

Weather/Location Data for Unalaska, AK
Latitude: 53°54’0”N
Longitude: 166° 32′ 36″ W
Wind Speed: Calm
Air Temperature: mid 50’s°F

Personal Log

It was a long day of traveling. I flew from Washington DC to Seattle to Anchorage to Cold Bay to Dutch Harbor.
It was a long day of traveling. I flew from Washington DC to Seattle to Anchorage to Cold Bay to Dutch Harbor.

Whew…I made it to Unalaska. After an entire day of sitting on airplanes and running through airport terminals, I am finally here. I can’t believe how beautiful it is here. The surrounding mountains are a stunning green color and there have even been some sightings of blue sky between the normal grey clouds. I am also amazed at how warm it is. It almost got up to 60°F today, but I was told that the weather can change here pretty quickly. We have already heard of bad weather coming our way next week. The National Weather Service issued a Gale Warning with predictions of wind gusts of up to 50 knots and waves above 20 feet. I had better take my seasickness medications.

The beautiful town of Unalaska.
The beautiful town of Unalaska.

We don’t ship out until tomorrow, so we decided to take advantage of the nice weather and explore Unalaska. Unalaska is much bigger than I thought that it would be. It is a major international fishing port and is one of the larger cities in Alaska with about 4,000 residents. Life in Unalaska revolves around fishing. Most residents are either commercial fishermen, work in the processing facilities, support the fishermen through stores and other services, or work in the ship yards where the seafood is shipped to all parts of the world. The name of the harbor where all of this is going on might be familiar to you. It is called Dutch Harbor and is where the show “Deadliest Catch” is filmed about the commercial crab fishermen. Crab is not the only type of commercial seafood coming out of Dutch Harbor. Pollock, Cod, Halibut, Rock Sole, and Mackerel are just a few of the other commercial fisheries in Dutch Harbor.

A World War II bunker on top of Bunker Hill in Unalaska (Photo Credit: Jillian Worssam).
A World War II bunker on top of Bunker Hill in Unalaska (Photo Credit: Jillian Worssam).

For those of you interested in history, Dutch Harbor also has historical significance from World War II. Dutch Harbor was the only land in North America, besides Pearl Harbor, that was bombed by Japanese Zeros during World War II. In our exploring around the island today, we saw evidence of Armed Forces’ bunkers, Quonset huts, and barracks still visible amongst the green hills of Unalaska. The National Park System opened a WWII National Historic Area and Visitor Center in 2002 in Unalaska and I hope to have time to visit it either before or after my cruise.

Enjoying the beach at Summer Bay in Humpy Cove. In 1997 this was the site of a 47,000 gallon oil spill.
Enjoying the beach at Summer Bay in Humpy Cove. In 1997 this was the site of a 47,000 gallon oil spill

What’s the best place to go on a beautiful, sunny day in Unalaska? The beach, of course. We didn’t go to the beach to get sun tans or to go for a swim. We went to check out the tide pools. I love tide pools! It is amazing how resilient the little creatures are that live in the tide pools. When the tide is in they are completely submerged under water and then six hours later they are above the water level when the tide goes out. To make life even harder, they are also smashed by huge waves crashing on them as the tide goes in and out. It is a tough life, but there was such a diversity of life that they must be pretty tough and have some helpful adaptations. As I explored amongst the rocks, I found sea anemones, barnacles, mussels, and lots of different types of seaweeds. On our way back to the van, we also found a stream leading back to a brackish lake and the salmon were running. They are amazing creatures to watch too. The amount of energy that they exert and the sacrifice that they make to reproduce is incredible.

I am now a member of the female dominated science team onboard the Oscar Dyson.
I am now a member of the female dominated science team onboard the Oscar Dyson.

Unfortunately we couldn’t spend our entire day exploring. The plan for the rest of the day is to get settled onboard the Dyson, have a science team meeting to discuss the science that we will be doing and the logistics associated with the different stations and sample sites, and have a safety meeting with the crew of Dyson to discuss life onboard the ship and emergency situations. I am so excited to go out to sea tomorrow and actually start fishing.

Lindsay Knippenberg: An Introduction, August 28, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lindsay Knippenberg
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
September 4 – 16, 2011

Mission: Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area: Bering Sea
Date: August 28, 2011

Posing with the Albert Einstein statue on my first day as an Einstein Fellow in Washington DC.
Posing with the Albert Einstein statue on my first day as an Einstein Fellow in Washington DC

Before I begin my adventure, I should probably introduce myself. My name is Lindsay Knippenberg and I am currently an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Washington, D.C. You might be asking yourself, what is an Einstein Fellow? The Einstein Fellowship is a year-long professional development opportunity for K-12 teachers who teach science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. Around 30 educators are placed within the federal government each year and our job is to inform our agency or office on matters related to education. Last year fellows were placed at the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy, Department of Education, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and some fellows were even placed within the offices of U.S. senators. To learn more about what I have been working on as an Einstein Fellow check out the video below, or you can go to the NOAA Education website to view some of the resource collections that my office has made for educators this year.

My Freshmen even have energy during 1st Hour.
My Freshmen even have energy during 1st Hour.

Before I came to Washington, D.C., I was a high school science teacher in St. Clair Shores, MI. At South Lake High School I taught Biology, Environmental Science, and Aquatic Biology. As a teacher, one of my goals was to get my students to take risks and make goals that take them beyond the city bus lines. Through my previous teacher research experience as a PolarTREC teacher in Antarctica, moving to Washington, D.C. for a year-long fellowship, and now traveling to Alaska to board a ship for the Bering Sea I hope to show my students that you can challenge yourself and step outside of your comfort zones and get big rewards. I am very excited to join the crew aboard the Oscar Dyson to learn about the science that is conducted on board a NOAA vessel and the careers that are available to my students through NOAA.

The Oscar Dyson will be my home for 12 days
The Oscar Dyson will be my home for 13 days

So where am I going and what will I be doing? On Friday I will be leaving hot and humid Washington, D.C. for cool and breezy Dutch Harbor, Alaska. In Dutch Harbor I will board the NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. The Oscar Dyson is one of NOAA’s newer vessels and is one of the most technologically advanced fisheries survey vessels in the world. As a NOAA Teacher at Sea I will have the responsibility of learning about the science that is done onboard the ship, helping the variety of scientists that are onboard with their research projects, and then communicating what I learned through a blog and classroom lesson plans. The main research project that many of the scientists will be working on is called the Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS).

Chum Salmon and Walleye Pollock are two fish species that I will be seeing a lot of.
Chum Salmon and Walleye Pollock are two fish species that I will be seeing a lot of.

The BASIS survey was designed to improve our understanding of salmon ecology in the Bering Sea. We will be sampling the fish and the water in the Southeastern Bering Sea to better understand the community of fish, invertebrates, and other organisms that live there and the resources available to them. The survey has been divided up into two legs. The first leg is from August 19 – September 1 and Teacher at Sea, KC Sullivan, is onboard blogging about his experience. To learn more about BASIS and what lies ahead for me check out his blog. I will be sailing on the second leg of the “cruise” from September 4 – 16 and as a Teacher at Sea I will also be blogging about my experiences. I am very excited about lies ahead for me and I hope that you will follow my adventures as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.

Kevin Sullivan: Awaiting Departure, August 20, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin C. Sullivan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
August 17 — September 2, 2011

Personal Log

I arrived into Kodiak Island late Wednesday night.  I came in around midnight local time, which  put my total travel time for the day somewhere in the 17-hour range!  Coupled with a time difference of 4 hours from the East Coast I was surely in need of some downtime.

After some rest, the next day I was able to explore a bit of Kodiak Island until the remaining crew came into town.   I went to the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center, as well as some local museums and other points of interest.  Despite the rain and fog, I walked around and really enjoyed the opportunity to explore in seclusion.  Later that evening, the rest of the scientific crew arrived into Kodiak, we all met up and grabbed some dinner and introduced ourselves and spoke of our future together.

Thursday was continued with more overcast, socked in pea-fog conditions, with visibility coming down to <.25 mile at times.  Our trip was supposed to leave early in the morning this day which was delayed until 3:00 PM and then again delayed until 1:00 PM the following day (Friday the 20th). The delays were a result of having to wait for a specific part that the boat needed prior to leaving port.  Due to the added delay, we decided to go  investigate some intel from locals about Kodiak Bear spotting sites.  Luckily enough, we found them taking advantage of pink and coho salmon spawns occurring.  The Kodiak bear, in preparation for winter and hibernation, must gorge itself leading up to the cold winter months.  The salmon spawns coinciding with this bear’s requirement are a perfect example of evolution and “nature’s clock” at work.  It reminds me of the Horseshoe crab back in NJ wherein their eggs laid in the spring become the food for the migratory red knot bird coming all the way from South America.  The timing is just perfect.  The Kodiak seems to target the brains of the salmon as well as the belly of this fish where the eggs are located (you can see this in the picture I took below of the pink Salmon).  This ensures that every bite is as most calorically packed as possible with the warmer days ending and winter approaching.

Kodiak Brown Bear. Taken 08-19-11
Kodiak Brown Bear. Taken 08-19-11

Pink Salmon Spawn.  Taken 08-19-11
Pink Salmon Spawn. Taken 08-19-11

Friday morning all scientists and new crew attended a meeting at 8:30 A.M. to discuss the logistics of the trip.  Specifically, the lead scientist, Ed Farley, reviewed how the average day was going to unfold with the various investigations going on.  The goal seems to be to get to three stations a day with each station consisting of acoustics studies, oceanography, zooplankton and lastly, a fishing trawl.  Conducting this much research all on one boat in one trip is quite ambitious and unique in the marine world.  I will be getting into the details of these activities as the trip gets underway.  Lastly, the meeting included a debriefing on vessel safety.

So far, the trip has been eye-opening.  It is amazing to be able to experience the amount of planning and logistics that must go into an expedition of this magnitude.  Every corner I turn, there are crew-members busily working and focused on their duties.   The ship itself is analogous to a bee’s nest and its crew members the bees themselves.  They are all performing certain functions all for a common goal.  It is also very inspiring to see how passionate these leading scientists and crew members are about the work they do.  It is truly contagious and has reinvigorated my own passion for the sciences.

Mountain Peak Through The Fog
Mountain Peak Through The Fog

Kevin Sullivan: Introduction, August 3, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kevin C. Sullivan
Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
August 17 — September 2, 2011

Mission: Bering-ALeutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS)
Geographical Area:  Bering Sea
Date:  August 3, 2011

Hello!  I am a public high school science teacher grades 9-12 for the Middletown District in Middletown, NJ.  I have been a teacher here for seven years.  I teach Environmental and Marine Sciences.  Prior to working in education, I was employed by Groundwater and Environmental Services (GES) where I did Environmental Consulting work for Exxon/Mobil.  I live directly across the street from the Atlantic Ocean in Sea Bright, NJ.  I enjoy anything associated with saltwater and am an avid saltwater fisherman.  Below is a picture of a Cubera Snapper that I caught while fishing in Costa Rica.

Cubera Snapper
Here I am (left) holding a Cubera Snapper I caught while fishing in Costa Rica.

A little about my education….  I have a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science with Minor in Marine Sciences from Stockton State College in Pomona, NJ. I also hold a graduate degree in Geosciences from Mississippi State University. By December of this year, I will finish a masters in Science Education from Capella University.

On August 17th 2011, I will be departing from NJ to begin my two-week adventure aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson. I am extremely excited to be a part of such a wonderful opportunity that has been awarded to me through the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program.

To be given the opportunity to be able to work with scientists in the field is remarkable!  I feel very fortunate to be part of such a rare opportunity and look forward to being able to share with my students, the enthusiasm and knowledge that this expedition will present.

The operating area of this cruise will be the Southeastern Bering Sea Shelf.

To learn more about the objectives of this cruise prior to my departure, please refer to the Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey (BASIS) webpage.

I look forward to posting much more as my travels begin.

Kathleen Harrison: Shumagin Islands, July 9, 2011

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathleen Harrison
Aboard NOAA Ship  Oscar Dyson
July 4 — 22, 2011

Location:  Gulf of Alaska
Mission:  Walleye Pollock Survey
Date: July 9, 2011

Weather Data from the Bridge
True wind direction:  59.9°, True wind speed:  11.44 knots
Sea Temperature:  9°C
Air Temperature:  8.9°C
Air pressure:  1009.74 mb
Foggy with 1 mile visibility
Ship heading:  88°, ship speed:  11 knots

Science and Technology Log

The Shumagin Islands are a group of about 20 islands in the Gulf of Alaska, southwest of Kodiak Island.  They were named for Nikita Shumagin, a sailor on Vitus Bering’s Arctic voyage in 1741.  They are volcanic in origin, composed mostly of basalt.

Shumagin Islands
Bold and mountainous, the Shumagin Islands rise from the sea in the Gulf of Alaska.

Several islands even exhibit hexagonal basaltic columns.  There are about 1000 people who reside in the islands, mostly in the town of Sand Point, on Popof Island.  According to the United States Coast Pilot (a book published by NOAA with extensive descriptions about coastlines for ship navigation), the islands extend out 60 miles from the Alaskan Peninsula.  They are bold and mountainous.

hexagonal basalt
When this island formed, volcanic lava cooled into basalt hexagonal columns.

The shores are broken in many places by inlets that afford good anchorages.  The shores are rockbound close to.  Fishing stations and camps are scattered throughout the group, and good fishing banks are off the islands.  Fox and cattle raising are carried on to some extent.

long range view of SI, Alaskan Peninsula
Shumigan Islands to the left, snow covered peaks of Alaskan Peninsula in background. An amazing sight on a rare sunny day in the Gulf of Alaska.

Sea water quality is very important to the scientists on the Oscar Dyson.  So important, that it is monitored 24 hours a day.  This is called the Underway System.  The sea water comes through an intake valve on the keel of the bow, and is pumped up and aft to the chem lab.  There, it goes through 4 instruments:  the fluorometer, the dissolved Oxygen unit, the Thermosalinograph (TSG), and the ISUS (nitrate concentration).

The fluorometer measures the amount of chlorophyll and turbidity in the sea water once every second.  A light is passed through the water, and a sensor measures how much fluorescence (reflected light) the water has. The amount of chlorophyll is then calculated.  The measurement was 6.97 µg/L when I observed the instrument.  The amount of  phytoplankton in the water can be interpreted from the amount of chlorophyll.  Another sensor measures how much light passes through the water, which gives an indication of turbidity.  Twice a day, a sample of water is filtered, and the chlorophyll is removed.  The filter with the chlorophyll is preserved and sent to one of the NOAA labs on land for examination.

chem lab
Here are all of the water quality instruments, they are mounted to the wall in the chem lab. Each one has a separate line of sea water.

The next instrument that the water passes through will measure the amount of dissolved oxygen every 20 seconds.  Oxygen is important, because aquatic organisms take in oxygen for cellular respiration.  From plankton to white sharks, the method of underwater “breathing” varies, but the result is the same – oxygen into the body.  The oxygen in the water is produced by aquatic plants and phytoplankton as they do photosynthesis, and the amount directly affects how much aquatic life can be supported.

The TSG will measure temperature, and conductivity (how much electricity passes through) every second, and from these 2 measurements, salinity (how much salt is in the water) can be calculated.  The day that I observed the TSG temperature was 8.0°  C, and the salinity was 31.85 psu (practical salinity units).  Average sea water salinity is 35.  The intense study of melting sea ice and glaciers involves sea water temperature measurements all over the world.  A global data set can be accumulated and examined in order to understand changing temperature patterns.

instrument to measure
This instrument measures the amount of nitrate in the sea water. It is called the ISUS.

The last instrument measures nitrate concentration in the sea water every couple of minutes.  It is called ISUS, which stands for In Situ Ultraviolet Spectrophotometer.  Nitrate comes from organic waste material, and tends to be low at the surface, since the wastes normally sink to the bottom.  The normal value is .05 mg/L, at the surface, at 8°C.  Values within the range of 0.00 to 25 mg/L are acceptable, although anything above 5 is reason for concern.

All of the data from these instruments is fed into a ship’s computer, and displayed as a graph on a monitor.  The Survey Technician monitors the data, and the instruments, to make sure everything is working properly.

New Species Seen today:

Whale (unknown, but probably grey or humpback)

Horned Puffin

Dall’s Porpoise


Chum Salmon


monitor shows current data
The current water quality data is shown on this computer screen beside the instruments.

Personal Log

Living on a ship is quite different from living at home.  For one thing, every item on the ship is bolted, strapped, taped, or hooked to the bulkhead (wall), or deck (floor).  Most hatches (doors) have a hook behind them to keep them open(this reminds me of when I put hooks behind my doors at home to keep little children from slamming them and crushing fingers).  Some hatches (around ladderways (stairwells)) are magnetically controlled, and stay open most of the time.  They close automatically when there is a fire or abandon ship situation or drill.  Every drawer and cabinet door clicks shut and requires moving a latch or lever to open it.  For some cabinet doors that you want to stay open while you are working in the cabinet, there is a hook from the bulkhead to keep it open.

bracket holds copier
The copier machine is held in place by a 4 post bracket that is bolted to the floor.

On every desk is a cup holder, wider on the bottom than the top, designed to hold a regular glass or a cup of coffee.  If one of those is not handy, a roll of duct tape works well for a regular glass.  All shelves and counters have a lip on the front, and book shelves have an extra bar to hold the books in.  Trash cans and boxes are lashed to the bulkhead with an adjustable strap, and even the new copier machine has a special brace that is bolted to the deck to hold it in one place (I heard that the old copier fell over one time when there was a particularly huge wave).  There are lots of great pictures on the bulkheads of the Oscar Dyson, and each one is fastened to the bulkhead with at least 4 screws, or velcro.  There are hand rails everywhere – on the bulkhead in the passageway (hallway) (reminds me of Mom’s nursing home), and on the consoles of the bridge.

hallway hand rails
This view down the hall shows the hand rail. It comes in handy during rough weather.

Desk chairs can be secured by a bungee cord, and the chairs in the mess (dining room)  can be hooked to the deck.

Another thing that is different from home is the fact that the Oscar Dyson operates 24-7 (well, in my home, there could easily be someone awake any hour of the night, but the only thing they might operate is the TV). The lights in the passageways and mess are always on.  The acoustics and water quality equipment are always collecting data.  Different people work different shifts, so during any one hour, there is usually someone asleep.  Most staterooms have 2 people, and they will probably be on opposite shifts.  One might work 4 am to 4 pm, and the other would work 4 pm to 4 am.  That way, only one person is in the room at a time (there is not really room for more than one).  There is always someone on the bridge – at least the Officer of the Deck (OOD) – to monitor and steer the ship.  During the day, there is usually a look out as well.

binoculars on the bridge
These binoculars are used by the look out to scan the surrounding area for anything in the water - whales, boats, islands, kelp, or anything else in proximity to the ship.

His job is to, well, look out – look for floating items in the water, whales, rocks, and other ships (called contacts or targets).  This helps the OOD, because he or she can’t always keep their eyes on the horizon.

I have thoroughly enjoyed living on the Oscar Dyson (we have had calm seas so far), and talking with the NOAA staff and crew.  They are ordinary people, who have chosen an extraordinary life – aboard a ship.  It has challenges, but also great rewards – seeing the land from a different perspective, being up close to sea life, and forging close relationships with shipmates, as well as participating in the science that helps us understand the world’s oceans.

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!

Jason Moeller: June 14-16, 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 14-16, 2011

Personal Log

Welcome back, explorers!

June 14

I think I posted my last log too soon, because as soon as I hit the send button interesting things began to happen. First, I was called up to see some Mountain Goats feeding in the wild! I was able to take a picture of them as well! (Well, kind of…)

The mountain goats were so far away I had to use binoculars just to spot them. If you can spot the two tiny white dots to the right of the snow, that is them! There is also one that is on the left hand side in the middle of the photograph. You will have to take my word for it.

While this was going on, the professional members of the science team were still calibrating the sonar that we are going to use to catch the fish! I have explained the process in the captions of the following photographs.

sonar balls
Calibrating starts with these little balls. The one used to calibrate our sonar was made of Tungsten (like the black ball at the top)

The ball was suspended underneath the water on three poles, placed in a triangular shape, around the ship. This is a photo of one of the poles.

Once the ball was placed underneath the boat, the scientist swept sound waves off of the ball and used the above screen to see where the sound waves were striking the ball and reflecting. This allowed them to adjust the sound waves to hit the ball (or out in the ocean, the fish) exactly where they wanted it. This optimizes the amount of sound coming back to the boat and paints a better picture of what is under the water.

The process took several hours, but once we finished, we headed back out to sea to start the two-day journey towards our first fishing spot!

June 15-16

The most common sight off of the boat for the past two days has been this one.

Water, water, everywhere

We are currently in Unimak Pass, which will lead us to the Bering Sea! Unimak Pass is the fastest sea route from the United States into Asia, and as a result is a common merchant route between Seattle and Japan. It is also the best way to avoid rough seas and bad weather when travelling between the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, as it receives some cover from the landmass.

The Bering Sea likely needs no introduction, as it is arguably the best crab fishing waters on the planet and is well-known from the television show The Deadliest Catch. Aside from crab, the Bering Sea is teeming with life such as pollock, flounder, salmon, and halibut. As a result of this diverse and tasty biomass, the Bering Sea is an incredibly important area to the world’s fisheries.

Steaming towards our destination has kept us away from any land, but there are still things to do and to see! We did a second dry cast of the net, but this time two different pieces of equipment were tested.

The net
The first piece of equipment was a special net for taking samples. The net has three sections, called codends, which can be opened and closed individually. You can see two of the codends in this photo. On top of the green net, you should see black netting that is lined with white rope. These are the codends.

net 2
This is a better view of the codends. The codends are opened and closed using a series of six bars. When the first bar is dropped, the first codend is able to take in fish. When the second bar is dropped, the codend is unable to take in fish. The bar system has not worked incredibly well, and there is talk of removing one of the codends to make the net easier to use.

The second piece of equipment was this camera, which was attached to the net. It allowed us to see what was coming in the net. Even though this was a dry run and we were not catching anything, I still saw a few Pollock in the camera!

Even though this was a test run and we did not catch any fish, the birds saw the net moving and came to investigate. The remaining photographs for the personal log are of the several species of birds that flew by the boat.

Bird 1
A Northern Fulmar flies alongside the Oscar Dyson

Bird 2
An albatross (by the thin wire just below the spot the water meets the horizon) flies away from the Oscar Dyson

Bird 3
Fulmar's and Gulls wheel about the Oscar Dyson, looking for fish.

Science and Technology Log

This section of the blog will be written after we start fishing for Pollock in the next day or so!

New Species

Mountain Goats

Northern Fulmar



Reader Question(s) of the Day!

First, I owe a belated shout out to Dr. John, Knoxville Zoo’s IT technician. He lent me the computer that I am currently using to post these logs, and I forgot to mention him in the last post. Thanks Dr. John!

The two questions of the day also come from Kaci, a future Teacher at Sea with NOAA.

1. What is it like sleeping on the boat?

A. Honestly, I am being jostled around quite a bit. Part of this is due to the way the beds are set up. The beds go from port to starboard (or right to left for the landlubbers out there) instead of fore to aft (front to back). This means that when the boat rolls, my feet will often be higher than my head, which causes all of blood to rush to my head. I still haven’t gotten used to the feeling yet.

Part of the jostling, though, is my fault. I had heard that most individuals took the bottom bunks given the option, and since I was one of the first individuals on board, I decided to be polite and give my roommate, who outranked me by some 10-15 years at sea, the bottom bunk. It turns out that the reason people pick the bottom bunk is that the top bunk moves around more since it is higher off the floor. I’ve heard stories about people being thrown from the top bunk in heavy seas as well.

The most comfortable place to sleep has turned out to be the beanbag chair in the common room. It is considered rude to go into your room if your shift ends early, as your roommate may still be sleeping. My shift ended two hours early the other night, so I sat down on the beanbag chair to catch some zs. The ship’s rocking was greatly reduced by the bean bag chair, and I slept very well for the next couple of hours.

2. Is it stressful so far?

A. The only stressful part of the trip so far has been the seasickness, which I have not yet been able to shake. The rest of it has been a lot of fun!

Natalie Macke, September 2, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea: Natalie Macke
NOAA Ship: Oscar Dyson
Mission:  BASIS Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bering Sea
Date: 9/2/2010


Salmon Vampires and Birds…..     
Weather Data from the Bridge :
Visibility :  10+ nautical miles (Wondering what a nautical mile is??)
Wind Direction: From the SE at 12 knots
Sea wave height: 2-3ft
Swell wave direction: 3-4 ft NW
Sea temp:9.9 oC    Sea level
pressure: 1014.4 mb    Air temp:  11.2oC
Science and Technology Log: 

NOAA Fish Biologist Brian Beckman collect blood samples from salmon
NOAA Fish Biologist Brian Beckman collect blood samples from salmon

NOAA Fish Biologist Brian Beckman is our resident salmon vampire aboard the Oscar Dyson. He’s been diligently collecting salmon blood samples anytime we catch them.  So I finally got a chance near the end of our journey to sit down and talk with Brian about why he want all those samples…

Insulin-like Growth Factor One (IGF1)
This is a ubiquitous protein that is made in the liver which causes calls to divide and grow.  So simply put, it causes growth.  Since the level of IGF1 in the blood is relatively stable, scientists can infer the growth rate of a fish by analyzing for this protein in the blood samples.  The growth rate is not an absolute value, but instead a relative comparison between fish populations.  Brian has been studying IGF1 levels in salmon off the coast of Oregon and is now trying to extrapolate or compare his findings with the salmon in the Bering Sea.  When averaging his finding over the region of coastal Oregon, he has been successful in correlating IGF1 levels in salmon with overall zooplankton abundance in the region.

More food –> healthier juvenile salmon –> higher levels of IGF1 –> greater abundance of adult salmon
Getting a Bit more technical..


After the blood samples are collected, Brian first centrifuges them to separate out the plasma.  The IGF1 is contained in the plasma portion of the blood.  (Remember that blood is considered a heterogeneous mixture so the components can be separated by physical means)  The plasma is removed and frozen for analysis.  An immune assay is then completed on the samples back in the lab.

Brian also is concerned about the age of his salmon specimens.  Since bigger fish will be producing a steroid that stimulates the production of IGF1.  Therefore, bigger fish’s IGF1 levels are a consequence of both the effect of the steroid and the fish’s diet.  So, by collecting juvenile fish (no steroid production yet) a direct comparison can be made between the fish’s diet and it’s growth rate.

Birding on the Oscar Dyson

So on Thursday it was apparent to the crew and scientists that our fishing was done.  Troubles with the winch made balancing an open net in the water impossible.  Since our perfect 20 days of weather had us ahead of schedule, our sampling stations for this leg of the BASIS cruise were completed and our job was now done.  The scientists could now rest a bit and enjoy their cruise back to Dutch Harbor.  Except for two….. our colleagues from the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Service.  Tamara Zeller and Aaron Lang are aboard this cruise, not for fish or oceanographic samples; but instead they are here to perform an opportunistic survey about seabirds.  Armed only with a computer, binoculars and their savvy for visual details they collect data only when the ship is cruising so this last sprint to the harbor meant it was time for them to do some birding.

Tamara, Bruce, Aaron and Jeanette (left to right)

The computer pings and Tamara records what she sees from her window on the front starboard side of the bridge.  Indicators of ocean health, the Fish and Wildlife Service collects baseline data on seabird distribution and abundance in the Bering Sea.  Since most seabirds only come to land to breed, when ships like the Oscar Dyson has room aboard, a bird observer will take advantage of the opportunity to collect some data.

When I asked Aaron and Tamara what the most exciting bird this trip was, they had a hard time deciding between the two shown below.

Curlew There’s only about 5,000 left in the world

Horned Lark, Russian breeding flava subspecies Land bird from Russia

Personal Log

The ending to our cruise on the Oscar Dyson will be bitter sweet.  While I’m happy to be on land again, I will certainly miss the camaraderie of all aboard the ship.  I could not have wished for a better group of people and a more professional crew.  Everyone went to extraordinary measures to help me understand all they do AND how they do it.

Sorting Fish
Sorting Fish  

A special thanks to Ed Farley, our Chief Scientist and Jeanette Gann, my bunkmate and friend these past twenty days..   I wonder how many morning I’ll awake dreaming about collecting water samples from Niskin bottles??
Everyone on board and the NOAA crew was amazingly helpful and patient with the paparazzi teacher.  I’ll miss you all and thank you all once again…
Over and out..

Rebecca Himschoot, June 29, 2007

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Rebecca Himschoot
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
June 21 – July 10, 2007

Mission: Summer Pollock Survey
Geographical Area: North Pacific Ocean, Unalaska
Date: June 29, 2007

Pollock from a trawl sample
Pollock from a trawl sample

Weather Data from Bridge 
Visibility: 10 nm (nautical miles)
Wind direction: 307° (NW)
Wind speed: 23 knots
Sea wave height: 5 foot
Swell wave height: 1 feet
Seawater temperature: 5.6°C
Sea level pressure: 1014.7 mb (millibars)
Cloud cover: stratus

Science and Technology Log: Survey Techniques and Data 

When the science team on the summer pollock survey “see” enough fish to warrant trawling, a net is cast and a sample is collected.  The deck crew on the OSCAR DYSON fish the same way commercial fishermen do, just in smaller quantities. The net is placed in the water, and the front end is attached to a “door” on the port and starboard sides. These doors are released into the water and help to open the net. The net is lowered to the depth where the scientists are “seeing” the most fish.  After the net has been dragged long enough it is brought back on board and the sample is processed.  Once the net is on board, the fish are placed in a bin.

The fishing and deck crew of the OSCAR DYSON release the net for a trawl sample.
The fishing and deck crew of the OSCAR DYSON release the net for a trawl sample.

The bin can be slowly emptied onto a conveyor belt, where the science team culls out the bycatch and sorts it by species. Each species is documented and weighed, then returned to the sea. Some of these bycatch fish will survive, most will not due to the trauma of the net and being moved so quickly from depth to the surface.  Some common bycatch in the summer pollock survey are various flatfish, starfish, come cod and some crabs. The pollock are then also weighed and sorted by gender. Data are collected on gender and length for a large sample, and on a smaller sample more detailed information is collected, such as age. To weigh the fish, a large scale is used for the tubs of pollock, and a net weight can be obtained from the fishing crew.  Individual fish are weighed on smaller scales.  To know the gender of the fish, a slit is cut in the gut in order to see the gonads.  For scientists to know the age of the fish, otolith, or ear bone, samples are taken for later analysis. Each bit of data is collected in the processing area using watertight touch screen computer equipment and scales.  Rather than hand writing each fish weight, length and gender, the scientists use a barcode scanner to read each of these data points.

Scientist Sarah Stienessen weighs a sample.
Scientist Sarah Stienessen weighs a sample.

Personal Log 

We have settled into a routine, and the night shift is getting easier. The trawl samples are still unpredictable, but we’re doing more of them. Yesterday was a long shift in the lab, but it’s more interesting to see what we catch than to sit around waiting to fish.  There were some storm petrels today, as well, to add to my Bering Sea bird list.  The seas are getting calmer again, and I’m hoping for a good night’s sleep tonight!

Question of the Day 

Answer to the last question:  (Scientists use Latin names for each animal or plant they find even though Latin is no longer a living language.  How do scientific (Latin) names get selected and why are they important?)

The scientific name for each organism is derived from two Latin names.  The first name is the genus the organism belongs to, and the second is its species; these are the narrowest branches of scientific classification (kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species). In the case of the walleye pollock, it belongs to the genus Theragra, and within that genus it is the chalcogramma species. There could be many other fishes in the Theragra genus, but only one is the species chalcogramma.

Senior Survey Technician Colleen Peters measures a sample.
Senior Survey Technician Colleen Peters measures a sample.

A scientific name can be descriptive, or it may indicate a geographical location, or it may even be named for the individual who discovered the species.  In the case of the walleye pollock, Theragra is from the Greek roots ther (beast) and agra (food – of fur seals) and chalcos (brass) and gramma (mark).  The first word in the Latin name is capitalized, the second begins with lower case, and the whole thing is always written in italics.

The scientific name of an organism is important because it is distinctive, so that each organism has only one name (usually).  This way a scientist from Russia can communicate clearly with a scientist from Alaska and know that they are speaking about the same organism.  Common names can be confusing, and there can be many different names for the same organism (for example, there are many kinds of “salmon,” but only the Oncorhynchus tshawytscha is the king, or chinook salmon).  It is important to be aware that scientific names undergo changes as discoveries are made and classifications are refined.

Today’s question: What is an “otolith” and why is it important?

Jillian Worssam, July 9, 2004

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jillian Worssam
Aboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman
July 5 – August 1, 2004

Day: Four
Friday July 9th, 2004 21:15

Longitude: 57° Sea Wave Height: 0-1′
Latitude: 172° 44 Swell Wave Height: 0-1′

Visibility: 25 yrds fog Sea Water Temperature: 9.3C
Wind Direction: 69.6 Barometric Pressure: 1022 strong high pressure
Wind Speed: 14.1kts Cloud Cover: complete 100%

Haul Data
Depth of haul: 89 meters
Temperature at depth: 4.1° C
Species breakdown: walleye pollock, chum salmon, smooth lumpsucker, unidentified jellyfish

Science and Technology Log:

First haul of the evening and to our surprise pulled up a smooth lumpsucker (Aptocyclus ventricosus). What an amazing fish quite large in girth, but relatively short( approximately 10 inches). A large globe shaped body with the ventral sucking disk. We placed the fish in water and released it back into the Bering.

As for the rest of the catch, quite a few chum salmon this time, so I anticipate some smoked snacks tomorrow. I am becoming more and more comfortable with the process of slicing the fish to determine gender. Tomorrow will attempt the removal of the otoliths. Amazing the data that can be removed for the preservation of an ecosystem. We are off to complete another haul right now, so I am off to don my rain gear: thick rubber pants, rubber boots, and rubber jacket. I must also wear a hard hat and life jacket when on deck while the cranes are in motion and the ramp is down. With the ramp down it is easy access to the ever cold Bering Sea.

Personal Log:

Well I did it, finally tackled the treadmill, what a treat. My body had wanted to jog for days so in thirty minutes this morning I completed three miles, and for the first time ever I was jogging below sea level as the workout room is toward the bottom of the boat. Amazing the difference between 7000 feet and sea level. The way the treadmill is situated it rocks back and forth not side to side, it is similar to walking rises, with an uphill climb every now and then.

I also spent some more time in the bridge today. I would like to learn all the equipment so tonight I was taught about the EOT (Engine Order Telegraph) The one instrument on the bridge that actually looks familiar as it has probably been in every old war sea movie ever made. You know the big round brass machine with a level and an arrow, and the person on deck moves the arrow to face the command they would like sent to the engine room. The commands vary from full ahead to slow, half even stand by. Now with modern technology this apparatus is obsolete, but still on board in case of emergency and the electronics fail.

I was also introduced to an amazing centrifugal force windshield washer, but those details will have to wait until tomorrow.