Megan Woodward, July 16, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Megan Woodward 
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 1 – 18, 2009

Mission: Bering Sea Acoustic Trawl Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea/Dutch Harbor
Date: Tuesday, July 16, 2009

All bony fish have otoliths (ear bones) that can be used for calculating the age of the fish.

All bony fish have otoliths (ear bones) that can be used for calculating the age of the fish.

Weather and Location 
Position: N 58 13.617; W 171 25.832
Air Temp: 7.2 (deg C)
Water Temp: 6.54 (deg C)
Wind Speed: 15 knots
Weather: Overcast

Science and Technology Log 

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned while participating in the pollock survey is the importance of otoliths. Otoliths are small bony structures situated in the head of all bony fish, and are often referred to as “ear stones.”  For each haul we brought on board, 50 otoliths were taken from large fish (3+ years) and/or 5 from small fish (younger than 3 years old).  The otolith holds the key to accurately calculating the age of a fish (scales and vertebrates can also be used, but are not as reliable).  The average age of fish from the samples collected in the survey helps scientists estimate the strength of a year-class and size of the stock in the future.

Back in the lab, otolith samples are carefully catalogued.

Back in the lab, otolith samples are carefully catalogued.

The first step in taking an otolith is pictured above. An incision is made on the back of the pollock’s head, and an otolith is removed using tweezers.  Once the otolith is removed, it is rinsed with water and placed in a glass vial containing a small amount of 50% ethanol solution for preservation purposes.

The otoliths are taken back to NOAA’s aging lab where ages are determined by reading rings similar to those on a tree trunk. A crosscut is made through each otolith revealing a pattern of rings. Scientists then count the rings to determine the age of the fish.  Lightly burning or staining the otoliths makes the rings more visible.

Cod and sole otoliths

Cod and sole otoliths

New material is deposited on the surface of the otolith creating the rings as the fish grows. The translucent/light zones indicate the main growth that takes place in the summer months.  The opaque/darker rings appear during the winter months when growth is slower. Because of the slower growth rate, new material is deposited on top of the old layers resulting in the dark ring. Each pair of light and dark zones marks one year. In fish younger than one year of age, rings can be identified for each day of life!

woodward_log6bPersonal Log 

I was surprised to discover otoliths have been used for aging fish since the early 1900’s.  While working in the fish lab I observed the scientist removing otoliths, however I did not remove any myself. The cracking sound heard when cutting the head open was like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.  I spent most of my time in sorting and measuring fish, as well as assisting with the stomach collection project.

For the next two days we will be heading back to Dutch Harbor, and the likelihood of trawling for more fish is minimal.  Our remaining work assignment is to give the fish lab a thorough cleaning. Everything in the lab is waterproof, so we’ll put on our Grunden’s (orange rubber coveralls) and boots and spray down the entire space. Working and living at sea for nearly 3 weeks has been an eye opening experience. My time aboard the Oscar Dyson has flown by. I have learned so much about fisheries research and life at sea. Dry land, however, will be warmly welcomed when we get back to Dutch Harbor.  Would I do it again? Absolutely.

Animal Sightings 

The whales have an incredible way of showing up when I don’t have my camera.  Yesterday I spotted two orcas, but did not get a photograph. The seabirds continue to circle. I like the murres most.  They look like small, flying penguins.

New Vocabulary 

Otoliths- Small bony structures situated in the head of all bony fish. Often referred to as “ear stones.”

Stock- Refers to the number of fish available, supply.

*** Much of the information used for this log entry was found on the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas) web site.

Megan Woodward, July 12, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Megan Woodward 
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 1 – 18, 2009

Mission: Bering Sea Acoustic Trawl Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea/Dutch Harbor
Date: Tuesday, July 12, 2009

Any bycatch in a haul has to be measured and weighed if there are more than 25 of the same species caught.

Any bycatch in a haul has to be measured and weighed if there are more than 25 of the same species.

Weather/Location 
Position: N 60.35.172; W 174.08.187
Air Temp: 6.1 (deg C)
Water Temp: 5.24 (deg C)
Wind Speed: 25 knots
Weather: Overcast, rain

Science and Technology Log 

How is all the data collected from a trawl and acoustic lab used?  By collecting data about weight and length from a sample, scientists are able to connect the size of fish caught to the amount of return seen in the acoustic lab. The return is assigned a name (PK1, PK2, etc.) and all schools showing a similar acoustic pattern are given the same name.  In the end, scientists can estimate the number of fish and their size for a given area based on the acoustic and fish lab data collected.  This is repeated throughout the survey resulting in an estimate for the total number of fish in the survey area.  

Both during and after the survey estimates of abundance in the same location over the past several years are compared.  Scientists evaluate the data and determine if the pollock population in the survey area is increasing, declining or stable.  Their conclusions are used to make a recommendation about pollock fishing limits for the upcoming year. In the past few years the pollock population has been lower than in previous years.  Due to the decline, the fishing quota has been reduced.  However, the 2006 year-class is proving to be strong. At 4 years of age pollock are considered mature and fishable.  Therefore, the fishing quota is predicted to rise in the next year or two.

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Personal Log 

While discussing the acoustic survey project with the scientists on board, I was quite surprised to hear the pollock survey had been going since 1979.  Acoustic technology has changed and improved, but in essence the project has remained the same. Modern computer technology has allowed collection and analysis of enormous data sets and greatly reduced the amount of paper work needed for the project’s success.

The concept of strong vs. weak year-class is also quite interesting.  There doesn’t seem to be a direct connection between a year-class’ success and environmental factors.  Environmental factors that are potentially influential are water temperature, available zooplankton, ice cover, storms and predators.  The fish currently being caught by commercial fisherman are 5-7 years old. Can you figure out which year classes those fish are from?

We continue to spot plenty of seabirds and a few more minke whale pods.  I was able to watch a group of Dall’s porpoises play in the wake of the bow for half an hour yesterday.  There haven’t been any new animal sightings during the past few days.

We continue to spot plenty of seabirds and a few more minke whale pods. I was able to watch a group of Dall’s porpoises play in the wake of the bow for half an hour yesterday. There haven’t been any new animal sightings during the past few days.

Although we are out here working in the best interest of pollock, I have found it difficult to watch thousands of pollock come through the fish lab.  I have to remind myself that sampling the fish is truly for the good of the order. In addition, after being measured the fish are sent back into the ocean where they become food for other organisms such as crab or birds. One of their natural predators is having a good meal, something that was likely to happen anyway.

Animal Sightings 

  • Seabirds
  • Dall’s porpoises

New Vocabulary 

Bycatch  – Anytime something is caught during a trawl other than pollock it is labeled bycatch.  Jellyfish has been the most common form of bycatch.

Year-class – All the fish born in a given year are members of that year-class.  We have caught a lot fish from the 2008 year-class (1 year old fish).

Ruth Meadows, July 3, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Ruth S. Meadows
Onboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow 
June 12 – July 18, 2009 

Mission: Census of Marine Life (MAR-Eco)
Geographical Area: Mid- Atlantic Ridge; Charlie- Gibbs Fracture Zone
Date: July 3, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Temperature: 6.2oC
Humidity: 81%
Wind: 16.47 kts

This is one of the glass floats encased in plastic that can withstand the pressure of the deep waters.

This is one of the glass floats encased in plastic that can withstand the pressure of the deep waters.

Science and Technology Log 

High winds and high waves put a temporary stop to our fishing with the nets.  When the waves are too high, the safety of the crew comes first and we wait for the weather to clear before we can start using the trawl again. The waves finally calmed down enough for the net to be used today.  We are using a different type of net to fish the deep bottom (benthic trawling) than was used to fish the mid-water (pelagic trawling). This net is much simpler in design. It is a very large net lowered to the bottom of the ocean and then pulled behind the ship. The top part of the net is held open by floats. These floats were bought specifically for this cruise.  The pressure on the bottom of the ocean is so great that normal floats would collapse.  The new floats are made of glass spheres with a hard plastic covering. Only glass can withstand the amount of pressure that is found at these depths.

This is the net used for deep bottom trawling that has the yellow floats attached to it.

This is the net used for deep bottom trawling that has the yellow floats attached to it.

There are rubber tire-like rollers that move along the bottom to help prevent snags and also to stir up the sea floor and cause the fish and other organisms to move into the net where they are then funneled back into the narrow end of the net (cod-end). There are weights on the bottom section of the net to keep it on the ground.  Of course, there are always obstacles on the bottom of the ocean floor and occasionally the net will get caught on one of these. This is a particular problem here because of the mountainous terrain.  When the net gets hung up the crew works very carefully to release it from the obstacle.  Sometimes the ship moves backwards as the winches try to pull on the net to release it.  Sometimes the ship moves in a circle to try and pull the net clear.    

The full net after it’s been retrieved on deck.

The full net after it’s been retrieved on deck.

So far the benthic net has gotten caught twice but the crew successfully retrieved the net without damage. Once the net is on deck, the cod-end is opened and everybody comes out of the lab with foul weather gear (waterproof boots, overalls, jackets, life preserver and hardhats) on to collect the catch. We use lots of baskets to do a quick rough sort of the organisms caught.  If the net is full, it takes a while to complete the first sort.  Some of the fishes are large and some of the organisms have been torn. The organisms found on the floor of the deep floor are very different from the ones found in the mid-waters. They are much larger in size and very different in coloration.

Personal Log 

A bucket with squid and other fishes.

A bucket with squid and other fishes.

The scientific crew is divided into three groups.  We have a “day” shift, called a watch, that works from 12 noon to 12 midnight, and a “night” watch that works from 12 midnight to 12 noon, and then one group that works whenever a net comes up.  I am on the day watch and we have all gotten into a pattern of who does what in the lab.  My watch chief scientist is Dr. Shannon Devaney from Los Angeles.  She works at the Natural History Museum there.  Dr. Amy Heger from Luxembourg, Tom Letessier from Norway, CJ Sweetman from Connecticut and Randy Singer from Georgia rounds out our crew.  CJ takes DNA samples, Tom takes care of the crustaceans, Randy removes the ototliths (this helps the scientist figure out the age) from the fishes, and Amy and I use the computer to enter the data.  With some species we remove the stomach, liver and gonads from the fishes.   These body parts are then measured and either frozen or preserved for scientists that are not on the trip.  It has been fun relearning how to do some of the procedures.

The first sort of the catch.

The first sort of the catch.

Mark McKay, June 27, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark McKay
Onboard Research Vessel Knorr
June 10 – July 1, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: June 24, 2009

Clear and cold Bering Sea weather

Clear and cold Bering Sea weather

Science Log

It has been a very strange couple of days. One of the routines that you have to get used to on a research vessel is that there are no routines. When I first got on the ship I went to bed at regular times, eat my meals at the same time, for a couple of days at least. Now that I have a project that I am working on I have to be available to collect samples whenever and wherever they are required. A lot of what I have to do is to balance collecting samples in route between stations verses collecting data while on station. This means getting two hours of sleep, getting up and collecting water from the CTD and run them before we leave station. I am working with what’s called a Advanced Laser Fluorometer (ALF). It is a tool that helps determine what species of phytoplankton are present, and it does it very quickly.  I can look at individual water samples that contain phytoplankton while we are not cruising to another station.

Bright ocean color

Bright ocean color

When we are in route, the ALF goes into automatic mode and looks at what plankton is present in the water as we transit from one station to another. So my day (and night) gets to be a balancing act between sleeping and being available to collect data. But that really is no different then all of the people on the ship. We have a little more then four weeks to collect as much data as possible. The research plan is carefully set up to hit as many “hotspots” as possible so that all groups get the data that they need. What else has been strange is the rapid change in the weather. It has been cloudy and foggy the last couple of days or so. Yesterday things really changed. As we crossed the shelf break again the weather turned clear and cold. The color of the ocean was a beeper blue also. It was really bright out there as you can see from the pictures. Previously the water ws a steel greyish color. Now it has a much more rich blue hue to it.

Bering Sea Sunset

Bering Sea Sunset

One of the things I was able to see and photograph was an actual Bering Sea sunset, which was actually at about 12:30 this morning. It was good to see the moon again also. Fairly bright also. But the weather has changed even again. We are supposed to drop a couple of people off at St. Paul Island on Sunday so they can catch a plane back to their homes and at the same time we were to pick up their replacements. The problem is the fact that we have fog again and the pilots wont take off from Anchorage. This could really mess things up for the ships plan if they have to wait for too long a time for those coming aboard. This is especially true if their plane hasn’t gotten out of Anchorage because of the weather.  Everybody is just waiting and keeping their fingers crossed.

Moon over the Knorr

Moon over the Knorr

Mark McKay, June 24, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark McKay
Onboard Research Vessel Knorr
June 10 – July 1, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: June 24, 2009

St. Paul Island only a few miles away

St. Paul Island only a few miles away

Science Log

It has been a very busy couple of days here on the Knorr. I haven’t received very much sleep. But then again, none of the science team has either. We have been a little ahead of schedule so it was decided that we could stay on station at a pretty interesting site for a longer period of time and due some diurnal studies, meaning, how are the organisms and ecosystems we are studying changing as we cycle through daytime to night. I am working on a project on phytoplankton so this was especially interesting for my work. So I was up several time thorough out the night collecting water samples and analyzing them. We headed to a particularly productive area right between the Pribilof Islands. As you can see from the photographs you can just barely make out St. Paul Island. As usual everyone scrambles to get his or her experiments in the water.  A familiar face on the deck is Ebett Siddon who is a graduate student working on zooplankton and juvenile fish on this trip.

Ebett: Master of the MOCNESS

Ebett: Master of the MOCNESS

She frequently uses the MOCNESS Sampler, which allows the researchers in her team to open and close bottle at specific depths. It’s a pretty good-sized device so it takes a fair amount of skill to operate it. The sediment core people have been just as busy. They pulled up a core with a very cool deep water shrimp. Notice the large reflective eyes on this creature. There is a lot of life around here. When I got up this very early this morning to collect samples there were some porpoises hanging around one of or floating sediment traps. There wasn’t enough light to get any pictures. My bird survey friend have promised me some great pictures of Albatross so stay tuned.

 

Deep water shrimp with large reflective eyes

Deep water shrimp with large reflective eyes

Mark McKay, June 22, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mark McKay
Onboard Research Vessel Knorr
June 10 – July 1, 2005

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: June 22, 2009

Plankton soup

Plankton soup

Science Log

We spent the day cruising in one of the shallowest regions of the entire expedition. The depth below us is only about 40 meters. We are also getting close to what ice is still present this time of the year.  I checked with the National Snow and Ice Data Center to see what the status of the sea ice in the arctic currently is. So far I haven’t seen any ice but I am keeping a look out for it. Of course we cant see anything, we are cruising through a thick fog right now. I am also doing some of my own research on phytoplankton while up here and the edge of the sea ice plays an important part in how productive the phytoplankton actually is.  They reported that after a slow start to the melt season, the ice extent declined quickly in May. Scientists are monitoring the ice pack for signs of what will come this summer. The thinness of the ice pack makes it likely that the minimum ice extent will again fall below normal, but how far below normal will depend on atmospheric conditions through the summer.

Worms and Sea Stars from sediment cores

Worms and Sea Stars from sediment cores

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the sea ice extent over the month of May 2009 averaged 13.39 million square kilometers (5.17 million square miles). This was 81,000 square kilometers (31,000 square miles) above the record low for that month, which occurred in May 2004, and 21,000 square kilometers (8,100 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average. So its clear that something unusual is happening up here. At pretty much every station the zooplankton guys set out their nets to see what’s living in the area. Watching them work I can see changes in the zooplankton populations from one location to another. They are finding larval fish, copepods, euphusisds (krill), isopods, amphipods, jellyfish, and the occasional juvenile squid.  Some critters are coming out of the sediment cores currently. Maggie Esch, a graduate student from Western Washington University is studying bioturbidation in the sediment. She is looking at how nutrients move through marine sediments as a response to what is burrowing through the ocean bottom. Her last core had some cool worms and young Sea Stars.

I’m hoping to see more marine animals, especially mammals and birds as we approach the Pribilofs, which are the only island on the eastern Bering Sea that are in the proximity of the shelf break. The current sampling line we are on will bring use right between St. Paul and St. George islands. Owing to their position near the shelf break, these islands are home to large populations of marine mammals, seabirds, and fish. The Pribilofs are a famous destination for birdwatchers. There are a reported 240 different species of birds present in the Pribilofs, and “Birders” come from all over the world to see them in the wild. The islands were also once know as the Fur Seal Islands because of the Fur Seal (Callorhinus ursinus) rookeries located there. Today, the fur seals are only subsistence hunted by the Aleuts, and Inuit who live on the islands.

Fog on the Bering Sea

Fog on the Bering Sea

Jeff Lawrence, June 19, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Lawrence
Onboard Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp
June 8-19, 2009 

Mission: Sea scallop survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Atlantic
Date: June 19, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge In port at Woods Hole, Mass. 
W winds 5-10 KTs, cloudy overcast skies Light rain, 2-3 foot waves Air Temp. 66˚F

Jakub Kircun watches as a beautiful sunset unfolds.

Jakub Kircun watches as a beautiful sunset unfolds.

Science and Technology Log 

The Research Vessel Hugh R. Sharp finally made it into port this morning at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Woods Hole on the Cape Cod coast of Massachusetts.  Although this cruise was not terribly long it is great to be back on land.  Scallop surveying is tedious work that is ongoing on a research vessel 24/7. The people onboard were great to work with and it is always a pleasure to get to know other people, especially those who share a passion for ocean research and science. Few people realize the great effort and sacrifices that people in the oceanography field have to give up to go out to sea to complete research that will help give a better understanding to three-fourths of the planet’s surface.  They must leave home and loved ones for many days to get the science needed for a more complete understanding of the Earth’s oceans.

lawrence_log6The noon to midnight shift includes myself, the Chief Scientist onboard, Stacy Rowe, watch chief Jakub Kircum, Shad Mahlum, Francine Stroman, and Joe Gatuzzi.  We are responsible for sorting each station on our watch, measuring and weighing the samples into the computer.  These people are very good at what they do and quite dedicated to performing the task with professionalism, courtesy, and a great deal of enthusiasm.  It is clear to see that each person has a passion for ocean sciences especially the fisheries division. The NOAA fisheries division carefully surveys and provides data to those that make regulations about which places will be left open for commercial fishing and those which will be closed until the population is adequate to handle the pressures of the commercial fishing industry. I have observed many different species of marine animals, some of which I did not even know ever existed.  Below is a photo of me and the other TAS Duane Sanders putting on our survival at sea suits in case of emergency.  These suits are designed to keep someone afloat and alive in cold water and are required on all boats where colder waters exist.

The Goosefish, also called Monkfish, is a ferocious predator below the surface and above!

The Goosefish, also called Monkfish, is a ferocious predator below the surface and above!

Personal Log 

The fish with a bad attitude award has to go to the goosefish. This ferocious predator lies in wait at the bottom of the ocean floor for prey. On the topside of its mouth is an antenna that dangles an alluring catch for small fish and other ocean critters.  When the prey gets close enough the goosefish emerges from its muddy camouflage and devours its prey. I made the error of mistaking it for a skate that was in a bucket. I was not paying close enough attention as I grabbed what I thought was the skate from a bucket, the goosefish quickly bit down. Blood oozed out of my thumb as the teeth penetrated clean through a pair of rubber gloves. I pay closer attention when sticking my hand in buckets now.  There are many creatures in the sea that are harmless, but one should take heed to all the creatures that can inflict bodily damage to humans. 

Spiny Dogfish caught in the dredge

Spiny Dogfish caught in the dredge

Questions of the Day 
Name four species you my find at the bottom on the Atlantic:
What is another common name for the goosefish?
What is the species name (Scientific name) for the goosefish?
What are the scientific names for starfish and scallops?