Marilyn Frydrych, September 16, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Marilyn Frydrych
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
September 15-25, 2008

Mission: Atlantic Herring Hydroacoustic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: New England Coastal Waters
Date: September 16, 2008

The Newston net hanging from a pulley on the A-frame

The Newston net hanging from a pulley on the A-frame

Weather Data from the Bridge 
41.27 degrees N, 70.19 degrees W
Partly Cloudy
Wind out of the W at 19 knots
Dry Bulb Temperature: 26.0 degrees Celsius
Wet Bulb Temperature: 20.9 degrees Celsius
Waves: 2 feet
Visibility: 10 miles
Sea Surface Temperature: 21.6 degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log

Today started slowly since we were still in transit to our starting position.  All morning there were 15 to 20 terns and gulls flying nearby.  Occasionally we’d spot land birds.  A small yellow-rumped warbler actually flew into the dry lab area of the boat. It was far from where it belonged and probably wouldn’t make it back.  The terns skimmed the water surface, but never actually seemed to touch the water.  Our bird scientists, Marie-Caroline Martin and Timothy White, decided they would deploy a Newston net to try to determine what the birds were eating. The fishermen, who do all the deploying of instruments, hung the net from the A-frame pulley on the starboard side and swung it out over the water. For 20 minutes it bounced in and out of the water never getting more than a foot or so above or below the surface. The Neuston fine mesh net is about 10 feet long and has a mouth about 4 feet by 2 feet.

Jim Pontz, a fisherman, working the A-frame.

Jim Pontz, a fisherman, working the A-frame.

When the fishermen brought it in, it mostly held salp and  jellyfish, but also some small crustaceans which looked like miniature shrimp about 1/2 in. long.  The jellyfish were small, without stingers.  Marie carefully washed the contents of the net down to its opening with a salt water hose.  Then she used her unprotected hands to slide her catch into a glass jar about the size of a medium peanut butter jar. She graciously separated a few of the crustaceans for us to observe. About 11:30 a.m. we finally reached our starting point. The plan was to do parallel north-south transects.  We would cross the east-west transects without stopping . We fished with a huge net off the stern. The chief scientist, Dr Michael Jech, decided when to fish. Sometimes he put the net in to prove that there were no herring there and the echoes he was receiving were correct.  Other times he saw a new signature on the screen and checked to see what it might have been.  Still other times he recognized the herring signature (he’s about 90% accurate) and  fished to determine sizes, sexes, and stomach content.  At other times he had predetermined stations where fishing had been good in the past.

A herring in a clothes basket. Note the brilliant blue stripe on top.

A herring in a clothes basket. Note the brilliant blue stripe on top.

At each 90 degree turn we deployed a CTD – conductivity, temperature, and depth instrument. The instrument measured how easily electricity can flow through the seawater, its conductivity. From this and the temperature and pressure (or depth) the salinity of the water can be determined.  The equations involve the 5th power of both temperature and pressure. They appear to be Taylor’s series approximations.  The CTD is also used to calculate the speed of sound which is important for the accuracy of the sonar equipment.  Only the crew may actually deploy instruments.  None of the scientists touch the instruments going over the side. The scientific crew’s job was to communicate via a handheld radio with the fishermen working the winch and the one putting the instrument into the water.  We told them when to start after we had initialized the computer programs and when to haul back the CTD as it came within a few feet of the ocean bottom. We could simultaneously look at a cam on a nearby monitor showing what was happening at the A frame.  I watched the first time this was done, but with everyone’s help soon caught on and was doing it myself.

Jacquie Ostrom at her post radioing the fishermen when to start the CTD

Jacquie Ostrom at her post radioing the fishermen when to start the CTD

The second time I helped with the CTD we attached a Niskin water bottle to the bottom of the CTD and signaled to have it stopped about half way back up the ever present bottom layer isotherm.  We paused for about a minute as it filled with the surrounding water.  At that point both ends were wide open. A fisherman dropped a messenger, a heavy round metal doughnut, down the line to the bottle.  It tripped a lever which then allowed the lids connected with tremendously strong elastic bands to snap shut.  The tube is a little larger than a 2-liter soda bottle. When we were given the retrieved bottle, we washed out a small, maybe 1-cup, bottle 3 times with the seawater from the Niskin bottle before we filled and capped it and replaced it in its position in a crate.  The water can be used to calibrate the salinity readings the CTD recorded and to determine various other chemicals at that spot of collection in the ocean.

Sunset silhouetting the CTD bottle balancing against one arm of the A-frame.

Sunset silhouetting the CTD bottle balancing against one arm of the A-frame.

Personal Log 

Today being the first full day at sea I was introduced to a wonderful daily ritual. Each morning at about 10:30 the chiefs brought out from the oven their first baked dessert of the day. Today’s was the most perfectly seasoned peach cobbler I’ve ever tasted. Once toward evening we spotted dolphins around the ship. We could occasionally see them jumping through the air. A pair played in the bow wake for a short while. About the same time the crew pointed out to us some three or four pilot whales about 100 yards off the starboard stern. I hadn’t expected to see so much sea life.  This is turning into a very memorable adventure.

 

Alex Eilers, September 1, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

Teacher at Sea Alex Eilers releasing an XBT

Teacher at Sea Alex Eilers releasing an XBT

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: September 1, 2008

Science Log

The second week has been absolutely fabulous as we found a leatherback – in fact we found three!!! This week has been all about the turtle: from identifying the biotic and abiotic conditions that define leatherback turtle habitat and foraging grounds, to tracking and tagging – we’ve done it all.

• Abiotic oceanographic data provided by scientific instruments such as XBTs (expendable bathythermographs), CTD (conductivity, temperature and depth), and water samples containing nutrient data to characterize the abiotic foraging habitats of the leatherback turtle.

Alex working with the CTD device

Alex working with the CTD device

• Net tow samples characterized the biotic conditions such as the jellyfish species prevalent in the turtle diet: moon jellies, sea nettles, and egg yolk jellies.

Alex Eilers measuring a moon jelly

Alex Eilers measuring a moon jelly

Egg yolk jelly with pipefish and larval rex sole

Egg yolk jelly with pipefish and larval rex sole

Tracking the turtles via air surveillance and handheld antenna

Tracking the turtles via handheld antenna

Aerial survellance

Aerial surveillance

Tagging a big leatherback

Tagging a big leatherback

Alex Eilers, August 31, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: August 31, 2008

Alex putting glow sticks on branch line.

Alex putting glow sticks on branch line.

August 29 – Longline fishing for swordfish

Today’s major objective was to catch swordfish for tagging using a fishing method called longlining. Longline fishing uses one main line held just below the water’s surface with several buoys.  Attached to the main line are several smaller branch lines with hooks and bait.  The branch lines extent 42 feet or 7 fathoms into the ocean.

Preparing to launch the longline is quite a sight and it requires a number of individuals, each working in unison. There is a person who baits the hooks on the branch line then hooks it to the main line, another person attaches a glow stick (used to attract the swordfish), and a third person attaches the buoy to the main line.  There are also a number of people working behind the scenes sorting lines and working the winch. After all the branch lines are hooked to the main line, the line soaks in the water for several hours – in hopes that a swordfish will take the bait.

Crew setting gear

Crew setting gear

Reeling in the line took about two hours because the line was 4 miles long and held over 200 hooks.  I thought this was an extremely long line but was told that commercial fishing vessels use between 40 to 60 miles of line with thousands of branch lines. Wow!

Unfortunately, we were unable to tag any swordfish but hope to try again on Labor Day. What an incredible experience today has been.

August 30 and 31 – Rock’n and Roll’n

Whoa, Whoa… is about all you heard me say over the past two days.  We’re going through a rough patch today – high winds and swells up to 5 or 7 meters – between 15 and 20 feet.  We sure were glad the scientific equipment was secured during the first few days – because everything that wasn’t tied down went flying – including chairs, drinks and the crew.  The closest thing I could come to describing this experience would be like riding a non-stop Disney ride.  The inclinometer reading (an instrument that is use to detect the degrees a boat rolls) recorded a maximum tilt of about 36 degrees.   To put thing into perspective, I am now typing with one hand and holding the table with the other.  Unfortunately, many of the science projects were cancelled due to high seas.  We hope to be in the calmer waters of Monterey Bay area tomorrow.

Alex Eilers, August 24, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

In the picture, the “Big Eyes” are covered and on the left side of the picture, the antennas are directly above me.

In the picture, the “Big Eyes” are covered and on the left side of the picture, the antennas are directly above me.

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: August 24, 2008

Today we were in assembly mode and I spent the majority of my time on the flying bridge (top deck). With the help of several scientists, we cleaned and replaced the viewing seats, installed the “Big Eyes” – (the largest pair of binoculars I’ve ever seen), and assembled and tested the Turtle tracking antennas.  The “Big Eyes” will be used to help track and identify marine mammals, leatherbacks and birds near the boat.  This is especially important prior to and during the times scientists have equipment in the water so we don’t catch or injure these animals. The receiver will be used to track the Leatherback Sea Turtles who have a transmitter attached to their carapace. The good news is we are receiving reports that there is a Leatherback approximately 110 miles off the coast of Monterey – the bad news is he may not be there when we arrive.

Safety training During our first true “day at sea” we had two practice safety drills; a fire in the galley (kitchen) and an abandon ship.  The crew handled both drills quickly and efficiently.  The abandon ship drill was exciting. When the bell rang, everyone was responsible for his or her own billet (job duty). My billet required me to grab my life preserver and survival suit and muster to the O1 deck (report to an area for role call).

Survival suit

Survival suit

Training to be a VO – visual observer We started the day on the flying bridge. Karin Forney, marine mammal researcher, trained us on how to be a marine animal visual observer or VO for short.  During the first observing session, we only saw a few animals – sea lions and various birds.

I’m getting fairly good at spotting kelp beds (seaweed), however, the scientists are not interested in them, so I still need more practice identifying marine mammals.

By the afternoon, we started to see more marine life.  A large pod of common dolphins swam playfully near the ship.  This was a beautiful sight to see but not ideal for net testing. We waited 30 minutes without a mammal sighting then successfully tested the nets. As the scientists were pulling the nets aboard we spotted another smaller pod of common dolphins, some California sea lions and a small mola mola (sun fish).  All in all it was a good day!

Watching for kelp

Watching for kelp

Alex Eilers, August 21, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alex Eilers
Onboard NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan
August 21 – September 5, 2008

Mission: Leatherback Sea Turtle Research
Geographical area of cruise: California
Date: August 21, 2008

Well I’ve arrived in San Diego safe and sound.  The weather here is fantastic – warm, mostly sunny and a bit breezy.  Let’s hope it stays like his throughout my time at sea.  Here is a brief outline of how I’ve been preparing for the research cruise.  I started the day at a LUTH survey orientation meeting.  LUTH stands for Leatherback Use of Temperate Habitat. Lisa Ballance, the director of Protected Resources Division and Scott Benson, Chief Scientist welcomed the entire team.  We spent the morning listening to the research planned for the trip and I was amazed at the amount of science to be conducted.  This is going to be an exciting adventure. I must admit though – I’ve got some homework to do.  I have to become more familiar with the acronyms the scientists are using, like CTD’s, TSG’s and especially XBT’s – because I have to load these this afternoon.

After lunch we piled in the vans and headed toward the ship to begin the loading process.  My assignment was to load and store the XBT’s and help load the oceanographic equipment.  And, I did my homework – I found out that the XBT stands for eXpendable BathyThermograph and they are used for the collection of oceanographic temperature data.

I took a quick break after unloading the van to pose for a picture.  I’m standing beside NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan and the real work is now beginning.  Better get busy – more to come later.  Keep checking the website.

I took a quick break after unloading the van to pose for a picture. I’m standing beside NOAA Ship David Starr Jordan and the real work is now beginning. Better get busy – more to come later.

Robert Lovely, April 10, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Robert Lovely
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
March 31 – April 12, 2008

Mission: Reef Fish Ecological Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pulley Ridge and the West Florida Shelf, Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 10, 2008

A bank sea bass (Centropristis ocyurus) tucked in under one of the rock outcrops along the West Florida Shelf.

A bank sea bass (Centropristis ocyurus) tucked in under one of the rock outcrops along the West Florida Shelf.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility:  12 miles
Wind Direction:  120 degrees
Wind Speed:  16 knots
Sea Wave Height:  2-3 foot
Swell Wave Height:  3-4 foot
Seawater Temp.: 22.1 degrees C.
Present Weather:  Partly Cloudy

Science and Technology Log 

Today we made three ROV dives on the West Florida Shelf, roughly 100 miles off the west coast of Florida. After making our usual CTD profile (see Ship’s Log, April 4, 2008) at about 0730, we lowered the ROV to a depth of 262 feet and followed a transect bearing southwest.  The object was to conduct a fish survey with respect to species presence and abundance as a function of bottom habitat types. Essentially, we were looking for good hard-bottom fish habitats within an area being proposed to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council as a new Marine Protected Area (MPA).

A blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis).

A blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis).

Each of the video transects revealed a mix of sand and hard bottom, with fish most abundant in areas having some topographic relief. Numerous hard rock outcrops offered attractive habitat for a wide variety of reef fish, such as scamp (Mycteroperca phenax), red porgy (Pagrus pagrus), red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), almaco jack (Seriola rivoliana) greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili), short bigeye (Pristigenys alta), bank butterflyfish (Chaetodon aya), great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda), red grouper (Epinephelus morio), blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis), creolefish (Paranthias furcifer) saddle bass (Serranus notospilus) bank sea bass (Centropristis ocyurus) and many others. The sand flats in between ridges and reef outcroppings provided a stark contrast in terms of fish abundance.  Over these areas the ROV would glide for minutes at a time without revealing many fish.  But even in these less productive bottom habitats we would see the occasional fish dart into its hole as we passed over.

A school of jackknife fish (Equetus lanceolatus) captured by the ROV over the West Florida Shelf.

A school of jackknife fish captured by the ROV over the West Florida Shelf.

A sea star (Class: Asteroidea) on the sand flats between reef outcroppings.

A sea star (Class: Asteroidea) on the sand
flats between reef outcroppings.

Personal Log 

The quality and abundance of food on the GORDON GUNTER is remarkable, and I find it impossible to resist (especially the deserts).  I’d rather not return home ten pounds heavier than when I left, so I’ve been trying to visit the weight room whenever I can find the time.  During my first few sessions on the treadmill I had to hang on for dear life due to the rocking motion of the ship. It was pretty comical.  Now, though, I am getting fairly good at going no-handed while compensating for the ship’s motion.  It requires some dexterity, but it’s great practice for getting your sea legs. We also saw other common sea creatures, such as gorgonians, wire coral, basket stars, sea stars, feather sea pens, sea urchins, sponges and snails.

A short bigeye (Pristigenys alta) ready to dart into his hole on the sand flats.

A short bigeye (Pristigenys alta) ready to dart into his hole on the sand flats.

Basket stars (Order: Phrynophiurida) spread their plankton nets near the top of a gorgonian.

Basket stars (Order: Phrynophiurida) spread their plankton nets near the top of a gorgonian.

Robert Lovely, April 5, 2008

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Robert Lovely
Onboard NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter
March 31 – April 12, 2008

Mission: Reef Fish Ecological Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pulley Ridge and the West Florida Shelf, Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 5, 2008

This sea anemone was part of a remarkably diverse community found on Pulley Ridge at a depth of about 212 feet.

This sea anemone was part of a remarkably diverse community on Pulley Ridge at about 212 feet.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Visibility: 7-8 miles
Wind Direction:  140 degrees (SE)
Wind Speed:  13 knots
Sea Wave Height:  1-2 feet
Swell Wave Height:  2-3 feet
Seawater Temp.: 24.7 degrees C.
Present Weather:  Clear

Science and Technology Log 

Today we made three two-hour ROV dives on Pulley Ridge.  We documented an impressive amount of biodiversity along three transects at depths that ranged from about 190 to 225 feet. Downward still images of the bottom were taken at regular four minute intervals; forward facing still shots were taken whenever something of interest presented itself; and a continuous forward-looking video recording was made of the entire transect.

Agaricia sp., a hermatypic (reef-building) coral we found at about 215 feet.

Agaricia sp., reef-building coral we found at 215 feet.

The ideal cruising speed for the ROV video recording is a very slow one-half knot, which presents significant challenges for the people on the bridge. In fact the Commanding Officer, LCDR Brian Parker, remarked on how good a training exercise this cruise is for his team.  Upon our return to port, and for weeks afterwards, fishery biologist Stacey Harter will analyze the video to derive density estimates for the fishes observed.  She will determine the area covered by each video transect and count individuals of each species that intercepted our transect line.  Abundance estimates then can be extrapolated per unit area.  Others will use similar techniques to determine the aerial extent of living corals.  These data, in turn, will be useful to authorities responsible for managing the fisheries. Pulley Ridge is a drowned barrier island system that formed about 14,000 years ago, when sea levels were lower because a larger portion of the Earth’s water was locked up in glacial ice. While the presence of photosynthetic corals, such as Agaricia spp. was patchy on our dives, we did encounter large fields of green algae in relatively high densities.

The green algae, Anadyomene menziesii, dominated large areas in the southern portion of Pulley Ridge.

The green algae, Anadyomene menziesii, dominated large areas in the southern portion of Pulley Ridge.

This species no doubt is the Anadyomene menziesii described by Robert Halley and his group at the USGS. These striking seascapes resembled large fields of lettuce.  At the southern end of Pulley Ridge this green algae dominated the seabed.  As we moved northward from station to station, however, it occurred in much lower densities, and we began to see higher proportions of the calcareous green algae Halimeda spp. Various species of red coralline algae were also common on Pulley Ridge. Apart from the abundance of Anadyomene menziesii, the other striking observation one makes on this deep coral reef is the presence of conical-shaped mounds and pits.  These structures are almost certainly constructed by fish, such as the sand tilefish (Malacanthus plumieri) and red grouper (Epinephelus morio). Sand tilefish in particular burrow into the coral rubble and pile it up for cover. Red grouper are also industrious excavators.

 A red grouper (Epinephelus morio) at rest in a small pit on Pulley Ridge.


A red grouper at rest in a small pit on Pulley Ridge.

The mounds and pits introduce an element of topographic relief into an otherwise flat seascape along the top of Pulley Ridge.  Because so many other species of fish are attracted to these structures, I would suggest that (at least among the fish) sand tilefish and red grouper represent keystone species in this unique ecosystem.  The removal of these two species would have a significant impact on the rest of the community. Other fauna we observed today were typical of what one might encounter on a shallow-water reef, including sponges, tunicates, lobsters, bryozoans, amberjacks, angelfish, reef butterflyfish, snapper, barracuda, and a loggerhead turtle.

Personal Log 

My favorite place on the ship is the boatswain’s chair way up on the bow. No one else seems to know about it, for I have yet to find it occupied when I want to use it.  It is the quietest, most scenic spot on the ship.  Whenever I get a chance, I sneak up there to watch the flying fish. They are flushed by the ship, and some of them can remain in flight for long periods, perhaps 20 seconds or more. If I am especially lucky, I also get to watch dolphins riding our bow. This is a real treat because they seem so playful.

Our ROV disturbs the nap of a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta).

Our ROV disturbs the nap of a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta).

A pod of dolphins bow-riding the GORDON GUNTER.

A pod of dolphins bow-riding the ship.