Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico/Atlantic Ocean
Date: August 29, 2023
Latitude: 39° 9′ 0.6084” N
Longitude: 123° 12′ 28.0332” W
Air Temperature: 29.4° Celsius
Science and Technology Log
Sharks use many senses to hunt their prey. For long range hunting, they use smell and detecting pressure changes, similar to hearing. They are famous for having a keen sense of smell. Some studies conclude that they can, in theory, detect blood at 1 per 20 million parts in water. So, they clearly use smell to hunt. They also have a keen sense of “hearing.” They can detect some low frequency sounds, the kind made by injured fish, from a kilometer away.
As sharks get closer to their prey, they use their eyesight. While they see in black and white, they can see well unless it is nighttime or if the water is cloudy.
They also have a sense that humans do not. They have a lateral line along the side. This is a series of canals that helps them detect vibrations in the water.
As the shark closes in on the prey, sharks engage their ability to detect slight electrical impulses, electrosense. For this they use their ampullae of Lorenzini. These are pores on the skin that lead to canals filled with a conductive gel containing keratan sulphate. They can detect the electrical impulses that are given off by other fish. Some sharks use this sense to find fish that are hidden under sand on the ocean floor.
Sharks may use their sense of touch by bumping into a potential prey target. Finally, they might use their sense of taste to decide if their target is indeed food.
As I return to my own teaching position in a classroom, I continue to reflect back on how everyone on board NOAA Ship Oregon II took all of the volunteers under their wing to “show them the ropes,” and teach them more than they could have learned in any classroom. It was clear that the whole crew was proud and eager to share their own specialty with us. For me, I was poking my nose into every nook and cranny, looking for stories to include in my blog. I was always welcomed with a smile and regaled with great stories. Far too many to include in my blog. I was impressed with the detailed and patient answers to my basic questions. This included not only the professional NOAA scientists and crew but also the other volunteers on board as I was the only one on the science crew who was a novice in marine biology. So, thank you Josh, Cait, Hannah, Macie and John.
But I was not the only one to be tutored in the details of life on the ship. Trey Driggers spent many hours discussing shark science with the other volunteers. The NOAA Corps members joined in the hauls and shared their experiences with the other volunteers. Their friendliness, openness and supportive presence added a lot to the team. They shared their own career journeys and at least one of the volunteers is seriously considering joining the NOAA Corps. John Brule, a volunteer, was working on his dissertation on parasites. (I am a convert. Parasites are fascinating and well deserving of detailed scientific study.) He engaged with the other volunteers on wide ranging subjects and guided them on dissections.
The fishing/deck crew readily discussed not only their jobs and experiences but also shared their knowledge of fish behavior and how weather conditions affect the likely catch.
In the end, of all the amazing things I experienced, my most enduring memories are of people sharing their love of their chosen field, reaching out to guide and teach the novices. It is really people, connecting to others, that makes an education impactful.
Data from the Bridge (at beginning of log)
Latitude: 28.07 Longitude: 93.27.45 Temperature: 84°F Wind Speeds: ESE 13 mph large swells
Science and Technology Log
9/21/19-We left Galveston, TX late in the afternoon once the backup parts arrived. After a few changes because of boat traffic near us, were able to get to station 1 around 21:00 (9:00 pm). We baited the 100 hooks with Atlantic Mackerel. Minutes later the computers were up and running logging information as the high flyer and the 100 hooks on 1 mile of 4mm 1000# test monofilament line were placed in the Gulf of Mexico for 60 minutes. My job on this station was to enter the information from each hook into the computer when it was released and also when it was brought onboard. When the hook is brought onboard they would let me know the status: fish on hook, whole bait, damaged bait, or no bait. Our first night was a huge success. We had a total of 28 catches on our one deployed longline.
We caught 1 bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), 2 tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), 14 sharp nose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), 2 black tip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus), 7 black nose sharks (Carcharhinus acronotus), and 2 red snappers (Lutjanus campechanus). There were also 3 shark suckers (remoras) that came along for the ride.
I was lucky to be asked by the Chief Scientist Kristin to tag the large tiger shark that was in the cradle. It took me about 3 tries but it eventually went in right at the bottom of his dorsal fin. He was on hook #79 and was 2300mm total length. What a great way to start our first day of fishing. After a nice warm, but “rolling” shower I made it to bed around 1:00 am. The boat was really rocking and I could hear things rolling around in cabinets. I think I finally fell asleep around 3:00.
9/22- The night shift works from midnight to noon doing exactly what we do during the day. They were able to complete two stations last night. They caught some tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) and a couple sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus). My shift consists of Kristin, Christian, Taniya, and Ryan: we begin our daily shifts at noon and end around midnight. The ship arrived at our next location right at noon so the night shift had already prepared our baits for us. We didn’t have a lot on this station but we did get a Gulf smooth hound shark (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), 2 king snake eels (Ophichthus rex), and a red snapper that weighed 7.2 kg (15.87 lbs). We completed a second station around 4:00 pm where our best catch was a sandbar shark. Due to the swells, we couldn’t use the crane for the shark basket so Kristin tried to tag her from the starboard side of the ship.
We were able to complete a third station tonight at 8:45 pm. My job this time was in charge of data recording. When a “fish is on,” the following is written down: hook number, mortality status, genus and species, precaudal measurement, fork measurement, and total length measurement, weight, sex, stage, samples taken, and tag number/comments. We had total of 13 Mustelus sinusmexicanus; common name Gulf smooth-hound shark. The females are ovoviviparous, meaning the embryos feed solely on the yolk but still develop inside the mother, before being born. The sharks caught tonight ranged in length from 765mm to 1291mm. There were 10 females and 3 male, and all of the males were of mature status. We took a small tissue sample from all but two of the sharks, which are used for genetic testing. Three of the larger sharks were tagged with rototags. (Those are the orange tags you see in the picture of the dorsal fin below).
I spend most of my downtime between stations in the science dry lab. I have my laptop to work on my blog and there are 5 computers and a TV with Direct TV. We were watching Top Gun as we were waiting for our first station. I tried to watch the finale of Big Brother Sunday night but it was on just as we had to leave to pull in our longline. So I still don’t know who won. 🙂 I slept good last night until something started beeping in my room around 4:00 am. It finally stopped around 6:30. They went and checked out my desk/safe where the sound was coming from and there was nothing. Guess I’m hearing things 🙂
Shout out! – Today’s shout out goes to the Sturgeon Family – Ben and Dillon I hope you are enjoying all the pictures – love Aunt Kathy
Over the past few days, we’ve fished a mix of station depths, so I’ve gotten to see a number of new species as we’ve moved out into deeper waters.
At a C station, which is a station at depths between 183 and 366 meters, we caught a Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus). This catch was so unexpected that a number of crew members ventured out to the well deck to snap a picture. She was a beautiful juvenile between 1-2 years old.
I also saw my first kingsnake eel, a long eel with a set of very sharp teeth. On a later station, we caught a juvenile that we were able to bring on deck and examine. We also caught a Warsaw grouper (Hyporthodus nigritus), which had parasites on its gills and in its fins. Gregg Lawrence, a member of the night shift on loan from Texas Parks and Wildlife Coastal Fisheries unit, and I removed the otoliths and took samples of the parasites.
We had one catch that brought in 20 Red Snappers. Red Snappers are brought on deck, and a number of samples are taken from each one of them for ongoing assessment of the Red Snapper population. In addition to the otoliths, which allow the scientists to determine the age of the fish, we also take samples of the gonads, the muscle, the fins, and the stomach. These allow the scientists to perform reproductive and genetic tests and determine what the snappers ate. While 4 members of the science team onboard collected samples, Caroline Collatos, the volunteer on the day shift, and I insured that the samples were properly packaged and tagged. Everyone working together allowed the process to run smoothly.
On the latest B station, which was about 110 meters deep, we caught a number of species, some of which I had not gotten to see yet. In addition to Gulf smoothound sharks (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), we caught a Scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) and a Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) that we had to cradle due to their size. The Sandbar shark was a bit feisty, but I got the chance to tag her before we released her.
We work in the rain. Thankfully, they had some extra rain gear for me to put on, so that I would not get drenched while we were setting the line. For the most part, the rainstorms have been sprinkles, but we did have one downpour while we were going toward a station.
Between setting lines, I have been busy checking up on my studenats’ work back in Memphis. One of the great things about having a one-to-one school is that the students are able to do their work on Microsoft Teams and turn it in for me to grade it thousands of miles away. I have loved seeing their how they are doing, and answering questions while they are working, because I know that they are learning about the cell cycle while I am out at sea learning about sharks.
One of the things that has really surprised me over the past week is how much my hands hurt. It was unexpected, but it makes sense, given how much of the work requires good grip strength. From insuring that the sharks are handled properly to clipping numbers on the gangions to removing circle hooks from fish on the lines, much of the work on the science team requires much more thumb strength than I had thought about. I know my students have commented that their hands hurt after taking notes in my class, so I thought they would get a kick out of the fact that the work on the ship has made my hands hurt.
Did You Know?
Sharks are able to sense electrical fields generated by their prey through a network of sensory organs known as ampullae of Lorenzini. These special pores are filled with a conductive jelly composed primarily of proteins, which send the signals to nerve fibers at the base of the pore.
Quote of the Day
Remove the predators, and the whole ecosystem begins to crash like a house of cards. As the sharks disappear, the predator prey balance dramatically shifts, and the health of our oceans declines.
Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1
Geographic Area: Southeastern U.S. coast
Date: August 29, 2018
“Shark On!” was the shout from the first person that sees a shark hooked to the long line that was being hauled up from the floor of the ocean. I heard this phrase often during the first leg of the long line Red Snapper/ shark survey on the NOAA ship Oregon II. We began fishing in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of West Palm Beach, Florida. We traveled north to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and back south to Port Canaveral over 12 days this summer.
During our long line deployments each day, we were able to catch, measure, tag and photograph many sharks, before returning them to the ocean quickly and safely. During these surveys, we caught the species of sharks listed below, in addition to other interesting fish from the ocean. This blog has scientific information about each shark, and photographs taken by myself and other scientists on board the Oregon II. The following information on sharks, in addition to scientific data about hundreds of other marine wildlife can be found online at the NOAA Fisheries site: http://fisheries.noaa.gov.
Great Hammerhead Shark-Sphyrna mokarran Hammerhead sharks are recognized by their long, strange hammer-like heads which are called cephalofoils. Great hammerheads are the largest species of hammerheads, and can grow to a length of 20 feet. The great hammerhead can be distinguished from other hammerheads as they have a much taller dorsal fin than other hammerheads.
When moving through the ocean, they swing their broad heads from side to side and this motion provides them a much wider field of vision than other sharks. It provides them an all around view of their environment as their eyes are far apart at either end of the long hammers. They have only two small blind spots, in front of the snout, and behind the cephalofoil. Their wide heads also have many tiny pores, called ampullae of Lorenzini. They can sense tiny electric currents generated by fish or other prey in distress from far distances.
Male Great Hammerhead 10. 5 ft.
Great Hammerhead cephalofoil
The great hammerhead are found in tropical and temperate waters worldwide, and inhabiting coastal areas in and around the continental shelf. They usually are solitary swimmers, and they eat prey ranging from crustaceans and squid, to a variety of bony fish, smaller sharks and stingrays. The great hammerhead can bear litters of up to 55 pups every two years.
Nurse Shark-Ginglymostoma cirratum Nurse sharks are bottom dwellers. They spend their life in shallow water, near the sandy bottom, and their orangish- pinkish color and rough skin helps them camouflage them. At night they come out to hunt. Nurse sharks have short, serrated teeth that can eat through crustaceans such as crabs, urchins, shrimp, and lobsters. They also eat fish, squid, and stingrays. They have two feelers, or barbels, which hang from either side of their mouth. They use their barbels to search for prey in the sand. Their average adult size is 7.5- 9 feet in length and they weigh between 160-230 lbs. Adult females reach a larger size than the males at 7- 8.5 feet long and can weigh from 200-267 lbs.
Nurse sharks are common in the coastal tropical waters of the Atlantic and also in the eastern Pacific Ocean. This species is locally very common in shallow waters throughout the Caribbean, south Florida to the Florida Keys. Large juveniles and adults are usually found around deeper reefs and rocky areas at depths of 10-250 feet during the daytime and migrate into shallower waters of less than 70 feet deep after dark.
Nurse shark in cradle
Nurse shark in cradle
Juveniles up to 6 feet are generally found around shallow coral reefs, grass flats or mangrove islands in shallow water. They often lie in groups of forty on the ocean floor or under rock ledges. Nurse sharks show a preference for a certain resting site, and will repeatedly go back to to the same caves for shelter or rest after leaving the area to feed.
Tiger Shark-Galeocerdo cuvier Adult Tiger sharks average between 10 -14 feet in length and weigh up to 1,400 lbs. The largest sharks can grow to 20 feet and weigh nearly 2,000 lbs. They mature between 5 and 10 years, and their life span is 30 years or more. Tiger sharks are named for the brown stripes and patches they have on their sides when they are young. As they get older, they stripes eventually fade away.
juvenile tiger shark
juvenile tiger shark
They will eat almost anything they come across, and have been referred to as the “garbage cans of the sea”. Their habitat ranges from shallow coastal waters when they are young, to deep waters over 1,500 feet deep. They swim in shallow waters to hunt lobster, squid, fish, sea turtles, birds, and smaller sharks.
They migrate with the seasons to follow prey and to give birth to young. They swim in cool waters in the summer, and in fall and winter they migrate to warm tropical waters. Their young grow in eggs inside the mother’s body and after 13 months the sharks hatch. The mother gives birth to a litter of 10 – 80 pups. Their current status is currently Near Threatened.
Sharpnose Shark-Rhizoprionodon terraenovae Atlantic sharpnose sharks are small for sharks and have a streamlined body, and get their name from their long, pointy snout. They are several different shades of gray and have a white underside. Atlantic sharpnose sharks can grow to up to 32 inches in length. Atlantic sharpnose sharks have been observed to live up to 18 years. Females mature at around 2 years old in the Atlantic when they reach approximately 24 inches in length. Atlantic sharpnose sharks are commonly found in the western Atlantic from New Brunswick, Canada, right through the Gulf of Mexico. They are commonly caught in U.S. coastal waters from Virginia around to Texas.
Atlantic sharpnose sharks eat small fish, including menhaden, eels, silversides, wrasses, jacks, toadfish, and filefish. The lower and upper jaws of an Atlantic sharpnose shark have 24 or 25 rows of triangular teeth. Atlantic sharpnose sharks mate annually between mid-May and mid-July in inshore waters, and after mating, they migrate offshore to deeper waters. They also eat worms, shrimp, crabs, and mollusks.
Sandbar Shark on long line
Sandbar Shark in cradle
Sandbar Shark-Carcharhinus plumbeus. The most distinctive feature of this stocky, grey shark is its huge pectoral fins, and long dorsal fin that increases its stability while swimming. Females can grow between 6 – 8.5 feet, and males grow up to 6ft. Its body color can vary from a blue to a light brown grey with a pale white underside. The sandbar shark lives in coastal waters, living in water that is 20 to 200 feet deep. Rarely is its large dorsal fin seen above the water’s surface, as the sandbars prefer to remain near the bottom. It commonly lives in harbors, lagoons, muddy and sandy bays, and river mouths, but never moves into freshwater. The sandbar shark lives in warm and tropical waters in various parts of the world including in the Western Atlantic, from Massachusetts down to southern Brazil.
The sandbar shark spends the majority of its time near the ocean floor, where it looks continuously for prey, such as small fish, mollusks, and various crustaceans. Their main diet consists largely of fish. Sandbar sharks give birth to between 1 and 14 pups in each litter. The size of the litter depends on the size of the mother, with large females giving birth to larger litters. Pregnancy is estimated to last between 8- 12 months. Females move near shore to shallow nursery areas to give birth. The females leave coastal areas after giving birth, while the young remain in the nursery grounds until winter, when they move into warmer and deeper water.
remora sucker pad
remora being weighed
Fun Fact- Remoras, or shark suckers, live in tropical oceans around the world. They have a rigid oval- shaped sucker pad on top of their head that it uses to attach itself to sharks and rays. It is symbiotic relationship where both animals gain something from their temporary union. Remoras mouths are at the top front of the body so while attached to a shark’s body, they do their host a favor by nibbling off skin parasites. They can also eat scraps of leftover food the shark leaves behind while they also enjoy a free ride. The shark gains a day at the spa for a body scrub, and can rid itself of parasites in a way it couldn’t have before!
It was certainly an unforgettable experience being able to work with the scientific and fishing team for this shark survey. The opportunity to see and handle these sharks up close for two weeks has informed me of so many interesting things about these wonderful and vital members of the ocean. I can now take this information and share it first hand with students in my classroom, and members of my community. I also want to work to bring a positive awareness to these vital members of the ocean food web so they can thrive well into the future. As an artist, this trip has been invaluable for me, as now I’ve seen the how colorful and varied sharks are and other various anatomy details you just can’t see in books or television. This new awareness will help to make my future paintings more accurate than before.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 14, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Conditions at 0030
Latitude: 25° 22.6’ N
Longitude: 84° 03.6’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1017.4 mb
Air Temperature: 28.8° C
Wind Speed: 9.1 knots
Science and Technology Log
For the first few days, we steamed, or traveled, to our first station. Each station is a research location where several activities will take place:
Preparing and setting out the longline gear.
Letting the line soak (fish on the bottom) for one hour while other tasks are performed.
Deploying a CTD (Conductivity Temperature Salinity) to collect samples and information about the water.
Hauling back the longline gear.
Recording data from the longline set and haulback.
Collecting measurements and samples from anything caught on the longline.
Depending on what is caught: attaching tags and releasing the animal back into the water (sharks) or collecting requested samples for further study (bony fish).
This is a very simplified summary of the various activities, and I’ll explore some of the steps in further detail in other posts.
During these operations and in between tasks, scientists and crew are very busy. As I watched and participated, the highly organized, well-coordinated flurry of activity on deck was an incredible demonstration of verbs (action words): clean, rinse, prepare, gather, tie, hook, set, haul, calibrate, operate, hoist, deploy, retrieve, cut, measure, weigh, tag, count, record, release, communicate…
Last night, I witnessed and participated in my first longline station. I baited 100 hooks with mackerel. I recorded set and haulback data on the computer as the gear was deployed (set) and hauled back in (haulback). I attached 100 numbered tags to the longline gangions (attached to the hooks). I recorded measurements and other data about SHARKS!
We caught, measured, sampled, tagged, and released four sharks last night: a silky, smooth-hound, sandbar, and tiger shark! I’ve never seen any of these species, or types, in person. Seeing the first shark burst onto the deck was a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life!
Sometimes, we didn’t catch any fish, but we did bring up a small piece of coral, brittle sea stars, and a crinoid. All three are marine animals, so I was excited to see them in person.
In between stations, there was some downtime to prepare for the next one. One of my favorite moments was watching the GoPro camera footage from the CTD. A camera is attached to the device as it sinks down through the depths to the bottom and back up to the surface again. The camera allowed me to visually ‘dive along’ as it collected water samples and data about the water temperature, salinity, pressure, and other information. Even though I watch ocean documentaries frequently and am used to seeing underwater footage on a screen, this was extremely exciting because the intriguing ecosystem on the screen was just below my feet!
Perhaps it is sea lore and superstition, but so far, the journey has been peppered with fortuitous omens. One of my ocean-loving former students and her Disney-bound family just happened to be on my flight to Orlando. Yes, it’s a small world after all. Her work samples were featured in our published case study, reminding me of the importance and impact of ocean literacy education. Very early the next morning, NASA’s promising Parker Solar Probe thunderously left the Sunshine State, hurtling toward the sun. New York’s state motto: Excelsior. Later that morning, a rainbow appeared shortly before the Oregon II left Port Canaveral. Although an old weather proverb states: “rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning,” we’ve had very pleasant weather, and I chose to interpret it as a reassuring sign. Sailing on the Oregon II as a Teacher at Sea is certainly my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
In fifth grade, celebrating Halloween with the clingfish (Derilissus lombardii)
Now in middle school, celebrating summer!
According to seafaring superstition, women on board, whistling, and bananas are supposed to be bad luck on a boat. On the Oregon II, folks do not seem to put much stock into these old beliefs since I’ve encountered all three aboard the ship and still feel very lucky to be here.
In another small-world coincidence, two of the volunteers on the Second Leg of the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey recently graduated from SUNY Potsdam, my undergrad alma mater. What drew us from the North Country of New York to Southern waters? A collective love of sharks.
These small-world coincidences seemed indicate that I was on the right path. Out on the ocean, however, the watery world seems anything but small. The blue vastness and unseen depths fill me with excitement and curiosity, and I cannot wait to learn more. For the next two weeks, the Oregon II will be my floating classroom. Instead of teaching, I am here to learn.
As a fourth generation teacher, education is in my blood. One great-grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse in 1894. My other great-grandmother was also a teacher and a Potsdam alumna (Class of 1892). As we traverse the Atlantic Ocean, I wonder what my academic ancestors would think of their great-granddaughter following in their footsteps…whilst studying sharks and snapper at sea. Salt water equally runs through my veins.
As we steamed, or traveled, to our first station (research location), I wondered about the unfamiliar waters and equipment around me. Before I could indulge my questions about marine life, however, I first needed to focus on the mundane: daily life at sea. In many ways, I was reminded of the first day at a new school. It was junior high all over again, minus the braces and bad bangs. At first, those long-forgotten new school worries resurfaced: What if I get lost? Where is my locker (or, in this case, my stateroom)? What if I forget my schedule? What if I have to sit by myself at lunch? To combat these thoughts, I draw upon a variety of previous travel and life experiences: studying abroad, backpacking, camping, meeting new friends, volunteering, working with a marine science colleague, and sailing on other vessels. Combined, those experiences provided me with the skills to successfully navigate this one.
I’ve spent the first few days getting acquainted with the layout, personnel, safety rules, and routines of the Oregon II. My students wondered about some of the same aspects of life at sea.
Where do I sleep on the ship?
The staterooms remind me of a floating college dorm, only much quieter. I’m sharing a small stateroom with Kristin Hannan, a scientist. We are on opposite work shifts, so one of us is sleeping while the other is working. I am assigned to the day shift (noon to midnight) while she is assigned to the night shift (midnight to noon). Inside the stateroom, we have berths (similar to bunk beds), a sink, and large metal storage cabinets that are used like a closet or dresser. Space is limited on the ship, so it must be used efficiently and sometimes creatively.
Do you know anyone else on the ship?
No, but I’m meeting lots of new people. They have been welcoming, offering interesting information and helpful reminders and pointers. Those first-day-of-school jitters are fading quickly. I didn’t get lost, but I got a bit turned around at first, trying to figure out which deck I needed for the galley (like the ship’s cafeteria), where we eat our meals. And I only had to eat lunch by myself once. On the first day at sea, I made a PB & J sandwich. Eating that, I felt like a kid again (only without my lunchbox), but it was nice to be at a point in my life where I’m confident enough to be all by myself and feel a bit out of place. That’s how you learn and grow. Everything is new to me right now, but with time, it’ll start to make sense. Pretty soon, the equipment and unfamiliar routines will start to feel more familiar. Hopefully, the sharks will like me.
Did You Know?
The Gulf of Mexico is home to approximately 200 orcas (scientific name: Orcinus orca, also known as killer whales).
As an introduction to biographies in grades 4 and up, I recommend Women and the Sea and Ruth! written and illustrated by Richard J. King, with additional text by Elysa R. Engelman. Ruth and her stuffed shark explore a maritime history museum, learning about the important roles women have held at sea. Inspired by female sea captains, explorers, and naturalists, Ruth imagines herself in the photographs and paintings, part of an actual exhibit in the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. For more information about the intrepid women featured in the book, brief biographical information is provided at the end. Ruth would no doubt be impressed with the seafaring women (and men) aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II.
The cruise is coming to a close. Looking back at my three experiences with NOAA, hydrography (mapping the ocean), fisheries lab work, or shark and snapper surveys, I couldn’t decide which was my favorite. Like the facets of a diamond, each experience gave me another perspective on our one world ocean.
Just like different geographic locations and work, each shark species give me a lens through which I can appreciate the mysteries of the ocean. Every day, I held, measured, kissed, or released a different species of shark. In the Gulf of Mexico, there are 44 shark species frequently caught. Fortunately, I saw quite a few, and will share some, in the order in which I met them.
Our first night fishing, we caught many Atlantic sharpnose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae). They are named for their long flat snout and sharp nose. It seemed whenever we caught one, a bunch more followed. They were abundant and kept us busy.
Day two, we caught a deep water Cuban dogfish (Squalus cubensis).
On September 2o, we almost caught a bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas). We brought the cradle down, but the shark thrashed its way off, refusing to be studied. The bull shark, along with the tiger shark, are “one of the top three sharks implicated in unprovoked fatal attacks around the world.”
Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries
Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries
Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA FIsheries
Within a couple days of catching the Cuban dogfish, we caught another shark with iridescent eyes. It turns out this similar looking shark was not a Cuban dogfish, but a rare roughskin spiny dogfish (Cirrhigaleus asper).
The beautifully mottled, sleek, immature tiger shark(Galeocerdo cuvier) caught on September 23 had remarkable skin patterns that apparently fade as the shark ages. Adult sharks can get as large as 18 feet and 2,000 pounds. Along with the bull shark, it is one of the top three species implicated in unprovoked, fatal attacks worldwide.
Paul Felts, Fisheries Biologist, measures the tiger shark’s length. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries
Then, I release it. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries
September 24 we caught a fascinating scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini). The flat extended head of this hammerhead is wavy, giving it the “scalloped” part of its name. Its populations in the Gulf have drastically decreased since 1981, making it a species of concern.
The scalloped hammerhead’s flat extended head is called a cephalofoil. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries
It’s name comes from the dents, giving the cephalfoil a scalloped appearance. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries
We also caught a silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis). Like other Carcharhinus sharks, the silky shark has a sharp “Carchar,” nose “hinus” (Greek derivation), but also has a silky appearance due to its closely spaced dermal denticles.
We saw two of the three smoothhound species present in the Gulf. On September 25, we caught a Gulf smoothhound, (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), a species named less than 20 years ago. Much is left to learn about the ecology and biology of this recently discovered shark.
Then, I watched the night crew catch, measure and tag a dusky shark (Carcharhinus obscurus).
On September 26, we caught a sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus). Despite its size, the sandbar shark poses little threat to man.
Due to over-fishing, sandbar shark populations are said to have dropped by as much as 2/3 between the 1970’s and the 1990’s. They are now making a comeback, whether it be from fishing regulations, or the decreased populations of larger sharks feeding on juvenile sandbar sharks.
We tagged many sharks during my two weeks on the Oregon II. If you never catch one of those sharks again, the tag doesn’t mean anything. But this week, we also caught a previously tagged sandbar shark! Recapturing a wild marine animal is phenomenal. You can learn about its migration patterns, statistically estimate population sizes, and learn much more. The many years of NOAA’s work with this species in particular demonstrates that thoughtful, long term management of a species works.
Recaptured sandbar shark
Recaptured sandbar shark
On September 27, we almost caught a nurse shark(Ginglymostoma cirratum). The barbels coming from its mouth reminded me of a catfish or exotic man with a mustache.
Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA
Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA
Today, September 29, was our last day of fishing, a bittersweet day for me. That nurse shark that got away, or more likely, another one like it, came up in our cradle.
The team works quickly. Here, Tim Martin, Chief Boatswain, maneuvers the shark so measurements can be taken. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries
The hook is then quickly removed and the shark is back in the water within a couple minutes. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries
Every day we caught sharks, including a few other species not mentioned here. Only once our line came back without a fish. The diverse characteristics and adaptations that allow each of these species to survive in a challenging marine environment inspire biologists as they try to categorize and understand the species they research. While catching so many different species of sharks gives me hope, many members of the crew reminisce about times gone by when fish were more abundant than they are now.
I am the kind of person who always struggles to return from an adventure. I have learned so much, I don’t want to leave. Yet I know my class at South Prairie is waiting patiently for my return. I hope to share these many marine species with my class so that we all may view every moment with curiosity and amazement.
Every day was this beautiful. Here I am on the bow, soaking it up. Photo: Kevin Rademacher
This small barracudina captured my attention just as much as the large Sandbar shark.. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries
I was learning, whether I was crunching numbers or wrestling sharks. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries
The leech would rather stick to a shark than me. Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries
Weather Data is not available for this post because I am writing from the Biloxi/Gulfport Airport.
WHAT ARE WE CATCHING?
This is a long-line survey. That means we go to an assigned GPS point, deploy hi-flyer buoys, add weights to hold the line down, add 100 baited hooks, leave it in place for an hour, and retrieve everything.
As the equipment is pulled in we identify, measure and record everything we catch. Sometimes, like in the case of a really large, feisty shark that struggles enough to straighten or break a hook or the lines, we try to identify and record the one that got away. We tag each shark so that it can be identified if it is ever caught again. We tally each hook as it is deployed and retrieved, and the computer records a GPS position for each retrieval so scientists can form a picture of how the catch was distributed along the section we were fishing. The target catch for this particular survey was listed as sharks and red snapper. The reality is that we caught a much wider variety of marine life.
We list our catch in two categories: Bony fish, and Sharks. The major difference is in the skeletons. Bony fish have just that: a skeleton made of hard bone like a salmon or halibut. Sharks, on the other hand, have a cartilaginous skeleton, rigid fins, and 5 to 7 gill openings on each side. Sharks have multiple rows of sharp teeth arranged around both upper and lower jaws. Since they have no bones, those teeth are embedded in the gums and are easily dislodged. This is not a problem because they are easily replaced as well. There are other wonderful differences that separate sharks from bony fish.
Bony Fish we caught:
The most common of the bony fish that we caught were Red Groupers (Epinephelus morio), distinguished by of their brownish to red-orange color, large eyes and very large mouths. Their dorsal fins, especially, have pointed spikes.
We also caught Black Sea Bass (Centropristus striata) which resemble the groupers in that they also have large mouths and prominent eyes.
A third fish that resembles these two is the Speckled Hind (Epinephelus drummondhayi). It has a broad body, large mouth and undershot jaw giving the face a different look. Yes, we did catch several Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), although not as many as I expected. Snappers are a brighter color than the Red Groupers, and have a more triangular shaped head, large mouth and prominent canine teeth.
The most exciting bony fish we caught was barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda). We caught several of these and each time I was impressed with their sleek shape and very sharp teeth!
Most of the bony fish we caught were in fairly deep water.
We were fortunate to catch a variety of sharks ranging from fairly small to impressively big!
The most commonly caught were Sandbar Sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus): large, dark-gray to brown on top and white on the bottom.
Unless you really know your sharks, it is difficult for the amateur to distinguish between some of the various types. Experts look at color, nose shape, fin shape and placement, and distinguishing characteristics like the hammer-shaped head of the Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) and Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) sharks that were caught on this trip.
The beautifully patterned coloring of the Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is fairly easy to recognize and so is the yellowish cast to the sides of the Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris).
Other sharks we caught were Black-nose (Carcharhinus acrontus), Atlantic Sharp-nosed (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), Blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) and Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus leucus).
Several of the sharks we caught were large, very close to 3 meters long, very heavy and very strong! Small sharks and bony fish were brought aboard on the hooks to be measured against a scaled board on the deck then weighed by holding them up on a spring scale before tagging and releasing them. Any shark larger than about 1.5 meters was usually heavy and strong enough that it was guided into a net cradle that was lifted by crane to deck level where it could be measured, weighed and tagged with the least possibility of harm to either the shark or the crew members. Large powerful sharks do not feel the force of gravity when in the water, but once out of it, the power of their weight works against them so getting them back into the water quickly is important. Large powerful sharks are also pretty upset about being caught and use their strength to thrash around trying to escape. The power in a swat from a shark tail or the abrasion from their rough skin can be painful and unpleasant for those handling them.
The Night Sky
I am standing alone on the well deck; my head is buzzing with the melodies of the Eagles and England Dan. A warm breeze brushes over me as I tune out the hum of the ship’s engines and focus on the rhythm of the bow waves rushing past below me. It is dark! Dark enough and clear enough that I can see stars above me from horizon to horizon: the soft cloudy glow of the Milky Way, the distinctive patterns of familiar favorites like the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper with its signature bright point, the North Star. Cassiopeia appears as a huge “W” and even the tiny cluster of the “Seven Sisters” is distinct in the black bowl of the night sky over the Gulf of Mexico. The longer I look the more stars I see.
This is one of the first really cloudless nights of this cruise so far. Mike Conway, a member of the deck crew came looking for me to be sure I didn’t miss out on an opportunity to witness this amazingly beautiful show. As I first exited the dry lab and stumbled toward the bow all I could pick out were three faint stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper. The longer I looked, the more my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, and the more spectacular the show became. Soon there were too many stars for me to pick out any but the most familiar constellations.
As a child I spent many summer nighttime hours on a blanket in our yard as my father patiently guided my eyes toward constellation after constellation, telling me the myths that explained each one. Many years have passed since then. I have gotten busy seeing other sights and hearing other stories. I had not thought about those long ago summer nights for many years. Tonight, looking up in wonder, I felt very close to Pop again and to those great times we shared.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Kathleen Gibson Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II July 25 – August 8, 2015
Mission: Shark Longline Survey Geographic Area of the Cruise: Atlantic Ocean off the Florida and Carolina Coast Date: Aug 4, 2015
Coordinates: LAT 3323.870N
LONG 07736.658 W
Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind speed (knots): 28
Sea Temp (deg C): 29.2
Air Temp (deg C): 24.2
Early this morning the night shift caught and cradled a great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran). This is a first for this cruise leg. I’m sure that just saying “Hammerhead” conjures an image of a shark with an unusual head projection (cephalofoil), but did you know that there are at least 8 distinct Hammerhead species? Thus far in the cruise we have caught 4 scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini), one of which I was fortunate to tag.
Science and Technology Log
All eight species of hammerhead sharks have cephalofoils with differences noted in shape, size, and eye placement, to name a few. Research indicates that this structure acts as a hydrofoil or rudder, increasing the shark’s agility. In addition, the structure contains a high concentration of specialized electro sensory organs (Ampullae of Lorenzini) that help the shark detect electric signals of other organisms nearby. The eye placement at each end of the cephalofoil allows hammerhead sharks to have essentially a panoramic view with only a slight movement of their head – quite handy when hunting or avoiding other predators.
Great hammerheadsharks are highly migratory. They are found worldwide in tropical latitudes, and at various depths. There are no geographically Distinct Population Segments (DPS) identified. The great hammerhead, as its name implies, is the largest of the group and average size estimates of mature individuals varies between 10-14 ft in length with a weight approximately 500 lb.; the largest recorded was 20 ft in length. The one we caught was ll ft. in length.
As with most shark species, the numbers declined rapidly between 1975 and 1995 due to the fin fishing industry and focused sport fishing often fueled by fear and misinformation. One has to wonder what the average length was before that time.
Scalloped Hammerhead sharks are the most common hammerhead species. Their habitat overlaps that of the great hammerhead, though they are more often found in slightly shallower waters. In contrast to the great hammerhead, scalloped hammerheads are only semi-migratory, and scientists have identified Distinct Population Segments around the world. This is important information when evaluating population size and determining which groups, if any, need regulatory protection.
The average life expectancy for both species is approximately 30 years. Males tend to become sexually mature before females, at smaller weights; females mature between 7-10 years (sources vary). In my last log I discussed shark reproduction – Oviparous vs. Viviparous. (egg laying vs. live birth). All hammerheads are viviparous placental sharks but reproductive patterns do differ. Great hammerheads bear young every two years, typically having 20-40 pups. A great hammerhead recently caught by a fisherman in Florida was found to be pregnant with 33 pups. Scalloped have slightly fewer pups in each brood, but can reproduce more frequently.
Setting and retrieving the Longline requires coordination between Deck Operations and the Bridge. Up until now I’ve highlighted those on deck. Let’s learn a bit about two NOAA officers on the Bridge.
The NOAA Corps is one of the 7 Uniformed Services of the United States and all members are officers. The Corps’ charge is to support the scientific mission of NOAA, operating and navigating NOAA ships and airplanes. Applicants for the Corps must have earned Bachelor’s degree and many have graduate degrees. A science degree is not required but a significant number of science units must have been completed. It’s not unusual for Corps recruits to have done post-baccalaureate studies to complete the required science coursework. New recruits go through Basic Officer’s Training at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
Lt. Lecia Salerno – Executive Officer (XO) – NOAA
Lt. Lecia Salerno at the helm or the Oregon II during Longline retrieval.
Lt. Salerno is a 10-year veteran of the NOAA Corps and has significant experience with ship operations. She was recently assigned to the Oregon II as the XO. This is Lecia’s first assignment as an XO and she reports directly to Captain Dave Nelson. In addition to her Bridge responsibilities, she manages personnel issues, ship accounts and expenditures. During these first few weeks on her new ship, Lt. Salerno is on watch for split shifts – day and night – and is quickly becoming familiar with the nuances of the Oregon II. This ship is the oldest (and much loved) ship in NOAA’s fleet, having been built in 1964, which can make it a challenge to pilot. It’s no small task to maneuver a 170-foot vessel up to a small highflyer and a float, and continue moving the ship along the Longline throughout retrieval.
Lecia has a strong academic background in science and in the liberal arts and initially considered joining another branch of the military after college. Her assignments with NOAA incorporate her varied interests and expertise, which she feels makes her job that much more rewarding.
Laura has always had a love for the ocean, but did not initially look in that direction for a career. She first earned a degree in International Business from James Madison University. Her interest in marine life took her back to the sea and she spent a number of years as a scuba diving instructor in the U.S. and Australia. Laura returned to the U.S. to take additional biology coursework. During that time she more fully investigated the NOAA Corps, applied and was accepted.
Laura has been on the Oregon II for 1.5 years and loves her work. When she is on shift she independently handles the ship during all operations and also acts as Navigator. What she loves about the Corps is that the work merges science and technology, and there are many opportunities for her to grow professionally. In December Laura will be assigned to a shore duty unit that is developing Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV).
It’s amazing to think that just over a week ago I held my first live shark. We caught over 30 sharks at our first station and our inexperience showed. At first even the small ones looked like all teeth and tail, and those teeth are not only sharp but carry some pretty nasty bacteria. It took all of us (new volunteers) forever to get the hooks out quickly without causing significant trauma to the shark–or ourselves. A tail smack from this small-but-mighty tiger shark pictured below left me with a wedge-shaped bruise for a week!
Since then we have caught hundreds of sharks. We’ve caught so many Atlantic Sharpnose that on occasion it seems mundane. Then I catch myself and realize how amazing it is to be doing what I’m doing– holding a wild animal in my hands, freeing it from the circle hook (finally!), looking at the detailed pattern of its skin, and feeling it’s rough texture, measuring it and releasing it back into the sea.
I’m pleased to be able to say that my day shift team has become much more confident and efficient. Our mid-day haul yesterday numbered over 40 sharks, including a few large sharks that were cradled, and it went really smoothly.
At this point I’ve had a chance to work at most of the volunteer stations including baiting hooks, throwing off the high-flyer marker, numbering, gangions, throwing bait, data entry, tagging shark, removing hooks, and measuring/ weighing. A highlight of last night was getting to throw out the hook to pull in the high-flyer marker at the start of retrieval. I’m not known for having the best throwing arm but it all worked out!
Day 3 weather was Hazardous with gusts up to 20 knots. Travel in the small C.E Stillwell not advisable.
Day 4 was beautiful and started out with light to variable winds with 0-1 ft seas and ended with 5-10 knots winds with 2-3 ft seas.
Science and Technology Log
Day 3 we attempted our usual 6:00 a.m. departure but after entering the bay it was obvious the working conditions attempting to tag sharks in our small boat would be almost impossible. We monitored the weather for a possible late morning departure but the weather only increased. We set ourselves to remarking the intervals on the mainlines as the markings were very faint and difficult at times to see where to set the gangion.
Day 4 We were on the water and had our first line (set) in the water before 7:00 a.m. The conditions were great and we started right outside of Lewes, DE. In the morning we did 3-50 hook sets and 1-25 hook set in what is called deep hole which is on the Delaware side of the main shipping channel that runs through Delaware Bay.
As you can see by the picture numerous large ships enter the mouth of the bay and head up.
While we were pulling the line on the deep hole set this large Sand Tiger came to the surface after a lot of hard work by Matt.
At the end of the day we were able to complete a total of 8 sets. After finishing deep hole we spent the afternoon on the New Jersey side of the bay just off Cape May. As can be seen by the July 2015 stations Day 4 was spent at the mouth of the bay. On the Delaware side we did JY10, JY27, JY28 and Deep Hole. All JY sets are 50 hook sets while all others are the larger hooks with 25 per main line.
During the afternoon we did JY26, JY18, EX06 followed by JY19. The order may seem odd looking at the map but sets are planned to ensure that they are retrieved in the correct time frame. JY18 was just off Sunset Beach in Cape May New Jersey.
Day 1 sets: JY24, JY20, JY22, BG02, SB01, SB02
Day 2 sets: JY07, JY01, JY11, JY13, EX04, ST05, EX07
Day 4 sets: JY10, JY28, JY27, Deep Hole, JY26, Jy19, JY18, EX06
The following video is from day 1 but gives an idea of how hard it can be to tail rope the sharks.
Once a shark is tail roped and the gangion is cleated to the front of the boat we can collect the biological data and tag the shark.
The following video is long but if you watch to the end you will see what happens when a hook comes out while a shark is still tail roped.
We also had the opportunity to encounter a few rays. The following video is of a large Spiny Butterfly Ray we caught
The shark tagging experience was extremely physically taxing but very rewarding. I had the opportunity to gain hands on experience in an exciting research project that will allow me to bring knowledge and excitement back to my classroom. My time working on this survey brought me a memorable experience that I will never forget.
I would personally like to thank the other scientists on the survey Nathan Keith, Ben Church and the Chief Scientist on the cruise Matt Pezzulo for sharing their expertise and knowledge on shark morphology and identification. These individuals were always willing to explain any part of the process or answer any questions I had. They took the time to teach me every part of the process early on so that I could become a contributing member from the start. This type of analysis on sharks takes grit and hard work and I appreciate the opportunity I was given through the Teacher at Sea Program.
NOAA Teacher at Sea Lynn M. Kurth Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II July 25 – August 9, 2014
Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Date:August 4, 2014
Lat: 33 54.763 N Long: 076 24.967 W
Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind: 16 knots
Barometric Pressure: 1017.74 mb
Temperature: 29.9 Degrees Celsius
Science and Technology Log:
Much to my surprise a sandbar shark will have around 35,000 teeth over the course of its lifetime! Similar to other species of sharks, a sandbar shark’s teeth are found in rows which are shed and replaced as needed. The teeth are not used to chew but rather to rip food into chunks that the shark can swallow. The shape of a shark’s teeth depends on the species of shark they belong to and what that particular species eats. For example, a tiger shark has razor sharp piercing teeth it uses to rip apart the flesh of its prey and a zebra shark has hefty flat teeth because it eats shellfish.
Did you Know?
When sharks are born they have complete sets of teeth
It was recently discovered that shark teeth contain fluoride
Human teeth and shark teeth are equally as hard
Shark teeth are not attached to gums on a root like our teeth
Through the years I have found that when I am doing something I love I usually meet people who I respect and find intriguing. I love being part of science at sea aboard the Oregon II and I’m not surprised that I have met several people who are passionate about issues that I find interesting. One such person is Katelyn Cucinotta, a member of my work shift, who has a passion for the proper care of the marine environment and what she aspires to do in the future to make that happen. Within minutes of meeting Katelyn she began educating me about the decline of several shark species and the difficulties marine life faces with the amount of man-made debris in our oceans. Katelyn co-founded an organization called PropheSEA in order to share information about the issues our oceans and marine species are currently facing.