Kainoa Higgins: Jelly Fishing and C.U.F.E.S-ing! June 26, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kainoa Higgins
Aboard R/V Ocean Starr
June 18 – July 3, 2014

Mission: Juvenile Rockfish Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Northern California Current
Date: Thursday, June 26, 2014, 2000 hours

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Current Latitude: 42 ° 34.7’ N
Current Longitude: 124 ° 37.6’ W
Air Temperature:  13° Celsius
Wind Speed: 25-30 knots
Wind Direction: North
Surface Water Temperature: 14.6 Celsius
Weather conditions: Partly cloudy

Find our location in real time HERE!

Science and Technology Log:

Jelly Fishing

Jelly fishing

Patiently waiting for an opportunity to sneak up on an unsuspecting jelly

I feel a bit silly standing on the stern deck of the RV Ocean Starr with a long-handled dip net designed to skim the surface of your average suburban swimming pool. It is now my fisher net and I’m hunting jellies (which are not, in fact, fish). In my head I chant, ‘Here jelly jelly jelly’ as my squinting eyes strain to peer through the fertile layers of seawater for any sign of gelatinous zooplankton.

Sea Nettle

The Pacific Sea Nettle

I am assisting Sam Zeman, a graduate student at the University of Oregon, as she attempts to “reel in” the big one. We are keeping our eyes peeled for Chrysaora fuscescens, the Pacific Sea nettle supposedly common to these waters. Supposedly. Sam abides by the motto, “plankton are patchy” and so jelly hunting can be verrrrry frustrating.

Aggregation of Sting

Aggregating Sea nettles

Jelly aggregations are frequently seen at and around convergent zones, where one body of water meets another, each unique in physical and/or chemical characteristic (salinity, temperature, turbidity, etc). There are many such zones throughout the California Current, a classic example occurring near the plume of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific Ocean. While these aggregating patterns have been observed there is still much to understand concerning the behavioral mechanisms creating and sustaining these patches.

In the fishing community, jellies are generally perceived as nuisances, ripping apart gear thanks to sheer numbers and collective weight. There is evidence suggesting jellyfish compete with commercially important fish species and have the potential for making a dent in zooplankton stocks when they are abundant. That being said, more evidence needs to be gathered to support or refute these claims.

Sam is diving net first into this investigation. She wants to answer questions such as: What are the jellies eating? What time of day do they eat? If they feast continuously does the preferred prey change throughout the daily cycle? What significance do seasons have? Statistically, how much of a nuisance are they? These are all fundamental yet essential questions to better understand the niche that jellies occupy in their ecosystem and what impact that might have on humans.

Sam will take her collected samples of Chrysaora back to lab for further analysis. She hopes that by examining the gut content of these jellies, she will better understand the feeding dynamics of large scyphozoans along the Oregon coast. Surrounded by various instruments designed to assess jellyfish response to flow, Sam will continue to seek the answers to the most fundamental questions: Why do jellyfish aggregate around convergent zones and are they as big of a threat as we make them out to be?


Sam Zeman hauls in her first Sea nettle!


Catching Eggs – The C.U.F.E.S

I stumble into the wet lab after a restless day of sleep expecting to find the usual hustle and bustle over box corers, CTDs and neuston nets. Instead I find Ric and Curtis consumed with a piece of scientific kit I had yet to see in action. After a brief morning greeting I am introduced to the Continuous Underway Fish Egg Sampler, C.U.F.E.S (pronounced Que-Fess) for short. Underway Fish Egg Sampler. In short, it is designed to collect eggs from the top two meters of the water column near the bow of the ship as we travel throughout the day. The water is piped back to the wet lab and collected in a wire mesh. The consolidated sample of eggs is then added to a vial which will be saved for further examination in the lab. The CUFES is essential to making predictions about future stock of commercially and ecologically important species of fish and it is not long before my sleeves are rolled up and I am honing in on the rhythmic and repetitious process.

Check out the video below to get a play by play of the C.U.F.E.S in action.

Personal Log:

I can feel myself evolving, adapting to life afloat the big blue. I’ve mentioned a variety of fundamental struggles associated with life at sea, struggles that I now feel I’m getting a handle on. I’m finding that small adjustments go a long way. For example, I’ve recently discovered a rope handle hanging above my bunk intended to assist both mount and dismount from bed. I’m not sure how I failed to notice it before but it sure beats having to power push-up in and out of bed each night. I still feel like I’m cliff hanging, one hand on the rope, toes outstretched as they struggle to find floor in the darkness. I’ve learned to shift my weight as the ship pitches and rolls. It’s funny to watch everyone’s body take a 45 degree angle in relation to the deck when we encounter a steep swell broadside. When seas get rough as I try to snooze, I wedge myself between my mattress and the wall to keep from rolling out. Believe it or not, I’ve even gotten a couple loads of laundry done. As a result of these changes and more, I’m beginning to feel more at home even though I’m not anywhere close to it.

Worlds Collide

Day and Night crews come together to greet the first trawl haul

My schedule has also altered slightly. What used to be a 12:00pm-12:00am run has now shifted toward the latter. While it was great to be a part of the day’s activities: box corer, CTD, neuston net and what-not, I was only catching one or two night trawls. I was so excited to see what mysterious creatures would come from the depths in the next haul I rarely called it quits before 3 am anyway. I am now a member of the grave shift, the “nights watch” we’ve come to call ourselves, on official duty between 6:00pm and 6:00am.   I sleep until roughly 2:00pm at the latest so that I can catch the last few day tests before heading to our first trawling station of the night. I spend transit time doing a bit of this and that and then the whole night sorting trawl hauls with a fun and invigorating team. Breakfast is ready as soon as the shift ends and I grab a bite before conking out for as long a sleep as weather permits.

I am also enjoying getting to know everyone on board, both science team members and the ship’s crew. I discovered that I share Hawaiian ties with a handful on board; small world. There are more than a few here who have spent much of their professional careers on the water and so are full of captivating stories.   Recently, I sat with Jerry, an Ocean Starr engineer, who told of his career as a professional treasure hunter in Florida. Though he kept from sharing the exact location of his findings he assured me there was still a plethora for the taking! As he reinvigorated my childhood fantasies of chests filled precious gems and pirate gold, he advised, “If you want to make a small fortune, put a large fortune into hunting treasure.” Hmmm, on second thought, maybe I’ll just start with a metal detector and a side-hobby.

Teaching in the field

SAMI students and I in the ideal classroom

There is a great dynamic amongst our team and I am learning a so much from these passionate scientists. Not only is everyone incredibly versed in their field of study but I’m finding their company to be enjoyable in general. I’ve been warmly accepted onto the team and they have asked just as many questions about SAMI and this program as I have about their research, and believe me, I’m asking a lot of questions.

As a science educator I sometimes forget that I’m a part of the “the team”. Occasionally I catch myself feeling like the kid on the outside of the fence looking in and wishing he could play ball with everyone else. This experience is helping me to realize that just because I’m not in the field doesn’t make me any less of a valuable asset to the scientific community. We are the recruiters, striving to engage, develop and inspire the scientists of tomorrow.  We are responsible for convincing the general populous and particularly the generation of next that they should care about what’s happening in our ocean, to learn something about it and then grow into leaders that will do something about it. I have never felt more value in what I do.

Notable Critters Spotted: Humpback Whales, Blue Whales (that I continue to miss), Mola Mola (Sunfish), Porpoises, SEABIRDS!!!

A Mola mola, or Ocean sunfish

Poll Answer:  W.R. & W.C. stands for Wash Room and Water Closet as seen below

W.R. & W.C.

It’s the Bathroom!



Obed Fulcar, July 27, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Obed Fulcar
NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 27, 2010 – August 8, 2010

Mission:Summer Pollock survey III
Geograpical Area:Bering Sea, Alaska
Date:  July 27,2010

Weather from the Bridge:

Time:05:26 am
Latitude:59.27 N
Longitude:176.58 W
Wind Speed:11.8 knots
Wind Direction:219 degrees W
Sea Temperature:9.4 C (48.92 F)
Air Temperature:8.27 C (46.88 F)
Barometric Pressure:1008 mb
Foggy skies


Conveyor Belt

Conveyor Belt

Thursday, July 22 (continuation): After my bout with motion sickness, I felt a lot better so I decided to finish my shift. Around 1400 (2pm) upon returning to the Acoustic lab suddenly I smelled the fish:they were trawling for Pollock! I rushed to the wet lab to find Darin and Story, my fellow Teacher at Sea, and a young scientist named Kathy Hough already in full gear, surveying the Pollock. The catch was coming down a chute and spilling over a conveyor where the fish was sorted out by sizes.

The targeted size Pollock was placed in crates to record the weight on a digital scale, while the rest, together with any giant jelly fish, or Northern Sea Nettle (Chrysaora melanaster) caught in the net were return overboard.

Northern Sea Nettle

Northern Sea Nettle

The next part of the survey involved dissecting each fish using a scalpel, making a cut across the left side of the underbelly in order to determine the sex and the content of the stomach. There was a large chart showing pictures of the way the female reproductive organs or ovaries and the male testes looked like at each level or size from 1 to 4.

The males were named “blokes” and the females“sheilas” (I believe these to be Australian terms). After the dissection the length of each fish was recorded automatically using a whitemeasuring board with a yellow metric ruler featuring a magnetic strip.

The final step involved selected specimens getting a cut above their heads in order to remove two tiny ear bones or “Otolith” that every bone fish have. They are used to determine the growth of the fish, and together with samples of stomach content they were preserved and placed in a freezer to be sent to a NOAA laboratory in Seattle for further analysis.

Working with the Pollock Survey has really hit home. All this fish made me think about “Sharky”our Brook Trout resident born 3 years ago in our cold water aquarium at MS319, as part of“Trout in the Classroom” a program where New York city students learn about conservation by raising trout from eggs to fingerlings, or juvenile size, and then they get to release them in a cold water stream upstate New York.

Trout is another fish that is part of the Alaska ecosystem, living and spawning in streams along the coast. The trawling reminded me of when we cast ourSeine nets on the Harlem River, as part of our Environmental Education after school program, in order to identify the fish and collect the data, just like the survey. I made a great connection when Darin, the young scientist working with us on the Pollock survey, told me that Pollock is called “Bacallao” in Portuguese. This reminded me that back in New York City, I noticed that for the past years in every “bodega” (spanish grocery store) the packaging containing Bacalao nowadays say Pollockinstead of what traditionally used to be Cod fish. Apparently there is an specie of Atlantic Pollock that has been historically consumed in Europe and in the Mediterranean countries of Portugal and Spain, so it is no surprise that we have incorporated Bacalao as part of the traditionalcooking of the Dominican Republic. Every self-respecting Dominican knows that Bacalao is a staple of Dominican cuisine.

Sex organs of pollock

Sex organs of pollock

I never liked fish as a child, and I remember that Bacalao was the only fish I actually enjoyed eating until this day, well seasoned in tomato sauce and onions, accompanied with rice beans or with yucca. This reminds me of another fish part of the dominican culinary culture: a form of dried, smoked fish (very smelly) known as“Arenque”. This fish, widely sold in bodegas and open markets is usually cooked in a paella style rice called “locrio”. 



I had a hunch that Arenque was Spanish for Herring, another fish like Pollock, found in the waters of the Bering Sea. After a little research I found out that indeed Arenque and Herring were the same. Arenque is the Spanish word for the Atlantic Herring (Clupea harengus), commonly fished and consumed in Spain, Portugal, and South America. Humm…Arenque=harengus (Latin),whence the English nameHerring. Eureka! Days later some Pacific Herring was caught in one of the trawls and I noticed it had large shiny scales, dark blue on the top, and silver ones in the underbelly. Some where cooked for diner that night and the meat was very tasty, looking like… Arenque.



Animal Species Observed:
Northern Sea nettle jellyfish, Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasi),Walleye Pollock (Theragra Chacogramma)

New Vocabulary:
Arenque, Bacallao, Bodega, Brook Trout (salvelinus fontanelis),Herring, Otolith, Seine Net, Scalpel

“Monitoreo del Bacallao”

El mareo no me permitio participar en la pesca de hoy, pero desde que me senti mejor fui directo a la cubierta donde una grua de carga habia depositado los peces en una rampa de aluminio hacia el Laboratorio Humedo. Ya adentro encontre a Story, mi colega maestra, Darin, y una joven cientifico llamada Kathy, que ya estaban trabajando con los pescados. El proceso consistia en separar el Pollock de otras especies como el Herring, y la Medusa Gigante, que despues de tomarse el peso eran arrojados por la borda. El Pollock era pues separado por sexo, entre “Blokes” machos, y “Sheilas”, hembras (terminos australianos), y esto se hacia por medio de diseccion, donde tambien se analizaba el contenido del estomago, usando un poster con fotos de los organos internos del Pollock a diferentes edades como guia. 

Luego de la diseccion procedimos a medir cada uno de los pescados, Story los machos, y yo las hembras, usando una tabla blanca con una cinta metrica amarilla, que contenia una cinta magnetica. Cada pescado era medido automaticamente al colocarse cuidadosamente a lo largo de la cinta metrica, y el conteo era registrado en una pantalla de computador con el nombre del cientifico. Me senti muy orgulloso al ver mi nombre como el cientifico de turno! El paso final era el de remover el “Otolith” o hueso del oido, usado para medir el crecimiento del pez, que junto a el contenido del estomago se preservaba para enviarse a los laboartorios de NOAA en Seattle. Tanto pescado me hizo pensar en “Sharky” la trucha mascota que hemos estado criando en el aquario de la escuela como parte del programa “Truchas en El Salon de Clases”. Tambien me recorde de cuando mis estudiantes tiran las redes de pesca para estudiar las especies acuaticas del Rio Harlem, como parte del programa de Educacion Ambiental que dirijo en la escuela MS319. Tambien estudiando el Pollock, aprendi que los portugueses le llaman“Bacallao”, casi identico a la palabra “Bacalao”, que es como lo llamamos en Republica Dominicana. Otro pez que junto al Bacalao son parte de la cocina tradicional dominicana es el Arenque. Yo tenia una corazonada que el Arenque era la misma palabra de un pez que en Ingles se llama “Herring”, tambien muy abundante en Alaska. Despues de hacer una investigacion, Eureka! resolvi el misterio. Arenque es la palabra usada para referirse al Clupea harengus o Arenque Atlantico, de donde viene tambien el termino Herring=harengus=Arenque. Todo Dominicano que se respeta sabe que el Bacalao y el Arenque son parte de la comida tradicional dominicana.