Gail Tang: Teacher NOT at Sea, July 14, 2023

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Gail Tang

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

August 4, 2023 – September 1, 2023

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey (HICEAS)

Geographic Area of Cruise: Hawaiian archipelago

Date: July 14, 2023


We got notification that we have a Chief Engineer. However, we also got news that the ship needs some repair. The new sail date is now Friday July 21, which means I will not be able to sail on Leg 1 and that I will be returning home. Luckily, Chief Scientist Erin Oleson, the Teacher at Sea Program, and my university granted me permission to sail on Leg 2 of the HICEAS Survey! I will teach my classes on board NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette, so I will truly be a Teacher at Sea!

Engineer Highlight

In my previous post, I talked about the structure of the crew on the ship. We currently have four engineers on the ship: Jason Dlugos (3rd Assistant Engineer), Dylan Hepburn (3rd Assistant Engineer), Greg White (JUE), and Shannica (Neek) Matthews (General Vessel Assistant). I was fortunate to spend a good deal of time with each of the engineers. The engineers are responsible for a myriad of tasks on the ship, and the primary one is making sure the engines of the ship function properly. The engine room also holds generators, as well as the salt water filtration system that cools the ship and provides the ship with drinking and cleaning water. I am simplifying the engine room for this post, but it is very clear that the jobs of the engineers on the ship are absolutely crucial to mission success.

Shannica crouches in the engine room, gripping a ribbed yellow hose with her right hand. She's turned her head to call to someone over her left shoulder. She wears yellow earphones. She is surrounded by machinery, pipes, other yellow hoses, and a row of wrenches mounted on the wall behind her.
Shannica (Neek) Matthews, General Vessel Assistant, Wiper in the Engine Room
Greg stands between two of the ship's large engines and looks directly at the camera, his hands on long rails that line each engine. His earphones are propped up high on his head, not covering his ears at the moment.
Greg White, Junior Engineer (JUE) in the Engine Room
In this photo, taken from an outer, lower, deck (or perhaps the dock) we are looking up at two levels of decks above the main. On the highest deck, Jason leans over the rail, supporting himself on a lower railing rung, to smile for the photo. Behind him we see two bright orange fast rescue boats in their storage berths, and a mounted satellite system. Below Jason, Dylan leans casually on a rail on a lower deck. 
Top: Jason Dlugos, 3rd Assistant Engineer. Bottom: Dylan Hepburn, 3rd Assistant Engineer.

In this post, I will share some of my conversations with Neek. Neek’s homebase is in Virginia. After high school, she worked in the shipyard painting ships and installing insulation. She spent most of her time at dry dock, but then learned about opportunities working on traveling vessels. She started looking into jobs on vessels that explored the world. Now, she splits her time working on ships at the shipyard and ships out at sea. Through her job, she’s traveled nationally to Seattle and Hawaii, as well as internationally to  Japan, Greece, Italy, and France. She said it’s the best decision she’s ever made! What she enjoys the most about her work is that she gets to solve problems and be creative.

In her current position, Neek is learning new things in the engine room so that she can work more within that department in the future. Her company is also sponsoring her to take classes to further her engineering career. As the Wiper, she performs her work in every space of the ship. She describes her responsibilities as keeping spaces clean (picking up trash and wiping down oil and water), and making sure everything is secure. Both cleanliness and security are very important for all of our safety aboard the ship. When I’ve run into Neek on the ship, she’s been working with Dylan on fixing plumbing on toilets, examining leaks, and using the technique of sounding to measure the height of fluids in tanks. Unfortunately, Neek is only on Leg 1 so we will miss sailing with each other on NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette! Regardless, it’s been a blast hanging out with her and the other engineers!

Science and Technology Log

The Marine Mammal Observers (MMO), Birders, and I continue to help the Monk Seal and Green Turtle groups prepare for their projects. Since everything is so new to me, I really enjoy learning about the science!

I helped Biologist Shawn Murakawa from the Marine Turtle Biology & Assessment Program sort green turtle humeri! In my conversations with Shawn and in my reading of the National Sea Turtle Aging Laboratory Protocol for Processing Sea Turtle Bones for Age Estimation (Goshe et al., 2020) she provided, I learned about the process and will provide a summary of it below. 

Humeri bones are important in estimating the turtle’s age and growth since there are currently no known age estimating techniques using external structures. By looking at the cross-sections of these humerus bones, scientists can analyze growth marks to estimate the age of a turtle—similar to looking at the rings of a tree, but not quite. This age-estimation method is called skeletochronology. Before all this, scientists need to carefully clean the humerus bones and then dry them—a process that can take up to 30 days. Measurements of the bones such as diameter and length are taken, followed by cutting cross sections. Thin 2-3 cm cross-sections are decalcified and then stained with hematoxilyn. The stained thin section is now ready to be mounted on a slide for imaging. An example of the final result for a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) is shown below:

a blue, vaguely oval-shaped image that reveals a discernible growth rings. two points along a horizontal line are labeled "A - annulus"; a red line connects the two, with the measurement 7.57 mm. The annulus seems to span the middle of the image, before the rings start. Two points, farther out from the center, are labeled "B" and connected with a horizontal red line with the measurement 11.95 mm (maybe). This may mark the outer range of the clearly readable rings.
Stained cross section of a humerus bone from a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle

I helped to sort bones that were already dried. If the clearing and drying process is not sufficient, the bones begin to degrade and are no longer useful for skeletochronology. My job (then Suzanne Yin, Allan Ligon, and Dawn Breese joined me later) was to sort the bones into three categories:
1) moldy bones for discarding
2) good candidates for skeletochronology that came from turtles with no tumors from Fibropapillomatosis
3) good candidates for skeletochronology that came from turtles with tumors from Fibropapillomatosis. 

According to the NOAA (2011), fibropapillomatosis is a tumor-causing disease that debilitates sea turtles and can cause death depending on the severity and size of the tumors. While the disease is most common in green sea turtles, it is now found in all seven sea turtle species. It is not yet known how this disease is spread or caused so there is not yet any treatment for it.

Later, Yin organized a group of us to go take a tour of the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), a University of Hawaiʻi campus on Moku o Loʻe (Coconut Island). Lars Bejder, the director of the Marine Mammal Research Program at the institute, was our host and gave us a tour of the labs on the islands. Some of the research conducted by the labs include testing out shark deterrents, creating structures to grow coral, and recording the body condition indices of female whales during gestation and after birth. For internship and volunteer opportunities, check out their webpage:

After the tour, we listened to a talk by Jessica Kendall-Barr, a Scripps Postdoctoral Scholar at the Center for Marine Biotechnology & Biomedicine at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in UC San Diego, on the sleeping behavior of Elephant Seals. Jessica’s integrated art and science into her talk which made it very engaging. She did a really good job motivating the research and outlining the implications of the results. In a nutshell, wild animals have developed sleeping adaptations to balance feeding and sleeping while avoiding predation (Kendall-Barr et al., 2023). For example, “cows sleep-chew, horses sleep-stand, ostriches sleep-stare, and frigate birds sleep-fly” (Kendall-Barr et al., 2023, p.260). After developing a new submersible system to record brain activity, heart rate, depth of dive and elephant seal motion, Kendall-Barr et al. (2023) showed that elephant seals sleep-spiral at depths of approximately 300 m, where they are largely out of sight of predators, for a total of about 2 hours a day over the course of 7 months. The results have implications on conservation efforts as well as aid in understanding conditions for human free divers.

You can access the article here:

Brain activity of diving seals reveals short sleep cycles at depth


Goshe, L.R., L. Avens, M.L. Snover, and A.A. Hohn. 2020. National Sea Turtle Aging Laboratory Protocol for processing sea turtle bones for age estimation. U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC-746, 49 p.

Kendall-Bar, J., Williams, T., Mukherji, R., Lozano, D., Pitman, J., Holser R., Keates, T., Beltran, R., Robinson, P., Crocker, D., Adachi, T., Lyamin, O., Vyssotski, A., & Costa, D. (2023). Brain activity of diving seals reveals short sleep cycles at depth. Science, 380, 260-265. DOI:10.1126/science.adf0566

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association Fisheries. (2011, February 11). Fibropapillomatosis and Sea Turtles – Frequently Asked Questions.,also%20form%20in%20internal%20organs.

Personal Log

I had been looking forward to sailing since 2019 and was thrilled to finally meet the scientists and crew; they are all so inspiring! Each task the Chief Sci had us work on was all so exciting and new. I truly enjoyed working with the MMOs and Birders to support the monk seal and green turtle research teams. When I first got the notification that the mission was delayed a second time, curtailing it to just one week at sea, I was devastated because it meant I would be probably going home. I am really grateful that Erin (Chief Sci) and Emily (Teacher at Sea) could arrange for me to join leg 2! I’ve been learning the visual surveying procedures and bonded with the MMOs and the birders so I’m overjoyed to be returning. Let’s just keep in mind that I’m not guaranteed to sail because anything can still happen.

Below are some group pictures with my team!

Gail and five colleagues seated at a table in a busy, well-lit restaurant
Introduced dim sum to a couple of folks! Left to right: Dawn Breese and Mike Force (Birders), me, Ernesto Vasquez, Allan Ligon and Paul Nagelkirk (MMOs). Photo credit: Paul Nagelkirk
a group selfie (by Jason, seen in close-up) at a volleyball court. Gail is wearing her Teacher at Sea t-shirt.
Volleyball! Jason Larese, Suzanne Yin, Paul Nagelkirk, Kym Yano, Erin Oleson, Me, Juan Carlos Salinas, Ernesto Vasquez
group photo of 8 people on a picnic bench. not far behind them is a beautiful view of a cove, a coastal city, and mountains. the sky is cloudy with patches of bright aquamarine sky.
Late lunch at He’eia State park. Back row: Ernesto Vasquez, Allan Lingon, Paul Nagelkirk, Me, Juan Carlos Salinas. Front row: Dawn Breese, Suzanne Yin, Andrea Bendlin. Photo credit: A postal worker on their lunch break.
a silly group photo at night, on the dock, with the ship darkly visible in the background. Gail is wearing a NASA t-shirt (hey!) and flower leis. Jason has jumped in front of everyone.
My last night at the ship. Back Row: Logan Gary, Darryl Henderson II, Paul Nagekirk, Dylan Hepburn, Andrea Bendlin, Ernesto Vasquez. Middle Row: Nich Sucher, Evan Schneider, Denzil Simons. Front: Me, Greg White. Photobomber: Jason Dlugos.

Food Log

a whiteboars reads: Wednesday, July 12, 2023. Spaghetti & Meat Sauce. Salmon. Garlic Bread. Broccoli. Salad bar. Mushroom ravioli. Brownies. Bone-apple-tea!!
Menu for Wednesday, July 12

The food on board continues to be too good. On weekdays while in port, we get breakfast and lunch. The menu is displayed on a whiteboard. As you can see in the image, there is usually a little spark of joy written on them that bring a smile to my face. (I think Medical Officer Jamie Delgado writes them!)

Ichthyoplankton researcher, Justin Suca, invited us to a Fish Fry to enjoy the fish he and his friend, sailor Ateeba, speared. It was my first fish fry and it was incredible! They caught Tako (Octopus), Nenue (Sea Chub), A’awa (Table Boss), Uhu (Parrotfish), and Kumu (Goatfish). They prepared the Tako as ceviche, Nenue as poke, A’awa as fish nuggets, and very interestingly, the Uhu and Kumu were prepared Chinese-style. Chinese-style fish is first steamed (in this case Justin “steamed” in foil on the grill), usually with ginger, garlic, and green part of scallions. After steaming, heat up oil, pour it on the fish, and delight in the sizzling sounds. Add some shoyu (soy sauce), and maybe some Shaoxing cooking wine, if you wish. The Kumu was my absolute favorite. It was so silky and smooth.

Kailua Beach. Left to right: Justin Suca, Gabriella Mukai, Kelly Anne Kobayashi, Atiba, Don Kobayashi, Me. Photo Credit: Cody Kobayashi

Did You Know?

Since the toilet water is pumped from sea water, you can see the bioluminescent life if you turn off the lights while flushing! I found the best time to do it is early in the morning when no one has used the toilet in a while. MMO and roomie Andrea Bendlin shared this little special gem with me.

David Madden: Land Ho! Return Home, August 2, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

David Madden

Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces

July 15 – 29, 2019

Back on land, in Tallahassee, FL

Mission: South East Fisheries Independent Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Atlantic Ocean, SE US continental shelf ranging from Cape Hatteras, NC (35°30’ N, 75°19’W) to St. Lucie Inlet, FL (27°00’N, 75°59’W)

Weather report in Tallahassee
Conditions early on Friday morning, Tallahassee, FL

Date: August 2, 2019

sunset over aft deck
Sunset aboard Pisces on my last night.

Gratitude Log:

My time on NOAA Ship Pisces is complete. Huge thanks to the folks who made it possible. I am grateful for the grand opportunity and grateful to the many people who helped me along the way. Starting with Emily and Jennifer at NOAA Teacher at Sea. They made everything smooth and easy on my end. Special thanks for allowing me to participate in Teacher at Sea this year, considering I was originally assigned to go last year. I was unable to go last year because my Dad got diagnosed with cancer right before the trip, and I elected to stay home with him during surgery and treatment. Emily, and the NOAA scientists involved, Zeb and Nate, made this year’s trip preparation a breeze. Thank you. Additionally, my Dad is doing well (and even back on the golf course)!

Processing fish
Processing fish with Mike B (the elder) and Todd K. photo by Mike B (the younger)

In some sense I was the little brother tag along on this cruise. “Aww come on, can I play?” was basically what I was saying each day to the scientists and NOAA officers. They were happy to oblige. Thank you for being patient and supportive while I learned how to work on your team.

  1. Zeb, Todd K, Todd W, and Brad were particularly helpful and knowledgeable and patient – thanks, guys!  * Thanks, Brad, for your rocks of the day.  Our minds and our chakras benefited.
  2. Thanks to my roommate, Mike B – for being a great roommate and for helping me out with a ton of things (including excellent slow mo footage of the XBT!)
  3. Thanks to the NOAA officers who were always happy to chat and tell me about how things work and about their careers. Thank you CO, XO, Jamie, Luke, Dan, and Jane. * Did you know that all NOAA officers have a college degree in a STEM field?
  4. And thank you to the scientific team of all stars: Dave H for always being hilarious, Zach for being hardworking and friendly to talk with, Mike B for being so wise and having good taste in music, Kevan, for lots of good chats during meal times, and Lauren, for making Oscar the octopus and being so friendly!
Engine Room
Just hanging out in the engine room one more time with Steve. Thanks to Steve and Garet!

Science and Technology Log

Todd W is the Senior Survey Technician. He works on Pisces full time and helped out the science team with running the CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth). Todd also helped me run a few experiments, and was overall real cool with helping me find random stuff during the cruise.

In particular, Todd and I, with Mike B’s help, tricked out the CTD to investigate how colors change with depth. We arts-and-crafted a few color strips and secured them to the CTD along with some GoPros to record video. We wanted to see what happened to various colors as the CTD descended to depth (~90m). See what it looked like at the top vs. the bottom (image below). You can see clearly that indeed the red color disappeared soonest while most everything took on a blue tone. This is because red is the longest wavelength on the visible spectrum and therefore the lowest energy (~ 700 nm); it’s the most easily absorbed by the water. Conversely, blue light has a shorter wavelength (~400 nm), and this means higher frequency and higher energy. I made a video with the footage we collected – coming soon. When it comes out you can see for yourself the reds disappear and the colors shift to blue. We also secured a Styrofoam cup to the CTD in order to watch what happens as the pressure increases on the way down. *See here for my pressure video covering similar topics. The CTD only went down to around 90 meters, but that was still enough to increase the pressure from 1 atm to around 9 atm. This nine fold increase shrunk the cup around 12%. Todd tells stories of taking Styrofoam manikin heads down to 300 + meters and watching them shrink to the size of a shot glass.

testing color and pressure
Science lab aboard the CTD – testing color and pressure.

In addition to CTD excitement, Todd let me conduct an XBT launch. XBT stands for Expendable Bathythermograph. * This cruise had the highest density of acronyms of any experience in my life. Geez. Here’s a link from NOAA describing XBTs.  And my pictures below.


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Bravo, Todd & NOAA Ship Pisces – you got me!!

XBT certificate
Don’t worry, my XBT bravery and expertise didn’t go unrewarded.

Neato Fact:

We stopped by the NOAA Beaufort Lab shortly after we docked in Morehead City. Todd K was awesome and showed me around and introduced me to a series of interesting characters – it was nice to see the lab and see what everyone had been talking about. I spent a short time walking near the sea wall outside the lab. I ran into Larisa who pointed out two cute baby green sea turtles. She said that recently they’ve started coming into the inlet to feed.  Related neato fact: Hawksbill sea turtles have been shown to exhibit biofluorescence.

Baby green sea turtle.
Baby green sea turtle.

Personal Log

It’s good to be back on land, and fun to trade the breezy blue ocean seascape for the hot humid green treescape of Tallahassee. I’m busy trying to process the information from the trip and figure out ways to incorporate it into my teaching and lesson plans. Surely it’ll take two forms – a little bit of distilling and planning now, and a slow seep of info from memories later. I’m hoping the trickle of revisited memories pop up at opportune times during the school year for me to take advantage. We’ll see.

I’m back to school in a few days.  This is the last full blog. Coming up I’ll post some quick hit blogs with links to some videos. Stay tuned.

Until we meet again!

Barney Peterson: Rescue at Sea, August 23, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson

August 13 – 28, 2016


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 28 10.999 N

Longitude:  084 09.706 W

Air temperature: 90.68 F

Pressure: 1020.05 Mb

Sea Surface Temperature: 32.6 C

Wind Speed: 4.74 Kt

Science Log:

Rescue At Sea!

About mid-morning today the ship’s electrician found me to tell me that the night shift crew had just reported seeing a Sea Turtle near the line that they were currently deploying.  The turtle swam over the line and then dove toward the baited hooks some 30 meters down near the bottom.  Nobody is supposed to catch Sea Turtles; the stress of being on the hook can be fatal so immediate recovery and release is required in the case of an accidental catch.  The crew went into immediate pro-active rescue mode!

Loggerhead Turtle
File photo of a Loggerhead Turtle.

The deployment was stopped. The line was cut and a final weight and a second hi-flyer were deployed to mark the end of the set for retrieval.  The Captain altered course to bring the ship back around to a point where we began retrieving the line.  Crew moved to the well deck and prepared the sling used to retrieve large sharks; it would be used to bring a turtle gently to the deck in the event that we had to remove a hook.

As retrieval started and gangions were pulled aboard, it became obvious that this set was in a great location for catching fish.  8 or 9 smallish Red Grouper were pulled in, one after another. Many of the other hooks were minus their bait.  The crew worked the lines with a sense of urgency much more intense than on a normal retrieval!  If a turtle was caught on a hook they wanted it released as quickly as possible to minimize the trauma.

As the final hi-flyer got closer and the last of the gangions was retrieved, a sense of relief was obvious among the crew and observers on the deck.  The turtle they spotted had gone on by without sampling the baited hooks.

On this ship there are routines to follow and plans in place for every emergency.  The rescue of an endangered animal is attended to with the same urgency and purpose as any other rescue.  The science and deck crews know those routines and slip into them seamlessly when necessary to ensure the best possible result.  This is all part of how they carry out NOAA’s mission of stewardship in our oceans.

Personal Log:

Here is Where I Live

I am assigned a bunk in a stateroom shared with another science crew member.  I am assigned to the top bunk and my roomie, Chrissie Stepongzi, is assigned to the bottom.  Climbing the ladder to the top bunk when the ship is rolling back and forth is like training to be an Olympic gymnast!  But, I seem to have mastered it!  Making my bed each morning takes determination and letting go of any desire for perfection: you just can’t get to “no wrinkles!”

Find the Monroe Eagle in my nest aboard the OREGON II

Chrissie works the midnight to noon shift and I work noon to midnight so the only time we really see each other is at shift change.  Together, we are responsible for keeping our space neat and clean and respecting each other’s privacy and sleep time.

I eat in the galley, an area open to all crew 24/7. Meals are served at 3 regular times each day.  The food is excellent!  If you are on shift, working and can’t break to eat at meal time, you can request that a plate be saved for you.  The other choice for those off-times is to eat a salad, sandwich, fruit or other snack items whenever you need an energy boost.  We are all responsible for cleaning up after ourselves in the galley.  Our Chief Steward Valerie McCaskill and her assistant, Chuck Godwin, work hard to keep us well-fed and happy.

Everyone on the ship shares space in the galley where seats are decorated with the symbol of the New Orleans Saints… somebody’s favorite team.

There is a lounge, open to everyone for reading, watching movies, or hanging out during down time.  There is a huge selection of up-to-date videos available to watch on a large screen and a computer for crew use.  Another place to hang out and talk or just chill, is the flying deck.  Up there you can see for miles across the water while you sit on the deck or in one of two Adirondack chairs.  Since the only shade available for relaxing is on this deck it can be pretty popular if there is a breeze blowing.

During off-duty times we can read, play cards or watch movies in the lounge.

Flying Bridge
The flying bridge is a place to relax and catch a cool breeze when there is a break in the work.

My work area consists of 4 stations: the dry lab which has computers for working with data, tracking ship movements between sample sites, and storing samples in a freezer for later study;

Dry Lab
The dry lab where data management and research are done between deployments

the wet lab which so far on this cruise, has been used mainly for getting ready to work on deck, but has equipment and storage space for processing and sampling our catch; the stern deck where we bait hooks and deploy the lines and buoys; the well deck at the front of the ship where lines and buoys are retrieved, catch is measured and released or set aside for processing, and the CTD is deployed/stored for water sampling.

We move between these areas in a rhythm dictated by the pace of our work.  In between deployments we catch up on research, discuss procedures, and I work on interviews and journal entries.  I am enjoying shipboard life.  We usually go to bed pretty tired, that just helps us to sleep well.  The amazing vistas of this ocean setting always help to restore my energy and recharge my enthusiasm for each new day.

Beautiful sunsets are the payoff for hot days on the deck.


Steven Frantz: Loose Ends at Sea, August 7, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Steven Frantz
Onboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 27 – August 8, 2012

Mission: Longline Shark Survey
Geographic area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic off the coast of Florida
Date: August 7, 2012

Weather Data From the Bridge:
Air Temperature (degrees C): 28.4
Wind Speed (knots): 8.62
Wind Direction (degree): 183
Relative Humidity (percent): 080
Barometric Pressure (millibars): 1015.41
Water Depth (meters): 43.4
Salinity (PSU): 35.660

Location Data:
Latitude: 3040.46N
Longitude: 08011.74W

Loose Ends at Sea

We are getting close to wrapping up this first leg of a four-leg survey. Speaking of wrapping things up, one very important skill you must know when on a ship is how to tie a knot. Not just any knot, but the right knot for the job, or things might not turn out. Got it?

There are three knots, which we used every day. The Blood Knot (sometimes called the Surgeon’s Knot), the Double Overhand Loop (sometimes called a Surgeon’s End Loop), and the Locking Half-Hitch on a Cleat.

The blood knot is used to tie two ropes together. When we return a longline, it has to be tied back on to the main spool. Watch Tim and Chris demonstrate how to tie this knot.

Blood Knot courtesy Google Images
Blood Knot courtesy Google Images

Blood Knot courtesy Google Images
Blood Knot courtesy Google Images

The double overhand loop is used, as the name implies, to put a loop on the end of a line. It is used at each end of the longline to secure the highflier.

Double Overhand Loop courtesy Google Images
Double Overhand Loop courtesy Google Images

Double Overhand Loop
Double Overhand Loop

The locking half hitch knot is tied on to a ship’s cleat in order to secure the mainline after it has been sent out. This gives us the opportunity to tie a double overhand loop on to the end in order to clip on the highflier.

Locking Half Hitch on a Cleat
Locking Half Hitch on a Cleat

Releasing the Highflier
Releasing the Highflier

We have also been seeing some more different animals during the past couple of days. We saw a green sea turtle surface twice. The first time was right in front of us on the starboard side of the ship. The second time was several minutes later at the stern. Just when I thought I would not get a picture of a dolphin, a trio of Atlantic spotted dolphins followed along the Oregon II as we let out the longline. Dolphins and all sea turtles are protected.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin
Atlantic Spotted Dolphin

We have also been catching more sharks. Again, the most common species caught has been the sharpnose shark. We finally caught a silky shark, Carcharhinus falciformes on our shift. The ridge that runs along their back and the smooth, silky look to their skin can be used to identify them.

Taking the hook out of a Silky Shark
Taking the hook out of a Silky Shark

Silky Shark's ridge on its back
Silky Shark’s ridge on its back

Silky Shark
Silky Shark

A 93.6 kilogram nurse shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum was caught and brought up using the cradle. These are bottom-feeding sharks and have an unusual texture to their skin. It feels like a basketball!

Nurse Shark on the line
Nurse Shark on the line

Nurse Shark in the cradle
Nurse Shark in the cradle

Getting a fin clip from the Nurse Shark for DNA studies
Getting a fin clip from the Nurse Shark for DNA studies

All data collected, tagged, and ready for release
All data collected, tagged, and ready for release

It is always nice when you witness the rare or unusual. Such was the case with the next shark we caught. Many photographs were taken in order to document this rare occurrence. After releasing the shark, it was identified as a Caribbean reef shark, Carcharhinus perezi. Mark Grace, who started this survey 18 years ago, believes this is only the third Caribbean reef shark ever caught on the longline survey! Rare indeed! Unbelievable–the very next longline we caught a second Caribbean reef shark!

Carribbean Reef Shark: Measuring Length
Caribbean Reef Shark: Measuring Length

Caribbean Reef Shark: Notice salt water hose to keep oxygen to the gills.
Caribbean Reef Shark: Notice salt water hose to keep oxygen to the gills.

Caribbean Reef Shark
Caribbean Reef Shark

Carribbean Reef Shark
Caribbean Reef Shark

Another first for the first leg of the 300th mission was a dusky shark, Carcharhinus obscurus. This is another rare shark to be found. This one was even bigger than the nurse shark weighing in at 107.3 kilograms! We keep the larger sharks in the cradle while data is collected before releasing them.

Dusky Shark
Dusky Shark

Dusky Shark
Dusky Shark

While cleaning up, this little remora was found on the deck. It is easy to see the suction disc on the top of its head. This is used to hold onto a larger fish and tag along for the ride, cleaning up bits of food missing the mouth of the host fish.


This amazing journey is winding down and coming to an end. I would be remiss not to thank the crew and scientists of the Oregon II. Their hospitality, professionalism, friendly dispositions, and patience (LOTS of patience) have made me feel more than welcome. They have made me feel as though, for a brief moment, I was a part of the team. Thank you and may the next 300 missions be as safe and successful as the first 300.


Sue Zupko: 4 Winning Answer #1

The first creature I saw when I boarded the Pisces was the Laughing Gull.  Almost everyone who answered this survey said Sea Gull would be the first creature I would see.  Good job!  The gulls were flying all over the harbor.  Ironically, this is the picture I chose to use in my first entry to this blog.  Later that day I saw Dolphins, Mullet, a Brown Pelican, Sargassum, a Loggerhead Sea TurtleFlying Fish, and Moon Jellies.  Still waiting on a whale and the Lophelia.  We have only been out a short time.

Gull silhouette landing on a ship stair in the evening
Gull landing at dusk

New survey.  What do you think these are?

pink and yellow rods lying side by side
What is this #2?

Patricia Greene, July 19, 2006

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Patricia Greene
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
June 26 – July 30, 2006

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii
Date: July 19, 2006

A large green sea turtle basking in the sand.
A large green sea turtle basking in the sand.

Science and Technology Log

Unlike the spinner dolphins, we have observed the Hawaiian green sea turtles tend to be rather shy and elusive. We managed to catch just glimpses of them from a distance.  Based on past slaughters by man it is no wonder these creatures would avoid contact with humans. Historically, from the late 1800’s until 1970’s these creatures were slaughtered and harvested. Finally, in 1978 turtles were recognized under the U.S. Endangered Species Act however, they are still harvested in many parts of the world.

Several adaptations make the green sea turtle well suited for life in the ocean. Special lachrymal glands in the eye assist in the regulation of salt in the turtle’s body, preventing it from becoming dehydrated. When sea turtles shed tears they are actually removing salt from their bodies. Sea turtles are capable of storing large amounts of oxygen in their blood and muscle tissue, and lungs are adapted for rapid exchange of oxygen. Green sea turtles can stay under water up to five hours. Modified forelimbs give the sea turtle an efficient forward power-stroke. Protective coloration in the form of counter shading and blending gives the sea turtles camouflage. The underneath of the shell is cream color so the turtle blends with the sky and water to anything looking up and has a dark top shell for any predator looking down.Our luck changed on Southeast Island at Pearl and Hermes Atoll in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge. While circumnavigating the island we viewed a large adult green sea turtle pulled out and basking on the beach. After lunch we viewed from a distance two more green sea turtles basking and swimming in the surf. Researchers told us that they often observe 10 to 20 turtles pulling out at sunset and sleeping on the beach at night. It is more common in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands than the main Hawaiian Islands for green sea turtles to exhibit this basking behavior. It is thought the behavior may be an adaptation to the cooler waters (i.e., a mechanism of thermoregulation, or a predation avoidance strategy due to the high populations of tiger sharks).

Three endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles bask on Southeast Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
Three endangered Hawaiian green sea turtles bask on Southeast Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

Green Sea turtles reach sexual maturity at approximately 25 to 30 years and reach a weight in excess of 200 lbs. Green sea turtle’s breeding behaviors demonstrate great stamina. Pairs may remain coupled for 10 to 12 hours and both sexes have multiple partners throughout the mating season. Adult males can be distinguished from females by their longer tails and curved claws on their flippers.  After the hatchling breaks out of the shell it must then reach the surface. Hatchlings demonstrate “protocooperation” meaning they work together as a group for several days in a joint effort to reach the surface. The hatchlings take turns digging and resting. Once they are near the surface the heat of the day will immobilize them and they will not continue their escape until the evening temperatures have cooled the sand. In this way they avoid heat stress and predators.Green sea turtles are oviparous (lay eggs externally) in a sand pit on the beach. Nesting starts in May and continues through August. Critical components of the nest site must include: lack of predators, a moist substrate, and suitable temperatures and be located beyond the high tide mark. Typically the green sea turtle will lay 75 to 150 eggs at night, in a clutch and lay multiple clutches during the breeding season. Incubation takes 50 to 70 days depending upon ambient temperatures. Sex of the hatchlings is not determined at the time of fertilization or conception (no sex chromosomes) but dependent upon the temperature of the sand and individual position of the egg in the nest. This is called “TSD” or Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination. The pivotal temperature for the green sea turtle is 28.26 degrees Celsius (82.9 degrees Farenheit). This is the temperature at which equal number of male and female hatchlings will be produced. If the temperature falls below this number more males will be produced; above more females will be hatched.

Now the hatchlings must find their way to ocean, avoiding the ghost crabs of the night. It is thought they employ a variety of visual clues, “wave compass” and perhaps a “magnetic compass” in their effort to reach the ocean. Scientists believe the wave compass allows the hatchlings to get orientated directly against the incoming waves. The magnetic compass refers to the magnetite found within their brains that may align them with earth’s magnetic fields. Once they arrive at sea, they will dog paddle to open water; hiding in algae, drift lines or other floating debris.

A curious Hawaiian green sea turtle approaches underwater at Puako in the main Hawaiian Islands.
A curious Hawaiian green sea turtle approaches underwater at Puako in the main Hawaiian Islands.

During this pelagic stage they are carnivores and feed on plankton. They will remain at sea in this hatchling/early juvenile stage for years, sleeping with their flippers folded over their back to diminish their chance of becoming a morsel for some predator. This stage is a period of rapid growth; perhaps 8 to 10 cm the first year. The young turtles will re-appear in coastal waters where they will continue to grow, graze on algae and become life-long herbivores. The green sea turtle has specialized microorganisms in the hind gut that digest the cellulose in the plant material. It is possible that juveniles establish this flora by practicing “scatophagy” or the ingestion of adult turtle feces.

Another concern for the green sea turtle population has been the appearance of fibropapilloma tumors. Tumors on the eyes, throat, lungs, kidneys, liver and intestines have been documented. Scientists believe a Herpes-type virus may be responsible. The disease is quite common in the mainland Hawaiian Islands but relatively rare in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. These tumors may blind the turtle or choke them depending on the location of the tumor.  Fortunately, we did not observe any tumors while we have been in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.Typically sea turtles thrive on sea grasses, seaweeds and algae. Depending upon where they live their diets may vary; for example green turtles of the Pacific Ocean are more dependent upon algae and seaweeds than the sea turtles of the Atlantic Ocean that thrive on the sea grasses such as turtle grass. The diet of the green sea turtles at Kure Atoll consist of an algae called Codium edule. In the main Hawaiian Islands invasive alien species of algae in the marine ecosystems have displaced the native species of algae that the turtles have traditionally fed on. This has caused widespread damage to the coral reef habitats.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are extremely important to the green sea turtles. It is one of the last places where turtles are not affected by man’s desire for beach front property; no issues of coastal development, domesticated predators, recreational activities, artificial lights, high speed boat traffic, or general coastal degradation of the habitat. Over 90% of Hawaii’s green sea turtles return to nest at the French Frigate Shoals. Turtles come from the far north end of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands chain (Kure, Pearl and Hermes, Midway Atolls) and from outreaches of the main Hawaiian Islands to lay their eggs at French Frigate Shoals.

Special thanks to the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, United State Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Interior for access to Southeast Island and an opportunity to spend a day with the NOAA Fisheries biologists to learn more about the spinner dolphin research they conduct during their field season.

Mike Lynch, June 22, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mike Lynch
Onboard NOAA Ship Delaware II
June 20 – July 1, 2005

Mission: Clam and Quahog Survey
Geographical Area: New England
Date: June 22, 2005

Science and Technology Log

Latitude: 3726.163N
Longitude: 07444.980W
Wave Height: 1 foot
Swell Height: 1
Foot Weather: clear
Visibility: unlimited
Wind Speed: 7 mph

Safety gear
Safety gear

Scientific Log

Our first real shift for the DELAWARE II Ocean Clam Survey began this morning off the coast of Long Island. The shift stated at midnight, so we were awaked at 11: 15. Our first dredge occurred at 2:15 AM. We are working in a crew of six. Two of us input data into the FSCS computer as the deck crew coordinates with the boatswain in charge of the winch. Safety is a big issue on the NOAA vessel, and scientists are not allowed on deck while the dredge is being lowered off the stern. A high voltage cable is fed out along with the winch cable, and no one is allowed ion the deck until the dredge is in position for tow. Our job upstairs is to coordinate with the Officer of the Day when each step is being done and input his into the computer. Each actual tow takes five minutes, but the entire process of lowering the dredge, dredging and raising the dredge onto the deck takes about 25 minutes. When the dredge is brought up, our job begins.

Measuring a larger clam
Measuring a larger clam

We often start by places a smaller mesh screen at the front of the dredge in order tot capture the contents and releasing the dredge into a tow to wash away some of the debris and substrate soil. When the dredge is brought in the second time it is hauled up to an enormous table where the contents are released for inspection of our crew. It is then our task to sort through large amounts of shell hash, rock and substrate and find the living organisms.  Our trawl today has been averaging at depths of 60 meters (180ft. or 30 fathoms in you want to be really cool and nautical). This is Ocean Quahog territory. True to form, our first three station trawls resulted in large numbers of Ocean quahogs as well as the assorted species. For commercial fisherman, these other species are often referred to as discard. These are unwanted species, or at least not the targeted stock. Today along with the quahogs, we caught several varieties of clams. These smaller clams were varieties such as Asterias, Astarte, Astrope, and Razor. We also collected Sea Scallops and Horse mussels. We Few fish are caught in bottom dredges, but we did catch one small Sea Robin and a small Skate. At first, I thought the unwanted species were called bycatch, but through interviews with on board fishermen and scientists I was informed that the term bycatch more commonly refers to sea mammals, reptiles or marine birds that are accidentally caught or killed in commercial fishing.

Sea stars caught in the dredge
Sea stars caught in the dredge

For example, in the area of scallop dredging, there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the bycatch of endangered species of Sea Turtles. After each tow the catch was sorted, measured for length, and weight and catalogued into the computer database. What used to be done by pencil and paper is now done via electronic scans and scales. For quahogs under 40 mm, or above 110 mm in length, we conducted meat weigh measurements as well. This is hard work, and the ship conducts non-stop tows and data collection 24 hours a day. We are learning fast and having fun. The six-hour shift flew by and I was exhausted. A great morning, in bed by 7AM, and ready for the next shift at 11:30 AM. What a weird schedule. We have all been at it for a day and a half, and no one seems to know what day it is. As part of today’s log, I need to share what I have learned about the mysterious Ocean Quahog. The IO\Ocean Quahog, (Antica Islandica) is found from Newfoundland to Cape Hatteras. They are usually found in depths from 8 to 256 meters. They are a relatively cold-water species and are rarely found in waters above 16 degrees Celsius.

lynch_log3cTheir population densities are greater in off shore waters and they prefer a substrate of fine sand. In Maine they are found in shallower waters, but the populations are small, and the species grows at a slower rate. The average size is about 70mm.  But today we had one at 110mm. What are really incredible about Ocean Quahogs are their ages. The scientists we interviewed today estimated that most of the many of bushels of quahogs we captured were in the 45 year old range. Quahogs can be in excess of 170 years old. Their most dramatic growth occurs in their first twenty years of life and the growth process slows significantly. Their ages are incredible, I may have to feel guilty the next time I spoon into clam chowder.  Marine biologists have been finding that the Ocean Quahog, like the Atlantic Surf Clam, has shifting population strata. Surveys conducted over the past two decades and commercial fishing statistics show a pattern in which the Surf Clams are establishing themselves in deeper areas where quahogs previously predominated, and that the quahog populations are showing patterns of migration further offshore and further to the North.

One scientist onboard speculated that clam and quahog surveys might be important in the study of global warming.  Ocean Quahogs have a commercial market value. The principal commercial fishing for the species occurs off the Delmarva Peninsula, New Jersey, Long Island and even Southern New England. In 1993, the commercial harvest of Quahogs reached its zenith at 25,000 metric tons. In 2000, the harvest had diminished to 14,000 metric tons. The decline in the fishery has been in part due to increased regulations under the Surf Clam- Ocean Quahog Fishery Management Plan (FPM), but also due to a decrease in the number of clamming boats and a depressed commercial market.  Despite the reduction in total landings, the Quahog stock may be in jeopardy. The total landings are less than two percent of the total environmental stock, but any greater landings may threaten replacement levels and sustainability of this slow growing species.

Personal Log

Things were going along well until electrical problems with the dredge shut us down. Time to go to work on a different sort of problem.

Melissa Fye, April 18, 2005

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Melissa Fye
Onboard NOAA Ship Hi’ialakai
April 4 – 25, 2005

Mission: Coral Reef Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Northwest Hawaiian Islands
Date: April 18, 2005

Location: Latitude: 23*36.3’North, Longitude: 164*43.0’W

Weather Data from the Bridge
Visibility: 10
Wind Direction:90
Wind Speed: 14 knots
Sea Wave Height: 2-4 feet
Swell Wave Height: 5-7 feet
Sea Level Pressure: 1018.8
Cloud Cover: 2/8 Cu, As, Si
Temperature outside: 24.4

Sea turtles on the beach
Sea turtles on the beach

Science and Technology Log

The AHI research vessel was launched just prior to eight a.m. this morning with Scientist Joyce Miller and Jeremy Jones aboard.  The red and silver sonar boat would continue mapping shallow areas near 23 degrees North and 166 degrees West in the Northern Hawaiian Island chain. The ship resumed running benthic habitat mapping lines also, filling in gaps from previous surveys. Half past noon brought the deployment of several divers to the hull of the ship to determine the installation of the Trackpoint II testing. They dove in adorned with black suits, colorful air tanks, and metal weight belts.  It turned out that the Trackpoint II wasn’t installed properly and was off by 15 degrees.  That noted, changes were made to computer software to account for the degree change. Another boat trip was organized for the La Perouse Pinnacle area. Coxswain Merlyn Gordon led me, ENS Amy Cox, Scientists Rob O’Connor and Jonathan Weiss out to sea to snorkel the reef ecosystem.  Upon approaching La Perouse, it was determined to be too dangerous, so we changed course and swam the reef area near East Island.  We returned to the ship a few hours later and the AHI followed suit, and was hoisted out of the water once again. The HI’IALAKAI transited to deeper waters and ship based TOAD operations and Trackpoint II testing carried on once again. Ten p.m. brought about the reoccurrence of shipboard mapping around the outer circumference of French Frigate Shoals using the onboard multibeam sonar system.

Personal Log

I awoke and after the morning ritual of breakfast and shower, I answered emails from students in my fourth grade classroom in Ashburn, VA.  I climbed the stairs and passageway to the drylab to check to see if I could be of some assistance editing data.  The efficient scientists were caught up on the editing so my services were not needed.  I soon found out about an impromptu snorkeling trip and clambered to get ready and join the expedition. The seas were the calmest I had seen yet, so the ride was very smooth across the Pacific towards Perouse Pinnacle (a volcanic rock out cropping that serves as a good landmark in this area). The ocean looked like glass and the sun rays flashed and hit the water like bright diamonds. There was an underlying surge though, which might indicate a coming storm in the next 48 hours (according to sailors onboard).

After nearing Perouse, we could see the waves crashing around the rock, and pressed on for a safer snorkeling environment where we wouldn’t be churned to bits! We approached East Island and could see dark figures grazing the beach.  Upon closer inspection, we realized they were not monk seals, but giant green sea turtles basking in the sun. Mating season was upon us, and many of the sea turtles were populating this area to find mates. We snorkeled in four different areas of the reef, being careful not to get near the beach or disturb the coral reef ecosystem.  Several sea turtles were curious and encircled our boat, whereas I snapped some good photos.

I finally saw my first Ulua fish, indigenous to this area.  The fish had eluded me prior to today and I had been told stories of their aggressive biting behavior. Although quite large, about 3-4 feet, I was told it was small compared to most.  It swam around us, but never ATTACKED! It wasn’t nearly as ferocious as the picture the crew on board had painted in my mind.  It was a very flat, circular fish with a silver sheen. We saw many school of fish, one of which was bright yellow, and neon green coral. I learned from Coxswain Gordon that some of the clouds above the reef bore a greenish undercast or tint.  The color was reflected from the coral below and was an aide in locating reef areas. We returned to the HI’IALAKAI later in the afternoon and I spent the evening conducting some more interviews (which will be included in future logs). The sun and exercise tired me out and I fell asleep as soon as I hit the pillow in my stateroom.

QUESTION OF THE DAY for my fourth grade students:  A habitat is the place where an organism lives and grows.  Examples include ponds, forests, and a coral reef. A niche is the role an organism plays in its surroundings. A niche includes an animal’s complete way of life–where it lives, how and what it eats, and how it produces. Find out more about the giant green sea turtle. Think about why the turtle is laying on the beach also. List the answer’s to the sea turtle’s niche: 1) Where does it live? 2) How does it eat (what body parts does it have to aid in eating?) 3) What does it eat?  (don’t say it eats Ms. Fye:)!! Ugh! 4) How does it reproduce?  (Does it give birth to live young, lay eggs, etc?) 5) What resource did you use to find these answers?

ANSWER TO YESTERDAY’s Question:  The ocean floor is full of nutrients and food particles resulting from decaying matter settling on the bottom.