Cara Nelson: Report from the Flying Bridge, September 16, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Cara Nelson

Aboard USFWS R/V Tiglax

September 11-25, 2019


Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently sampling along the Seward line.

Date: September 16, 2019

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Time: 16:10
Latitude: 59º36.465’
Longitude: 149º14.346’
Wind: North 12 knots
Air Temperature: 16ºC (61ºF)
Air Pressure: 1001 millibars
Clear skies


Science and Technology Log

The Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) study focuses on ecosystem dynamics in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) and how the complex processes of abiotic factors, such as ocean salinity, temperature, currents, and trace metals influence primary productivity of phytoplankton.  The project examines how efficiently this energy is transferred, in turn, to higher trophic levels, from zooplankton to vertebrates, such as fish, seabirds and marine mammals. 

Over the past twenty years, seabird and marine mammal observations have been an important component of the LTER study. Approximately 50 species of birds inhabit the NGA either year-round or seasonally, with a variety of foraging behaviors and diets. Through the LTER, we can learn about how physical and biological oceanographic processes influence the distribution and abundance of higher trophic levels, such as seabirds.

Dr. Kathy Kuletz with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the lead scientist for the seabird part of the research program. Dan Cushing is the seabird and marine mammal observer aboard R/V Tiglax.  He holds a master’s degree in wildlife science and has a wealth of experience in birding both on and offshore.  This fall cruise marks Dan’s eleventh cruise observing in the NGA.  Whenever the R/V Tiglax is underway, Dan can be found on the flying bridge collecting data. 

flying bridge
The flying bridge (named for its bird’s eye view) is an open viewing area atop the wheel-house of R/V Tiglax accessed by a ladder.

Observations are made using a protocol established through the USFWS.  Dan records survey data using a computer on the flying bridge that records both time and GPS coordinates of each bird or mammal sighting. 

Dan on flying bridge
Dan actively observing on the flying bridge.
estimating distance
A chopstick with markings on it helps Dan estimate bird distance. Dan made this simple distance measuring tool using high-school trigonometry. When the top of the stick is placed on the horizon, the markings along the stick correspond to distances from the boat.
observing laptop
Dan is able to quickly document the species seen, abundance and any special notes using the computer program.

It is immediately clear that bird sightings along the LTER follow a pattern.  Inshore, diving bird species are common, such as common murres, puffins and cormorants.  Pelagic bird species inhabiting deeper waters are mostly surface-feeders, and rely on processes such as fronts and upwellings at the shelf break to concentrate prey at the surface where feeding occurs.  Albatross, shearwaters and storm-petrels are abundant as we head further out on our sampling lines.  

birds on the dock
Pelagic cormorants and black-legged kittiwakes sit on the dock in Seward prior to our departure.
black-footed albatross
A black-footed albatross. Photo credit: Dan Cushing

Dan’s experience on the LTER study is helpful in that he can comment on both changes he sees from the spring, summer and fall cruises but also over the past several years.  For example, in winter 2015-16, a large die-off event of common murres was observed in Alaska following an extreme warming event called “the blob” in the North Pacific.  The murre die off was due to starvation from lack of forage fish availability.  A question of the LTER study is how is the ocean chemistry, primary production, and zooplankton abundance tied to events such as this. Today, the murre numbers have not completely rebounded in the NGA and other species, such as the short-tailed shearwater are beginning to experience die-offs in the Bristol Bay area.   In addition to shifts in bird populations, fish that frequent warmer waters, have been observed in the NGA, such as the ocean sunfish.  Dan spotted one on this trip along our Middleton line swimming at the surface near a flock of albatross. 

The fall survey is occurring when birds are preparing for harsh winter conditions or long migrations.  We have spotted a few birds already changing to a winter plumage, which can make identification that much more challenging.  As the strong September storms hit us, it is amazing to watch the birds handle the strong winds and driving rain.  Last night as we worked on our nightly plankton tow a gale blew up around us.  The winds picked up to 30 knots and the seas began to build to 10 feet, and the aptly named storm-petrels kept us entertained.  At one point, we turned around and one had accidently gotten to close and seemingly stunned itself by hitting the back deck.  We watched as it shook off the confusion and again took flight into the storm. 

fork-tailed storm petrel
A fork-tailed storm petrel. Photo credit: Dan Cushing

One of the exciting things about Dan’s job and my time observing with him was the sightings of rare and endangered species.  Just off of Cape Cleare, as I sat on the flying bridge with Dan, I heard him exclaim, “no way!” as he grabbed his camera for some shots.  After a few quiet moments, he shared that he had officially has his first sighting a Manx shearwater.  The Manx shearwater has a primary range in the Atlantic Ocean, with rare but regular (1-2 per year) sightings in the NGA.  There currently are no confirmed breeding locations identified in the Pacific Ocean. Every new sighting adds to our limited understanding of this small and mysterious population. Another exciting observation, although more frequent for Dan, was the short-tailed albatross.  This beautiful bird, with its bubble-gum pink bill, is currently critically endangered, with a global population of only about 4000.  The good news is that the population is currently rebounding from extremely low numbers. 

short-tailed albatross
A short-tailed albatross. Picture credit: Dan Cushing

Dan has not only done an amazing job as an observer but also as a teacher.  He has helped me identify the birds as we see them and given me tips on how to hone in on particular species.  In addition to this, he has supplied me with amazing facts about so many of the species, I am in awe of his knowledge, patience and his skill as a seabird and mammal observer.

Cara observing
I am getting better at identifying northern fulmars on a beautiful evening on the flying bridge.


Personal Log

One of the biggest questions I had (as well as my students) prior to my trip, was how would I handle sea sickness.  I must say for a person who used to get sea sick snorkeling, I am thrilled to announce that I am sea sickness free.  After riding through three strong gales with 12+ seas and 35-40 knot winds without any major problems, I think I’m in the clear.  I owe a lot of it to consistent Bonine consumption!

Additionally, I would say I officially have my sea legs on. I have gotten really good at working, walking, eating, typing, and my brushing my teeth in high seas as the boat tosses about.  One of my favorite phrases is when Captain John says, “the seas are going to get a bit snappy.” I asked him what he meant by this and he explained that snappy means the waves are sharp and about 8-12 feet in height in contrast to the swells.  They hit the ship with a snap that causes it to vibrate, rather than just allowing it to slowly roll over them. 

A last thing that has surprised me on this trip so far is the warm weather.  I am typically always cold and was worried about how I would manage working outside on the nightshift in the elements.  The weather, despite intermittent storms has remained surprisingly warm and with our mustang suits and rain gear, we have remained mostly dry.  Almost daily we have had the pleasure of a beautiful ocean sunset, a full moon rising and stars over our heads.  Now we are just crossing our fingers for some northern lights to grace our presence.

sunset
Another sunset over the Northern Gulf of Alaska!


Animals Seen from the Flying Bridge

Mammals:

Fin whale
Humpback whale
Dall’s porpoise
Harbor porpoise
Stellar sea lion
Harbor seal
Sea otter

Birds:

Greater scaup
White-winged scoter
Sandhill crane
Red-necked phalarope
Red phalarope
South polar skua
Pomarine jaeger
Parasitic jaeger
Commone murre
Thick-billed murre
Pigeon guillemot
Marbled murrelet
Ancient murrelet
Parakeet auklet
Horned puffin
Tufted puffin
Black-legged kittiwake
Mew gull
Herring gull
Glaucous-winged gull
Arctic tern
Pacific loon
Common loon
Laysan albatross
Black-footed albatross
Short-tailed albatross
Fork-tailed storm-petrel
Northern fulmar
Buller’s shearwater
Short-tailed shearwater
Sooty shearwater
Flesh-footed shearwater
Manx shearwater
Red-footed booby
Double-crested cormorant
Red-faced cormorant
Pelagic cormorant
Great blue heron
Northern harrier
Bald eagle
Merlin

Shelley Gordon: The Serengeti of the Sea, July 26, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Shelley Gordon

Aboard R/V Fulmar

July 19-26, 2019

Mission:  Applied California Current Ecosystem Studies Survey (ACCESS)

Geographic Area of Cruise:  Pacific Ocean, Northern and Central California Coast

Date:  July 26, 2019

My NOAA Teacher at Sea experience wrapped up yesterday with our 7th, and final, day of the cruise.  Our last day was another observation-only day where we travelled along two transects (lines 5 and 7) and recorded what could be seen from above the water.  I want to wrap up my experience by sharing some information about this observation technique and what I’ve learned about some of the living things we were able to observe on this trip. 

The Serengeti ecosystem in Eastern Africa is well known for its diversity of life and massive annual migrations.  On the wall of R/V Fulmar there is a large map of the three National Marine Sanctuaries (Cordell Bank, Greater Farallones, and Monterey Bay) off the coast of central California with the words “the Serengeti of the Sea” written at the bottom.  Like the Serengeti, the marine ecosystem in this area of the world supports a high diversity of life and intricate food webs.  Many of the species that thrive in these waters migrate from great distances, far greater than the well documented wildebeest migrations in Africa. 

A map of the protected areas off the central California coast.
Image from farallones.noaa.gov

The three National Marine Sanctuaries and adjacent state and federal parks protect a total of 10,676 square miles of habitat, helping to create a thriving ecosystem.  One thing that became clear to me on this cruise is that this is a massive amount of space!  To collect observation data, scientists sit on the flying bridge (or upper deck) and systematically record what they can see as the boat moves at a constant speed of ~10 knots along the transect.  Depending on the weather (we had days that were pretty foggy and other days that were overcast, but pretty clear), you can see several kilometers in any direction.  To complete an offshore observation line, it takes about 2.5 hours.  So, it is a full day to complete 2 observation lines, especially when you include the travel time to and from each line.  During that time, there are times when you can see very little other than wind-blown whitecaps on the surface of the water.  There are other times when there is a frenzy of activity.

(From left to right) Dani Lipski, Dru Delvin, Rachel Pound, Jaime Jahncke, Kirsten Lindquist, and Jan Roletto recording observation data from the flying bridge.

There are four roles is the observation data collection.  Sitting on the starboard side of the boat, Kirsten Lindquist’s job is to identify and describe all of the birds she observes within 200 meters of the side of the boat.  Some examples of “calls” she made include: “Common Murre, 3, zone 2, water” or “Western Gull, 1, zone 1, flying, 270°.”  To explain, she calls out the name of the bird, the number that she sees in the group, the relative distance they are from the boat (zone 1 or zone 2), and what they are doing (sitting on the water, flying, feeding, etc…).  This data is all recorded in the computer by Jaime Jahncke.  Dru Devlin and Jan Roletto (one on each side of the boat) are responsible for observing other things on the surface, including animals, boats, fishing gear, trash, kelp, etc…  An example of a call they relay to Jaime to record is:  “First cue blow, by eye, bearing 270°, reticle 5, observer 9, side 1, traveling, humpback whale, 2, 3, 2.”  There is a lot going on in this data, but it basically explains the observer has seen a group of humpback whales in the distance off the front of the boat (bearing 0°).  The group is swimming along the surface and the size of the group is between 2-3 individuals.  The observers use reticle markings, fine lines in the eyepiece of binoculars, to estimate how far the object is from the boat (reticle 14 is at the boat, reticle 0 is on the horizon).  Using the bearing and reticle numbers, the computer then can use the GPS location of the boat to estimate where that animal was at the time of the recorded observation.  Using all of this data collected over the course of time, scientists are able to put together a picture of where animals, birds, and other objects are frequently seen within the sanctuaries.  This can also help them identify changes in animal numbers or behavior, and/or the need for a change in management strategies.

An example of a map showing humpback whale observation data on ACCESS in 2018.
Image: Point Blue/ONMS/ACCESS

One of the seabird species we saw relatively frequently were Sooty Shearwaters.  These birds are interesting to me because the migrate to the sanctuaries from their breeding grounds in New Zealand, an amazing 6500 miles away!  What’s even more impressive is that their migration is not just from New Zealand to California; they actually complete a circular migration route, first traveling up the western Pacific toward Japan and the Artic, and then they drop down to the pacific coast of North America before returning to their breeding grounds in New Zealand.  We also observed Pink-Footed Shearwaters, which nest off the coast of Chile. 

Sooty Shearwaters taking off from the surface of the water.  Photo:  Dru Devlin

When we were out on the offshore transects beyond the continental shelf break, we were frequently able to observe Black-Footed Albatrosses.  These large seabirds are well known for their long migrations as well.  The population we observed in the sanctuaries nest in the Hawaiian Islands and visit the California coast to feed.  From dissecting Albatross boluses (regurgitated food) with students at Roosevelt, I had previously learned that their diet consists of a lot of squid.  Since squid are actively feeding at night, albatross also do a lot of their hunting at night.  I was curious how they could find their prey and I learned that they have an incredible sense of smell that they can use to detect food.  They are known to follow ships and feed on refuse in the wake, and this seemed to be apparent because when we were collecting samples at stations beyond the shelf break we were often joined by multiple albatrosses.  At one station, I counted 19 Black-Footed Albatrosses floating in a group near the boat.

Two Black-Footed Albatrosses near the boat. Photo: Dru Devlin
A Black-Footed Albatross in flight.
Photo: Dru Devlin

I was also very interested to learn about the way that albatrosses and other large seabirds (including shearwaters) conserve energy during their long flights.  Dynamic soaring allows them to gain energy from the wind above the ocean waves without flapping their wings.  We often observed these birds flapping their wings a few times and then soaring very close to the surface of the water before flapping again.  Apparently, in favorable wind conditions, these birds can us this method to fly great distances without flapping their wings at all, thus conserving energy.

Three humpback whales surfacing. Photo: Dru Devlin

Another animal that I was on the constant lookout for were whales.  These gigantic mammals have always captured my imagination.  On this cruise we were lucky enough to see quite a few humpback whales.  These large baleen whales are known for their acrobatic displays, occasionally launching their body out of the water in an action called breaching.  I was able to observe a few whales breaching, and also several instances of whales rolling on the surface of the water slapping their long flippers or tail at the surface.  One of the highlights was seeing humpbacks lunge feeding at the surface.  Lunge feeding is when the whale opens its mouth widely, engulfing a large amount to water and prey.  The whale then pushes the water out of its throat pouch, leaving the prey behind to consume.  One of the favorite foods of humpback whales is krill.  Using the Tucker trawl net at very deep depths, we were able to collect some large krill samples that will be analyzed back at the lab. 

There are several other species of whales that can be present in the sanctuaries at different times throughout the year, including blue whales, gray whales, fin whales, and minke whales, but we did not positively identify any of those species on this trip.  The scientists on board were specifically surprised that we did not see any blue whales, as they usually observe a few on cruises at this time of year.

Gallery

Here are a few other images of animals that we saw and were able to capture in the camera lens.

Did You Know?

Scientists can use robots to explore the undersea environment?  From October 3rd-11th, scientists from the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries will be partnering with the Ocean Exploration Trust to learn more about life beneath the waves.  Working aboard the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilius, the team will use remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to explore deep-sea coral reef and sponge habitats.  And, we will be able to follow along live

Katie Gavenus: Thinking Like A Hungry Bird, April 28, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Katie Gavenus

Aboard R/V Tiglax

April 26-May 9, 2019

 

Mission: Northern Gulf of Alaska Long-Term Ecological Research project

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northern Gulf of Alaska – currently on the ‘Middleton [Island] Line’

Date: April 28, 2019

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Time: 1715
Latitude: 59o 39.0964’ N
Longitude: 146o05.9254’ W
Wind: Southeast, 15 knots
Air Temperature: 10oC (49oF)
Air pressure: 1034 millibars
Cloudy, no precipitation

 

Science and Technology Log

Yesterday was my first full day at sea, and it was a special one! Because each station needs to be sampled both at night and during the day, coordinating the schedule in the most efficient way requires a lot of adjustments. We arrived on the Middleton Line early yesterday afternoon, but in order to best synchronize the sampling, the decision was made that we would wait until that night to begin sampling on the line. We anchored near Middleton Island and the crew of R/V Tiglax ferried some of us to shore on the zodiac (rubber skiff).

This R&R trip turned out to be incredibly interesting and relevant to the research taking place in the LTER. An old radio tower on the island has been slowly taken over by seabirds… and seabird scientists. The bird biologists from the Institute for Seabird Research and Conservation have made modifications to the tower so that they can easily observe, study, and band the black-legged kittiwakes and cormorants that choose to nest on the shelfboards they’ve augmented the tower with. We were allowed to climb up into the tower, where removable plexi-glass windows look out onto each individual pair’s nesting area. This early in the season, the black-legged kittiwakes are making claims on nesting areas but have not yet built nests. Notes written above each window identified the birds that nested there last season, and we were keen to discern that many of the pairs had returned to their spot.

Gavenus1Birds
Black-legged kittiwakes are visible through the observation windows in the nesting tower on Middleton Island.

Gavenus2Birds
Nesting tower on Middleton Island.

The lead researcher on the Institute for Seabird Research and Conservation (ISRC) project was curious about what the LTER researchers were finding along the Middleton Line stations. He explained that the birds “aren’t happy” this spring and are traveling unusually long distances and staying away for multiple days, which might indicate that these black-legged kittiwakes are having trouble finding high-quality, accessible food. In particular, he noted that he hasn’t seen any evidence they’ve been consuming the small lantern fish (myctophids) that generally are an important and consistent food source from them in the spring. These myctophids tend to live offshore from Middleton Island and migrate to the surface at night. We’ll be sampling some of that area tonight, and I am eager to see if we might catch any in the 0.5 mm mesh ‘bongo’ nets that we use to sample zooplankton at each station.

The kittiwakes feed on myctophids. The myctophids feed on various species of zooplankton. The zooplankton feed on phytoplankton, or sometimes microzooplankton that in turn feeds on phytoplankton. The phytoplankton productivity is driven by complex interactions of environmental conditions, impacted by factors such as light availability, water temperature and salinity as well as the presence of nutrients and trace metals. And these water conditions are driven by abiotic factors – such as currents, tides, weather, wind, and freshwater input from terrestrial ecosystems – as well as the biotic processes that drive the movement of carbon, nutrients, and metals through the ecosystem.

Scientists deploy CTD
This CTD instrument and water sampling rosette is deployed at each station during the day to collect information about temperature and salinity. It also collects water that is analyzed for dissolved oxygen, nitrates, chlorophyll, dissolved inorganic carbon, dissolved organic carbon, and particulates.

CTD at sunset
When the sun sets, the CTD gets a break, and the night crew focuses on zooplankton.

Part of the work of the LTER is to understand the way that these complex factors and processes influence primary productivity, phytoplankton, and the zooplankton community structure. In turn, inter-annual or long-term changes in phytoplankton and zooplankton community structure likely have consequences for vertebrates in and around the Gulf of Alaska, like seabirds, fish, marine mammals, and people. In other words, zooplankton community structure is one piece of understanding why the kittiwakes are or are not happy this spring. It seems that research on zooplankton communities requires, at least sometimes, to consider the perspective of a hungry bird.

Peering at a jar of copepods and euphausiids (two important types of zooplankton) we pulled up in the bongo nets last night, I was fascinated by the way they look and impressed by the amount of swimming, squirming life in the jar. My most common question about the plankton is usually some variation of “Is this …” or “What is this?” But the questions the LTER seeks to ask are a little more complex.

Considering the copepods and euphausiids, these researchers might ask, “How much zooplankton is present for food?” or “How high of quality is this food compared to what’s normal, and what does that mean for a list of potential predators?” or “How accessible and easy to find is this food compared to what’s normal, and what does that mean for a list of potential predators?” They might also ask “What oceanographic conditions are driving the presence and abundance of these particular zooplankton in this particular place at this particular time?” or “What factors are influencing the life stage and condition of these zooplankton?”

Euphausiids
Euphausiids (also known as krill) are among the types of zooplankton we collected with the bongo nets last night.

Copepods in a jar
Small copepods are among the types of zooplankton we collected with the bongo nets last night.

As we get ready for another night of sampling with the bongo nets, I am excited to look more closely at the fascinating morphology (body-shape) and movements of the unique and amazing zooplankton species. But I will also keep in mind some of the bigger picture questions of how these zooplankton communities simultaneously shape, and are shaped by, the dynamic Gulf of Alaska ecosystem. Over the course of the next 3 blogs, I plan to focus first on zooplankton, then zoom in to primary production and phytoplankton, and finally dive more into nutrients and oceanographic characteristics that drive much of the dynamics in the Gulf of Alaska.

 

Personal Log 

Life on the night shift requires a pretty abrupt change in sleep patterns. Last night, we started sampling around 10 pm and finished close to 4 am. To get our bodies more aligned with the night schedule, the four of us working night shift tried to stay up for another hour or so. It was just starting to get light outside when I headed to my bunk. Happily, I had no problem sleeping until 2:30 this afternoon! I’m hoping that means I’m ready for a longer night tonight, since we’ll be deploying the bongo nets in deeper water as we head offshore along the Middleton Line.

WWII shipwreck
While on Middleton Island, we marveled at a WWII shipwreck that has been completely overtaken by seabirds for nesting.

Shipwreck filled with plants
Inputs of seabird guano, over time, have fertilized the growth of interesting lichens, mosses, grasses, and even shrubs on the sides and top of the rusty vessel.

 

Did You Know?

Imagine you have a copepod that is 0.5 mm long and a copepod that is 1.0 mm long. Because the smaller copepod is half as big in length, height, and width, overall that smaller copepod at best offers only about 1/8th as much food for a hungry animal. And that assumes that it is as calorie-dense as the larger copepod.

 

Question of the Day:

Are PCBs biomagnifying in top marine predators in the Gulf of Alaska? Are there resident orca populations in Alaska that are impacted in similar ways to the Southern Resident Orca Whale population [in Puget Sound] (by things like toxins, noise pollution, and decreasing salmon populations? Is it possible for Southern Resident Orca Whales to migrate and successfully live in the more remote areas of Alaska? Questions from Lake Washington Girl’s Middle School 6th grade science class.

These are great questions! No one on board has specific knowledge of this, but they have offered to put me in contact with researchers that focus on marine mammals, and orcas specifically, in the Gulf of Alaska. I’ll keep you posted when I know more!

Roy Moffitt: Headed Home, Cruise Summary, August 25-26, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018

 

Mission: Healy 1801 – Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 25-26, 2018

Past – Current – Future locations/conditions:

72.5 North latitude: This past week we had 3-4 days of below freezing temperatures (27) with snow showers

Nome, Alaska: (8/25/18) Departing temperature 51 and cloudy

Contoocook/Hopkinton, NH: First day of school Tuesday (8/28/18)- Forecast 94 degrees Mostly Sunny (did I mention we don’t have air conditioning in New Hampshire?)

 

Ashore and I am headed back to NH

After completing our work in our most Northern point stop, we steamed back to Nome with just one more set of measurements on the way back, then had one final day of travel. It was sunny on the first day back but rougher seas than we had experienced thus far.

Rough Seas
Rough Seas

There were estimated 8-12 ft waves and some even larger that crashed over the Healy. To the right is a picture that I captured of the bow during this portion of our trip and the rocky seas.   Keep in mind that for most of the day we were lucky enough to be on the front deck of the boat! After the waves calmed we were in the fog for most of the way home so spotting more whales and seals was difficult.

 

 

Cruise Summary

In short, the trip was a success with the tremendous amount of data collected. This data will now be analyzed by scientists and students and I hope to see some scientific papers on this research in the future. Here is a list of what was done on this trip:

  • 31 mooring deployments and 24 mooring recoveries

(To review what the work involved in this see my blog: Moorings all day

  • 142 CTDs (that’s a lot of up and downs!)

(To review what a CTD see my blog: Measuring Ocean Properties with the CTD)

  • 51 Bongo samples

(To review what a bongo see my blog: Bring in the Bongos)

  • There were several Methot net tows.

To review what a Methot net tow is see my blog: Catching the Tiny Fish in the Big Sea

  • There was constant monitoring for birds and marine mammals with all sightings recorded. This experience was my personal favorite of the trip.

To review, see my blog: Walrus and Polar Bears on Ice

Van Veen cup of catch
Van Veen cup of catch

In addition to the above, there were many (I don’t have the exact count) Van Veen Grabs.  I did not get to explain these in a blog so here is a quick overview. Scientists that study the sea floor, including the top layer of soil called the benthic zone, use a VanVeen Grab Sampler pictured below. It is lowered to the sea floor and then the scissor-like arms close the catch capturing a hunk of the sea floor and everything that was living on it. Once on shore the catch is rinsed through a sieve until all the clay is rinsed away leaving just the organisms that were living there (such as mollusks, clams, starfish, worms and more) and a few stones.

van veen process
Van Veen Grab Sampler process

The scientists on the team also took HAPS core samples. I did not get to explain these in a blog so here is a quick overview. The HAPS corer, pictured below, is a gravity corer. This is a device that is lowered to the sea floor and then the weight of the device settles into the sea floor. When the HAPS corer is lifted, the bottom of the tube containing the cut into sediment closes, trapping the sample. These samples are then stored in clear tubes as shown in the picture. Scientists can examine sentiment layers to gain a better understanding of the sea floor at that location by studying the sedimentary layers.

 

All this above data has been copied and specimens are stored. The primary focus of this trip was to gather data and now the long process of analyzing and communicating the results will begin.

Cruise Reflections

This was such a great opportunity for me to meet so many different scientists and to both observe and assist the varied scientific studies occurring all at once. I needed all three weeks to get a handle on it all. I am looking forward to sharing what I have learned with my Maple Street School students back in New Hampshire and following the scientific studies as they move forward. Thanks to NOAA, Maple Street School, everyone else that allowed this learning opportunity to happen. It was a summer I will not forget experiencing a ship crash through ice in August! I leave you with some of the reflections of the birds I captured on those calmer days at sea.

The tufted puffin is not all that graceful at taking off. (below)

tufted puffin take off
The tufted puffin is not all that graceful at taking off.

The Common Murre (below)

The common murre
The common murre

Three male Eider Ducks

Three male eider ducks
Three male eider ducks

Roy Moffitt: Observing Whales Today and for the Next Year, August 8, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018

 

Mission: Healy 1801 –  Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 8, 2018

Current location:/conditions Evening of August 8th: Near King Island, AK the most southern part of the trip – Air temp 49F, sea depth 50 ft, surface water temp 52F

 

Mammal and Bird Observations

Up on the observation deck formal bird and mammal observations are taking place for the extent of the trip. When recording sighting of birds, observers observe an approximate 300m square area in the front of the ship.  Any seabird that flies or swims through that zone is counted and recorded. Doing these observations over time can give approximations on bird population trends. Here is a picture I took of a Crested Auklet who floated close by to the ship. Crested Auklets eat primarily plankton and breed in the number of millions in nearby islands of the Bering Sea.

Crested Auklet
Crested Auklet

The same can be done for whales. In this case the visible range is used.  With the low angle sunlight, it is easy to see the whale spout from a whale on the horizon, however closer range views of whales is needed for identification. That’s most effectively done on the long range by taking pictures of the whale’s tail.  Here is a picture I took today of a gray whale’s tail.

Gray Whale tail
Gray Whale’s tail

Gray whales frequent the area for its shallow sea and dive to the bottom to eat bottom dwelling sea life such as crustaceans by scooping up the bottom of the sea and filtering out the seabed leaving the food.  But how do you observe whales when you are not in the Arctic?  You eavesdrop on them…..

 

Observing whales acoustically for the next year.

Today I was observing with help of binoculars and a camera to see whales that were in view of the ship.  But how do you know if a whale visited when you where gone?  Record their voices.

Primary investigator Katherine Berchok assisted by Stephanie Grassia are retrieving and replacing acoustic (sound) monitoring devices suspended above the sea floor.  Today one of these instruments that was placed on the sea floor a year ago is now being retrieved.  Within the retrieved equipment is a recording of acoustics that have occurred in the last year.  The sound waves were recorded in a pattern of 80 minutes every 5 hours for an entire year.  That is a lot to listen to, so recordings will go through processing through different software to see if any sound wave patterns are close to those created by different whale species.  Though this data cannot give an accurate count of how many whales are in an area at a particular time, it does allow scientist to verify what species of whales and also walruses visit the study area.

Acoustic Mooring
Acoustic Mooring

This picture here shows the new underwater microphone or hydrophone (the white tube) being prepared to be lowered into the sea to be retrieved next year.  Once lowered in the area pictured here it will be covered in about 30 meters of ocean.  So how will it be found next year?   There is transmitter (the small gray tube) that will allow scientist to find it, send a signal and have the instruments released from the weight and float to the surface.  This year’s instrument will be cleaned up and reused next year.

 

Looking forward

As we move northward the species of mammals (whales, walruses) and birds being observed will change, look for updates in the coming weeks! ​

Roy Moffitt, 40 Scientists Embark from Nome, August 7, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Roy Moffitt

Aboard USCGC Healy

August 7 – 25, 2018


Mission: Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory

Geographic Area: Arctic Ocean (Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea)

Date: August 6 – 7, 2018

 

All Gather in Nome for the Expedition Launch

August 6th:

All of the science party arrived in Nome and gathered for a science briefing before departure. In the evening there was a public presentation by Jackie Grebmeier the missions Co-Chief Scientist and Primary Investigator of the Arctic Distributed Biological Observatory – Northern Chukchi Integrated Study (DBO-NCIS). Jackie presented on what researchers have found. In brief, there is a shift northwards of the bottom dwelling Arctic ecosystems in the Bering Sea. This is due to the lack of winter ice in the southern Bering Sea causing a lack of a deep-sea cold pool of water during the rest of the year. This colder water is needed for some bottom dwelling organisms such as clams. Those clams are the favorite food choice of the Spectacled Eider Duck. When the bottom of the food chain moves north the higher in the food chain organisms such as the Spectacled Eider Duck need to adapt to a different food source or in this case move with north with it. The reason for the lacking cold pool of seawater is the lack ice being created at the surface during the winter, this process creates cold saltier water. Colder water that is also higher in salinity sinks and settles to the bottom of the ocean. So essentially the effects of less southern sea ice are from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the ocean. Grebmeier will be leading the DBO-NCS science team during this expedition so look for a future blogs focused on this research.

August 7th Evening:

We are currently anchored off the Nome Alaska Harbor and have only been on the ship for a few hours. Scientists are preparing their instruments for deployment. These instruments will measure a wide range of non-living and living members of the ecosystem. These scientific measurements will be taken from the sea floor into the atmosphere, the measurements will use a wide range of equipment. Stay tuned to future blogs with focus on different research groups, their data, specialized equipment, and their findings. We are off!

There is no place like Nome, Where the Land Meets the Sea

We are departing from Nome, Alaska. Here are some pictures around the city of Nome. Roadways to the rest of Alaska and beyond do not connect Nome. You must get here by boat or plane.

Nome from Anvil Mountain
Nome from Anvil Mountain

 

Healy anchored off Nome
The USCG Healy is anchored off the coast of Nome.

Healy at anchor
Another view of USCGC Healy anchored off of Nome

 

The Chum salmon were running in the Nome River, they leave the ocean and go up the river to spawn.

salmon jumping
Chum Salmon jumping up the Nome River

I found someone who traveled farther to get here than me: Arctic Terns who travel from the Antarctic to Arctic every year. In this picture, an Arctic Tern is seen with this year’s offspring. The juvenile here can now fly and will stay with its parent for the first 2 to 3 months.

Arctic Tern and offspring
Arctic Tern and its new offspring

 

This is the same variety of seagull that you see in New England, but in Alaska, this one was not so nice. As I was walking on busy road way, this gull caught me off guard and dive-bombed me, almost knocking me into incoming traffic. After several more passes, the gull decided I was not a threat to its offspring. This nest was over 200ft away. Many seabirds use the coast of Alaska to breed and raise the next generation. The common seagull, or Glaucous Gull, and Arctic Tern are only just two.​

Seagull on the roof with nest
Seagull on the roof with nest

Susan Dee: From the Bottom of the Food Chain to the Top, June 3, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Dee

Aboard NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow 

May 23 – June 7, 2018

Mission:  Spring Ecosystem Monitoring Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northeastern Coast of U.S.

Date:  June 3, 2018

Weather From Bridge

Latitude: 43°47.1′
Longitude: 068°40.41′
Sea Wave Height: 4-6 ft
Wind Speed:  20 knots
Wind Direction:  NE
Visibility:  10
Air Temperature:  10°C
Sky:  few clouds

 

Science and Technology Log

Birds on water
Sea Birds

As the Henry B. Bigelow traverses the Gulf of Maine sampling the microorganisms at stations, another pair of scientists are observing bird and marine mammal populations. Much of my time between sampling stations, I head up to the flying bridge and join  Nicholas Metheny and John Loch, Seabird Observers, on the lookout for the seabird and marine mammals. The seabirds most commonly observed in the Gulf of Maine are the Wilson Storm Petrel and the Sooty Shearwater.  These two species account for 60% of the birds seen.  These pelagic seabirds live offshore and only return to land to breed, often on remote islands.

birders on deck
Seabird Observers on Observation Deck

 

South Polar Skua
South Polar Skua (photo by Nicolas Methany)

All the samplings taken with bongo nets are samplings of the producers and primary consumers, the small organisms in the food chain.  On the observation deck, the fish and marine mammals that rely on a healthy bottom food chain are observed.  Spotting  marine mammals adds much to the excitement of the day. The bridge will announce a sighting and if possible, one gets to the flying bridge to see the wildlife.   One of the first sightings was of humpback whales in the distance, followed by sperm whale and pilot whale sightings.

Sperm Whale
Sperm Whale (Photo by Nicholas Methany)

 

Short Beaked Common Dolphin
Short beaked Common Dolphins (Photo by Nicholas Methany)

 

The most fascinating sightings were of Mola Mola- Ocean Sunfish.  They were spotted often and very close to the ship.

Mola Mola  - Ocean Sunfish
Mola Mola – Ocean Sunfish (Photo by Nicolas Methany)

 

Blue Shark
Blue Shark (Photo by Nicholas Methany)

 

Personal Log

The science crew is kept busy sampling at each station.  There is some down time steaming from station to station at 12 knots but it is enjoyable. I spend the down time talking to crew and scientists.  Chief Scientist Jerry Prezioso has been an awesome mentor and photographer! I am learning so much and am so excited to bring it back into my classroom next year. The seas have been relatively calm but the forecast for the end of the cruise is not favorable for sampling due to high winds. If winds are over 30 knots, the crew has difficulty deploying the nets so sampling is suspended.  The science crew has taken samples from 114 stations.  These samples will be sent off to be analyzed at different labs.

Filled jar samples
Samples collected, boxed and ready to be shipped to analyze

work deck
Science Lab Work Deck

Deck Crew
Andrew and AJ helping deploy instruments

The deck crew and scientist party have been a pleasure to work with. I have learned so much from each of them

Science Party
Science Party Day Crew: Jerry P, Mark, and Chris T

Route map shows path of cruise
Final Day of Cruise Route map shows path of cruise

The cruise was cut short by two days due to high winds.  The last sampling station was in Cape Cod Bay. Tomorrow the ship will  head back to port through the Cape Cod Canal, ending a fantastic cruise.  I am so excited to see the data from  all these samples.  Thanks Teacher at Sea program for a great adventure!

Teacher at Sea Susan Dee
Teacher at Sea Susan Dee

Staci DeSchryver: Boobies, Wedgies, and the Neurolinguistic Re-Programming of a TAS, July 21, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

 

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  French Frigate Shoals, Northwest Hawaiian Islands

Date:  July 21, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

 

Science and Personal Log

I’m putting both the science and personal log together this time around for a very special reason.

See, I have a confession to make.  Many of my friends from home know this about me, but I have a secret I’ve kept under wraps for the vast majority of this trip, and it’s time to officially reveal it now, because it just seems to fit so well.  Ready?  True confessions from a Teacher At Sea:

I have an irrational fear of birds.

There.  I said it.  It stems from a wayward trip to London in the Study Abroad program and involves me, innocently consuming an over-priced deli sandwich on a bench outside of the Museum of Natural History when I was suddenly accosted by a one-footed pigeon who made away with my lunch – but not before attacking my face full-force with every wing, beak, and claw it had.  My lunch then became a free sidewalk hoagie, available for all nearby pigeons (you know, like every pigeon from London to France) to feast upon as I sat helplessly watching the gnashing of beaks and flyings of feathers in a ruthless battle to the end for over-processed deli ham and havarti on rye.  I was mortified.  From that moment forth, I was certain every bird wanted a piece of my soul and I was darned if I was going to let them have it.

After many years of active bird-avoidance, my first Teacher At Sea experience allowed me to remove Puffin from the exhaustive list of these ruthless prehistoric killers.  After all, Puffins are not much more than flying footballs, and generally only consume food of the underwater persuasion, so I felt relatively sheltered from their wrath.  Plus they’re kind of cute.  The following year, a Great Horned Owl met its demise by colliding face-first into one of our tall glass windows at the school. When the Biology teachers brought him inside, I felt oddly curious about this beast who hunts with stunning accuracy in the black of night, and yet couldn’t manage to drive himself around a window.  I felt myself incongruously empathetic at the sight of him – he was such a majestic creature, his lifeless body frozen in time from the moment he met his untimely ending.   I couldn’t help but wish him alive again; if not for his ability to hunt rodents, but simply because nothing that beautiful should have to meet its maker in such a ridiculous manner.  And so, I cautiously removed Owls from the list, so long as I didn’t have to look much at their claws.

This has suited me well over the years – fear all birds except for Puffin and Owl, and as a side note Penguin, too, since they can’t do much damage without being able to fly and all.  Plus, you know, Antarctica.  But when I found out that the cetacean study also happened to have bird observers on the trip, I felt momentarily paralyzed by the whole ordeal.  I had (incorrectly) assumed that we wouldn’t see birds on this trip.  I mean, what kind of bird makes its way to the middle of the Pacific Ocean?  Well, it turns out there are a lot that do, and it’s birders Dawn and Chris who are responsible for sighting and cataloging them alongside the efforts of the marine mammal observers.  I promise I’ll come back to my story on bird fear, but for now, let’s take a look at how our birders do their job.

DES_4224
NOAA bird observer Dawn scans the horizon from her seat on the flying bridge

The birders follow a similar protocol to the marine mammal observers.  Each birder takes a two-hour shift in a front seat on the flying bridge.  While the marine mammal observers use big eyes to see out as far as they possibly can out onto the horizon, the birders only watch and catalog birds that come within 300m of the ship.

DES_4623
You can find the distance a bird is from the ship using a basic pencil with lines marked on the side. Each line is mathematically calculated using your height, the ship’s height, and the distance to the horizon.

How do they know how far away the 300m mark is?  Over the years they just become great visual judges of the distance, but they also have a handy “range finder” that they use.  The range finder is just a plain, unsharpened pencil with marks ticked off at 100m intervals.  By holding the pencil up to the horizon and looking past it, they can easily find the distance the bird is from the ship. They divide this 300m range into “zones” – the 200-300m zone, the 100-200m zone, and the less than 100m zone from the bow of the ship.  Anything further than 300m or outside of the zero to 90 degree field of vision can still be catalogued if it is an uncommon species, or a flock of birds.  (More on flocks in a moment.)

They choose which side of the ship has the best visibility, either the port or starboard side, and like the mammal observers, birders take only the directional space from zero (directly in front of the ship) to 90 degrees on the side of their choosing.  If the visibility switches in quality from one side to the other during a shift, he or she can change sides without issue.

DES_4579
A sooty tern soars high above the ship. We’ve seen many sooty terns this trip!

The bird team also records information such as wind speed and direction (with respect to the ship), the Beaufort Sea State, visibility, observation conditions, and the ship’s course.  Observation conditions are a critical component of the birder’s tool bag.  They mark the observation conditions on a five-point scale, with 1 being extremely bad conditions and 5 being very good conditions.  What defines good conditions for a birder? The best way to make an observation about the conditions is to think about what size and species of smaller birds an observer might not be able to see in the outermost range. Therefore, the condition is based on species and distance from the ship.  Some birds are larger than others, and could be easier to spot farther out from the ship.  The smallest birds (like petrels) might not be observable in even slightly less than ideal conditions. Therefore, if a birder records that the conditions are not favorable for small birds at a distance of 200m (in other words, they wouldn’t be able to see a small bird 200m away), the data processing team can vary the density estimates for smaller birds when observers are in poor visibility.

DES_4568
White terns look like they belong on holiday cards! A new favorite of mine.

If a bird flies into the designated “zone”, the species is identified and recorded on a computer program that will place a time stamp on the GPS location of the sighting. These data are stored on the ship for review at a later time.  Ever wonder where the maps of migration patterns for birds originate?  It is from this collected data.  Up until this point, I had always taken most of these kinds of maps for granted, never thinking that in order to figure out where a particular animal lives let alone its migratory pattern must come from someone actually going out and observing those animals in those particular areas.

DES_4703
An albatross glides behind the ship, looking for fish.

The birder will record other information about the bird sighting like age, sex (if able to identify by sight) and what the lil’ fella or gal is up to when observed.  Birds on the open ocean do a lot more than just fly, and their behaviors are important to document for studies on bird behavior.  There are 9 different codes for these behaviors, ranging from things like directional flight (think, it has a place to go and it’s trying to get there), sitting on the water, or “ship attracted.”  There are certain species like juvenile Red-Footed and Brown boobies and Tropic Birds that are known to be “ship attracted.”  In other words, it could be out flying along a particular path until it sees this super cool giant white thing floating on the water, and decides to go and check it out.  This is how I wound up with that fun photo of the Booby on the bridge wing, and the other snapshot of the juvenile that hung out on the jackstaff for two full days.  These birds would not normally have otherwise come into the range to be detected and recorded, so their density estimates can be skewed if they are counted the same way as all other birds.

DES_4491
This Brown Booby wants in on the food action near the ship. Boobies are ship attracted, and we’ve had a few hang out with us while they take a rest on the mast. This is not the exact booby that made me change my bird ways, but he’s a close cousin (at least genetically speaking) of the one who did.

Any groups of five or more birds within one “reticle” (a measuring tool on the glass of the big eyes seen when looking through them) can be flagged by the marine mammal observers for the birders.  While many flocks are found miles away and might be difficult to see in the big eyes by species, the birders know the flight and feeding behaviors of the birds, and can usually identify the different species within the flock. They have a special designation in their computer program to catalog flocks and their behavior, as well.

I sat with Dawn on a few different occasions to learn how she quickly identifies and catalogs each bird species.  At first, it seems like all the birds look fairly similar, but after a few hours of identification practice, I can’t imagine that any of them look the same. The first bird Dawn taught me to identify was a Wedge-Tailed White Shearwater, more affectionately known as a “Wedgie White.”  To me, they were much more easily characterized by behavior than anything else.  Shearwaters are called “Shearwaters” because they…you guessed it… shear the water!  They are easy to spot as they glide effortlessly just above the water’s surface, almost dipping their wings in the cool blue Pacific.

I then continued my bird observation rotation learning all kinds of fun facts about common sea birds – how plumages change as different species grow, identifying characteristics (which I’m still trying to sort out because there are so many!), stories of how the birds got their names, migration patterns, population densities, breeding grounds, and what species we could expect to see as we approached different islands on the Northwest Hawaiian Island Chain.  Dawn knows countless identifiers when it comes to birds, and if she can’t describe it exactly the way she wants to, she has multiple books with photos, drawings, and paragraphs of information cataloging the time the bird is born to every iteration of its markings and behaviors as it grows.  To be a birder means having an astounding bank of knowledge to tap into as they have a limited time to spot and properly identify many species before they continue on their journey across the Pacific.

DES_4517
This Great Frigate Bird was flying about fifteen feet overhead, with a mast directly in front of him as he flew. He’s looking around for birds to steal food from. The Hawaiian term for Frigate Bird is ‘Iwa, meaning “thief.”

After two weeks of watching for birds with Dawn and Chris, I feel like I can properly identify a few different species – Wedgies, Frigate Birds (these are the klepto-parasite birds that steal other birds’ dinners), Tropic Birds, two types of Terns, and boobies, though I can only best ID boobies when they are not in flight.  I find myself up on the flying bridge on independent observation rotations calling forward to the birder on rotation, “Was that a tern?”  And now, my identifying skills have vastly improved over the last few days as I have engaged in the process of this very important data collection.

So, what has become of my irrational bird fear?  Well, I have to be honest; much like Puffin and Owl, the Red-Footed Booby melted my heart.  There he was, perched on the bridge’s shade railing, a lonely little fellow staring up at me with no reservation about my presence or expectation of a sandwich.  There we were in the middle of a vast ocean, and he was all alone – simply looking for a place to rest his wings or search more earnestly for the hint of a delicious flying fish escaping the water.  I spent a fair amount of time photographing the little guy, working with my new camera to find some fun angles and depth of field, and playing with the lighting.  He was a willing and I daresay friendly participant in the whole process (in fact I wondered if he had seen a few episodes of America’s Next Top Model), and I felt myself softening my stance on placing the Red Footed Booby amongst the likes of attack pigeons.  By the end of our encounter, I had mentally noted that the Booby should now be placed on the “safe bird” list.

As I’ve spent more time with Dawn and Chris and learned more about each species, seabirds have one by one slowly migrated over to the safe list – to the point now where there are just too many to recite and I feel it is time after fifteen years to do away with the whole of it entirely.  As soon as I changed my perspective, the beauty of all of them have gradually emerged to the point where I can easily find something to appreciate (even admire) about each of the species we’ve seen.  Terns fight fiercely into the wind as they fly, but when they can catch a thermal or pose for an on-land photograph for an ID book, look dainty and regal in their appearance – as if they should be a staple part of every holiday display.  And baby Terns?  Doc (our Medical Doctor on board) showed me a photo of a tern chick that followed him around Midway Island last year and the lil’ guy was so darn cute it could make you cry glitter tears.  Today near French Frigate Shoals many of the species I’ve seen from afar came right up to the ship and glided effortlessly overhead, allowing me to observe them from a near perspective as they flew.  (None of them pooped on me, so if they weren’t off the list by that point, that act of grace alone should have sealed their fate for the positive.)  Frigate Birds can preen their feathers while they fly.  Watching each species cast their wings once and glide on the air while looking all around themselves was oddly entertaining, certainly peculiar, but also impressive.  I can’t walk on the ship looking anywhere besides exactly where I want to go and yet birds can fly five feet away from a mast and casually have a proper look about.

If this has taught me anything, it has shown me the truth in the statement that fear is just ignorance in disguise.  When I accidentally gave my bird aversion away during our quick stop at French Frigate Shoals (more on this in an upcoming blog post) many of the scientists said, “I’d have never guessed you were scared of birds.  How did you keep it secret?”  The easy answer is “Teacher Game Face.” But, more deeply rooted in that is a respect and admiration for those who enjoy the things that I’m afraid of.  Dawn and Chris have dedicated their entire careers to identifying and cataloging these creatures, and they are both so kind and respectable I find it hard to imagine that they would study anything unequal to the vast extent of their character.  Thankfully I learned this early enough on in the trip that it was easy to trust their judgement when it comes to Procellariiformes.   This experience is once-in-a-lifetime, and how short-sighted would I be to not want to explore every aspect of what goes on during this study because I’m a little (a lot) afraid?

In Colorado, before I ever left, I made a personal commitment to have a little chutzpah and learn what I can about the distant oceanic cousins of the sandwich thieves.  And when it came to that commitment, it meant genuinely digging in to learn as much as I can, not just pretend digging in to learn at little.  I figured if nothing else, simple repeated exposure in short bursts would be enough for me to neurolinguistically reprogram my way into bird world, and as it turns out, I didn’t even really need that.  I just needed to open up my eyes a little and learn it in to appreciation.  Learning from Dawn and Chris, who are both so emphatically enthusiastic about all things ornithology made me curious once again about these little beasts, who over the last two weeks have slowly transformed into beauties.

Sorry, pigeons.  You’re still on the list.

Pop Quiz

What is to date the silliest question or statement Staci has asked/made during her TAS experience?

  1.       In response to a rainy morning, “Yeah, when I woke up it sounded a little more ‘splashy’ than usual outside.”
  2.      “So, if Killer Whales sound like this, then what whale talk was Dory trying to do in Finding Nemo?”
  3.       “So, there is no such thing as a brown-footed booby?”
  4.      After watching an endangered monk seal lounging on the sand, “I kind of wish I had that life.”  (So…you want to be an endangered species? Facepalm.)
  5.       All of the above

If you guessed e, we’re probably related.

 

Staci DeSchryver: A Brief Lesson on All the Things We Deliberately Throw Over the Side of the Ship, July 12, 2017

NOAA Teacher At Sea

Staci DeSchryver

Aboard NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette

July 6 – August 2, 2017

 

Mission:  HICEAS Cetacean Study

Geographic Area:  Hilo Coast, Hawaii

Date:  July 12, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Location:  22 deg 38.0 min N, 159 deg 33.9 min W

Cloudy with rain squalls all around

Visibility: 10 nmi

Wind: E @ 23 kts

Pressure: 1019.1mb

Waves: 2-3 ft

Swell:  60 degrees at 3-5 ft

Temp: 27 degrees

Wet Bulb Temp: 24 degrees

Dewpoint: 26 degrees

Relative Humidity:  96%

 

Science and Technology Log

Today, we will be exploring all of the equipment we deliberately toss over the stern of the ship.  There are a number of different audio recorders that the HICEAS and other teams use to detect various species while underway.  Chief scientist Erin Oleson gives a great perspective when she says that, “We pass through this particular area for this study only one time.  Just because we may not see or hear an animal, it certainly doesn’t mean it’s not there, or that it won’t come by this area at a later time.”  In order to compensate for the temporal restrictiveness of the ship being in one spot at one time, the team will periodically launch buoys over the side to continue the listening process for us.  Some buoys are designed to last a few hours, some report the information real-time back to the ship, some are anchored to the ocean floor, some drift around, and all serve different needs for the scientific team.

Thing we deliberately throw off the ship #1:  Sonobuoys

Since arriving on the ship, I have been recruited to “Team Sonobuoy” by the acoustics team for deployments!  It is my job to program and launch two sonobuoys on a set schedule created by the scientific team.   Sonobuoys are designed to pick up low-frequency sounds from 0 – 2 KHz, most often made by baleen whales.  The sonobuoy will send information back to the ship in real-time.  Once launched over the side, the sonobuoy will drift in the ocean, listening for these low frequency noises.  They are a temporary acoustic tool – lasting anywhere from 30 mins to 8 hours of time.  Most of the buoys are set to record for 8 full hours.  After the pre-set recording time is up, the float on the buoy pops, and the buoy is no longer active.  It is my job to launch two sonobuoys, and then monitor the signal coming back to the ship via VHF until we are too far away to detect the frequency coming back to us.  This usually happens between 2 and 3 miles after launch.   The recordings are sent onshore for processing.  Fun fact: sonobuoys were originally developed by the Navy to listen for enemy submarines!  The scientists thought they would be a handy tool for baleen whales, and picked up the technology.  We have deployed sonobuoys almost every evening of the cruise.

Thing we deliberately throw off the ship #2:  DASBRs

DASBRs, or Digital Acoustic Spar Buoy Recorders, are floating recorders launched at certain waypoints in the ocean.  The word “spar” simply means that the buoy floats vertically in the water.  There are two types of DASBRs, one records from 0 – 128 KHz, and one goes all the way from 0 – 144 KHz.  Now, these particular buoys get launched, but they don’t get anchored.

DeSchryver_connecting buoy to DASBR
Shannon and Jen connect the buoy to the DASBR before deployment

Inside the DASBR is a transmitter that shows the location of the buoy so that the scientific team can recover them at a later time.

DeSchryver_Eric waits DASBR
Erik waits to deploy the DASBR at the proper GPS location.

So, in effect, this is a buoy we deliberately throw off the ship only to bring it back on after a predetermined amount of time.  These recorders do not transmit back to the ship.  They store all of the data on the  DASBR, which is why recovery of the DASBRs is so important.  A DASBR that does not get recovered keeps all of its secrets as it floats along in the ocean.  We can track DASBRs real time, and they follow interesting patterns as they float freely in the ocean – some track in a given direction along with the current, while others corkscrew around in the same area.  So far, we have deployed 4 DASBRs in the first 8 days of the cruise.

Things we deliberately throw off the ship #3:  HARPS

HARPS, or High Frequency Acoustic Recording Packages, are the third type of microphone deployed off the ship.  HARPS record all sounds between 0 and 100 KHz. They last far longer than both sonobuoys and DASBRS in terms of time out on the water. They are limited not by data storage, but by battery power.  HARPS are deployed at one location and are anchored to the ocean floor.  Small yellow floats rise to the surface to alert ships and other traffic to their presence.  They are a little easier to find when it comes to recovery, since they have a GPS known location and are secured to the ocean floor, but they are a little more difficult to wrangle on to the back deck of the ship when recovered and deployed, since there is an anchor associated with them.

DeSchryver_HARP
The HARP in the Wet Lab undergoing repairs before launch.

On this cruise we have both recovered and deployed HARP systems.  The HARPS also store information within  the HARP, so recovery is important to the scientific team because the data does not get transmitted in real time back to any computers.

Things we deliberately throw off the ship #4:  Ocean Noise Sensors

There are data recorders that record the level of noise in the ocean over time.  We are currently on our way to pick one of these recorders up, complete some maintenance on it, and re-deploy it.  This will be a full day commitment for the scientific team and the crew, so I’m going to keep you guessing on this one until we actually complete this part of the operation.  We have many hands working together both on the ship and between organizations to make the ocean noise-monitoring program effective and cohesive, so this section of “Things we deliberately throw off the ship” will get its own blog post in the future as we complete the haul in, maintenance, and re-deployment.  Stay tuned.

 

Personal Log

Team.  You’ll never guess what I did.  I.  Drove. The Ship.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I drove the ship, and – AND – I didn’t hit anything while I did it!  What’s better is that I didn’t tip anyone out of their chairs while I made turns, either!  This is cause for much celebration and rejoicing among scientists and crew alike.  The Commanding Officer, CDR  Stephanie Koes invited me, “Spaz the TAS” up to the bridge for a little steering lesson two days ago, in which I happily obliged.  ENS Fredrick gave me a little mini-lesson on the onboard radar systems, which were picking up rain just off our starboard side.

I also learned of the existence of the many GPS positioning systems and navigation systems onboard.  The NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations, or OMAO, is not lost on system redundancies.  From what I can surmise, there are two of everything on the bridge in order to ensure the NOAA OMAO’s number one priority – safety. Everything on the bridge has a backup, or in many instances, a preferential option for each officer responsible for the bridge at any given time.  Some systems are fancy and new, while others maintain tradition on the bridge.  For example, a bell will still chime every half hour to remind the watch stander to record weather data on the bridge and a navigational fix on a paper chart.  ENS Fredrick says that the bell is an older maritime system, but is very handy when things get busy on the bridge –  the bell ringing is a perfect audio cue for him to stop what he’s doing and get to the logbook to record the weather.

Turning a giant ship sounds difficult, but in reality, it’s really difficult.  The actual act of turning doesn’t take much – a simple flip of a switch to take the ship off what I termed “cruise control” and a turn of the wheel (which by the way looks exactly like a smaller version of the ship wheels you see in all of the fabulous movies – I’m looking at you, Goonies) and an eye on the bearing angle (the compass direction in which the ship is headed).  But here’s the real issue – this moving city technically has no brakes.   So as the ship begins to turn, the driver has to pull the rudder back in the opposite direction before the bearing angle is reached, otherwise the bearing angle gets overshot.  If you turn the wheel too far one way or the other too quickly, the ship responds by  “leaning into” the turn at a steep angle.

DeSchryver_driving ship
This is me not running in to things while steering the ship with ENS Fredrick!

This sounds like it might be fun until the chef downstairs rings the bridge and chews the driver out for making the cheesecake fall off the galley countertop.  Then the driver must take the heat for ruining the cheesecake for everyone else on the ship waiting quite impatiently to eat it.  Thankfully, I tipped no cheesecakes.  That would make for a long month onboard being “that guy who turned the ship too hard and ruined dessert for everyone.”  I’m pretty sure had I not had the direction of ENS Fredrick as to when and how far to turn the rudder, I’d be in the dessert doghouse.

Another fabulous part of turning the ship is that I got to use the radio to tell the flying bridge (and anyone else who was listening) that I had actually turned the ship and it was correctly on course.  Luckily I had been listening to the radio communication for a few days and put on my best radio voice to make said announcements.  I think my performance was middling to above average at least, and fully qualified to speak on the radio without sounding too unfortunate at best.  However, there was one element of driving the ship that made me terrified enough to realize that I probably am not quite ready to hack the job – everything else that is going on up on the bridge while you are keeping the ship on-course.

Watch standers are notoriously good at keeping data.  They record every move the ship makes.  If the mammal and bird team go off effort due to weather or too high of a Beaufort state, the bridge records it.  They also record when they go back on effort. They log every turn and adjustment the ship makes.  They log every time we deploy a CTD or any kind of buoy.  I watched the watch stander on the bridge take a phone call, make a turn, log the turn, put the mammal team off-effort, put the mammal team back on-effort, take a request on the radio and record weather data all in a span of about two minutes.  It seemed like everything was happening all at once, and he managed it all like it was just another day in the office.  For him, it was.

To be a member of the NOAA OMAO means that you must be willing to learn, willing to make mistakes, willing to follow orders, willing to be flexible, and willing to be one heck of a multi-tasker.  I, for one, went quickly cross-eyed at all of the information processing that must happen up on the bridge during an officer’s shift. Thankfully, I didn’t go cross-eyed while I was trying to turn the ship.  That would have been bad, especially for cheesecakes.  I’m thinking that if I play my cards right, I can enlist as a “backup ship driver” for future shifts on Oscar Elton Sette.  I figure you never know when you might need someone fully unqualified to steer a giant moving city in a general direction for any given amount of time.  But I think I can do it if I do it like the NOAA Corps – taking everything one turn at a time.

Cetacean and Fish Species Seen:

Risso’s Dolphins

Striped Dolphins

Melon-Headed Whales

Blainsville Beaked Whales

Sperm Whale

False Killer Whales

Kogia – unidentified (These are either pygmy Sperm Whales or Dwarf Sperm Whales)

Flying Fish

Wahoo or Ono (Ono in Hawaiian means “tasty” – the name was confirmed as I enjoyed a few pieces of Ono sashimi last night at dinner)

 

Seabirds spotted as of July 14:

White Necked Petrel

Juan Fernandez Petrel

Hawaiian Petrel

Black-Winged Petrel

Cook’s Petrel

Pycroft’s Petrel

Bulwer’s Petrel

Wedge-Tailed Shearwater

Christmas Shearwater

Newell’s Shearwater

Band-rumped Storm Petrel

Red-Tailed Tropic Bird

White-Tailed Tropic Bird

Masked Booby

Brown Booby

DeSchryver_brown footed booby
A juvenile Red-Footed Booby takes a two day rest on Sette‘s Mast.

A juvenile Red-Footed Booby who has taken up residence on the mast of the ship for two full days and pretends to fly from the mast – highly entertaining.

 

Red-Footed Booby

Great Frigatebird

Brown Noddy

Sooty Tern

Grey-Backed Tern

White Tern

Ruddy Turnstone

Sanderling

Japanese Quail

 

 

Michael Wing: What’s there to see out there? July 24, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary
Date: July 24, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Northwest wind 5 to 15 knots, wind waves 1’ to 3’, west swell 3’ at 14 seconds, patchy fog.

Science and Technology Log

I’ve been putting in long hours on the back deck, washing plankton in sieves and hosing down the hoop net. Often by the time the sample is safely in its bottle and all the equipment is rinsed off, it’s time to put the net down and do it all again.

On the back deck
Here’s where I wash plankton on the back deck

But, when I look up from the deck I see things and grab my camera. The surface of the ocean looks empty at first glance but it isn’t really. If you spend enough time on it, you see a lot.

Black Footed Albatross
Black Footed Albatross

Black footed albatrosses turn up whenever we stop to collect samples. They probably think we are a fishing boat – we’re about the same size and we have a cable astern. They leave once they find out we didn’t catch any fish. Kirsten tells me these birds nest on atolls east of Hawaii, and that most of the thirty or so species of albatross live in the southern hemisphere.

Mola
Mola

We also see lots of molas, or ocean sunfish. These bizarre looking fish lie on their side just under the water’s surface and eat jellyfish. They can be really large – four feet long, or more. I wonder why every predator in the ocean doesn’t eat them, because they are big, slow, very visible and apparently defenseless. The scientists I am with say that sea lions sometimes bite their fins. Molas are probably full of bones and gristle and aren’t very appetizing to sharks and seals. There are more molas than usual; one more indicator of the extra-warm water we’re seeing on this cruise.

Spouting whales
Humpback whales; one has just spouted

whale back
The back of a humpback whale

And of course there are WHALES! At times we a have been completely surrounded by them. Humpback whales, mostly, but also blue whales. The humpbacks are black with white patches on the undersides of their flippers and barnacles in places. They are playful. They breach, slap the water with their flippers, and do other tricks. The blue whales are not really blue. They are a kind of slate grey that may look blue in certain kinds of light. They are longer and straighter and bigger than the humpbacks, and they cruise along minding their own business. Their spouts are taller.

Humpback whale flukes
Humpback whale flukes

When we see one whale breaching in the distance, we call out. But, when a bunch of whales are all around us, we speak in hushed voices.

Personal Log

Orange balloon
Orange balloon

I have seen six balloons floating on the water, some dozens of miles offshore. Four of them were mylar, two like this one. The scientists I am with say they see the most balloons in June, presumably because June has more graduations and weddings. Maybe it’s time to say that balloons are not OK. When they get away from us, here’s where they end up.

Container ship
Container ship

We see container ships on the horizon. Sometimes they hit whales by accident. Every t-shirt, pair of sneakers, toy and electronic device you have ever owned probably arrived from Asia on one of these. Each of those boxes is forty feet long.

This is my last post from the R/V Fulmar. I go home tomorrow. I sure am grateful to everyone on board, and to NOAA, Point Blue Conservation Science, the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary for giving me the opportunity to visit this special place.

Common murre
Common murre

Did You Know? When common murre chicks fledge, they jump out of their nests onto the surface of the sea. The drop can be forty or fifty feet. At this point they can swim, but they don’t know how to fly or find food. So, their fathers jump in after them and for the next month or two father and chick swim together on the ocean while the father feeds the chick. These are small birds and they can easily get separated in the rough seas. When this happens, they start calling to each other. It sounds sort of like a cat meowing. We have heard it often on this cruise.

Murre with chick
Adult murre with almost-grown chick

Michael Wing: Seabirds to starboard, whales and seals to port, July 18, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Michael Wing
Aboard R/V Fulmar
July 17 – 25, 2015

Mission: 2015 July ACCESS Cruise
Geographical Area of Cruise: Pacific Ocean west of the Golden Gate Bridge
Date: Saturday, July 18, 2015

Weather Data from the Bridge: Wind Southeast, ten knots. Wind waves less than two feet. Swell 4-6 feet ten seconds. Patchy morning fog.

Michael Wing and Fulmar
Michael Wing and the R/V Fulmar

Science and Technology Log

We loaded the boat yesterday at 3:00 PM and I met a lot of people including the three co-principal investigators Jan Roletto of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Danielle Lipski of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and Jaime Jahncke of Point Blue Conservation Science. There are others, including volunteers and visitors, and I will try to introduce some of them in future posts.

Today we didn’t collect water or plankton samples. We’ll do that tomorrow.  We sailed west from the Golden Gate Bridge on a track called “Line 5” at ten knots until we passed the edge of the continental shelf and then dropped south and cruised back to our dock in Sausalito on another line called “Line 7.” Plankton and water samples are for the even-numbered lines. Our purpose today was to count seabirds, whales and seals and sea lions. It’s not simple. By 7:30 AM we are assembled on the “flying bridge” (the highest part of the boat) with Jaime and the Greater Farallones Association’s Kirsten Lindquist on the starboard side and volunteers Jason Thompson and Rudy Wallen on the port. Kirsten notes birds, focusing just on the area from dead ahead to the starboard beam and calls out things like “Common murre, zone two, thirteen, flying, bearing 330 degrees.” This means she saw thirteen common murres flying northwest together not too far from the boat. This time is called being “on effort” and she is really focused on it. I don’t talk to her unless spoken to. Jamie enters all this into a database on his laptop.

On bird patol
On bird patrol

The guys on the port side are doing the same thing for marine mammals and saying “Animal, by eye, bearing 320, reticle seven, traveling, immature California sea lion, one-one-one.” These last numbers are estimates of the most probable number of animals in the group, and maximum and minimum estimates. Obviously, in this example just one animal was seen.

I am in awe of their ability to identify species, maturity and other things from just a glimpse. Kirsten can tell the difference between a Western gull and a California gull from hundreds of feet away, even if the gull is flying away from her. They also record floating trash, dead animals, and boats and ships.

So what are we seeing? Common murres, western gulls, California gulls, Sabine’s gulls, sooty shearwaters, pink footed shearwaters, storm petrels, black footed albatrosses, red necked phalaropes, tufted puffins, Pacific white sided dolphins, northern fur seals, a bottlenose dolphin, humpback whales, a dead seal, Mola molas (ocean sunfish), one flying fish, mylar balloons (4), a paper cup, a piece of Styrofoam. The flying fish was totally unexpected because they are mostly tropical and everyone talked about it all afternoon.

Port side
The port (left) side is for spotting marine mammals

Some of these birds have come here from Chile, New Zealand, or Hawaii in their “off” (non-breeding) season because there is a world-class food supply here for them. The sooty shearwaters start in New Zealand and fly to Japan, to Alaskan waters, and then down the west coast of North America before returning to New Zealand across the Pacific! However, a lot of these were far away. Visually, the ocean looks pretty empty from the flying bridge.

striped crab
This little crab was clinging to a piece of kelp we caught with a boat hook

Personal Log

The specter of seasickness haunts us on the first day of a cruise. Most of us are snacking on starchy treats like pretzels and Cheez-Its and drinking carbonated drinks. Paradoxically, these foods help prevent nausea. I have not taken any seasickness medicine and I am feeling a little queasy during the morning, but by noon I feel great. Nobody throws up. The Fulmar doesn’t roll from side to side very much but she does lurch when smacked head-on by a wave. It helps that the waves weren’t very big today. Soon we’ll all get our “sea legs.”

Also, you might appreciate these photos of me getting into a “Gumby suit” in under a minute, as part of my safety training. This is a survival suit meant to keep you from freezing to death if the boat sinks. You have to be able to get into it in less than a minute.

survival suit
Getting into the survival suit. I have 1 minute, and the suit is stiff. Photo credit: Ryan Hartnett

into survival suit
I am into the survival suit. Photo credit: Ryan Hartnett

Did You Know? Here’s what you need to untangle fishing nets from a frustrated humpback whale: Boathooks, sharp knives, and a GoPro digital camera on the end of a pole. The GoPro helps you study the tangles so you can decide where to make that one cut that causes the whole mess to fall apart and off the whale.

 

life ring
R/V Fulmar’s life ring

Alex Miller, Heading for Home, June 11, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Alexandra (Alex) Miller, Chicago, IL
Onboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada
May 27 – June 10, 2015

Mission: Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment
Geographical area of cruise: Pacific Coast
Date: Thursday, June 11, 2015

Front row from left: Paul Chittaro, Brittney Honisch, Tyler Jackson; Back row from left: Alexandra Miller, Will Fennie, Toby Auth
Front row from left: Paul Chittaro, Brittney Honisch, Tyler Jackson; Back row from left: Alexandra Miller, Will Fennie, Toby Auth

 

To conclude the discussion of the research on board the Shimada, I would like to profile the remaining scientists: the four fishermen of the night shift, and give a general report of the results of the cruise.

____________________________

Toby Auth, fisheries biologist with Pacific States Marine Fisheries Center (PSMFC), oversees most of the operations of the sorting, measuring and counting of the trawls. He works as a contractor to NOAA under the guidance of Ric Brodeur. Toby holds a BA in Fisheries and Wildlife from the University of Minnesota and he did both his MA and Ph.D. at the University of Maryland in Fisheries Management and he specialized in studying the early life of fish–egg, larval and juvenile stages, collectively called ichthyoplankton, basically anything fish-related that is small enough to sort of float along in the water.

As a researcher, he is most interested in understanding spawning success and food chain interactions of the Pacific coast species that come up in the trawls. Typically, Toby is at sea 30 – 40 days a year, but this year, due to the anomalous warm blob, he expects to be at sea about 50 – 60 days. The anomaly has implications for all fields of marine biology and oceanography.

In the far left of the image stands Dr. Paul Chittaro, of Ocean Associates in Seattle, WA. Paul is at sea on a research cruise for the first time in 10 years, and he’s very happy to be here. He was on board collecting fish in order to examine their otoliths, which are ear bones. Otoliths grow every day, laying down rings, almost like a tree. Analyzing these rings can give information about the fishes travels, diet and ocean conditions when they were alive.

The big guy in the back is Will Fennie, who will begin his Ph.D. at Oregon State University in the fall. The entire cruise he has been eagerly awaiting some juvenile rockfish to come up in the net and finally, in the last few nights, some did. Overall, we caught much less rockfish than in previous years. This could be for any number of reasons.

You can hear interviews with Paul and Will below.

____________________________

I have to give a HUGE thank you to Ric Brodeur, Chief Scientist of this mission, for supporting me as a Teacher at Sea and for reading each and every blog post!

Listen to my interview with Ric to learn more about the impacts of the research done on board the Shimada for these 13 DAS and possibilities for the future.

 

Thanks to XO Sarah Duncan as well, both she and Ric had to read and edit each one!

 

IMG_9442
Front row from left: Yours Truly, Emily Boring, Ric Brodeur; Back row from left: Jason Phillips, H.W. Fennie, Brittney Honisch, Toby Auth, Dr. Paul Chittaro, Amanda Gladics, Samantha Zeman, Curtis Roegner, Tyler Jackson

____________________________

It would take quite some time to tell all the stories of the marine wildlife we have seen on our 13 day cruise, but I would still like to share with you some of the photos and video I and others were lucky enough to capture. Enjoy!

All photos in these two galleries are courtesy of Amanda Gladics, Oregon State University, Seabird Oceanography Lab.

 

 

Personal Log

My experiences on board the Shimada have taught me a lot about myself and my abilities. I’ve done more writing, media processing and chatting with new people in the last two weeks than I have in the last two years. I have a greater understanding of how scientists work in the field and the importance of fisheries to the health of our oceans and the commercial fishing industry and I plan to apply that understanding in my classroom to increase students’ understanding of marine science and awareness of possible careers. To my students: “Get ready, dudes!”

Hopefully, you all have learned a lot about fisheries research, the process of science and the fascinating cast of characters who sailed with the NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada. Maybe you’re even feeling a little inspired. Now, I know I’m an inland city kid, but I’ve loved the sea since I first saw Free Willy at the age of 7 and I’m not the only one who can trace their love of the sea to a starting point.

All the scientists on board have an origin story: one salient memory that they can credit with being the moment of inspiration for pursuing a life of study and research and a career in the field of science. If you’re curious about the world, you have the potential to be a great scientist. Science is for all people, no matter what age or situation, and these ones just happen to do theirs at sea. So, I want to know: Where will you do yours?

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading and listening and, maybe, sea you again soon!

Alex Miller, Teacher at Sea, signing off.

output_mgo8L7
Bye!

One last huge THANK YOU to the crew and officers of the Shimada for a wonderful cruise!!!

Donna Knutson, September 29, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 29, 2010

The last night on the Sette.

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sightings will also be documented.

Jay the second steward during a drill.

Science and Technology:
Latitude: 19○ 53.8’ N
Longitude: 156○ 20.8’ W  
Clouds:  2/8 Cu, VOG (volcanic ash fog)
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  8 Knots
Wave height:  2 ft.
Water Temperature:  26.3○ C
Air Temperature:  26.0○ C
Sea Level Pressure:  1015.5 mb
The first leg of the Sette’s HICEAS cruise is almost over.  By tomorrow noon we will come into port at Pearl Harbor.  The mission has been highly successful!  The scientists and birders have had an action filled thirty days.
The HICEAS cruise birders, Dawn Breese and Scott Mills have documented thirty-nine species of seabirds.
 In the “tubenosed” or Procellariformes order, there are the Petrels and Shearwaters.  The Petrels include the Kermadec, Herald, Hawaiian, Juan Fernandez, White-necked, Back-winged, Bonin, Wilson’s Storm, Band-rumped Storm, Cook’s, and Bulwer’s.  The Shearwaters include the Christmas, Wedge-tailed, Buller’s, Sooty, Short-tailed, and Newell’s.

Clementine, the chief steward, in the galley. Her and Jay made a banquet for every meal! I surprised her!

From the order Pelicaniformes the Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbird have been recognized and also the Brown, Red-Footed Booby, Masked Booby, and Great Frigatebirds.

Harry, the chief engineer, during a drill.

The shore birds seen so far are the Bristle-thighed Curlew, Pacific Golden-Plover, Red Phalarope, Ruddy Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and Wandering Tattler. Terns include the Brown and Black Noddies, the White, Sooty, and Grey-backed Terns; Jaegers include Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed plus the South Polar Skua.
The HICEAS mammal observers, Andrea Bendlin, Abby Sloan, Adam U, Allan Ligon, Ernesto Vazquez and Juan Carlos Salinas, have had ninety-seven sightings!  The whales observed have been the sperm whale, Bryde’s whale, and Cuvier’s and Blainville’s beaked whales.

The CO,commanding officer, Anita Lopez.

The dolphins that were documented were the bottlenose dolphin, striped dolphin, Pantropical spotted dolphin, spinner dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin, killer whale, false killer whale, pygmy killer whale, and pilot whale.
The scientists were able to obtain nearly 50 biopsy samples from live cetaceans, 1 necropsied Kogia, 3 tracking tags, and hundreds of pictures!
Personal Log:
If someone asked me what qualities and or skills are needed to work on a ship, I would use the Sette crew as my model.
You must have dedicated, respected and competent officers.  The engineers need to be resourceful and good problem solvers.  The deck hands must be hard working and possess a good sense of humor.  The doctor should be a model for good physical health and have a inspiring positive attitude.   The stewards need to make creative delicious dishes, and be friendly and caring. The computer technician must be a great troubleshooter in order to work on anything that requires electricity.

Dr. Tran and the XO, executive officer, Stephanie Koes went to Midway with me.

The science crew must be focused, persistent and knowledgeable.  I have observed that scientists, regardless of their role, whether they are mammal observers, accousticians, oceanographers or chief scientists, need to collect data, organize the information into the correct format, and then report it.  All variables need to be accounted for.
 I am very impressed with the kind and helpful crew!  They truly made me feel at home.  That is exactly how it feels like on the Sette – like a home.  They have welcomed me with open arms.

Kinji, the boatswain, cut up the yellow fin tuna into shashimi.

I have learned much, much more than anticipated on this cruise.  I was included in activities in all divisions. I was encouraged to help out the scientists by being an independent mammal observer, run security on the CTD, and help package and label biopsy samples.
In the kitchen I learned how to sanitize the dishes and where to put them away, plus I got some helpful cooking hints to take back home and a lot of good conversation.
I helped the deck crew when working with the CTD and learned how to tie a bowline knot.
I went up to the bridge and helped look –out during an emergency situation, was invited to the officer’s book review, and drove the ship.  Wow! Do I have respect for people who can do that accurately!
 I received a thorough and informative engineering tour, and I am still impressed by all the systems that need to work together to keep the ship (which is like a mini city) afloat.

The “girls” of the science crew displaying their cups before sending them down 3000 ft. with the CTD. They came back up less than half the original size.

I wanted to be involved where ever I went. Learning by observing is great, but I wanted to be an active member of the crew and learn through experience.  It is impossible to write down everything I learned from this experience, but I want to ensure everyone who was over-run with my many questions, that I appreciate all your time and patience with me.
It feels as though I have a whole different world to show my students!  Our Earth really is an amazing place of adventure!  You never know who you will have a chance to meet or what you can learn from them!
Thank you to everyone who shared their life with me.  It allowed me to have a wonderful “soul filling” experience!

Donna Knutson, September 19, 2010

NOAA Teacher at Sea Donna Knutson
NOAA Ship Oscar Elton Sette
September 1 – September 29, 2010

Mission: Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey
Geograpical Area: Hawaii
Date: September 29, 2010

Visitors of the Monument

Back in the boat trying to get a biopsy from pilotwhales.

Mission and Geographical Area:  

The Oscar Elton Sette is on a mission called HICEAS, which stands for Hawaiian Islands Cetacean and Ecosystem Assessment Survey.  This cruise will try to locate all marine mammals in the Exclusive Economic Zone called the “EEZ” of Hawaiian waters.  The expedition will cover the waters out to 200 nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.

Data such as conductivity, temperature, depth, and chlorophyll abundance will be collected and sea bird sittings will also be documented.
Science and Technology:
Latitude: 26○ 33.6’ N
Longitude: 177○ 05.5’ W  
Clouds:  3/8 Cu,Ac, Ci
Visibility:  10 N.M.
Wind:  12 Knots
Wave height:  4-6 ft.
Water Temperature: 27.8○ C
Air Temperature:  26.8○ C
Level Pressure:  1024.0 mb

Female Great Frigatebird is a large bird with a wingspan up to 86 in.
They do not walk or swim and are the most aerial of the seabirds.

The Northwest Hawaiian Islands became a Marine National Monument called Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.  Papahanaumoku is a mother figure represented by the earth.  Wakea is a father figure represented by the sky. They are the honored and  highly recognized ancestors of Native Hawaiian people.  Together they resulted in the creation of the entire Hawaiian archipelageo and naming the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands after these names to strengthen Hawaii’s cultural foundation.

Layson ducks are only found on Laysan and Midway.
They were near extinction from hunting and invasive species, now they are protected and their numbers have increased to over 500.

Papahanaumokuakea is considered a sacred area. Native Hawaiians believe that life springs from this area and spirits come to rest there after death.  That means they also believe that they are descended from the same gods who birthed the Hawaiian Archipelago and it is therefore their responsibility to become stewards to care for the natural and cultural resources in Papahanaumokuakea.

Short-tailed Shearwaters often fly in flocks. These birds were on their migratory route.

The HICEAS cruise has track lines that cross into the National Monument, so while in the Monument, we must abide by the rules set forth to protect the natural and cultural resources within.

 This area is indeed rich in life as well as tradition.  Over ninety percent of the Monument’s area is deep sea.  Some depths are greater than three thousand feet. Hawaiian monk seals may travel more than one thousand feet down into the ocean to feed on gold and bamboo corals.  Some of the corals are over four thousand years old.  Scientists are just beginning to understand deep sea habitats such as that of sleeper sharks, hagfish and crabs.
Even though there is not much land within the monument, many animals make it their home.  Over fourteen million seabirds of twenty-two different species breed and nest in less than six square miles.  The reason these islands are so populated is because of the island’s isolation and conservation measures.

White tern on Midway. The oldest White terns on the island are 50years old!

The greatest threat of the Monument is climate change.  An increase in sea surface temperature is linked to disease and coral bleaching.   Rising sea levels cause less land for green sea turtles, monk seals and seabirds.
The HICEAS cruise has documented thirty-seven species of seabirds.  Not all of these birds live on the islands, many are migrating.  Within the “tubenosed” , Procellariformes  order, there are the Petrels and Shearwaters.  The Petrels include the Kermadec, Herald, Hawaiian, Juan Fernandez, White-necked, Back-winged, Bonin, Wilson’s Storm, Band-rumped Storm, Cook’s, and Bulwer’s.  The Shearwaters include the Christmas, Wedge-tailed, Buller’s, Sooty, Short-tailed, and Newell’s.

Bonin petrels are coming back to their burrows on Midway.
The burrows may be 9ft. long and 3 ft. underground.

From the order Pelicaniformes the Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbird have been recognized and also the Brown, Red-Footed, and Masked Bobby.   Great Frigatebirds, the largest of all within this order, have also been seen soaring high above the ocean.

A third order is the Charadriiformes, the shorebirds, terns and jaegers. The HICEAS track line is bringing us close (within three miles) to the shores of atolls and islands so therefore shore birds are seen as well.  The shore birds seen so far are the Bristle-thighed Curlew, Pacific Golden-Plover, Red Phalarope, Ruddy Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, the Brown and Black Noddies, the White, Sooty, and Grey-backed Terns, the Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed Jaegers, and the South Polar Skua.
The HICEAS cruise will agree with the National Monument in proclaiming this area has an abundance of seabirds!
Personal Log:

The bottom view of a Wedge-tailed Shearwater.
Like most seabirds, they mate for life.

My roommate or “statemate” (on ships there are no bedrooms rather staterooms) is Dawn Breese, she is an avid Birder.  Scott Mills, also a Birder mentioned in Log #2, have been noticing a trend in their daily bird population densities.

As we headed northwest, they noted on September 17, 2010 when the Sette was at 28 24.7’ N and 178○ 21.1’ W, they saw their last Short-tailed Shearwater.  They did not see any Short-tailed Shearwaters after those coordinates and felt that it was odd considering the large amounts they had seen previously.  Near the International Dateline past Kure we headed back southeast once again and the Short-tailed Shearwaters reappeared at 27○ 6.28’ N and 178○ 27.9’W.  They concluded that they had passed twice through the Shearwater’s migratory route and seemed to find its NW edge.  On a single day alone, they estimated that there were over fourty thousand birds in that area!

White-tailed tropicbird likes to plunge dive for fish and squid.

When they mentioned the huge numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters they saw, I decided to do some checking on them. I discovered the Short-tails are about forty centimeters long and have a wing span of 100 centimeters.  It is chocolate brown with a darker brown cap and collar.  It is often observed in large flocks and will dive fifty meters into the ocean for fish and squid.

Juan Carlos brought the Wedge-tail Shearwater down for Dawn to see.

The Short-tails breed on islands off southeastern Australia and migrate north to feed in the Bering Sea.  The Sette crossed their route flying back to the South Pacific!  It is a good thing they are “tubenosed” because they will not land until they have reached their destination.  The “tubenose”, (mentioned blog #2), will help the birds eliminate salt from their bodies.  Some short-tails on the breeding grounds will actually commute to the Antarctic to feed on fish along the ice.

The Wedge-tails tubenose is on the top of the beak.

On September 20, 2010 Juan Carlos knocks on our door after sunset to show Dawn a Wedge-tailed Shearwater, cousin of the Short-tailed Shearwater. The nocturnal animal got distracted by the ships’ light, and ended up on deck.  According to the Hawaii Audubon Society, Wedge-tail Shearwaters on O’ahu are often hit by cars because of the car’s lights at night.  O’ahu and Kaua’I both have rescue shelters for hurt birds from car accidents.

The Wedge-tail posing with Dawn and I.

Juan Carlos rescued the stunned bird, making sure it could not bite him with its sharp beak, and brought it down to show the bird observers.  I took close-ups of the bird because I wanted a picture of its tubenose.  Dawn showed me the unique features of the Wedge-tail.  It smelled fresh like a sea breeze.  We looked for the small ears behind the eyes but it’s feathers were so dense we couldn’t get a good look at it.

The bird had light brown feathers with a white belly, it was very soft and dainty looking.  It didn’t seem to mind people staring at it within a ship, but it probably just seemed content because Dawn knew the correct way to hold a bird.  After the Wedge-tail was checked out, Dawn took it up to the fantail (back) deck and released it.   The bird flew away unhurt into the night.

Kathryn Lanouette, August 1, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathryn Lanouette
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 21-August 7, 2009 

Mission: Summer Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: August 1, 2009

This sonar-generated image shows walleye pollock close to the sea floor. The red line at the bottom of the image is the sea floor. The blue specks at the top of the image are jellyfish floating close to the water’s surface.
This sonar-generated image shows walleye pollock close to the sea floor. The red line at the bottom of the image is the sea floor. The blue specks at the top of the image are jellyfish floating close to the water’s surface.

Weather Data from the Ship’s Bridge 
Visibility: 10+ nautical miles
Wind direction: variable
Wind speed:  less than 5 knots, light
Sea wave height: 0 feet
Air temperature: 7.9˚C
Seawater temperature: 8.6˚C
Sea level pressure: 30.1 inches Hg
Cloud cover: 7/8, stratus

Science and Technology Log 

In addition to the Aleutian wing trawl (which I explained in Day 5 NOAA ship log) and Methot (which I explained in Day 8 NOAA ship log), scientists also use a net called an 83-112 for bottom trawls. The 83-112 net is strong enough to drag along the sea floor, enabling it to catch a lot of the animals that live in, on, or near the sea floor. This afternoon, we conducted the first bottom trawl of our cruise. Bottom trawls are usually conducted in two situations: if the walleye pollock are too close to the sea floor to use an Aleutian wing trawl or if the scientists want to sample a small amount of fish (because the 83-112’s net opening is smaller than the Aleutian wing trawl’s net). From the looks of the sonar-generated images, it appeared that most of the walleye pollock were swimming very close to the bottom so the scientists decided it would be best to use the 83-112 net.

Here I am holding one of the skates that was caught in the bottom trawl
Here I am holding one of the skates that was caught in the bottom trawl

Once the fish were spotted, we changed our course to get ready to trawl. Usually the trawl is made into the wind for stability and net control. Once the ship reached trawling speed, the lead fisherman was given the “OK” to shoot the doors. Slowly, the net was lowered to 186 meters below the surface, the sea depth where we happened to be. The water temperature down there was about 1˚C (compared to 7˚C on the sea’s surface).  I had heard from a previous Teacher At Sea that bottom trawls brought up a wide variety of animal species (compared to the relatively homogenous catches in mid-water trawls). And sure enough, when the net was brought up, I couldn’t believe my eyes!

All told, we sorted through over 7,000 animals, a total of 36 different species represented in the total catch. It took 4 of us over 4 hours to sort, measure, and weigh all these animals. There were over 350 walleye pollock in this catch as well as skates, octopi, crabs, snails, arrowtooth flounder, sea anemones, star fish, and dozens of other animals. Some of them were even walking themselves down the table.

During this catch, I also learned how to take the ear bones, or otoliths, out of a walleye pollock. Why ear bones you might ask? Using the ear bones from a walleye pollock, scientists are able to determine the exact age of the fish. Misha Stepanenko, one of the two Russian scientists on board the Oscar Dyson, showed me how to cut partially through the fish’s skull and take out two large ear bones. Once they were taken out, I put them in a solution to preserve them. Back in NOAA’s Seattle lab, the ear bones are stained, enabling scientists to count the different layers in each ear bone. For every year that the fish lives, a new layer of bone grows, similar to how trees add a layer for each year that they live. By learning the exact age of a fish, scientists are able to track age groups (called “cohorts”), allowing more precise modeling of the walleye pollock population life cycle.

A diagram of an otolith, or ear bone, of a fish.  You can see that it’s a lot like looking at tree rings!
A diagram of an otolith, or ear bone, of a fish. You can see that it’s a lot like looking at tree rings!

Personal Log 

So far this trip, we have sailed within 15 miles of Cape Navarin (Russia) on at least two different occasions but fog and clouds prevented any glimpse of land both times. It was a frustrating feeling knowing that land was so close, yet impossible to see. After 12 days of looking at nothing but water and sky, seeing land would have been a welcome treat.

Despite not seeing land, I still felt like I was in Russia just from listening to different fishing vessels communicate with one another. On our first night in Russian waters, we sailed through a heavy fog, with 7 or 8 different boats fishing nearby. I was impressed with how Ensign Faith Opatrny, the Officer on Deck at the time, communicated with various vessels, using collision regulations (“the rules of the road”) to navigate safely. On a culinary note, I got my first chance to eat some of a catch. After most trawls, we discard remaining inedible specimens overboard. After our bottom trawl however, one of the scientists filleted some of the cod. The next day, the stewards cooked it up for lunch. It tasted great and it felt good to be eating some of the fish that we sampled.

A graph showing the adult walleye pollock biomass estimates from 1965 to 2008.
A graph showing the adult walleye pollock biomass estimates from 1965 to 2008.

As the cruise starts to wind down, I also want to express my gratitude to all the NOAA scientists and Oscar Dyson crew. Everyone in the science group took time to explain their research, teach me scientific techniques, and answer my many questions. On numerous occasions, the deck crew explained the mechanics of fishing nets as well as the fishing process. The engineering crew gave me a tour of the engine rooms, describing how four diesel engines power the entire boat. The survey techs explained how different equipment is operated as well as the information it relays back to the scientists. The NOAA Corps officers showed me how to read weather maps, take coordinates, and explained ship navigation. The ship’s stewards described the art and science behind feeding 33 people at sea. And the USFWS bird observers patiently showed me how to identify numerous bird species. From each of them, I learned a tremendous amount about fisheries science, fishing, boats, sailing, birding, and life in the Bering Sea. Thank you!

Answer to July 28 (Tuesday) Log: How has the walleye pollock biomass changed over time? 
In the past few years, the walleye pollock biomass has decreased (according to the acoustic-trawl survey, the survey that I joined.) It should be noted that there is a second complementary walleye pollock survey, the eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey. This survey studies walleye pollock living close to the sea floor. As walleye pollock age, they tend to live closer to the sea floor, thus the bottom trawl survey sometimes shows different biomass trends than the acoustic-trawl survey. Both surveys are used together to manage the walleye pollock stock.

An up-close look at one of the squid’s tentacles
An up-close look at one of the squid’s tentacles

Animals Seen 
Auklet, Arrowtooth flounder, Basket star, Bering skate, Cod, Hermit crab, Fin whale, Fur seal, Octopus, Sculpin, Sea mouse, Sea slug, Shortfin eelpout, Snow crab, Squid, and Tanner crab.

New Vocabulary: Bottom trawl – fishing conducted on and near the bottom of the sea floor. Catch – fish brought up in a net. Shoot the doors – a fishing expression that means to lower the 2 metal panels that hold open the fishing nets in the water. Stewards – the name for cooks on a ship. Table – nickname for the conveyor belt where the fish are sorted for sampling. Vessels – another word for ships. 

Kathryn Lanouette, July 28, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathryn Lanouette
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 21-August 7, 2009 

Here I am sorting different zooplankton species
Here I am sorting different zooplankton species

Mission: Summer Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 28, 2009

Weather Data from the Ship’s Bridge 
Visibility: 8 nautical miles
Wind direction:  015 degrees (N, NE)
Wind speed:  7 knots
Sea wave height: 1 foot
Air temperature: 7.6˚C
Seawater temperature: 7.3˚C
Sea level pressure: 29.8 inches Hg and falling
Cloud cover: 8/8, stratus

Science and Technology Log 

In addition to studying walleye pollock, NOAA scientists are also interested in learning about the really tiny plants (phytoplankton) and animals (zooplankton) that live in the Bering Sea.  Plankton is of interest for a two reasons. First, phytoplankton are the backbone of the entire marine food chain. Almost all life in the ocean is directly or indirectly dependent on it. By converting the sun’s energy into food, phytoplankton are the building blocks of the entire marine food web, becoming the food for zooplankton which in turn feed bigger animals like small fish, crustaceans, and marine mammals. Second, zooplankton and small fish are the primary food source for walleye pollock. By collecting, measuring, and weighing these tiny animals, scientists are able to learn more about the food available to walleye pollock. In addition, every time the scientists trawl for walleye pollock, the stomachs of 20 fish are cut out and preserved. Back at a NOAA lab in Seattle, the contents of these fish stomachs will be analyzed, giving scientists a direct connection between walleye pollocks’ diet and specific zooplankton populations found throughout the Bering Sea.

A simplified marine food chain  (Note: A complete marine food web involves hundreds of different species.)
A simplified marine food chain (Note: A complete marine food web involves hundreds of different species.)

Two important zooplankton groups in the Bering Sea are copepods and euphausiids (commonly referred to as krill). Euphausiids are larger and form thick layers in the water column. In order to catch euphausiids and other zooplankton of a similar size, a special net called a Methot is lowered into the water. This fine meshed net is capable of catching animals as small as 1 millimeter. The same sonar generated images that show walleye pollock swimming below the water’s surface are also capable of showing layers of zooplankton. Using these images, the scientists and fishermen work together, lowering the net into the zooplankton layers.

The Methot net is the square shaped net in the background. It was just brought up and is filled with hundreds of zooplankton.
The Methot net is the square shaped net in the background. It was just brought up and is filled with hundreds of zooplankton.

Once the Methot net is back onboard the boat, its contents are poured through fine sieves and rinsed. All species are identified. A smaller sub sample is weighed and counted. This information is applied to the entire catch so if there were 80 krill, 15 jellyfish, and 5 larval fish in a sub sample, then scientists would approximate that 80% of the entire catch was krill, 15% was jellyfish, and 5% was larval fish. Having only seen photos of some of these zooplanktons, it was interesting to hold them in my hands and look at them up close. They seemed better suited for space travel or a science fiction movie than the Bering Sea!

Personal Log 

The day before, I caught my first glimpse of Dall’s porpoises. This pod of porpoises came swimming alongside the boat. It was awesome to see their bodies rise and fall in the water. I was surprised at how quickly they were swimming, darting in and out of the Oscar Dyson’s wake. Today, I also got my first glimpse of a whale! It was a fin whale, a type of baleen whale, about 20 meters from the boat. It was exciting to watch such a large mammal swimming in such a vast expanse of water. I’m hoping to see a few more marine mammal species before we return to port. The seas have been very calm for the last five days, at times as smooth as a mirror. I’m surprised that I’ve gotten used to falling asleep in the early morning hours and waking around midday. Now that I’ve adjusted to the 4pm to 4am shift, I’m wondering how strange it will be to return to my regular schedule back on the east coast.

Answer to July 25th Question of the Day: Why are only some jellyfish species capable of stinging? 
As I picked up my first jellyfish in the wet lab (asking at least twice “Are you sure this won’t sting?”), I wondered why some jellyfish don’t sting.  So I did some reading and asked some of the scientists a few questions. Here is what I found out: All jellyfish (called “gelatinous animals” in the scientific world) have stinging cells (nematocysts) in their bodies. When a nematocyst is touched, a tiny barb inside fires out, injecting toxin into its prey.  It seems that in some jellyfish, the barbs are either too small to pierce human skin or that nematocysts don’t fire when in contact with human skin.

One euphausiid and two different species of hyperiid amphipod (They are between 1-3 cm long)
One euphausiid and two different species of hyperiid amphipod

Animals Seen 
Capelin, Dall’s porpoise, Euphausiid, Fin whale, Hyperiid amphipod, and Slaty-backed gull.

New Vocabulary: Baleen whale – a whale that has plates of baleen in the mouth for straining plankton from the water (includes rorqual, humpback, right, and gray whales). Methot net – a square framed, small meshed net used to sample larval fish and zooplankton. Phytoplankton – plankton consisting of microscopic plants. Plankton – small and microscopic plants and animals drifting or floating in the sea or fresh water. Trawl – to fish by dragging a net behind a boat. Zooplankton – plankton consisting of small animals and the immature stages of larger animals

Question of the Day: How has the walleye pollock biomass changed over time?

 

Jennifer Fry, July 27, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman (tracker)
July 14 – 29, 2009 

Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from Monterey, CA to British Columbia, CA.
Date: July 27, 2009

The CTD, resembling a giant wedding cake constructed of painted steel, measures the composition of the water, salinity, temperature, oxygen levels, and water pressure.
The CTD, resembling a giant wedding cake constructed of painted steel, measures the composition of the water, salinity, temperature, oxygen levels, and water pressure.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind speed: 13 knots
Wind direction: 003°from the north
Visibility: clear
Temperature: 13.6°C (dry bulb); 13.2°C (wet bulb)
Sea water temperature: 15.1°C
Wave height: 1-2 ft.
Swell direction: 325°
Swell height: 4-6 ft.

Science and Technology Log 

Each night beginning at around 9:00 p.m. or 21:00, if you refer to the ship’s clock, Dr. Steve Pierce begins his research of the ocean. He is a Physical Oceanographer and this marks his 11th year of conducting CTD, Conductivity, Temperature, and Density tests.

It takes 24 readings per second as it sinks to the seafloor. The CTD only records data as it sinks, insuring the instruments are recording data in undisturbed waters. For the past 11 years Dr. Pierce and his colleagues have been studying density of water by calculating temperature and salinity in different areas of the ocean. By studying the density of water, it helps to determine ocean currents. His data helps us examine what kind of ocean conditions in which the hake live. Using prior data, current CTD data, and acoustic Doppler current profiler, a type of sonar, Dr. Pierce is trying to find a deep water current flowing from south to north along the west coast.  This current may have an effect on fish, especially a species like hake.

This map illustrates part of the area of the hake survey.
This map illustrates part of the area of the hake survey.

Dr. Steve Pierce reminds us, “None of this research is possible without math. Physical oceanography is a cool application of math.” Another testing instrument housed on the CTD apparatus is the VPR, Visual Plankton Recorder.  It is an automatic camera that records plankton, microscopic organisms, at various depths.  The scientists aboard the Miller Freeman collect data about plankton’s feeding habits, diurnal migration, and their position in the water column.  Diurnal migration is when plankton go up and down the water column to feed at different times of day (see illustration below).  Plankton migration patterns vary depending on the species.The scientists aboard the Miller Freeman followed the east to west transect lines conducting fishing trawls. The first one produced 30 small hake averaging 5 inches in length.  The scientists collected marine samples by weighing and measuring them.

Dr. Steve Pierce  at his work station and standing next to the CTD on a bright sunny day in the Northern Pacific Ocean.
Dr. Steve Pierce at his work station and standing next to the CTD on a bright sunny day in the Northern Pacific Ocean.

This illustration depicts the diurnal migration of plankton.
This illustration depicts the diurnal migration of plankton.

Personal Log 

It was extremely foggy today.  We traversed through the ocean evading many obstacles including crab and fishing buoys and other small boats.  Safety is the number one concern on the Miller Freeman. The NOAA Corps Officers rigorously keep the ship and passengers out of harm’s way.  I am grateful to these dedicated men and women.  LTjg Jennifer King, marine biologist and NOAA Corps officer says, “Science helps understand natural process: how things grow and how nature works. We need to protect it.  Science shows how in an ecosystem, everything depends on one another.”

Jennifer Fry, July 26, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman (tracker)
July 14 – 29, 2009 

Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from Monterey, CA to British Columbia, CA.
Date: July 26, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind speed: 10 knots
Wind direction: 100° [from the east]
Visibility: fog
Temperature: 13.5°C (dry bulb); 13.5°C (wet bulb)
Sea water temperature: 10°C
Wave height: 1ft.
Swell direction: 315° Swell height:  6 ft.

Here I am checking HAB samples.
Here I am checking HAB samples.

Science and Technology Log 

We conducted a number of HAB, Harmful Algal Bloom sample tests. The Harmful Algal Bloom test takes samples at predetermined location in our study area. The water is filtered to identify the presence of toxic plants (algae) and animals (zooplankton). The plankton enter the food chain specifically through clams and mussels and can be a possible threat to human health.

We also conducted XBTs, Expendable Bathythermograph; and one  fishing trawl net. The trawling was successful, catching hake, squid, and Myctophids.  Fishery scientist, Melanie Johnson collected specific data on the myctophids’ swim bladder.  The swimbladder helps fish regulate buoyancy.  It acts like a balloon that inflates and deflates depending on the depth of the fish. Sharks on the other hand have no swim bladder. They need to swim to maintain their level in the water. Marine mammals such as dolphins and whales have lungs instead of a swimbladder.  Most of the sonar signal from the fish comes from their swimbladder.  The study of the swimbladder’s size helps scientists determine how deep the fish are when using the sonar signals and how strong their sonar signal is likely to be.

Commander Mike Hopkins, LTjg Oliver Brown, and crewmember John Adams conduct a marine mammal watch on the bridge before a fishing trawl.
Commander Mike Hopkins, LTjg Oliver Brown, and crewmember John Adams conduct a marine mammal watch on the bridge before a fishing trawl.

The scientists tried to conduct a “swim through” camera tow, but each time it was aborted due to marine mammals in the area of the net. During the “Marine Mammal Watch” held prior to the net going in the water, we spotted humpback whales. They were observed breeching, spouting, and fluking. The humpback then came within 30 feet of the Miller Freeman and swam around as if investigating the ship.

Animals Seen Today 
Fish and animals trawled: Hake, Squid (Cephalopod), and Myctophids.
Marine Mammals: Humpback whale.
Birds: Albatross, Fulmar, and Shearwater.

Jennifer Fry, July 25, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman (tracker)
July 14 – 29, 2009 

Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from Monterey, CA to British Columbia, CA.
Date: July 25, 2009

Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind speed: 10 knots
Wind direction: 355°from the north
Visibility: fog
Temperature: 11°C (dry bulb); 10°C (wet bulb)
Sea water temperature: 9.2°C
Wave height: 2 ft.
Swell direction: 310°
Swell height: 5 ft.

Science/Technology Log 

Three fishing trawls were conducted today. We took biological samples from the hake collected. The following is a list of other fish retrieved:

  • Octopus: 1
  • Squid: 47
  • Glass shrimp: 50
  • Shrimp (another species): 3
  • Bird observations: Many bird species are seen around the boat each time there is a fishing trawl net. They range in size and flying pattern. Here are a few of them.
  • Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes): Mostly dark in all plumage, or feathers; White undertail and white may be on belly; Range: Seen around the year off west coast in spring and summer; Winters in Hawaii.

While observing the albatross and fulmar fly, I noticed that they glide gracefully across the waves gently touching the tip of their wing into the water. During take off, the albatross uses his giant webbed feet to push off by “running” on the surface of the water. Similarly during landing; his feet appear to “run” on the water which seems to slow him down.

  • Sooty shearwater
    Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus): Whitish underwing contrasts with overall dark plumage; Range: breeds in southern hemisphere; Abundant off west coast, often seen from shore.

Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus): Blackish-brown above; white wing underparts, a bit mottled; Range: spends summers in northern Pacific; winters in Chile
Pink-footed Shearwater (P. creatopus): Blackish-brown; white wing underparts, a bit mottled; Range: spends summers in northern Pacific; winters in Chile

Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis): Gull-sized seabird; rapid wingbeats alternating with gliding over waves; color is rather uniform with not strong contrasts; gray overall with whitish undersides; range: Northern Pacific Ocean and Northern Atlantic Ocean; Breeds: Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis): Gull-sized seabird; rapid wingbeats alternating with gliding over waves; color is rather uniform with not strong contrasts; gray overall with whitish undersides; range: Northern Pacific Ocean and Northern Atlantic Ocean; Breeds: Aleutian Islands, Alaska.

Fun on-line NOAA activities such as Make your own Compass, Tying Knots, Learn about Nautical Charts, Be a Shipwreck detective, and Make a tornado in a bottle.

Commander Mike Hopkins overlooks the North Pacific Ocean just off the Oregon Coast from the bridge. His job is to make sure everything aboard the Miller Freeman is running smoothly.
Commander Mike Hopkins overlooks the North Pacific Ocean just off the Oregon Coast from the bridge. His job is to make sure everything aboard the Miller Freeman is running smoothly.

NOAA Commissioned Corps Officers are a vital part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Officers provide support during NOAA missions  ranging from launching a weather balloon at the South Pole, conducting hydrographic or fishery surveys in Alaska, maintaining buoys in the tropical Pacific, flying snow surveys and into hurricanes. NOAA Corps celebrates its 202nd birthday this year.

Animals Seen Today 
Fish and other trawled animals: Hake, Octopi, Squid, and Shrimp.
Birds: Fulmar, Shearwater, Albatross, and Gulls.

Kathryn Lanouette, July 25, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathryn Lanouette
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 21-August 7, 2009 

Mission: Summer Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 25, 2009

Walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma)
Walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma)

Weather Data from the Ship’s Bridge 
Visibility: 10+ miles (to the horizon)
Wind direction: 030 degrees (NE)
Wind speed: 15 knots
Sea wave height: 4-6 feet
Air temperature: 6˚C
Seawater temperature: 6.4˚C
Sea level pressure: 29.85 inches Hg and rising
Cloud cover: 8/ 8, stratus

Science Log 

Why study walleye pollock? Before even setting sail, I wondered why NOAA scientists were interested in studying walleye pollock. It turns out that walleye pollock is the largest fishery, by volume, in the USA. In one year, about 1 million metric tons of walleye pollock are fished, mostly from the waters of the Bering Sea. Given that walleye pollock accounts for such a large percentage of the total fish caught in the United States, I was curious why I had never seen it on restaurant menus or rarely seen it at supermarket fish counters. It is because walleye pollock is usually processed into other things – like fish sticks, imitation crabmeat, and McDonald’s fish fillet sandwiches. So it seems that walleye pollock is that mild white fish you often eat when you don’t know for sure what kind of fish you are eating.

Above is a map showing the 31 transect lines of the walleye pollock survey area. I have joined the cruise that is sailing along the 8 transect lines closest to Russia.
Above is a map showing the 31 transect lines of the walleye pollock survey area. I have joined the cruise that is sailing along the 8 transect lines closest to Russia.

In addition to supporting a major multi-billion-dollar fishing industry, walleye pollock is a fundamental species in the Bering Sea food web. It is an important food source for Steller sea lions as well a variety of other marine mammals, birds, and fish. The population size, age composition, and geographic distribution of walleye pollock significantly affect the entire Bering Sea ecosystem. What do scientists hope to learn about walleye pollock? NOAA scientists are primarily interested in calculating the total biomass of walleye pollock. To estimate how many walleye pollock are in the Bering Sea, scientists sample the fish, recording their age, length, weight, male/female ratio, and geographic location. This information is used by North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) to set sustainable fishing quotas for the following year. The NPFMC, whose membership comprises university, commercial, and government representatives, uses NOAA’s survey data, fishery observer program data, as well as catch statistics from the commercial fishing industry, to determine how much walleye pollock can be fished in the coming year.

An illustration of the Oscar Dyson sending down sound waves (in order to “see” the animals swimming below the water’s surface.)
An illustration of the Oscar Dyson sending down sound waves (in order to “see” the animals swimming below the water’s surface.)

Where do scientists study walleye pollock? Every year or two, a NOAA research ship (usually the Oscar Dyson) travels throughout the Bering Sea, following approximately 31 transect lines. These transect lines can be anywhere from 60 to 270 miles long. These lines were selected because they include areas where either walleye pollock spawn in the winter or feed in the summer. As the ship travels along these lines, its sonar system uses sound waves to locate fish and other animals living below the water’s surface. As the sound waves return to the ship, they create different images, depending on which animals are swimming in the water below. Using these images, the scientists decide whether or not they should lower the nets and sample the walleye pollock. They also continuously store digital data from the images, later using this information to estimate the total biomass of the fish species. On this 18 day research cruise, the scientists are hoping to travel the last 8 transect lines (over 1,500 nautical miles).  Each transect line takes us into Russian waters. On Thursday, we reached our first transect line. Within hours of traveling along this first line, many schools of walleye pollock were spotted. After the fish net was brought up, I was amazed at the number of fish that came sliding down the conveyor belt into the science lab. I helped weigh and measure hundreds of fish, a quick introduction to the whole process!

Personal Log 

The mouth of a Pacific lamprey
The mouth of a Pacific lamprey

We traveled into Russian waters today, crossing the International Date Line as we went. So technically, Saturday became Sunday this afternoon! But later in the evening, we completed the transect line, turned, and headed back into Saturday just as night fell. Luckily, the time never changes here on the boat. The scientists and crew live on Alaska Daylight Time (ADT), regardless of how far we travel to the north and west. I’ve see a few whales spouting but so far, I haven’t been able to identify any. In the coming days, I am hoping to get a glimpse of their backs or flukes (tails). It has been exciting seeing so many animals – some of which I never even knew existed. A few of these animals look a bit scary, like this Pacific lamprey. Its mouth forms a suction and then all those small yellow teeth go to town, letting it feed on the blood and tissue of its prey. Even the small tongue in the back of its mouth is toothed! 

The rare short-tailed albatross
The rare short-tailed albatross

Animals Seen 
Hyperiid amphipod  Aequorea species, Chrysaora melanaster jellyfish,  Euphausiids (aka krill), Pacific lamprey, and Short-tailed albatross.

New Vocabulary:  Biomass – the total amount of a species, by weight Cruise – nautical trip, for science research or fun. Quotas – a limited or fixed number or amount of things. Sample – to study a small number of species from a bigger group. Transect Line – a straight line or narrow section of land or water, along which observations and measurements are made

Question of the Day 
Why are only some jellyfish species capable of stinging?

Here I am holding up a Chrysaora melanaster jelly fish (Luckily this species doesn’t sting!)
Holding up a Chrysaora melanaster jelly fish (Luckily this species doesn’t sting!)

Jennifer Fry, July 24, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman (tracker)
July 14 – 29, 2009 

Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from Monterey, CA to British Columbia, CA.
Date: July 24, 2009

Pacific White-Sided Dolphins
Pacific White-Sided Dolphins

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind speed: 24 knots
Wind direction: 355° from the north
Visibility: clear
Temperature: 17.3°C (dry bulb); 15.5°C (wet bulb)
Sea water temperature: 9.8°C
Wave height: 3 ft.
Swell direction: 350°
Swell height: 5-6 ft.

Science and Technology Log 

There is an abundance of marine life in the ocean today: sightings include a humpback whale breaching and spy-hopping.  Breaching is when a whale jumps out of the water.  Spy-hopping is when the whale’s head comes out of the water vertically and “takes a peek” at his surroundings. We also sighted the Pacific white-sided dolphins that appeared to be “playing” with the ship.  They would swim perpendicularly to the ship’s hull and at the last minute; veer away at a 90° angle. The dolphins were also swimming alongside the bow and the side of the ship.

Beautiful view
Beautiful view

The sonar signals indicate an abundance of marine life under the sea and the presence of marine mammals helps us draw that conclusion. All that life is probably their prey. We made 2 fishing trawls which included hake and 2 small squid, split nose rockfish, and dark, blotched rockfish. That was the first time I had seen rockfish.   They are primarily a bottom dweller. Scientists don’t want to catch too many rockfish because they tend to be over fished and their numbers need to be protected. Also, we only want to catch the fish species we are surveying, in this case, hake. The scheduled camera tow was cancelled because we did not want to catch marine mammals.  The camera tow is described as a net sent down to depth that is opened on both sides.  It takes video of the fish swimming by.  This helps the scientists determine what species of fish are at each particular depth, during which the fish are not injured for the most part.

Personal Log 

It was very exciting to see the humpback whale and dolphins today.  They appeared to be very interested in the ship and it looked like they were playing with it.  It was a perfect day with the sun shining and calm seas.

Question of the Day 
What are ways scientists determine the health of the ocean?

Did You Know? Breaching is when a whale jumps out of the water.   Spy-hopping is when the whale’s head comes out of the water vertically and “takes a peek” at his surroundings.

Animals Seen Today 
Marine mammals: Pacific white-sided dolphins, California sea lion, and Humpback whale: spy hopping.
Birds: Fulmar, Shearwater, Albatross, and Skua.
Fish: Hake, Split nose rockfish, and Dark Blotched rockfish.

Ode to the Miller Freeman 
As the chalky white ship, the Miller Freeman cuts through the icy blue waters of the North Pacific Ocean,
I stand in wonderment at all I see before me.
A lone Pacific white-sided dolphin suddenly surfaces over the unending mounds of waves.
A skua circles gracefully negotiating up and over each marine blue swell
Off in the distance, the band of fog lurks cautiously, waiting its turn to silently envelop the crystal blue sky.
Watching this beauty around me I have arrived, I am home.

Jennifer Fry, July 23, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman (tracker)
July 14 – 29, 2009 

Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from Monterey, CA to British Columbia, CA.
Date: July 23, 2009

Here I am in the lab helping with the HAB samples.
Here I am in the lab helping with the HAB samples.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind speed: 15 knots
Wind direction: 350°from the north
Visibility: clear
Temperature: 12.0°C (dry bulb); 11.8°C (wet bulb)
Sea water temperature: 9.7°C
Wave height: 2 ft.
Swell direction: 000°
Swell height: 4 ft.

Science/Technology Log 

We began the day conducting 2 HAB (Harmful Algal Bloom) sample tests of the ocean. This tests the amount of plankton in the water.  Scientists test this because some plankton can carry harmful toxins that can get into the fish and sea life we eat, such as clams. Later we sighted numerous marine mammals including: 2 humpback whales (breaching), 12 Pacific white-sided dolphins, and California sea lions.

Acoustic data
Acoustic data

We made two trawls which provided plenty of hake for us to observe, measure, and collect data.  Acoustic Judging:  One important aspect of the acoustic hake survey is what scientists do when not trawling.  There is a process called judging that fishery biologist, Steve De Blois spends most of his day doing. While looking at acoustic data, he draws regions around schools of fish or aggregations of other marine organisms and assigns species identification to these regions based on what he sees on the acoustic display and catch information gathered from trawls.  He uses 4 different frequencies to “read” the fish signals—each shows different fish characteristics. Having started at the Alaska Fishery Science Center in 1991, this is Steve’s 19th year of participating in integrated acoustic and trawl surveys and his eighth acoustic survey studying Pacific hake. He’s learned how to read their signs with the use of sonar frequencies and his database. Steve tells us about the importance of science: “Science is a methodology by which we understand the natural world.” 

Pacific white-sided dolphin
Pacific white-sided dolphin

New Term/Phrase/Word Pelagic: relating to, living, or occurring in the waters of the ocean opposed to near the shore. In terms of fish, this means primarily living in the water column as opposed to spending most of their time on the sea floor. 

Steve De Blois, NOAA Research Fishery Biologist, shares acoustic datawith Julia Clemons, NOAA Oceanographer, aboard the Miller Freeman.
Steve De Blois, NOAA Research Fishery Biologist, shares acoustic data
with Julia Clemons, NOAA Oceanographer, aboard the Miller Freeman.

Did You Know?
Northern fur seals are pelagic for 7-10 months per year. Pelagic Cormorant birds live in the ocean their entire life.

Humpback whales
Humpback whales

Animals Seen Today 
Humpback whales (2), Pacific white-sided dolphin (12), California sea lions (6), and Northern fur seal.

Humpback whale breaching
Humpback whale breaching

In Praise of…Harmful Algal Bloom Samples 
Crystal cold ocean water running through clear plastic pipes
Be patient as containers are carefully rinsed out three times.
The various sized bottles are filled with the elixir of Poseidon
Accurate measuring is essential.
Consistency ensures accurate results.
Once the water is filtered, tweezers gently lift plankton-laden filter papers.
All samples await analysis in the 20°F freezer.
Data from each test is later recorded;
Levels of domoic acid,  Chlorophyll,
And types, populations, and species of phytoplankton and zooplankton.

Jennifer Fry, July 22, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman (tracker)
July 14 – 29, 2009 

Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from Monterey, CA to British Columbia, CA.
Date: July 22, 2009

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind speed: 13 knots
Wind direction: 003°from the north
Visibility: clear
Temperature: 13.6°C (dry bulb); 13.2°C (wet bulb)
Sea water temperature: 15.1°C
Wave height: 1-2 ft.
Swell direction: 325°
Swell height: 4-6 ft.

Science/Technology Log 

Today we did a fishing trawl off the coast of Oregon. First, the scientists used multiple acoustic frequencies of sound waves.  After analyzing the sonar data, the scientists felt confident that they would get a good sampling of hake. The chief scientist called the bridge to break our transect line (the planned east/west course) and requested that we trawl for fish.

Here is an acoustic image (2 frequencies) as seen on the scientist’s screen. The bottom wavy line is the seafloor, and the colored sections above are organisms located in the water column.
Here is an acoustic image (2 frequencies) as seen on the scientist’s screen. The bottom wavy line is the seafloor, and the colored sections above are organisms located in the water column.

The NOAA Corps officers directed operations from the trawl house while crew members worked to lower the net to the target depth.  The fishing trawl collected specimens for approximately 20 minutes. After that time, the crew members haul in the net. The scientists continue to record data on the trawl house.

The trawl net sits on the deck of the Miller Freeman and is ready to be weighed and measured.
The trawl net sits on the deck of the Miller Freeman and is ready to be weighed and measured.

Today’s total catch fit into 2 baskets, a “basket” is about the size of your laundry basket at home, approximately 25-35 kilos. Included in the sample were some very interesting fish:

  • Viper fish
  • Ctenophores or comb jellies
  • Larval stage Dover sole, lives at the sea bottom
  • Jelly fish, several varieties (*Note: Jelly fish are types of zooplankton, which means they are animals floating in the ocean.)
  • Hake, approx. 30 kilos

The scientists made quick work of weighing and identifying each species of fish and then began working with the hake. Each hake was individually measured for length and weighed.  The hake’s stomach and otolith were removed. These were carefully labeled and data imputed into the computer.  Scientists will later examine the contents of the stomach to determine what the hake are eating. The otolith (ear bone) goes through a process by which the ear bone is broken in half and then “burnt.” The burning procedure allows one to see the “age rings” much like how we age a tree with its rings.

Personal Log 

A view from the trawl house during a fishing trawl.
A view from the trawl house during a fishing trawl.

Everyone works so very hard to make the Hake Survey successful.  All hands on the ship do a specific job, from cook to engineer to captain of the ship.  It is evident that everyone takes their job seriously and is good at what they do. I feel very fortunate to be part of this very important scientific research project.

 

 

A viper fish
A viper fish

Did You Know? 
Bird facts: An albatross’ wing span can be 5 feet, which equals one very large sea bird. A shearwater is slimmer and smaller yet resembles an albatross.

Animals Seen Today 
Ctenophore, Jelly Fish, Dover sole, Hake, Humboldt squid, Fulmar, Albatross, Gull, and Shearwater.

Here is something interesting, a hake with two mouths discovered in the trawl net.
Here is something interesting, a hake with two mouths discovered in the trawl net.

A hake and its stomach contents, including krill, smaller hake and possibly an anchovy
A hake and its stomach contents, including krill, smaller hake and possibly an anchovy

Dover Sole, larval stage
Dover Sole, larval stage†

NOAA Oceanographer John Pohl and NOAA Fish Biologist Melanie Johnson discuss data about the fish collected.
NOAA Oceanographer John Pohl and NOAA Fish Biologist Melanie Johnson discuss data about the fish collected.

Kathryn Lanouette, July 22, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Kathryn Lanouette
Onboard NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson
July 21-August 7, 2009 

Mission: Summer Pollock Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Alaska
Date: July 22, 2009

Looking back on Unalaska, AK
Looking back on Unalaska, AK

Weather Data from the Ship’s Bridge 
Visibility: 3 nautical miles
Wind direction: 288.27 degree (N, NW)
Wind speed: 20 knots
Sea wave height: 8-10 feet
Air temperature: 7.4 ˚C
Seawater temperature: 6.8 ˚C
Sea level pressure: 29.3 inches Hg and rising
Cloud cover: 8/ 8, stratus

Science and Technology Log 

It will take about 2 ½ days of non-stop sailing until we reach the fish survey starting area. Before that research gets underway, I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know my way around the ship and learning about life at sea. My favorite part of the ship to spend time has been the bridge, the navigation and operations base for the entire ship. From the bridge, I’ve been able to learn more about the weather and birds that live at sea. Every hour, the weather is recorded using the boat’s instruments. This weather is then relayed to NOAA’s National Weather Service. Using the Oscar Dyson’s data, the National Weather Service is better able to predict and model weather patterns, increasing their forecast’s accuracy for this remote region. As the waves kicked up a lot on Tuesday evening, I learned about the Beaufort Scale of Wind Force.

Using estimated wave speed and wave height, you can calculate the severity of the weather. On Tuesday evening, we were sailing through a Force 7 on the scale, a gale with wave heights of 13.5 to 19 feet and a wind speed of 28-33 knots (aprox. 35-37 mph) with gusts up to 45 knots (aprox. 50 mph) Luckily, the waves have calmed down a lot by Wednesday evening because the lower pressure system has passed us to the east.

A Northern Fulmar (Courtesy Aaron Lang, USFWS)
A Northern Fulmar (Courtesy Aaron Lang, USFWS)

In addition to fisheries research, there are two bird observers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). For almost 16 hours each day, they observe and record information about the seabirds that they see flying within 300 m of the boat. Seabirds spend most of their lives living out on the open seas, looking for food. A lot is known about their cliff nesting areas by the water because these locations are relatively easier to access. Much less is known about their time spent at sea. The information gathered here helps scientists learn more about the birds that inhabit the Bering Sea. By looking at their data from prior years, they can sea how different birds are affected by human caused events (like oil spills, global warming, and commercial fishing) and non-human caused events like volcanic eruptions. All their research is part a bigger research program called the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Program (BSIERP).  As one seabird was flying close to the boat, I noticed it had a slender tube on top of its bill. It turns out that this bird was a Northern Fulmar, part of a group of birds called “tube-noses.” This tube enables the birds to drink saltwater, a cool adaptation to life at sea.

Here I am practicing wearing my immersion suit.
Here I am practicing wearing my immersion suit.

Personal Log 

On Tuesday afternoon, as we left the protected bay of Dutch Harbor, we started sailing out towards the more open waters of the Bering Sea.  It was a strange feeling to see the Fox Islands, a smaller part of the Aleutian Island chain, slipping out of sight. Our next chance of seeing land will be as we get closer to Russia. Even then, it might be too cloudy. It is strange to think that I might not see land again for over two weeks. By 9pm on Tuesday night, I was sick as a dog, “hanging over the rails” if you will. But with some sleep and seasickness medicine, I am feeling a lot better today. Seems I have found my “sea legs” as food seems appealing once more and the boats rocking is becoming more of a lulling motion than a lurching one. Around noon on Wednesday, we had our first fire drill and abandon ship drill. As part of the drills, we had to practice putting on our immersion suits. In case we had to abandon ship for any reason, these suits would keep us warmer and more visible. I felt a bit like Gumby!

Animals Seen 
Northern Fulmar Black Legged Kittiwake Tufted Puffin Horned Puffin Black-Footed Albatross Laysan Albatross Murre

New Vocabulary 
Knots – units of speed, nautical miles per hour Nautical mile – 1.15 statute (regular) mile

Jennifer Fry, July 21, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman (tracker)
July 14 – 29, 2009 

Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from Monterey, CA to British Columbia, CA.
Date: July 21, 2009

Boatswain Matt Faber, and Skilled Fisherman, Gary Cooper, tend to full net of hake from one of the day’s trawl.
Boatswain Matt Faber, and Skilled Fisherman, Gary Cooper, tend to full net of hake from one of the day’s trawl.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Wind speed: 10 knots
Wind direction: 011°from the north
Visibility: cloudy
Temperature: 16.2°C (dry bulb); 14.9°C (wet bulb)
Weather note: When you speak of wind direction you are talking about the direction in which the wind is coming. 

Science/Technology Log 

You can see by the weather data above that the seas were much calmer today. We were able to conduct 3 fishing trawls amounting to several thousand kilograms of hake. Once the fish were hauled onto the deck, we began measuring, weighing, dissecting, and removing otoliths, ear bones, for age analysis. I removed my first pair of otoliths today.  The best part of the day was the last and final trawl. We collected approximately 3,000 pounds of Humboldt squid which equals 444 squid.  The math problem to calculate is… “How much would one squid weigh in our catch?”

Julia Clemons, NOAA Fisheries and Jennifer Fry, TAS pictured with Humbolt squid. Today’s catch totaled 444 squid.
Julia Clemons, NOAA Fisheries and Jennifer Fry, TAS pictured with Humbolt squid. Today’s catch totaled 444 squid.

Personal Log 

What strikes me today is just how dedicated the scientists and crew are to their jobs.  Everyone has a specific job aboard the Miller Freeman that they take seriously.

Question of the Day 

Can you use squid ink as you do regular ink? Is there a market for squid inked products such as cards?

New Term/Phrase/Word 

Cusk eel

Animals Seen Today 

Fish:  Humbolt squid, Hake, Iridescent Cusk eel (see photo), Myctophid
Birds:  Shearwaters, Albatross, Gulls

The Squid 
The squid come on little tentacled feet
Falling, splatting, rolling, and sliding out of its netted jail.
Free at last
To be weighed and measured
Sitting on a strong mantle in a flowing liquid of ebony and midnight.
Your silent escape goes unnoticed.

The Clouds 
The clouds slither on little squid tentacles
The midnight inky darkness envelopes the sky and warns us of foreboding
It sits looking over ships and sea lions
Its silent mantle quietly slides away.

(Inspired by Carl Sandberg’s “The Fog”)

The squid were examined, weighed, and the data entered into the data base.
The squid were examined, weighed, and the data entered into the data base.

A cusk eel
A cusk eel

Jennifer Fry, July 20, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jennifer Fry
Onboard NOAA Ship Miller Freeman (tracker)
July 14 – 29, 2009 

Mission: 2009 United States/Canada Pacific Hake Acoustic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: North Pacific Ocean from Monterey, CA to British Columbia, CA.
Date: July 20, 2009

Chief scientist, Dezhang Chu, gets to know a hake while chief scientist, Lisa Bonacci looks on.
Chief scientist, Dezhang Chu, gets to know a hake while chief scientist, Lisa Bonacci looks on.

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Reading in the morning:
Wind speed: 40 knots
Wind direction: 000°from the north
Visibility: clear
Temperature: 11.6°C (dry bulb); 10.5°C (wet bulb)

Reading in the afternoon:
Wind speed: 20 knots
Wind direction: 358°from the north
Visibility: foggy
Temperature: 12.2°C (dry bulb); 11.8°C (wet bulb)

Science/Technology Log 

Collecting the hake’s stomach help scientists determine its diet.
Collecting the hake’s stomach help scientists determine its diet.

Fishing trawl #1. We conducted a successful fishing trawl.  Collection of hake totaled 3500 kg. (kilograms.)  Pictured are chief scientists Lisa Bonacci and Dezhang Chu getting to know the hake.  Fishing trawl #2: There was trouble with the sonar equipment so we were unable to conduct a successful fishing trawl.

Personal Log 

Today’s unsuccessful fishing trawl due to a malfunction reminds me that we often learn more from our mistakes that our successes. Scientists are constantly reviewing their scientific process to make sure they align with their hypothesis. After 3 days of gale force winds (34-40 knots) and big waves, today was a welcome change with 20 knot winds and calm seas in the afternoon.  I finally feel like I’ve my “sea legs” about me.

The hake stomach and a pair of otolith, ear bones will help determine what the hake is eating and how old the fish are.
The hake stomach and a pair of otolith, ear bones will help determine what the hake is eating and how old the fish are.

Animals Seen 
Fish:  Hake Myctophidae
Birds:  Fulmar, Albatross, Gulls, and Shearwater

John Schneider, July 18-20, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 18-20, 2009

Position
Shumagin Islands, in transit to Dutch Harbor

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Weather System:
(July 18th) Low system approaching from the South
(July 19th) Fog, gusty wind in the morning, clear afternoon, but getting windier; Wind: southwesterly at 4-6 kts; Sea State: 1-2 feet

Weather System:  Projected for the July 20-21 overnight
Barometer: falling rapidly (a warning sign of unsettled weather) Wind: sustained at 30-40 kts, gusting to 55 kts (This would qualify as a “gale”)
Sea State: Predicted wave height next 24-36 hrs – 18 feet!

Andy and lunch—a nice halibut!
Andy and lunch—a nice halibut!

Science and Technology Log 

On the 18th and 19th, the launches went out (including me on the 19th) to clean up some holidays and get more near-shore data.  When we got back on the 19th, we found out that a major low pressure system was building to the south and expected to be in our area within a day and a half.  A major low system can reach out a couple of hundred miles and the CO decided that we would leave the Shumagins about 18 hours earlier than originally planned.  I discussed this with him (he is remarkably approachable) and he reiterates to me what I had already believed: his responsibilities are in three priorities – 1. His crew.  2. His ship.  3. The mission. Our research in the Shumagins does not represent life-or-death, it represents the continuing quest for knowledge and the expansion of our understanding of the Earth.  I’m sure you’ve realized it already, but Captain Baird and his officers have earned my highest regard.

We are in the center of the radar screen and two other ships described below – with their courses projected from the boxes that represent them – are behind us. The green line is our track ahead.
We are in the center of the radar screen and two other ships described below – with their courses projected from the boxes that represent them – are behind us. The green line is our track ahead.

On board the Fairweather is a phenomenal array of electronics.  Our positioning equipment is able to determine our position with just a couple of meters and when we are on a course it can tell if the course error is as little as a decimeter! Operating in Alaska, where fog is a way of life, RADAR (Radio Direction And Ranging) is an absolute must, and we have redundant systems in the event one breaks down. Probably the coolest thing about the radar is the use of ARPA technology. ARPA (Automated Radar Plotting Aid) is a system that not only identifies other vessels on the water, but diagrams their projected course and speed vectors on the screen. It does this from as far as 64 miles away!

The filleted tail of the halibut and some crabs found in its stomach
The tail of the halibut and some crabs found in its stomach

By looking at the screen, you can see the lines of other ships relative to your own and navigate accordingly. Furthermore, the system includes ECDIS, which is an Electronic Chart Display and Information System that identifies other ships as to their name, size, destination, and cargo!  So when you see on the radar that you are in a situation where you will be passing near to another vessel, you can call them on the radio by name! This technology is essential, especially going through Unimak Pass.  Unimak Pass is about 15 miles wide and is a critical point in commercial shipping traffic between the Americas and Asia. As we were transiting Unimak Pass, We were passed by an 800 foot long container ship that was en route to Yokohama, Japan and going the other way was a 750 foot ship going to Panama.  This is a critical area due to what is called “Great Circle” navigation.  I’ll address this point when in Dutch Harbor next week.

Eat your hearts out!
Eat your hearts out!

Personal Log 

Last night, after the beach party, Andy Medina (who has been on board for almost 200 days this year) was fishing off the fantail and caught a nice halibut. The crew who hail from Alaska all have fishing permits and when the day is done, if we’re anchored they get to use their free time for fishing.  They even got a freezer to keep their filets in.  Earlier in the cruise, we actually had halibut tacos made with about the freshest Alaskan halibut you can find (less than 12 hours from catch to lunch!)  Of course, with me being a bio guy, I asked for two things: 1 – to keep and freeze the head (I For the last night of the leg before making port in Dutch Harbor  (home of the World’s Deadliest Catch boats) the stewards, Cathy Brandts, Joe Lefstein and Mike Smith really outdid themselves.  I sure hope you can read the menu board, but if you can’t, dinner was Grilled NY Strip Steak and Steamed Crab legs with Butter! 

We went through about 10 trays like this!!!
We went through about 10 trays like this!!!

After dinner, everybody secured as much equipment as possible in the labs, galley and cabins as possible in anticipation of the run ahead of the weather into Dutch Harbor.  We ran through the night and got to Unimak pass in the middle of the day on the 20th. About half way through the pass was an unusual announcement, “Attention on the Fairweather, there are a lot of whales feeding off to starboard!” It’s the only time whales were announced and it was worth the announcement.  For about 2 to 3 miles, we were surrounded by literally MILLIONS of seabirds and a score or more of whales.  Comments from everybody were that they had never seen anything like it. I kept thinking of the old Hitchcock film The Birds and the scenes in Moby Dick where Ahab says to “watch the birds.” We were all agog at the sight.

Fifteen minutes of this! Incredible!
Fifteen minutes of this! Incredible!

With the collective 200-300 years of at-sea experience, no one had ever seen anything like it. After 2.5 weeks that seems like 2.5 days, we approach Dutch Harbor and are secured to the pier by 1700 hours. Tonight we’ll head into town, but if not for the news in the next paragraph, this would be the worst time of the trip, however . . .

The Best news of the trip: I’ve requested and been approved to stay on board the Fairweather for the next leg! WOO-HOO!!!  It’s called FISHPAC and deals with integrating bottom characteristics to commercially viable fish populations!  I’m going to the Bering Sea!!!

Questions for You to Investigate 

  1. When did the Andrea Doria and Stockholm collide?  Where?  In what conditions?
  2. What was the D.E.W. Line in the Cold War?
  3. Why did the Japanese want bases in the Aleutians in WWII?
  4. Why did we pass a ship going from North America to Yokohama well over 1000 miles north of both ends of the trip?
  5. What are Great Circles?

Did You Know? 

That almost 10% of all commercial fishing catch in the United States comes through Unalaska and Dutch Harbor?

Approaching Dutch Harbor
Approaching Dutch Harbor

Megan Woodward, July 16, 2009

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

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

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

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

Science and Technology Log 

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

Back in the lab, otolith samples are carefully catalogued.
Back in the lab, otolith samples are carefully catalogued.

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

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

Cod and sole otoliths
Cod and sole otoliths

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

woodward_log6bPersonal Log 

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

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

Animal Sightings 

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

New Vocabulary 

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

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

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

Megan Woodward, July 12, 2009

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

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

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

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

Science and Technology Log 

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

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

Screen shot 2013-03-24 at 11.32.34 PM

Personal Log 

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

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

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

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

Animal Sightings 

  • Seabirds
  • Dall’s porpoises

New Vocabulary 

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

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

John Schneider, July 9, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
John Schneider
Onboard NOAA Ship Fairweather 
July 7 – August 8, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical Area: Kodiak, AK to Dutch Harbor, AK
Date: July 9, 2009

Position 
Shumagin Islands

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Barometer: 1022.3
Wind: light & variable
Temperature: 12.1ºC
Sea State: <1 foot

This top of this picture shows the area that has been surveyed, and the bottom half has not been surveyed yet.
This top of this picture shows the area that has been surveyed, and the bottom half has not been surveyed yet.

Science and Technology Log 

While part of the survey crew was doing more bottom sampling, launches 1010 and 1018 were deployed to acquire other data from areas ranging between 5 and 15 miles away.  The launch deployments today were for 8 hours and the chefs prepare to-go lunches for the crews. The Fairweather is well-suited to its task here in the Shumagins.  The crew is experienced at this and it shows. While the launches are away gathering data close to shorelines, the ship sails backand-forth across wide swaths of open ocean using the multi-beam sonar to document depth.  Some members of the crew call this “mowing the lawn” which is a perfect analogy (I like to think of it more like a Zamboni cutting the ice in a hockey rink!)

The swath covered by the multi-beam sonar can extend to 75º up from vertical on each side of the ship. As you can see in the picture, the top half of the screen is green. This is an area that has been surveyed with Multi-Beam Echo Sounders (MBES).  The white at the bottom is bottom that has not been surveyed. Fairweather is sailing a course from East to West on the screen and the MBES is sweeping a path indicated on the screen in orange. The colors are significant – they represent different depths. (If you look closely you can see a color bar on the left of the screen. Red=shallow, blue=deep.) the number on the right is the depth in meters.  Fairweather does all its bathymetry (<Greek bottom/depth + measure) in meters as they are the units of scientific analysis. Hopefully in the next few days I’ll get to have a better understanding.  Right now it kind of glazes over  . . . too much input! 

Deck Maintenance

Look Carefully - Blue writing!
Look Carefully – Blue writing!

A ship the size of the Fairweather (230 feet, 7 decks) has an enormous amount of maintenance required just to keep it ship-shape. The permanent crew of AB’s (Able Bodied Seaman,) engineers, stewards and officers keep the Fairweather spotless and running flawlessly. This morning there was need for a modification to a pulley used to deploy the bottom sampler.  It was constructed in a short amount of time. The marine environment is merciless on steel and the ship is constantly being stripped of old paint, primed and repainted.  Doing this requires that the old finish be removed with a “needle gun” which is a compressed air powered tool consisting of a 1.5cm diameter head of about 25 “needles.” The “needles” are more like 1 mm flathead finishing nails that bounce on the surface like mini-jackhammers.

By impacting the surface thousands of times a minute, old paint is loosened from the underlying steel and chips off. The really cool aspect of this is that the underlying steel isn’t even dented!  When I started on this piece of steel it was painted with one layer of primer and two layers of white paint.  Now it’s down to bare metal and the markings from the original construction of the davit are clearly legible! After being stripped, a coat of anti-oxidation paint is applied, then primer, then one or more coats of paint. The crew never stops and the condition of the Fairweather is a testament to their diligence.

Personal Log 

The weather is absolutely perfect. It is sunny, warm, calm seas.  I’m sure it can be (and probably will be) worse at some time during the trip, but for now everyone is soaking it all in!  The Fairweather has a ship’s store with some snacks, necessities, T-shirts and other items.  It’s open periodically (announced on the PA) and I’ll be sure to hit it up before leaving Dutch Harbor (but I’ve got to get to an ATM – they don’t take American Express.)  😉

Animals (or other cool stuff!) Observed Today 

Whales about a mile off the bow – not close enough to see well – brittle stars, tube worms, more coral(!) and the daily dose of sea birds. This morning there was a bit of time when some fog was rolling over a mountain island about 10 miles away and it looked like the fog was just cascading over the top from the other side.  Gorgeous!

Megan Woodward, July 7, 2009

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

Mission: Bering Sea Acoustic Trawl Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea/Dutch Harbor
Date: Tuesday, July 7, 2009

This map depicts the path the Miller Freeman will take on our cruise.
This map depicts the path the Miller Freeman will
take on our cruise.

Weather/Location 
Position: N 56.18.292; W 171.46372
Air Temp:  7.3 (deg C)
Water Temp:  6.9 (deg C)
Wind Speed: 17 knots
Weather: Overcast

Science and Technology Log 

We are traveling on designated lines in the north/south direction looking for pollock (travel lines are illustrated above). The samples we pull in are compared to the amount of fish found in the same location over 20+ years.  The process used to “go fishing” is not as easy as one might think.  Several things need to align for a successful trawl to take place. As of today, I have been a part of three successful trawls.  Below is an explanation of the fishing process.

  1. The Fisheries Research Biologist and his team recognize a series of acoustic returns as potential pollock schools while sitting in the acoustics lab. Then they decide if the amount of fish being seen is enough to fish on. If yes, go to step 2.
  2.  Next the team questions if the weather conditions are calm enough, are the fish far enough off the bottom of the sea floor, and have we traveled at least 30 miles from our last fishing point.  If conditions are aligned, move to step 3.
  3. The team contacts the bridge to prepare the crew for fishing. The bridge receives the exact location (longitude/latitude) the nets should enter the water for the best possible fishing.  By now we have traveled over the top of the fish we saw on the acoustic screen.  A decision must be made about the best direction to travel so the nets work properly:  Do we flip a u-turn and fish up the line, or do we circle back to where we saw fish and retrace our path on the line? The water’s current and prevailing winds impact how the nets will function, which are some of the deciding factors in choosing the direction we will tow the nets.  Fishing in motion, continue to step 4.
  4.  Up to the wheelhouse. Here the lead fisherman, the ship’s Officer of the Deck (person in charge of driving the ship) and the fisheries team can work together to create the best fishing scenario. The same acoustic information can be viewed in the wheelhouse as in the acoustic lab.  Based on the depth of the acoustic return, the fisheries team can inform the fisherman how far to lower the nets in the water. Keep going to step 5. We almost have fish…we hope!
  5. Once the net is in the water, there are two acoustic screens closely watched. These are pictured below with the explanation of the information received.  The net is continually raised or lowered based on the depth of the return. A trawl lasts for 20 minutes and covers 1 mile on average. The fisheries team is aiming for 300 fish per trawl.  They are careful to not over fish. Almost done, bring the fish aboard.
  6. The final step is bringing the nets back in and unloading the fish.  If all went as planned, the next few hours will be spent in the fish lab collecting information about the sample. Unfortunately the system is not perfect.  It’s possible to bring in a water haul or a stuffed sausage. Neither one is good news.

This is the acoustics lab. The top screens are displayed in the bottom monitors as needed. The top two left monitors show the acoustic return from the 5 frequencies (pings) sent out.
This is the acoustics lab. The top screens are displayed in the bottom monitors as needed. The top two left monitors show the acoustic return from the 5 frequencies (pings) sent out.

Personal Log 

Now that I have participated in three trawls, I’m feeling much more comfortable with the whole fishing process. Rather than looking at the acoustic screens with a puzzled look, I’m able to recognize what the return from a school of pollock looks like. Jellyfish show up on the screen as blue-green clusters, and have been present in the top 40 meters of water the majority of time we’ve been at sea.  I can only imagine how many of those creatures are down there.

There seems to be a bit of humor in all we do at sea.  There are two awards given out based on the hauls we bring in: The water haul and the stuffed sausage awards.  You really don’t want to be the recipient of either one. The water haul award goes to the team that brings in the haul with the least fish (mostly water). This happened yesterday when we attempted to catch pollock close to the surface.  There wasn’t but a single pollock in the net. Of course there were numerous jellyfish.

This is an acoustic screen showing a return typical of pollock. The several clusters with the trail of return on the left are showing a good fishing opportunity. The dark red across the middle of the screen is the sea floor.
This is an acoustic screen showing a return typical
of pollock. The several clusters with the trail of
return on the left are showing a good fishing
opportunity. The dark red across the middle of the screen is the sea floor.

The stuffed sausage is just the opposite of a water haul. As you may have guessed, the stuffed sausage award goes to the team that brings in the most over-stuffed net.  If we were looking to make money off of our catch, this would be considered a success. However, we really only want a sample of about 300 fish. A stuffed sausage means too many fish were brought in.  It is possible to be the “winner” of both awards.

Animals Seen 

  1. Red-legged kittiwake  
  2. Blacklegged kittiwake
  3. Albatross
  4. Fulmar
  5. Fur Seal
  6. Capelin (they smell like cucumber)

This screen shows the return from a signal that sweeps left to right like a pendulum. The bottom of the net is the ½ circle shape. During a trawl you can see if a school of fish enters the net.
This screen shows the return that sweeps left to right like a pendulum. The bottom of the net is the ½ circle shape. During a trawl you can see if a school of fish enters the net.

When the net is in the water, there is return from the top and bottom of the net. This screen shows a vertical return. We can see we are at the correct depth, but maybe we are too far to the left or right.
There is return from the top and bottom of the net. This screen shows a vertical return. We can see we are at the correct depth, but maybe too far to the side.

New Vocabulary 

Acoustic Lab: AKA “The Cave” because there are no windows.  This is where the Fisheries Research Biologist and his team watch the acoustic return monitors.

Bridge/Wheelhouse:  This is where the officer on duty drives the ship using several navigational tools. Named the wheelhouse because the ship’s steering wheel is found here.  The bridge is located on the top level of the ship. The Methot and trawl nets are also operated from the bridge.

Haul:  This is how the fish are referred to when they are caught in the net.  One might ask, “How was the haul?”  “It was a (big haul, small haul, water haul, stuffed sausage).”

Water Haul:  A net lacking fish following a trawl.

Stuffed Sausage: An overstuffed net, too many fish caught.

Hauling in the net
Hauling in the net

This fur seal followed the boat for about 30 minutes while we were trawling for pollock.  He was hoping for a free dinner.
This fur seal followed the boat for 30 minutes while we were trawling. He was hoping for a free dinner.

The center bird is a blacklegged kittiwake, identified by the black wing tips, white underwing and the light gray color on its back.
The center bird is a blacklegged kittiwake, identified by the black wing tips, white underwing and the light gray color on its back.

Mark McKay, July 1, 2009

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

Growing on the pier pilings
Corals growing on the pier pilings

Mission: Ecosystem Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea, Alaska
Date: July 1, 2009

Science Log

What a busy couple of days we have had here on the Knorr. We have been crisscrossing the shelf following a plankton bloom we can see from the MODIS satellite. MODIS, which stands for Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, is a key instrument aboard both the Terra  and Aqua satellites. Terra’s orbit around the Earth is timed so that it passes from north to south across the equator in the morning, while Aqua passes south to north over the equator in the afternoon. Terra MODIS and Aqua MODIS are viewing the entire Earth’s surface every 1 to 2 days, acquiring data in 36 spectral bands, or groups of wavelengths. A big area of interest in oceanography is ocean color. Because the world’s oceans are so vast it can be hard to monitor them on a large scale. Using satellites is ideal because they can profile large swaths of the ocean at any one time. Changes in the oceans color as seen from space can give scientists a good estimation of what’s going on in terms of productivity. The problem with using satellite information here on the Bering Sea is the fact that it cannot see through clouds. Well, guess what we get up here on the Bering Sea, clouds. It’s great when we get a clear or not so overcast day because then we can make good use of MODIS information.

Lapland Longspur
Lapland Longspur

One of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife people onboard, Liz Lubunski took some great pictures of birds and wildlife and I thought I would share them with you. She is one of the two people (the other is Sophie Wells) who are doing a survey of birds here on the Bering Sea. Liz had to get of at St. Paul Island but Sophie is still onboard and is continuing the survey. Both have tremendous knowledge of the local birds life and great eyes, plus better cameras then I have to get those better shots. There is a great diversity of life up here in Alaska. The picture of the Metridium anemones growing on the piling was taken right at the pier where the Knorr was docked.  She was also able to get some pictures of the American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus), which makes its living catching small invertebrates in fast moving streams and the Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus), which summers in extreme northern Canada and Alaska.

American Dipper
American Dipper

The one bird I get asked about the most is the Albatross. Well here are a couple of shots of some Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) we saw while on station. They tend to stay away from the ship but Liz was able to the pictures with a telephoto lens. These particular birds traveled here to the Bering Sea from the Hawaiian Archipelago.

They feed mostly on cephalopods such as squid. In recent years there has been a problem with these birds picking up pieces of plastic from the ocean, mistaking it for food and feeding the plastic to their chicks, which frequently causes them to starve to death.

Unfortunately there is way too much plastic in the ocean and this is really having a deleterious effect upon marine life. From sea birds to turtles, many organisms are adversely harmed by our improper disposal of plastics. Please keep that in mind next time you are shopping. Be aware of how much plastic and packaging we are buying because unfortunately some of this makes its way into our marine ecosystems.

Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross

Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross

Megan Woodward, July 1, 2009

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

Mission: Bering Sea Acoustic Trawl Survey
Geographical Area: Bering Sea/Dutch Harbor
Date: Tuesday, July 1, 2009

Science and Technology Log 

What is this trip all about?  Well, NOAA is working to collect a range of pollock fish samples from across the Bering Sea.  The samples collected will help set fishing regulations based on the estimated pollock fish population.  The fish are looked at to assess the male to female ratio, size and age.

Pollock, a member of the cod family, are mainly found in the Bering Sea. They are typically found between 328 to 984 feet depths. Pollock lives up to 17 years, and reach maturity around age 4. The maximum size of the pollock is slightly larger then 3 feet long.

The colors in the picture at right indicate the amount of return received from the 3 spheres seen towards the top. The other mass of colors at the bottom and surrounding the lines are fish, which are interfering with the read.
The colors in the picture at right indicate the amount of return from the 3 spheres seen towards the top. The other mass of colors at the bottom and surrounding the lines are fish, which are interfering with the read.

We are currently preparing to set sail.  Departure time is set for 15:00 (3:00 pm).  Our first anchoring will take place just a few hundred feet from where we are docked in Dutch Harbor.  At that time, the Chief Scientist and other members of the science team will calibrate (check the accuracy) the echo sound system used during the course of the survey.  Once the calibration is complete and the data is collected, we will continue to sail in search of pollock fish.

The echo sound system is used to measure the amount of return or “back scatter” from a ping (term to describe the sound sent down into the ocean).  Depending on the size of the return, the scientists are able to determine if they are detecting fish.  Pollock are known to give a return within a specific range, which provides the scientists with one of the clues that help them make an educated guess about the type of fish being detected.

In order to calibrate the echo sound system, three metal spheres that have an expected return level are lowered into the sea.  A ping is sent into the open sea, and the scientists are able to watch the amount of return from the spheres through their computer.  The amount of return can be seen using a color-coded scale. Red shows the highest level of return, and gray is the color indicating very little return. The scientists can then see if each sphere is giving the expected return. If a sphere is giving off more or less than the expected return, the scientists then know how to adjust the level of return they are getting from fish throughout the project.

Eagle or seagull?  This guy sits and waits for a food meal on top of the hotel dumpster.
Eagle or seagull? This guy sits and waits for a food meal on top of the hotel dumpster.

Personal Log 

After a day and a half in Dutch Harbor, I’m glad to finally be getting under way.  Dutch Harbor is a small, small town.  There are a few restaurants, one hotel and a Safeway.  All of the other businesses are linked to the fishing industry in one-way or another. Flying into the island was an incredible experience. The plane hummed through the air between multiple tiny landforms.  The airport runway stretches out to the edge of the sea, allowing the passengers to think, for just one moment, they are making a water landing. The plane touched down just beyond the shore.

Since my arrival, I have been welcomed with warmth from all of the NOAA scientists and deck crew. Everyone has been more than wiling to answer even the most ridiculous of questions I’ve had. My time the past two evenings were spent getting to know several of the Oscar Dyson officers and crew members.  

A good chunk of Monday was spent hiking Ballyhoo with two of the officers from the ship.  Ballyhoo is a steep hill behind the airport (approx 1400 ft. elevation). The hill was littered with WWII shelters.  As we tromped up the hill, the wind began to pick up. By the time we were nearing the top, the wind was practically knocking me sideways.  The gusts were sustained and powerful. Certainly some of the windiest conditions I’ve encountered. The wildflowers growing on the hillside were reminiscent of the summer blooms found on Mount Rainier. The views from the top were breathtaking.  Several bald eagles swooped past the emerald hills, and the sun started to peak out as we made our way back to sea level.

Animals Seen in Dutch Harbor 

  • Ground Squirrel
  • Jelly Fish
  • Bald Eagles
  • Variety of Seabirds
  • Arctic Fox
  • Guard dog

This little ground squirrel wasn’t bothered as we walked by.
This little ground squirrel wasn’t bothered as we walked by.

New Vocabulary 

Echo Sound System – A tool used to measure the return or “back scatter” from a ping.  The amount of return helps determine what is hiding under the sea.

Ping – The name of the sound that is sent into the water to create an echo/return for the scientists to read. The ping is a constant, repeated sound wave.  Several different frequencies are used to detect objects.

Return  – AKA back scatter, is the amount of acoustic sound waves/echo bouncing back off an object beneath the water.

Trawl – The phrase used when talking about catching fish using a large net

Mark McKay, June 24, 2009

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

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

St. Paul Island only a few miles away
St. Paul Island only a few miles away

Science Log

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

Ebett: Master of the MOCNESS
Ebett: Master of the MOCNESS

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

 

Deep water shrimp with large reflective eyes
Deep water shrimp with large reflective eyes

Mary Patterson, June 24, 2009

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Mary Patterson
Onboard NOAA Vessel Rainier 
June 15 – July 2, 2009 

Mission: Hydrographic Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Pavlov Islands, AK
Date: June 24, 2009

Sunset in the Pavlof Islands
Sunset in the Pavlof Islands

Weather Data from the Bridge 
Overcast
Wind Light
6 mi visibility
Pressure 1009.1 mb
Dry Bulb Temp 6.7˚ C Wet bulb 6.7˚ C
Seas 0-1 ft.
Water temp 6.1˚ C 42˚ F

Science and Technology Log 

Once the data has been collected by the survey boats, it needs to be processed into meaningful information. The data from the boats is called raw data and it is saved onto a thumb drive. The assistant survey tech takes the thumb drive and loads the data into the computers on the ship. From here, the raw data is imported into a software program called CARIS Hips and Sips. CARIS is the primary hydrographic data processing software. It is used to:

  • Merge all sensor data into a common reference frame
  • Apply various correctors to sounding data
  • Edit sounding data in both time and spatial domain
  • Create gridded surfaces (BASE. CUBE)
  • Review side scan data and select contacts
  • Prepare data deliverables for the hydrographic branches 

Flying through the surface in 3D
Flying through the surface in 3D

The night processors apply correctors for variables that can affect the data such as tides, sound velocity, true heave and TPE (total propagated error). Then they can generate a surface of the sea floor. Finally, they must look for flyers; data points that are inconsistent with the statistical model. This is where the technology is so cool! The software enables you to view the surface in 3D. Using your mouse, you can literally fly over and under your surface. The night processors add their comments to the acquisition log and create a tiff file to show the sheet managers the coverage for the day. A detailed report about the area surveyed (DR) is written and submitted. The Descriptive Report (DR) is the written record of the survey work completed in an area. It accompanies and complements the digital data. Our survey area will not be completed during this leg of the trip. After some import time in Seward, AK for the Fourth of July, the Rainier will return to the Pavlof Islands to continue their survey. After data acquisition is complete and data has been reviewed aboard the ship to ensure it meets requirements, it is signed off by the Captain, the Chief Survey Tech, the Sheet Manager, and the FOO (Field Operations Officer).  When the sheets are completed, they are sent to the Pacific Hydrological Branch in Seattle, WA.

Screen shot 2013-04-30 at 8.42.55 PMThere, they will complete quality control analysis of the data and either accept or reject the survey sheet. They look for any data that is inconsistent with the required Specification and Deliverables. If the data does not meet specification, the area will likely need to be surveyed again. When the data is accepted by the branch they will further process the data to highlight important features and then send the survey sheet to the cartographers at the Marine Charting Division (MCD). The cartographers use the data submitted to place additional soundings and navigation hazards onto the US Navigation charts. A navigational hazard is generally defined as anything 1 meter shoaler than surrounding depths in water less than 20 meters deep. Currently, it may take years for a survey to be charted and reach the mariner. Critical corrections (such as DToNs -Danger to Navigation) or high priority areas can be updated more quickly.