One hour after the last highflyer is entered into the water it is time to retrieve the longline. The ship pulls alongside the first highflyer and brings it on board. Two people carry the highflyer to the stern of the ship. The longline is then re-attached to a large reel so that the mainline can be spooled back onto the ship. As the line comes back on board one scientist takes the gangion removes the tag and coils it back into the barrel. The bait condition and/or catch are added into the computer system by a second scientist. If there is a fish on the hook then it is determined if the fish can be brought on board by hand or if the cradle needs to be lowered into the water to bring up the species.
Protective eye wear must be worn at all times, but if a shark is being brought up in the cradle we must all also put on hard hats due to the crane being used to move the cradle. Once a fish is on board two scientists are responsible for weighing and taking three measurements: pre-caudal, fork, and total length in mm. Often, a small fin clip is taken for genetics and if it is a shark, depending on the size, a dart or rototag is inserted into the shark either at the base of the dorsal fin or on the fin itself. The shark tag is recorded and the species is then put back into the ocean. Once all 100 gangions, weights and highflyers are brought on board it is time to cleanup and properly store the samples.
Fish Data: Some species of snapper, grouper and tile fish that are brought on board will have their otoliths removed for ageing, a gonad sample taken for reproduction studies and a muscle sample for feeding studies and genetics. These are stored and sent back to the lab for further processing.
It has been a busy last few days. We have caught some really cool species like king snake eels (Ophichthus rex), gulper sharks (Centrophorus granulosus), yellow edge grouper (Hyporthodus flavolimbatus) and golden tile fish (Lopholaatilus chamaeleontiiceps). There have been thousands of moon jelly fish (Aurelia aurita) the size of dinner plates and larger all around the boat when we are setting and retrieving the longline. They look so peaceful and gentle just floating along with the current. When we were by the Florida-Alabama line there were so many oil rigs out in the distant. It was very interesting learning about them and seeing their lights glowing. One of them actually had a real fire to burn off the gases. There were also a couple sharks that swam by in our ship lights last night. One of the best things we got to witness was a huge leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) that came up for a breath of air about 50 feet from the ship.
My last blog left off with a late night longline
going in the water around 9:00pm on 9/23/19.
We were able to successfully tag a great hammerhead, a scalloped
hammerhead, and a tiger shark. We also
caught a blacknose shark, three gafftopsail catfish (Bagre marinus), and three red snappers.
Deploying the Longline
Today I’m going to explain to you the five jobs that we rotate through when we are deploying the longline. When there are about 15-20 minutes before deployment we grab our sunglasses, personal floatation device (pfd) and rubber boats and head to the stern of the ship. All scientists are responsible for helping to cut and bait all 100 gangions (hooks and line). The hooks are 15/0mm circle hooks and the gangion length is 3.7m long. The bait used for this is Atlantic mackerel cut into chunks to fit the hooks. We are all responsible for cleaning the deck and the table and cutting boards that were used.
The first job on the deployment is setting up the laptop computer. The scientist on computer is responsible for entering information when the high flyer, the three weights (entered after first high flyer, after gangion 50 and before final high flyer), and the 100 baited gangions entered into the water. This gives the time and the latitude and longitude of each to keep track of for comparison data.
The second job is the person actually putting the high flyer and buoy in the water. Once the ship is in position and we receive the ok from the bridge it is released into the water. The high flyer is 14ft from the weight at the bottom to the flashing light at the top. (see picture)
The third job is the “slinger”. The slinger takes each hook, one by one, off of the barrel, lowers the baited hook into the water, and then holds the end clamp so that the fourth scientist can put a tag number on each one (1-100). It is then handed to the deckhand who clamps it onto the mainline where it is lowered into the water off the stern.
The final job is the barrel cleaner. Once all the lines are in the water the barrel cleaner takes a large brush with soap and scrubs down the inside and outside of the barrel. The barrels are then taken to the well deck to get ready for the haul in. The last weight and high flyer are put into the water to complete the longline set, which will remain in the water for one hour. Everyone now helps out cleaning the stern deck and bringing any supplies to the dry lab. At this time the CTD unit is put in the water (this will be described at a later time).
Last night was so exciting, catching the three large sharks. During this station I was responsible for the data so I was able to take a few pictures once I recorded the precaudal, fork, and total length measurements as well as take a very small fin sample and place it in a vial, and record the tagging numbers.
Out: Today’s shout out goes to
my wonderful 161 students, all my former students, fellow teachers, especially
those in my hallway, my guest teachers and all the staff and administration at
Palmetto Ridge High School. I would also
like to thank Mr. Bremseth and Michelle Joyce for my letters of
couldn’t have been able to do this without all of your help and support. I have sooo much to tell you about when I get
back. Go Bears!!
Data from the Bridge (at beginning of log)
Latitude: 28.07 Longitude: 93.27.45 Temperature: 84°F Wind Speeds: ESE 13 mph large swells
Science and Technology Log
9/21/19-We left Galveston, TX late in the afternoon once the backup parts arrived. After a few changes because of boat traffic near us, were able to get to station 1 around 21:00 (9:00 pm). We baited the 100 hooks with Atlantic Mackerel. Minutes later the computers were up and running logging information as the high flyer and the 100 hooks on 1 mile of 4mm 1000# test monofilament line were placed in the Gulf of Mexico for 60 minutes. My job on this station was to enter the information from each hook into the computer when it was released and also when it was brought onboard. When the hook is brought onboard they would let me know the status: fish on hook, whole bait, damaged bait, or no bait. Our first night was a huge success. We had a total of 28 catches on our one deployed longline.
We caught 1 bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), 2 tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier), 14 sharp nose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), 2 black tip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus), 7 black nose sharks (Carcharhinus acronotus), and 2 red snappers (Lutjanus campechanus). There were also 3 shark suckers (remoras) that came along for the ride.
I was lucky to be asked by the Chief Scientist Kristin to tag the large tiger shark that was in the cradle. It took me about 3 tries but it eventually went in right at the bottom of his dorsal fin. He was on hook #79 and was 2300mm total length. What a great way to start our first day of fishing. After a nice warm, but “rolling” shower I made it to bed around 1:00 am. The boat was really rocking and I could hear things rolling around in cabinets. I think I finally fell asleep around 3:00.
9/22- The night shift works from midnight to noon doing exactly what we do during the day. They were able to complete two stations last night. They caught some tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) and a couple sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus). My shift consists of Kristin, Christian, Taniya, and Ryan: we begin our daily shifts at noon and end around midnight. The ship arrived at our next location right at noon so the night shift had already prepared our baits for us. We didn’t have a lot on this station but we did get a Gulf smooth hound shark (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), 2 king snake eels (Ophichthus rex), and a red snapper that weighed 7.2 kg (15.87 lbs). We completed a second station around 4:00 pm where our best catch was a sandbar shark. Due to the swells, we couldn’t use the crane for the shark basket so Kristin tried to tag her from the starboard side of the ship.
We were able to complete a third station tonight at 8:45 pm. My job this time was in charge of data recording. When a “fish is on,” the following is written down: hook number, mortality status, genus and species, precaudal measurement, fork measurement, and total length measurement, weight, sex, stage, samples taken, and tag number/comments. We had total of 13 Mustelus sinusmexicanus; common name Gulf smooth-hound shark. The females are ovoviviparous, meaning the embryos feed solely on the yolk but still develop inside the mother, before being born. The sharks caught tonight ranged in length from 765mm to 1291mm. There were 10 females and 3 male, and all of the males were of mature status. We took a small tissue sample from all but two of the sharks, which are used for genetic testing. Three of the larger sharks were tagged with rototags. (Those are the orange tags you see in the picture of the dorsal fin below).
I spend most of my downtime between stations in the science dry lab. I have my laptop to work on my blog and there are 5 computers and a TV with Direct TV. We were watching Top Gun as we were waiting for our first station. I tried to watch the finale of Big Brother Sunday night but it was on just as we had to leave to pull in our longline. So I still don’t know who won. 🙂 I slept good last night until something started beeping in my room around 4:00 am. It finally stopped around 6:30. They went and checked out my desk/safe where the sound was coming from and there was nothing. Guess I’m hearing things 🙂
Shout out! – Today’s shout out goes to the Sturgeon Family – Ben and Dillon I hope you are enjoying all the pictures – love Aunt Kathy
While we are waiting to get started with our research survey that collects fisheries-independent data about sharks, I’ll tell you a little about how other NOAA scientists collect information directly from the commercial shark fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Shark Bottom Longline
Observer Program works to gather reliable data on catch, bycatch, and discards
in the Shark Bottom Longline Fishery, as well as document interactions with
protected species. Administered by the Southeast Fishery Science Center’s Panama
City Laboratory, the data collected by observers helps inform management
decisions. NOAA hires one to six observer personnel under
contractual agreements to be placed on commercial fishing vessels targeting
shark species. Program coordinators maintain data storage and retrieval,
quality control, observer support services (training, observer gear,
documents, debriefing, data entry), and administrative support.
This shark bottom longline fishery targets large coastal sharks (e.g., blacktip shark) and small coastal sharks (e.g., Atlantic sharpnose). Groupers, snappers, and tilefish are also taken. The shark bottom longline fishery is active on the southeast coast of the United States and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Vessels in this fishery average 50 feet long, with longline gear consisting of 5 to 15 miles of mainline and 500 to 1500 hooks being set. Each trip has a catch limit ranging from 3 to 45 large coastal sharks, depending on the time of year and the region (Gulf of Mexico or south Atlantic). Shark directed trips can range from 3-5 days at sea.
In 2007, NOAA Fisheries created a shark research fishery to continue collection of life history data and catch data from sandbar sharks for future stock assessment. This was created as sandbar sharks are protected due to lower population numbers that allowed for some very limited commercial take of the animals and allows for collection of scientific data on life history etc. A limited number of commercial shark vessels are selected annually and may land sandbar sharks, which are otherwise prohibited. Observer coverage is mandatory within this research fishery (compared to coverage level of 4 percent to 6 percent for the regular shark bottom longline fishery).
Well, I guess you were hoping to hear from me sooner than this. I arrived in Galveston, TX on September 15th. I boarded NOAA Ship Oregon II and got settled in my room. The 170 foot ship was tugged into port early due to a broken part. Today is Wednesday September 18th , and we are still waiting to leave. Fingers crossed it will be tomorrow morning. During this time I was able to meet with the crew members and scientists and familiarize myself with the ship. I was able to walk around Galveston and learn about its history. We were able to go out to dinner where I have had amazing oysters and a new dish “Snapper Wings” at Katie’s Seafood Restaurant. It was delicious and so tender. I would definitely recommend it!
During our time in port we were also hit with Tropical Storm Imelda. We have had lots of rain and flooding in the area.
Shout Out: Today’s shout out goes to my nephews Eastwood and Austin and my sister Karen and her husband Casey in Dallas, TX. I also want to say Hi to all of my marine students at PRHS. Hope I didn’t leave you all too much work to do 🙂 Keep up with your blog ws!
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: November 11, 2018
Weather Data from home
Conditions at 1615
Latitude: 43° 09’ N
Longitude: 77° 36’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1027 mbar
Air Temperature: 3° C
Wind Speed: SW 10 km/h
Science and Technology Log
View of the ship’s wet lab.
View of the water through the galley sink porthole.
View of the water through a porthole in the galley.
Participating in the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey provided a porthole into several different career paths. Each role on board facilitated and contributed to the scientific research being conducted. Daily longline fishing activities involved working closely with the fishermen on deck. I was in awe of their quick-thinking adaptability, as changing weather conditions or lively sharks sometimes required a minor change in plan or approach. Whether tying intricate knots in the monofilament or displaying their familiarity with the various species we caught, the adept fishermen drew upon their seafaring skill sets, allowing the set and haulback processes to go smoothly and safely.
Even if we were on opposite work shifts, overlapping meal times provided the opportunity to gain insight into some of the careers on board. As we shared meals, many people spoke of their shipboard roles with sentiments that were echoed repeatedly: wanted a career that I could be proud of…a sense of adventure…opportunity to see new places and give back…combining adventure and science…wanted to protect the resources we have…
I had the opportunity to speak with some of the engineers and fishermen about their onboard roles and career paths. It was interesting to learn that many career paths were not direct roads, but winding, multilayered journeys. Some joined NOAA shortly after finishing their education, while others joined after serving in other roles. Some had experience with commercial fishing, and some had served on other NOAA vessels. Many are military veterans. With a name fit for a swashbuckling novel set on the high seas, Junior Unlicensed Engineer Jack Standfast, a United States Navy veteran, explained how the various departments on board worked together. These treasured conversations with the Engineering Department and Deck Department were enlightening, a reminder that everyone has a story to tell. I very much appreciate their patience, kindness, and willingness to share their expertise and experiences.
Lead Fisherman and Divemaster Chris Nichols:
In an unfamiliar setting, familiar topics surfaced in conversations, revealing similarities and common interests. Despite working in very different types of jobs, literacy was a popular subject in many of the conversations I had on the ship. I spoke to some of the crew members about how literacy factored into their daily lives and career paths. Some people described their family literacy routines at home and shared their children’s favorite bedtime stories, while others fondly remembered formative stories from their own childhood. Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols recalled the influence that Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling had on him as a young reader. He described how exciting stories such as Captains Courageous and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer inspired a sense of adventure and contributed to pursuing a unique career path. Coming from a family of sailors, soldiers, and adventurers, Chris conveyed the sense of pride that stems from being part of “something bigger.” In this case, a career that combines adventure, conservation, and preservation. His experiences with the United States Navy, commercial fishing, NOAA, and scuba diving have taken him around the world.
Echoing the themes of classic literature, Chris recommended some inspiring nonfiction titles and podcasts that feature true stories about human courage, overcoming challenges, and the search for belonging. As a United States Navy veteran, Chris understood the unique reintegration needs that many veterans face once they’ve completed their military service. He explained the need for a “tribe” found within the structure of the military or a ship. Chris described the teamwork on the ship as “pieces of a puzzle” in a “well-oiled machine.”
Chris also shared some advice for students. He felt it was easier for students to become good at math and to get better at reading while younger and still in school. Later in life, the need for math may resurface outside of school: “The things you want to do later…you’ll need that math.” As students grow up to pursue interests, activities, and careers, they will most likely need math and literacy to help them reach their goals. Chris stressed that attention to detail—and paying attention to all of the details—is extremely important. Chris explained the importance of remembering the steps in a process and paying attention to the details. He illustrated the importance of knowing what to do and how to do it, whether it is in class, during training, or while learning to dive.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
Team Never Quit Podcast with Marcus Luttrell & David Rutherford
Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin:
Before joining NOAA, Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin served in the United States Coast Guard for fifteen years (active duty and reserves). After serving in the military, Chuck found himself working in education. While teaching as a substitute teacher, he saw an ad in the newspaper for NOAA careers and applied. Chuck joined NOAA in 2000, and he has served on NOAA Ships Bell M. Shimada, Pisces, Gordon Gunter, and Oregon II.
Echoing Chris Nichols’ description of puzzle pieces in a team, Chuck further explained the hierarchy and structure of the Deck Department on the Oregon II. The Deck Department facilitates the scientific research by deploying and retrieving the longline fishing gear while ensuring a safe working environment. From operating the winches and cranes, to hauling in some of the larger sharks on the shark cradle, the fishermen perform a variety of tasks that require both physical and mental dexterity. Chuck explained that in the event of an unusual situation, the Deck Department leader may work with the Bridge Officer and the Science watch leader and step in as safety dictates.
In addition to his ability to make a fantastic pot of coffee, Chuck has an impish sense of humor that made our twelve-hour work shifts even more interesting and entertaining. Over a late-night cup of coffee, I found out that we shared some similar interests. Chuck attended the University of Florida, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management and Ecology. He has an interest in writing and history, particularly military history. He co-authored a published paper on white-tailed deer. An avid reader, Chuck usually completes two or three books during a research cruise leg. He reads a wide range of genres, including sci-fi, westerns, biographies, military history, scientific texts, and gothic horror. Some of his favorite authors include R.A. Salvatore, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Darwin. In his free time, he enjoys roleplaying games that encourage storytelling and creativity. For Chuck, these adventures are not about the end result, but the plotlines and how the players get there. Like me, Chuck has done volunteer work with veterans. He also values giving back and educating others about the importance of science and the environment, particularly water and the atmosphere. Chuck’s work with NOAA supports the goal of education and conservation to “preserve what we have.”
Longline fishing buoy
Red snapper scales
Far from home, these brief conversations with strangers seemed almost familiar as we discussed shared interests, goals, and experiences. As I continue to search for my own tribe and sense of belonging, I will remember these puzzle pieces in my journey.
My path to Teacher at Sea was arduous; the result of nearly ten years of sustained effort. The adventure was not solely about the end result, but very much about plotlines, supporting (and supportive) characters, and how I got there: hard work, persistence, grit, and a willingness to fight for the opportunity. Every obstacle and roadblock that I overcame. As a teacher, the longline fishing experience allowed me to be a student once again, learning new skills and complex processes for the first time. Applying that lens to the classroom setting, I am even more aware of the importance of clear instructions, explanations, patience, and encouragement. Now that the school year is underway, I find myself spending more time explaining, modeling, demonstrating, and correcting; much of the same guidance I needed on the ship. If grading myself on my longline fishing prowess, I measured my learning this way:
If I improved a little bit each day by remembering one more thing or forgetting one less thing…
If I had a meaningful exchange with someone on board…
If I learned something new by witnessing natural phenomena or acquired new terminology…
If I encountered an animal I’d never seen in person, then the day was a victory.
And I encountered many creatures I’d never seen before. Several species of sharks: silky, smooth-hound, sandbar, Atlantic sharpnose, blacknose, blacktip, great hammerhead, lemon, tiger, and bull sharks. A variety of other marine life: groupers, red snapper, hake, and blueline tilefish. Pelicans and other seabirds. Sharksuckers, eels, and barracudas.
The diminutive creatures were just as interesting as the larger species we saw. Occasionally, the circle hooks and monofilament would bring up small hitchhikers from the depths. Delicate crinoids and brittle stars. Fragments of coral, scraps of seaweed and sponges, and elegant, intricate shells. One particularly fascinating find: a carrier shell from a marine snail (genus: Xenophora) that cements fragments of shells, rocks, and coral to its own shell. The evenly spaced arrangement of shells seems like a deliberately curated, artistic effort: a tiny calcium carbonate collage or shell sculpture. These tiny hints of what’s down there were just as thrilling as seeing the largest shark because they assured me that there’s so much more to learn about the ocean.
Like the carrier snail’s shell collection, the small moments and details are what will stay with me:
Daily activities on the ship, and learning more about a field that has captivated my interest for years…
Seeing glimpses of the water column and the seafloor through the GoPro camera attached to the CTD…
Hearing from my aquatic co-author while I was at sea was a surreal role reversal…
Fishing into the middle of the night and watching the ink-black water come alive with squid, jellies, flying fish, dolphins, sailfish, and sharks…
Watching the ever-shifting moon, constellations, clouds, sunsets, and sunrise…
Listening to the unique and almost musical hum of the ship’s machinery and being lulled to sleep by the waves…
And the sharks. The breathtaking, perfectly designed sharks. Seeing and handling creatures that I feel strongly about protecting reinforced my mission to educate, protect, and conserve. The experience reinvigorated my connection to the ocean and reiterated why I choose to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Capturing the experience through the Teacher at Sea blog reinforced my enjoyment of writing, photography, and creative pursuits.
Dawn on the Gulf of Mexico
Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico
My first glimpse of Florida on the way to the ship.
In my introductory post, I wrote about formative visits to New England as a young child. Like so many aspects of my first glimpses of the ocean and maritime life, the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial statue intrigued me and sparked my young imagination. At that age, I didn’t fully grasp the solemn nature of the tribute, so the somber sculpture and memorial piqued my interest in fishing and seafaring instead. As wild as my imagination was, my preschool self could never imagine that I would someday partake in longline fishing as part of a Shark/Red Snapper Survey. My affinity for marine life and all things maritime remains just as strong today. Other than being on and around the water, docks and shipyards are some of my favorite places to explore. Living, working, and learning alongside fishermen was an honor.
Water and its fascinating inhabitants have a great deal to teach us. The Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico reminded me of the notion that: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Whether misattributed to Plutarch or Yeats or the wisdom of the Internet, the quote conveys the interest, curiosity, and appreciation I hope to spark in others as I continue to share my experience with my students, colleagues, and the wider community.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in Teacher at Sea, and I am also grateful to those who ignited a fire in me along the way. Thank you to those who supported my journey and adventure. I greatly appreciate your encouragement, support, interest, and positive feedback. Thank you for following my adventure!
Did You Know?
Xenophora shells grow in a spiral, and different species tend to collect different items. The purpose of self-decoration is to provide camouflage and protection from predators. The additional items can also strengthen the snail’s shell and provide more surface area to prevent the snail from sinking into the soft substrate.
Essentially two books in one, I recommend the fact-filled Under Water, Under Earth written and illustrated by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski. The text was translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.
One half of the book burrows into the Earth, exploring terrestrial topics such as caves, paleontology, tectonic plates, and mining. Municipal matters such as underground utilities, water, natural gas, sewage, and subways are included. Under Earth is a modern, nonfiction, and vividly illustrated Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Diving deeper, Under Water explores buoyancy, pressure, marine life, ocean exploration, and several other subjects. My favorite pages discuss diving feats while highlighting a history of diving innovations, including early diving suit designs and recent atmospheric diving systems (ADS). While Under Earth covers more practical topics, Under Water elicits pure wonder, much like the depths themselves.
Better suited for older, more independent readers (or enjoyed as a shared text), the engaging illustrations and interesting facts are easily devoured by curious children (and adults!). Fun-fact finders and trivia collectors will enjoy learning more about earth science and oceanography. Information is communicated through labels, cross sections, cutaway diagrams, and sequenced explanations.
My entire teaching career has been spent seeking ways to inspire my students to be happy, caring, thoughtful, and courageous stewards of the earth. It is so easy for someone to go through their day to day life without thinking about the impact that their actions have on the ocean, and the organisms that inhabit its waters. For as long as I can remember my inspiration has come from Robert Wyland, a renowned marine artist that focuses on teaching awareness about environmental conservation. Until I completed my Teacher at Sea experience, I had no idea that Robert Wyland has partnered with NOAA in outreach programs to actively engage in teaching students about the importance of marine life conservation. I am completely humbled knowing that as a Teacher at Sea Alumni, I have also now partnered with NOAA in creating opportunities for kids to become informed and aware of life beyond the classroom.
The ocean stirs the heart,
inspires the imagination and
brings eternal joy to the soul.
I love the ocean! I love the feeling of ‘not knowing’ when I look out over the water. There are so many unanswered questions about the systems, processes, and organisms that lie beneath the surface. I cannot express enough the gratitude that I have towards NOAA for choosing me to embark on an adventure that I will remember and share with others for the rest of my life. The Teacher at Sea experience has changed me. I am more patient with my students, and I have this unexplained excitement every day in the classroom. I have always been an upbeat teacher, but my passion for educating my students about the importance of scientific research has taken over. When I was aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, I could feel the desire from the NOAA scientists towards their work. It is amazing to be able to be a part of a team that gets to explore a territory on earth where most humans will never go. The ocean will always remain to be a mystery, and scientists will forever be challenged to explore, collect data, and draw conclusions about the existence of life offshore. Wyland once said, “the world’s finest wilderness lies beneath the waves….”. Knowing that I have been a part of exploring the ocean’s wilderness with NOAA scientists is something that I will cherish forever.
Each summer my co-teacher, Ashley Henderson, and I host a science camp called Ocean Adventure. This coming summer (2019) we will be adding a new camp called Shark Camp. Both camps will provide a unique way to educate the young ‘explorers’ in our community on the biological, chemical, and physical forces of the ocean, as well as human impact. Teacher at Sea has provided me with the opportunity to strengthen my knowledge of the ocean, including SHARKS, and will help us create a more impactful experience for the youngsters that attend the camps. It is important to me to reach out to the children in my community to develop an early interest in science, and nurture that awareness as the students flow through the different grade levels.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 30, 2018
Weather Data from Home
Conditions at 1515
Latitude: 43° 09’ N
Longitude: 77° 36’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1026.3 mbar
Air Temperature: 14° C
Wind Speed: S 10 km/h
Science and Technology Log
My students sent me off with many shark questions before I left for the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey. Much of their curiosity revolved around one of the most fear-inducing features of a shark: their teeth! Students wanted to know:
Why do sharks eat fish? How and why do sharks have so many teeth? Why do sharks have different kinds of teeth? Do sharks eat each other? What hunts sharks, besides other sharks?
And one of my favorite student questions: Why do sharks eat regular people, but not scientists?
Most people think of sharks as stalking, stealthy, steel-grey hunters. With a variety of colors, patterns, fin shapes, and body designs, sharks do not look the same. They do not eat the same things, or even get their food the same way. Instead, they employ a variety of feeding strategies. Some gentle giants, like the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), are filter feeders. They strain tiny plants and animals, as well as small fish, from the water. Others, such as the angel shark (Squatina spp.), rely on their flattened bodies, camouflage, and the lightning-fast element of surprise. Instead of actively pursuing their prey, they wait for food to come to them and ambush their meal. These suction-feeding sharks have tiny, pointed, rearward-facing teeth to trap the prey that has been sucked into the shark’s mouth. This video demonstrates how the angel shark uses clever camouflaging and special adaptations to get a meal:
The sharks we caught through longline fishing methods were attracted to the Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) that we used as bait. Depending on the species of shark and its diet, shark teeth can come in dozens of different shapes and sizes. Instead of just two sets of teeth like we have, a shark has many rows of teeth. Each series is known as a tooth file. As its teeth fall out, the shark will continually grow and replace teeth throughout its lifetime—a “conveyor belt” of new teeth. Some sharks have 5 rows of teeth, while the bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) may have as many as 50 rows of teeth!
The sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) usually has about 14 rows of teeth. They may lose teeth every ten days or so, and most sharks typically lose at least one tooth a week. Why? Their teeth may get stuck in their prey, which can be tough and bony. When you don’t have hands, and need to explore the world with your mouth, it’s easy to lose or break a tooth now and then. Throughout its lifetime, a shark may go through over 30,000 teeth. The shark tooth fairy must be very busy!
Similar to our dining utensils, sharks’ teeth are designed for cutting, spearing, and/or crushing. The tooth shape depends upon the shark’s diet. Sharks’ teeth are not uniform (exactly the same), so the size and shape of the teeth vary, depending on their location in the upper and lower jaws. Some sharks have long, angled, and pointed teeth for piercing and spearing their food. Similar to a fork, this ensures that their slippery meals don’t escape. Other sharks and rays have strong, flattened teeth for crushing the hard shells of their prey. These teeth work like a nutcracker or shellfish-cracking tool. Still others, like the famously fierce-looking teeth of the great white, are triangular and serrated. Like a steak knife, these teeth are used for tearing, sawing, and cutting into their prey.
Beyond their teeth, other body features contribute to a shark’s ability to bite, crush, pursue, or ambush their prey. The powerful muscles that control their jaws and swimming ability, the position of their mouth, and the shape of their caudal (tail) fin all influence how a shark gets its food. Unlike humans, sharks do not chew their food. They swallow their food whole, or use their teeth to rip, shred, crush, and tear their food into smaller chunks that the shark can swallow. No need to floss or brush after a meal: sharks’ teeth contain fluoride, which helps to prevent cavities and decay.
Some people may find it hard to swallow the idea that sharks aren’t mindless menaces, but shark encounters are quite rare. Sharks have many extraordinary adaptations that make them efficient swimmers and hunters of other marine life, not humans. Whenever sharks come up in conversation, I am careful to dispel myths about these captivating creatures, trying to replace fear with facts (and hopefully, curiosity and respect). Since sharks can’t talk, I’m happy to advocate for them. Despite the way sharks are negatively portrayed in the media, I assure my students that sharks far prefer to eat bony fish, smaller sharks, skates, rays, octopus, squid, bivalves, crustaceans, marine mammals, plankton, and other marine life over humans. Instead of fear, I try to instill awareness of the vital role sharks fulfill in the ecosystem. We are a far greater threat to them, and they require our respect and protection.
As storms and hurricanes tear across the Gulf of Mexico, causing destruction and devastation, my thoughts are with the impacted areas. Before my Teacher at Sea placement, I never thought I’d spend time in the region, so it’s interesting to see now-familiar locations on the news and weather maps. One of my favorite aspects of being at sea was watching the sky: recognizing constellations while fishing at night, gazing at glorious, melting sunsets, and observing storm clouds gathering in the distance. The colors and clouds were ever-changing, a reminder of the dynamic power of nature.
Watching the recent storm coverage on TV reinforced the importance of strong and accurate communication skills. Similar to a sidebar on the page, much of the supplementary storm information was printed on the screen. For someone who needed to evacuate quickly or was worried about loved ones in the area, this printed information could be crucial. As I listened to the reporters’ updates on the storm damage, aware that they were most likely reading from scripted notes, I was reminded of the challenge of conveying complex science through everyday language.
One might assume that a typical day at sea only focused on science, technology, and math. In fact, all school subjects surfaced at some point in my experience at sea. For example, an understanding of geography helped me to understand where we were sailing and how our location influenced the type of wildlife we were seeing. People who were more familiar with the Gulf of Mexico shared some facts about the cultural, economic, and historical significance of certain locations, shedding light on our relationship with water.
Fishing is an old practice steeped in tradition, but throughout the ship, modern navigation equipment made it possible to fish more efficiently by plotting our locations while avoiding hazards such as natural formations and other vessels. Feats of engineering provided speed, power, drinkable water, and technological conveniences such as GPS, air conditioning, and Wi-Fi. In contrast to the natural evolution of sharks, these artificial adaptations provided many advantages at sea. To utilize the modern technology, however, literacy was required to input data and interpret the information on the dozens of monitors on board. Literacy and strong communication skills were required to understand and convey data to others. Reading and critical thinking allowed us to interpret maps and data, understand charts and graphs, and access news articles about the red tide we encountered.
I witnessed almost every person on board applying literacy skills throughout their day. Whether they were reading and understanding crucial written communication, reading instructions, selecting a dinner option from the menu, or referencing a field guide, they were applying reading strategies. In the offices and work spaces on board, there was no shortage of instructional manuals, safe operating procedures, informational binders, or wildlife field guides.
Writing helped to organize important tasks and schedules. To manage and organize daily tasks and responsibilities, many people utilized sticky notes and checklists. Computer and typing skills were also important. Some people were inputting data, writing research papers and projects, sharing their work through social media, or simply responding to work-related emails. The dive operation that I observed started as a thoroughly written dive plan. All of these tasks required clear and accurate written communication.
Each day, I saw real-life examples of the strong ties between science and language arts. Recording accurate scientific data required measurement, weight, and observational skills, but literacy was required to read and interpret the data recording sheets. Neat handwriting and careful letter spacing were important for recording accurate data, reinforcing why we practice these skills in school. To ensure that a species was correctly identified and recorded, spelling could be an important factor. Throughout the experience, writing was essential for taking interview notes and brainstorming blog ideas, as well as following the writing process for my blog posts. If I had any energy left at the end of my day (usually around 2:00 AM), I consulted one of my shark field guides to read more about the intriguing species we saw.
Did You Know?
No need for a teething ring: Sharks begin shedding their teeth before they are even born. Shark pups (baby sharks) are born with complete sets of teeth. Sharks aren’t mammals, so they don’t rely upon their mothers for food after they’re born. They swim away and must fend for themselves, so those born-to-bite teeth come in handy.
Smart About Sharks written and illustrated by Owen Davey
Appropriate for older readers, the clever, comprehensive text offers interesting facts, tidbits, and trivia. The book dives a bit deeper to go beyond basic shark facts and knowledge. I’ve read hundreds of shark books, and I appreciated learning something new. The text doesn’t shy away from scientific terminology and concepts, such as phylogeny (eight orders of sharks and representative species). The facts reflect recent research findings on shark behavior. Lesser-known species are included, highlighting the diversity in body shapes, sizes, and specialized features. From a design standpoint, the aesthetically appealing illustrations are stylized, colorful, and engaging. Simple infographics provide explanations of complex ideas. Fact meets fiction in a section about shark mythology from around the world. The book concludes with a discussion of threats to sharks, as well as ocean conservation tips.
The past three days were light catch days. One day, we only caught a snake fish, which, as you can see, is a pretty tiny little guy. But, the data from a catch that brings up nothing is just as important as a catch that brings up 50 fish. As the saying goes, “If we always caught something, we would call it catching, not fishing.” We have brought up a few Sandbar sharks and Tiger sharks, some of them large enough to have to cradle. I have gotten to tag a few of the Sandbar sharks, which is still an amazing experience.
While we did not see many sharks, I had fun seeing the other organisms at the surface. There have been a lot of moon jellyfish as we have been pulling the line in, and it was clear enough that I was able to get a picture of a few of them as they floated by. One night, there were flying fish next to the ship, and one of them jumped onto the deck, so I was able to see one up close. One of the days, a pod of dolphins joined us on a run, and followed the boat for quite a while. So, while we did not see many sharks, I was able to see some awesome animals throughout the past few days.
The last night on the ship, I finished cleaning my shark jaws. Overnight, they soaked in hydrogen peroxide to whiten them, and today I set them to dry. I’m looking forward to taking them home and sharing them with all of my students.
It was an amazing two weeks. On Friday night, we set our last line, and it was bittersweet. Over the past two weeks, I have been able to fish with an amazing group of people. They allowed me to be a part of the team, and attempt each job setting and pulling in the line. I was able to put out the high flyer, sling bait, place numbers, clean barrels, and keep data on the computer. I learned how to tie a double-overhand knot, handle small sharks, tag sharks of all sizes, and had lots of fun doing it. I’m excited to head back to T-STEM Academy at East High School, but I will always fondly remember my time on the Oregon II.
One of the things that the night shift has done a few times is midnight hot dogs. Chris, the night shift lead fisherman, brings different types of hot dogs on the boat and will cook them at midnight for the shift change. It gives the night shift members something to eat before breakfast at 7 AM, and gives the day shift something to eat before bed. They go all out, with a condiment bar and gourmet buns.
Did You Know?
Once the Oregon II returns to port from this fourth leg of the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey, they will spend a week cleaning and preparing the ship to return to the Gulf of Mexico on a Groundfish Survey that will run from October 8-November 21. NOAA Groundfish surveys allow for the collection of data on the distribution of flora and fauna within the target region through the use of trawl nets.
Quote of the Day
The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.
~ John Buchan
Question of the Day
Sharks have teeth that are constantly being replaced. How many teeth will the average shark go through in their lifetime?
We have moved from the coast of Texas, past Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, to the coast of Florida. When watching the video from the CTD, we have seen the sea floors go from mostly mud to sand. The water has decreased in turbidity, and the growth on the sea floor has increased. The make-up of our catches has changed too. We moved outside of the productive waters associated with the Mississippi River discharge, so our catch rates have decreased significantly.
Yesterday, we had a fun day of catching sharks I had never seen. Our first catch of the day brought up a juvenile Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). I was excited to be able to see this shark, which is listed as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. On our later catch, we brought up three sharks large enough to require the cradle. First, we brought up a Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus). Then, we were lucky enough to bring up a Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum). The mouth of the nurse shark has barbles, which it uses to feed from the sea floor. Our final shark of the evening was a much more developed Tiger Shark. I was lucky enough to help with the tagging of the animal.
Last night, we set a line at the end of day shift, and night shift brought it in. A few of the day shift science team members decided to stay up and watch some of the haul back, and were rewarded with seeing them bring in, not one, but two Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis), back to back. From the upper deck of the ship, so that I was not in their way, I was able to observe the night shift work together to bring up these two large animals.
The night shift has gotten some pretty amazing catches, and they have enjoyed sharing them with us at shift change. The two shifts spend about half an hour together around noon and midnight sharing stories of the time when the other shift was asleep. The other day, the night shift caught Gulper Sharks (Centrophorus uyato) and Tile Fish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps). These are two species we have not seen on the day shift, so it was fun to look at their pictures and hear the stories of how they caught these fish.
When we have a long run between stations, once I have gotten done sending emails and grading student work, we will spend some time watching movies in the lounge. The ship has a large collection of movies, both classic and recent. Watching movies keeps us awake during the late night runs, when we have to stay up until midnight to set a line.
The day shift has started to ask one another riddles as we are baiting and setting lines. It’s a fun way to bond as we are doing our work. One of my favorites have been: “1=3, 2=3, 3=5, 4=4, 5=4, 6=3, 7=5, 8=5, 9=4, 10=3. What’s the code?”
Did You Know?
Sharks don’t have the same type of skin that we do. Sharks have dermal denticles, which are tiny scales, similar to teeth, which are covered with enamel.
Quote of the Day
Teach all men to fish, but first teach all men to be fair. Take less, give more. Give more of yourself, take less from the world. Nobody owes you anything, you owe the world everything.
Question of the Day
I have a lot of teeth but I’m not a cog
I scare a lot of people but I’m not a spider
I have a fin but I’m not a boat
I’m found in the ocean but I’m not a buoy
I sometimes have a hammerhead but I don’t hit nails
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 26, 2018
Weather Data from the Air
Conditions at 0634
Altitude: 9585 meters
Outside Temperature: -38 ℃
Distance to Destination: 362 km
Tail Wind: 0 km/h
Ground Speed: 837 km/h
(While NOAA Ship Oregon II has many capabilities, flight isn’t one of them. These were the conditions on my flight home.)
Science and Technology Log
The idea of placing an elementary school teacher on a Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey seems like a reality show premise, and I couldn’t believe that it was my surreal reality. Several times a day, I took a moment to appreciate my surroundings and the amazing opportunity to get so close to my favorite creatures: sharks!
Anyone who knows me is aware of my obsession with sharks. Seeing several sharks up close was a hallowed, reverential experience. Reading about sharks, studying them through coursework, and seeing them on TV or in an aquarium is one thing. Being only a few feet away from a large tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) or a great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) is quite another. Seeing the sharks briefly out of the water provided a quick glimpse of their sinewy, efficient design…truly a natural work of art. Regardless of size, shape, or species, the sharks were powerful, feisty, and awe-inspiring. The diversity in design is what makes sharks so fascinating!
I envied the remora, or sharksucker, that was attached to one of the sharks we caught. Imagine being able to observe what the shark had been doing, prior to encountering the bait on our longline fishing gear. What did the shark and its passenger think of their strange encounter with us? Where would the shark swim off to once it was released back into the water? If only sharks could talk. I had many questions about how the tagging process impacts sharks. As we started catching and tagging sharks, I couldn’t help but think of a twist on the opening of MTV’s The Real World: “…To find out what happens…when sharks stop being polite…and start getting reeled.”
Sadly for my curiosity, sharks have yet to acquire the ability to communicate verbally, despite their many advantageous adaptations over millions of years. To catch a glimpse of their actions in their watery world, scientists sometimes attach cameras to their fins or enlist the help of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to learn more. The secret lives of sharks… reality TV at its finest.
Underwater camera footage is beginning to reveal the answers to many of the questions my Kindergarten-5th grade students have about sharks:
How deep can sharks swim?
How big can sharks get? How old can sharks get?
Do sharks sleep? Do sharks stop swimming when they sleep? Can sharks ever stop swimming?
Do sharks have friends? Do sharks hunt cooperatively or alone?
Is the megalodon (Carcharocles megalodon) still swimming around down there? (This is a very common question among kids!)
The answers vary by species, but an individual shark can reveal quite a bit of information about shark biology and behavior. Tagging sharks can provide insight about migratory patterns and population distribution. This information can help us to better understand, manage, and protect shark populations.
Using several low-tech methods, a great deal of information could be gleaned from our very brief encounters with the sharks we caught and released. In a very short amount of time, the following information was collected and recorded:
• hook number (which of the 100 longline circle hooks the shark was caught on)
• genus and species name (we recorded scientific and common names)
• four measurements on various points of the shark’s body (sometimes lasers were used on the larger sharks)
• weight (if it was possible to weigh the shark: this was harder to do with the larger, heavier sharks)
• whether the shark was male or female, noting observations about its maturity (if male)
• fin clip samples (for genetic information)
• photographs of the shark (we also filmed the process with a GoPro camera that was mounted to a scientist’s hardhat)
• applying a tag on or near the shark’s first dorsal fin; the tag number was carefully recorded on the data sheet
• additional comments about the shark
Finally, the hook was removed from the shark’s mouth, and the shark was released back into the water (we watched carefully to make sure it swam off successfully)!
Other fish were retained for scientific samples. Yellowedge grouper (Epinephelus flavolimbatus), blueline tilefish (Caulolatilus microps), and red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) were some of species we caught and sampled. Specific samples from specific species were requested from various organizations. Generally, we collected five different samples:
• fin clips: provide genetic information
• liver: provides information about the health of the fish, such as the presence of toxins
• muscle tissue: can also provide information about the health of the fish
• gonads: provide information about reproduction
• otoliths: These bony structures are found in the inner ear. Similar to tree rings, counting the annual growth rings on the otoliths can help scientists estimate the age of the fish.
Samples were preserved and stored in vials, jars, and plastic sample bags, including a Whirl-Pak. These bags and containers were carefully numbered and labeled, corresponding with the information on the data sheets. Other information was noted about the fish, including maturity and stomach contents. Sometimes, photos were taken to further document the fish.
Thinking of the Oregon II as my floating classroom, I looked for analogous activities that mirrored my elementary students’ school day. Many key parts of the elementary school day could be found on board.
With my young readers and writers in mind, I applied my literacy lens to many of the ship’s activities. Literacy was the thread that ran through many of our daily tasks, and literacy was the cornerstone of every career on board. Several ship personnel described the written exams they’d taken to advance in their chosen careers. Reading and writing were used in everything from the recipes and daily menu prepared by Second Cook Arlene Beahm and Chief Steward Valerie McCaskill in the galley to the navigation logs maintained by Ensign Chelsea Parrish on the ship’s bridge.
I often start the school year off with some lessons on reading and following directions. In the school setting, this is done to establish routines and expectations, as well as independence. On the ship, reading and following directions was essential for safety! Throughout the Oregon II, I encountered lots of printed information and many safety signs. Some of the signs included pictures, but many of them did not. This made me think of my readers who rely on pictures for comprehension. Some important safety information was shared verbally during our training and safety drills, but some of it could only be accessed through reading.
Did You Know?
Thomas Jefferson collected fossils and owned a megalodon tooth. The Carcharocles megalodon tooth was found in South Carolina. One of the reasons why Jefferson supported expeditions to lands west of the Mississippi? He believed that a herd of mammoths might still be roaming there. Jefferson didn’t believe that animal species could go extinct, so he probably liked the idea that the megalodon was still swimming around somewhere! (There’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that either Thomas Jefferson or the megalodon are still around.)
If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams
This picture book acknowledges the scariness of sharks, but explains that a world without sharks would be even scarier. Shown through the eyes of a curious young girl and her family, the book highlights the important role that sharks play in the ocean food web. As apex predators, sharks help to keep the ocean healthy and balanced.
The book includes some mind-blowing facts, such as the concept that sharks existed on Earth before trees. Through easy-to-follow examples of cause and effect, the author and illustrator explores complex, sophisticated concepts such as overfishing, extinction, and trophic cascade. The glossary includes well-selected words that are important to know and understand about the environment. Additional information is provided about shark finning and ways to help save sharks. An author’s note, bibliography, and additional sources are also included.
Over the past few days, we’ve fished a mix of station depths, so I’ve gotten to see a number of new species as we’ve moved out into deeper waters.
At a C station, which is a station at depths between 183 and 366 meters, we caught a Mako Shark (Isurus oxyrinchus). This catch was so unexpected that a number of crew members ventured out to the well deck to snap a picture. She was a beautiful juvenile between 1-2 years old.
I also saw my first kingsnake eel, a long eel with a set of very sharp teeth. On a later station, we caught a juvenile that we were able to bring on deck and examine. We also caught a Warsaw grouper (Hyporthodus nigritus), which had parasites on its gills and in its fins. Gregg Lawrence, a member of the night shift on loan from Texas Parks and Wildlife Coastal Fisheries unit, and I removed the otoliths and took samples of the parasites.
We had one catch that brought in 20 Red Snappers. Red Snappers are brought on deck, and a number of samples are taken from each one of them for ongoing assessment of the Red Snapper population. In addition to the otoliths, which allow the scientists to determine the age of the fish, we also take samples of the gonads, the muscle, the fins, and the stomach. These allow the scientists to perform reproductive and genetic tests and determine what the snappers ate. While 4 members of the science team onboard collected samples, Caroline Collatos, the volunteer on the day shift, and I insured that the samples were properly packaged and tagged. Everyone working together allowed the process to run smoothly.
On the latest B station, which was about 110 meters deep, we caught a number of species, some of which I had not gotten to see yet. In addition to Gulf smoothound sharks (Mustelus sinusmexicanus), we caught a Scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) and a Sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) that we had to cradle due to their size. The Sandbar shark was a bit feisty, but I got the chance to tag her before we released her.
We work in the rain. Thankfully, they had some extra rain gear for me to put on, so that I would not get drenched while we were setting the line. For the most part, the rainstorms have been sprinkles, but we did have one downpour while we were going toward a station.
Between setting lines, I have been busy checking up on my studenats’ work back in Memphis. One of the great things about having a one-to-one school is that the students are able to do their work on Microsoft Teams and turn it in for me to grade it thousands of miles away. I have loved seeing their how they are doing, and answering questions while they are working, because I know that they are learning about the cell cycle while I am out at sea learning about sharks.
One of the things that has really surprised me over the past week is how much my hands hurt. It was unexpected, but it makes sense, given how much of the work requires good grip strength. From insuring that the sharks are handled properly to clipping numbers on the gangions to removing circle hooks from fish on the lines, much of the work on the science team requires much more thumb strength than I had thought about. I know my students have commented that their hands hurt after taking notes in my class, so I thought they would get a kick out of the fact that the work on the ship has made my hands hurt.
Did You Know?
Sharks are able to sense electrical fields generated by their prey through a network of sensory organs known as ampullae of Lorenzini. These special pores are filled with a conductive jelly composed primarily of proteins, which send the signals to nerve fibers at the base of the pore.
Quote of the Day
Remove the predators, and the whole ecosystem begins to crash like a house of cards. As the sharks disappear, the predator prey balance dramatically shifts, and the health of our oceans declines.
My first day onboard was spent following around 2nd Engineer Will Osborn. Will is an officer in the Merchant Marines, and a NOAA Augmentation Pool Engineer assigned to the Oregon II. He invited me to follow him around and learn how the engineers prepare the ship for sea. One of the duties of the engineers is to check the liquid levels of each of the tanks prior to sailing. They do this by performing soundings, where they use a weighted measuring tape and a conversion chart to determine the number of gallons in each of the tanks.
2nd Engineer Will Osborne performing a sounding on deck
Performing a sounding on the dirty oil tank
The engineering team then prepared the ship to sail by disconnecting shore power and turning on the engines aboard ship. I got to flip the switch that disconnects the ship from shore power. I followed the engineering team as they disconnected the very large cable that the ship uses to draw power from shore. I then got to follow 2nd Engineer Will as he turned on the engines aboard ship.
Once we set sail, the science team met and discussed how longline surveys would work. I am on the day shift, which is from noon to midnight. We got the rest of the day, after onboard training and group meetings, to get used to our new sleep schedule. Because I was on the day shift, I stayed up and got to watch an amazing sunset over the Gulf.
Our second day out, we set our first two longlines. The first one was set before shift change, so the night shift crew bated the hooks and set the line. My shift brought the line in, and mostly got back unbaited hooks. We got a few small Atlantic Sharpnose (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) sharks on the line, and used those to go over internal and external features that differentiated the various species we might find.
After the lines were in, it was time for safety drills. These included the abandon ship drill, which required us to put on a submersion suit, which is affectionately referred to as a Gumby suit. You can see why below. It was as hard to get into as it looks, but it will keep you warm and afloat if you end up in the water after you abandon ship.
I have learned a few rules of the boat on my first days at sea. First, always watch your head. The stairwells sometimes have short spaces, and you have to make sure not to hit them on your way up. Second, always keep a hand free for the boat. It is imperative at sea that you always have a hand free, in case the boat rocks and you need to catch yourself. Third, mealtimes are sacred. There are 31 people aboard the boat, with seating for 12 in the galley. In order for everyone to get a chance to sit down and eat, you can’t socialize in the galley.
Did You Know?
In order for the crew to have freshwater to drink, the Oregon II uses a reverse osmosis machine. They create 1000-1200 gallons of drinkable water per day, running the ocean water through the reverse osmosis generator at a pressure of 950 psi.
Quote of the Day
And when there are enough outsiders together in one place, a mystic osmosis takes place and you’re inside.
Greetings to those following my adventure from afar. My name is Kristin Hennessy-McDonald, but my students and fellow faculty call me Dr. Hen-Mc. I am so excited to have been selected to be a member of the NOAA Teacher at Sea Program aboard the Oregon II. I am the science lead at T-STEM Academy at East High School, where I teach Honors Biology. My path to the classroom was far from straight. I attended the University of Notre Dame, where I earned a B.S. in Biology. I then continued my academic path at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, where I earned my PhD in Cell Physiology. After spending a little less than 3 years at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, I had an epiphany. I found that I enjoyed sharing my passion about science more than doing research at the bench. I made the decision to transition to the classroom and have not looked back. 8 years later, I have found my home at T-STEM, and my family in Team East.
The journey to boarding the Oregon II has been a long one, but well worth it. When my boss brought the opportunity to me, I applied with hope. When I got the acceptance letter, I gasped and started jumping up and down in my classroom. My students were confused, but then excited when they found out that I had gotten this opportunity. I teach many of the same students who were in that class, and they have all been sharing in my excitement over the past months as I have prepared for this adventure.
My first view of the Oregon II
Boarding the NOAA Ship Oregon II
I have always been fascinated by water. From the time I was a small child, my parents would have to watch carefully when we went to the pool or the beach, because I was liable to jump right in. As I grew up, that love of water has remained, and I spend time each summer on the Gulf. I am thrilled to have a chance to study ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico, and see things that I only read about in National Geographic magazine.
I have passed my love of water on to my daughter. Beth is the same way I was when I was young. She wants to run into the water, to play in the waves. She sees the beauty of the sea, watching dolphins alongside the boat when we take trips to Ship Island out of Gulfport, MS. I look forward to sharing my adventures at sea with her. I am sad to leave her and my husband for two weeks, but grateful that they waved me off on my adventures with a smile.
I began my career as a teacher because I wanted to share my love of science with young people. I dreamed of someday being a child’s gateway to the wonders and knowledge of science. While none of my students have stood on a desk reciting Whitman, some of my students have allowed my love of science to guide them along science career paths. When I joined Team East at T-STEM Academy at East High School, I knew that I was in a place that would foster the idea of learning by doing. I wanted to exemplify that going on this trip. I cannot wait to bring all of the knowledge and experiences of this trip back to my classroom. Instead of just sharing case studies of Gulf Coast ecosystems, I will be able to share what I learned as a NOAA Teacher at Sea.
Personal Quote of the day
“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
Did You Know?
Red Snappers are considered to be one of the top predators in the Gulf of Mexico?
Question of the day
Given that red snapper hatch at 0.0625 inches long, and can reach sizes of 16 inches within two years, do you think their cells have a long or short G1 phase?
In addition to collecting data on the many species of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, this survey also collects data that will go towards assessing the population of red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus). One piece of evidence that is collected from the red snapper is their two distinct otoliths. Otoliths are structures that are used for balance and orientation in bony fish. One fascinating characteristic of the otolith is that they contain natural growth rings that researchers can count in order to determine the age of the fish. This information is important for stock assessment of the red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.
I would have to say that the hardest part about being out at sea is not being able to see Coral and Kai. I miss them so much and think about them nonstop. Coral is at a very curious stage in her life (I hope the curiosity stays with her forever) and I cannot wait to get home and tell her about all the animals that I have been lucky enough to witness on this adventure. Kai is just the sweetest little boy and I can only imagine the way he will react when I get home.
I am very busy on the boat and when there is down time my team and I are getting shark lessons from the incredibly intelligent Chief NOAA Scientist, Kristin Hannan, or we are in the movie room catching up on all the Annabelle movies. It is almost impossible to get scared while aboard a ship. It may seem that many things could go wrong, but the lights are always on and someone is always awake. It is the perfect environment to watch any horror film because this atmosphere makes it much less scary.
Probably the scariest thing that is happening on this boat is the amount of weight I have gained. All of the meals are delicious and they come with dessert. It is kind of nice to not have to worry about going to the gym or staying on a normal routine. Life is always so hectic day to day when I am at home, but being out here on the water gives me time to relax and reflect on the amazing people I have in my life that made this opportunity possible.
I am sad to report that the Chicago Bears lost tonight to Greenbay, but I did show support for my team! I think the best part of the day was when I was on the bow of the boat and Kristin announced over the radio that the Bears were winning 7 to 0. It is exciting being out here seeing everyone cheer for their fantasy team, as well as their home town team.
After a long two day cruise to the southern tip of Texas, we finally started fishing. I learned quickly that everyone has a job, and when you are done with your job, you help members of your team complete their tasks. The coordinates of all of the survey locations are charted using a program called Novel Tec, and once the captain has determined that we have reached our designated location, the fun begins. To deploy the longline there are many important responsibilities that are delegated by the Chief NOAA Scientist.
#1- All scientists work together to bait 100 hooks with mackerel (Scomber scombrus).
#2- High-Flyer Release – Once the long line has been attached to the high-flyer, it is released from the stern of the boat. The high-flyer consists of a buoy to keep it above water, and a flashing light, so we know the exact location of the beginning of the longline.
#3 Weight Attachment – A NOAA fisherman is responsible for attaching the weight at the appropriate distance, based on the depth of that station to ensure the gear is on the sea floor. This also keeps the high-flyer from drifting. Alongside the weight, a TDR is attached to the line, which records temperature and depth.
#4 Numbering of baited hooks – After the first weight goes out, one by one the gangions are numbered and set over the edge of the ship, but not let go. A gangion consists of a 12ft line, a baited hook, and hook number.
# 5 Hook Attachment – A NOAA fisherman will receive one gangion at a time, and attach it to the line. Another weight is attached to the line after 50 hooks have been deployed, and once all 100 hooks are deployed the final weight is attached. Then the line is cut, and the second high-flyer is attached and set free to mark the end of the survey area. This process goes fairly quickly, as the longline is continuously being fed into the water.
#6 Data Collection – Each piece of equipment that enters the water is recorded in a database on the computer. There should always be 2 high-flyers, 3 weights, and 100 gangions entered into the database.
#7 Bucket Clean-up – The buckets that were holding the baited hooks need to be scrubbed and prepared for when we haul the line back in.
Once all of the gear is in the water we wait for approximately one hour until we start to haul back each hook one by one. The anticipation is exciting to see if a shark or other fish has hooked itself.
I would say that my body has fully adjusted to living at sea. I took off my sea sickness patch and I feel great! Currently, Tropical Storm Gordon is nearing to hit Mississippi this evening. We are far enough out of the storm’s path that it will not affect our fishing track. I am having the time of my life and learning so much about the Oregon II, sharks, and many other organisms that we’ve seen or caught.
Did you know?:
NOAA Ship Oregon II creates freshwater via reverse osmosis. Sea water is pumped in and passed through a high pressure pump at 1,000psi. The pump contains a membrane (filter), which salt is too big to pass through, so it is disposed overboard. The clean freshwater is collected and can be used for showering, cooking, and drinking. In addition to creating freshwater, the engineers are also responsible for the two engines and the generators.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 24, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Conditions at 1705
Latitude: 29° 15.17’ N
Longitude: 86° 11.34’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1014.82 mbar
Air Temperature: 31.2° C
Sea Temperature: 32.6° C
Wind Speed: 2.44 knots
Relative Humidity: 57%
Science and Technology Log
Life at sea provides fathoms of real-life examples of the nonfiction text structures I teach my students to identify: description, order and sequence, compare and contrast, fact vs. opinion, problem-solution, cause and effect, and several others.
While on the Oregon II, I was very fortunate to observe a dive operation that took place.
Here’s how an account of the dive operation might read for my elementary school students. Embedded in the text, I’ve included opportunities for developing readers to use context clues, to notice words that signal order/sequence (first, next, then…), to notice words that signal compare and contrast (similar, unlike), etc.
Today’s lesson: Problem-Solution.
Problem: Sometimes, the hull (or watertight body) of a vessel can become encrusted with marine life such as algae or barnacles. This is called biofouling. To prevent biofouling, underwater surfaces are inspected and cleaned regularly. To further prevent creatures from making the body of the Oregon II their home, the hull is painted with a special anti-fouling paint.
Occasionally, man-made materials, like rope and fishing gear, can get tangled in the equipment that sits below the surface of the water, such as the rudder or propeller.
Underwater GoPro camera footage suggested that a piece of thick plastic fishing line (called monofilament) was near the Oregon II’s bow thruster. The bow thruster, located in the front of the ship, is a propulsion device that helps to steer the ship to the port (left) or starboard (right) side. This makes navigating and docking the 170-foot ship easier. When the powerful bow thruster is engaged, the entire ship rumbles, sounding like a thunderous jet soaring through the sky.
Something like entangled fishing line is problematic for navigation and safety, so the line must be removed if found. Because the bow thruster is located beneath the water’s surface, this task cannot be completed while on the ship. So how can the crew remove any tangled line and inspect the hull for damage?
Solution: Divers must swim under the ship to inspect the hull. If fishing line is suspected, divers can investigate further. This opportunity to “inspect and correct” allows them to take a closer look at the hull. If fishing line or other damage is found, divers cut away the line and report the damage. Routine hull inspections are part of regular ship maintenance.
The entire process is not as simple as, “Let’s go check it out!” NOAA divers must follow certain rules and safety regulations.
First, the Oregon II’s dive team developed a Dive Operations Plan to investigate the bow thruster and hull. Dive details were discussed in a pre-dive briefing, or meeting. The Diving Emergency Assistance Plan (DEAP) was reviewed and a safety checklist completed.
The team prepared to send two divers, Lead Fisherman (LF) Chris Nichols and Navigation Officer Ensign (ENS) Chelsea Parrish, to inspect the bow thruster and remove any fishing line if needed. For this task, they carried scrapers and line-cutting tools.
To prepare for the dive operation, ship navigation plans were made. Equipment beneath the boat was secured. This ensured that the divers would be kept safe from any moving parts such as the propeller or rudder.
Next, announcements were made before and after the dive to notify the entire ship that divers would be entering and exiting the water. That way, everyone on board knew to stop any fishing activity and avoid putting fishing gear in the water.
During the pre-dive briefing, procedures were reviewed and agreed upon. If needed, clarifying questions were asked to make sure that everyone knew and understood exactly what to do. This was similar to the ‘Checking for Understanding’ that I do with my students after giving directions.
Then the team agreed upon a dive time and a maximum diving depth. In this case, the team planned to dive a maximum of 25 fsw (feet of sea water). The surrounding water was about 160 feet deep.
On the deck of the Oregon II, a Topside Supervisor and Line Tender kept watchful eyes on the divers. Chief Boatswain (pronounced “boh-suhn”) Tim Martin was the standby diver, prepared to provide immediate assistance to the other divers if needed.
As the divers prepared to enter the water, the rest of the team was equally well prepared with checks, double-checks, back-up plans, communication, and contingency (emergency) plans. Hopefully, emergency plans are never needed during a dive operation, but just in case, everyone was well-trained and prepared to jump into action.
The water was calm and the weather fair. The divers signaled to the ship that they were OK in the water, and slipped beneath the surface. Soon, the only trace of them was a lighter blue trail of bubbles.
This was a working dive. Unlike recreational diving, this was not the time for the divers to leisurely swim and explore, but to follow the plan precisely. To communicate with each other under water, hand signals were used.
The divers reported back on the condition of the bow thruster and hull, as well as the dive conditions. They discussed their equipment, the undercurrent, and how they felt while under the pressure of the water. Dive data was collected from each diver and recorded on a form. The divers reached a depth of 21 feet.
Success! After inspecting the hull, the divers reported that they didn’t see any fishing line on the bow thruster or damage to the hull. Instead, they saw some small fish called jacks and some moon jellies drifting by.
Dive operations don’t happen often on the Oregon II. Normally, the team practices and performs their dives in a swimming pool in Mobile, Alabama. This dive near the Florida Keys was the first at-sea operational dive in two years as a full team—a rare and exciting treat to witness!
This reflection captures my own dive into the world of longline fishing. Switching roles from educator to student, this is also where I transition from writing for my students to writing for my peers and colleagues.
Every time I attempt something brand new, some optimistic part of me hopes that I’ll be a natural at it. If I just try, perhaps I’ll discover some latent proclivity. Or perhaps I’ll find my raison d’être—the reason why I was placed on this planet.
So I try something new and quickly recognize my naïveté. Many of these new skills and sequences are difficult, and I’m slow to master them. I compare my still-developing ability to that exhibited by seasoned veterans, and I feel bad for not grasping it quickly.
Spoiler alert: Longline fishing may not be my calling in life.
Life on and around the water, however, suits me quite well. As I’ve acclimated to life on a ship, the very act of being at sea comes naturally. Questions and curiosity flow freely. An already-strong appreciation for the water and its inhabitants deepens daily. And while I may not learn new concepts quickly, I eventually learn them thoroughly because I care. This journey has been a culminating opportunity in which I’ve been able to apply the nautical knowledge and marine biology fun facts I’ve been collecting since childhood.
Much of the daily work is rote, best learned through repetition, muscle memory, and experience. Very little of it is intuitive or commonsense, and my existing nautical know-how isn’t transferable to the longline gear because I’ve never handled it before.
At any point during my twelve hour shift, I’m keeping track of: the time, several other people, several locations on the ship, my deck boots (for working outside), sneakers (for walking inside), personal flotation device (PFD), sun hat, hard hat, bait gloves (for setting bait on hooks), grippy work gloves (for handling equipment and slippery, slimy fish), water bottle, camera, and rain gear…not to mention the marine life and specialized equipment for the particular task we’re performing.
Somewhere, Mr. Rogers is feeding his fish and chuckling with approval every time I sit down to swap out my deck boots several times a day.
There’s a great deal of repetition, which is why it’s so frustrating that these work habits haven’t solidified yet. It should be predictable, but I’m not there…yet. Researchers believe it takes, on average, more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic. Maybe I’m being hard on myself for not mastering this in less than two weeks.
Unlatch the door. Relatch the door. Fill water bottle. Sunscreen on. Sneakers off. Boots on. Boots off. Sneakers on. Bait gloves on. Bait gloves off. Work gloves on. Work gloves off. Regular glasses off. Sunglasses on. Sunglasses off. Refill water bottle. Regular glasses on. Unpack the tool bag. Repack the tool bag. Hat on. Hat off. Repeat sunscreen. Refill water bottle. PFD on. PFD off. Hard hat on. Hard hat off…and repeat.
It seems simple enough in writing, but I struggle to remember what I need to be wearing when, not to mention the various sub-steps involved in longline fishing and scientific research.
During the dive operation, I ventured up to the bow for a better vantage point. Alone on the bow, glorious water teemed with fascinating marine life as far as I could see. Below me—and well below the surface—an actual dive operation was taking place: an opportunity to apply the diving knowledge I’ve absorbed and acquired over the past several years.
If I were in a certain movie musical, I would have burst into song, twirling in circles on the bow, unable to resist the siren song of the sea. (And, as I’ve discovered from handling a few of the slimier species we’ve caught, the depths are alive…with the stench of mucus. And its slimy feel.)
As I struggle to keep track of all of the routines, equipment, and fishing gear, I feel like Maria in the opening scene of The Sound of Music. Lost in reverie and communing with nature, she suddenly remembers she’s supposed to be somewhere and rushes off to chapel, wimple in hand. She’s supposed to be wearing it, of course, but at least she made it there and remembered it at all.
My Teacher at Sea path was filled with an Alpine range of mountains to climb, but I climbed every mountain, and I’m here on the Oregon II. All of the hard work I’ve put in for the past ten years culminated into that harmonized, synchronous moment on the bow…
And then I remembered that my shift was starting soon, so I dashed off, PFD in hand.
I know that I’ll need a PFD at some point. And my gloves. And my boots. And a hard hat. I have them all at the ready, but I’m not always sure which one to wear when. As I fumble through the transitions, routines, and equipment, I sympathize with Maria’s difficult search for belonging. I certainly mean well, and my appreciation for the water around us cannot be contained.
Eventually, Maria realizes that she’s better suited to life as a governess and later, a sea captain’s wife. I’m discovering that perhaps I was not destined to be a skilled longline fisherman, but perhaps there is some latent proclivity related to the life aquatic. I may not always know which equipment to use when, but I know—with certainty—that I definitely need the ocean.
Did You Know?
Sharks secrete a type of mucus, or slime, from their skin. The mucus provides protection against infection, barnacles, and parasites. It also helps sharks to move faster through the water. Ship builders are inspired by sharks’ natural ability to resist biofouling and move through the water efficiently.
Students may be surprised to learn that barnacles are not only marine animals, but they begin their life as active swimmers and later attach themselves permanently to a variety of surfaces: docks, ships, rocks, and even other animals.
Barnacles by Lola M. Schaefer is part of the Musty-Crusty Animals series, exploring how the animal looks and feels, where it lives, how it moves, what it eats, and how it reproduces. This title is part of Heinemann’s Read and Learn collection of nonfiction books for young readers. Other creatures in the series include: crayfish, hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs, lobsters, and sea horses. These books are a great introduction to nonfiction reading skills and strategies, especially for younger readers who are interested in fascinating, unconventional creatures.
Each chapter begins with a question, tapping into children’s natural curiosity and modeling how to develop and ask questions about topics. Supportive nonfiction text features include a table of contents, bold words, simple labels (as an introduction to diagrams), size comparisons, a picture glossary, and index.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 16, 2018
Weather Data from the Bridge
Conditions at 1106
Latitude: 25° 17.10’ N
Longitude: 82° 53.58’ W
Barometric Pressure: 1020.17 mbar
Air Temperature: 29.5° C
Sea Temperature: 30.8° C
Wind Speed: 12.98 knots
Relative Humidity: 76%
Science and Technology Log
Before getting into the technology that allows the scientific work to be completed, it’s important to mention the science and technology that make daily life on the ship safer, easier, and more convenient. Electricity powers everything from the powerful deck lights used for working at night to the vital navigation equipment on the bridge (main control and navigation center). Whether it makes things safer or more efficient, the work we’re doing would not be possible without power. Just in case, several digital devices have an analog (non-electronic) counterpart as a back-up, particularly those used for navigation, such as the magnetic compass.
To keep things cool, large freezers are used for storing bait, preserving scientific samples, and even storing ice cream (no chumsicles for dessert—they’re not all stored in the same freezer!). After one particularly sweltering shift, I was able to cool off with some frozen coffee milk (I improvised with cold coffee, ice cream, and milk). More importantly, without the freezers, the scientific samples we’re collecting wouldn’t last long enough to be studied further back at the lab on land.
Electricity also makes life at sea more convenient, comfortable, and even entertaining. We have access to many of the same devices, conveniences, and appliances we have at home: laundry machines, warm showers, air conditioning, home cooked meals, a coffee maker, TVs, computers with Wi-Fi, and special phones that allow calls to and from sea. A large collection of current movies is available in the lounge. During my downtime, I’ve been writing, exploring, enjoying the water, and learning more about the various NOAA careers on board.
To use my computer, I first needed to meet with Roy Toliver, Chief Electronics Technician, and connect to the ship’s Wi-Fi. While meeting with him, I asked about some of the devices I’d seen up on the flying bridge, the top deck of the ship. The modern conveniences on board are connected to several antennae, and Roy explained that I was looking at important navigation and communication equipment such as the ship’s GPS (Global Positioning System), radar, satellite, and weather instrumentation.
The weather devices on top are called anemometers, and they measure true wind speed and direction relative to the ship’s speed and direction. The term comes from the Greek word ‘anemos,’ which means wind. On the right is the fishing day shape, indicating to nearby ships that the Oregon II is using fishing gear.
These satellites help to provide the television and internet on the ship.
I was also intrigued by the net-like item (called a Day Shape) that communicates to other ships that we are deploying fishing equipment. This lets nearby ships know that the Oregon II has restricted maneuverability when the gear is in the water. At night, lights are used to communicate to other ships. Communication is crucial for safety at sea.
When I stopped by, Roy had just finished replacing some oxygen sensors for the CTD (that stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth). For more information about CTDs click here: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/ctd.html
A dissolved oxygen sensor to be mounted on the environmental profiler, which collects environmental data through the water column.
A CTD refers to several electronic instruments that measure conductivity, temperature, depth, and other properties in the water column. Scientists are interested in changes in these properties relative to depth.
Without accurate sensors, it’s very difficult for the scientists to get the data they need. If the sensors are not working or calibrated correctly, the information collected could be inaccurate or not register at all. The combination of salt water and electronics poses many interesting problems and solutions. I noticed that several electronic devices, such as computers and cameras, are built for outdoor use or housed in durable plastic cases.
On this particular day, the ship sailed closer to an algal bloom (a large collection of tiny organisms in the water) responsible for red tide. Red tide can produce harmful toxins, and the most visible effect was the presence of dead fish drifting by. As I moved throughout the ship, the red tide was a red hot topic of conversation among both the scientists and the deck department. Everyone seemed to be discussing it. One scientist explained that dissolved oxygen levels in the Gulf of Mexico can vary based on temperature and depth, with average readings being higher than about 5 milligrams per milliliter. The algal bloom seemed to impact the readings by depleting the oxygen level, and I was able to see how that algal bloom registered and affected the dissolved oxygen readings on the electronics Roy was working on. It was fascinating to witness a real life example of cause and effect. For more information about red tide in Florida, click here: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/redtide-florida/
Preparing and packing for my time on the Oregon II reminded me of TheOregon Trail video game. How to pack for a lengthy journey to the unfamiliar and unknown?
I didn’t want to run out of toiletries or over pack, so before leaving home, I tracked how many uses I could get out of a travel-sized tube of toothpaste, shampoo bottle, and bar of soap, and that helped me to ration out how much to bring for fifteen days (with a few extras, just in case). The scientists and crew of the Oregon II also have to plan, prepare, and pack all of their food, clothing, supplies, tools, and equipment carefully. Unlike The Oregon Trail game, I didn’t need oxen for my journey, but I needed some special gear: deck boots, foul weather gear (rain jacket with a hood and bib overalls), polarized sunglasses (to protect my eyes by reducing the sun’s glare on the water), lots of potent sunscreen, and other items to make my time at sea safe and comfortable.
I was able to anticipate what I might need to make this a more efficient, comfortable experience, and my maritime instincts were accurate. Mesh packing cubes and small plastic baskets help to organize my drawers and shower items, making it easier to find things quickly in an unfamiliar setting.
Dirt, guts, slime, and grime are part of the job. A bar of scrubby lemon soap takes off any leftover sunscreen, grime, or oceanic odors that leaked through my gloves. Little things like that make ship life pleasant. Not worrying about how I look is freeing, and I enjoy moving about the ship, being physically active. It reminds me of the summers I spent as a camp counselor working in the woods. The grubbier and more worn out I was, the more fun we were having.
The NOAA Corps is a uniformed service, so the officers wear their uniforms while on duty. For everyone else, old clothes are the uniform around here because the work is often messy, dirty, and sweaty. With tiny holes, frayed seams, mystery stains, cutoff sleeves, and nautical imagery, I am intrigued by the faded t-shirts from long-ago surveys and previous sailing adventures. Some of the shirts date back several years. The well-worn, faded fabric reveals the owner’s experience at sea and history with the ship. The shirts almost seem to have sea stories to tell of their own.
Being at sea is a very natural feeling for me, and I haven’t experienced any seasickness. One thing I didn’t fully expect: being cold at night. The inside of the ship is air-conditioned, which provides refreshing relief from the scorching sun outside. I expected cooler temperatures at night, so I brought some lightweight sweatshirts and an extra wool blanket from home. On my first night, I didn’t realize that I could control the temperature in my stateroom, so I shivered all night long.
My preparing and packing didn’t end once I embarked (got on) on the ship. Every day, I have to think ahead, plan, and make sure I have everything I need before I start my day. This may seem like the least interesting aspect of my day, but it was the biggest adjustment at first.
To put yourself in my shoes (well, my deck boots), imagine this:
Get a backpack. Transport yourself to completely new and unfamiliar surroundings. Try to adapt to strange new routines and procedures. Prepare to spend the next 12+ hours working, learning, exploring, and conducting daily routines, such as eating meals. Fill your backpack with anything you might possibly need or want for those twelve hours. Plan for the outdoor heat and the indoor chill, as well as rain. If you forgot something, you can’t just go back to your room or run to the store to get it because
Your roommate is sleeping while you’re working (and vice versa), so you need to be quiet and respectful of their sleep schedule. That means you need to gather anything you may need for the day (or night, if you’re assigned to the night watch), and bring it with you. No going back into the room while your roommate is getting some much-needed rest.
Land is not in sight, so everything you need must be on the ship. Going to the store is not an option.
Just some of the items in my backpack: sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, sweatshirt, a water bottle, my camera, my phone, my computer, chargers for my electronics, an extra shirt, extra socks, snacks, etc.
I am assigned to the day watch, so my work shift is from noon-midnight. During those hours, I am a member of the science team. While on the day watch, the five of us rotate roles and responsibilities, and we work closely with the deck crew to complete our tasks. The deck department is responsible for rigging and handling the heavier equipment needed for fishing and sampling the water: the monofilament (thick, strong fishing line made from plastic), cranes and winches for lifting the CTD, and the cradle used for safely bringing up larger, heavier sharks. In addition to keeping the ship running smoothly and safely, they also deploy and retrieve the longline gear.
Another adjustment has been learning the routines, procedures, and equipment. For the first week, it’s been a daily game of What-Am-I-Looking-At? as I try to decipher and comprehend the various monitors displayed throughout the ship. I follow this with a regular round of Now-What-Did-I-Forget? as I attempt to finesse my daily hygiene routine. The showers and bathroom (on a ship, it’s called the head) are down the hall from my shared stateroom, and so far, I’ve managed to forget my socks (day one), towel (day two), and an entire change of clothes (day four). With the unfamiliar setting and routine, it’s easy to forget something, and I’m often showering very late at night after a long day of work.
One thing I never forget? Water. I am surrounded by glittering, glistening water or pitch-black water; water that churns and swells and soothingly rocks the ship. Swirling water that sometimes looks like ink or teal or indigo or navy, depending on the conditions and time of day.
Another thing I’ll never forget? This experience.
Did You Know?
The Gulf of Mexico is home to five species, or types, or sea turtles: Leatherback, Loggerhead, Green, Hawksbill, and Kemp’s Ridley.
Many of my students have never seen or experienced the ocean. To make the ocean more relevant and relatable to their environment, I recommend the picture book Skyfishing written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Poly Bernatene. A young girl’s grandfather moves to the city and notices there’s nowhere to fish. She and her grandfather imagine fishing from their high-rise apartment fire escape. The “fish” they catch are inspired by the vibrant ecosystem around them: the citizens and bustling activity in an urban environment. The catch of the day: “Flying Litterfish,” “Laundry Eels,” a “Constructionfish,” and many others, all inspired by the sights and sounds of the busy city around them.
The book could be used to make abstract, geographically far away concepts, such as coral ecosystems, more relatable for students in urban, suburban, and rural settings, or as a way for students in rural settings to learn more about urban communities. The young girl’s observations and imagination could spark a discussion about how prominent traits influence species’ common names, identification, and scientific naming conventions.
Weather: The weather in Crown Point, IN is 80 degrees and sunny!
According to Greek mythology, coral first originated in the Red Sea. The story has been told that after Perseus, a Greek hero, beheaded Medusa, he set her head down on a clump of seaweed to wash his hands. The blood from Medusa’s head soaked into the seaweed forming what we know today as coral. Ironically, coral polyps contain tentacles reminiscent of the snakes consuming Medusa’s head. I am lucky enough to have my own piece of Coral. Three and half years ago my husband and I had our first child and named her Coral. The only aspect of Coral’s life that is even a slight resemblance of Medusa is her crazy curly hair! As we know, coral in the ocean is a beautiful animal that houses thousands of marine organisms. Similarly, my daughter has an enormous heart for living creatures, and her curiosity for the natural world inspires me every day.
We also have a son named Kai. In Hawaiian, Kai means ‘the sea’, and in Japanese one of its meanings is ‘ocean.’ I love watching Kai grow daily, and learn new ways to survive having Coral as his big sister. Although I will have to say a heartbreaking temporary goodbye to Coral and Kai, I will be embarking on a journey of a lifetime. My expedition starts in Pascagoula, Mississippi on August 31st aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II, where I will participate in a shark/red snapper longline survey in the Gulf of Mexico.
I have always been fascinated by the water. Growing up near Lake Michigan, family trips consisted of going to the beach and searching for “seashells” along the shore. My passion for the ocean also began during my childhood, which was sparked by my interest in turtles. I was a captivated 15 year old when I saw a sea turtle for the first time as I snorkeled on a patch reef near Key Largo. The speed at which the juvenile loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) glided through the water was astonishing. I was fortunate to capture a few pictures of the critically threatened animal as it sped by, which was then painted onto a beautiful canvas by a dear friend of mine.
That moment inspired and motivated me to study the ocean, and I went on to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL. During my time at Eckerd College, I had the opportunity to intern for the University of Florida’s Cape San Blas sea turtle surveying program. It was during this internship that I had my first indirect encounter with a shark. Well, not really an actual shark, but Yolanda, a nesting loggerhead sea turtle. I first met Yolanda in the summer of 2004. She was a healthy adult sea turtle and a regular nester on Cape San Blas, as her tag had been recorded since the 90’s on the exact same beach that I first saw her. What I have failed to mention is that she had an enormous shark bite through her carapace and plastron just above her right rear flipper. Remarkably, the shark missed all major organs and the bite had healed completely into a perfect mandible mold. Besides Yolanda’s shark bite, and small reef sharks that I’ve seen diving, I never thought I would experience an up close meeting with a shark. For two weeks straight I will be assisting NOAA scientists with catching and tagging a variety of different species of sharks.
I am most excited for the impact that the Teacher at Sea adventure will have on me personally, and as an educator at Crown Point High School. I hope to take what I learn while aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II and aide my students in better hypothesis-generation, experimental testing, and presentation skills to cultivate major changes in their approach to scientific research. Ultimately, I can’t wait to share my experience with the Crown Point community, and continue to create an atmosphere where kids are excited about learning science!
Ocean Adventure campers at Crown Point High School.
A classroom full of young explorers learning about the ocean.
Geographic Area of Cruise: Western North Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 4, 2018
Introductory Personal Log
I’m thrilled to be joining NOAA Ship Oregon II for the second leg of the Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey. The adventure of a lifetime begins in Canaveral, Florida and concludes in Pascagoula, Mississippi. For two weeks, we’ll be studying sharks, red snapper, and other marine life in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Scientists will collect data on fish populations to find out more about their distribution, age, weight, length, reproduction, and other important information. Along the way, we’ll also sample water quality and collect other environmental data. Learning more about these creatures and their surroundings can help to keep their habitats safe and thriving.
This exciting opportunity is the next chapter in my lifelong appreciation for sharks and the sea. During a formative visit to the ocean at age three, I quickly acquired a taste for salt water, seafaring, and sharks. I saw my first shark, a hammerhead, in the New England Aquarium, and I was transfixed. I wanted to know everything about the water and what lived beneath the surface.
Enthralled by the ocean at age three. This trip launched a lifelong love of New England.
Revisiting the same beach as an adult…still enthralled.
The Giant Ocean Tank at the New England Aquarium
I had the same reaction when I found out I was selected for Teacher at Sea!
After discovering nonfiction in fourth grade, I could access the depths through reading. I was riveted to books about deep-sea creatures and pioneering undersea explorers. The more I learned, the more curious I became. As a younger student, I never indulged my aquatic interests in any formal academic sense beyond prerequisites because of my epic, giant-squid-versus-whale-like struggle with math. Because I was much stronger in humanities and social sciences, I pursued a predictable path into writing, literature, and education.
As a Literacy Specialist, I support developing readers and writers in grades K-5 by providing supplemental Language Arts instruction (Response to Intervention). To motivate and inspire my students, I share my zeal for the ocean, incorporating developmentally appropriate topics to teach requisite Language Arts skills and strategies.
In 2011, I initiated an ocean literacy collaboration with undersea explorer Michael Lombardi and Ocean Opportunity Inc. so that I could better answer my students’ questions about marine science careers and marine life. Our first meeting involved swimming with blue sharks offshore, and I knew I needed more experiences like that in my life. From chumming to helping with the equipment to observing pelagic sharks without a cage, I loved every aspect. This life-changing experience (both the collaboration and the shark encounter) transformed my instruction, reigniting my curiosity and ambition. Our educator-explorer partnership has inspired and motivated my students for the past seven years. After supporting and following my colleague’s field work with my students, I wanted a field experience of my own so that I can experience living, researching, and working at sea firsthand.
The only time I was in the shark cage.
The Snappa, Galilee/Point Judith, Rhode Island
Although my fascination with all things maritime began at an early age, working closely with someone in the field transformed my life. Instead of tumbling, I feel like Alice plunging into a watery wonderland, chasing after a neoprene-clad rabbit to learn more. Finding someone who was willing to share their field experience and make it accessible gave me the confidence to revisit my childhood interests through any available, affordable means: online courses, documentaries, piles of nonfiction books, social media, workshops, symposiums, aquaria, snorkeling, and the occasional, cherished seaside visit.
From Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland: A Big Golden Book; picture by the Walt Disney Studio, adapted by Al Dempster (Golden Press, 1978); from the motion picture based on the story by Lewis Carroll
We co-authored and published a case study about our collaboration in Current: The Journal of Marine Education, the peer-reviewed journal of the National Marine Educators Association (Fall/Winter 2016). We wrote about bringing the discovery of a new species of mesophotic clingfish to fourth and fifth grade struggling readers. Since a student-friendly text about the fish did not exist, I wrote one for my students at their instructional reading level, incorporating supportive nonfiction text features.
It’s reinvigorating to switch roles from teacher to student. Ultimately, this unconventional path has made me a more effective, empathetic educator. My students witness how I employ many of the same literacy skills and strategies that I teach. By challenging myself with material outside my area of expertise, I am better able to anticipate and accommodate my students’ challenges and misconceptions in Language Arts. When comprehension of a scientific research paper does not come to me easily on the first, second, or even third attempt, I can better understand my students’ occasional reluctance and frustration in Language Arts. At times, learning a different field reminds me of learning a second language. Because I’m such a word nerd, I savor learning the discourse and technical terminology for scientific phenomena. Acquiring new content area vocabulary is rewarding and delicious. It requires word roots and context clues (and sometimes, trial and error), and I model this process for my students.
Alexandria Bay, Thousand Islands
Being selected for Teacher at Sea is an incredible opportunity that required determination, grit, and perseverance. Although my curiosity and excitement come very naturally, the command over marine science content has not. I’ve had to be an active reader and work hard in order to acquire and understand new concepts. Sometimes, the scientific content challenges me to retrain my language arts brain while simultaneously altering my perception of myself as a learner. Ultimately, that is what I want for my students: to see themselves as ever-curious, ever-improving readers, writers, critical thinkers, and hopefully, lifelong learners.
I am so grateful for the opportunities to learn and grow. I deeply appreciate the support, interest, and encouragement I’ve received from friends, family, and colleagues along the way. I will chronicle my experiences on NOAA Ship Oregon II while also capturing how the scientific research may translate to the elementary school classroom. Please share your questions and comments in the comments section below, and I will do my best to reply from sea. My students sent me off with many thoughtful questions to address, and I’ll share the answers in subsequent posts.
Did You Know?
Pelagic fish have bodies designed for long-distance swimming. With their long pectoral fins, the blue shark (Prionace glauca) is highly migratory, traveling great distances across oceans.
For a simplified introduction to how scientists study sharks, I recommend the picture book How to Spy on a Shark written by Lori Haskins Houran and illustrated by Francisca Marquez. This read-aloud science book portrays the process of catching, tagging, and releasing mako sharks. The book includes shark facts as well as an introduction to tagging and tracking technology. For more information on how scientists use underwater robots such as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to study sharks: https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/18whitesharkcafe/welcome.html