NOAA Teacher at Sea
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
April 5 – April 20, 2017
Mission: Experimental Longline Survey
Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: April 16, 2017
Latitude 2848.37 N
Longitude 09247.66 W
Winds at 11 KTS
Waves at 2-4 FT
Science and Technology Log
Sometimes when a shark or fish is brought on board it has a “hitchhiker’ attached. We caught a blacknose shark that had a common remora, often referred to as a sucker fish, or shark sucker, attached to it. Scientist Kevin Rademacher placed this sharksucker (Echeneis naucrates) on my arm. I couldn’t really feel it but he was stuck there until I peeled him off. It was like peeling a piece of tape off. You can see from the photo how he is designed to attach to host species. Their head is actually a modified dorsal fin that has an oval shaped sucking disk with slat-like structures that open and close to create suction and take a firm hold against the skin of its host animal such as a shark, turtle, whale, or ray. By sliding backward, the remora can increase its suction, or it can release itself by swimming forward. They can be small like the one attached to my arm or they can grow to over two feet in length. The remora can move around on the host, removing parasites while at the same time gaining protection provided by the host. This relationship is often looked at as one of commensalism where both the host and the remora benefit.
The remora’s modified dorsal fin provides suction ability
Remora on TAS Karen Grady’s arm
Photos of the remora that was attached to a black-nosed shark.
When one hears that this is an experimental long-line survey of sharks and reef fish, all you think of is catching these creatures and collecting data. However, scientists are collecting data about the environment as well. It is very useful to obtain information about the water where they catch large numbers of a species and areas where they may not catch anything. One way they can do this is by using a Conductivity Temperature Depth Profiler (CTD).
The CTD gives scientists a profile of the water column where we just put out our line. The CTD has sensors that collects information on oxygen levels, temperature, water clarity, chlorophyll concentration, and salinity. The CTD is placed in the water and allowed to sit for three minutes to let the oxygen sensors soak and adjust from being on the deck and lowered into the water. The crew lowers it to a depth that is decided based upon the depth to the ocean floor. They like to take it as close to the bottom as possible in order for the information they gather to be as complete as possible. It is allowed to settle, run its scans and then is brought back up to the surface and the sensors are flushed with fresh water. The data is automatically loaded into the database. This information is collected at each station. It takes a joint effort of the deck, science and bridge crews to place the CTD in the water. Walkie talkies are utilized for communicating between all the crew involved in the operation.
Scientist James Sulikowski prepares the CTD for deployment
Scientists can review the data from the CTD immediately
Being at sea with Easter approaching had its moments when I thought of family and friends. We have our Easter traditions and I would be missing them this year. The Easter Bunny (Field Party Chief, Kristin Hannan) decided we needed an early visit this year. I think she was right. The surprise and the treats perked all the science staff up.
FPC Kristin Hannan asks me often if I have any questions about what they are doing or anything in general. I will be honest… I have gotten so caught up in what we are doing, trying to do my best at whatever job I am working on, and being in awe that I am actually out here that I forget to ask questions about the details. I love the anticipation of what might be on the next hook, I am mesmerized by the sleek lines of the sharks when we have them on board.
When we had one come onboard that was dead due to low oxygen levels in the water where we caught it, we did a dissection on the deck while we waited to put out another line. The animal science nerd in me came to life! I had no idea the liver was the largest organ inside a shark. Think about it …these creatures have no body fat and they store their energy in the liver. Then we looked at the intestines. There is not a lot of room in there so the shark we looked at the intestines are rolled up like you would roll a piece of paper. This gives them maximum absorption area but takes up a limited space.
One thing I think of as we are catching these species is that very few people stop and think about the actual research scientists do to help understand what is needed to maintain healthy populations. It is necessary to do these surveys, catch the species, tag some, draw blood, take fin clips, keep whole specimens, and dissect some. On our cruise we were lucky enough to ultrasound a few pregnant sharks and see the pups inside.
Baby sharks visible on ultrasound
Now stop and think about all those things I just listed that we do at times. When a hook comes up and there is a fish or shark on it is handed off to one of the science crew. It is noted in the computer that there was a something caught. The science crew member will take measurements and weight of the fish or shark. If it is a shark, the sex will be noted and some species may be tagged, have a fin clip taken and blood drawn. While all of these activities are taking place, the next hooks keep being brought up. The deck can get pretty crazy if there are several hooks in a row with something on them. The data collector has to keep tag numbers, species, measurements, samples and weights all written in the correct spot while having two or three people calling them out for different fish and or sharks. I had experience working cattle which would mean filling syringes, writing down tag numbers, filling taggers, etc. But this is even crazier than that could get at times. And everything stops if someone calls “hardhats” because that means we have one big enough for the cradle. Working back writing down data or taking measurements you can’t see what is on the next line so you sneak up for a peak when they say it’s a big one then you get out of the way. One of the best experiences so far was almost getting a big tiger shark in the cradle. I was lucky enough to get a video of her, so stay tuned! Unfortunately, when the big shark brushed against the cradle she snapped the line and was gone with a huge spray of water.
This second leg of the experimental long-line survey is winding down. There have been long days but they are filled with laughter, giggles, anticipation, excitement, teachable moments (I can finally get the circle hooks out by myself…sometimes) , and the dreaded words “snapper.” I mean nothing against the Red Snapper, they are a bright colorful and tasty fish, but when you are hoping for a shark to be on the hook…. let’s just say the sets where we get 12 snapper and two sharks are not our favorites.
Photos: “Shark!” or “Fish on!” means a busy deck.
Scalloped hammerhead shark
When the guys at the rail grab the hard hats it means it is time for the cradle and we get to see things like this gorgeous scalloped hammerhead. Things move very quickly when one is in the cradle. Safety for those on deck comes first and everyone is focused on getting measurements, fin clip and a tag on the shark and getting it safely back in the water as quickly as possible.
Baby tiger shark
Baby tiger shark in the cradle. They warned me that they were cute and they were so right. Yes, a shark can be “cute” when your referring to baby tiger sharks and baby hammerheads!
Did You Know
Sharks store energy in their liver. It is the largest organ in their body. The heart on the other hand is extremely small in comparison to the size of the shark.
Dissected scalloped hammerhead with liver visible
Look at the liver of this scalloped hammerhead. It is amazing how big it is in relation to the body of the shark. This is just one way these amazing creatures are designed to be efficient and survive in their underwater world.
Sharks have a nictitating membrane that they can close over their eye for protection. When a shark is brought on deck you can touch near the eye and the membrane will automatically move to close.
Nictitating membrane partially closed on the eye of a scalloped hammerhead