Kathy Schroeder: Retrieving the Longline, September 30, 2019

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kathy Schroeder

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15-October 2, 2019


Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: 9/30/19

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 29.47408
Longitude: 85.34274
Temperature: 85°F
Wind Speeds: E 5 mph


Science and Technology Log

Retrieving the Longline

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. 

Retrieving the high flyer
Retrieving the high flyer on the well deck

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. 

sandbar shark
Taking the measurements on a sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) Measurements: 1080 precaudal, 1200 fork, 1486 total (4’10”)l, 20.2 kg (44.5 lbs)
tagging smoothhound
Placing a rototag in a Gulf smooth-hound (Mustelus sinusmexicanus)
Tiger shark on cradle
Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) on the cradle getting ready for a dart tag
data station
Data station for recording measurements, weight, sex, and tag numbers

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. 

red snapper samples
red snapper (Lutganidae campechanus) samples: gonad (top), muscle (middle), otoliths (bottom)


Personal Log

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. 

yellow-edge grouper
yellow edge grouper (Hyporthodus flavolimbatus) 891 mm (2′ 11″), 9.2 kg (20.3 pounds)
king snake eel
king snake eel (Ophichthus rex)
king snake eel close-up
king snake eel (Ophichthus rex)

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald: Nurse Sharks, Tiger Sharks, and Sandbars, Oh My, September 27, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kristin Hennessy-McDonald

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 15 – 30, 2018

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 27, 2018

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 2840.20N

Longitude: 8439.79W

Sea Wave Height: 0m

Wind Speed: 2.2 knots

Wind Direction: 39.04 degrees

Visibility: 10 nautical miles

Air Temperature: 30.045

Sky: 75% cloud cover

 

Science and Technology Log

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.

juvenile Tiger Shark
Kristin Hennessy-McDonald with a juvenile Tiger Shark

Nurse Shark
Closeup of a Nurse Shark

Nurse Shark release
Nurse Shark release

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.

Silky Shark
Night Shift retrieving a Silky Shark

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.

Gulper Shark
Gulper Shark Photo Credit: Gregg Lawrence

tilefish
Tilefish Photo Credit: Gregg Lawrence

 

Personal Log

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.

~Suzy Kassem

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

What am I?

Stephen Kade: The Shark Cradle and Data Collection, August 8, 2018

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Stephen Kade

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

July 23 – August 10, 2018

 

Mission: Long Line Shark/ Red Snapper survey Leg 1

Geographic Area: 31 41 010 N, 80 06 062 W, 30 nautical miles NE of Savannah, North Carolina

Date: August 8, 2018

 

Weather Data from Bridge:

Wind speed 11 knots,
Air Temp: 30c,
Visibility 10 nautical miles,
Wave height 3 ft.

Science and Technology Log

Normally you wouldn’t hear the words shark and cradle in the same sentence, but in our case, the cradle is one of the most important pieces of equipment we use each day. Our mission on the Oregon II is to survey sharks to provide data for further study by NOAA scientists. We use the long line fishing method where 100 hooks are put out on a mile long line for about an hour, and then slowly hauled up by a large mechanical reel. If a shark is generally three feet and weighs 30lbs or less, it is handled by hand to carefully unhook, measure and throw back. If the shark is much larger and cannot be managed safely by hand, it is then held on the line by the ships rail until it can be lifted on deck by the cradle to be quickly measured, tagged, and put back into the ocean.

The shark cradle
The shark cradle

The shark cradle is 10 ft. long, with a bed width of roughly 4 feet. It is made from thick aluminum tubing and strong synthetic netting to provide the bed for the shark to lie on. It is lifted from the ship’s deck by a large crane and lowered over the ships rail into the ocean. The shark is still on the line and is guided by a skilled fisherman into the cradle. The crane operator slowly lifts the cradle out of the water, up to the rail, so work can begin.

A team of 3 highly skilled fishermen quickly begin to safely secure the shark to protect it, and the team of scientists collecting data. They secure the shark at 3 points, the head, body and tail. Then the scientists come in to take 3 measurements of the shark. The precaudal measurement is from the tip of nose to the start of the tail. The fork measurement is from the tip of the nose to the fork of the tail (the place where the top and bottom of the tail meet). Finally there is a total length taken from the tip of the nose to the furthest tip of the tail.

When all measurements are complete, a tag is then placed at the base of the first dorsal (top) fin. First a small incision is made, and then the tagger pushes the tag just below the skin. The tag contains a tracking number and total length to be taken by the person who finds the shark next, and a phone number to call NOAA, so the data can recorded and compared to the previous time data is recorded. The yellow swivel tags, used for smaller sharks, are identical to ones used in sheep ears in the farming industry, and are placed on the front of the dorsal fin. The measurements and tag number are collected on the data sheet for each station. The data is input to a computer and uploaded to the NOAA shark database so populations and numbers can be assessed at any time by NOAA and state Departments of Natural Resources.

removing hook
A skilled fisherman removes the hook so the shark can be released.

longline
The longline is mile long and carries up to 100 hooks.

The shark is then unhooked safely by a skilled fisherman while the other two are keeping the shark still to protect both the shark and the fishermen from injury. The cradle is then slowly lowered by crane back into the ocean where the shark can easily glide back into its environment unharmed. The cradle is then raised back on deck by the crane operator, and guided by the two fishermen. All crew on deck must wear hardhats during this operation as safety for all is one of NOAA’s top priorities. This process is usually completed within 2 minutes, or the time it took you to read this post. It can happen many times during a station, as there are 100 hooks on the one mile line.

 

 

Personal Log

It is amazing for me to see and participate in the long line fishing process. I find it similar to watching medical television shows like “ER” where you see a highly skilled team of individually talented members working together quickly and efficiently to perform an operation. It can be highly stressful if the shark is not cooperating, or the conditions aren’t ideal, but each member always keeps their cool under this intense work. It’s also amazing to see the wealth of knowledge each person has so when an issue arises, someone always knows the answer to the problem, or the right tool to use to fix the situation, as they’ve done it before.

Animals Seen Today: Sandbar shark, Tiger shark, Sharpnose Shark, Sea Robin, Toadfish, Flying Fish

Kate Schafer: The Importance of Science, October 4, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: October 4, 2017

 

Weather Data from the San Francisco Bay area:

Latitude: 37o 38.4’ N
Longitude: 122o 08.5’ W

Visibility 16 km

Winds 5-10 mph

San Francisco Bay Water Temperature 16 oCelsius

Air Temperature 17 o Celsius

 

Science and Technology Log:

Well, I’m back on dry land, with lots of great memories of sharks, big and small, and all the interesting people who I spent two weeks with on the Oregon II.  And let’s not forget the red snappers either.

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The largest shark we caught: 10 foot tiger shark

 

CubanDogfish
Cuban dogfish: The smallest species we caught

On our last day, we fished at a couple of sites right off the coast of Alabama and caught lots of sharks, plus a new species of grouper for the trip.  The scamp grouper (Mycteroperca phenax) is apparently not frequently found on the longlines along the coast of Texas but becomes more common along the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama and up the Eastern Atlantic coast as well.

ScampTail
Tail of a Scamp Grouper

The groupers are mostly protogynous, meaning that when they become sexually mature, they are always females.  Only later in life, when they have grown bigger (and have the right environmental influences), do they transition to males.  This species can live for more than 30 years, but that’s actually relatively short for a lot of the grouper species, some of which can live to 60 years or more. Scamp grouper come together in groups to reproduce, so this makes them vulnerable to overfishing.  The management councils take this into consideration when making a management plan and will close off areas known to be spawning grounds during the reproductive season.  These are also great areas to target as Marine Protected Areas.

ScampHead
Scamp Grouper being measured

All of this knowledge about the scamp grouper (and other species we encountered on this survey) was gained through careful scientific research.  As mentioned before, the long line survey was started in 1995 and has been conducted using the same methods every year since then.  These data are used by fisheries managers to set catch limits and detect changes that might indicate problems for the species living in these areas.  In other words, the science forms the basis for decision making and planning.

This is true for the various surveys that NOAA conducts in the Gulf each year.  The Groundfish Survey, for example, provides vital information about the extent of the Dead Zone off the coast of Louisiana, by measuring dissolved oxygen levels on the sea floor as part of the survey.  This data tells us that we need to continue to work on controlling nutrient inputs into the Mississippi River from agriculture lands and cities that span much of the eastern United States.  Scientific research also tells us that we need to be planning for and mitigating the effects of the looming problem of climate change.

Climate change will certainly bring about significant change to the Gulf.  As ocean temperatures rise, water becomes less dense and therefore takes up more space.  Along with continued melting of land-supported ice in the polar regions, this is contributing to a cumulative increase in sea level of 3.2 mm per year (https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sealevel.html).  In the Gulf, this increase will particularly impact estuarine ecosystems that are rich nurseries for many fish species and are extremely productive habitats.

One of the predictions of many climate models is that increased global temperatures are likely to bring about more frequent and more intense hurricanes.  This 2017 hurricane season is a stark reminder of the devastating impacts that hurricanes can have, even when we have the scientific tools to predict approximately where and when the storm will make landfall.

Finally, the increase in global temperatures will make the regions surrounding the Gulf less pleasant places for people to live.  The summers are already very hot and humid, and a degree or two hotter will make a lot of difference in the livability of the region.

We know all of this through careful scientific research, and there is a consensus amongst scientists that this is happening.  To prepare for the effects of climate change and to know how to best minimize those effects, we must continue to collect data and do science.  After all, what is the point of scientific research if we don’t use the results to make better choices and to address the problems that are facing us?

IMG_4151
At the end of my time on the Oregon II

Personal Log:  I am so grateful for the opportunity to go on this research survey and for the Teacher at Sea program as a whole.  I strongly encourage any teacher thinking of applying to the program to do so.  Thanks to NOAA and everyone at the TAS office for all your help and support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And We’re Fishing…

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Kate Schafer

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 17 – 30, 2017

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 21, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 27o 15.5’ N

Longitude: 97o 01.3’ W

Haze

Visibility 6 nautical miles

Wind SE 15 knots

Sea wave height 3-4 feet

Sea Temperature: 29.6o Celsius

Note: Just a month ago Hurricane Harvey was bringing 20 foot seas to this area, but today we’re enjoying the 3-4 foot swell.

Science and Technology Log:

Well, we’ve gotten to the fishing grounds, and we’ve gone from waiting to very busy!  We put out the first lines starting at around 8 pm on Tuesday evening.  The process involves first baiting 100 hooks with Atlantic mackerel.  When it’s time for the line to be deployed, first there is a tall buoy with a light and radar beacon (called a high flyer) on it that gets set into the water, attached to the monofilament fishing line.  Then there’s a weight, so the line sinks to the bottom, a series of 50 baited hooks then get clipped onto the line as the monofilament is being fed out.

Those 50 hooks are referred to as a “skate”.  This confused me last night when I was logging our progress on the computer.  I kept thinking that there was going to be some kind of flat, triangular shaped object clipped on to help the line move through the water…not really sure what I was imagining.  Anyway, Lisa Jones, the field party chief and fisheries biologist extraordinaire, has so kindly humored all my questions and explained that skate is just a term for some set unit of baited hooks.  In this case, the unit is 50, and we’ll be deploying two skates each time.

After the first skate comes another weight, the second skate, another weight and then the last high flyer.  Then the line is set loose and we wait.  It’s easy to locate the line again, even at night, because of the radar beacons on the high flyers.

Why are we collecting this data?

As mentioned in my previous post, one of the tasks of NOAA, especially the National Marine Fisheries Service Line Office, is to collect data that will help with effective fisheries management and assist with setting things like catch quotas and so forth.  A catch quota refers to the amount of a particular species that can be harvested in a particular year.  Fisheries management is incredibly complicated, but the basic idea is that you don’t want to use up the resource faster than it is replenishing itself.  In order to know if you are succeeding in this regard, you must go out and take a look at how things are going.  Therefore, the Oregon II goes out each year in the fall and samples roughly 200 sites over about eight weeks.  The precise locations of the sampling sites change each year but are spread out along the SE Atlantic Coast and throughout the U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

We’ve put out three long lines so far.  Last night, we caught a single fish, but it was a really cool one.  It’s called the Golden Tilefish but has an even better species name: Lopholatilus chamealeonticeps.  As Lisa was explaining that they dig burrows in the sea floor, I realized that I had seen their cousins while snorkeling around coral reefs but would never have made the connection that they were related. This guy was big!

 

Tilefishp3
Golden tilefish (Lopholatilus chamealeonticeps) caught in first longline of the trip

This afternoon, things got really hectic.  Of our 100 hooks, 67 had a fish on it, and 60 of those were sharks.  As we were pulling in the last bit of line, we pull on a shark that was missing its back half!  Another had a bite taken out of it.  And then on hook number 100, was a bull shark.  This shark had been snacking along the line and got caught in the process.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Bull shark caught on the last hook of a very productive bout of fishing (Photo courtesy of Lisa Jones, NOAA)

And I haven’t even mentioned the red snappers.  I will save them for another post, but they are absolutely beautiful creatures.

MeasuringSnapperp3
Red snapper being measured

 

Personal Log:

I definitely continue to feel out of my element at times, especially as we were pulling in all these hooks with sharks on them, and I could barely keep up with my little job of tracking when a fish came on the boat.  All the sharks started running together in my mind, and it was definitely a bit stressful.  Overall, I feel like I’ve adjusted to the cadence of the boat rocking and have been sleeping a lot more soundly.  I continue to marvel at how amazing it is that we’re relatively close to shore but, except for a few songbirds desperate for a rest, there is no evidence of land that my untrained eyes can detect.  Lastly, I’ve realized that a 12-hour sampling shift is long.  I have a lot of respect for the scientists and crew that do this for months on end each year with just a few days break every now and then. Well, it time to pull in another line.  Next time, we’ll talk snapper.

 

Susan Brown: Weather or Not, September 9, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Brown

NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 3 – 15, 2017

 

Mission: Snapper/Longline Shark Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 7, 2017

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 2095.92N
Longitude: 08825.06W
Sea wave height: 1.2 m
Wind Speed: 20.3kt
Wind Direction: 50 degrees
Visibility: (how far you can see)
Air Temperature: 025.6 degrees Celsius

Barometric Pressure: 1018.36 mb
Sky: cloudy

Science and Technology Log

The weather has been a big topic of conversation on this survey and for good reason. The original plan was to fish off the coast of Texas from Brownsville to Galveston. Due to Hurricane Harvey and possible debris in those waters, the survey changed course to sample off the coast of Florida. As we motored east, Irma was building up to a category 5 hurricane.

IMG_6031
Captain Dave

 

Captain Dave has been keeping a keen eye on the weather and after a few days of fishing off the coast of Florida, we headed back toward Pascagoula, Mississippi to pick up a crew member and let another off to tend to his family in Florida which is in the current path of Irma. We have been looking at the various computer modeling showing where Irma will land and this determining our path. Fortunately, a cold front to the west of us is pushing Irma east which will allows to stay out instead of docking and ending the survey early. This cold front is unusual for this time of year according to the Captain. Earlier models showed Hurricane Irma hitting the west side of Florida into the Gulf of Mexico where we are which would end our survey. Now, with the updated weather, we may get to stay out as planned but staying close to Mississippi and then heading West to work off the coast of Texas and Louisiana.

IMG_6331
Daily updates and rerouting due to weather

This ship is part of the Ship of Opportunity Program (SOOP). This program enlists ships to collect weather data that is sent to the National Weather Service (a line office of NOAA) every hour. This is the data that supplies information to weather forecasters! Information that is gathered includes wind speed and direction, barometer reading, trend in pressure over the past few hours, as well as wind, wave and swell information. Have you every noticed on TV that the weather reports have a notification that states the data is coming from NOAA? Weather forecasters get weather information from ships out in the ocean like the one I am on.

IMG_6323
another beautiful sunset from the top deck

This morning I headed up to the bridge to chat with Captain Dave. Here are some of the questions I asked.

Q: How long have you been a captain?

CD: 9 years

Q: What got you interested in this type of work?

CD:I grew up in Mississippi where you hunt and fish so when I got out of high school I always wanted to work on the water due to my upbringing. We were always taking out the boat to hunt or fish growing up. It’s in my blood.

Q: What is your schooling? What advice would you give someone that is interested in this as a career?

CD: I graduated high school in 1980 and made my living on the water commercial fishing and working on the oil rigs until January 4, 1993. I started as a deck hand and worked my way up to Commanding Officer (CO). I’ve been on the Oregon II 25 years. The hardest thing was taking the test to be a Master.

Captain Dave is a civilian Master which is rare – there are only two in the NOAA fleet. Most NOAA ships are run by NOAA Corps Officers. 

Q: What is the biggest storm you have seen?

CD: East of Miami, Florida in the gulf stream we were seeing 12-15 foot seas. The engine room calls the bridge regarding a busted intake valve. The boat was sinking. The engineers were in knee deep water and were able to find the broken valve and stop the flooding. In another 7 minutes the generator would have been under water and we would have lost power and would be forced to abandon ship in 12-15 foot waves.

Q: Is this weather unusual for this area this time of year?

CD: We never get a NE wind bringing in cooler weather which is probably what is turning Hurricane Irma. Normally it’s blazing hot here with southwest winds at 10 miles. This cold front is the reason we are not going in.

Check out this cool animated site for wind patterns. You can see how the hurricanes impact the flow of air.

https://www.windy.com/?47.680,-122.121,5

Personal Log

So far the seas have been calm and I keep expecting things to pick up because of all the weather happening around us. Sleeping pretty good with slow rocking of the ship and we will see how I do with some bigger swells. The crew has been super helpful in doling out advice from how keep from getting seasick ranging from eating, drinking and even how best to walk! I’m listening to all this advice and so far so good. I do wonder how much of Hurricane Irma we will feel now that we are heading west a few hundred miles.

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The one that got away!

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baiting the line with Mackerel

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Spinner shark

We have caught a few sharks and I am excited to catch some more. Other critters we have caught were a bunch of eels and a suckerfish. On yesterday’s shift I learned how to tag one of the big sandbar sharks. She was about 6’ long. The night crew caught a 10’ tiger shark! Maybe we will get lucky on today’s shift as I would love to see more sharks and handle some of the smaller ones.

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suckerfish

Update: Last night our shift brought in 16 sharpnose sharks so things were busy. These sharks don’t get much bigger than 3 ½ feet. All of the ones we pulled in last night were female. The oceans have gotten a bit rougher with swells 4-5 feet! I have gained a new appreciation for all the rails available along the corridors of the ship and have learned to make sure my door is clicked shut as well as all the cabinets and drawers. Nothing like waking up to drawers slamming open and shut in the middle of the night!

Did You Know?

A Captain of the ship can be ranked as a Captain or a Commander within the NOAA Corps but a civilian does not hold a commissioned rank because they are not in the NOAA Corps and is called a Captain since he holds a Master license gained by taking extensive coursework and an intensive exam through the United States Coast Guard.

Question of the day:

What is the difference between a category 5 hurricane and lesser hurricanes? (hint: check out the link below)

http://abcnews.go.com/US/hurricanes-form-explained-abc-news-chief-meteorologist-ginger/story?id=49650211

 

 

 

 

 

Susan Brown: Probing for Parasites, September 5, 2017

 NOAA Teacher at Sea

Susan Brown

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 3 – 15, 2017

 

Mission: Snapper/Longline Shark Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: September 5, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge (get data from bridge)

Latitude: 29 degree 36.0 N
Longitude: 86 degree 10.1 W
Sea wave height: < 1
Wind Speed: 7 kts
Wind Direction: 185
Visibility: 10 nm
Air Temperature:
Barometric Pressure: 1016.3
Sky: BKN

Science and Technology Log

The Oregon II has two sets of crew – the ship’s crew headed by Captain Dave Nelson and the science crew headed by Lisa Jones. Captain Dave and Lisa work closely together making decisions that impact the survey. The ship’s crew keeps us afloat, fed and ultimately determines where we go based on weather. The science crew, well you guessed it, is focused on the science and collected data at predetermined sampling sites.

This post will look at some of the science happening on board. On board are four NOAA scientists as well as other volunteers and researchers that are helping with this survey. NOAA’s focus on this survey is all about sharks and snapper. We are collecting data on what we haul up from the longlines as well as abiotic factors including temperature, depth of line, dissolved oxygen, and salinity of the water. The data is entered into a computer and becomes part of a larger data set.

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NOAA parasitologists Carlos and Brett

Two researchers on board working as volunteers are Brett Warren and Carlos Ruiz. They are parasitologists meaning they study parasites that sharks and other organisms carry. A parasite is an organism that lives off other organisms (a host) in order to survive. They are finding all sorts of worms and copepods embedded in the nose, gills and hearts of fish and sharks. These two spend much of their time using microscopes to look at tissue samples collected.

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Brett looking for parasites

In speaking with Brett, the life cycle of parasite can be simple or complex. The simple direct life cycle is when the parasite spends its entire life on the host organism. A complex indirect life cycle for a parasite is when the parasite reproduce, the young hatch and swim to an intermediary host, usually a snail, mollusk or polychaete. This is where it gets really cool, according to Brett. It’s the intermediate host where the parasites asexually reproduce by cloning themselves. Next, the parasite leaves the intermediate host and swim to their final host and the process starts all over again. From a parasite perspective, you can see how difficult it would be for an indirect life cycle to be completed, because all the conditions need to be right. Brett is studying flatworms that have complex lifecycles and Carlos is studying copepods that have direct life cycles.

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Can you guess what this is? Answer in the comments and first right answer gets a prize!

Their main focus on this survey is to discover new species of parasites and understand the host- parasite relationship.

 

Personal Log

The past few days have been slow with only a few stations a shift. We have hauled up some sharks, eels and even a sharksucker fish. One station had nothing on the 100 hooks set! Talk about getting skunked. As we move west I am hoping we get to see more sharks as well as more variety. Other wildlife spotted include dolphins, jellyfish and birds.

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Finding the length of a sharpnose shark

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size of hooks we are using

Did You Know?

Just because it’s a parasite doesn’t mean it harms the host. Some just live off of another organism without harming it.

 

Question of the day:

What are the two types of life cycles a parasite can have? (hint: read the blog)

Brad Rhew: The Sounds of the Sea, July 31, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Brad Rhew

Aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

July 23 – August 7, 2017

 

Mission: Hake Fish Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Northwest Pacific Ocean, off of the coast of Oregon

Date: July 31, 2017

 

Weather Data from the Bridge

Latitude: 44 49.160 N
Longitude 124 26.512

Temperature: 59oF
Sunny
No precipitation
Winds at 25.45 knots
Waves at 4-5ft

 

Science and Technology Log

TAS Rhew 7-31 acoustics lab2
Inside the acoustics lab

The scientists on the Hake survey project are constantly trying to find new methods to collect data on the fish. One method used is acoustics. Scientists Larry Hufnagle and Dezhang Chu are leading this project on the Shimada. They are using acoustics at a frequency of 38 kHz to detect Pacific Hake. Density differences between air in the swimbladder, fish tissue, and the surrounding water allows scientists to detect fish acoustically.

The purpose of the swim bladder in a fish is to help with the fish’s buoyancy. Fish can regulate the amount of gas in the swim bladder to help them stay at a certain depth in the ocean. This in return decreases the amount of energy they use swimming.

TAS Rhew 7-31 echosounder
The screen shows the data collected by the echosounder at different frequency levels.

Larry and Chu are looking at the acoustic returns (echoes) from 3 frequencies and determining which are Hake. When the echosounder receives echoes from fish, the data is collected and visually displayed. The scientists can see the intensity and patterns of the echosounder return and determine if Hake are present.

The scientists survey from sunrise to sunset looking at the intensity of the return and appearances of schools of fish to make the decisions if this is an area to fish.

TAS Rhew 7-31 scientists Larry and Chu
Scientists Larry Hufnagle (left) and Dezhang Chu (right) monitor the nets and echosounder while fishing for hake.

The ultimate goal is to use this data collected from the echosounder to determine the fish biomass. The biomass determined by the survey is used by stock assessment scientist and managers to manage the fish stock.

Personal Log

Everyday aboard the Shimada is a different experience. It has been amazing to be able to go between the different research labs to learn about how each group of scientists’ projects are contributing to our knowing more about Hake and marine ecosystems. My favorite part so far has been helping with the sampling of Hake. Some people might find dissecting fish after fish to determine length, sex, age, and maturity to be too much. However, this gives me an even better understanding and respect for what scientists do on a daily basis so we can have a better understanding of the world around us. We have also caught other fascinating organisms that has helped me explore other marine species and learn even more about their role in the ocean.

Even though the wind is a little strong and the temperatures are a little chilly for my southern body I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything…especially these amazing sunsets…

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View of sunset over the Pacific Ocean from NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

Did You Know?

Before every fishing operation on the boat we must first do a marine mammal watch. Scientists and other crew members go up to the bridge of the boat to see if any mammals (whales, seals, dolphins) are present near the boat. This is to help prevent these animals from being harmed as we collect fish as well as making sure we are not running a risk of these mammals getting caught in the fishing nets.

Fascinating Catch of the Day!

Today’s fun catch in the net was a Brown Catshark! These creatures are normally found in the deeper parts of the Pacific Ocean. They are typically a darker brown color with their eyes on the side of their head. Their skin is very soft and flabby which can easily lead to them being harmed. They have two dorsal fins and their nostrils and mouth on the underside of their body. One of the sharks we caught was just recently pregnant.

 

TAS Rhew 7-31 catshark egg sack string
This catshark was recently pregnant; the yellow stringy substance is from an egg sack.

Notice to yellow curly substance coming out of the shark? That is from the egg sac. Sharks only produce one egg sac at a time. It normally takes up to a full year before a baby shark to form!

Karen Grady: It’s Not ALL About The Sharks! April 18, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karen Grady

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

April 5 – April 20, 2017

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 18, 2017

 

Weather Data

Latitude 2827.10
Longitude 09148.6
75 degrees
Sunny
No precipitation
Winds at 10 KTS
Waves at 2-4 FT

Science and Technology Log

There are always many things happening on a research vessel. As we moved from station to station, scientists Paul Felts and Kevin Rademacher have been deploying a trolling camera with a lure attached. I asked Kevin about the camera and he explained what they are trying to accomplish.  The ultimate goal of this experimental camera system is to help develop an index of abundance for pelagic species (billfish, dolphinfish, King mackerel, tunas, etc) to be used in stock assessments for those species.  Currently, there are no fishery independent indices for adults of these species. We are trying to achieve this by attaching a camera in front of a hook-less trolling lure. If it is successful, the plan is to deploy it when running between stations on all of our surveys. This would give us enough samples to hopefully create an annual index for these species.

This trip they have taken the system from the idea and initial system build back at the lab, and are trying it in the real world; modifying portions that are not working to get it to work. What is desired is towing the system to where the lure is acting as potential prey, is not being negatively affected by the vessel’s propeller wash or bubbles from the vessel or waves, at a vessel’s transit speed, and is depth adjustable.

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The scientists were working opposite watches and during watch changes they would share what they had observed and discuss small changes that they wanted to make to obtain better results.   The camera allowed them to watch video footage to assess how clearly the lure could be viewed under the water as it traveled behind the ship.  The ship’s crew up in the bridge worked with the scientists requests for the changes in speed they needed for short periods of time while the trolling camera was in the water during a transit to another station.

The longline hooks often yield other species besides sharks. On one set we caught 3 king snake eels, Ophichthus rex, that have long bodies, that are very stoutly built.  Instead of a tail fin they have a fleshy nub.  One of them was almost as long as scientist Paul Felts is tall.  This species is distributed in the Gulf of Mexico.  It is often caught around oil rigs.  The species is consumed on a very small scale and is prepared and sold in Florida as “keoghfish”. This a burrowing species that inhabits mud, sand and clay between 15-366 meters deep.  King snake eels may reach sizes up to 11 feet.

 

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Paul Felts weighs a large King Snake eel

 

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King Snake eels don’t like to stretch out for measurements. It took a few extra hands to get this large one to cooperate.

 

Personal Log

What is a day in the life of this NOAA Teacher at Sea like?

We are on the downhill side of this cruise. It has been full of so many amazing things. I miss my family and will be ready to see them, but am so thankful for this experience.  Life on the ship is quite a unique experience. There are 29 of us on this cruise. But because of working 12-12 approximately half are working while the others are sleeping and having some down time.  This means we don’t see each other except around shift changes.  You are very aware of not banging things, or accidentally letting the motion of the boat slam a door because someone is always sleeping.   The berths are small but functional.  I am sharing a berth with the XO, LCDR Lecia Salerno, who is also on day watch.  You can see from the photo below that the space in any of the berths is limited.  I have the top bunk which is kind of scary for those who know how graceful I am, but as of yet I haven’t had any mishaps.

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This is a typical berth on the Oregon II. Usually one crew member has it for 12 hours then they switch. This allows for uninterrupted sleep and  a little privacy on a small ship with 29 crew members onboard.

 

What is a day like onboard the Oregon II for me? I wake up around 8 am and try to convince myself to do a few minutes on the Jacob’s Ladder and a few weights for upper body.  Breakfast for me is a power bar, each watch usually eats two meals in the galley and mine are lunch and dinner.  There is time to do laundry if the washer is available. Twenty-nine people using one washer and dryer calls for everyone to be courteous and remember to get your laundry done and out of the way.  I usually spend about an hour reading or working on blogs and even some new plans for my students next year. I am lucky that the boat has wifi that bounces in and out so I can use I-message and stay in touch with some of my family and friends as well as facebook, and email.

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Crew’s lounge where we watched the occasional movie, and I wrote all my blogs.

 

Lunch is at 11 and our watch eats and gets out of the way because we are on at noon and need to let the other watch get into the galley for their lunch. Did I mention the galley only has 12 seats and that courtesy is the big thing that makes life on the ship work?  When we aren’t baiting hooks, setting out the line, or pulling in the line we hang out in the dry lab.  There are computers in the dry lab and the scientists are able to work on emails, and data that is being gathered.  There is also a television and we have watched some random things over the long shifts.  Lots of laughter happens in this room, especially the more tired we get.  I will also admit that we joined the rest of the internet world in stalking April the Giraffe until she had that baby!!! There is time between sets to go do a little bit of a workout and sometimes I take advantage of this.  An important activity is hydration. You do not realize how the warm weather on the deck depletes your system.  There are notes posted reminding us to stay hydrated.  It is also important for me to keep a little food in my stomach to ward off any seasick feelings.  I try not to snack at home, but dry cereal or a piece of toast have become my friends on this cruise.  Other than the first night at sea I have not had any real queasy moments so I am going to continue this pattern as long as we are moving.  One thing is that I tend to snack and drink a lot of water.  Dinner is at 5 and occasionally it falls about the time we have to set out a line or pull in a line. This means we eat really fast and get back to work.

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The stewards cook three meals a day out of this small galley kitchen. They did a great job of giving us menus with lots of options.

When it is time to set a line we all go out on deck and we bait 100 hooks. The hooks will be baited with either chunks of mackerel or squid.  There is nothing glamorous about this at all. If you aren’t paying attention you can even take a shot of squid or mackerel juice to the face.   When it is time to get the line in the water there are jobs for each of us.  One person puts the high flyer in the water, this marks the start and end of the line of hooks and has a flashing light for night time.  One person attaches a number to each hook’s line and hands it to the slinger who puts the hook over the side and hands the line to one of the fisherman to attach to the line and send it on its way.  One person mans the computer and inputs when the high flyer, three different weights and each hook go over the side.  The computer records the bait used, the wave height, cloud cover, precipitation, longitude and latitude of each hook.  I told you the scientists’ collect a lot of data on these cruises.  The last person scrubs the barrels clean and places them up front on the bow for the haul back.  The deck gets washed down.  The crew works hard to keep the ship clean.

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I had no idea how much squid ink or juice one person could get on them until I learned to bait a hook with squid for long-line. Mackerel is SOOOO much better!

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Putting the high flyer over the rail. One marked the beginning and end of each line we put out.

When the crew on the bridge gives us the 10 minute call we all dawn our life jackets, grab our gloves and head to the bow to see what we might have caught. The deck crew is getting ready to pull in the high flyer, the computer gets set up and all the necessary equipment for collecting data is laid out.  We have two measuring boards, a small sling for weighing bigger sharks on deck, two types of taggers, scales, scissors, tubes for fin clips, pliers, measuring tape, bolt cutters, data sheet, and hard hats for all.   One person works the computer, recording if we caught a fish, or whether or not there was any bait left on the hook, another person takes the line and hook and places it in a barrel ready to be baited next time, the number is removed and placed on a cable, two people are ready to “play” with the sharks and fish, meaning they will do the measurements, weights and any tagging, and one person fills out the data sheet.  It all works very quickly and efficiently.  Sometimes it gets a little crazy when we have fish and sharks on several hooks in a row. I spent most of my time doing the data recording and I must say my experience working the chutes with tagging and vaccinating cattle sure came in handy when it came to keeping the information straight.

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Science team works check if a female bull shark is pregnant using an ultrasound machine

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Measuring a sharp nose shark

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Sometimes the more active sharks took more than one person to remove the hook so we could release them.

The day watch comes on shift at midnight, but they usually show up around 11:30 to visit and see what has happened on our shift. By midnight we are free to go.   I stop in the galley for a quick sandwich made of toast and ham.  Next up is the much needed shower.  We use mackerel and squid for bait and let’s just say the juice and squid ink tends to fly around the deck when we are baiting hooks.  Then you get the salty sea air, handling sharks, red snapper, king snake eels, and it makes a hot shower is much anticipated.  Lastly, I crawl into my top rack (bed) and adjust to the pitch and roll of the ship.

Did You Know

Typically, biologists can age sharks by examining cross sections of shark’s vertebra and counting the calcified bands, much like you can count the rings on a cross section of a tree trunk. The deep-water sharks we are looking for are trickier to age because their vertebra do not become as calcified as sharks found in shallower depths.

Karen Grady: Let’s Catch Some Sharks, April 7, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Karen Grady

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

April 5 – 20, 2017

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: April 7, 2017

 

Weather Data

74 Degrees

Clear Skies

Calm Seas

Location

Latitude 2754.34N

Longitude 08905.93W

 

 Science and Technology Log

This is the second leg of the Oregon II’s experimental longline survey.  A longline is a type of fishing gear that will deploy one fishing line that is very long and very thick and has many hooks attached to it.  We will be doing a survey by collecting systematic samplings to assess fish populations.   This mission is an experimental one because the longline is being placed at depths deeper than they fish during the annual longline survey and are able to alter the bait type and leader material to see how it could affect catch rates.

The longlines are baited with pieces of squid. Squid live in deep water so it makes sense to use them to attract deep-sea sharks.  Squid also stays on the hooks better than the mackerel and these hooks have to make it a LONG way down on this survey. The lines are placed in the water and then allowed to soak for several hours.  This allows the squid bait to settle down into the deep water (aided by the weights attached) and for sharks to find the bait.  The fishing line with the hooks is a mile long, but the total line put out can be up to 3 miles long because of the scope needed to allow the 1 mile of gear to reach the deep bottom depths.

baiting hooks
Scientist Kevin Rademacher baiting hooks with squid

As we bring in the catch we will be gathering data on the species caught, sex, maturity stage for male sharks, and certain sharks will be tagged. There are different tags for different sizes of sharks and a small piece of fin is collected on all tagged sharks for genetic purposes. The weight and three or four different measurements will be taken on the all species. Photos of any uncommon species are also taken if time allows to help with identification processes in the future, and so everyone can see them if they weren’t on the watch when the catch occurred.

On my dayshift team is James Sulikowski, a scientist from the University of New England in Maine, who will be using an ultrasound on larger female sharks that we bring on board. Ideally, he and Trey Driggers, the night watchleader from the NOAA MS Labs, would like to catch some large female hammerhead or dusky sharks.  James will use the ultrasound to determine if the large females are pregnant. If they are pregnant, a satellite tag will be placed on the sharks that will stay on for approximately 30 days.  This is perfect as females could be giving birth over this time frame.  The tags will be used to track the sharks with the hope that important habitats where the adults give birth can be identified.  James (and Neil Hammerschlag) has conducted similar research on tiger sharks, but linking pregnancy to specific movements has not been conducted with sharks captured in the Gulf of Mexico.  Our experimental longline survey is happening at a perfect time to gather data for this research.

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James Sulikowski ultra sounding some small pregnant sharks.

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How many baby sharks do you see? We saw THREE!

 

Personal Log

We are at sea now but since getting somewhere is half the fun…..isn’t that what they always say….I wanted to tell you a little about my trip to the ship. On Tuesday night as I was packing we had a storm and lost power for a few hours.  No big deal since I was on the ball and pretty much packed at this point. Wednesday morning, I leave for the airport and about 15 miles down the road I realize I left something I had to have. So, I made a quick turn around and retrieved it. It was a nice drizzling rain and some fog for the drive to the airport.  Now my luck continued when I arrived at airport. Long term parking was full so I had to park at the BACK of the economy lot.  I don’t mind a walk normally but it was raining and that made THREE parking lots to walk through.  Luckily the airport has a little shuttle van to pick up travelers in just such situations.  Oh wait…. This one just drove past us all and kept circling but never actually picked anyone up.  Hmmm.  I had a very bumpy ride to Dallas due to the weather and was relieved to make it to my gate for my connection in Dallas.  Then comes the announcement that they need to change a tire on our plane.  I was completely ok with this hour wait since I see the value in having tires when we land in Gulfport! So only an hour late I made it safely to my destination.

I had a great visit with the scientist who picked me up at the airport. I found out that he and his family intend a vacation in the future to canoe on the Buffalo River. I forget what an amazing state I live in sometimes when it comes to our state parks and outdoor adventures.   One of his areas of focus is Cownose Rays and we discussed how he uses networking to find opportunities to gather data.  My students know how important I feel networking can be.   You never know when that person you meet can help answer a question, provide guidance or solve a problem for you somewhere down the road.  He told me how he took the time just this week to meet some folks who are at NOAA from other countries and ask them to share his contact information because it could help him fill in some needed data for his research.

arriving at ship
Arriving at the Oregon II! Ready to get this adventure started.

Arriving the day before most everyone else made my first night a little bit of an adventure. I had a short tour of the boat and then was on my own.  I was talking with my son on the phone and he asked if it felt like an episode of Scooby Doo where they are on an abandoned ship.  Well.. a little like that.  There were lots of new noises to get used to. And for such a small ship there are lots of doors and rooms.  It is a definite culture shock from the cruise ship I was on during spring break just two weeks ago.

My students all wanted to know what the ship would be like. I will be posting some pics so you can get an idea of what it’s like. I will be sharing my cabin with someone else.  We will basically take turns using it about 12 hours apiece each day.  I knew it would be small but let’s just say I won’t be doing any workouts in my room.  But it has a place for everything and my bunk is comfortable.  There are metal stairs from level to level on the ship.  These are an adventure with my tri-level glasses.  One hand for the rail and I am good.  For those that know me well one of their concerns was that I wouldn’t be able to make it without going for a run.  Crisis averted…there is a rowing machine, weights, a stationary bike etc. onboard. So I guess I will not have to resort to running in place as some people thought.

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The stairs require you to pay attention and use a hand rail..especially if your wearing tri-level glasses like I am

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A boat deck is a busy place with lots of equipment.

The first day onboard was spent getting ready to sail. I just stayed out of the way and introduced myself to the crew as they passed by. We were underway in the early afternoon and it was an adjustment getting used to the motion of the boat.  We had some very informative safety meetings and I got an overview of what we would be doing the next day.  Had a great dinner, our stewards really will keep us fed well!  Then we spent the evening talking and getting to know one another, watching tv, catching up on emails, going through data collection and trying to stay up till midnight so we could get our bodies started on our new schedule.

Day two and we are ready to rock and roll. I slept amazing and woke up to calmer seas.  I was up on deck enjoying the sunshine and getting to watch James ultrasound a few smaller sharks.   I have participated in ultrasounds on dogs, cows, and horses but never a shark.  It was a lot of fun trying to identify how many babies were inside and the best way to use the ultrasound on these smaller sharks.

The day continued to be gorgeous. We pulled one set and caught several sharks, red snapper, and a few eels.  After pulling one set we had several hours of downtime as we head to our next station.  The timing looks like we will get the next set out for the night crew to pull.  The downtime allows everyone to catch up on computer work, and emails.   You can also just sit out on the deck and enjoy the sunset.

 

sunset
Gorgeous sunset our first full day at sea.  Like working 12pm-12am because sunsets are my favorites.

 

Did You Know

  • The Gulf of Mexico has a broad range of ocean ecosystems from shallow reefs to sea forests and has both shallow coastlines and deep ocean waters reaching as deep as 14,300. There is an ample food supply and the perfect habitat for several species of sharks.
  • Sharks do not have swim bladders like bony fish.
  • Sharks store energy in their liver in the form of a viscous oil.   This means their liver is very large.

Emily Sprowls: It’s a shark eat shark world down there! March 22, 2017

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Emily Sprowls

Aboard Oregon II

March 20 – April 3, 2017

 

Mission: Experimental Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: March 22, 2017

Science and Technology Log

This first leg of the Oregon II’s research for the season is an experimental longline survey. This is an exciting cruise for everybody, as we are all anxious to see what comes in on each line, and we hope to find some rare and little-studied species.

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               Reeling in a shark caught on one of the longline hooks 

A longline is a type of fishing gear that deploys one very long and very thick fishing line with many hooks attached. A fisheries survey is a systematic sampling of the ocean to assess fish populations. This mission is experimental because we are testing the longline at extreme depths and we are using different kinds of hooks in order to catch as wide a variety of species as possible.

Things have been busy onboard from the very first day, as we have been setting out and hauling longlines around the clock. We are headed deeper and deeper into the Mississippi canyon of the Gulf of Mexico with each station, starting at 100m and have worked our way down to 750 m, where we currently have a line “soaking” before we haul it up to record what we caught.

Personal Log

Life on the ship is divided into night and day watch. I’m “on days,” which means I work noon to midnight. I am so lucky to be a cruise with a lot of seasoned marine scientists and a great, hard-working crew. Shark scientist Kristin Hannan is the Field Party Chief and has taken me under her wing to get me settled and teach me as much as she can (without making me feel like the newbie that I am)!

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Oil rigs on the horizon

The seas have been calm and the water is the most beautiful color of blue! We are pretty far out to sea, and I have been amazed to see so many oil rigs off in the distance. They glow like small cities at night, and I think they look like strange robots walking on the horizon during the day.

 

Kids’ Questions of the Day

These questions are from the 1st-2nd grade and multi-age classes at Harmony School.

  •  How do you catch the sharks?

We catch the sharks by setting out 100 baited hooks at a time on a very long fishing line. A winch reels in the 3 miles of line after a couple of hours, and we record what is on every single hook.

  • How do you find the sharks?

We rely on the sharks finding our baited hooks. We put weights on the line so that it will sink all the way down to the bottom. We are fishing so deep that it takes almost an hour just for the line to sink! The sharks find the bait using their incredible sense of smell.

  •  What do sharks eat? Fish? Squid? Cookies? Other sharks?

We are baiting the hooks with pieces of squid. The process of baiting hundreds of hooks has left my clothes covered with squid ink!

sharkbait.jpg
Hooks baited with pieces of squid

Sometimes they catch sharks with fish (mackerel), but squid bait stays better on the hooks, and deep-sea sharks clearly like squid, which also live in deep water. While this mission is experimental, the scientists onboard do not think we will have much luck baiting a hook with a cookie – it will just dissolve in the sea (besides the cookies in the galley are so delicious that there are no leftovers)! One type of deep-sea shark makes their own cookies… cookie-cutter sharks (Isistius) bite “cookies” out of other fish with their amazing jaws. Maybe we’ll catch one!?!

Last night we hauled in one hook with only a shark head on it…. What do you think happened to the rest of the shark?

 

Denise Harrington: Let Kids Be Kids, October 18, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Denise Harrington

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 16-30, 2016

Mission: Longline Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Location: 45 27’19″ N  123o 50’33″ W, Tillamook, Oregon

Weather: Rainy, windy, cloudy, and cold (nothing like the Gulf of Mexico).

Meet a Scientist: Dr. William “Trey” Driggers

Trey Drigger’s passion for aquatic predators was born in a lake at his grandparents’ house in Florida, while his dad, a jet pilot, was off fighting in the war in Vietnam.  When his dad left, Trey’s mom loaded the two boys and two dogs into the car and headed north to her parents’ lakefront home in Florida.  Soon thereafter, one of the dogs, used to swimming in safer waters, got eaten by an alligator that lived in the lake.  Trey feared the gators but also must have been fascinated by the life and death struggle between two animals.

With thoughts of fighter pilots and alligators, Trey was one of those students teachers might find challenging. He had trouble focusing on the mundane.  But through books, he could get a little bit of the thrill he sought.

shark-dictionary

He knew he was destined to do something cool, just like his dad. Yet by the end of college Trey was still unsure of what he wanted to become.  One day, he was in the library when the spine of a book caught his eye: Sharks Attack.  After reading this book his childhood fascination with aquatic predators was reinvigorated. During a trip to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Trey purchased a book entitled “Sharks in Question.” The last chapter was about how to become a shark specialist.  What, he thought, I can make a living studying sharks?!

sharks-in-question

Trey quickly finished up his history degree and began two years of science classes he had missed.  In Marine Science 101, the professor said “If you are here for sharks, whales, or dolphins, you can leave right now.”  Trey took the warning as a challenge, and began his now spectacular career with sharks.

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Trey and Chief Boatswain Tim Martin measure a sandbar (Carcharhinus plumbeus) shark while fisheries biologist, Paul Felts, records data.  Photo: Matt Ellis/NOAA Fisheries

His attraction to the mysteries of the deep and the written word has resulted in many discoveries, including a critical role in the discovery of a new species, the Carolina hammerhead (Sphryna gilberti). Recently, Trey’s research has focused on, among other things, examining the movement patterns of sharks. However, understanding the movement patterns of sharks is tricky.  Many have large ranges and occupy numerous habitats under the surface of the ocean that covers over 70% of our planet.  Most sharks can’t be kept in captivity.  For all these reasons and more, sharks are mysterious and fascinating creatures.

So which sharks are currently catching Trey’s attention? One of his many interests is a group of bonnethead  (Sphyrna tiburo) sharks that have been recaptured over multiple summers in specific estuaries in South Carolina.

Like other hammerhead sharks, the bonnethead shark has a cephalofoil.  Why do hammerheads look like that?

bonnethead-sphyra-tiburo
The photo of this bonnethead shark was taken in 2010 by a fellow TAS, Bruce Taterka, also aboard the Oregon II.

Theories abound about the funny looking hammerheads, whose heads look more like wings than hammers.  As Trey says, many people have speculated “the hammerhead has a cephalofoil because ….” giving a single reason.  Some say the cephalofoil acts as a dive plane, pulling the shark up or down as it swims, others say the distance between the nostrils allows it to smell better, honing in on prey, some say it is to compensate for their blind spot, and still others hypothesize that the shark uses its head to pin down prey.

 

Many people have asked this question, but very few get to work like Trey does, collecting data, making observations, and analyzing the data. He says the best part of his job is “when I figure something out that no one else knows.” One day, looking at data a friend collected in Bull’s Bay estuary, near Charleston, South Carolina, he noticed a pattern of the same sharks getting recaptured there year after year.  A small group of different aged, different size friends going to enjoy their summer together to Bull’s Bay while another group always going to the North Edisto estuary every year?  Why?

Trey hypothesizes that in the summer, blue crab abound in that spot, and are thick with eggs. The bonnetheads have the shortest gestation period of all sharks, four months, and need a lot of nutrients.  Their heads, shaped just right for holding down a blue crab, and their convergence at Bull’s Bay on the fertile female crabs, may just be the elements necessary to get a shark pup from embryo to viability.  Pretty cool!

800px-noaa_fishery_science_center_measuring_bonnethead_shark_pup
Here, a juvenile bonnethead shark is being measured.  Photo: NOAA Fisheries

With all this evidence supporting a hypotheses that the bonnethead shark cephalofoil is used for holding down prey, one might predict that Trey’s next publication on the topic will make that conclusion.

“People want to pick one answer,” Trey says, but “there is a lot more that we don’t know than we do.”   There is often more than one right answer, he continues, more than one solution to a problem.  Speaking about fishing regulation, conservationists and fishermen, Trey suggests that both sides need to understand that the other side has positive things to contribute.  He lives his life this way, moving fluidly among the deck crew, officers, stewards, and scientists looking for commonalities.  Together, all the members of the team play an essential role in keeping the ship and survey moving forward.

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Kevin, Matt Ellis, NOAA Science Writer, Paul, and Trey were the four other members of the day shift science team.  I took my christened baiting gloves home with me as a souvenir.

Personal Log

Each member of the crew shared insights and skills that I will take back to my classroom and incorporate into my life

My work as a NOAA Teacher at Sea was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I knew very little about fish before stepping aboard the Oregon II, and from the crew have gained understanding of and appreciation for fish, other marine species, and the diversity of life on our planet.  I’ve learned that while the Gulf of Mexico is home to the world’s largest fisheries, the human impact from industries, watershed runoff, development, and other sources is unbelievable.

When the time for science arrives, or weaves its way into the other subjects as it always does, students’ eyes light up.  I know I am far from a professional scientist, but through NOAA,  I can now speak authentically and accurately about what happens in the field and why.  My students have become mini-scientists, speaking among themselves about collecting data as if it were a playground game.

As I listened to NOAA Corps Officer David Reymore share memories of a Make a Wish trip with his son to Disneyland, I learned to take each moment with a child as a gift and was also reminded of the sacrifice crew members and their families make in support of science during their weeks, months, and years at sea. Thank you, each and every NOAA crew member aboard the NOAA fleet, for your service.  With the time away from family as the only negative, I learned that the many different careers available through NOAA provide great learning opportunities, adventure, and inspiration to those who are ready for some very hard work.

What advice can you give me as a teacher, I ask Trey.  “Quote me on this,” he says with a smile, “don’t give kids so much —- homework.  Let them be kids.”

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NOAA Corps Officer Brian Yannutz wears his lucky shark hat as we bring in the long line.

Laughing, shaking my head in amazement, leafing through my journals, I have enough inspiration from these two weeks to last a lifetime.  How did I get so fortunate?

 

 

Denise Harrington: Joining the Longline Crew, September 17, 2016

 

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Denise Harrington

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

September 16-30, 2016

Mission: Longline Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Saturday, September 17, 2016

Location: 29 2.113’ N  93o 24.5’ W

Weather from the Bridge: 28.9C (dry bulb), Wind 6 knots @ 250o, overcast, 2-3′ SE swell.

Science Log

The muggy afternoon air did not dampen my excitement as we left Galveston, Texas, aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ship Oregon II.  I am a NOAA Teacher at Sea, participating in a  longline survey in the Gulf of Mexico, surveying sharks and bony fish.

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Fellow volunteers Leah Rucker and Evan Pettis and I bid farewell to Galveston. Evidence of human influence, such as development, oil rigs, barges, and ships, is not hard to spot. Photo: Matt Ellis, NOAA

When I tell people about the Teacher at Sea program, they assume I teach high school or college, not second grade in rural Tillamook, Oregon.  Yet spend a few moments with any seven or eight year old and you will find they demonstrate significant potential as scientists through their questions, observations, and predictions. Listen to them in action, documented by Oregon Public Broadcasting, at their annual Day at the Bay field trip.

Just as with language acquisition, exposing the young mind to the process of scientific inquiry ensures we will have a greater pool of scientists to manage our natural resources as we age.  By inviting elementary teachers to participate in the Teacher at Sea program, NOAA makes it clear that the earlier we get kids out in the field, the better.

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Each year, my students develop a science or engineering project based upon their interests.  Here, South Prairie Elementary students survey invertebrates along a line transect as part of a watershed program with partners at Sam Case Elementary School in Newport, Oregon.

The NOAA Teacher at Sea program will connect my students with scientists Dr. Trey Driggers, Paul Felts, Dr. Eric Hoffmayer, Adam Pollock, Kevin Rademacher, and Chrissy Stepongzi, as they catch sharks, snapper, and other fish that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico. The data they collect is part of the Red Snapper/Shark Bottom Longline Survey that began in 1995. The survey, broken into four legs or parts each year, provides life cycle and population information about many marine species over a greater geographic distance and longer period of time than any other study of its kind.

Leg IV is the last leg of the survey.  After a long season of data collection, scientists, sailors, and fishermen will be able to return to their families.

My twelve hour shift begins tomorrow, September 17, at noon, and will continue each day from noon until midnight until the most eastern station near Panama City, Florida, is surveyed.  Imagine working 12 hour shifts, daily, for two weeks straight!  The crew is working through the day and night, sleeping when they can, so shutting the heavy metal doors gently and refraining from talking in the passageways is essential.  I got lucky on the day shift:  my hours are closer to those of a teacher and the transition back to the classroom will be smoother than if I were on the night shift.

Approximately 200 stations, or geographic points, are surveyed in four legs. Assume we divide the stations equally among the legs, and the first three legs met their goal. Leg IV is twelve days in duration. How many stations do we need to survey each day (on average) to complete the data collection process?  This math problem might be a bit challenging for my second graders, but it is on my mind.

p1080124
Mulling over the enormity of our task, Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin and I discuss which 49 year old fisherman will end up with more wrinkles at the end of the survey. Currently, I am in the lead, but I bet he’s hiding some behind those shades. Photo: Mike Conway

I wonder what kind of sharks we will catch.  Looking back at the results of the 2015 cruise report, I learned that there was one big winner.  More than half of the sharks caught were Atlantic sharpnose (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) sharks. Other significant populations of sharks were the blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) shark, the sandbar (Carcharhinus plumbeus) shark, and the blacknose (Carcharhinus acronotus) shark.

My fellow Teacher at Sea, Barney Peterson, participated in Leg II of the 2016 survey, and by reading her blog I learned that the shark they caught the most was the sandbar shark.

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In this sample data sheet from the end of Leg III, all but one of the sharks caught were the blacknose sharks.  Notice the condition of two of the fish caught: “heads only.”  Imagine what happened to them!

 

 

Personal Log

My first memory of a shark was when my brother, an avid lifetime fisherman, took several buses across the San Francisco Bay area to go fishing.  That afternoon, he came home on the bus with a huge shark he’d caught.  I was mesmerized. We were poor at the time and food was hard to come by, but mom or dad insisted sharks were not edible, and Greg was told to bury the shark in the yard.  Our dog, Pumpkin, would not comply, and dug that shark up for days after, the overpowering smell reminding us of our poor choice. I don’t have many regrets, but looking back on that day, I wish we had done something differently with the shark.

Since then, I’ve learned that shark is a popular source of protein in the diets of people around the world, and is growing in popularity in the United States.  In our survey area, Fisheries Biologist Eric Hoffmayer tells me that blacktip and sandbar sharks are the two most commercially important species. Our survey is a multispecies survey, with benefits beyond these two species and far beyond our imagination. As demand increases, so too does the need for careful management to keep fisheries sustainable. I am honored to be part of a crew working to ensure that we understand, value, and respect our one world ocean and the animals that inhabit it.

Barney Peterson: What Are We Catching? August 28, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea

Barney Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II

August 13 – 28, 2016

Mission: Long Line Survey

Geographic Area: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Sunday, August 28, 2016

Weather Data is not available for this post because I am writing from the Biloxi/Gulfport Airport.

WHAT ARE WE CATCHING?

This is a long-line survey.  That means we go to an assigned GPS point, deploy hi-flyer buoys, add weights to hold the line down, add 100 baited hooks, leave it in place for an hour, and retrieve everything.

mackerel-bait-fish
Mackerel is used to bait the hooks.

As the equipment is pulled in we identify, measure and record everything we catch.  Sometimes, like in the case of a really large, feisty shark that struggles enough to straighten or break a hook or the lines, we try to identify and record the one that got away.  We tag each shark so that it can be identified if it is ever caught again.  We tally each hook as it is deployed and retrieved, and the computer records a GPS position for each retrieval so scientists can form a picture of how the catch was distributed along the section we were fishing.  The target catch for this particular survey was listed as sharks and red snapper.  The reality is that we caught a much wider variety of marine life.

We list our catch in two categories: Bony fish, and Sharks.  The major difference is in the skeletons.  Bony fish have just that: a skeleton made of hard bone like a salmon or halibut.  Sharks, on the other hand, have a cartilaginous skeleton, rigid fins, and 5 to 7 gill openings on each side.  Sharks have multiple rows of sharp teeth arranged around both upper and lower jaws.  Since they have no bones, those teeth are embedded in the gums and are easily dislodged.  This is not a problem because they are easily replaced as well.  There are other wonderful differences that separate sharks from bony fish.

Bony Fish we caught:

The most common of the bony fish that we caught were Red Groupers (Epinephelus morio), distinguished by of their brownish to red-orange color, large eyes and very large mouths.  Their dorsal fins, especially, have pointed spikes.

chrissy-with-enormous-grouper
Chrissy holding an enormous grouper

We also caught Black Sea Bass (Centropristus striata) which resemble the groupers in that they also have large mouths and prominent eyes.

sea-bass
Black Sea Bass

A third fish that resembles these two is the Speckled Hind (Epinephelus drummondhayi).  It has a broad body, large mouth and undershot jaw giving the face a different look.  Yes, we did catch several Red Snapper (Lutjanus campechanus), although not as many as I expected.  Snappers are a brighter color than the Red Groupers, and have a more triangular shaped head, large mouth and prominent canine teeth.

red-snapper
Red Snapper

The most exciting bony fish we caught was barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda).  We caught several of these and each time I was impressed with their sleek shape and very sharp teeth!

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TAS Barney Peterson with a barracuda

Most of the bony fish we caught were in fairly deep water.

 

Sharks:

We were fortunate to catch a variety of sharks ranging from fairly small to impressively big!

The most commonly caught were Sandbar Sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus): large, dark-gray to brown on top and white on the bottom.

sandbar-shark
Sandbar Shark

Unless you really know your sharks, it is difficult for the amateur to distinguish between some of the various types.  Experts look at color, nose shape, fin shape and placement, and distinguishing characteristics like the hammer-shaped head of the Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) and Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) sharks that were caught on this trip.

great-hammerhead
Great Hammerhead Shark

The beautifully patterned coloring of the Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) is fairly easy to recognize and so is the yellowish cast to the sides of the Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris).

Other sharks we caught were Black-nose (Carcharhinus acrontus), Atlantic Sharp-nosed (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae), Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), Blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) and Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus leucus).

Several of the sharks we caught were large, very close to 3 meters long, very heavy and very strong!  Small sharks and bony fish were brought aboard on the hooks to be measured against a scaled board on the deck then weighed by holding them up on a spring scale before tagging and releasing them.  Any shark larger than about 1.5 meters was usually heavy and strong enough that it was guided into a net cradle that was lifted by crane to deck level where it could be measured, weighed and tagged with the least possibility of harm to either the shark or the crew members.  Large powerful sharks do not feel the force of gravity when in the water, but once out of it, the power of their weight works against them so getting them back into the water quickly is important.  Large powerful sharks are also pretty upset about being caught and use their strength to thrash around trying to escape.  The power in a swat from a shark tail or the abrasion from their rough skin can be painful and unpleasant for those handling them.

PERSONAL LOG

The Night Sky

I am standing alone on the well deck; my head is buzzing with the melodies of the Eagles and England Dan.  A warm breeze brushes over me as I tune out the hum of the ship’s engines and focus on the rhythm of the bow waves rushing past below me.  It is dark! Dark enough and clear enough that I can see stars above me from horizon to horizon: the soft cloudy glow of the Milky Way, the distinctive patterns of familiar favorites like the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper with its signature bright point, the North Star.  Cassiopeia appears as a huge “W” and even the tiny cluster of the “Seven Sisters” is distinct in the black bowl of the night sky over the Gulf of Mexico.  The longer I look the more stars I see.

This is one of the first really cloudless nights of this cruise so far.  Mike Conway, a member of the deck crew came looking for me to be sure I didn’t miss out on an opportunity to witness this amazingly beautiful show.  As I first exited the dry lab and stumbled toward the bow all I could pick out were three faint stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper.  The longer I looked, the more my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, and the more spectacular the show became.  Soon there were too many stars for me to pick out any but the most familiar constellations.

As a child I spent many summer nighttime hours on a blanket in our yard as my father patiently guided my eyes toward constellation after constellation, telling me the myths that explained each one. Many years have passed since then.  I have gotten busy seeing other sights and hearing other stories.  I had not thought about those long ago summer nights for many years.  Tonight, looking up in wonder, I felt very close to Pop again and to those great times we shared.

 

Barney Peterson: What is NOAA? August 20, 2016

Barney Peterson
Aboard NOAA Ship OREGON II
August 13 – 28, 2016

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 20, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 28 10.999 N

Longitude:  084 09.706 W

Air temperature: 90.68 F

Pressure: 1020.05 Mb

Sea Surface Temperature: 32.6 C

Wind Speed: 4.74 Kt

Science Log:

Teacher at Sea
Teacher at Sea Barney Peterson working on line long deployment aboard the OREGON II.

 

NOAA is a big organization!  To say I am working for NOAA this summer is like saying I am visiting the USA…way too non-specific to mean much.

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is a part of the US Department of Commerce.  The NOAA mission: Science, Service and Stewardship, is further stated simply as to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts; to share that knowledge and information with others; to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.

To carry out that mission NOAA is further split into divisions that use a broadly diverse set of skills and abilities including satellite systems, ships, buoys, aircraft, research, high performance computing, and information management and distribution systems.*  In later posts I will introduce you to some of the people who use those resources as they perform their jobs.

As a Teacher at Sea I am working under NOAA Fisheries.  This program (TAS) “is designed to give teachers a clearer insight into our ocean planet, a greater understanding of maritime work and studies and to increase their level of environmental literacy by fostering an interdisciplinary research experience.”*

This summer I am assigned to NOAA Ship Oregon II, a fisheries research vessel of the National Marine Fisheries Service.  We are conducting a long-line survey of fish in the Gulf of Mexico.  The information we gather on species diversity and abundance will help the Service make decisions for management of our marine resources. What this boils down to for the average citizen may seem like what you are allowed to catch where, when, and how many; really the results are much, much more important.  These decisions will be part of a plan to respond to changes in the health of our planet and the needs of all of us who inhabit it.  “There is just one big ocean.”*

To understand what that last statement means, find a globe or an inflatable Earth Ball™.  Put your index finger on a point in the Arctic Ocean.  Now move your finger around the globe, always moving to your right, maybe a little up or down sometimes, until you get back to where you started.  Your finger should never leave the “water” as it moves around the world.  See!  JUST ONE BIG OCEAN!

one ocean
There is just one big ocean.

*1) ppi.noaa.gov              *2)teacheratsea.noaa.gov           *3)oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/bigocean.html

Barney Peterson: Rescue at Sea, August 23, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship OREGON II
August 13 – 28, 2016

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 28 10.999 N

Longitude:  084 09.706 W

Air temperature: 90.68 F

Pressure: 1020.05 Mb

Sea Surface Temperature: 32.6 C

Wind Speed: 4.74 Kt

Science Log:

Rescue At Sea!

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

Loggerhead Turtle
File photo of a Loggerhead Turtle.

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

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

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

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

Personal Log:

Here is Where I Live

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

stateroom
Find the Monroe Eagle in my nest aboard the OREGON II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Barney Peterson: Cut Bait and Fish! August 17, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship OREGON II
August 13 – 28, 2016

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 25 29.664 N

Longitude: 082 02.181 W

Air temperature: 84.56 F

Pressure: 1018.13 Mb

Sea Surface Temperature: 30.5 C

Wind Speed: 13.54 Kt    East 12.72 degrees

Science Log:

The fishing process on the ship repeats itself in a well-defined cycle: cut bait, bait 100 hooks, drop hi-flyer, drop weight,  attach 50 tags and baited hooks, drop weight, attach 50 more tags and hooks, drop weight, deploy hi-flyer.  Put the CTD over the side and retrieve for water quality data.  Wait an hour.  Retrieve hi-flyer, retrieve weight, pull in first 50 hooks and detach tags logging any catch as they come in, retrieve weight, pull in next 50 hooks and detach tags logging any catch as they come in, retrieve last weight, retrieve last hi-flyer.  Process the catch as it comes in, logging tag number, gender, species, lengths at 3 points, life stage, and tag number if the catch is a shark that gets tagged, return catch to water alive as quickly as possible. Transit to the next sample site.  Wash, rinse and repeat.

That boils it down to the routine, but long line fishing is much more interesting and exciting than that!  Bait we use is Atlantic Mackerel, caught farther north and frozen, thawed just before use and cut into 3 pieces per fish.  A circle hook is inserted through each piece twice to ensure it will not fall off the hook…this is a skill that takes a bit of practice.  Sometimes hooks are pulled in with bait still intact. Other times the bait is gone and we don’t know if it was eaten without the hook catching, a poor baiting job, or more likely eaten by smaller fish, too little to be hooked.  When we are successful we hear the call “FISH ON!” and the deck comes alive.

The line with a catch is pulled up as quickly and carefully as possible.  Some fish are not securely hooked and are lost between the water and the deck…not what we want to happen.  If the catch is a large shark (generally 4 feet or longer) it is raised to the deck in a sling attached to the forward crane to minimize the chance of physical injury.  For large sharks a camera with twin lasers is used to get a scaled picture for estimating length.  There is a dynamometer on the line between the sling and the crane which measures pressure and converts it to weight.  Both of these processes help minimize the time the shark needs to be out of water with the goal of keeping them alive to swim away after release.  A tag is quickly attached to the shark, inserted under the skin at the base of the second dorsal fin.  A small clip is taken from a fin, preferably from the pelvic fin, for DNA studies. The sling is lowered back to the water and the shark is free to swim away.  All data collected is recorded to the hook-tag number which will identify the shark as to geographic location of the catch.

Shark in sling
A sandbar shark being held in the sling for measurements.

Sometimes the catch is a smaller shark or a bony fish:  a Grouper, a Red Snapper, or any one of many different types of fish that live in this area.  Each of these is brought onto the deck and laid on a measuring board. Species, length, and weight are recorded. Fin clips are taken.  Many of them are on the list of species of recreational and commercial importance.  These fish are retained for life history studies which will inform future management decisions.  In the lab they are dissected to retrieve otoliths (ear stones) by which their age is determined.  Depending upon the species, gonads (the reproductive organs) may be saved for study to determine the possibilities of future reproductive success.  For certain species a good-sized piece of flesh is cut from the side for fraudulent species voucher library use.

After the smaller sharks are measured, fin clipped, gender identified, life stage is determined and weight is taken, they are tagged and returned to the water as quickly as possible.  Tags on these sharks are a small, numbered plastic tag attached by a hole through the first dorsal fin.

This is a lot to get done and recorded and it all happens several times each shift.  The routine never varies.  The amount of action depends upon the success of the catch from any particular set.  This goes on 24 hours per day.  The only breaks come as we travel between the sites randomly selected for our sets and that time is generally spent in the lab.

(Thanks go to Kevin Rademacher, Trey Driggers and Lisa Jones, Research Fisheries Biologists, for contributing to this entry.  File photo NOAA/NMFS)

Personal Log:

I do not need 12 hours of sleep.  That means I have several hours at the start or end of each shift to write in my journal, talk to the other members of the crew, take care of personal business such as laundry and communicate with home via email.  Even so, every day seems to go by very quickly and I go to bed thinking of all the things I have yet to learn.  In my next posts I will tell more about the different kinds of sharks and introduce you to some of the other people on the ship.  Stay tuned.

Barney Peterson:Welcome to OREGON II, August 14, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Barney Peterson

Aboard NOAA Ship OREGON II
August 13 – 28, 2016

 

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey

Geographic Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico

Date: August 14, 2016

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Latitude: 25 23.297 N

Longitude: 083 40 .794 W

Air temperature: 87.6 F

Pressure: 1017.04 Mb

Sea Surface Temperature: 30.6 C

Wind Speed: 16.6 Kt    East 86.74 degrees

Science Log:

We will set clocks tonight SHIP WIDE.  At 0100 it will become 0000.  Please plan accordingly.

What this translates to is that when we moved into the Gulf of Mexico we went to the Central Time Zone.  That means only a 2-hour difference between the ship and my home in the Pacific Northwest.  That also means I, who am on the noon-to-midnight shift, got one more hour to sleep (or whatever) Sunday night.

I am busy learning about schedules on the ship. The science group is split into 2 shifts.  We work days: noon to midnight; or nights: midnight to noon.  These hours rule our lives. Meals are served at 0630, 1100, and 1700.  You eat your first meal before you go on shift and your last at shift’s end.  During the 12 hours you are off shift your stateroom is yours and your roommate is expected to stay away and let you sleep.  The opposite is true for your time on: take everything you may need with you when you leave.  Showers, laundry and personal business are fit into your 12 hours off.  Shipboard courtesy requires that we keep voices low in the passageways and be careful not to let doors slam.  Somebody is always trying to sleep.  There is always a quiet spot somewhere to relax for a moment if you get the time: on the flying bridge, at the table on the stern, in the lounge or at a galley table.

Sunday, at 1230 hours, we had safety drills, required for all personnel within 24 hours of departure and once a week thereafter on every cruise.  Reporting stations for 3 different types of drills are posted in staterooms and throughout the ship.  Nobody is exempt from participation.

The signal sounds: a 10 second ringing of the bell: FIRE!  The PA announces a drill: “All hands report to assigned stations.”  Members of the science team quickly make their way to the stern.  By the galley stands a crew member with a sign reading: Fire ahead – detour.  After we arrive at our station, get checked off and, when all crew have been accounted for, return to our staterooms.

Next – 7 short and one long ring on the bell: ABANDON SHIP!  Announcement: “Drill.  All hands report to the bow with PFD’s and survival suits.”  We grab our life jackets and “Gumby suits” and head to the bow where we are checked off as we arrive.  We are required to don our “Gumbies” in 2 minutes or less – not impossible, but not simple either.  I’ve done it before.  The hardest part is getting the hood on and zipping up with your hands jammed into the lobster-claw gloves and your shoes and hat crammed into the suit with you…that’s when you discover just how much too long the arms and legs are.  It isn’t pretty, but if we actually end up in the water, those neoprene suits will be our best protection against the deadly, energy-sapping effects of hypothermia!

Just after we have stripped out of the “Gumby” suits, rolled them up and stowed them and our life jackets back in staterooms, we get the next signal.

3 long bells: “MAN OVERBOARD!” This drill is important too, but feels almost like an anti-climax.  It could mean the difference between life and death to a fellow crew member who falls into the water when the ship is moving.  Science team reports again to the stern and, in a real emergency, would receive instructions for participating in spotting or assisting in a rescue.  This time we stay and listen to a safety talk about our work with long lines, hooks, bait, and our possible catch which could include all kinds of fish and sharks.  There are very definite rules and procedures to ensure crew are safe and our catch is handled with care and respect.  If all goes well…our first lines will be set Monday night!

Personal Log:

Sitting on the flying bridge about 1900 Sunday evening, 3 of us spotted a small boat about ½ mile away that seemed to be drifting aimlessly.  There were two enormous cruise ships coming up behind us and they went around it on either side after cutting their engines to reduce their wake.  A crew member from the bridge watched from our deck as somebody on the boat fired a flare.  We were informed that radio contact was established: the boat was adrift, out of fuel, and we would stand by until the Coast Guard arrived. The OREGON II cut speed and circled back to stay closer to the small boat.  One of the cruise ships was also standing by while the other went on its way.  After about 20 minutes the white and red Coast Guard ship appeared and, when it reached the small boat, we were released to go on our way.

Seeing this response to another vessel in need of help put emphasis upon the importance of participating fully in our drills and understanding the measures in place to keep us safe and aid other ships sharing this big ocean.

Did You Know?  What is the largest shark found in the Gulf of Mexico?

going aboard
Teacher at Sea Barney Peterson about to board NOAA ship OREGON II

Denise Harrington: Big Sharks Bite, Itty Bitty Sharks Intrigue – May 11, 2016

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Denise Harrington
Aboard NOAA Ship Pisces (In Port)
May 04, 2016 – May 12, 2016

 

Date: Saturday, May 11, 2016

P1050542
Dr. Trey Driggers shares a great white shark jaw with me.  Photo courtesy of Kevin Rademacher

My children sometimes complain when they find a bird in the freezer next to their frozen waffles.  Yet in Pascagoula, Mississippi, relentless digging in the freezer is how discoveries are made.

P1050566
Mark Grace, in his office.

Mark Grace has been a biologist with NOAA for 30 years.  If he counted all his time at sea, excluding volunteer and international research, he spent “seven solid years floating.” Out of 200 surveys with NOAA, he was the field party chief for 41 of those projects.  In all of those years, he had never discovered a new species, almost no one ever does.   Yet, in 2013, he discovered an extremely rare, tiny species of pocket shark that had been identified only one other time, in 1979 off the coast of Peru.

pocket shark
This photo of the pocket shark shows its remarkable pocket, just behind the pectoral fin, and some skin damage in front of the eye that may have occurred from the pressure of being harvested from the depths.  Credit J. Wicker NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC

Scientists happened to find the 5 ½ inch shark while doing research on sperm whale feeding habits in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.    The pocket, unnoticed at first, is what makes this shark so unique. Jesse Wicker took this photo in 2010, aboard NOAA Ship Pisces during the whale survey while processing mountains of sea creatures.  Scientists must pay meticulous attention to detail as they document and photograph specimens at sea.  You never know when your photo may prove crucial to scientific discovery.

The Discovery

The specimens collected in 2010 were identified and then placed in freezers to preserve them for further analysis.

freezer of fish
Photo courtesy of Mark Grace

Mark began to work through the specimens, but it took much longer than he had imagined.  He’d undo a bag, and there would be a hundred fish to process. Each bag seemed bottomless.  By the time Mark got to the last bags, the shark had been in the freezer for three years, eight months.  Brrr…..

Yet he knew the fish weren’t worth much if they stayed in the freezer. He was particularly interested in the cookie cutter shark named after the cookie shaped bites they leave in their prey.  He kept on.

cookie bite
NOAA photo The round mark left on the back of this toothed whale is a telltale sign of a cookie cutter shark, such as this one below.

cookie cutter shark

Cookie Cutter Shark, NOAA’s Fisheries Collection, Photo taken aboard NOAA Ship Pisces.

A shark caught his eye. The shark was identified as belonging to the Dalatiidae family (kitefin sharks), many of whom share luminescent features.

pocket shark bottom
Kitefin shark harvested in 2010 aboard Pisces. Credit: J. Wicker NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC 2010

Yet this shark did not look like the other cookie cutter sharks he had studied.  It had a remarkable fold of skin behind the pectoral fin that did not look like an injury or parasite.  Once Mark saw a matching feature behind the other fin, he realized this shark was like no other species he had ever seen.  Looking in his reference books, he could not find this shark, because it did not exist in any book on his shelf.

pocket
Photo credit: Mark Grace – The pockets behind the pectoral fin of the 2010 specimen.

pocket shark diagram

Over hundreds of millions of years, shark adaptations have helped them survive.  They have become smoother, faster, and better at sensing out their prey.  Many sharks have the hard, smooth, scales on their skin called denticles that increase their speed and reduce noise, just like my friend’s fast blue Sterling fiberglass kayak compared to my noisy, orange, plastic Avocet kayak.

Just below the snout, this shark had has a translucent denticle, or scale, at the center of surrounding denticles, giving the appearance of a flower.

pocket shark denticle
Magnified photo of modified denticle.

Mark hypothesized that this unique adaptation might be a pit organ, used to sense currents, or prey.  Scientists have many thoughts about the purposes for this organ.  Each unique feature of the shark inspired Mark to research further.

bioluminescent creatures
Composite of images of bio luminescent species collected with pocket shark by Mark Grace.

One adaption many creatures of deep ocean waters is they glow.  Small photophores, or organs on their body, emit light and signals to communicate with other animals.  In this picture, Mark created a composite of several of the other glowing animals that were pulled up in the trawl net with the pocket shark (middle).

In 30 years, he had never seen a species this rare.  A vitelline scar, like the belly button of a human, indicated that the five and a half inch fish was only a few days to no more than a few weeks old when it was born near the place it was harvested. It was a baby. There had to be at least one other fish like it somewhere in the world.

Connections to others

After a little research, Mark connected this pocket shark with the only other pocket shark ever recorded, in 1979 off the coast of Peru and Chile in the east Pacific Ocean.  His research was particularly challenging because Dolganov, the scientist who first identified the new species pocket shark, wrote up his findings in 1984, in Russian.  Mark had to find a Russian scientist to translate the document to English.

 

Sheiko pocket shark
The only other known pocket shark, harvested in 1974, is not in great condition.  Photo 2013, Boris Sheiko

 

pocket shark with ruler
Look at those unique photophore clusters on the shark’s underside.  Photo credit: J. Wicher NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC, 2010

The older pocket shark was a female, and probably an adult, at 20 inches long. Between the two sharks, there were many similarities, but also many differences.

P1060196
In second grade, we like to make Venn Diagrams in situations such as these.  So I drew this one, comparing the shark harvested in 1974 to the shark harvested in 2010.

Once again, I find myself swirling in a sea of questions.  Are these two pocket sharks, which lived far away from each other, of the same species?  Are their morphological (physical) differences enough to make them unable to reproduce with each other?  Scientists ask similar questions to determine if they have found a new species.

What makes a species unique?

Species identification is no easy task.  Mark reached out to experts, as we all do, with his questions.  At the Hollings Marine Laboratory, Gavin Naylor began to collaborate with Mark as part of his global effort to collect DNA of all living things.  He added the pocket shark to the portion of the tree of life he manages at Sharksrays.org.  John Denton, of the American Museum of Natural History, and Michael Doosey and Henry Bart from the Tulane University Biodiversity Research Institute became part of this group of five scientists who would be connected for life through this 5 ½ inch shark. Together they read many books, sliced and diced the shark digitally, and traveled around the world to meet with other biological explorers. They determined that the specimen collected in the Gulf of Mexico, like specimen in the east Pacific, was a pocket shark, Mollisquama.

pocket shark ct
This three dimensional image obtained by Gavin Naylor through a high resolution CT scan at the Hollings Marine Laboratory allows Mark and Gavin to share their research digitally, with scientists around the world, while keeping the baby pocket shark intact.

 

P1050570
The American Museum of Natural History in New York used a three dimension printer to obtain a model of the shark from the CT scan.

The most intriguing part of the scientists’ research lies in the title of their work, hidden in Latin: Mollisquama sp., the name for our Gulf of Mexico baby, and Mollisquama parini, its Russian relative. I notice that the second part of their name is different! Yet in order to establish our shark as a new species of Mollisquama, these scientists will have to write a paper that is “strong enough to withstand many layers of peer review,” says Mark. They will need to demonstrate that the physical differences (e.g. teeth and vertebrae) are significant enough to support a new species identification.

If they are successful in proving their pocket shark is different than its eastern Pacific Ocean relative, what should he name this species of shark?  Mark suggests an international competition, as it will take many minds “to be good enough for NOAA.”

Mark reminds us that when we learn about this shark, we realize that the one great interconnected ocean and its inhabitants are a still a place of mystery and discovery.  We have much more to learn about the ocean and its inhabitants than we know.

Personal Log

Often the greatest discoveries come when you least expect them, hiding in expectations dashed, problems, or the path less traveled. While the Pisces was scheduled to depart last week, the crew continues to work on long and short term projects on the ship and in the lab.

me on screen

Photo courtesy of William Osborn

I am being supervised by Engineering Department Chief “Chief” Brent Jones, on one of many cameras around the ship, as I “assist” the engineering crew get through their list of duties.  His words of wisdom? “Hands off!”

Here, Dana Reid, General Vessel Assistant, and I are opening up the aft valve, so that Travis Martin can switch out the strainers in the main water system.  Dirty strainers get hosed out at least every other day.  Today we caught a small eel in the strainer.

righty tighty

Photo Courtesy of William Osborn

 

cleaning the strainer

Travis Martin, TAS Denise Harrington, and Dana Reid are switching out the strainer, while Farron “Junior” Cornell, Fisherman, photo bombs us.

Acronyms abound at NOAA, and teachers are affectionately referred to, not by our names, but as “TAS,” for Teacher at Sea.  I’d like to name a new species of this family of adventuresome NOAA educators, “TIP” for those Teachers in Port who adapt by learning about all the amazing discoveries that take place on land following successful projects at sea.  I want to extend a big thank you to Mark Grace and the fishery biologists in the lab who did not know they’d be hosting a TIP.

While in port, I have been able to explore the various land based habitats which are much easier to study than their underwater counterparts. Standing on the water’s edge at David Bayou, I wondered how the area would look from a kayak.  I posted a message to the Mississippi Kayak Meetup Group. Both Eric and Keigm Richards and their friends responded, sharing their knowledge and boats, showing me parts of the watershed very few people see. Coincidentally, Eric was one of the talented NOAA Ship Pisces builders, and knows everything from the finest detail of an itty bitty kayak skeg, to the gigantic architecture and versatile features of the Pisces.

Here is a slideshow of the one of the most unspoiled, diverse and scenic estuaries I’ve paddled.

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Most of the were taken by Eric.  Notice the changes in vegetation as we travel away from mouth of the Pascagoula River, up the estuary.  The decreasing salinity has a remarkable effect on the flora and fauna of the area.  Mississippians are proud of the Pascagoula, “the last unimpeded river system in the continental United States.” http://ltmcp.org/pascagoula-river-watershed.

DID YOU KNOW?

Most, around 80%, of the creatures in the water column are bio-luminescent, or emit light.  They can vomit out the glowing liquid, hold and release it from a pouch, and/or send it out through photophores (organs like eyes which emit light instead of collecting it).

 

Jeff Miller: Sharks and Dead Zones, September 12, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 12, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed:  9.2 knots
Wind Speed:  8.8 knots
Air Temp: 27,7°C
Sea Temp: 30.2°C
Seas: 1-2 meters
Sea Depth:  457 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat:  27 47.142 N
Long:  094 04.264 W

Science and Technology Log
On September 8 – 9, we surveyed a number of stations along the Texas and Louisiana coasts that were in shallow water between 10-30 meters (approximately 30-100 feet).  Interestingly, the number of sharks we caught at each station varied dramatically.  For example, we pulled up 65 sharks at station 136 and 53 sharks at station 137, whereas we caught only 5 sharks at station 138 and 2 sharks at station 139.  What could account for this large variance in the number of sharks caught at these locations?

Weighing a bonnethead shark
Weighing a bonnethead shark caught off the coast of Texas.

One key factor that is likely influencing shark distribution is the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.  Oxygen is required by living organisms to produce the energy needed to fuel all their activities.  In water, dissolved oxygen levels above 5 mg/liter are needed for most marine organisms to thrive. Water with less than 2 mg/liter of dissolved oxygen is termed hypoxic, meaning dissolved oxygen is below levels needed by most organisms to thrive and survive.  Water with less than 0.2 mg/liter of dissolved oxygen is termed anoxic (no oxygen) and results in  “dead zones” where little, if any, marine life can survive.

As part of several missions, including the ground fish and longline shark surveys, NOAA ships sample the levels of dissolved oxygen at survey stations in coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  Measurements of dissolved oxygen, salinity, and temperature are collected by a device called the CTD.   At each survey station, the CTD is deployed and it collects real-time measurements as it descends to the bottom and returns to the surface.

CTD
Standing with the CTD, which is used to measure dissolved oxygen, salinity, and temperature.

Data collected by the CTD is used to produce maps showing the relative levels of dissolved oxygen in coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico.    For more environmental data go to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

2015 Gulf Hypoxia Map
Map showing dissolved oxygen levels in the coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico. Red marks anoxic/hypoxic areas with low dissolved oxygen levels.  Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

Environmental surveys demonstrate that large anoxic/hypoxic zones often exist along the Louisiana/Texas continental shelf.  Because low dissolved oxygen levels are harmful to marine organisms, the anoxic/hypoxic zones in the northern Gulf of Mexico could greatly impact commercially and ecologically important marine species.  Overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that excess organic matter, especially nitrogen, from the Mississippi River drainage basin drives the development of anoxic/hypoxic waters.  Although natural sources contribute to the runoff, inputs from agricultural runoff, the burning of fossil fuels, and waste water treatment discharges have increased inputs to many times natural levels.

Runoff in the Mississippi basin
Map showing sources of nitrogen runoff in the Mississippi River drainage basin. Source NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

Nitrogen runoff from the Mississippi River feeds large phytoplankton algae blooms at the surface.  Over time, excess algae and other organic materials sink to the bottom.  On the bottom, decomposition of this organic material by bacteria and other organisms consumes oxygen and leads to formation of anoxic/hypoxic zones.  These anoxic/hypoxic zones persist because waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico become stratified, which means the water is separated into horizontal layers with cold and/or saltier water at the bottom and warmer and/or fresher water at the surface. This layering separates bottom waters from the atmosphere and prevents re-supply of oxygen from the surface.

Since levels of dissolved oxygen can  greatly influence the distribution of marine life, we reasoned that the high variation in the number of sharks caught along the Louisiana/Texas coast could be the result of differences in dissolved oxygen.  To test this idea, we analyzed environmental data and shark numbers at survey stations along the Louisiana/Texas coast.  The graphs below show raw data collected by the CTD at stations 137 and 138.

CTD 137
Dissolved oxygen levels at station 137 (green line; raw data). At the surface: dissolved oxygen = 5.0 mg/liter. At the bottom: dissolved oxygen = 1.5 mg/liter.  Notice the stratification of the water at a depth of 7-8 meters.

 

CTD 138
Dissolved oxygen levels at station 138 (green line; raw data).  At the surface: dissolved oxygen = 5.5 mg/liter. At the bottom: dissolved oxygen = 0 mg/liter.  Notice the stratification of the water at a depth of 7-8 meters.

Putting together shark survey numbers with environmental data from the CTD we found that we caught very high numbers of sharks in hypoxic water and we caught very few sharks in anoxic water.  Similar results were observed at station 136 (hypoxic waters; 65 sharks caught) and station 139 (anoxic waters; 2 sharks caught).

Data table
Relationship between dissolved oxygen levels and numbers of sharks caught at stations 137 and 138.

What can explain this data?  One possible answer is that sharks will be found where there is food for them to eat.  Thus, many sharks may be moving in and out of hypoxic waters to catch prey that may be stressed or less active due to low oxygen levels.  In other words, sharks may be taking advantage of low oxygen conditions that make fish easier to catch.  In contrast, anoxic waters cannot support marine life so there will be very little food for sharks to eat and, therefore, few sharks will be present.  While this idea provides an explanation for our observations, more research, like the work being done aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II, is needed to understand the distribution and movement of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.

Personal Log
My time aboard the Oregon II is drawing to a close as we move into the last weekend of the cruise.  We have now turned away from the Louisiana coast into deeper waters as we travel west to Galveston, Texas.  The weather has changed as well.  It has been sunny and hot for much of our trip, but clouds, rain, and wind have moved in.  Despite this change in weather, we continue to set longlines at survey stations along our route to Galveston.  The rain makes our job more challenging but our catch has been relatively light since we moved away from the coast into deeper waters.  Hopefully our fishing luck will change as we move closer to Galveston.  I would like to wrestle a few more sharks before my time on the Oregon II comes to an end.

Jeff Miller: Wrestling Sharks for Science, September 9, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 9, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed: 9.4 knots
Wind Speed: 6.75 knots
Air Temp: 29.4°C
Sea Temp: 30.4°C
Seas: <1 meter
Sea Depth: 13 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat:  N 29 25.103
Long:  W 092.36.483

Science and Technology Log
The major goal of our mission is to survey shark populations in the western Gulf of Mexico and collect measurements and biological samples.  The sharks are also tagged so if they are re-caught scientists can learn about their growth and movements.

Sharks are members of the class of fishes called Chondrichthyes,which are cartilaginous fishes meaning they have an internal skeleton made of cartilage.  Within the class Chondricthyes, sharks belong to the subclass Elasmobranchii together with their closest relatives the skates and rays.  There are about 450 species of living sharks that inhabit oceans around the world.

Sharks, or better put their ancient relatives, have inhabited the oceans for approximately 450 million years and have evolved a number of unique characteristics that help them survive and thrive in virtually all parts of the world.  The most recognizable feature of sharks is their shape.  A shark’s body shape and fin placement allow water to flow over the shark reducing drag and making swimming easier.  In addition, the shark’s cartilaginous skeleton reduces weight while providing strength and flexibility, which also increases energy efficiency.

Blacktip shark
Measuring a blacktip shark on deck. The blacktip shark shows the typical body shape and fin placement of sharks. These physical characteristics decrease drag and help sharks move more efficiently through water.

When I held a shark for the first time, the feature I noticed most is the incredible muscle mass and strength of the shark.  The body of a typical shark is composed of over 60% muscle (the average human has about 35-40% muscle mass).  Most sharks need to keep swimming to breathe and, therefore, typically move steadily and slowly through the water.  This slow, steady movement is powered by red muscle, which makes up about 10% of a sharks muscle and requires high amounts of oxygen to produce fuel for muscle contraction.  The other 90% of a sharks muscle is called white muscle and is used for powerful bursts of speed when eluding predators (other sharks) or capturing prey.

Since sharks are so strong and potentially dangerous, one lesson that I learned quickly was how to properly handle a shark on deck.  Smaller sharks can typically be handled by one person.  To hold a small shark, you grab the shark just behind the chondrocranium (the stiff cartilage that makes up the “skull” of the shark) and above the gill slits.  This is a relatively soft area that can be squeezed firmly with your hand to hold the shark.  If the shark is a bit feisty, a second hand can be used to hold the tail.

Holding a sharpnose shark
Smaller sharks, like this sharpnose shark, can be held by firmly grabbing the shark just behind the head.

Larger and/or more aggressive sharks typically require two sets of hands to hold safely.  When two people are needed to hold a shark, it is very important that both people grab the shark at the same time.  One person holds the head while the other holds the tail.  When trying to hold a larger, more powerful shark, you do not want to grab the tail first.  Sharks are very flexible and can bend their heads back towards their tail, which can pose a safety risk for the handler.  While holding a shark sounds simple, subduing a large shark and getting it to cooperate while taking measurements takes a lot of focus, strength, and teamwork.

Holding a blacktip shark
Teamwork is required to handle larger sharks like this blacktip shark, which was caught because it preyed on a small sharpnose shark that was already on the hook.

 

Measuring a blacktip shark
Collecting measurements from a large blacktip shark.

 

Holding a blacktip shark
Holding a blacktip shark before determining its weight.

When a shark is too big to bring on deck safely, the shark is placed into a cradle and hoisted from the water so it can be measured and tagged.  We have used the cradle on a number of sharks including a 7.5 foot tiger shark and a 6 foot scalloped hammerhead shark.  When processing sharks, we try to work quickly and efficiently to measure and tag the sharks to minimize stress on the animals and time out of the water.  Once our data collection is complete, the sharks are returned to the water.

Tiger shark in the cradle
Large sharks, like this tiger shark, are hoisted up on a cradle in order to be measured and tagged.

Personal Log
We are now in full work mode on the ship.  My daily routine consists of waking up around 7:30 and grabbing breakfast.  After breakfast I like to go check in on the night team to see what they caught and determine when they will do their next haul (i.e. pull in their catch).  This usually gives me a couple hours of free time before my shift begins at noon.  I like to use my time in the morning to work on my log and go through pictures from the previous day.  I eat lunch around 11:30 so I am ready to start work at noon.  My shift, which runs from noon to midnight, typically includes surveying three or four different stations.  At each station, we set our baited hooks for one hour, haul the catch, and process the sharks and fishes.  We process the sharks immediately and then release them, whereas we keep the fish to collect biological samples (otoliths and gonads).  Once we finish processing the catch, we have free time until the ship reaches the next survey station.  The stations can be anywhere from 6 or 7 miles apart to over 40 miles apart.  Therefore, our downtime throughout the day can vary widely from 30 minutes to several hours (the ship usually travels at about 10 knots; 1 knot = 1.15 mph).  At midnight, we switch roles with the night team.  Working with fish in temperatures reaching  the low 90°s will make you dirty.  Therefore, I typically head to the shower to clean up before going to bed.  I am usually in bed by 12:30 and will be back up early in the morning to do it all over again.  It is a busy schedule, but the work is interesting, exciting, and fun.  I feel very lucky to be out here because not many people get the opportunity to wrestle sharks.  This is one experience I will always remember.

Jeff Miller: Fishing for Sharks and Fishes, September 6, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 6, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed: 9.7 knots
Wind Speed: 5.6 knots
Air Temp: 30.9°C
Sea Temp: 31.1°C
Seas: <1 meter
Sea Depth: 52 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat:  N 28 06.236
Long:  W 095 15.023

Science and Technology Log
Our first couple days of fishing have been a great learning experience for me despite the fact that the fish count has been relatively low (the last three sets we averaged less than 5 fish per 100 hooks).  There are a number of jobs to do at each survey station and I will rotate through each of them during my cruise. These jobs include baiting the hooks, numbering and setting the hooks on the main line, hauling in the hooks, measuring and weighing the sharks/fish, and processing the shark/fish for biological samples.

Numbering the baited hooks
Each gangion (the baited hook and its associate line) is tagged with a number before being attached to the main line.

 

Number clips
A number clip is attached to each gangion (baited hook and its associated line) to catalog each fish that is caught.

After the line is deployed for one hour, we haul in the catch.  As the gangions come in, one of us will collect empty hooks and place them back in the barrel to be ready for the next station.  Other members of the team will process the fish we catch.  The number of fish caught at each station can vary widely.  Our team (the daytime team) had two stations in a row where we caught fewer than five fish while the night team caught 57 fish at a single station.

Collecting empty hooks
Empty hooks are collected, left over bait is removed, and the gangion is placed back in the bucket to be ready for the next station.

So far we have caught a variety of fishes including golden tilefish, red snapper, sharpnose sharks, blacknose sharks, a scalloped hammerhead, black tip sharks, a spinner shark, and smooth dogfish.  The first set of hooks we deployed was at a deep water station (sea depth was approx. 300 meters or 985 feet) and we hooked 11 golden tilefish, including one that weighed 13 kg (28.6 pounds).

Golden tilefish
On our first set of hooks in deep water, we caught a number of golden tilefish including this fish that weighed nearly 30 pounds.

We collect a number of samples from fishes such as red snapper and golden tilefish.  First we collect otoliths, which are hard calcified structures of the inner ear that are located just behind the brain.  Scientists can read the rings of the otolith to determine the approximate age and growth rate of the fish.

Otolith
Otoliths can be read like tree rings to approximate the age and growth rate of bony fishes.  Photo credit: NOAA Marine Fisheries.

The answer to the poll is at the end of this post.

You can try to age fish like NOAA scientists do by using the Age Reading Demonstration created by the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center.  Click here to visit the site.

When sharks are caught, we collect information about their size, gender, and sexual maturity.  You may be wondering, “how can you determine the sex of a shark?”  It ends up that the answer is actually quite simple.  Male sharks have two claspers along the inner margin of the pelvic fins that are used to insert sperm into the cloaca of a female.  Female sharks lack claspers.

Male female shark
Male and female sharks can be distinguished by the presence of claspers on male sharks.

Personal Log
After arriving at our first survey station on Thursday afternoon (Sep. 3), everyone on the ship is in full work mode.  We work around the clock in two groups: one team, which I belong to, works from noon to midnight, and the other team works from midnight to noon.  The crew and science teams work very well together – everyone has a specific job as we set out hooks, haul the catch, and process the fishes.  It’s a well oiled machine and I am grateful to the crew and my fellow science team members for helping me learn and take an active role the process.  I am not here as a passive observer.  I am truly part of the scientific team.

I have also learned a lot about the fishes we are catching.  For example, I have learned how to handle them on deck, how to process them for samples, and how to filet them for dinner.  I never fished much my life, so pretty much everything I am doing is new to me.

I have also adjusted well to life on the ship.  Before the cruise, I was concerned that I may get seasick since I am prone to motion sickness.  However, so far I have felt great even though we have been in relatively choppy seas (averaging about 1-2 meters or 3 to 6 feet) and the ship rocks constantly.  I have been using a scopolamine patch, an anticholinergic drug that decreases nausea and dizziness, and this likely is playing a role. Whether it’s just me or the medicine, I feel good, I’m sleeping well, and I am eating well.  The cooks are great and the food has been outstanding.  All in all, I am having an amazing experience.

Poll answer:  This fish is approximately nine years old (as determined by members of my science team aboard the Oregon II).

Jeff Miller: Cruising to the Survey Stations, September 2, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: September 2, 2015

Data from the Bridge
Ship Speed: 11.6 knots
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Air Temp:  24.7°C
Sea Temp:  29.6°C
Seas:  3-4 ft.
Sea Depth: 589 meters

GPS Coordinates
Lat: 28 01.364 N
Long: 091 29.104 W

Cruising Map
Map showing our current location and the site of our first survey station

Science and Technology Log
After a one day delay in port at Pascagoula, MS we are currently motoring southwest towards our first survey station in the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville, TX. Our survey area will include random stations roughly between Brownsville and Galveston, TX.

Survey stations are randomly selected from a predetermined grid of sites.  Possible stations fall into three categories: (A) stations in depths 9-55 meters (5-30 fathoms), (B) stations in depths between 55-183 meters (30-100 fathoms), and (C) stations in depths between 183-366 meters (100-200 fathoms).  On the current shark longline surveys, 50% of the sites we survey will be category A sites, 40% will be category B sites, and 10% will be category C sites.  Environmental data is also collected at each station including water temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen.

Several questions you may have are why do a shark survey, how do you catch the sharks, and what do you do with the sharks once they are caught?  These are great questions and below I will describe the materials and methods we will use to catch and analyze sharks aboard the Oregon II. 

Why does NOAA perform shark surveys?
Shark surveys are done to gather information about shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico and to collect morphological measurements (length, weight) and biological samples for research.

How are shark surveys performed?
At each collection station, a one mile line of 100 hooks baited with Atlantic Mackerel is used to catch sharks. The line is first attached to a radar reflective highflyer (a type of buoy that can be detected by the ship’s radar).  A weight is then attached to the line to make it sink to the bottom.  After the weight is added, about 50 gangions with baited hooks are attached to the line.  At the half mile point of the line, another weight is attached then the second 50 hooks.  After the last hook, a third weight is added then the second highflyer.  The line is left in the water for one hour (time between last highflyer deployed and first highflyer retrieved) and then is pulled back on to the boat to assess what has been caught.  Small sharks and fishes are brought on deck while larger sharks are lifted into a cradle for processing.

Longline equipment
Sampling gear used includes two highflyers, weights, and 100 hooks

 

Longline hooks
Longline hooks used for the shark survey

 

Longline hooks
Longline hooks used in the shark survey

 

Shark cradle
Shark cradle used to collect information about large sharks

 

What data is collected from the sharks?
Researchers collect a variety of samples and information from the caught sharks.  First, the survey provides a snapshot of the different shark species and their relative abundance in the Gulf of Mexico.  Second, researchers collect data from individual sharks including length, weight and whether the shark is reproductively mature.  Some sharks are tagged to gather data about their migration patterns.  Each tag has an identification number for the shark and contact information to report information about where the same shark was re-caught.  Third, biological samples are collected from sharks for more detailed analyses.  Tissues collected include fin clips (for DNA and molecular studies), muscle tissue (for toxicology studies), blood (for hormonal studies), reproductive organs (including embryos if present), and vertebrae (for age and growth studies).

Personal Log
One of the desired traits for participants in the Teacher at Sea program is flexibility – cruising schedules and even ports can change.  I have now experienced this first-hand as we were delayed in port in Pascagoula, MS for an extra day.  Though waiting an extra day really isn’t a big deal, it is hard to wait since myself and the rest of the scientific crew are all anxious to begin the shark survey.  Since we also have two days of cruising to reach our first survey site, this means we all have to find ways to pass the time.  I have used some of my time trying to learn about the operation of the ship as well as the methods we will be using to perform the longline survey.  I also watched a couple movies with other members of the science team.  The ship has an amazing library of DVDs.

The Oregon II
Getting ready to leave Pascagoula aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II

Safety is very important aboard the Oregon II so today we performed several drills including an abandon ship drill.  This drill requires you to wear a survival suit.  Getting mine on was a tight squeeze but I got the suit on in the required time.

Safety suit
In my safety suit during an abandon ship drill

Did You Know?
The NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.  Can you name the other six uniformed services?  Think about this and check the answer at the bottom of this post.

NOAA Corps Officers perform many duties that include commanding NOAA’s research and survey vessels, flying NOAA’s hurricane and environmental monitoring planes, and managing scientific and engineering work needed to make wise decisions about our natural resources and environment.

Answer: The seven uniformed services of the United States are: (1) Army, (2) Navy, (3) Air Force, (4) Marine Corps, (5) Coast Guard, (6) NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps, and (7) Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.

Jeff Miller: Getting Ready to Sail, August 19, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Jeff Miller
(Almost) Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 31 – September 14, 2015

Mission: Shark Longline Survey
Geographical Area: Gulf of Mexico
Date: August 19, 2015

Personal Log

Hello from Phoenix, Arizona.  My name is Jeff Miller and I teach biology at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) in Avondale, AZ.  EMCC is one of ten community colleges in the Maricopa Community College District, which is one of the largest college districts in the United States, serving more than 128,000 students each year.  I have been teaching at EMCC for eight years.  I currently teach two sections of a general biology course for non-majors (that is students who are majoring in subjects other than biology) and one section of a human anatomy and physiology course primarily taken by students entering healthcare-related fields.

Jeff Miller
A photo of me at Tuolomne Meadow in Yosemite National Park

EMCC is an outstanding place to teach because of all the truly wonderful students.  EMCC serves a diverse set of students from recent high school graduates to adults seeking a new career. EMCC students are also ethnically diverse. Thus, students bring a wide range of knowledge, ideas, and talents to our classrooms. Despite this diversity, one thing most students lack is real world experiences with marine organisms and environments. We are, after all, located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert.  Arizona does, however, possess many unique and amazing environments and when I’m not in the classroom, hiking and exploring nature with my family is one of my favorite things to do.

Cathedral Rock
Cathedral Rock in Sedona, AZ

Great Horned Owl
A Great Horned Owl perches on a log in the desert near Tucson, AZ

Saguaro
A saguaro cactus in the Sonoran desert near Tucson, AZ

White Mountains
Arizona is home to the largest unbroken Ponderosa Pine forest in the world. My wife (Weiru), daughter (Julia), and dog (Maya) in the White Mountains of Arizona

I applied to the Teacher at Sea program to deepen my knowledge of marine systems as part of my sabbatical.  A sabbatical is a period of time granted to teachers to study, travel, acquire new skills, and/or fulfill a personal dream. I have always loved the ocean and even worked with sea urchin embryos in graduate school.  However, my knowledge and experience of marine organisms and ecosystems is  limited.  Therefore, participation in the Teacher at Sea program will give me the opportunity to learn how marine biologists and oceanographers collect and analyze data and how their investigations can inform us about human impacts on marine ecosystems. I plan to use the knowledge and experiences I gain to develop curriculum materials for a marine biology course at EMCC that to helps my students gain fundamental knowledge of and appreciation for our world’s oceans. I hope to foster greater curiosity and excitement about marine science and the scientists who explore our oceans and help students see why it is so important to protect and conserve the oceans resources for future generations.

To help fulfill my dream of learning more about the oceans, I have the opportunity of a lifetime – to sail on the NOAA Ship Oregon II.  I will be working with the crew and scientists aboard the Oregon II to perform part of an annual longline shark survey.  The goal of the mission is to gather data about shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast.  Some of the data collected includes length, weight, and sex of each individual, collection of tissues samples for DNA analysis, and collection of environmental data.  Please visit the main mission page or the Oregon II Facebook page for more detailed information and images, videos, and stories from recent cruises.  Also check out a recent article from the Washington Post featuring Kristin Hannan, a fisheries biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Services describing the shark research being conducted aboard the Oregon II.

Longline Shark Survey Map
Map showing the region of the Gulf of Mexico where I will participate in the longline shark survey aboard the NOAA Ship Oregon II

Needless to say, I am extremely excited, though a bit nervous, about my upcoming cruise.  I have little experience sailing on the open ocean and have never been up close to a shark let alone actually handled one in person.  All that will change soon and I know that I will treasure the knowledge and experiences I gain aboard the Oregon II.  I am currently packing up my gear and preparing myself for the experience of a lifetime.

The next time you hear from me I will be in the Gulf of Mexico on my mission to learn more about sharks.

Christopher Sanborn: Preparing for Survey, July 12, 2015

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Christopher Sanborn
Preparing to Board SRV C.E Stillwell
July 13 – 17, 2015

Mission: Cooperative Atlantic States Shark Pupping and Nursery (COASTSPAN) survey
Geographical area of cruise: Delaware Bay
Date: July 12, 2015

Personal Log

My Name is Christopher Sanborn and I am a science teacher at Plymouth Regional High School (PRHS) in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Plymouth is considered the gateway to the beautiful White Mountains. I just finished up my 18th year teaching high school science.  I feel extremely lucky to live and work in such a wonderful small town with so many outdoor opportunities.  Numerous ski areas are located within a short distance of town as well as some of the most scenic hiking in the east.  Plymouth is located in the Lakes Region of NH which includes the largest lake in NH, Lake Winnipesaukee and the beautiful Squam Lake.  Having grown up in the outdoors I have always felt at home in the woods and mountains and have thoroughly enjoyed teaching Biology.  I have also taught numerous other subjects including Physics, Chemistry, Earth Science, and Oceanography.

I can think of no better way to increase my knowledge than to embark on one of the highest quality, hands on, scientific research survey’s.  I became involved in the Teacher at Sea (TAS) program to not only increase my knowledge, but to gain valuable tools to enrich the educational experience of my students.  The most important part of teaching is to engage students to increase active learning opportunities.  I am hoping my experience on the COASTSPAN survey will allow me the valuable tools to excite those students about their learning opportunity.

My boys, Trevan, Caden, and Cavan in front of Boston Harbor at the New England Aquarium
My boys, Trevan, Caden, and Cavan in front of Boston Harbor at the New England Aquarium

 

My wife Sarah, myself and our 3 sons cutting a Christmas tree  on our property.
My wife Sarah, myself and our 3 sons cutting a Christmas tree on our property.

I am so excited to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on this COASTSPAN survey which is part of the Apex Predators Program (APP) through the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC).  The purpose of this survey is to determine the relative abundance and distribution of sharks in the Delaware Bay Pupping grounds. The survey also originally helped to determine the location of the shark pupping and nursing grounds.  The primary method of sampling will be through longlining.  A longline is a long main line with weights on either end to hold it on the bottom with a line to the surface marked by a high flyer or buoy.  Baited hooks are attached to the main line using a snap swivel with a 5 foot gangion.  Each gangion is spaced by approximately 10 feet.  These lines are considered fixed gear because they do not flow with the current.  Biological data is gathered from all sharks and rays that are caught, they are tagged with a unique identifier and then released.

NOAA Fishieries, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Apex Predator Program
NOAA Fishieries, Northest Fisheries Science Center, Apex Predator Program

 

Thank you NOAA for this great opportunity!

 

Stephen Tomasetti: Sharks of the Gulf, August 24, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Tomasetti
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 11 – 25, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
You can view the geographical location of the cruise here at anytime: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov
Date: Sunday, August 24, 2014

Weather Data from Bridge:
Air Temperature: 31.5 Degrees C
Water Temperature: 31.1 Degrees C
Wind Speed: 7.88 Knots
Barometric Pressure: 1009.4 Millibars

Science and Technology Log:

Today I’ll walk you through the sharks and other fish we’ve caught along leg two of the NOAA Oregon II longline survey. Unfortunately, due to red tide, many sharks had moved out of the areas we were in, so we caught substantially less sharks than usual. But, we still caught quite a few. Check them out:

Atlantic sharpnose
Atlantic sharpnose shark

Name: Atlantic sharpnose shark

Sci. Name: Rhizoprionodon terraenovae

Description: These sharks are very common both inshore and offshore. They often have white spots along the side. You can also tell them by their long labial furrows (grooves around the mouth).

Scientist Andre Debose and volunteer Sarah Larsen work up a blacktip
Scientist Andre Debose and volunteer Sarah Larsen work up a blacktip shark

Name: Blacktip shark

Sci. Name: Carcharhinus limbatus

Description: These sharks can be pretty feisty. They are surprisingly strong (even the little ones). You can identify them by the black marking on the tip of their pectoral fins and the lower lobe of their caudal fin.

Scientist Michael Felts with a Florida smoothhound (photo cred: Joan Turner)
Scientist Michael Felts with a Florida smoothhound (photo cred: Joan Turner)

Name: Florida smoothhound

Sci. Name: Mustelus norrisi

Description: These are my favorite sharks that we’ve caught. They are beautiful. They have small, blunt teeth and are missing a precaudal pit (before the caudal fin). They are long sharks, with second dorsal fins that are very large.

A young tiger shark
A young tiger shark

Name: Tiger shark

Sci. Name: Galeocerdo cuvier

Description: These sharks are known for being fierce hunters and apex predators. They are beautiful sharks with dark spots/stripes along the sides and dorsal fin. They can reach over five meters!

Sandbar shark
Sandbar shark

Name: Sandbar Shark

Sci. Name: Carcharhinus plumbeus

Description: We caught a lot of these sharks on our shifts. They were generally pretty large and we often had to use the cradle to get them close enough to take their measurements. One way to tell sandbar sharks is by their large dorsal fin.

A parasite pulled of the anal fin of a sandbar shark
A parasite pulled off the anal fin of a sandbar shark

For all the sharks we catch, we generally take length measurements, mass, sex and a fin clip/tissue sample (to look at genetic population structure). Then the shark is tagged with a tag and tossed back in the water. Occasionally, NOAA uses a satellite tag on sharks if they want to get additional data. On this cruise the night watch tagged a hammerhead shark with a satellite tag. This particular tag will transmit information when the dorsal fin breaks the surface of the water (often hammerheads and tiger sharks are tagged with these tags because they occasionally come up to the surface).

Personal Log:

Well we’re through fishing for this leg of the survey. We arrive back in Pascagoula, Mississippi tomorrow morning. There’s a lot to miss aboard the Oregon II. Below is a list of the top 5 things I’ll miss about life on the ship (in no particular order).

5) The Food: Three delicious meals a day. I’m not going to know what to do when I return to New York City and have to cook my own food again. Mac’ n cheese. Captain’s Platter. Eggs Benedict. Ice cream every night. I’ve been spoiled.

Second Chef Mark Potter hard at work
Second Cook Mark Potter hard at work

4) The Crew: I spent the majority of my time with the “day shift,” of scientists and fishermen. We would spend basically 11am-2am every day together. We’d eat together. Work together. Hang out between sets together. And finally watch movies together after shift.

The day crew pictured at night
The day crew pictured at night

In addition to the day shift there is an entire crew of interesting people I’ve spent time with: the NOAA Corps Officers, the Engineers, the Night Shift, and the Stewards. It takes a large crew to keep this ship running.

3) The Open Ocean: Picture cruising alongside dolphins at sunset, flying fish cutting through the water, a breeze on deck, and nothing but open ocean until the horizon line.

A flying fish jumped aboard
A flying fish jumped aboard

2) The Fishing: Before this trip it’d been a while since I had been fishing. I’ve never fished using longlines until the Oregon II. I learned a lot about fishing. Check out my earlier blog post here for more on that.

1) The Marine Life: You’ve already read a lot about some of the fish we caught. Here are more photos!

Volunteers Samantha Ehnert and Kelly Korvath kissing sharpnoses
Volunteers Samantha Ehnert and Kelly Korvath kissing Atlantic sharpnose sharks

Red Snapper
Red Snapper

Today, on our way back to Pascagoula, we stopped for a while to test the emergency equipment. In case of an emergency, there are a variety of lifesaving resources to utilize. We shot off flare guns, smoke signals and line casters. I shot off a line caster which slightly resembles a rocket launcher that shoots a rope to another ship in the case that we’d need to get to them. It was sort of like the Fourth of July!

Lieutenant Commander Eric Johnson shooting off a flare
Lieutenant Commander Eric Johnson shooting off a flare

Did You Know? Japanese warriors used to use dried shark skin for the handles of their swords, to keep them from slipping out of their hands.

Stephen Tomasetti: Red Grouper and Red Tide, August 21, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Stephen Tomasetti
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 11 – 25, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Area of Cruise: Gulf of Mexico
You can view the geographical location of the cruise here at anytime: http://shiptracker.noaa.gov
Date: Thursday, August 21, 2014

Weather Data from Bridge:
Air Temperature: 30.2 Degrees C
Water Temperature: 29.9 Degrees C
Wind Speed: 7 Knots
Barometric Pressure: 1018.7 Millibars

Science and Technology Log

On the Discovery Channel shark week ended last Sunday night, but on the ship shark week continues. We are approaching a stretch of stations that should be loaded with sharks (if they haven’t moved to other areas due to the red tide…more on that later) over the next few days so I am going to hold off on the shark post until later in the week when I’ll have compiled many more pictures for sharing. Although one of the main goals of the mission is to catch sharks (to monitor trends in population abundance) the ship is constantly, twenty four hours a day, collecting a myriad of oceanographic and weather data that is used by other scientists and organizations.

One fish that we have been catching quite frequently is red grouper, or Epinephelus morio. Typically when we catch one it is brought on board to measure its mass and length. After the measurements are taken we remove the fish’s otoliths for future age examination. Additionally, the gonads are removed to determine its sex and reproductive status.

Red Grouper
Red Grouper

An otolith or “ear bone” is not actually a bone at all, but rather a calcium carbonate structure located near the fish’s brain. Similar to the human inner ear, otoliths help the fish to balance and orient itself. There are three pairs of otoliths in each teleost (bony fish) but we remove the largest pair. The first time I tried I pulverized the otolith, but after some practice I can do it now (although I’d hesitate to say with ease).

The otolith contains bands that correspond to the age, much like rings of a tree trunk. Also, the shape of the otolith varies depending on the species. So if otoliths are found in the stomach of an animal that eats fish, the species it’s eating can often be determined.

The fish’s internal sexual structures, or gonads, also must be removed and saved. These structures are used to determine the sex of the fish, if it’s mature, and its current reproductive condition.

In addition to catching and studying wildlife aboard the Oregon II, a large amount of data is collected on water and weather conditions. To do so, a large, expensive piece of equipment called a “CTD”, for conductivity-temperature-depth, is lowered by a fisherman into the water until it hovers a few meters off the ocean floor. It collects data such as salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, water clarity, and chlorophyl concentration in real time and can be studied separately or alongside the results of the fish/shark survey.

Chuck Godwin with the CTD
Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin with the CTD

Skilled Fisherman Chuck Godwin and Fisherman Eloy Borges are two of the guys I’ve worked closely with during my time on the Oregon II. Chuck and I are pretty much from the same town in Central Florida! Chuck graduated from UF before serving in the Coast Guard for over ten years. He’s been working for NOAA for a while and after about ten minutes with him you can see why! He is fun and affable and a pleasure to be around. He makes the long days of hard work go by quickly.

Fisherman Eloy Borges worked on commercial freighters for a while before joining NOAA. He’s a laid back, diligent crew member. He’s considerate and encouraging; we work together while slinging bait and attaching the gangions to the mainline or while deploying the hi-flyers. And we bond a lot over our mutual love for Cuban food.

Fisherman Eloy Borges controlling the CTD
Fisherman Eloy Borges controlling the CTD

Personal Log:

Yesterday in between sets, the Bridge watchstanders noticed dead fish in the water everywhere. The dead fish continued for over ten miles. They were the result of red tide in the Gulf. Red tide is caused by an algal bloom, and can devastate marine life, especially near the coast. The ship stopped while a fisherman and two scientists took a smaller boat to investigate and gather samples. They filled a large bag with dead fish and wrote down the GPS coordinates, as well as the date and time, marking it FISH KILL. These samples will be reviewed back in the lab in Pascagoula. Sometimes doing science means changing your plans and adjusting to the circumstances you find yourself in.

Spending twelve hours a day, every day, with the same group of people may seem daunting, but we’ve developed a great team chemistry. The days go by fast! In between sets while we’re cruising to the next location we’ve developed a bunch of activities to keep us busy. I learned how to play Sudoku and a game called Heads Up. Additionally, I’ve begun a daily exercise routine with some of the other scientists and volunteers. The workout is a precautionary measure because I’ll put on ten pounds in two weeks with all of the excellent food we’ve been eating on this cruise (thanks Mark and Steve).

Scientist Andre Debose leading the crew in some exercises
Scientist Andre Debose leading the crew in some exercises

Did You Know: Most grouper species change their sex from female to male as they age!

Lynn Kurth: Chomp Chomp! August 4, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynn M. Kurth
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 9, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic
Date:  August 4, 2014

Lat: 33 54.763 N
Long:  076 24.967 W

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind: 16 knots
Barometric Pressure:  1017.74 mb
Temperature:  29.9 Degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log:

 

 

IMG_2927[1]
Mouth of a sandbar shark. Notice the rows of teeth and don’t worry about the wound from the hook because the hook is carefully removed and the shark heals quickly.
Much to my surprise a sandbar shark will have around 35,000 teeth over the course of its lifetime! Similar to other species of sharks, a sandbar shark’s teeth are found in rows which are shed and replaced as needed.  The teeth are not used to chew but rather to rip food into chunks that the shark can swallow. The shape of a shark’s teeth depends on the species of shark they belong to and what that particular species eats.  For example, a tiger shark has razor sharp piercing teeth it uses to rip apart the flesh of its prey and a zebra shark has hefty flat teeth because it eats shellfish.

IMG_2929[1]
Great care is taken to remove the hook before the sandbar shark is released. By clipping the barb off, the hook will slide right out. And, if a tooth happens to get damaged it will be quickly be replaced when a new row of teeth moves forward.
 

Did you Know?

  • When sharks are born they have complete sets of teeth
  • It was recently discovered that shark teeth contain fluoride
  • Human teeth and shark teeth are equally as hard
  • Shark teeth are not attached to gums on a root like our teeth

IMG_3010[1]
Lynn Kurth getting ready to measure a silky shark before it is released.
 

Personal Log:

Through the years I have found that when I am doing something I love I usually meet people who I respect and find intriguing.  I love being part of science at sea aboard the Oregon II and I’m not surprised that I have met several people who are passionate about issues that I find interesting.  One such person is Katelyn Cucinotta, a member of my work shift, who has a passion for the proper care of the marine environment and what she aspires to do in the future to make that happen.  Within minutes of meeting Katelyn she began educating me about the decline of several shark species and the difficulties marine life faces with the amount of man-made debris in our oceans.  Katelyn co-founded an organization called PropheSEA in order to share information about the issues our oceans and marine species are currently facing.

 

IMG_3031[1]
Katelyn Cucinotta
IMG_3032[1]
Science at sea with Katelyn Cucinotta!

Lynn Kurth: It’s Shark Week! July 31, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynn M. Kurth
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 25 – August 9, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise:  Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic
Date:  July 31, 2014

Lat: 30 11.454 N
Long: 80 49.66 W

Weather Data from the Bridge:
Wind: 17 knots
Barometric Pressure:  1014.93 mb
Temperature:  29.9 Degrees Celsius

Science and Technology Log:
It would be easy for me to focus only on the sharks that I’ve  encountered but there is so much more science and natural phenomena to share with you!  I have spent as much time on the bow of the boat as I can in between working on my blogs and my work shift.  There’s no denying it, I LOVE THE BOW OF THE BOAT!!!  When standing in the bow it feels as if you’re flying over the water and the view is splendid.

BOW
My Perch!

From my prized bird’s eye view from the bow I’ve noticed countless areas of water with yellowish clumps of seaweed.  This particular seaweed is called sargassum which is a type of macroalgae found in tropical waters.  Sargassum has tiny chambers which hold air and allow it to float on or near the water’s surface in order to gather light for photosynthesis.  Sargassum can be considered to be a nuisance because it frequently washes up on beaches and smells as it decomposes.  And, in some areas it can become so thick that it reduces the amount of light that other plant species need to grow and thrive. However, the floating clumps of sargassum provide a great habitat for young fish because it offers them food and shelter.

IMG_2826
Sargassum as seen from “my perch”

IMG_2906[1]
Sargassum (notice the small air bladders that it uses to stay afloat)
We have hauled in a variety of sharks and fish over the past few days.  One of the more interesting species was the remora/sharksucker.  The sharksucker attaches itself to rays, sharks, ships, dolphins and sea turtles by latching on with its suction cup like dorsal fin.  When we brought a sharksucker on board the ship it continued to attach itself to the deck of the boat and would even latch on to our arm when we gave it the chance.

IMG_2944[1]
The shark sucker attaches to my arm immediately!
The largest species of sharks that we have hauled in are Sandbar sharks which are one of the largest coastal sharks in the world.  Sandbar sharks have much larger fins compared to their body size which made them attractive to fisherman for sale in the shark fin trade.  Therefore, this species has more protection than some of the other coastal shark species because they have been over harvested in the past due to their large fins.

Thankfully finning is now banned in US waters, however despite the ban sandbar sharks have continued protection due to the fact that like many other species of sharks they are not able to quickly replace numbers lost to high fishing pressure.  Conservationists remain concerned about the future of the Sandbar shark because of this ongoing threat and the fact that they reproduce very few young.

IMG_2928[1]
The first Sandbar shark that I was able to tag
Did you Know?

Sargassum is used in/as:

  • fertilizer for crops
  • food for people
  • medicines
  • insect repellant

Personal Log:
I continue to learn a lot each day and can’t wait to see what the next day of this great adventure brings!  The folks who I’m working with have such interesting tales to share and have been very helpful as I learn the ropes here on the Oregon II.  One of the friendly folks who I’ve been working with is a second year student at the University of Tampa named Kevin Travis.  Kevin volunteered for the survey after a family friend working for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) recommended him as a volunteer.  Kevin enjoys his time on the boat because he values meeting new people and knows how beneficial it is to have a broad range of experiences.

 

IMG_2798
Kevin Travis

Lynn Kurth: Summer Adventure At Sea, July 22, 2014

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lynn Kurth
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon  II
July 25 – August 9, 2014

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Longline Survey
Geographical area of cruise: Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 22, 2014

Personal Log

Hello, from the Badger State! My name is Lynn Schultz-Kurth. I am a 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Prairie River Middle School in Merrill, WI, a small town in the center of the state. Summer is an exciting time here in Wisconsin, but even more exciting this year as we survived one of the nastiest winters on record. As the rivers are finally warm enough to comfortably swim in and the black-eyed susans are in full bloom, I am going to be leaving my home on the Wisconsin River for Pascagoula, MS to be part of NOAA’s (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) Teacher at Sea program.

Black-eyed susans in my garden on the Wisconsin River
Black-eyed susans in my garden on the Wisconsin River

I am honored to be joining the crew aboard the Oregon II, a 170ft. national marine fishing vessel, for a Shark/Red Snapper longline survey, departing from Pascagoula, MS on July 26th and returning to port in Mayport, FL on August 9th. During my mission sharks will be caught, measured, tagged, and released in order to assess their abundance, distribution, and migrational patterns, and to examine their distribution with regard to oceanographic features. I had some experience aboard a research vessel in the summer of 2011, when I participated in Sea Grant’s week long workshop for teachers aboard the R/V Lake Guardian on Lake Superior. Based on that experience, I am expecting to learn a lot, meet amazing people, work long hours and have the experience of a lifetime that will enable me to share “real” science with my students now and in the years to come.

Liz Harrington: Let’s Go Fishing! August 17, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
 Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission : Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical area of cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: Aug 17, 2013

Weather: current conditions from the bridge:
Partly cloudy, scattered showers and thunder storms
Lat. 27.19 °N  Lon. 84.38 °W
Temp. 92 °F ( 33.4° C)
Wind speed   10-15 knots
Barometer  30.1 in  (1015 mb)
Visibility  10 mi
Sea temp  83 ° F   (28.8  ° C)

Science and Technology Log

We have arrived at the survey sites, the fishing has begun and I’m having the time of my life! The process is a collaborative effort between the science team and the crew of the ship.  In upcoming blogs I’ll focus on all the different people on board the ship and their roles, but I’d like to first tell you about the fishing from my perspective as part of the science team. The science team consists of four scientists and seven volunteers. We are divided into day shift (noon to midnight) and night shift (midnight to noon). I am assigned to the day shift.

I was told that about a mile of line with 100 hooks would be let out and weighted to stay close to the bottom.  I was interested to see how they could let the line out and haul it back in again without all those hooks getting tangled. Well, I learned that the hooks are removable.  The hooks are attached to one end of a 12 foot section of line. The other end holds a snap. This set up is called a gangion.  The gangions are snapped onto the longline as it is let out and taken off the line as it is reeled in.  They are stored in a very orderly way to avoid tangles, although an occasional tangle does occur.  As the ship is approaching a designated site we prepare for setting the line. This is done from the rear of the ship, called the stern.

gangion
Parts of a gangion

baited gangions
Gangions baited and ready to set

We bait the hooks and decide on job assignments.  The jobs that need to be done while setting the line are “Data” (manning the computer to keep a count of the gangions that are put on the line); “High Flyer” (throwing out the buoys that will mark the beginning and end of the line); “Slinger” (throwing the baited hook over the edge of the ship and holding the other end of the gangion to receive a numbered tag); and “Numbers” (snapping numbered tags on to the gangions).  The weather conditions and the speed of the current must be checked before the final approval is given to set the line.  When the signal is given our team gets to work.

high flyer
Skilled fisherman Chuck Godwin and I get ready to put out the high flyer

High Flyers mark each end of the longline
High Flyers mark each end of the longline

slinging
Lead scientist for this trip, Kristin Hannan, slinging while we set out the line. The bait is Atlantic Mackerel.

After the line is set and the work station is cleaned up (that bait can get a little messy!), a CTD is deployed to gather data on the water – Conductivity (a measure of salinity), Temperature and Depth. The CTD also measures the dissolved oxygen in the water – remember that fish breathe by absorbing oxygen from the water as it runs over their gills.

An hour after the last high flyer is set, the line is hauled in. This is done from the bow (the front deck of the ship). During this part of the process I am full of anticipation as we wait to see what each hook holds. It might be a light catch with a couple of fish or it might be a very busy catch.  When the crew yells “fish on”, the action begins. Anything that is caught is brought on board and data is collected (more on this later). If it is too big to be pulled in, then it is lifted into a cradle and worked on along the side of the ship. The crew will determine if cradling is needed and will shout out “hard hats”, as we all need to be wearing hard hats when the crane is being used to move the cradle. In our first two days of fishing, the day shift has cradled five sharks. It is so exciting to be next to such a big, beautiful creature.

The final step to the fishing process is clean up. Our gear is put away, the deck is hosed down (using salt water, as fresh water is in precious on a ship), numbers are checked for proper order and damaged gangions are repaired. If there were fish caught that require dissection, this would be done now as well. In the meantime, Oregon II steams on to the next survey site.  So, you can see that the ship is a busy place 24 hours a day.

repairing or replacing worn gangions
Members of the day shift science team repair gangions after a recent haul. Foreground- Micayla and Cliff, volunteers. Background – Amy Schmidt, scientist.

Personal Log

I am having so much fun on the Oregon II. The work is really interesting and the people have been fantastic.  Not only has everyone on board been very friendly and helpful, but they have really made me feel like a member of the team. Right from the start we were trained for the various jobs and expected to do them, with lots of help and encouragement always available. I initially thought I’d be more of an observer, but that is not the case at all.  All of the volunteers are actively involved in every aspect of the fishing routine.

sharpnose shark
Here I am taking measurements on a Sharpnose Shark

I find it fascinating that people from all over the country have come together to cross paths here aboard a ship in the Gulf of Mexico. In future blogs I’d like to highlight some of their stories, but for now there is work to be done (although I’m not to the point where I can call this work. It’s way too much fun!)

New Terms

Shark Burn – the abrasion received when a wiggling shark rubs against your skin.

Water Haul – nothing at all is caught during a set.

night shark
Daniel, volunteer, prepares to release a Night Shark

removing hook
Removing a hook from a cradled Sandbar shark

CTD
Micayla and Cliff stabilize the CTD during deployment.

data collection
Micayla logs hook numbers as line is let out.

Julie Karre: Heading Back to Land… August 5-6, 2013

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Julie Karre
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
July 26 – August 8, 2013  

Mission: Shark and Red snapper Longline Survey
Geographical Range of Cruise: Atlantic
Date: Monday August 5 – Tuesday August 6, 2013

Weather Data from the Bridge
Monday – NE WINDS 10 TO 15 KNOTS
SEAS 2 TO 3 FEET
DOMINANT PERIOD 6 SECONDS

Tuesday – E WINDS 10 TO 15 KNOTS
SEAS 3 TO 4 FEET

Science and Technology Log

Meet the Scientists

Meet some of my favorite people in the world. Without these people my experience would have lacked the learning and laughter that made it such a joy.

Kristin Hannan

Field Party Chief Kristin Hannan has the pleasure of working with her favorite shark species, the Tiger Shark. And those little babies are cute!
Field Party Chief Kristin Hannan has the pleasure of working with her favorite shark species, the Tiger Shark. And those little babies are cute!

Kristin was the Field Party Chief for the first and second legs of the Longline survey. She was also my watch leader, which meant she was by my side in support every step of the way. And as I progressed as a shark handler, she was there with a high five every time. I hit the jackpot landing on a ship with Kristin. She is now off to visit Harry Potter World (I’m so jealous I can hardly stand it) before rejoining the the survey when it leaves Mayport. This is Kristin’s fifth year doing the Longline Survey. The first time she did it, she was a volunteer just like us. I wish Kristin the best of luck in all she does and hope to call her a friend for years to come.
Amy Schmitt

Research Biologist for NOAA Amy Schmitt gives a big smooch to a baby Tiger Shark.
Research Biologist for NOAA Amy Schmitt gives a big smooch to a baby Tiger Shark.

Amy is a research biologist out of the Pascagoula-based fisheries lab. She has been with NOAA for two years, but has been working in research biology for most of her career. She is a native of Colorado and shares my blond hair and fair complexion. We could usually be found together cooling off in the dry lab as often as possible. It was also Amy who coined one of my nicknames on the cruise – Data Girl. According to the science team, the Teachers at Sea make excellent data recorders. I can’t imagine why 🙂

Amy and I work together to process an adolescent Tiger Shark. Amy and I often worked together and truly enjoyed our time together.
Amy and I work together to process an adolescent Tiger Shark. Amy and I often worked together and truly enjoyed our time together.

Lisa Jones

NOAA scientist and Field Party Chief for the second leg of Longline Lisa Jones handles an Atlantic Sharpnose on the first haul of the night shift.
NOAA scientist and Field Party Chief for the third and fourth legs of Longline, Lisa Jones handles an Atlantic Sharpnose on the first haul of the night shift.

Lisa has been doing the Longline survey for 16 years now. She is a wealth of information about sharks, living aboard a ship, and marine life. She is also a passionate dog lover, which many of the volunteers shared with her. Lisa will be taking over the duties of Field Party Chief for the third and fourth legs of the survey. She will be aboard the Oregon II for all four legs of the survey this year. That’s a lot of boat rocking!
Mike Hendon

NOAA Research Biologist Mike Hendon works to quickly process a Sandbar Shark.
NOAA Research Biologist Mike Hendon works to quickly process a Sandbar Shark.

Mike is a research biologist out of the Pascagoula-based fisheries lab. He’s a seasoned veteran of the Longline survey and was a great mentor for those of us new to the shark-handling community. Mike also has two adorable kids and two cute dogs waiting for him at home. He was part of the science team for the first leg of the survey. He can sometimes be found wearing mismatched socks.

Mike and Volunteer Claudia Friess work on Atlantic Sharpnose.
Mike and Volunteer Claudia Friess work on Atlantic Sharpnose.

Personal Log

My final days are winding down and I am caught (no pun intended) off guard by how much I am going to miss this. There is such a peacefulness that comes from the rocking of a boat, especially if you don’t get seasick. And working alongside people who share a passionate nature – we may not all be passionate about the same things, but we are all passionate – is such a reinvigorating experience. These two weeks gave me an opportunity to talk about my environmental science integration in my classroom with people who care very much about environmental science. It was so inspiring to have them care about what I was doing in my classroom. It gives me another reason to trust the importance of what I’m doing as well as more people I want to make proud.

Fun list time! Things you get used to living on a ship:

  1. Noise. There is so much happening on a ship, from the engine to the cradle pulling up a shark. It’s all loud. But you get used to it.
  2. Sneaking into your stateroom as silently as possible so you don’t wake up your AWESOME roommate Rachel.

    NOAA Corps Officer ENS Rachel Pryor steering the Oregon II during a morning haul back.
    NOAA Corps Officer ENS Rachel Pryor steering the Oregon II during a morning haul back.
  3. Waiting. There’s a lot of waiting time on a survey like this. You find ways to make that time meaningful.

    The night shift waiting in anticipation as Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols begins to bring in the line.
    The night shift waiting in anticipation as Lead Fisherman Chris Nichols begins to bring in the line.
  4. Rocking. Duh.
  5. Taking high steps through doorways. The doors that separate the interior and exterior of the ship are water tight, so they don’t go all the way to the floor. You can only bash your shins in so many times before it becomes second nature.
  6. Sharks. I said in a previous post that this survey has been eye opening and it’s worth sharing again. I don’t have a marine science background and I had fallen victim to the media portrayals of sharks. I had no idea that there were sharks as small as the Sharpnose that can be handled by such an amateur like myself.

    This is what it feels like when you successfully (and quickly) unhook a shark! VICTORY! Volunteer Kevin Travis is victorious.
    This is what it feels like when you successfully (and quickly) unhook a shark! VICTORY! Volunteer Kevin Travis is victorious.
  7. Sunsets. Words cannot describe the colors that make their way to you when there’s uninterrupted skyline. Oh I will definitely miss those sunsets.

    One of the last sunsets for the first leg of the Oregon II.
    One of the last sunsets for the first leg of the Oregon II.
  8. The stars. I live a life of being asleep by 10pm and up at 6 am and often times forget to look up at the stars even on the nights when I might have been able to see them. These two weeks gave me some of the darkest nights I’ve had and some of the best company in the world.

Dolphins escort the Oregon II back towards land on its final day at sea for the first leg of Longline. Photo Credit: Mike Hendon
Dolphins escort the Oregon II back towards land on its final day at sea for the first leg of Longline.
Photo Credit: Mike Hendon

Liz Harrington: Introductory Blog, July 25, 2013

NOAA Teacher At Sea
Liz Harrington
Soon to be aboard  NOAA ship Oregon II (NOAA Ship Tracker)
At Sea August 10 – 25, 2013

Mission: Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline
Geographical Area of Cruise: Western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
Date: July 25, 2013

Weather: current conditions from Morrisville-Stowe State Airport
Sunny
Lat. 44.53°  Lon.- 72.61°
Temp.  64°F (18° C)
Humidity 54%
Wind speed   3 mph
Barometer  30.16 in (1021.3mb)
Visibility  10.00 mi

Personal Log:

Mt. Mansfield
Mt. Mansfield

Greetings from Vermont, the Green Mountain State.  My name is Liz Harrington and I live in Cambridge, VT.  Cambridge is a small town at the foot of Mount Mansfield, our state’s tallest mountain with a peak of 4395 feet (1340 meters).  Ok, the Green Mountains aren’t as big as the Rockies, but they provide us with recreational opportunities, wildlife habitat and scenic beauty. We love them.   I am a science teacher at Essex High School in Essex Junction, VT.   Currently I am teaching Earth Science and Forensics.  I also help teach a Belize Field Study class.

Essex High School
Essex High School

My teaching career has worked out perfectly for me.  After graduating from UConn with an Animal Science degree, I married and raised four wonderful children.  As they grew, I returned to school to earn my teacher certification in secondary science education.  When my youngest went to kindergarten, I began teaching part time at Essex High School. I had the best of both worlds.  It was during these first few years of teaching that I heard about NOAA’s Teacher at Sea (TAS) program.  I immediately knew I wanted to be involved in the program, but it required being a full time teacher.  A few years ago my teaching became full time.  I applied to TAS, was accepted and will be aboard the NOAA ship Oregon II this summer.  I’m thrilled!

I have always had a close connection with the ocean as I grew up on the shore of southeastern Connecticut.  I spent many hours swimming off the docks or climbing out onto the rocks to crab.  I also did lots of fishing and boating, but I took the ocean for granted.  I didn’t realize how much I would miss it when I moved away.  I am fortunate that my parents still live at the shore and my children have had the opportunity to create their own ocean experiences.  And it is always an amazing sight to see their Vermont friends encounter the sounds, smells, textures and activities of the ocean for the first time!

CT shore
Recent visit to the Connecticut shore.

Belize
Belize class trip

The Belize Field Study class has a culminating ten day trip to Belize.  The first four days are spent exploring the coral reefs and learning more about issues concerning the reef.  Some of the students snorkel and some of them scuba dive, but either way they are able to explore the underwater world.  Here, again, I am able to bring students to the ocean and I love to see their excitement, interest and concern.  The ocean’s fate will soon be in their generation’s hands and these personal connections make a difference.

Belize sunset
Belize sunset

Science and Technology Log:

The Oregon II is a NOAA ship which supports the programs of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  The ship conducts studies at various times of the year on organisms such as ground fish, sharks, plankton, reef fish and marine mammals.  I will be joining a Shark/Red Snapper Bottom Longline Survey.  We will be sailing from Mayport, Florida and spending two weeks in the Gulf of Mexico.  The trip will end in the home port of Pascagoula, Mississippi. I am honored at having been chosen as a Teacher at Sea.  I can’t wait to be working with the scientists and crew aboard the Oregon II and participating in real scientific research.  I’m also looking forward to sharing my experiences with my students and bringing new topics into the classroom.  Through this trip I’m hoping they can make connections to the ocean as well.  I’ll be sharing my adventures a few times a week with this blog.  I hope you will follow along.

Oregon II
NOAA ship Oregon II

 

Deb Novak: Chugging to Pascagoula, August 25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Deb Novak
Aboard NOAA Ship Oregon II
August 10 – 25, 2012

Mission: Shark Long-line Survey
Geographical Area:  Gulf of Mexico
Date: Saturday, August 25, 2012

Science and Technology Log:

All  of our data has been collected and entered and we have cleaned the Oregon II Science lab equipment and spaces to leave it sparkling for Shark Long line survey Leg 3.  I will be watching for the final report and also checking out where the tagged sharks wander via web.  Like all things in science the conclusions will lead to new questions to refine or expand the search for knowledge.

The data station in action.

Personal Log:

We did stop fishing early in order to dock and give NOAA time to prepare the Oregon II and all the crew time to prepare their houses well in advance of Isaac.  As we headed toward the Pascagoula River I saw many of the oil rigs and oil tankers located in the Gulf of Mexico.  I know that they are also getting ready for the possibility of a Hurricane.

Off in the distance a drilling platform.

I will miss the people and the boat and most of all the water…

From my favorite spot on the top deck.