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.

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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.

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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!

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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There is just one big ocean.

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